Thursday, March 26, 2015

Alignment: Who needs em?


You know, for the longest time as both a player and a DM in D&D and Pathfinder, i was a big proponent of having them. Not only are they tied to several mechanics, but I always thought they provided guidance for role-playing your character. But is that a good enough reason to keep them in the game? Isn't it all just a little cliche now?

As a player, i would always look at actions that could be taken, and sigh because my neutral good character just shouldn't be doing something like that. I applied my alignment like a straight jacket for a character, rather than something that enhanced it. Sure, one can argue that it was my shortcoming, and that alignment is a guide, but it doesn't FEEL like a guide when mechanics are tied to it. As a DM, i fell into that lazy trap of putting helpless orphans in danger, and winking and nudging the good members of the party into action. It feels too lazy now.

It also reminds me of a time i was in a party with a player who was playing as a holy cleric. in one session, we were trying to determine which side to take in a conflict. He declared it was time for some "Detect evil, with prejudice..." and cast holy smite on the group. Those that were smote, must have been the bad guys, and that was the end of all the tension.

So, in a radical departure for me, i am eliminating the alignment system for this new setting.

I can almost hear the gasps from some people i may have played with previously.

I kind of want to explore the grey areas of morality and ethics, when good people occasionally do things they don't want to, because it is easier, or because a sacrifice needs to be made. When awful people do the right thing, but for all the wrong reasons. I want actions and thoughts to be the determining factor for how people treat you, and how you treat NPC's.

Removing alignment from the game sounds complicated, but here are my starting simple ideas:

1: Remove all alignment requirements from classes. Yes, even Paladin. Paladins are now incredibly rare, and i can see different ways to create a holy warrior, even dark ones.

2: Remove all alignment descriptors from spells/items. There are spells that are functionally the same, except one does lawful damage and one does chaotic damage. Just remove those, and spells still make sense. Domains and domain spells take a little more jiggling, but i have researched and brainstormed some ideas.

3: Replace any class or race abilities that directly tie into alignment. "Detect evil" for a paladin doesn't need to be there, and "Smite Evil" suddenly becomes much more versatile if it is simply "Smite foe".

4: No monster alignments for obvious reasons. They don't need them either. A vampire is hunted and destroyed because they are dangerous, not because they ping on the Paladin's "Evil-dar."

Already i can imagine a change. Players will have to drill deeper into what makes their character tick. Maybe they are gentle healers, happy to help the sick... but they cannot deny the thrill of pleasure they get when they murder someone. Perhaps they are a Telepath that rips secrets out of a politicians minds to blackmail them... so that the poor and disadvantaged get what they need.

Grey areas......


  1. Grey areas sound good. Looking forward to seeing the consequences come to those that make enemies of the wrong people, or win favours with the right ones.

  2. I agree with Grumpdogg: exploring moral grey areas sounds super interesting. Faulkner said it best: "The only thing worth writing about is the heart in conflict with itself." Curious to see what choices people make.

  3. So I can be good and bad and neither at the same time. I like this.