Thursday, January 28, 2010

Alignment II: The Backpedaling

Well, that didn't take long.

Last night, after a long and satisfying Call of Cthulhu session, I came home with my brain firing on all cylinders and realized yesterday's post about alignment in basic D&D had some flaws. Foremost of which was that it wouldn't work.

Specifically, I'm talking about the very strict definitions I devised for Law and Chaos. While they make sense on a purely structural level, they're pretty much garbage as far as being used as motivations for characters to act upon. I mean, you could do a game that's about guys that like eternal permanence fighting guys that like absolute entropy, but it lacks a certain oomph. There's no real way to get involved in such a conflict, because neither side really stands for anything. They're just forces. It'd be like Gravity vs. Electromagnetism, or something. You could have it as a backdrop, maybe, but it'd be hard to get excited about either side.

So, yeah. Unless I can come up with something more workable from an RPG standpoint, I'd be better off just sticking with the original "Law good, Chaos bad" version, or just dropping alignment altogether, I think. Still, I guess it was a valuable avenue to explore, if only because it made me realize that the alternative I came up with wasn't the greatest.

Move along, nothing to see here.


  1. It might help to think of it as "Justice For All" vs. "Might Makes Right" instead of cosmic levels of order versus spontaneity or control versus freedom.

  2. Right. Fundamentally, if you frame Law and Chaos that way, what you're ultimately talking about is Good vs. Evil, but I'm fine with that.

    I think there might be some mileage to gotten from the idea of having alignment be a sworn oath, though. If nothing else, it would make the idea of 'alignment languages' a bit less crazy.

  3. I totally forgot about alignment languages.

    If you wanted to really narrow to a specific campaign you could have each class/alignment combo be of a the same guild/clan/organization/what-have-you. So, all Lawful Good Fighters are Knights of the Order of [blah], etc. Makes the game less open but could help flesh out the setting.

  4. One take I've used on alignments is that they are essentially the auras of the gods. People who serve or fervently worship a god or gods has a little of their aura fall onto them. Each of them has a unique flavor, but they do have some similarities which can be measured as good/evil/lawful/chaotic. Those who aren't religious may have similar beleifs, but they don't have alignment for magical purposes.

  5. Dump alignment - it's rubbish and serves no real purpose. It's not fun and the world doesn't work like that.

    Get the players to write down some goals/motivations. If they roleplay or act in a way that displays their motivations or work towards a goal - give them XP.

    Just make sure their goals/motivations are more interesting and less of a cheat than Get Rich or Kill As Much Stuff As Possible.

  6. Well, get rich is a realistic Goal that real people have. Kill as much stuff as possible is not, it's a PLAYER motivation (because it's the quest for XP that drives it).

    But yeah, I'm all about Motivations over alignments. They can even be vague: Greed, Altruism, Vengeance, Pleasure, Power and so on. Must easier to latch onto for players, and more realistic as well.

  7. I do like the Motivations or Vices & Virtues approaches suggested.

    Another idea: Avoid labels, and instead concoct a set of benchmarking questions or "fill-in-the-blank" items each player must complete.

    For example, "When Arthron corners an unarmed enemy, he will ..." or "When Cassiopeia encounters a street beggar, she will ..." Such an approach could provide very concrete examples of a character's character.