Alignment. Do We Really Need It?

For years I played in games where the system required you to stick rigidly to a set of morals/guidelines determined by the alignment you chose to play. Unless someone was going a paladin of some sorts almost everyone in my groups started out as either neutral good or neutral evil in out AD&D games. Both of them fitted almost any character we would chose to play and could cover almost any action they might do as long as you stayed away from the extremes. In all those years I have also never found a decent mechanism within D&D to play alignment changes although Dragonlance came close but that was very specific to the setting.

The Rocketeer @ Flickr

In later years we moved on to Vampire:TM where your actions had an impact on your humanity stat. This was the closest we ever came to a system that mirrored real life in that you could in theory do anything you wanted to but for every bad action you had a chance that you would start to spiral down into the abyss and lose touch with everything that made you human. Again though this was very black and white.

I guess what I’m getting at is why should we be relying on mechanics to mimic something that is so complex in real life that very few folk understand it fully anyway. Without being a psychologist do we need the system dumbed down that much that we revert to using lists of sins to judge how far we’ve moved from our original alignment? Why can’t it be roleplayed out? If a player chooses to make that jump it’s going to have a different affect on them than on another player and it should be worked through with the GM. That’s all you need. The repercussions of an evil/good act can range from simple self loathing to something far worse but it should be specific to that that character and not drawn from a table ina rulebook.

These are just a few quick thoughts that I might expand on later once I get back into the swing of things. Hopefully November will be a busy month here at The Dice Bag.

This post was brought to you by the letters N and E and the RPGBN carnival which this month is being hosted by Seamus over at Games of State on the topic of Morality: In-Game and Real Life.

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  1. Zzarchov says:

    I view alignment as something that should be present for any kind of “mind reading”, though I don’t think it should be based upon your actions but upon your view of right and wrong.
    .-= Zzarchov´s last blog ..Holy Symbols as weapons =-.

  2. Sean Holland says:

    I dropped alignment from my campaign long ago (except for things like demons which are embodiments of metaphysical concepts) as it never seemed to quite work for defining how people act. Close but never quite right and it often ended up more as a drag on roleplaying than a help. So, out it went.
    .-= Sean Holland´s last blog ..New Monster – Snow Shadow =-.

  3. Kensan_Oni says:

    Alignment, as it is presented in D&D and somewhat in Palladium, (And even Demeanor in Vampire) is a tool, and I think people mistake the tool for something much, much more serious. It is a communication between players.

    For example, in D&D, the allowing of evil characters in a campaign, or disallowing evil characters, lets the game master help set the tone for the game. It clearly broadcasts the expectations of the type of stories that the DM wants to play. An even more unusual alignment distinction is the Law vs Chaos axis, where one plays around with coherency vs anarchy in approach. Although that itself was more rarer to run into.

    I expect a basic minimum morality in my games. I want players to be good guys. I don’t let them be bad guys in my game. I severely punish truely evil acts, just in general principle. That, and I find most people that want to be ‘evil’ really just want to be selfish jerks, and couldn’t be truely evil to save their lives. The alignment tool helps me filter out these undesirables from my game group, and let me have a more agreeable group.

    I feel people who use Alignment as a really tight straight jacket to be going too far with it. Players have stated their intent of how to play their character, you have accepted that intent, and at that point, only an extreme position should really cause an issue.

    I don’t think I’ve ever had witnessed a paladin lose their paladin-hood, or a Monk lose their Monk-hood due to an alignment change. So, often this over reaction to alignment really mystifies me, and seems to be subject more to immature groups then a problem with Alignment itself.

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