Author Topic: D&D Alignments, DM Talk  (Read 608 times)

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Offline SkeptiQueer

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D&D Alignments, DM Talk
« on: November 11, 2016, 05:32:53 AM »
I've been watching Matt Colville's excellent series on running a D&D game and listening to a couple DM/GM podcasts (Critical Success mostly) and one of the most hotly debated subjects seems to be alignment. Are Good and Evil immutable forces, as Gygax intended? Are Law and Chaos the main movers in the world? What exactly is a Lawful Neutral, and why is "chaotic neutral" a byword for "evil fuccboi" for everybody? I don't have answers, but I'm sort of starting to feel out where I think those will fall in future campaign, so I can better inform what I want my group to be doing and so they can better inform me on how I can expect them to behave.

So far, I'm settling on "Lawful" being more about order than necessarily the word of law. I always play a sneak-theif in Skyrim, but IRL I end up being mostly a Lawful Good or Lawful Neutral. I don't speed, I don't jaywalk, I've never run out on a bill, and I respect order and consistency. Chaos seems to make more sense in this aspect, it's not necessarily about breaking the laws, but it's someone who's less consistent, whether they're flakey or just don't really live by a code or if their code is "look out for number one." I think this more avoids the Lawful Stupid and Chaotic Stupid (LOL MURDERED SO RANDOM) while encouraging better RP.

Good and Evil are stumping me. I know traditionally there have been Good and Evil races, beasts, and realms, but that seems gone with 5th ed, and maybe for the best. Anyone else got a system for Good and Evil?
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Offline brilligtove

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Re: D&D Alignments, DM Talk
« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2016, 07:12:41 AM »
I eventually gave up on the good/evil spectrum in actual games. It made it a lot easier to run rich campaigns with realistic motives for characters. More useful spectra exist (to my mind) including kind / cruel, creative / destructive, individualist / collectivist, and so on. From a Cleric's point of view, obedience to the command of their God is the most important factor for considering in-game mechanics and the consequences and effects of role-playing against the will of that God.

If you were 15 I would recommend using the stark and simplistic good/evil alignment system. People at that age often have little sense of consequence in an RPG and do insane things that wreck the game. If I were to run a game for kids now (as a middle aged guy) I would impose that simple system on them while using my more complex system for the rest of the world.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2016, 07:14:48 AM by brilligtove »
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Offline random poet

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Re: D&D Alignments, DM Talk
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2016, 02:31:05 PM »
I like the way Colville talks about alignment as more of a temporary descriptor, that could change at any moment depending on a player's actions. I don't think it's very useful otherwise, as a defining trait. I wouldn't want to tell a player "you can't do that, it contradicts your character's alignment." Unless your class depends on it, like a druid or paladin. (Is that still a thing?)

Thinking about Law vs Chaos as being the overarching conflict in the world is all right, as far as it goes, but it would depend on your setting. It can certainly help you define your NPCs motivations.
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Offline Simon Jester

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Re: D&D Alignments, DM Talk
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2016, 06:53:29 PM »
We had a pretty good conversation about this on another thread somewhere, Im not sure if it got lost in one of the crashes or not.
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Offline arthwollipot

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Re: D&D Alignments, DM Talk
« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2016, 02:36:38 AM »
Alignment can be what you make it. In 5th Edition D&D, there are almost no game mechanics at all that depend on alignment. So it becomes more of a character descriptor, like traits, bonds and flaws. Which is pretty much how I've always used alignment anyway.

Regardless, a lot of people don't seem to have actually read what Gygax wrote about alignment:

Quote
...the overall behaviour of the character (or creature) is delineated by alignment, or, in the case of player characters, behaviour determines actual alignment. Therefore, besides defining the general tendencies of creatures, it also groups creatures into mutually acceptable or at least non-hostile divisions...

...It likewise causes a player character to choose an ethos which is appropriate to his or her profession, and alignment also aids players in the definition and role approach of their respective game personae."

Dungeon Master's Guide (1st Edition), p.23 - bolding added by me.

That having been said, in any fantasy world where deities both embody certain aspects of Good, Evil, Law and Chaos and have the ability to directly affect the lives of mortals and the world around them, alignment becomes an objective thing. In our own world, we do not define Good and Evil objectively, but in a fantasy world where magic and deities exist it often becomes necessary to objectively define these aspects of morality.

Offline Anders

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Re: D&D Alignments, DM Talk
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2016, 03:07:46 PM »
Nowadays I look at things through the lens of Moral Foundations Theory. I view Law/Chaos has a lot to do with things like Ingroup/Outgroup loyalty and respect for authority. Good/Evil almost exclusive deals with the Care/Harm foundation.
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Online Johnny Slick

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Re: D&D Alignments, DM Talk
« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2016, 05:06:38 PM »
I've always simplified alignment to two poles:

Evil/Good: Whether you're selfish, or if you constantly believe in the greater good above your own needs. Obviously there's a spectrum here that's not well served by having only 3 poles but there you go.
Lawful/Chaotic: Whether you believe in law and order or if you don't have a lot of use for it, for whatever reason.

This gets past all the philosophical bullshit of First Edition, at least, although you're totally right that it doesn't make a lot of sense to automatically make it so that all adherents of a particular religion (or, more generally, all paladins) must be Lawful Good, or that nobody who joins a player party can ever be Chaotic Evil (hell, no offense to the Berts on this forum, but by D&D standards a lot of y'all are Neutral Evil - why not allow someone in there)? Know Alignment and Detect Evil are kind of stupid spells in their own right, given this...

I guess the real question is whether or not you want a campaign based on the Star Wars style "light vs darkness" universe (which is also mirrored in Tolkien and in which one can understand why Gygax/Arneson/et al ran things that way). If so, maybe change the names and tropes to be more specific in your world: Detect Evil becomes Detect Darkness, for example, and becomes a way where you can help to determine whether or not someone is corrupted by the Bad Thing that is sweeping your universe. Or maybe it's not an entirely bad thing and just something that disrupts the current social fabric. I mean, it's kind of up to you, although my one caveat to "it's up to you" is that nowadays I *vastly* prefer getting the players in on philosophy from the ground floor. You'd be surprised how exciting games can be when everyone is aware of the factions that operate and the overarching plot but have to employ dramatic irony about stuff their characters don't know yet. I realize that the classic D&D structure is that the DM cooks all this stuff up ahead of time and the players just live in his world, but the times they are a'changing...
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Offline SkeptiQueer

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Re: D&D Alignments, DM Talk
« Reply #7 on: November 22, 2016, 12:33:05 AM »
I've always simplified alignment to two poles:

Evil/Good: Whether you're selfish, or if you constantly believe in the greater good above your own needs. Obviously there's a spectrum here that's not well served by having only 3 poles but there you go.
Lawful/Chaotic: Whether you believe in law and order or if you don't have a lot of use for it, for whatever reason.

This gets past all the philosophical bullshit of First Edition, at least, although you're totally right that it doesn't make a lot of sense to automatically make it so that all adherents of a particular religion (or, more generally, all paladins) must be Lawful Good, or that nobody who joins a player party can ever be Chaotic Evil (hell, no offense to the Berts on this forum, but by D&D standards a lot of y'all are Neutral Evil - why not allow someone in there)? Know Alignment and Detect Evil are kind of stupid spells in their own right, given this...

I guess the real question is whether or not you want a campaign based on the Star Wars style "light vs darkness" universe (which is also mirrored in Tolkien and in which one can understand why Gygax/Arneson/et al ran things that way). If so, maybe change the names and tropes to be more specific in your world: Detect Evil becomes Detect Darkness, for example, and becomes a way where you can help to determine whether or not someone is corrupted by the Bad Thing that is sweeping your universe. Or maybe it's not an entirely bad thing and just something that disrupts the current social fabric. I mean, it's kind of up to you, although my one caveat to "it's up to you" is that nowadays I *vastly* prefer getting the players in on philosophy from the ground floor. You'd be surprised how exciting games can be when everyone is aware of the factions that operate and the overarching plot but have to employ dramatic irony about stuff their characters don't know yet. I realize that the classic D&D structure is that the DM cooks all this stuff up ahead of time and the players just live in his world, but the times they are a'changing...
The light/dark thing is pretty interesting. I could also see doing an Authority/Anarchy version for a different setting. I've been tinkering with the Fallout GURPS book, and the battle between anarchy, minarchy, monarchy, and hegemony is a pretty constant theme. Maybe Civilization vs Anarchy, to cover the spectrum?
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Offline arthwollipot

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Re: D&D Alignments, DM Talk
« Reply #8 on: November 22, 2016, 01:06:48 AM »
In 5th Edition D&D, as I said, there are almost no mechanics that involve alignment at all. No alignment restrictions on classes, for example. Druids can be Lawful Good and Paladins can be Neutral Evil. The Detect Evil spell became Detect Good and Evil, and rather than detecting alignments, it detects celestials, fiends, undead and fey.