Make Alignment Simple, Maintain the Necessary Evil

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Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast
by Michael H. Olson

Should D&D Next emulate fourth edition as far as alignment goes, at least when it comes to what alignment system to use for the core rules? 

I think so. 

Why? Because the core rules should be simple, and what is more simple than 4th-edition's version of alignment? Unless of course, you remove alignment completely, something I’m not totally against by the way except for the fact that it also means getting rid of a lot of iconic powers that rely on alignment from past editions of D&D (like “protection from evil"). For that reason, I don't think it should be axed completely.

So there you are: alignments remain, but I think we should at least keep them simple, and that brings me back to 4th edition.

Alignment simplification and the addition of the “unaligned” designation were some of the best changes 4e brought to the table. If Wizards of the Coast wishes to offer more complicated versions from past editions, fine, but I think those systems should be made into optional add-on modules for those who prefer them, not mandated and part of the core rules. Of course, at least at present, it doesn't look like designers are taking that direction, so that means the next iteration of D&D will not likely follow my recommendation. That, to me, is a disappointment.

I also think D&D Next should place less emphasis on alignments in general as a standardized trait for races and monsters. A good compromise, to me, is to change the alignment designation in stat blocks to something less concrete sounding like "alignment tendencies" instead of “alignment.” That way, when people play D&D, they know specific creatures favor certain alignments, but variances also occur and to what extent. A subtle difference, I know, but an important one. This should then be followed up with a more complete description in each creature's flavor text, including how often that creature’s alignment does or does not vary from its racial tendencies. The text for demons, for instance, could state they NEVER vary from their racial tendencies, while the flavor text for elves could state the majority of the population is chaotic good, but 10 percent tend toward neutral good or lawful good, and a minuscule 1 percent embrace lawful evil or chaotic evil alignments, even to the point of rivaling drow in their maliciousness.

I don’t know, what do you think?

In 4e, you had only five alignments. These designations included "good" (which is the equivalent of chaotic good under the older rules sets); lawful good; evil (which is the equivalent of lawful evil under the old rules sets); chaotic evil; and unaligned, which covers anything that doesn't fall rigidly into those camps (i.e. neutral, neutral evil, neutral good, truly unaligned, etc.). Really, what else do you need? This, of course, compares to the current play-test material of D&D Next where there are ten different alignments: lawful good, neutral good, chaotic good, lawful neutral, neutral, chaotic neutral, lawful evil, neutral evil, chaotic evil, and unaligned.

Again, I ask: why do we need this many?

I have difficulty to this day grasping nuances of different categorizations of "neutral." 

In my opinion, alignment should be more of a measuring stick, anyway, to keep track of how “tainted” a PC or creature is—not a straight jacket that dictates how a PC or creature should be role-played. For instance, players should play the game however they want and then, if their character conducts enough evil acts, their PC's overall barometer of good-verse-evil should tip more and more toward "evil" until it finally attains the solid designation of "evil," enough to make anyone and anything attuned to such things take notice. From that point on, the PC is adversely or beneficially affected by spells, items, and powers that depend upon such a reading. Those who do not lean in either direction, a mixture of good and selfish acts, who are unaligned, receive no benefits from either side and quite possibly find themselves punished and/or in disdain by both parties. However, they can always atone for their "sins" by pursuing good acts instead, which will eventually revert them to the other party once they have obtained a "tipping point" determined by the DM. 

What do you think?

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Comments

12/02/2012 11:15pm

I agree with your post.
Alignment is just a general description of a creature, it shouldn't be used as a straight jacket.
I don't mind having all those alignments. They are mostly for nostalgia and symmetry and don't come up during play.

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