Does Alignment Matter in 4e D&D?

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 2, 2010

How important is alignment? Does it serve a practical purpose in D&D , or does it just take up room on the character sheet? The alignment mechanic underwent significant changes when 4e D&D was launched. The traditional or classic view of alignment was turned on its head. Nine alignments were pared down to only five; and two of the remaining alignments are, for the most part, off limits to players. So with only three real choices remaining does alignment even matter? Is this just a carryover from previous editions that no longer has a place in D&D?

As a player and a DM I believe that alignment is a vitally important part of every character sheet and that it doesn’t get nearly enough attention. In fact I’m extremely dissatisfied with how alignment is handled in 4e D&D.

In the early editions of D&D alignment was a big deal. You choose an alignment and were expected to play to those ideals. Some classes offered very little flexibility (like the old-school Paladin who had to be lawful good or else) while others had choices curtailed with some restrictions (Rogues had to be of non-good alignment). Now players can choose any alignment, regardless of class or race. It’s unfortunate that as the reigns loosened the choices disappeared.

Missing Alignment

Until D&D 4e we had nine alignments: lawful good, lawful neutral, lawful evil, neutral good, neutral, neutral evil, chaotic good, chaotic neutral, and chaotic evil. Now we only have five alignments: lawful good, good, neutral (now called unaligned), chaotic evil and evil. So what happened? Are there no more good characters with chaotic tendencies? Are their no more evil characters who believe in order?

In a system that provides more choices for feats, classes, races and powers than any previous editions of D&D they’ve eliminated choices for alignment. I think this is a powerful (albeit subtle) statement from Wizards of the Coast that alignment isn’t as important in 4e as it once was in previous editions.

These simplified alignments now cover so much ground that it’s nearly impossible for a player to stray outside of the boundaries of his chosen alignment. Good and evil are so all-encompassing that you’d have to do something pretty extreme to be called for not playing your alignment.

Changing Alignment

When you create your character you choose an alignment. The alignment is intended to be a guide and not a straight-jacket. It’s a moral compass that should help you when role-playing your PC. That’s not to say that you can’t act outside of the boundaries of your chosen alignment, but these instances should be the rare exceptions and not the norm.

Choosing an alignment isn’t as permanent as choosing a race or a class, but it’s pretty close. The alignment you choose represents the accumulated experiences of your PC before you begin running him at level 1. In most cases this represents 20 or more years in this character’s life. Beliefs and morals learned and developed over a lifetime aren’t usually changed lightly or quickly. But sometimes alignments do change. Here are the three most common ways for a character to change alignment.

By Force

This is the most extreme method of change. Donning a cursed item, being dominated by an evil creature or inadvertently taking part in a ritual are all examples of how an unwitting PC could have his alignment changed forcefully and against his will. It’s rare, but it happens.

By Choice

After choosing a starting alignment, the player intentionally decided to change his PC’s alignment by playing the character differently. This isn’t something that usually happens right off the bat. It’s a gradual shift based on this PC’s experiences during the campaign. The things they’ve seen, the people they’ve met or the deeds they’ve done have opened their eyes to a new way of looking at the world around them.

By Accident

Although you’ve chosen a particular alignment for your PC, the way you’ve chosen to role-play the PC is more in keeping with a different alignment. This is usually due to carelessness by the player. They either don’t realize they’re acting outside of their alignments comfort zone or they just don’t care. After crossing the line one too many times the DM informs the player that his character must change his alignment to match his actions.

Repercussions

In 4e D&D there are no in-game repressions for changing your alignment. Whether your alignment has changed because you want it to or whether it’s changed because you haven’t been playing the one listed on your character sheet, there is no down side.

In previous editions of D&D there was a substantial penalty if your alignment changed by choice or by accident. A PC who changed alignment in AD&D 2e needed to earn twice the normal amount of XP before he could advance to the next level. In the original AD&D 1e you lost a level and were reduced to the minimum number of XP of that lower level. Until recently it was a huge deal if you didn’t stick to your alignment. Now it’s not even worth noting.

The idea of penalizing PCs for changing their alignment seems pretty harsh given the say yes mentality of 4e D&D. Rather than punishing players who don’t play to their alignment I prefer to reward players who do. For example, those who play within the framework of their alignment and work it into the role-playing gain significant bonuses to relevant skill checks during skill challenges. On rare occasions I’ll even award additional XP for making tough decisions and playing your alignment despite pressure not to.

Alignment in Your Game

Even though alignment has been diluted in 4e D&D, it’s still a part of every character. It may not resonate as all that important to players, especially newer players, but it should. When you’re creating a new character his alignment should be the first place you look when figuring out how to play this PC. Obviously there’s a lot of flexibility within a given alignment, but a PC that’s lawful good and a PC that’s unaligned (neutral) should look at the world differently. They don’t have to be at odds, but there should be some opposing view points.

The importance of alignment needs to be emphasized by the DM. Remind players that they have an alignment (many forget, believe it or not) and be sure that they play within the boundaries that alignment represents. Ensure that your NPCs havean alignment and be sure to work within that framework as they interact with the PCs. Not every NPC need be evil, but even those that are will behave very differently if they’re chaotic evil or just plain evil.

What are your thoughts on alignment? How important is alignment is your game? What rewards do you think are appropriate for role-playing your alignment correctly? What about suitable penalties for not playing your alignment correctly? Do we even need alignment beyond just good and evil in D&D?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matt November 2, 2010 at 10:15 am

I don’t regret the seeming demise of alignment in 4e at all. For my group, alignment was nothing but an excuse for characters to meta-mistrust one another. To quote a player, “Since he’s playing a (non-good) character, now my character has to watch his back all the time.” It never came up in the mechanics of our 3.5 games, nor has it in our 4e games.

If a character behaves inconsistently or steps out of the party-line, it’s a good chance for the rest of the party to roleplay their reactions.
Matt´s last blog post ..whorrak- http-googl-4OzRM obama via @whoiscarmine @suzendonut

2 callin November 2, 2010 at 10:43 am

I think there was a conscious shift away from alignments because they are viewed as too restrictive to role-playing. At times some players find they can not do things with their character they want to do.
Personally, I think they are a bit arbitrary and slightly unrealistic.

I am running two 4E campaigns. One has limited alignments since, in effect, the theme of the campaign is exploring good vs evil, nature vs nurture. It is all about seeing if the characters, who are half-demon, can overcome their evil parenthood. For this campaign, alignments are an abstract generalization. The only time it will matter is when they have committed enough evil acts to have shifted over to Chaotic Evil at which point their PC becomes an NPC (I have a tracking system in place to measure their level of “evil”). [I posted an article dealing with this called Temptation] However, their actions are not restricted by their alignment, rather their alignment is a reflection of their actions.
In the second campaign, the characters have picked alignments, but other than a guideline it will mean nothing.

I would agree with you that alignments have no real meaning in 4E. There is no consequence for “breaking alignment”. In previous editions simply being of an alignment meant certain spells affected you differently, certain monsters reacted differently and certain items worked differently. There are no such things in 4E. 4E PCs have a freedom of action unlike previous editions.

Alignments inspire role-playing in that characters are restricted by what actions they can take and that can foster RPing.
Alignments hinder role-playing because it takes away from creative freedom.
Both statements can be true depending on the type of players you have. Again, I think this might boil down to what the players and DM are looking for.
callin´s last blog post ..The Evil Campaign

3 Neuroglyph November 2, 2010 at 11:05 am

As a DM, I miss the structure of the 9 alignments. Without each player taking a personality psyche profile in character, it gave the DM as well as fellow players a feel for how a particular character would react. And for monsters, it also help to structure some of their behaviors – i.e. you know that you can depend upon the Lawful Evil bad guy to not go back on his word, although he might push the envelope of your agreement to the max.

And it’s pushing the boundaries of one’s alignment that actually added to role-playing. So that when someone was forced to do something “out of bounds”, it was a huge event in the campaign, leading to possible alignment changes and atonement to make up for the transgression. I’m bummed the current alignments are so broad in scope, and I feel it makes for a less edgy experience.
Neuroglyph´s last blog post ..The State of the GSL

4 Gaptooth November 2, 2010 at 11:08 am

> I think this is a powerful (albeit subtle) statement from Wizards of the Coast that alignment isn’t as important in 4e as it once was in previous editions.

I’d go further: I think it’s one of many hints that the fiction isn’t as important in 4e as it was in previous editions. In all the 4e materials I’ve read and run, the role of fiction in the game is to provide connective tissue between a series of challenges, rather than a meaningful pursuit in itself.

I’m currently running Keep on the Borderlands at my game shop, which provides almost no scope for player characters to interact with the fiction, much less influence it– the whole adventure would fall apart if the character’s “alignment” deviated from the script. In this case, what I mean by “alignment” is whom the players choose to ally themselves with.

I was never a great fan of D&D’s alignment system, but 4e allignment feels like a vestigial tail or something, for a game in which the fiction mattered, and the players could make meaningful choices that affected the fiction.
Gaptooth´s last blog post ..Why we chose the tunnels and the trolls Part 1

5 Lahrs November 2, 2010 at 11:20 am

Alignments have never been a huge deal to me, even in 3rd. My players have to come up with a back-story which includes personality details, which become their moral compass and guide. I do hold my players too it, so they need to think ahead on how their character would make certain decision. When they make a decision outside of what their character would normally do or how they would act, they have to explain why and we quickly discuss how this action would affect the character in the future. This usually takes all of two or three minutes, so it is not a show stopper.

The most dramatic shift we had definitely went beyond the two minute change. We once we had a paladin go on a murderous rampage when he found out his child was murdered. This wasn’t justice, but revenge. This called for a definite alignment change, but it made sense in game. For the next session, he wrote up a brief synopsis on his new moral compass, and we changed all of his levels to cleric. Definitely drastic, but we all had fun and that is what is important. The story was much better off, but we never assigned him a new alignment, just a consequence on his actions. He was still part of the same church and worshiped the same god, but was no longer a paladin. Towns folk reacted differently, many shunned him for his actions, others were more sympathetic. That is hard to wrap up in a title. We could change him to neutral good (from lawful good), but why hinder him as a character? The actions just have to make sense and the world around them will follow.

Speaking of paladins, in my games, paladins never had to be lawful good (despite the above example, that is what he chose). In my opinion, every god would have their version of a paladin, so a paladin could be any alignment. The big difference is the paladin had to play strictly to their gods code of actions, and there was much less leeway in a slight bending of the gods rules.

With this in mind, alignment in 4th isn’t a huge departure from any other edition. I see too many shades of gray in a good character to fit neatly in one alignment, though for the most part consistent personalities do fall within one of the categories.

I do place an out of game shackle on the players so they cannot directly or intentionally hurt to the group, I guess this is my way of blocking chaotic evil type characters. Think Raistlin from DragonLance. Raistlin was a black robe and definitely out for himself, but he didn’t harm the group.

6 Al November 2, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Let me start of by asking based on the old 9 slot alignment chart where would you put a character like “Tony Soprano”? Depending on which episode you watched there are probably arguments that he could fall into all 9.

Society labels a person with an alignment. It is very rare that an individual will see themselves as “Evil”, even those that are deemed so by the larger society will have justifications for their evil acts.

The sooner D&D distances itself from alignments the better. Judge players on their Roleplay and characters on their actions.

7 Gaptooth November 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm

> Judge players on their Roleplay and characters on their actions.

+1. The moral choices of characters are more meaningful and create richer fiction when they emerge from actual play instead of being pre-ordained by her “alignment”.
Gaptooth´s last blog post ..Why we chose the tunnels and the trolls Part 1

8 Philo Pharynx November 2, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Switching to the 9-box alignment is easy in 4e. Just write “chaotic good” on your character sheet. Viola. This lets you make alignment as important or unimportant as you want. I think one of the reasons alignment was made less important in terms of rules is that it caused problems. If you have a whodunnit mystery, you just have the paladin point out the evil guy. Even if they hide their alignment, then there are other spells that affect people of different alignment. Magic circles, holy words, etc. See how he reacts when you have him hold a holy weapon.
I also love that they now have unaligned. Some characters aren’t adventuring because of strong ethical convictions. They’re looking for thrills or treasure or just because their friend decided to do it. I see Han Solo as unaligned with occasional forays into CG.

9 Ragnarok November 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I think WotC is trying to delude alignment. I recall numerous times in 3E trying to explain to ppl what each alignment meant. I think WotC doesn’t even really know. My case study is Drow. Love or Hate them they are an interesting antagonist in the D&D world. The MM says they are Chaotic Evil. When I think of CE, I think rape, piliage, and burn all that is in my path. The drow have a very structured framework that they abide by. Be it that it promotes chaos there is a certain sense of order (lawfulness) about it. All of this is based on my understanding of the alignments. BTW a very good source that I think explains alignments of Third Ed very well is the Book of Erotic Fantasy. Have your opinions about the general concept of the book and you aren’t far off but the alignment and sex section is really well done.

10 Kensan_Oni November 2, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I think that really the Linear Alignment system is a compromise between OD&D (where you had just three alignment, Lawful, Chaos, and Neutral), and way alignment really was seen under 3E, with the Paladins being the epitome of good on one end, and the Blackguard being the Epitome of Evil on the other end.

While I still like Alignment as a Tool for Expectations of a Game and as a tool for theme in the game, I don’t think they’ve ever really exceptionally changed anything for me. I want to play good guys, and I want to tell stories, as a DM, about good guys defeating bad guys. I’m probably very basic this way, but that’s what I play D&D for.

11 xerosided November 2, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Personally, my approach to alignment in 4e is I allow my players access to the old nine-point alignment scale (with 4e’s “unaligned” in the center instead of “neutral”), and then I proceed to ignore their choices for the purposes of the campaign.

In my games, if a player wants to define an alignment for their character, they can define it with any value they want, whether that be chaotic good or angry elephant or red seven. It doesn’t matter for the purposes of my game, because the characters are going to do what the characters are going to do. People are complex. Good people often do bad things for the right reasons, and vice versa. Real people don’t usually conform to a two-point, a five-point, or even a twenty-point scale. If defining alignment matters to them as players, I’m all for allowing them to use it, but the world will react to their actions, not to a couple of words they wrote on their character sheet.
xerosided´s last blog post ..some time later

12 Dan November 2, 2010 at 11:51 pm

I think alignment is more important when it comes to the roleplaying expectations of new players. The old 9-slot system afforded a more “clear-cut” line of roleplaying that aided the new players in understanding how their characters’ modivations, morals and ethics were different from their own. The divisions were drawn up so that the player had a better idea of what others (the DM included) expected from them during roleplaying sessions. Now however, I can see how a new player might find it more difficult to roleplay a character with a different moral/ethical ideology because of the more linear and less definable divisions between alignments. But fret not! There are still other, more creative ways to define a character than adhering to an alignment. For example, creating a character with an archtype/theme (covered before by Dungeon’s Master) is a great way to “flesh out” a character’s belief system that is much less restrictive and arbituary than the simple Good/Evil, Law/Chaos alignment. I mean, in reality, “good” people have been known to commit “bad” acts, and “lawful” people can exhibit “chaotic” behavior. I have DMed more than a few players who attempted acts while roleplaying that they considered well within the boundries of their character’s alignment, but others considered deviant to the nature of the alignment (I mean who ever be truly Neutral???). I think the creators of 4e stepped away from the previous alignment system because they realized that the arbitrary nature of the system created just as many roleplaying problems as they prevented/solved.

13 Philo Pharynx November 3, 2010 at 12:44 pm

At least we don’t have a line with “Love” on one side and “Fear” on the other. :)

14 David W November 4, 2010 at 1:35 pm

While I love the old alignment system, I have to say, I’m glad it’s no longer required at my tables.

I can’t tell you how many hours have been spent debating on whether one characters actions fell within the gray areas in between most alignments. As has already been said, this is mostly a societal influence as opposed to hard rules.

I believe I read someones example earlier where their group was presented with a challenge where the characters had to stop a child from being sacrificed or the world would end. The DM had set the game up in such a fashion that the characters would go through an epic fight to save the kid before they were placed on the alter and killed. Instead, one of the players shot the child with a bow and killed them before they could be used to destroy the world. Real world ethical issues aside, I think this is the perfect example of what alignment would dictate such an action in-game. Was it a chaotic evil act for killing an innocent child? Was it a lawful good act by sacrificing one to save the many?

Besides all that, if I had to hear one more debate about Darth Vader’s or Arthas’ true alignment I think I’d scream : p

15 Ameron November 4, 2010 at 2:42 pm

@Matt
I actually liked it when the good and non-good aligned PCs were at odds. As long as the game didn’t go off the rails, I often reminded the players that they had different alignments when they had to make important decisions where alignment might be a factor. Some of our best role-playing stemmed from arguments on alignment.

@callin
I always saw the alignment as a way to direct the role-playing rather than restrict it. If a PC wanted to perform an action that was clearly opposed to their alignment then they had to justify it in-game.

I miss different effects on good or evil characters. Since everyone’s pretty much good now there isn’t much point in this kind of magic any more.

@Neuroglyph
I too relied heavily on the old 9-alignment system to direct monster behaviour. Now I just play them however I want and no one cares.

I can’t remember the last time a PC did something “out of bounds” for their alignment where it had any noticeable impact on the game. Perhaps it was my fault as the DM for not making it a bigger deal. Or maybe it is more proof that alignment doesn’t matter any more.

@Gaptooth
We’re having similar issue with our Keep on the Borderlands adventure. The PCs feel like their being forced to act in the most righteous way and anything less will break the game. There is no contingency for playing alignments besides good.

@Lahrs
I like to encourage the players to come up with a concept and well developed back-story first and THEN determine which alignment best encapsulate that background.

I always felt that Paladins got screwed with the harsh alignment restrictions. As soon as they stepped out of line they were penalized. It’s not like their powers were all that much better than other classes so why did they have so little flexibility? I played them much like the way you describe. You match (or are close to) your deity’s alignment and then have to stick with that. It didn’t have to be LG but it often was anyway.

@Al
Tony Soprano was LE for sure. His world has very clearly defined rules (hence the lawful) that he and his peers followed most of the time. He showed little remorse for taking evil actions like killing so that’s also an easy call. I agree that he didn’t see himself as evil. Just my 2 cents.

@Gaptooth
I can’t argue with that.

@Philo Pharynx
It’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that. Just write it in.

In reading the descriptions of alignment in the previous editions it’s nearly identical to the current unaligned. I think people had a problem choosing Neutral as they thought it meant indecisive rather than a lack of overpowering convictions and ethics. Choosing unaligned definitely sounds cooler.

I agree that Han Solo was or became CG as the trilogy played out.

@Ragnarok
The Drow are an excellent example of just how tricky alignment can be. Their society has become ordered from the chaos. It’s an interesting contradiction.

@Kensan_Oni
As long as the PCs will role-play the good vs evil then I’m ok with a simplified, two alignment view. I found that having 9 alignments helped a lot of players get into character.

@xerosided
“…they can define it with any value they want, whether that be chaotic good or angry elephant or red seven.” Oh, man did that make me laugh. But it’s so true. As long as the player understands what his PC is likely to do based on the character’s outlook then I don’t care what they call their alignment. Where it becomes more problematic is when they keep changing the way they play that character without any in-game explanation.

@Dan
Good comment. I guess it really comes down to using alignment as is appropriate in your game. For players who crave boundaries and structure then a 9-alignment system might be better, but for those who just need to be pointed in the right direction then the current system may meet their needs just fine.

@Philo Pharynx
Imagine if we did? I’m Lawful Fear or Evil Love. It could make for some interesting role-playing.

@David W
Great example. My feeling is that if you need to spend time out-of-character debating whether or not you’re acting within your alignment or not then you’re taking it too seriously. Leave the debate in-game and have the chips fall where they may.

BTW, Darth Vader is clearly Neutral Evil, everybody knows that.

16 Brian November 5, 2010 at 8:43 am

I’m in agreement with David W, above there. Great points. I don’t play D&D to sit around and debate with the DM and other players whether a PCs action is “lawful good” or “chaotic neutral.” It’s a tiresome argument that the DM ALWAYS wins because he’s the DM, regardless of whether I have a good reason for thinking my actions were LG and not CN. I play D&D to have fun, play a “character” and tell a story. Out of character morality debates, and which “box” my actions fit into don’t figure into that equation. I’d rather explain why my character did something, why he thought it was the “right” thing to do, than argue why his actions fit into the alignment box I’d chosen.
Brian´s last blog post ..Decorate Your Dungeon

17 Seng November 8, 2010 at 11:32 pm

I liked the 9 alignment system, it provided a good framework to guide players in their actions. It shouldn’t put a restriction on roleplay but rather facilitate it. It’s an organic thing that can grow and changes as players respond to various situations. A lawful good character that willingly performs an evil act in a moment of weakness, or to save the greater good does not instantly become neutral or evil, but if he routinely performs such actions, he could very well slide into it.

I was thinking about this, and feel ultimately alignment is something thats personal to the player. NPCs however, will react and judge a character based on his outward conduct, what they hear about them etc rather than their internal moral compass.

18 Gaptooth November 9, 2010 at 11:25 pm

> We’re having similar issue with our Keep on the Borderlands adventure. The PCs feel like their being forced to act in the most righteous way and anything less will break the game. There is no contingency for playing alignments besides good.

I’d love to hear any ideas or suggestions toward shaking the adventure up a little. I would like to offer greater scope for creativity, but even I feel somewhat straightjacketed by the module. I guess I’d feel more liberty to take it off the rails if it weren’t a public event, but since so much about the adventure is concealed even from the GM, it seems like any deviation could utterly change the adventure’s political intrigue and power struggle, and thus any improvisation could make the rest of the season unplayable.
Gaptooth´s last blog post ..Why we chose the tunnels and the trolls Part 1

19 Ameron November 15, 2010 at 12:39 pm

@Brian
That’s a good way to look at it. As long as your character can explain or justify in-game why he took a particular action then alignment shouldn’t really matter. Where this becomes a problem is when the reason for doing the most recent strange thing totally contradicts the reason you did the last strange thing. This is where a listed alignment might be a useful framework.

@Seng
I love those pivotal moments when a character with a strong alignment has to act outside of his comfort zone for a bigger purpose. I agree that it’s not instant damnation, unless they keep doing it. As you said, it’s a good way to facilitate strong role-playing.

@Gaptooth
This is a problem with any scripted adventure. You’re expected to follow certain paths as set out by the author. In the case of a 20-encounter adventure it’s even harder to deviate from the script without abandoning the entire adventure. I just wish they’d allowed for a little bit more flexibility. Dividing the adventure into 4-encounter chapters is a good way to have mini-milestones. I’d like to see some added flexibility within each chapter, if not within the larger story.

20 Kathryn August 17, 2011 at 8:34 am

My character has an interesting way of defining alignment. She is a kalashtar, but because she got lost from her parents at an early age and was raised with humans, not her kind she never got the training to reconcile the two souls housed within her.

Eventually, she would go insane and do actions and say things that would propel her to go from good to unaligned. Though she left to go to Adar to get the training needed to prevent her from going insane, she has an alternate story where she doesn’t go and becomes chaotic evil.

21 Donfie December 13, 2011 at 11:13 am

I’ve always hated alignments. For me, they’ve always felt like a contrived game mechanic, and a shortcut covering for lack of a real character background and development…and role-playing.

This is how I deal with traditionally alignment defined classes like the Palladin or Cleric. My deities do not have alignments. They have commandments. My holy characters follow the commandments. There’s more “leeway” on straying from the path at lower levels, when one’s importance in the grand scheme of things is rather less than at higher levels. If they stray, they are punished. They may find their next Divine Glow fizzles embarassingly on their holy symbol. They may develop very unsightly puss-filled sores. They are fully aware that this is not some random accident, and they are then compelled to think about what they did wrong that so displeased their deity. If they continue to stray from the path, they will find more and more going wrong. They are then faced with a decision. Do they want to attone and be a better believer, or do they wish to align themselves with a god that better suits them? And what happens if they “convert”? And is the conversion of a 1st level Palladin as cosmically important as that of a Palladin of 21st level? How does one even go about converting?

Or do I simply say that he isn’t lawful good anymore and can’t be a Palladin?

Essentially, your god gives you the “law” and following that “law” is what makes you “good” in the eyes of the one being in the world whose opinion really matters…your god.

As for other characters, you have your own moral compass and the laws of the land around you. In his forest home, my wild-elf ranger cuts the feet off prisoners so that they cannot escape and tell anyone where they were. He then prepares all their meals for them and generally makes sure they are as happy and content as any footless prisoner can be. It is simple common sense. It is the law of the tribe. It is also for the good of the tribe and the prisoners as they would have to be killed if they escaped. If he starts hacking people’s feet off in the trading town of Ampytheus, he might find it is somewhat frowned upon by the local constabulary. Alignment doesn’t come into. It is pure roleplay. If he stops cutting people’s feet off, he is no longer following “laws” and an idea of “good” that was sacred to him not two years ago. Is he now “chaotic” and “evil” then? No, he is just adapting to the situation and the changes in his circumstances, or he is spending a lot of time waiting for his increasingly resemtful friends to bust him out of prison…again. He is, in short, role playing.

If I was ever playing in a game and the DM told me that my wild-elf ranger was acting against his alignment, I would seriously think of changing DMs. If, however, it was suggested that there had better be a very good reason why Divdin was gleefully counting the loot he received for helping the Anwald Farm Fishing Guild defeat the nomadic halfling sea-gypsies of Windmor Lake, then I would be playing there for a long, long time.

In short, IMHO, vagueness and matters of perspective aside, alignment is simply for the lazy – DMs and Players alike. Who your character was and is dictates what your character did and does. A Palladin chooses to follow, or not, the tenets of his god. End of story. A fighter chooses to protect his buddies or go for glory. End of story. An assassin obsessively follows Leon’s “no women or children” ethics, or kills anyone if the price is right. End of story. And if they change, and they have a “story-based” reason for doing so, then that’s completely fine. In fact, that’s better than fine as it opens up all kinds of possibilities for role-playing.

I must add, I am the kind of DM who bans players from talking to each other in stats. “Push him to me. I can cut his head off.” is fine. “Use your +1 wand because that’s against Reflex and then I can get combat advantage and, as it only took 14 Hit Points to bloody him, I should be able to kill him with my 2d10 + 5.” is not.

That’s just me.

22 JerryMac May 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Alignment is very important to me as a DM because I am writing intricate stories that rely on the players reacting within the framework of their class, race, and alignment.

For example I had a party of Good aligned players who chose to intimidate their way through a skill challenge to have a little girl lead them to town. They failed and the girl ran away in fear. So they chased her to the gates and the guards stopped them to keep them from being aggressive towards her. So they kill the guards who were doing nothin more than protecting a little girl.

Now the entire module is screwed because the town is the focus for being under a veil of darkness that I suspected the party would want to help with. But now, not only have they murdered guards and stormed their way into the royal keep, but they scoff at every reward for help.

So my point is I don’t care if they want to be muderous, money grubbing, self aborbed, heathens, but they have play it that way all the time. That way I can make a murderous, money grubbing, self absobed campaign for them.

23 Ryan May 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm

While I like alignment I find that its importance can be as much of a problem as a boon.

Telling a player how they should act due to their alignment was at one time a huge problem for a previous gaming group. I would get into discussions as conventions because my LG Dwarf Templar disagreed with a CG Human Ranger who killed 4 Gnolls after they had surrendered to us.

The Ranger player attributed this to the fact Gnolls had killed his family. I injected that the Gnolls we were dealing with were not the ones that had done so.

Both the other player and I were having a good time role-playing this. The other player and the DM however became annoyed that we would even discuss this. The DM told me that my character was overracting. I brought up that fact that in his intro he stated that the NPC we were hunting had done the same thing in a village.

He said it was different situation all together. DM stated that the Chieftan in question did it for for pleasure. Amusingly enough, the Ranger chimed in and stated his character had also ended the Gnolls he just executed for the same reasons.

Eventually we both agreed to drop the arugment to continue forward in the game.

After that situation I realised that one of the biggest problems with the nine alignments was that even being described in the books interpretation was still the problem.

Currently for my games my players and I have no alignment issues. I find the new alignment design in 4e to allow previous classes to be not so restrictive. This allows for some new concepts to be allowed.

24 TPK DM May 31, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I think it is up to you how you want to do things. You like RAW for 4E, great! 5 alignment yr little heart out! You like 9? Enjoy your chaotic neutral rogue eating mushrooms in the middle of a boss combat while standing on her head. The point is alignment is a tool. You want to use a sledgehammer? Use it! You want a little more refinement and precision? Use a rock hammer. It is up to you and your group.

25 Kyle Long August 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Look, the fact of the matter is that AT BEST the alignment system has always tried to pigeonhole the entire complexity of human nature into a set of tiny boxes. The only real difference between older editions and current ones is the degree to which we are held to these limitations.

Up to 3rd/3.5th edition, there were still mechanics in game that relied on the hard rules for alignment. Weapons that could only be wielded by good characters, spells that only worked for evil ones, even magical words that murdered people whose personal alignment was opposite your own. In that context, alignment mattered, and who knows, maybe D&D Next will bring that back, make alignment relevant again.

All I know is that one a skilled roleplayer gets past the top level of a character, they discover that a character is far more complicated than alignment allows for, and we are better off without it for the time being.
Kyle Long´s last blog post ..Encounters: Avatar of Fear

26 DT August 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I always saw alignment as more of a personal choice and a guide you set in front of yourself as an outline map to guide your own player character. As a DM I used it to outline potential moral challenges.

Having played 4e this year as a character and choosing non aligned its been a little more freedom but also a little more boring.

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