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  Click here to go to the first special guest post in this thread.   Thread: Alignment, crucial mechanic, or plot driver?

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    Alignment, crucial mechanic, or plot driver?

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    Through the many games and campaign worlds, through editons decimaled and not...the issue of alignment has always been ever present, especially through the old TSR systems and now with WotC's interpretation of fantasy gaming...the question i propose is this? Is alignment of true importance to the game, or does it take a back burner to other aspects of gaming such as stats, and/or feats...

    let me know what you think...

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    I think it was a way to guide your character's actions. Would torturing the goblin for info about saving the village be evil? Was it evil to kill the baby kobolds to prevent them from growing up into adult kobolds? Would it be unlawful to go against laws based on a chaotic society?

    I think based on the game you are playing, these questions are valid and may have the answer ready based on current alignment. In others, questions like these may never arise, so alignment is a lesser issue
    "I'm not going crazy. I'm going sane in a CRAZY world!"

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    Alignment is a clumsy attempt at an ethical system. The old Law/Neutral/Chaos system copied Moorcock without really understanding. Adding a Good/Evil axis only made the problem worse: it devolves quickly into "horse opera" morality: the white hats are Good no matter whom they kill, and the black hats are Evil no matter their real motivations. Even Tolkien, inventor of endless cannon fodder, regretted defining an entire race as irredeemably evil.

    D&D 4th Edition made a step in the right direction by divorcing alignment from mechanics, and defaulting to "unaligned" unless a character truly plays hero or villain. Yes, in some stories only the Pure of Heart can find the Grail or wield the Ultimate Weapon, and Darkest Evil is a palpable force, but that should be a DM's decision based on behavior. (Admittedly, mechanisms from World of Darkness or Pendragon might help quantify Good or Evil).
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    The system is flawed... Ah yes, love is deaf as well as blind! The game is based on a struggle between the forces of good/evil and law/chaos. What a perfect excuse to move the action!

    The huddled masses cry for justice! Would you answer the call? If you were the Lawful stupid or chaotic moron... Yes!

    Do you need it, no! A rough guide, maybe.
    Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.


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    Forry did not go far enough, and replaced the crippled beast with nothing.

    The Conundrum of Alignment
    . Yes, I've been down this road before.

    Garry AKA --Phoenix-- Rising above the Flames.
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    Quote Originally Posted by tesral View Post
    Forry did not go far enough, and replaced the crippled beast with nothing.
    You meant "replace", yes?

    I agree it would have been better to throw out the entire thing, but at least this way DMs can decide to chuck it themselves without having to trawl through the rules for things that break.

    On the other hand, if you've got a party full of munchkins and/or rules lawyers, I mean younger players -- maybe the game's target audience? -- you have a tool to beat them with. ("You said you were Good, but how is backstabbing the Bishop of Pelor and taking his loot good?") Really, some people need reminding.
    Last edited by fmitchell; 05-19-2010 at 12:58 PM.
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    Alignment as a realistic system of ethics is ... well, messy. Largely because real-world ethics is messy. Interesting debate, but not at all clear-cut.

    Alignment as a game concept is less messy - depending on what you want out of a game. As long as the whole group's on the same page, there's nothing wrong with its presence or absence. I think the issue is when it's mechanically important, it's harder to excise from the system and still keep integrity.

    My preference is giving alignment choice the same mechanical weight as the eye and hair color entries on the character sheet. (As for 4E's take on alignment, the Unaligned option makes it effectively eliminated, without having to change/ignore the rules, if you're so inclined.)

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    Alignment is a necessary evil. I personally dislike it, but every game I've run without it gets messy. If you don't have a way to say "everybody has to be good" you always end up with one jerk who decides to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, damn the repercussions. Chaotic stupid will always rear its ugly head unless you expressly forbid it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Crom on his Mountain View Post
    Alignment is a necessary evil. I personally dislike it, but every game I've run without it gets messy. If you don't have a way to say "everybody has to be good" you always end up with one jerk who decides to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, damn the repercussions. Chaotic stupid will always rear its ugly head unless you expressly forbid it.
    You don't necessarily need game rules to solve that, though; my experience has been the exact opposite, actually.

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    For me the alignment issue was fixed when 3rd Ed. came out. I just deleted it. It caused a great deal of problems so I fixed them by not having alignment to deal with. Don't have problems with evil or chaotic characters though. Local or regional law enforcement tend to fix the characters and the players attitudes. Or, competeing villians get tired of the meddling of the competition.

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    3.5 depended less on alignment, but there were spells and powers -- notably a paladin's Detect Evil -- which put alignment front-and-center. Whether "detect evil" meant "detect supernatural creatures of evil", "know what lurks in the hearts of men", or "smell the indelible taint of any Evil-aligned creature" provoked a lot of debate on these very boards. One thread considered the case of a person with Evil lineage who, despite "neutral" or even "good" behavior, detected as Evil and therefore had every paladin and cleric after their evil-smelling heads.

    One can root out all the alignment-based spells and powers; Midnight replaced good, evil, law, and chaos with Shadow (i.e. the power of the Dark Lord). But yes, ripping out the whole mess would have been better. Maybe 5e?

    A GM can simply say that all characters must be virtuous or at least mentally and ethically healthy, and handle any pretend sociopaths outside the game ... or not, if he prefers (e.g. Amber, Paranoia). Only the greenest GM needs to back up a basic social contract with The Rules.
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Crom on his Mountain View Post
    Alignment is a necessary evil. I personally dislike it, but every game I've run without it gets messy. If you don't have a way to say "everybody has to be good" you always end up with one jerk who decides to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, damn the repercussions. Chaotic stupid will always rear its ugly head unless you expressly forbid it.
    There are no necessary evils, lawful or chaotic. If your players default to chaotic stupid, then it is not the game, it's the players. They are chaotic stupid, not their characters.

    20 years, no alignment, I run a good, fun game with no chaotic stupid in sight.

    In my experience no system can stop stupid; stupid is systemless. Stupid is not written into the books of any game, and no game system that exists can prevent it. Stupid is a quality brought to the game by those that play the game. In game controls are not going to stop it either. In game controls only work for system, and what did I say? Stupid is not part of the system*.

    So if you are "forced" to use alignment as a hammer, which is the absolute worst used for alignment, bar none; it's the players.


    *Unless you are playing Paranoia, Stupid is part of that game. One of the better parts too.

    Garry AKA --Phoenix-- Rising above the Flames.
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    I'll comp to the fact that the alignment issue can create havoc. Just last night i was running Ravenloft 2e for a gamers convention, and two of the seasoned players that were at my table turning Gothic Horror into farsical slapstick, all the while hiding behind the guise of 'being chaotic good, or neutral'. Not only did it detract from the setting and trying to maintain the fear factor, but it was just bad etiquette all around...having been gaming for 18 years, it was the least amount of control i've had of a game ever. More experienced gamers would simply say...that's being chaotic, they were acting within alignment...if that's the case, then it stands to reason that it is one aspect of the game, that needs to be scrutinized before entry into one's game.

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    I have put my 2 cents in already, but need to chime in with a real-game experience from last night.

    When I play, I like to be the good guy, the hero, the champion. The ethics may get messy (is it really bad to steal the holy relic of my own church), but there were lines drawn between the good guys and the bad guys. When my character comes across a creature inherintly evil who doesn't immediately present themselves as a non-threat (person crying for help, etc...) I am going to attack and ask questions later. I am not going to wait till they blast a fireball in my direction to assess "should we attack him or reason with him."

    Have a defined mechanic of alignment makes this decision easy. If we came across an unaligned bad guy with his weapon in his scabbard in neutral territory, I could see not attacking. However, if I see a creature I know to be evil, in the evil witch's territory, sword drawn, I am going to strike first. Why? Because I am good, they are evil, and that's what they do to each other.

    If I am attacking an enemy bunker in Afghanistan (home to plans for a nuclear bomb) known to be the home of Taliban, I am not going to assess if they are a threat before attacking. By the very situation (Taliban - not nice person, works for evil organization), they are a threat, and need to be eliminated.

    Call me crazy.

    In short, I keep myself alive a bit longer because of the evil alignment being in place. My character would be more hesitant if that wasn't such an explicit concept. But evil means attack.
    "I'm not going crazy. I'm going sane in a CRAZY world!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by yukonhorror View Post
    If we came across an unaligned bad guy with his weapon in his scabbard in neutral territory, I could see not attacking. However, if I see a creature I know to be evil, in the evil witch's territory, sword drawn, I am going to strike first. Why? Because I am good, they are evil, and that's what they do to each other.
    (Emphasis added.) The problem is "knowing" that a creature is evil. Yes, if someone is menacing you with a sword you should defend yourself. Unfortunately, "I am good, you are evil" is the white hat/black hat sort of morality that, frankly, creeps me out. Consider:

    "Kill them all! Surely the Lord discerns which ones are his." -- attributed to a Papal legate during the Albigensian Crusade, when asked how to tell the heretics from good Christians.

    "YOU ARE AN EN-EM-Y OF THE DA-LEKS! YOU WILL BE EX-TER-MI-NA-TED!" -- just about every Dalek ever

    The Albigensians were a peaceful if heretical sect massacred for political reasons as well as religious. The Daleks are the most evil creatures in Doctor Who, bar none: anything not a Dalek must die, full stop. "Champions of good" in D&D sound a lot like the villains. (See also Moorcock's The Eternal Champion.)

    Quote Originally Posted by yukonhorror View Post
    If I am attacking an enemy bunker in Afghanistan (home to plans for a nuclear bomb) known to be the home of Taliban, I am not going to assess if they are a threat before attacking. By the very situation (Taliban - not nice person, works for evil organization), they are a threat, and need to be eliminated.
    (Emphasis added, again.) In the real world, intelligence can and has been wrong. Terrorists often hide among civilians, and distinguishing a true terrorist from somebody defending his home from armed invaders is nigh-impossible.

    As an example counter to yours, I ran a RuneQuest II one-shot adventure last weekend in which the PCs, members of a barbarian culture, attacked a "temple" of invaders/colonists/refugees from a civilized culture. The target pointed out by the barbarian headman was a religious sorcery school, dedicated to healing and peaceful uses of magic. I kept waiting for the PCs to reconsider the mission: the city and temple were open to all visitors, many of their own clan lived in the city by choice, the acting leader was an elfin young woman who greeted the PCs warmly, security was a joke, the ranking Adept had only two offensive spells (both designed to incapacitate, not kill), and to top it off the "runes" they were sent to destroy were grimoires which sorcerers had already reconstructed once. (Oh, and the headman later admitted he meant them as a diversion, not the main assault. And the village priest ripped them a new one.) However, the players truly played their pre-generated characters: they were the invaders, we were the heroes, who cares who dies? While wholly realistic, it was a bit depressing to me. By any modern, "objective" system of morality, the PCs were terrorists, and their targets innocents.

    Give me Warhammer Fantasy, where the society at large can't or won't distinguish adventurers from bandits and heretics. Give me Barbarians of Lemuria, Conan, and similar swords-and-sorcery settings where there is no "good" and "evil", merely "harmless" or "dangerous", "good for me" and "bad for me", "a matter of honor" and "a matter of survival". Or give me Doctor Who, where talking to the "enemy" accomplishes as much or more as blasting them. Or Glorantha, where every culture has its own myths and beliefs, often diametrically opposed; no one can say who is right or wrong, and most cultures aren't simply "good" or "evil".

    Just don't pretend invading lairs, killing the inhabitants, and taking their stuff is "good".
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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