Five Moons RPG: Alignment, or Lack Thereof

Debates about the D&D alignment system have been going on for decades. My upcoming game, Five Moons RPG, won’t have alignments, and here are a few reasons why.

(Update September 23, 2014: If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!)

The Batman Problem

If you do a Google search for “Batman alignment” you get a lot of hits on various websites, with polls, pages of discussion, and even some nine-alignment memes, all of which are trying to prove what’s Batman’s alignment in D&D terms. This issue is best summed up by user DoPo on The Escapist forums: “Never mix D&D alignments with something that’s not D&D. It doesn’t work by definition.”

In other words, Batman is a complex character who wasn’t created with the idea of D&D alignments in mind, and even if he were, there have been so many authors writing Batman stories over the years that you’re not going to get a consistent presentation of the character. Adam West’s Batman is different than Michael Keaton’s Batman is different than Frank Miller’s Batman is different than Christian Bale’s Batman. (Yes, that’s mixing authors and actors, but it’s easier to identify them like that.)

Players are going to cite story X as the reason why they think Batman is alignment A, and say, “my character is alignment A, and it’s okay for Batman to do this, so my character should be okay to do this.” Another player replaces the example from story X with an example from story Y and says that Batman and their character is alignment B. And so on. There are enough conflicting stories (and corner cases) that you can use Batman to justify almost any alignment as “appropriate for this character.” And if you can do that for Batman (who has literally thousands of pages of detailed history, dialogue, and thoughts) you can do it for a character than only exists in your mind and is mostly mathematical stats on a character sheet.

Alignment Definitions Has Changed

What a particular alignment actually means is really hard to define. All versions of D&D (including Pathfinder as a “version of D&D”) have different definitions for each of the alignments. The descriptions of a particular alignment may overlap from edition to edition, but it is a complex idea, and each game’s designer has tried to convey their impression of what the alignments mean, updating these definitions to reflect their personal impressions and the ethics of the decade.

Which means 3E alignments aren’t exactly what 1E alignments are. So if you created your character using the 1E rules, and then convert to 2E, 3E, or PF, should you update your character’s alignment, or stick with the original alignment definition even if the new game shifted that alignment out from under you?

Philosophy students have been debating what “good” and “evil” are for millennia, with no agreement. Yet here we have very literate, very talented game designers trying to sum up aspects of good and evil in a paragraph or two (and no more than that, because there are other things the game rules needs to explain, like how combat works). That’s an unenviable task, especially when individual GMs (and players) involved in a campaign are going to disagree with each other and the book’s definition.

And despite these definitions, there are still questions. If you’re days from town and you capture the bandits who have been stealing from caravans, is it evil to kill them, or do you have to take them back to town for a trial? Does the answer change if the town mayor sent you to deal with the bandits and she doesn’t care whether you kill or arrest them? What if the bandits are orcs instead of humans? What if the orcs had orc children with them? Are orcs inherently evil? Does that mean that orc babies are inherently evil? Does that mean that some races are inherently good? If a creature is inherently evil or good, what does that say about free will?

Alignment Doesn’t Matter (Mechanically) to Most PCs

If you’re a fighter or a rogue, it really doesn’t matter if (frex) you’re lawful neutral or lawful good. You as a player (not your alignment) decide if you’re going to work for the king and participate in the adventure/quest/campaign. You might argue with other players about in-character actions, but 99% of the time, your alignment has no effect on game mechanics. Your alignment doesn’t make you more or less able to swing your sword, or wear your  armor, or solve a riddle. Your alignment doesn’t prevent you from eating a corpse, or killing a person, or stealing. Even if the GM decides your actions require a change in your alignment, you aren’t mechanically penalized for the alignment change.*

Alignment really only starts to matter if you have magic. And that’s only for some magical characters.

The cleric spell list includes spells that have additional or different effects against creatures with specific alignments, like dispel evil and holy smite. There are also spells that protect against creatures or attacks with a specific alignment, like holy aura and protection from evil. Because you need to know if a creature or effect is evil in order to know whether or not these alignment-specific effects trigger, the existence of these spells in the game requires the designer (or the GM) to decide what the alignments of all the creatures in the game are. Or, looking at it the opposite way: by putting hard-coded alignments in the game, it creates a “design space” for the existence of effects that specifically target alignment.

(In either case described in the previous paragraph, the game is solving a problem that it created for itself: Without alignments, the game wouldn’t need alignment-specific effects; without alignment-specific effects, the game wouldn’t need alignments.)

If you’re a good cleric (or worship a good deity), you can’t cast [evil] spells, and vice versa… the game says you can’t do it. Most other divine spellcasting classes have this restriction, too. But if you’re a non-good cleric (or worship a non-good deity), there’s no game mechanic preventing you from using evil spells every single day. The GM just has to wing it if they feel your character is using evil spells “too often,” which would justify a change to evil alignment.

But arcane spellcasters don’t have this opposite-alignment restriction at all… they’re permanently in “GM wing it territory.” These characters might have to care about alignment a little bit, like if they’re trying to use protection from evil against a non-evil creature, but it’s usually not an issue.

“But wait,” you say, “rangers can have stuff like ‘favored enemy (evil outsider),’ so that’s a type of martial character that cares about alignment!” True. But you could just as easily give demons and devils the “fiend” subtype, and replace that ranger option with “favored enemy (fiend),” and it would have the exact same game effect without the alignment requirement. And it would be no less weird than the idea of “all evil outsiders have certain anatomical and behavior quirks in common that a mortal can study and exploit in the exact same way.”

Even items like a holy weapon are just an aspect of the “only some magical characters care about it” issue; it means the non-magical character is, in effect, a magical character for the purpose of using that weapon, and suddenly has to care about whether or not a creature has an evil alignment… but only so long as they’re wielding the holy weapon. Your character (regardless of alignment) can use a holy weapon to murder innocent townsfolk… and if that means your alignment changes to evil, you can still use the holy weapon to murder more innocent people (you just have 1 negative level while you’re carrying it). Alignment matters to the weapon, it doesn’t matter to your character.

The D&D/PF cosmology assumes that there are alignment absolutes in the game–there are some places where the very physical matter of the air, water, and earth is permeated with an alignment (such as the aligned outer planes). Likewise, there are actions that are Chaotic, Good, Evil, Lawful, with a capital letter. For example, casting animate dead is always Evil; even if the corpses you are animate are a group of good-aligned heroes who specifically gave you permission to animate them as skeletons to defend a holy site, you casting that spell is a capital-E Evil act, because the spell has the [evil] tag, which defines it as being evil.

So, despite alignment being hard-coded into the game (for creatures, magic items, or spells), most characters can ignore alignment. Which is a reason you can consider dropping alignment from the game entirely.**

Alignment is Based on Elric

Gygax was obviously a fan of Michael Moorcock’s novels featuring the albino sorcerer Elric of Melniboné. Not only does the original law/chaos D&D alignment system parallel Moorcock’s novels, the 1E DMG lists Moorcock’s novels in Appendix N: Inspirational reading. And heck, the 1E Deities and Demigods includes D&D game stats for heroes and gods from those novels.

And Moorcock’s focus on Law vs. Chaos was influenced by Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions (which is also listed in the DMG’s Appendix N).

But if your campaign isn’t based on those stories or those world, how much of an impact should they have on your campaign? If your campaign is more like The Lord of the Rings (good vs. evil, or nature vs. technology) than the Elric novels, should the Law vs. Chaos paradigm (and the game mechanics associated with it) really be a factor in your campaign at all? Something to think about.

Alignment Is an Excuse For Jerk Behavior

How often have you heard the excuse, “I’m acting this way because of my alignment”?

Perhaps it’s a neutral or chaotic neutral rogue stealing from another PC during second watch. “Don’t get mad at me, I’m just playing my alignment.”

Or perhaps it’s a lawful evil wizard casting charm person on the other PCs so they’re all under the wizard’s control. “Because of my alignment, I believe in order, and it is in our best interests that you obey me.”

Perhaps it’s a goody-goody lawful good paladin preventing the other characters from knocking out a city guard so they can get on with the current mission. “Sorry, my alignment won’t let you do that, because this guard is just trying to do his job in accordance with the law.” (Or the reverse: “I detect that the innkeeper is evil, I attack him because I’m lawful good!”)

All of this is jerk behavior, justified by two letters on a character sheet.

But what if the character sheet didn’t have those two letters on it?

The rogue would be stealing from another PC because the rogue is a jerk, not because of the rogue’s alignment.

The wizard would be mind-controlling another PC because the wizard is a jerk, not because of the wizard’s alignment.

The paladin… well, the paladin might do the same sorts of things, but the justification would be, “because I’m a paladin” instead of “because I’m lawful good.” Without alignments, perhaps we could redefine paladins without an alignment straightjacket.

Why do you really need an alignment on your character sheet, anyway? It’s your character. You know how your character is going to act. You know your character’s history, goals, loves, and hates. Does having that two-letter code make a difference about any of those things for your character? Perhaps your character (or your memory, or your roleplaying) would be better served by an “Ethics” line on the character sheet, where you could write something like “arrogant, cruel, honorable”? Or “temperamental, friendly, boastful”?

If you were the creator of Batman, and you were playing Batman in a game, and you wanted to sum up your character’s beliefs and personality, would it be better to say, “protector, hates crime, won’t kill,” or merely “LG”?

All the complicated personalities in the world don’t fit into one of nine convenient boxes. People are more complex than that.****

If you’re a GM, alignment can be a handy way to categorize a monster. Frex, orcs are CE, therefore they don’t respect others’ property rights and have a lot of tribal infighting. Hobgoblins are LE, therefore they are domineering, organized, and respect authority. But as with characters, there’s a lot of broad generalizations in those nine alignment categories. Wouldn’t it be more informative if the orc entry in the monster book had an Ethics or Personality line that said, “bloodthirsty and disorganized,” and the hobgoblin entry said “aggressive and militaristic”

But GMs can be straightjacketed by alignment, too. If orcs are listed as CE in the monster book, some players will use that as an excuse to murder them, even orc infants. “Orcs are CE. The little ones will just grow up to be evil adults!” It’s a convenient way to avoid complicated moral issues.*** And it makes it harder to justify individual monsters of a particular race that have a different alignment than the norm, like a lone orc or group of orcs that are neutral instead of evil.

Alignment is a tool, and to use the old adage, “if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” The game–and gaming–has changed a lot in 40 years. We’ve invented new tools, new moving parts, and new machines. It’s okay to set aside one tool and use another, especially if the new machine isn’t built for that old tool. (Hammers are useful… I used one to pull up a lot of nails this morning… but I wouldn’t use a hammer to repair my computer…)

To sum up, in Five Moons RPG, there are no alignments. If you want to put labels on your character, you can. And there will be useful labels the GM can put on monsters (like “bloodthirsty,” or “demon,” or “militaristic”) and some of those labels may have game mechanics. But no D&D-style alignments.

 

* Okay, sure, if you’re using the more detailed alignment rules from Ultimate Campaign (a section that I co-wrote and developed), changing your alignment gets you a –1 penalty on attacks, saves, and checks… for one week. Then you’re back to normal.

** Very much like one of my earlier blogs that points out if you don’t have anti-magic field in the game, it doesn’t matter if an effect is extraordinary or supernatural, because they work the same 99% of the time, and if it doesn’t matter 99% of the time, maybe you should just drop the distinction entirely because it’s an almost-useless complication.

*** Complicated moral issues such as, “these monsters are as intelligent as humans, or nearly so, which means they’re people, so I need to think of an excuse for why I should be able to kill them without feeling guilty about it, especially when I go through their pockets afterward.”

**** And gods are usually as complex as people, or even more so. Let me point out that the 1E D&D alignment system classifies the Greek gods as “good” even though most of them are pretty capricious and/or cruel to their own worshippers, and most of the male Greek deities are also rapists. Also, the introduction to the Central American Mythos chapter of Deities & Demigods points out that these deities “are not moved by anything resembling human thoughts and feelings,” and has specific comments like “there are times where [lawful neutral god Quetzalcoatl] works in chaotic or evil ways (making it very hard to align him).” So alignment isn’t as useful as it pretends to be.

 

 

 

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20 thoughts on “Five Moons RPG: Alignment, or Lack Thereof

  1. You’re preaching to the choir with me, Sean. But—I would like to share an additional constructive observation about D&D Alignment. That is, it can be unreasonable to decide at character creation how a character is going to act for the rest of their adventuring career. There are a lot of reasons why characters act the way that they do. Some of those reasons have nothing to do with the game, and some of those factors are completely meta-gamey. For example, how the Players interact with each other. Sometimes players bring out a certain sense of humor out in each other. Sometimes players watch other PCs and they adjust their characters to gel with the group. Sometimes, the player has no preconceived notion of what the campaign will be like, and they envision a concept or personality that doesn’t jibe with the GMs game (for example, making a scholarly and law abiding character when the GM has designed a city based well suited to a PC drive thieves guild who run heists, like Ocean’s 11).

    The point is, the player doesn’t always “know” their character any better than the GM or the other players at the start of the game. Hence the phrase, “finding my characters voice”. So why make an important decision like that until you “test drive” that character for awhile? I like to tell players in games that use the D&D Alignment system to just hold off on alignment for the first couple levels. I don’t usually expect a huge change from good to evil, but I generally think whether the player is actually lawful good, neutral good, or chaotic good will manifest in actual play. “When the rubber hits the road, we will see how you actually act under pressure.”

    That said, I like setting aside alignment entirely, to be an even better idea.

    • An excellent point, Jim. Much like college, those first few levels can be a really formative experience and shape a person’s goals, outlook, and career. I’ll have to think on your specific idea a bit more. :)

  2. It’s funny how alignment purports to give moral issues a mechanic, but that same mechanic actually clouds those issues and sweeps them under the rug. They’re excuses for jerk behavior, just as you say. It’s ironic that getting rid of the rules that brought the question of morality into the game would be the thing that actually allows PCs to make meaningful moral choices.

    In addition to the mechanical failure of these rules, alignment also kills roleplaying. Most characters are interesting because they undergo change. But alignment rules actively prohibit or penalize change.

    About the Batman example. It’s so easy to argue he’s one alignment or another, because all of those arguments are correct. He’s all of them. All characters (and people) are all alignments, in constant flux, with varying degrees of predominance. Trying to pin them down into one thing that never changes is the mistake.

    • Good points!
      1) Much as some people use their religion to justify treating other people horribly, alignment is used in the same way.
      2) It’s even weirder than “prohibiting or penalizing change” (there is a slight optional penalty for changing alignment, but it’s just temporary). Because changing your alignment doesn’t alter anything about your character, there’s not a reward for it, either. How often do we root for the morally-corrupt character to turn over a new leaf? Or the selfish character finally make a sacrifice to help the greater good?
      If Han Solo is neutral or CN at the start of the Star Wars movies, and over time he shifts to NG or CG, what does he get for that? Nothing. He can act the very same way his entire career and be on the borderline between two alignments… and there’s no actual rule to determine which alignment he actually is.
      And while it’s good to have some reasons for roleplaying be 100% rewarded as roleplaying instead of mechanics (because you should make choices for the good of the character, not the good of the math), if there’s really no difference between CN and CG, or N and NG, then why bother writing it down?
      3) Exactly. People are complex, and their actions about various complex life issues aren’t going to be 100% in agreement with each other. (Frex, the villainous “claim” gang that Daryl joins at the end of the most recent season of The Walking Dead had a code of conduct for themselves, and they punished their people for breaking it, but they by no means had a lawful alignment).

      • There is another dimension to Hudax’s post that I have seen. That is when the GM wants to place boundaries upon the type of PCs that they have in the game. Now I chose the word “boundary” carefully, because setting boundaries are not necessarily bad, and in many case setting boundaries is good.

        A respectable Designer/Developer we know (I don’t want to name them because that’s tacky and they might not want be brought up in a public discussion they didn’t intentionally join) once wrote publicly, “I use alignments because otherwise I get a table full of people playing chaotic neutral characters.”

        There are lots of shades of grey with that statement and that is a counter-argument that I can appreciate. The GM should be able to set some boundaries about the playstyle of their game. Setting boundaries is essentially what we’re doing when we treat female gamers as people and act like jerks towards them—referencing your other blog post.

        But is alignment the right tool for setting those boundaries with the players?

        My answer: Only if you’re afraid or uncomfortable to have that conversation with your players. The side effect of using alignment to establish table conduct is that it becomes a “set of rules” to finagle around, rather than a social contract that the players are not going to play social misfits and jerks. Its really tricky because instead of the GM talking to the players, they’re limiting the characters.

        To play devil’s advocate against myself, however, should I judge the GM who simply finds that easier? I don’t know. I leave that as an open-ended question.

      • Yep, good questions. Really, it’s part of the accepted social contract of gaming–sometimes you need to go more out of your way to define aspects of it. Like, “we’re working as a group to further the storyline” is generally accepted as part of the social contract, and sometimes you want to add something like, “and to fit the storyline, it’ll really help if none of the characters are evil.” And for some players, you need to specifically call out, “don’t steal from the other PCs.”
        Really, I don’t see why “in this campaign, none of the PCs are secretly planning to murder or stealing from anyone” is really that different from “in this campaign, none of the PCs are playing dwarves.”

  3. Fantastic! It’s so nice to see when people list out my problems with a game “mechanic” down to a key.

    I add it feels like it cloudiness to the RP aspect of a RPG.

  4. I really enjoy alignment for multiple reasons, and honestly never had much problem with it. I had players happy to have something that labels when their character’s morals and philosophy have changed, even when they initially disliked alignment as a concept for many of the reasons you mentioned in this article. However, I completely agree that alignment does not fit outside of D&D and concede to your points.

    I’m actually rather surprised you made an article on this in the first place. I assumed 5 Moons wouldn’t have alignment simply because it’s not D&D.

    • It’s close enough to D&D/PF that people are going to make comparisons and wonder about it. In fact, tomorrow’s blog is about D&D/PF stuff I like that is going into Five Moons, like classes, races, levels, skills, and feats.

      • Levels and Classes? Really?

        I’m a little bit surprised that this is on the stuff you like list. I always find the levels and classes to be a straightjacket that says ‘you must have worked on these things’. Why exactly is it that I need to level before I can learn to swim? Oh, but since I’ve now learned to swim that has made me better at magic and/or combat. Not only that, but I can go from not knowing how to swim to an expert swimmer because I leveled and decided that was my most important skill.

        The existence of multi-classing rules is only there because of the limitations of the class and level system.

        Class and levels used to be an easy way to describe your character’s capabilities, in D&D and 1st edition AD&D. Then it started getting murky with 2nd edition. With Pathfinder you really have to look at the whole character sheet to figure out what a particular Ranger or Cleric can do. Depending on build, it is quite possible that the Cleric can outfight the Ranger in melee. Levels still provide a shorthand for power, but even there it is just a very rough approximation.

        If you must have a shorthand to show character power, it would be a lot more accurate if you had ratings in various areas and kept them separate than trying to aggregate it into a class and level.

      • Sean, I look forward to it!

        Bret
        Levels exist because role-playing games like D&D revolve around your character getting stronger. Having some kind of benchmark allows a multi-tiered paradigm determining the availability of certain powerful abilities. This not only makes those abilities feel more exciting to obtain, but also changes the way the game plays out depending on the party’s APL. In other words, the fly spell wouldn’t be as exciting to a wizard if another class could fly or if the wizard could obtain flight relatively easily by another means. By having temporary flight “benchmarked” as a 5th level ability, a 2nd level party will approach challenges very differently from a 5th level party. This also makes it easier for GMs and adventure designers to design interesting challenges because they can assume what abilities a party might have based on their level. So levels serve a very useful tool in conveying and measuring a character’s growth in power.

        As you implied, classes function as a useful tool for encapsulating a character archetype and gameplay experience. Pathfinder’s great strength lies with its “soft” classes. Pathfinder takes the attitude that a class serves as a foundation to build a character concept rather than a restriction. A player has numerous ways to customize their character in ways beyond their character’s class description. Not only do class archetypes let you fit a class to a character concept, but also many classes offer a pool of talents or options built into the class itself. Advanced Class Guide took it to the extreme with hybrid classes and archetypes that let you dip some features of other classes. While not without its flaws, the system gets the benefits of classes while feeling like a classless game. This serves as one of the main reasons my friends and I play Pathfinder. And I’m curious what 5 Moons might offer in this respect.

        Classless games are not without their flaws, which serves as why my group hasn’t tried one yet. Such games feel a little unfocused. Game mastery is a major issue. If you aren’t familiar with the setting, a new player would have no idea what kind of character build. Usually games mitigate this with archetypes, but even the reputable classless games seem to have problems with that. I’m struggling getting into Shadowrun because the rulebook scatters the unique rules for each archetype over several chapters rather than dedicating a section of the book for each one.

      • {I’m a little bit surprised that this is on the stuff you like list. I always find the levels and classes to be a straightjacket that says ‘you must have worked on these things’. Why exactly is it that I need to level before I can learn to swim? Oh, but since I’ve now learned to swim that has made me better at magic and/or combat. Not only that, but I can go from not knowing how to swim to an expert swimmer because I leveled and decided that was my most important skill.}

        It’s funny that you accept that dragons can fly, house-sized humanoids can stand, and giant insects can breathe (all of which are impossible for Earth physics), but it’s “I went from unskilled in swimmer to expert swimmer after spending my 4 new skill points after an arbitrary leveling-up event” that breaks your suspension of disbelief. :)

      • Sean said:
        “It’s funny that you accept that dragons can fly, house-sized humanoids can stand, and giant insects can breathe (all of which are impossible for Earth physics), but it’s “I went from unskilled in swimmer to expert swimmer after spending my 4 new skill points after an arbitrary leveling-up event” that breaks your suspension of disbelief. :) ”

        I think it makes a certain amount of sense that some people can accept the very fantastic elements of D&D but balk at the arguably less fantastic elements. While I understand on an intellectual level that dragons with D&D style anatomy wouldn’t be able to fly, D&D giants wouldn’t be able to stand up, and giant insects wouldn’t be able to breathe in earth-like conditions, those bits of understanding are all purely intellectual — I’ve never been a dragon who tried to fly, a giant who tried to stand up or an big old insect. But I have, personally, learned to do stuff, and from that experience I know that while improving my ability at Task X may “carry over” a bit to Similar Task Y, I’m not necessarily going to significantly improve Dissimilar Task A at the same time, particularly if I’m really focusing my training on Task X. So while those other, probably crazier examples don’t particularly phase me, it can sometimes feel a little weird to see my character improve at, say, combat when his activity almost exclusively focuses on social interaction.

        All that said, for a few years between the time I originally left D&D behind during 2E and came back to it with a vengeance with the advent of 3E, I basically hated the whole concept of classes and levels. “Too restrictive!” I said and almost exclusively played systems like Call of Cthulhu or GURPS that didn’t straitjacket my character concepts with the restrictions of character class and level. But as I got into 3E I came to generally appreciate the shortcut to character creation that character classes offer. And since I appreciate character classes as a shortcut, I appreciate levels as a further shortcut. When 4E came around, I basically left F20 gaming behind again until about 6 months ago I began my D20 Renaissance by diving headfirst into Pathfinder. In between, again, I mostly played games with more free form creation, and while I didn’t necessarily miss the shortcuts that are levels and classes, when I returned to F20 gaming I found my appreciation of levels and classes returning.

        Now, I sometimes find myself frustrated when I can’t make a character concept I have in mind really work within the framework of classes and levels, so I’m not necessarily an evangelist for the concept. But the tinkerer in me can play around with trying to figure out how to either make the concept fit or adjust the concept to what I can make work that I’m rarely sufficiently bothered that I don’t appreciate the shortcut it represents all the times that I’m not trying to build some weirdo character.

      • {I think it makes a certain amount of sense that some people can accept the very fantastic elements of D&D but balk at the arguably less fantastic elements.}

        Sure. :) I’m just saying that in a world where physics is Not As We Know It, “power leveling” a skill (perhaps as part of an awesome musical montage) could be a doable thing. Open your mind, Neo! :)

        {And since I appreciate character classes as a shortcut, I appreciate levels as a further shortcut.}

        Exactly. It’s a very handy tool for building characters, especially if you’re a new player.

        {Now, I sometimes find myself frustrated when I can’t make a character concept I have in mind really work within the framework of classes and levels…}

        Which is the advantage of a home game with a GM who can work with you on a character concept, as opposed to an “official rules only” setup like in an organized play campaign.

  5. Responding more or less to Jim (hi Jim!), it seems to me that a lot of the problem here is that (if we’re being honest about it) the classic style of D&D basically requires the players to behave in what we would consider evil ways. “Why’d you kill it and take all its treasure?” “Um, it was in the dungeon, wasn’t it?” Taking that as the basepoint for considering your morality really messes things up.

    It’s probably been 25 years since I used D&D-style alignment in a game I ran, but Light Side vs Dark Side and these sorts of moral issues have played significant parts in my Star Wars games, and I think the games are better for it. (“We’ve just captured an entire Star Destroyer’s worth of Imperial troops. What do we *do* with them?”)

    • Hey Sol! Nice to see you here.

      I agree that alignment is an artifact of the early days of D&D. Typically, I know longer create a dungeon just to have it exist. It exists because it serves a purpose to some power, individual, or group of individuals. As a result, at least for me, D&D has evolved past alignment because we’re trying to tell more sophisticated stories. One issue is, have the mechanics evolved with us? I think one of Sean’s points is that we need to untangle our mechanics from our moral choices and allow those choices to exist on their own merits.

      I love the sound of your Star Wars campaign, because that does sound like terrific roleplaying and the sort of more sophisticated story that I would enjoy.

      In PathfinderLand, I have seen goblins explained in two different ways. Racially evil, of course. Yet, I have also heard them explained as a fairly weak humanoid in a dangerous world. Goblin society is harsh and cruel, and goblin parents encourage bullying because a sensitive and kind goblin is a dead goblin… leading to extinct goblins. I think that is an awesome perspective because then you have a nature versus nurture argument. Its not black and white. Or, you can slap the letters on CE on them and then you have a much simpler setting. It depends on the level of sophistication you want in your storytelling.

      I think we need good and evil in our stories, but when we attach them to the mechanics we start to divorce ourselves from the responsibilities of our choices. Anikan Skywalker howled that he had no choice but to turn to the Dark Side, but that was something he convinced himself was true because he was afraid. Later he was guilty and ashamed, and that made him angry, and prone to reinforce the idea that he was the universe’s victim. Much, much later, the Emperor tells Luke that he must fight Vader. Luke replies, “No, I can choose to let myself be destroyed.” The Emperor almost cannot comprehend this because he cannot envision a choice where he, himself, would not choose to survive. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t mean to lecture you, I am sure you’re well aware of this. :)

      But you’re right. A better story comes out of grappling with these issues. When mechanics come into play we begin to lose responsibility for our choices.

      • Just following the link you posted on Facebook. :)

        “I think we need good and evil in our stories, but when we attach them to the mechanics we start to divorce ourselves from the responsibilities of our choices.” Bravo, I think that’s what I was clumsily getting at in my comment. (The other part, spelled out, was that you needed alignment in early D&D because otherwise the natural conclusion was that every player was evil…)

        That Star Wars game was so much fun for me. Certainly the best non-con game I’ve ever run. I hope the TimeWatch campaign I’m trying to get started goes half as well. (And I’m intrigued at the issue of what it is ethical to do in a timeline you’re trying to destroy….)

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