Toss Out Alignment Entirely and Try This…

Ok folks. Over the weekend I came up with an intriguing concept that I’m going to employ in a campaign I’m starting in June. We’re going to use D&D 5e, but I’m tossing out alignment entirely.

And now you should be asking what I’m replacing it with… But first, let’s talk about why I’m tossing it out.

Long ago (back in 2009) I detailed an alignment system my friend Bindel and I created for the original Moebius Adventures RPG system. Instead of the traditional quadrants of lawful and chaotic, good and evil, we decided we’d go with a continuum of Morals and Ethics. Each was rated on a scale of -10 to +10 and would be used to figure out how a particular character felt about right and wrong, pain and suffering. And though it was philosophically quite interesting, I haven’t used it in any game I’ve run since we stopped development on the system years ago.

Why? It’s too complex. Too ambiguous.

A New Approach…

Over the weekend I came up with a different approach. One more uniquely applied to a particular character.

Let’s look at Conan the Barbarian. He lives in a world where might makes right. Weakness isn’t tolerated. In fact, the weak usually find themselves at the mercy of the strong. If you wanted to, you could almost say that Crom, the god he curses on a regular basis and ignores Conan all the time, believes that this continuum works. Strength > Weakness.

The stronger Conan becomes, the more things happen to him. People are drawn to him. He’s drawn to problems other folks can’t solve. But why is that?

Robert Jordan wrote about the Ta’veren. These are individuals the Wheel of Time uses to bring the Pattern back into alignment. And they have wildly different effects. Perrin can influence people. Mat warps the laws of chance. Rand causes the impossible to come to be. This concept always fascinated me, though I ran out of patience with the series long ago.

But I love the concept that a character’s decisions or even presence can affect the world around them or gain the attention of some other-worldly forces…

Introducing the “Continuum”…

Let’s look at in another way.

YinYang_transparentTake two opposing concepts. I’ll give you a few to contemplate…

  • Law & Chaos
  • Good & Evil
  • Fire & Water
  • Air & Earth, Ground & Sky
  • Pain & Pleasure
  • Harm & Healing
  • Light & Darkness, Day & Night
  • Liberty & Imprisonment
  • Reality & Illusion
  • Heaven & Hell
  • Insight & Ignorance
  • Spring & Winter
  • Summer & Fall
  • Outside & Inside
  • Mind & Body
  • Truth & Lies
  • Chance vs. Order

At character creation, a player decides which two they want to use for their PC. Every decision the PC makes must be weighed against the two concepts they have chosen. Unlike the good old alignment system which was largely viewed from the outside in, this puts the decision squarely on the player with some guidance from the GM.

Each concept gets a point value. They start at zero. But each decision has the potential to change the counter.

Let’s say a character has the qualities of Mind & Body. Attacking another creature and doing physical damage would count for Body. Looking for knowledge counts for Mind. If it was Pleasure vs. Pain, healing might count as Pleasure (i.e. ending pain) while hurting another being would definitely count as Pain.

Not every action has to change these potentials. Just the big ones. Combat. Encounter-changing decisions. Even little things. But the player gets to decide.

The justification for each should be done by the player, but confirmed by the GM. The GM can keep a list of key events during a session that may affect the continuum that might be slightly different than the player’s list, but there should be a reckoning at the end of the night.

Also keep in mind that the player’s age or experience may come into play here. It’s not meant as an exercise in frustration to use terms or concepts unfamiliar to the player. Even Friend vs. Foe works as a simple way to judge the point value of a particular action. It’s not that one side is better than the other – just that they are different.

How are they used?

The GM can then ask for the Continuum values and make some intriguing decisions based on them.

For instance, if a character has reached some threshold the GM has decided… let’s say 10 points one direction or another, let’s say they’re “noticed” by beings of that particular flavor. If it’s Fire vs. Water and a character has gained 10 points of Fire, perhaps a minor Fire elemental is in the area and looks in on the character. Nothing says it will harm the PC – only that there’s a level of interest.

If it’s a bigger number down the line, it’s quite possible… let’s say a character has 50 points of Earth – that a bigger creature may awaken or be disturbed when the PC enters the area. A troll or giant may come to see what “feels” off and cause difficulty for the party.

At  perhaps the gods themselves get involved, sending minor servants to watch and aid or hinder based on values – or ask for help down the line.

Imagine a Goddess appearing before a group of PCs and asking for help for a particular cause. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

This gets rid of the whole good vs. evil alignment thing. It’s useless as far as I’m concerned. Morality and Ethics are completely subjective between the subject and those affected. This offers some intriguing push/pull for the GM to use and some interesting philosophical possibilities for the players. Do they try to balance things out? If so, how do they do that? Can they avoid getting the attention of some of these otherworldly creatures?

I’m looking forward to playing with this in an actual campaign. I think it has some very interesting repercussions. Good and evil are overrated (unless you’re a cleric or paladin who depend on those concepts). Why not change things up a bit?

What do you think? Is this total rubbish or something that can be used to change the balance and make roleplaying more a part of the tapestry we’re creating at the game table?

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