Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Alignment in Saedom

For years there has been discussion over the place of alignment in D&D. I would have to say that over the years the games that I have played in have tended to marginalize the importance of alignment. But I do not mean to say that it has had no place. Alignment has always been there. The only campaign that I have ever run which has been completely bereft of alignment is my current 4e campaign: Saedom.

Many of you already know that my Saedom campaign is in the aching process of switching over from 4e to my homebrew 3X mash-up. I am making choices about how my game will be played. In the great 3X campaign my friend CJ has been running we are playing the traditional LG to CE spectrum. But we are playing it kind of loose. It keeps us playing the game instead of us playing the rules: plundering dungeons packed with loot rather than checking our character sheets for stats and modifiers. Character development is bottom up rather than top down. The rules do not define our characters; the manner in which we play defines our characters.

I have been out there scrubbing the OSR blog-iverse for some inspiration. I have checked both ends of the spectrum: I have looked at James' system which he is using in his inspirational Dwimmermount campaign and I have checked in to see what Zak S. has thrown out there. They both have something to offer. James has developed a simple rules-lite system which is based on the classic D&D spectrum while Zak's system is descriptive rather than proscriptive.

My final bit of inspiration comes from the first 2e campaign in which I played. Matt played a mage. He described his character's alignment as lawful greedy rather than lawful evil, which is what he was on paper. Matt's mage used the structure of our group's social contract to get us to do what he wanted. e.g. After an adventure, while the rest of us caroused and shopped in town, Matt studied with sages in libraries. The result being that as we ran out of precious GPs and were forced to get back on the trail, Matt already had the shred of an ancient map in his hand. Fortunately for him, the map just happened to lead to the lost, subterranean library of a great wizard which was packed full of arcane scrolls and other magical gear. Now I understand that this is a textbook definition, or interpretation, of what lawful evil, in D&D is. But was he playing an evil character or a greedy character? Throughout his adventuring career Matt's mage even did some truely good things. e.g. Killing off a raiding tribe of slaving ogres is good. The local farming community is freed from the prospect of being enslaved by the ogres. But on the other hand, Matt's mage also gets his share of the ogre chief's treasure trove.

This is what I have come up with:

I am disgarding the good vs.evil concept of PC alignment. That does not mean that good and evil will have no place in Saedom. It just means that I want the PCs to do good or commit evil acts not because they are compelled to based on their alignment, but because they choose to.

On the other hand, I am going to stick with the traditional law vs. chaos element of D&D alignment. It is descriptive. It simply tells us how a character would "naturally" react when confronted with an obstacle: a stodgy dwarf would look to tradition and try to follow the law of the land while a barbarian half-orc might react emotionally, disregarding legal concerns.

Finally, I am going to look to Zak and Matt for the next part. I do like the old two part alignment system. I will be adding descriptive components to the second part of the formula. In fact I am going to add a third component as well. Players will have a second characteristic as well as a third characteristic: a tendency to act in a certain way. The tendency (third component) will be like a tie-breaker. e.g. A character might have an alignment of chaotic greedy with curious tendencies. It would be represented on a character sheet as: Chaotic Greedy (Curious).

Joesky's Tithe:
I will be trying out the following quick little system for my D&D campaign. 1,2,3... choose a descriptor from each column. Then line them up in order.


So, for example, I could be a neutral curious halfling rogue with greedy tendencies: Neutral Curious (Greedy). I think I will run this system for a while and see what happens. Please, if you have any ideas, shoot them out to me through the tubes.


  1. Alignment in classic D&D seems like an artifact of early days when everyone was figuring out the whole "roleplaying" thing, to encourage people to think like the characters they played based on their own perspective, rather than the tactical perspective of a wargame unit comprised of one.

  2. I like the place that alignment takes when it adds to the game and helps to drive roleplaying. But I do not want it to force players to make choices that they are uncomfrotable with during play. e.g. If you want to kill the halfling thief who just picked your pocket, then do it. He just robbed you!