Cult of Personality: Misconceptions on Alignment


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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Alignment isn't for everyone and that's ok. One of the joys of the game is that you can change it to suit your needs. However I think there are a number of misconceptions about how alignment works and what it represents. Within are some ideas on somethings I think we overlook in our uses of alignment.

Do you still use alignment in your games? If so what actions constitute an alignment shift? Major moral dilemmas? Or every little choice? Does alignment dictate personality? Or are there many personalities within each alignment?


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I hate alignment. I feel that it tries to pigeonhole everything into basic easily definable terms in a very forced one sided way. It is a hideous abomination that needs to die in a fire.


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Nohwear wrote:
I hate alignment. I feel that it tries to pigeonhole everything into basic easily definable terms in a very forced one sided way. It is a hideous abomination that needs to die in a fire.

Which is exactly what I am saying it doesn't do and explaining how we have that misconception. Alignment does not need to pigeonhole everything we just allow it too. But all of that is in there, if you care to take a look.


Alright, how do you define Lawful? Is it always the law of the land? If you find yourself in a a Lawful Evil land, but you are Lawful Good, is it Chaotic to rebel against those laws? If not then why? Is Lawful determined by where you were born? What if you were born in a Chaotic place? Can you still be Lawful? Is there a universal definition of Lawful? If so, how can the Hellkights and most Paladin orders both be considered Lawful?


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Nohwear wrote:
Alright, how do you define Lawful? Is it always the law of the land? If you find yourself in a a Lawful Evil land, but you are Lawful Good, is it Chaotic to rebel against those laws? If not then why? Is Lawful determined by where you were born? What if you were born in a Chaotic place? Can you still be Lawful? Is there a universal definition of Lawful? If so, how can the Hellkights and most Paladin orders both be considered Lawful?

Lawful is a poorly named side of the axis I'll grant you that. It should be Chaos and Order not Chaos and Law. But Lawful does not mean following the laws of the land although it can. It means following a code. If that code means strict adherents to the laws of the land then that is that persons lawful.

its all about order, about giving ones slf a set of rules and following them. If lawful meant strict adherence to the Law a paladin would fall every time they entered an evil land. But they don't because that's not what lawful means. Paladins try and follow the laws as long as the laws aren't evil.

Yes you can still be lawful if you are born in a chaotic place. lets say a tribe of Shoanti. These tribes have traditions ittle everyday rituals that people follow. Always sit to the right of your father, bring x type of food when giving homage to X spirit. And many other things. Those that strictly follow tradition even if it is to their detriment are Lawful. Those who mostly follow tradition but don't keep it a central part of their lives, are willing to over look something here and there, they're neutral. Those who buck that tradition, turn their nose up at it. They're chaotic.


Really though, if alignment has a very open ended definition, then why bother? The alignment system, as is, really seems to be built around being able to know something about a person based on their alignment alone. What is the point of knowing that they are Lawful Evil if you have to really know their background as well? How does this make it better then, say, the Loyalties system from Unchained?


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But beyond that one of the misconceptions of alignment is that every little thing counts toward alignment. Tat one little misstep turns you from one alignment to the other. the fact is no person is ever perfect in their choices in life. Most people are honestly true neutral, we don't use order when its convenient and we do whatever we want when its not. We help people and we're selfish. The sides away from Neutral are actually extremes and to get to these extremes takes sacrifice. its not about every little action its about the major moral dilemmas.

Sure paladins are an outlier for this. But the whole point is its supposed to be hard to play them. You gain all that power with the restriction of an alignment extreme on two axis. But even then as long as it doesn't break the paladin code the paladin is not going to fall from lawful for not paying a fine, or ignoring the order of a town guard he sees as unjust. It would have to be a lot of disorderly choices or failure at one big moral dilemma based on law.


Apupunchau wrote:

But beyond that one of the misconceptions of alignment is that every little thing counts toward alignment. Tat one little misstep turns you from one alignment to the other. the fact is no person is ever perfect in their choices in life. Most people are honestly true neutral, we don't use order when its convenient and we do whatever we want when its not. We help people and we're selfish. The sides away from Neutral are actually extremes and to get to these extremes takes sacrifice. its not about every little action its about the major moral dilemmas.

Sure paladins are an outlier for this. But the whole point is its supposed to be hard to play them. You gain all that power with the restriction of an alignment extreme on two axis. But even then as long as it doesn't break the paladin code the paladin is not going to fall from lawful for not paying a fine, or ignoring the order of a town guard he sees as unjust. It would have to be a lot of disorderly choices or failure at one big moral dilemma based on law.

I may just be on edge, but this seems to reinforce the my point that Unchain's Loyalties, or a similar system, is just plain superior to the Alignment matrix.


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Nohwear wrote:
Really though, if alignment has a very open ended definition, then why bother? The alignment system, as is, really seems to be built around being able to know something about a person based on their alignment alone. What is the point of knowing that they are Lawful Evil if you have to really know their background as well? How does this make it better then, say, the Loyalties system from Unchained?

Because that's not what the alignment system is. The system doesn't say you are lawful evil so you must do this. The system says because you've done these things you are lawful evil. You're alignment doesn't dictate what you do, what you do dictates you're alignment. It is based on your actions, your actions aren't based on it.

Secondarily alignment is just where you fall in the grand scheme of the war between the outer planes. Again most people are true neutral, like probably 90% of the world. To most people live is just about getting to the next day. Only those people who are forced to make the tough choices everyday, like adventurers really fall into the extremes of the alignment scale. And when they do their souls are destined to these far off realms. They have unwittingly taken a side in the between the upper and the lower planes.


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Nohwear wrote:
Apupunchau wrote:

But beyond that one of the misconceptions of alignment is that every little thing counts toward alignment. Tat one little misstep turns you from one alignment to the other. the fact is no person is ever perfect in their choices in life. Most people are honestly true neutral, we don't use order when its convenient and we do whatever we want when its not. We help people and we're selfish. The sides away from Neutral are actually extremes and to get to these extremes takes sacrifice. its not about every little action its about the major moral dilemmas.

Sure paladins are an outlier for this. But the whole point is its supposed to be hard to play them. You gain all that power with the restriction of an alignment extreme on two axis. But even then as long as it doesn't break the paladin code the paladin is not going to fall from lawful for not paying a fine, or ignoring the order of a town guard he sees as unjust. It would have to be a lot of disorderly choices or failure at one big moral dilemma based on law.

I may just be on edge, but this seems to reinforce the my point that Unchain's Loyalties, or a similar system, is just plain superior to the Alignment matrix.

It may work for you but that doesn't make it superior. Alignment effects so many things in the world. And again the entire cosmic war which is massively important depends on this. If you're not worried about the cosmic balance the way the campaign setting is so be it but I quite enjoy that aspect of the world. Especially after reading James Sutter's Redemption Engine. It put a lot of things about the grand battle in perspective.


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Alas, it really seems like we are just going to have to agree to disagree. I feel that we come from very different base ideas about Alignment. With that said, how do you feel about the Loyalties system? I feel that because of our differences that your view point would be helpful to know.


Nohwear wrote:
Alas, it really seems like we are just going to have to agree to disagree. I feel that we come from very different base ideas about Alignment. With that said, how do you feel about the Loyalties system? I feel that because of our differences that your view point would be helpful to know.

I think everything in loyalties basically exists in the alignment system. Dedication to ones family is a lawful ideal. Keeping ones honor is a lawful ideal. And I think loyalties to organizations is already handled pretty well under the rules for organizational prestige and influence. Loyalties to people are just things that happen over time. All of these things happen naturally regardless of the alignment system or not and they are just as fluid changing over time. I wouldn't use it as a system within itself as they are just things that are.


And even the concepts are vague. If there is a problem with ill defined alignments I would go so far as to say this is even more ill defined.

"Barbarian: Remove the alignment restriction. A barbarian
may not have a loyalty to law, order, or any similar concepts."

What defines similar concepts? Who defines similar concepts?

The paladin also becomes far more useless

"The paladin’s smite evil ability works against any foe whose
loyalties are directly contrary to the paladin’s highest loyalty."

Sure he's technically evil but he isn't directly contrary to your loyalty to your church. It's a system with way more what ifs than alignment has and I'm not saying alignment doesn't have what ifs. But it is even less clearly defined. And tears out the heart of at least one class.


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Personally, I've never had a problem knowing what alignment I should pick for my own characters, or the NPCs that I create.

When I'm running a game as GM, I generally accept the player's interpretation of their alignment. If I think they've violated that somehow, I give them an in-game warning and let them know it could affect them. There's been an actual problem with this a grand total of once.


GM Rednal wrote:

Personally, I've never had a problem knowing what alignment I should pick for my own characters, or the NPCs that I create.

When I'm running a game as GM, I generally accept the player's interpretation of their alignment. If I think they've violated that somehow, I give them an in-game warning and let them know it could affect them. There's been an actual problem with this a grand total of once.

Yeah I've never had a problem with alignment and I run a lot of games for people I don't even know. It isn't just hey my home group has no problems. but I run at local gaming days, cons and on roll20. I have very rarely had anyone give me a problem about alignment.


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I love alignment. One of my favorite things about the game is that it gives players a common vocabulary to use. It's not a perfect system, but it's a fun one, and alignment shifts are often the result of a character's development over time. The fact that our only divine caster has been an Oracle has helped- without alignment restrictions, the stakes are pretty low.


As I give it more thought, I guess my main problem with the Alignment system is Evil. I prefer to run darker games where evil so much more to me then a side in the Alignment matrix.


I mostly don't like Alignment because I don't like having any kind of label on my character's personality. I'm way too suggestive and obsessive, so having a label just causes me to second-guess my character's actions.

Also I hate having a side in a cosmic war imposed on me. I don't want a side. (This includes Neutral because some aligned spells still affect them, thus I consider them having a side.)

I just avoid using Alignment and try to avoid getting in a situation where my views would mess it up for someone else.


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Nohwear wrote:
As I give it more thought, I guess my main problem with the Alignment system is Evil. I prefer to run darker games where evil so much more to me then a side in the Alignment matrix.

Alignment is much more than just a side on the alignment axis. But its up to the individual GM and group of players to make it such. You can make evil insidious, you can run incredibly dark games with alignment. The thing about the alignment axis is its is undefined because unlike the Pathfinder world were good is good and evil is evil, the real world is not so black and white. So they define very few good or evil, lawful or chaotic deeds so that the table can decide what it's morality is. Once the table comes to consensus on what constitutes good and evil, order and chaos then you can have fun an play with it, get as dark as you want. There is honestly nothing stopping you but the limitations you set on yourself.


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SilvercatMoonpaw wrote:

I mostly don't like Alignment because I don't like having any kind of label on my character's personality. I'm way too suggestive and obsessive, so having a label just causes me to second-guess my character's actions.

Also I hate having a side in a cosmic war imposed on me. I don't want a side. (This includes Neutral because some aligned spells still affect them, thus I consider them having a side.)

I just avoid using Alignment and try to avoid getting in a situation where my views would mess it up for someone else.

Alignment does not dictate personality. Which is something I talk about in the article. Also alignment does not dictate actions. it is quote frankly the other way around. Your actions dictate your alignment, I know we all start with a given alignment and try and play into it but that's not how it really works. By picking an alignment we're saying the characters actions up until this point have brought him here. But that is not to say that he has to stay there. The actions you take after will determine where you fall on the alignment scale.

Take a look at the link I give for some of the alternative rules for alignment. Barring a class restriction that disallows it all player's start at true neutral.And then their actions as they move through the game determine what their alignment becomes. Sooner or later they will level out at whatever the alignment their actions dictate.

If you don't want a side be an enlightened atheist. Those who choose not to follow the whims of the gods don't go to the afterlife but they can still be good and evil, lawful or chaotic. They rest inpurgatory in the great boneyard outside Pharasma's realm.


If alignment is more of a cosmic litmus test, then it seems to me to be something that is more appropriate to a game where the cosmic war will,play a significant role. If it is meant to be a roleplaying aid, then I still think that another system would work better. If it is meant to be a way to know about someone at a glance, then it requires a more black and white world then I like.

EDIT: To summarize, there seems to be some disagreement on what the purpose of Alignment is. I also apologize if any of my post comes across as dismissive.


Nohwear wrote:
If alignment is more of a cosmic litmus test, then it seems to me to be something that is more appropriate to a game where the cosmic war will,play a significant role. If it is meant to be a roleplaying aid, then I still think that another system would work better. If it is meant to be a way to know about someone at a glance, then it requires a more black and white world then I like.

It is a cosmic litmus test. And the cosmos gives out class abilities and spells that help or hinder you depending on your alignment. Pretty much every divine class gets an alignment related ability or access to spells becasue of where they fall on the alignment scale. Alignment is a real thing not just a concept good is good, evil is evil and these abilities effect the balance of the cosmic war.

And no you should never know what alignment some one is at a glance. That's why we have detect spells. You can't look at some one and go oh he's evil or oh he's good. And since 90% of the world is low level most people who aren't true neutral won't even show up on detect spells. They haven invested enough time and power in being truly evil. Sure Francis the kid who you think is killing all the cats and torturing them is evil, but he's a level 1 commoner so the paladin won't detect him as evil.

At low level (under level) unless you are the agent of an evil god (ie a divine class with an aura) you're alignment is undetectable> It isn't until you have spent a good portion of your life (over level 5) dedicating yourself to evil deeds that you will show up as being evil when some one uses a detect spell. And honestly except for paladins who uses detect alignment spells.


I dislike allignment for two reasons. First, it puts all actions on a single axis(good-neutral-evil). That means that someone, somewhere, in the universe is omniscient enough to know everything you do, and constantly grades your actions according to some definable principles. That present force of nature can't be any of the pantheon gods, because those gods themselves are Good or Evil, which means that that force grades them too. But there is no such force that I know of in the lore, so what the hell makes your allignment shift?

Second, it pretty much begs GM to force their philosophical ideas on the players, if they want to use allignment at all. For example, letting a train roll over 5 people if diverting it to a different track would make it roll over one person can be either Neutral or Evil, depending on wherever a particular GM views inaction as a type of action. That, in turn, means that if one of the players has an opposing belief on that front, allignment as a system will bring about internal conflict in that gaming group, which is just horrible. Games should bring people together, not force them apart.

For example, what do you think about the allignment effects of each of the possible actions in this situation?


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Klara Meison wrote:

I dislike allignment for two reasons. First, it puts all actions on a single axis(good-neutral-evil). That means that someone, somewhere, in the universe is omniscient enough to know everything you do, and constantly grades your actions according to some definable principles. That present force of nature can't be any of the pantheon gods, because those gods themselves are Good or Evil, which means that that force grades them too. But there is no such force that I know of in the lore, so what the hell makes your allignment shift?

Second, it pretty much begs GM to force their philosophical ideas on the players, if they want to use allignment at all. For example, letting a train roll over 5 people if diverting it to a different track would make it roll over one person can be either Neutral or Evil, depending on wherever a particular GM views inaction as a type of action. That, in turn, means that if one of the players has an opposing belief on that front, allignment as a system will bring about internal conflict in that gaming group, which is just horrible. Games should bring people together, not force them apart.

For example, what do you think about the allignment effects of each of the possible actions in this situation?

The universe decides. Something created the outer planes. Something made alignment into actual physical places. The creatures of those realms are literally made up of the stuff of that alignment. Who knows what being did this but it is, that is the cosmology of the world. And although you can play without it, that cosmology colors how the rules of the game work. Alignment shifts just because it does, because good and evil, law and chaos are things.

Any game the GM is going to force his philosophical ideas on you. Even without an alignment system your actions have meaning in other ways. Because you take an action the GM will have a reaction to it and that reaction will depend on his philosophical believed/ Its inescapable, this just has a cosmic ramification.

I think that you make the best choice with what you have. If your only two choices are literally some one has to die, if there is no way out of it your actions are neither good nor evil. Hypothetical choices where you are set up to fail are not the way you determine alignment they are a horrible test of such things.


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And in the Pathfinder setting, there's Pharasma - who's usually described as understanding the big picture and considering things from both a moral and an objective perspective. XD

And as I mentioned before, this generally hasn't been a problem in my games. I've also found it fairly easy to handle if the players and the GM both explain their views of alignment and decide how they're going to use the system as a table...


Which to me only reinforces the idea that Alignment is a terrible and often meaningless system that is best replaced or ignored.


Apupunchau wrote:
Klara Meison wrote:

I dislike allignment for two reasons. First, it puts all actions on a single axis(good-neutral-evil). That means that someone, somewhere, in the universe is omniscient enough to know everything you do, and constantly grades your actions according to some definable principles. That present force of nature can't be any of the pantheon gods, because those gods themselves are Good or Evil, which means that that force grades them too. But there is no such force that I know of in the lore, so what the hell makes your allignment shift?

Second, it pretty much begs GM to force their philosophical ideas on the players, if they want to use allignment at all. For example, letting a train roll over 5 people if diverting it to a different track would make it roll over one person can be either Neutral or Evil, depending on wherever a particular GM views inaction as a type of action. That, in turn, means that if one of the players has an opposing belief on that front, allignment as a system will bring about internal conflict in that gaming group, which is just horrible. Games should bring people together, not force them apart.

For example, what do you think about the allignment effects of each of the possible actions in this situation?

The universe decides. Something created the outer planes. Something made alignment into actual physical places. The creatures of those realms are literally made up of the stuff of that alignment. Who knows what being did this but it is, that is the cosmology of the world. And although you can play without it, that cosmology colors how the rules of the game work. Alignment shifts just because it does, because good and evil, law and chaos are things.

Any game the GM is going to force his philosophical ideas on you. Even without an alignment system your actions have meaning in other ways. Because you take an action the GM will have a reaction to it and that reaction will depend on his...

>Alignment shifts just because it does, because good and evil, law and chaos are things.

That is the same as saying "Things fall down just because they do, that's how the universe works." You still have to answer why it happens and how it happens. Things fall down because of gravity. Gravity is a thing because of the curvature of spacetime. Spacetime curves because of this neat thing called Higgs boson, et cetera.

>you take an action the GM will have a reaction to it and that reaction will depend on his philosophical believed

Unless GM is doing their job wrong, that reaction is going to be based not on his philosophical beliefs, but on how the world would react. If PC murders people in public police will try to arrest him, etc, even if GM is an anarchist and thinks that police force should be abolished.

--

> in the Pathfinder setting, there's Pharasma

She is on the same level as all the other gods of the setting, so I don't see how she would judge other deities. Not to mention it being implied that she had no idea Aroden would die, and thus she isn't even omniscient.


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Klara Meison wrote:


>Alignment shifts just because it does, because good and evil, law and chaos are things.

That is the same as saying "Things fall down just because they do, that's how the universe works." You still have to answer why it happens and how it happens. Things fall down because of gravity. Gravity is a thing because of the curvature of spacetime. Spacetime curves because of this neat thing called Higgs boson, et cetera.

It stops there. Fundamental laws of physics do not have justifications outside of metaphisical conjectures.

It's like axioms in mathematics and logic. There are some concept that you have to take at face value because at some point you get to a primitive concept that you can't demonstrate from other truths.

In this case the alignment is a quality/quantity that describes all the sentient entities in the world, it's the moral equivalent of mass, inertia, elecritc/magnetic charges and the like.


Entryhazard wrote:
Klara Meison wrote:


>Alignment shifts just because it does, because good and evil, law and chaos are things.

That is the same as saying "Things fall down just because they do, that's how the universe works." You still have to answer why it happens and how it happens. Things fall down because of gravity. Gravity is a thing because of the curvature of spacetime. Spacetime curves because of this neat thing called Higgs boson, et cetera.

It stops there. Fundamental laws of physics do not have justifications outside of metaphisical conjectures.

It's like axioms in mathematics and logic. There are some concept that you have to take at face value because at some point you get to a primitive concept that you can't demonstrate from other truths.

In this case the alignment is a quality/quantity that describes all the sentient entities in the world, it's the moral equivalent of mass, inertia, elecritc/magnetic charges and the like.

For the sake of clarity, does that mean that you feel good, evil, law, and chaos have definite definitions?


Apupunchau wrote:
Alignment does not dictate personality. Which is something I talk about in the article. Also alignment does not dictate actions. it is quote frankly the other way around. Your actions dictate your alignment, I know we all start with a given alignment and try and play into it but that's not how it really works. By picking an alignment we're saying the characters actions up until this point have brought him here. But that is not to say that he has to stay there. The actions you take after will determine where you fall on the alignment scale.

I do not understand: I said I don't like having a label because a label makes me feel like I have to live up to it. It doesn't matter that's not the intent I still feel that way.

Apupunchau wrote:
Take a look at the link I give for some of the alternative rules for alignment. Barring a class restriction that disallows it all player's start at true neutral.And then their actions as they move through the game determine what their alignment becomes. Sooner or later they will level out at whatever the alignment their actions dictate.

I don't want a leveling-out. I don't even want to be Neutral. I want to be totally outside the system.

Apupunchau wrote:
If you don't want a side be an enlightened atheist. Those who choose not to follow the whims of the gods don't go to the afterlife but they can still be good and evil, lawful or chaotic. They rest inpurgatory in the great boneyard outside Pharasma's realm.

What does that have to do with anything not Golarion?

Actually what does that have to do with not having an alignment? You say they still have one. I don't want one at all.

And by "avoid" I meant "I don't use it in my games, and try not to join games that use it where its use would annoy me and cause a conflict". Aka "I stay out of its way and ask it to stay out of mine".


Nohwear wrote:
For the sake of clarity, does that mean that you feel good, evil, law, and chaos have definite definitions?

My point is that not every rule of a world needs a underlying reason, as that reason needs a reason in turn until you get to laws that you can simply describe for what they are without them having and underlying cause or reason.

Like most mechanical interactions are explained by quantum physics but the fundamental forces and their particle vectors you can just tell how they interact, but can't tall WHY they interact that way becuase for what you know you already are at the lowest level.

But speaking of morality, i believe that single actons can be judged on 4 parameters: Action, Intent, Awareness, and Agency.

So you can tell that murder is evil, while gifting something without ulterior motive is good.

tangent about morality:

The true problem about morality that arises even in reality is QUANTIFICATION.

The trolley problem doesn't debate that killing the dude is evil and saving the other five is good, the question is the magnitude of those actions, that is: is saving five lives more good than killing someone is evil? And then given the circumstances you are not going to linearly sum those magnitudes, as then it would be the same as saving five people today and murdering someone else tomorrow for unrelated reasons and the measure my morality for the total week the same way as pulling that lever.

Or more ironically: how many bikes do I need to steal for it to become worse than murder?

So the point is that morality is nontrivial, not that it is uncomprehensible.

But when you get the part in the spoiler out of the way, in a setting like this, alignment is nothing more than a personality trait that is attributed like any other quality and thus can be interacted by the forces of the game, and the DM audits your character actions based on the personality you gave him.

If you decide that your character is good, this isn't more of a straightjacket than deciding that he dislikes pork. The GM questions the morality of your actions simply because they might be out of character compared to the personality that you decided, and he would do the same if you character decides to eat a sausage when you before decided that he dislikes pork. It's simply a matter of narrative consistency.

At this point as you have defined a trait, ther can be objects that interact with it, like macic.
But like before, a Magic Circle Against Evil isn't different from a Magic Circle Against Vegans.

It's a consequental attribute that can be interacted with, not a cage

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There is an old dragon magazine article in Dragon 173 called Get Your Priorities Straight by Royce Wicks, that to this day I still think is the best take on the alignment system I'd ever seen. It basically argued that each alignment can be broken down into a mix of seven priorities, factoring in that you might be most loyal to your race, your deity, your liege, or even your family. Being chaotic didn't mean you had no loyalties, you just valued a much less.


Nohwear wrote:
Entryhazard wrote:
Klara Meison wrote:


>Alignment shifts just because it does, because good and evil, law and chaos are things.

That is the same as saying "Things fall down just because they do, that's how the universe works." You still have to answer why it happens and how it happens. Things fall down because of gravity. Gravity is a thing because of the curvature of spacetime. Spacetime curves because of this neat thing called Higgs boson, et cetera.

It stops there. Fundamental laws of physics do not have justifications outside of metaphisical conjectures.

It's like axioms in mathematics and logic. There are some concept that you have to take at face value because at some point you get to a primitive concept that you can't demonstrate from other truths.

In this case the alignment is a quality/quantity that describes all the sentient entities in the world, it's the moral equivalent of mass, inertia, elecritc/magnetic charges and the like.

For the sake of clarity, does that mean that you feel good, evil, law, and chaos have definite definitions?

They do and they don't. The table the GM and the Player need to decide what is good and evil, what is orderly and Chaotic. But once those things are decided yes they are definitive definitions. Good is good, evil is evil, Lawful is orderly and chaos is chaotic.


Klara Meison wrote:
For example, letting a train roll over 5 people if diverting it to a different track would make it roll over one person can be either Neutral or Evil, depending on wherever a particular GM views inaction as a type of action.

it's not about whether or not inaction is an action. inaction is a choice in the scenario. if you don't do anything, you choose not to do anything in this situation. you had the power to do something, but chose not to. people feel better about not doing anything because it allows them to feel like they didn't have any say in what happened, but that's not actually one of the options. you aren't absolved for doing nothing unless you're rendered incapable of doing anything to affect the outcome. so it turns out the options are either neutral or evil by virtue of how you got into this situation to begin with and why you choose to act or not. for example, if you set this situation up, you're evil. it doesn't really matter what you choose because you put 6 people on a railroad track in the first place. if you did not willfully help create the situation, then it is only evil if your choice is based on who will die (i.e. you want specific individual to die or you want to see more dead people). if you aren't excited about people dying, both choices are neutral without being able to determine the future of the lives being saved or lost, but if you feel better about yourself for not doing anything because you think it absolves you of responsibility, you shouldn't.


SilvercatMoonpaw wrote:
Apupunchau wrote:
Alignment does not dictate personality. Which is something I talk about in the article. Also alignment does not dictate actions. it is quote frankly the other way around. Your actions dictate your alignment, I know we all start with a given alignment and try and play into it but that's not how it really works. By picking an alignment we're saying the characters actions up until this point have brought him here. But that is not to say that he has to stay there. The actions you take after will determine where you fall on the alignment scale.
I do not understand: I said I don't like having a label because a label makes me feel like I have to live up to it. It doesn't matter that's not the intent I still feel that way.

Thanks for your perspective! I wonder how many gamers know that alignment is meant to be descriptive rather than proscriptive, but nevertheless feel obligated to live up to the label?

Judging by every alignment debate ever, probably more than a few.

Klara Meison wrote:
For example, what do you think about the allignment effects of each of the possible actions in this situation?

I literally loled when I read that, thanks. I like the author’s sense of humor. :D

Personally I call these sort of catch-22’s morally neutral. That is, you can’t win, so your decision has no effect on your alignment. Unless of course you instigate a bidding war between Leftie and Jones, with the winner getting to live. ;)

Of course if I force your character into a catch-22 and then change his/her alignment no matter what, I shouldn’t be using alignment ‘cause I clearly have a dysfunctional perception of it. Or maybe I shouldn’t be DMing in the first place. :p

Thrawn007 wrote:
There is an old dragon magazine article in Dragon 173 called Get Your Priorities Straight by Royce Wicks, that to this day I still think is the best take on the alignment system I'd ever seen. It basically argued that each alignment can be broken down into a mix of seven priorities, factoring in that you might be most loyal to your race, your deity, your liege, or even your family. Being chaotic didn't mean you had no loyalties, you just valued a much less.

Hm, how do the 7 priorities work? Are the same 7 priorities arranged in a different order across the L-N-C spectrum, or does each alignment have different priorities? Does a chaotic person have weaker/fewer loyalties, or different loyalties? Assuming you can remember properly. ;)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Apupunchau wrote:
Do you still use alignment in your games?

Not really, no. Players are welcome to add an alignment if they like, but it's no more important than the characters racial subtype. Sometimes effects are better or worse for them, but it never gets in the way of playing the character.


The "problem" with the view of "my actions make my alignment, my alignment doesn't determine my choices" is that us as people are often trying to be a different alignment then we are.

example. You create a character that says LG. His entire life he's been this LG guy. Then once the campaign starts you begin to kill everyone that tries to surrender, cause you felt like it. I'm pretty sure most of us wouldn't say that that behavior is LG. But it's not like there was a life changing event to make this guy not LG. So your LG character isn't LG and probably shouldn't have a backstory of always being LG.


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And that's the point where the GM says "I think the alignment you originally wrote down doesn't match the character, so their alignment is now such-and-such, make a note on your character sheet because some powers will affect you differently now." In this case, that's less "changing" an alignment than "correcting" it.


cuatroespada wrote:
Klara Meison wrote:
For example, letting a train roll over 5 people if diverting it to a different track would make it roll over one person can be either Neutral or Evil, depending on wherever a particular GM views inaction as a type of action.
it's not about whether or not inaction is an action. inaction is a choice in the scenario. if you don't do anything, you choose not to do anything in this situation. you had the power to do something, but chose not to. people feel better about not doing anything because it allows them to feel like they didn't have any say in what happened, but that's not actually one of the options. you aren't absolved for doing nothing unless you're rendered incapable of doing anything to affect the outcome. so it turns out the options are either neutral or evil by virtue of how you got into this situation to begin with and why you choose to act or not. for example, if you set this situation up, you're evil. it doesn't really matter what you choose because you put 6 people on a railroad track in the first place. if you did not willfully help create the situation, then it is only evil if your choice is based on who will die (i.e. you want specific individual to die or you want to see more dead people). if you aren't excited about people dying, both choices are neutral without being able to determine the future of the lives being saved or lost, but if you feel better about yourself for not doing anything because you think it absolves you of responsibility, you shouldn't.

See, you say that, but that is not a universally accepted philosophical system. I have met people who think that inaction is not a type of choice, and thus if something happens due to your inaction, you get no moral backlash. I have met people who agree with you and see inaction as much of a moral choice as any other action. I have met people who are utilitarians and who would say that 5>1, and thus letting it roll over 5 people is Bad, while turning it over to the track with one person is Good(-ish) without even thinking. I have met people who think that not acting in this circumstance would be neutral, while acting and saving 4 people would be Evil, because you are now directly responsible for that one death that occurs.

Point is, personal beliefs do not feel like beliefs, they feel like how the world actually works. If asked wherever the earth was ball-shaped you wouldn't think over the whole chain of evidence that lead you to that conclusion, you would just say "of course it is". If you were to meet a person who didn't think so, and asked you how you knew the earth was ball-shaped, you would think they were an idiot, even though you(likely) don't actually know how to calculate the radius of the earth yourself.

Because beliefs do not feel like beliefs, allignment is a catastrophy waiting to happen. Just that single thing about action/inaction is enough to bring people into conflict(say, GM might think that inaction is moraly equal to action, and a paladin PC might think otherwise. Paladin then proceeds to not act to save a burning orphanage, and instead chases after the BBEG. GM says paladin falls. Conflict ahoy!), and mind you, it's not the only example.

TL;DR philosophical beliefs of humans are a total clusterf~@& and game designers should think very carefully before even thinking about touching them with a standard issue 10 foot pole.


GM Rednal wrote:
And that's the point where the GM says "I think the alignment you originally wrote down doesn't match the character, so their alignment is now such-and-such, make a note on your character sheet because some powers will affect you differently now." In this case, that's less "changing" an alignment than "correcting" it.

So the character whose backstory was of selfless sacrifice, honor for life, and being an upstanding lawful citizen, wasn't LG? He was always the new alignment?


It seems like most of the complaints here are more about conflict than alignment. They hate it because bad GMs or players enforce their opinions as law.

Which seems like a weird reason to hate it. That'd be like hating the Alchemist class because one time someone really obnoxious played an Alchemist at your table.

Shadow Lodge

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Chess Pwn wrote:
So the character whose backstory was of selfless sacrifice, honor for life, and being an upstanding lawful citizen, wasn't LG? He was always the new alignment?

Nah, the player just can't stay in character.


swoosh wrote:


Which seems like a weird reason to hate it. That'd be like hating the Alchemist class because one time someone really obnoxious played an Alchemist at your table.

But it is a perfectly good reason to hate Kender.


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Kryzbyn wrote:
But it is a perfectly good reason to hate Kender.

I DON'T NEED A REASON!


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TOZ wrote:
Chess Pwn wrote:
So the character whose backstory was of selfless sacrifice, honor for life, and being an upstanding lawful citizen, wasn't LG? He was always the new alignment?
Nah, the player just can't stay in character.

That's the thing though. I agree with that. The character isn't playing his LG character well. But it seems the people saying "the alignment just reflects your choices" would be complaining because that would mean having the alignment your wrote down restrict and define your choices.

"Since you're LG you're character wouldn't suddenly break rules for convenience. That would be a C alignment." "Bah, my alignment doesn't limit my choices." and hence the debate and the thread.


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The alignment is a guideline to how the person acts up to the point the adventure begins. From there on, it's how the character acts that defines them.

Describing your character as lawful Good, but consistently having him or her do not-lawful or not-good things, you can't cry about how the alignment is restrictive.

EDIT: "your" meaning any old bloke, not a specific person.


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Alignment is the only rule in the game dedicated to characterization. It's a true "role play" rule in its intent. I can look at a character's class, spells and feat selection to get an idea of what they are capable of. I can look at a character's alignment to get a sense of how they will behave. That is useful information for everyone, GM and Players.

Some may chafe under it if they believe it is a restriction, and especially if their GM has a narrow, adversarial approach to "enforcing" alignment, or the player is being willfully obtuse. In that case, I argue bad faith is what breaks the system. But generally speaking, it's perfectly appropriate for a game with literal angels and devils in it to have an objective ruling on morality.

Some players get confused and imagine that an RPG is some great venue for reviving a long-settled philosophical taxonomy. Those folks need to breathe deep and think of the rule as thematic, not an attempt to simulate reality.

Obviously, if you're playing in a campaign where morality is *ahem* beyond good and evil, then yes, you'll need to change alignment or ditch it altogether. But in my opinion, removing alignment from D&D-derived games doesn't really leave you with a ruleset that's perfect for nuance and moral complexity, so what's the point?

This is a game where 90% of plots revolve around Manichean confrontations between good guys and dastardly villains, where almost every problem is solved with (supernatural) violence. I've seen the removal of binary good and evil actually cause more moral problems than it solves.

Generally, I feel like it's a great rule that gets a bad rap from misapplication.


Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
Those folks need to breathe deep and think of the rule as thematic, not an attempt to simulate reality.

I don't like the thematics, either.

But I'm prepared to play in a universe that has alignment. I just really, really hate not being able to opt-out. It feels like press-ganging: you've done these things so you have to be on this side regardless of how you actually feel about it.


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SilvercatMoonpaw wrote:
Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
Those folks need to breathe deep and think of the rule as thematic, not an attempt to simulate reality.

I don't like the thematics, either.

But I'm prepared to play in a universe that has alignment. I just really, really hate not being able to opt-out. It feels like press-ganging: you've done these things so you have to be on this side regardless of how you actually feel about it.

It is an election year, isn't it?


Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
It is an election year, isn't it?

True dat.

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