Aquamarine - Shigar Valley, Skardu District, Gilgit, Baltistan, Northern Areas, Pakistan
Wow I just realized the DnD/tabletop rpg good-lawful-neutral-chaotic-evil alignment system really fucks me up
OXTALKS: DND ALIGNMENT PROBLEMS, or WHY DID I TAKE THAT SOCRATIC PHILOSOPHY CLASS IN COLLEGE IT HAS CAUSED ME ONLY ANGUISH
(Under readmore: rambling (I’m serious this is a ramble) + possible alternative alignment system thoughts)
I DISAGREE WITH YOU, KIND OF, BUT I THINK YOUR THOUGHTS ARE COOL, SO I’M GONNA RAMBLE IN RETURN. Warning: I have a LOT of opinions about the 3.5 D&D alignment system, and in the interest of full disclosure, I like it! I ALSO LIKE TALKING ABOUT IT. :D
Here’s the thing I’ll say upfront: I think that you basically reworked what already existed, using less ambiguous words. I continue to hold that the D&D alignments themselves aren’t the problem, but that the alignments have misleading terms.
My views on the alignment axes are mostly extrapolated from the descriptions of each individual alignment, though there are wording things I’ve picked up here or there that I tried to make into the system that made the most sense to me. So, yeah, some of this is my opinion/interpretation. BUT I LIKE MY OPINION SO I’M SHARING IT. c:
WHAT IS ALIGNMENT:
Alignment is worldview. Actions are not aligned; there are no “good” actions nor “chaotic” actions. Rather, you have a person who is Good-aligned because of his world-view, taking actions based on his interpretation of his situation.
I’ll go into this a little more later, but the basis behind this is that prescribing alignment based on actions is very inconsistent with real people, and thus it doesn’t make sense to use such a system.
GOOD VS. EVIL
Whenever I explain this alignment axis to others, I use very similar words to what you picked out — Good tends to be altruistic; Evil tends to be self-serving.
People who are Good-aligned (different from lower-case “good people;” most good people are neutral) believe that it is worthwhile to look out for others, even if it’s hard — like going out of your way to return the lost wallet anonymously — whether you believe a deity will reward you, think that what goes around comes around, or just like getting a warm fuzzy feeling — if you are Good-aligned, you believe in the worth of others and are willing to invest in it and sacrifice something for it.
People who are Evil-aligned believe they have to look out for themselves, because it’s foolish to do otherwise. There is no advantage in returning the lost wallet full of money — you just gave up $100 for literally no reason — unless there’s a reward. Thus, Evil-aligned people are actually quite capable of doing “good” things if there is a payoff, but they are also willing to hurt others if it helps them — there’s no inherent worth in preserving others.
LAW VS CHAOS
These are just awful terms. Chaotic is constantly misunderstood as “random” and Lawful is constantly misunderstood as “follows the law.” A much more sensible comparison would be Order vs Individualism.
People who are Lawfully-aligned may not even care a whole lot about the letter of the law — rather, Lawful-aligned people are those who believe in the value of a system. When a system fails, they tend to reform the system rather than tear it down. They believe society functions best with some kind of structure, rather than leaving everyone up to their own devices.
People who are Chaotically-aligned, on the other hand, are perfectly capable of living peaceful, law-abiding lives, but Chaotic-aligned people want to be free to do as they will. When a system fails, they tend to believe the system is the problem, and that everyone would function much better if allowed to do things the way that’s best for them. They believe that too many committees breed corruption and too many rules are stifling.
WHAT THE HECK IS NEUTRAL
Neutral is simply not having a strong conviction in a set of opposing axes. Most descriptions classify the majority of people as Neutral. Generally, because Neutral-aligned people don’t have strong convictions about abstract ideals, they’re governed by specific circumstances and their own experiences.
Neutrally-aligned people on the Good-Evil axis (aka Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Neutral, True Neutral) are often those who won’t stick their neck out for a stranger because there’s “no reason” to, but will defend a friend — there’s already an investment there. But if someone is a jerk to them, they have no reason not to be a jerk back. Humanity as a whole doesn’t have INHERENT worth, but certain people are worth investing in.
If you are Neutral on the Law-Chaos axis (aka Neutral Good, Neutral Evil, True Neutral), similarly, you will probably be governed by circumstances. A corrupt government is bad, a prosperous government is good! My friend got screwed by the school system once so I’m suspicious of their bureaucracy, but I think policemen are necessary to our safety because my best friend is a well-intentioned cop! Etc. etc.
ACTIONS ARE NOT ALIGNED
BUT IF ALIGNMENT IS JUST WORLDVIEW, DOESN’T THIS MEAN THE SAME ACTION COULD BE ALIGNED MANY WAYS?
Why yes it does!
An Evil-aligned person may well return the lost wallet - because he’ll get something out of it (a reward, a reputation as a good person, a friend). A Lawfully-aligned person could organise the resistance that will take down the monarchy (giving order to the movement in hopes of making a better system), or a Chaotically-aligned person could organise the resistance that will take down the monarchy (empowering the people to throw off the oppression of the monarchy so they’ll finally be able to live as they see fit). A Lawful Evil person could be overthrowing an Evil monarchy — arguably a “good” action — and simply see a new system as what would be most beneficial to him.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
- People are inconsistent. The idea that Good-aligned people don’t commit “evil” acts is just absurd. The idea that Evil-aligned people always do “evil” things is equally absurd. Evil people can falter and hold back; Good people can be tempted; Chaotic people can become tyrants; Lawful people can make exceptions. Recognising alignment as worldview rather than actions is important in making alignment make any sense in a realistic world.
- DMs are not always great at handling that power. The DM that whines, “you can’t do that, you’re Lawful Good” is the primary problem most people have with alignment — it ends up constraining actions and determining them. I don’t think it should be that way; and looking at it as “your actions are revealing your true alignment” is a good way to keep that in check.
SO WHAT IS ALIGNMENT FOR?
In my opinion, alignment is not for keeping the players corralled - as addressed above, that can be a big mess. Rather, alignment is a tool for the players.
Without alignment, it’s really easy to just play the same “loot everything and kill everything and explore everything” character you play in Skyrim, and some for some players, defining their avatar with alignment helps them play a more realistic person (I said more realistic, not realistic — we’ve all been in D&D parties, we know better) or a person who is different from them. Instead of just thinking “would I like to see what’s inside that chest,” like you would in a video game, you think “would my character open the chest? It’s not his, and he’s Good-aligned, so maybe not.” Alignment is a guide — and with only nine categories, it’s a very rough guide, where a lot of different sorts of people can share categories.
- What About Paladins? Paladins don’t just fall when they align with Evil, paladins also fall when they commit an evil act, which, since actions can’t be aligned, is probably defined by whatever Order makes them a paladin. Paladins are more than just Lawful Good — most Lawful Good people can associate with Evil people and commit an evil act in a moment of weakness and still be Lawful Good. It’s probably a good idea to talk to your DM, if you’re playing a paladin, and discuss what they think your Order’s idea of “evil” and “good” are, because you’re bound to that, as well.
- What About Detect Evil/Good/Law/Chaos? Okay realistically Detect Evil is the important one here. I think this is A LOT of fun, personally — if you use alignment in this way, Detect Evil DOESN’T automatically tell you who the bad guy is (another major complaint I’ve heard against alignment), rather, it only tells you his abstract ideas about human worth. A shopkeeper who has no qualms overcharging might well detect as Evil. If a PC keeps finding Evil people who aren’t actually plotting anything, Detect Evil only becomes a possible clue rather than a giveaway, which I really love. I also love dissecting how characters would think of this in-world; a noble who doesn’t detect as Good rationalising that he’s just not as holy as a priest, but he’s still a good person, or a paladin warning a greedy merchant that, while he has broken no laws, she can sense evil in his heart, and she will not ally with his cause.
- What About Dumb Players? Like, the guy playing a “Lawful Good” paladin who has no qualms about torture (who is certainly not a unique player type). Alignment isn’t prescriptive, but if a person’s actions no longer match with their stated worldview, in real life we call that a “hypocrite,” and in D&D land we call that “alignment change,” as their actions begin to reveal a shifting worldview. I feel like this is a place (like all of D&D) where communication between players and DM is very important — the DM should communicate to the players how alignment’s going to work, before the game begins if possible… and if they’ve decided alignment shift is possible in their game, they should warn players when they’re getting close, ESPECIALLY characters who will lose features: “If this comes up again, your alignment might slip.” Handwave it as the character’s conscience.
ANYWAY TL;DR THAT’S HOW I FEEL ABOUT ALIGNMENT. I feel like the system as presented can work, and I think it’s a valuable tool for thinking about characters as people with real motivations. It’s not capital-N Necessary, but I think really looking at what it means and how it would impact the world is cool, and I’d hate to give that up by dropping the whole system just to avoid the weirdly misleading terminology.
But then again, I tend to lean Lawful. c:
There is a point when, as a human, you find things very funny. As such, you might laugh a lot.
I laughed so hard reading this I wasn’t able to breathe for a second.
I tend to react to media announcements with a certain cynical optimism, even when it pertains to something I love. But when I heard Sierra was coming back? I freaked out.
I knew it!
Son of a bitch!
Ever notice how we never saw Batman an Godzilla in the same room? Now you know.
"Why kaiju, Master Wayne?"
"Kaiju frighten me. It’s time my enemies shared my dread."
"Yes, but… that doesn’t-"
Thank you Doctor, I almost snorted tea while trying to giggle. =)
THE HERO GOTHAM DESERVES