Author Topic: Ingame Alignment  (Read 4255 times)

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Offline Drul Morbok

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Ingame Alignment
« on: May 05, 2012, 07:43:49 PM »
Hey everybody,
I just had some more thoughts about what I once abhorred most about (A)D&D: Alignments

On the few oaccasions I was GM, I always omitted them, telling the players to play how they liked. I'll still do that, but for a plot I've been developping for several years, I found a way to make them a purely ingame concept.
I hope I'll be able to express the core idea, I'd be even insecure about how to explain it in german, witch is my mother tongue, so feel free to ask if something is too cryptical or got inconsistent...

I intend to use it to introduce new players to the system...not to the D&D system, but to the idea of behaving like you would never do yourself. Not just because you have other powers, but because it enhances the roleplaying experience.
So I thought of making something like a few "tutorial sessions", a real adventure with characters and interaction, but o lot of explanation in it. Never playing in this setting again, but are ready for the next one, that can keep end elaborate the succesfully integrated parts and drop the others without making anything inconsistent.
The PCs will be introduced into the whole world as such as well as to the system, so none of the following is assumed to be starting knowledge. If the players seem interested in finding out, they can do so ingane. So what follows is what characters might find out about it if they spend time on it. If they don't, none of rhe following might ever be happingeng, or at least not anytime soon.

I wouldn't know where to fit such a thing into Khoras. Maybe some day I elaborate more, but in short, that's it:
Once there was a Golden Dragon  - NOT a gold dragon from D&D, a mystical entity far beyond even the powers of gods, consorting with whole pantheons instead. He was rather inquisitive, and always wanted to find out what motivated them, and even more what seperated them. He started to ask them and decided he would have to need to ask all possible questions. Many of them where considered taunts and insults by the gods, and so once many pantheons united and overcame him quiet easily, since he did not resist. The essentially made him one of them, ripping all off his form except torso, legs, arms and head, ripped off his eyelids and forced him to forever reshape this despisable form in mud.
He did, and still does, so - and is perfectly happy about it. He is impressed by what he is able to do know and wants to learn as much about it as possible, so he passes his questions to his creation, which, of course, is mankind. This is no religusios theory, this is a well-known fact among all races.

He established a connection between man and gods, so man could ask whichever gd the wanted for answers - essentially that's what's considered religion. This kind of connection is able to menifest what's essentially called deitic magic.
Since he's actually a god now himself, there is also such a connection to himself, but his answers are much more abstract - he retained his memory, in fact he never forgets at all, so his answers are like the sum of the answers of all other gods given so far. He still can expand his knowledge by hearing new answers from the other gods, but he can't hear them self anymore, nor where humans able to answer him, so he developped some abstract code few people are able to even understand what it is about. This code can communicate the god's answers from the people to him as well as manifest as - guess what - arcane magic. In some way, mages might be considered a special kind of priests, but it would occur to few to call them like that, least of all themselves

So, after all, it would seem quite strange to postulate that a spell was "not telling the truth".

Technically seen, within the game world the questions whether alignments do exist is purely philosophical - what is known for sure ist that "alignment detection spells" exist:
They create a stimulus in the brain, and measure the reaction. Only two have them have been developed, even though there have been countless tries to create more.
It is considered common knowledge that one of the spells "simulates" the perception of another being of the same race in agony - exactly the same stimulus that would be craeted if you saw or heared evidence of such a being. On the most basic level of personality, this triggers exactly one of exactly thre possible reactions: Sharing the pain, indifference, or enjoying yourself. The spell measures which one is triggered.
I consider it alike to the polygraph test, also known as "lie detector" - you might even call it a narrative adoption of the idea.
The only difference is that the spell results pass all double-blind cross-fold validiation and whatever statistical tests with zero deviation. The same spell cast on the same person yields the same result evere and ever again, no matter when, where or by whom it is cast. There are rumors about magically foiling it...they might be true or not, but for sure no other method has worked so far.

The other spell is essentially the same, except that it is said to emulate the stimulus of being threatened, and classifying the reaction as obedience, avoidance or defiance.
Neither spell will perform on newborns, infants and young children. They only get what might be best described as white noise. The same goes for animals.

Quickly people started to associate results with behavior...even more, equate the categorization with personality. Many names exist, but good/neutral/evil, and lawful/neutral/chaotic respectively, are the most common.
Nowadys, those spells are widespread and important part of society. You can't apply for many jobs, marry everyone, and sometimes not even go everywhere, without having the right (so-called) alignment.
Some societies will have one central institution that "marks" people once and for all. People would have to carry alignment cards to apply for jobs, most likely barring "chaotic" characters from structured jobs like administrative ones. Higher positions might list "lawfulness" as job qualification, so to speak.

In others, the spells are performed by hedge wizards, shamans - and sometimes charlatans. The people there would never actually have seen a "real" alignment detection spell, and it would never occur to them to doubt the first one cast upon them - it might even be consideres a taboo or crime to do so. Or having cast the spell is so expensive or advanced that not everyone has access to it even once, let alone twice.
Someone without spell is usually judged by the opinion of others - or some crude ways of trying to emulate the spell. Almost no society actively rejects the idea

Most humans get their first alignment at around age 10...quite literally: within the game world, the word alignment refers to the act of being aligned, usually in the context of a ceremony.
It is impossible to determine in advance what the first alignment will be, but in general, a "good" result is considered the result of a good upbringing.
Many people "check" before the ceremony...which technically seen betrays idea and name of the ceremony, but for those who can afford it, this is generally preferred to the disgrace of a "wrong" alignment.

Su much for the ingame part, now for some final thoughts (but don't expect many of them to be uttered or even thought within the game world, not even for the most interested players):

After all, it's impossible to distinguish something like "truth" of alignmentism from self-fullfilling prophecy and social derterminism...there still is no proof that there is a necessary connection between spell result and actual behaviour - especially later behavior. There is no typical evil behavior, there's only typical evil social roles.
In some way, I feel like I wanted to introduce the concept of alignments into the game world without actually introducing, or even defining alignments themselves.


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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2012, 11:44:06 PM »
Hmm... Honestly, I think it's a neat idea. I would probably enact the concept differently if it were my game, but I'm a history/philosophy double major, and the ethics of a game world are interesting to me. Personally, I think that alignment serves an organizing purpose in-game, insofar as it gives you a way to think of a character, and while I'm the perpetual "Neutral Good" type, a whole party of saints with post-conventional ethics doesn't make for a really exciting game in most situations, and, unless you're a naturally amoral person, it may be hard to play certain character archetypes without some sort of direction. Obviously, humans live in a moral gray area, and so the traditional D&D alignments aren't preferable, but at the same time, morality DOES exist, and a truly realistic world has to find SOME way of integrating traditional and even nontraditional concepts of morality.

I guess what I'm trying to say is basically... I like where you're going with this, and I'd find it interesting to hear other attempts at having a more realistic inclusion of ethics and morality in gaming.

Dave, you wouldn't happen to have some enlightened perspective on this, would you?  ;)
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline David Roomes

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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2012, 09:36:10 PM »
Me? Hell no. :)

I find morality, ethics and the concept of alignment a very complex set of topics that are more qualitative than quantitative. In other words, I think it's hard to pin any person down to a specific category of good or evil. Even if you have a wide spectrum of alignments, it's still tough to make it work. People have both good and evil in them. It's all shades of grey and what comes out depends entirely on the situation and circumstances. Furthermore, most people think of themselves as doing what is right or necessary and don't think of themselves as evil. So, basically, it's a complicated mess.

I, personally, have never liked the idea of alignments in D&D. And when I am game master, I simply do away with the entire concept of alignment. In D&D there are magic items and spells and so forth that react differently depending on a person's alignment. "Protection from Evil 10 foot radius". And magic items that cause damage if they are picked up by a person of the wrong alignment. There are countless examples of that.

So, here's why I don't like alignment... there's no way to quantify it. There's no way to measure it. If you can't measure "evil", then you can't create an item that reacts one way to a "good person" and a different way to an "evil" person. How does the magic mace know that the guy who just picked it up is evil? Evil is nothing more than an abstract concept  written on a character sheet. In the game world, there's nothing you can measure. There's no genetic code, there's no blood type, there's no retina scan... there's nothing to measure or test. Even if you were to consider it a specific "mental pattern", good and evil is entirely a point of view, it can change with circumstances.

So, that's what I don't like about alignment. I have found it much easier to simply do away with the entire system.

Now, having said that, Drul Morbok idea got me thinking... Let's go back to the idea of the magic mace being picked up by an evil person. There is something that could be measured if it was "encoded" in the magic of the mace when it was first created. What I'm thinking is that, rather than having a generic and vague "detect evil" spell embedded in the magic item, it could rather be a series of tests. This might sound stupid, but what if the magic item was able to run a series of very quick spells (sort of like mind probe spells) on the person picking it up. Sort of like Drul's idea. The item poses a question or a test. But I'm thinking, rather it would be a series of questions or tests. These questions or tests would be posed telepathically to the target and the mind would be scanned and a series of responses could be recorded. All of this would happen very quickly. And the responses could be compared to a set of responses recorded by the original creator of the item. If the responses are similar to the "base line" responses, then the item knows that the person picking it up is similar to the creator in many ways. If the responses are drastically different, then the item knows that this person is very different than the creator. And the item could react differently based on the outcome of the tests.

That's about the only way I could possibly see a magic item reacting differently to different people. It would be more nuanced than lumping people into simple good and evil categories. But that's just the sci fi guy in me. I need explanations. I need for things to make sense.

But again, I find it easier to just do away with the entire system of alignment. It makes things so much simpler.
David M. Roomes
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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2012, 11:49:01 PM »
Well... I see where you're coming from, Dave, and I knew beforehand you didn't like alignment, but at the same time, I find myself drawn towards SOME in-game concept of ethics, probably because of my philosophical stance on the subject. But again, if you're just making arbitrary categories, then there's no point in having it, because few if any aspects of life are ENTIRELY arbitrary in nature. But anything that isn't physical is hard to understand and quantify in real life, let alone inside a game, so it's one of those things where you either can attempt to do it right, or you probably ARE just better off leaving it out.

Having said that, I feel like there has to be some way to quantify a player who wants to just kill everything in sight, and if the answer is always that that character "comes from some bizarre cult/culture" or they are insane, or whatever, then that just seems as arbitrary as the other. I mean, what if my character legitimately just likes causing suffering? What if I'm playing a sadist, and he just plain likes it?

I mean, lawful vs. chaotic is kind of stupid, but at least there's strong logic there, but with or without good vs. evil, I've simply never heard an argument against it or seen a working system of it that wasn't tied up in the shortcomings of the game.

But maybe I just don't understand how you would deal with these kinds of situations... Dave, do you just sort of lump this in with role-playing, or what?
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2012, 07:19:39 PM »
What I also disklike about alignment is that, if you actually accept that alignments work the way they do in the rulebooks, all RPG books I know totally ignore their implication on society.
A world where alignments are as they are described in the book should be much more different from ours, especially with regards to the legal system: Why not put everyone evil to jail (unless he's too powerful of course). Why still have evidence-based jurisdiction? Why even develop one in the first place?
But also other aspects of daily life seem incoherent to me: Why should two good clerics, or nations, fight each other?

Either you say it's possible for so. good to act evil, and for so. evil to act good - but then what's the point of alignments anyway? Or you say that anyone evil who has not commited st. evil has just not yet had the opportunity - then why not imprison/kill him before he does?

I think, if anything, your alignment could be seen as the sum of your personality. The way it is handled in the books however make me feel like it's some external factor influencing your personality ("I'm doing this because I'm evil") - and there's no way I could agree with such a theory...in the extreme, it would take away any idea of free will, reducing people's behavior from action to reaction.
But then again, why should anybody responsible fopr his or her actions?

I have to admit, I was partially inspired by character creation in Ultima IX (maybe also before, didn't play the older ones): You don't assign values or defined concepts, you are answered questions like "You have finally tracked down the villain who slaughtered you family 20 years ago and whom you swore revenge. When you find him, he has a family and is tending to his sick mother. How would you react? Kill him, slaughter them all, leave him alone, or help them?".

BTW, I don't want to claim that my idea of integrating alignment necessarily make roleplaying better - but I think I might enjoy some short campaign based on some otherwise purely rhetorical philospophical quarrel...someone who has been an altruist all of his life gets a "chatic evil diagnosis". Will he start doubting himself? Will others?
In some way, this might be the hook for the good old motive of whether one's able to escape his destiny....like Macbeth or Oedipus receiving their prophecies. This way, alignment would not be a personality trait, but rather destiny, which you believe in or not. And most people would have no alignment, or a neutral one - destiny just does not care about them.

But it might as well end up as some kind of cheap parody...In a long-term campaig, I think I'd rather stick to leaving out the topic altogether...
« Last Edit: May 07, 2012, 07:39:55 PM by Drul Morbok »

Offline David Roomes

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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2012, 10:04:17 PM »
These are all good points and this is an interesting topic, but we're heading into discussions of free will and destiny and there's no bottom to that well. :)  I guess, my main reason for leaving out alignment is that it's simpler. Also, there's no real world counterpart to alignment. I guess I just have a hard time with "detect evil" as a spell. What, exactly, is it detecting? But hey, that's just me.

Tanis, I'm not sure I understood your question, but let me try to explain. It does all come down to role playing. It all starts with choice and choice leads to action. It could be argued that every choice or action is designed to move us toward pleasure and away from pain  (pleasure and pain here are broad definitions). For instance, if a character says "I'm going to do X because I'm evil" then being evil (or at least being perceived as evil) is important to him. Maybe he wants people to think of him as evil. And if they do, they makes him happy. So he commits horrible crime X to be known as "evil" and gain an evil reputation. That choice/act moves him toward a pleasurable outcome (for him). Same thing with the sadist. A sadist takes pleasure in causing pain. That's a direct link. He's doing something that he enjoys. What about a soldier who slaughters dozens in a war. Or a commander who burns a village to the ground to win a war or end a war. All of these acts could be seen as evil, but the individual is acting in a manner in an effort that will bring about good or pleasure. (in some cases, in a selfish way).

Bottom line is that it's all shades of grey and a matter of perspective. So, rather than try to come up with a system of good and evil, I just toss the whole thing out. I'm more interested in characters, their personalities and their REASONS for the choices they make. That's where great stories begin, I think.

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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2019, 06:32:47 PM »
I know I'm resurrecting an old topic, and I apologize, but I've been thinking a lot about game mechanics lately and I've been rereading some of these old posts to remind myself of things we've discussed on the forum over time. When I reread this thread, I realized I had things to say that I hadn't had the language, knowledge base, or wherewithal to add some seven years ago.

I think one of the main things I was trying to get at when I pushed back against both of your thoughts on alignment was in the different orientations we had towards how to interpret alignment. In linguistics, and numerous other disciplines, we talk about prescriptivism versus descriptivism. For instance, saying that some groups of people, or some individuals, "don't speak properly" is prescriptivist. It assumes that there is a "right" way to use language, and prescribes rules to be followed, typically justifying the privileged position of social elites by defining their language as "proper". In contrast, descriptivism assumes that all language that achieves the goals of communication is, by definition, correct, and seeks to understand and describe how it achieves those goals.

Similarly, I think your interpretation is that alignment is a prescription for how your character must behave, and I think that's got a lot to do with the way AD&D 2.0 handled class restrictions and other related mechanics by walling them off to anyone who didn't have the right alignment and, in some cases, the right rolled stats (I'm looking at you, Paladin). However, I, having had less contact with those rules (the closest I've ever come to playing AD&D is playing Baldur's Gate repeatedly, because it's great -- speaking of which, Baldur's Gate 3 is on the way, and looks like it'll be awesome, if you haven't heard or seen the trailer that was released last month), have always been predisposed to interpret alignment as a description of how your character thinks and behaves, rather than rules to follow.

Your character isn't sadistic because they're evil, they're evil because they're sadistic and cruel. Your character isn't lawful because they lack the ability to break the law, they're lawful because they value a stable society with defined standards, and are predisposed to try to act in accordance with those values.

None of what I've said is new, of course. Lots of YouTube DMs offering advice to other gamers, new and old, have said as much (among many others), and I get the sense that consensus in the hobby is beginning to shift that way already. Plus, this is the perspective that people like Jeremy Crawford and Mike Mearles openly support, so anyone paying attention to 5e's designers will probably be familiar with the ideas.

Of course, it's also enlightening to know, for instance, that alignment started out as just Lawful versus Chaotic, and was intended as a way for Gary Gygax to rein in his murder hobo players, with players being tied to the civilized forces of Law, as opposed to the despoiling forces of Chaos. Good and Evil were added during the Satanic Panic days to help defend against misguided accusations that players were modelling evil behavior. Though, the game definitely retains an underlying tendency to treat alignments as reflective of objective reality, especially in its relation to Great Wheel cosmology, I'll grant you that.

Beyond that, I guess I'd add that I've never been fond of hedonist ethical standards (i.e. pleasure-seeking/pain-avoidance), whether we're talking Epicureanism or Utilitarianism, so I'm inclined to think very differently than you on that point, Dave. If I were going to tie ethics to a game mechanic, and by so doing hardwire an ethical framework in, I'd probably be going into things with more of an Aristotelian sort of perspective (Aretaic or Virtue Ethics), or even a Kantian one, though I'd probably be prone to eliding a lot of the details of those ethical systems. What would matter in that sort of situation would be the framing of certain acts as good or evil.

But having said that, I think I'm still much more inclined to take a very loose, descriptivist approach, and just say something along the lines of, "Altruism is good, egoism is evil, and most people are somewhere in the middle. As far as law and chaos go, lawful people tend to follow laws irrespective of the justness or aptness of the laws; chaotic people tend to disregard any laws that they find distasteful, inconvenient, or unjust, for whatever reason, and follow their own whims and standards without concern for others' opinions; and those who are neutrally aligned tend to follow the law, but aren't devoted to it."

Oh, one last point. Since legend and myth, as well as Victorian and 20th Century fantasy literature, play such a large role in influencing D&D, and by extension roleplaying games in general, let me bring up a good example of a magical weapon with an alignment restriction: Excalibur. The sword Excalibur couldn't be wielded by evil people, or in service of evil actions. How did Excalibur know who was evil and who wasn't? Magic. Explain it however you like: the sword looks into your soul, or asks you to respond to philosophical thought experiments, or their exists some objective measure of good and evil (potentially related to a divine source). At the end of the day, the mechanism isn't as important to the myth as the result -- a sword that resists what it considers misuse on the part of its wielder.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #7 on: July 12, 2019, 07:07:07 AM »
I love resurrected threads, as it's always nice to read thoughts and exchanges from some years ago.  ;D

Especially since I recently also came up with yet another idea for roleplaying alignment:
Alignment does not describe (and especially does not prescribe  ;)) what a character is like now, but what he will become. Players start as young, curious, maybe na´ve, characters that did not yet have much opportunity to develop a moral compass (beyond caring for those close to them, which also poses some kind of necessity to survive in a not too friendly world), but the key point of the campaign is a plausible explanation of what makes them what they will later be.

The way I imagine it, it is a bit like watching prequels - you know that Anakin Skywalker will one day be Darth Vader, but Anakin does not.
And spectator's knowledge does not spoil the fun - it makes for the fun.

So in some way, alignment, especially evil, could be compared to a prophecy in classic tragedy (at least in my limited knowledge) - the reader/player does know it can't be evaded, but enjoys the character's struggle between sticking to values, and embracing new power.
The whole plot is about the struggle, not the outcome. It would be boring if the protagonist could escape the prophecy/alignment by just ignoring it, and it would be equally boring if he just accepted it.

So a player that selects "lawful evil" might start as a lumberjack whose family family is slaughtered by marauders and dedicates his axe to what he first calls justice.
Another player might decide that his little sister, or early childhood girlfriend, also survived and selects her future as neutral good.
Neither character does have an alignment yet. The wohle campaign is about playing out what makes either chose their path, playing out conflicts between them, conflicts that never break their bond, but often come close.
Said lumberjack might enter some kind of pact with his axe - the axe "promises" him the opportunity to bury it in the heart of every single marauder involved in that slaughter, but until then, it requires him to bury it into someone else's heart every day. He might start what he believes to be a crusade against evil, killing "only" marauders, but one day he is confronted by the militia that requires him to stop vigilantism....

This might not be suited for a dice-heavy setting like classical D&D. It could even be most suited for roleplaying without dice - role-playing rather than roll-playing ;-)
Collaborate story-telling rather than than the players defeating the GM.

Well, after all, I'm not trying to establish a new system. But I do have some players that might enjoy playing such a setting.
And, as a side effect, even if it does not result in something like a playing session, but in discussion, I consider it a valuable inspiration on how to create plausible and somewhat morally ambiguous antagonists for more classical roleplaying ;-)

PS: I intend to write another post with regards to what you said.

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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2019, 07:44:43 AM »
That's actually a really cool idea. Certainly it would have more implications on how you roleplay than on mechanics, but I think that's fine, and potentially a source of really interesting experiences and adventures.

Also, I'll be looking for your further response, as well as Dave's, with great interest!
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2019, 10:04:23 AM »
Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I like it - and the more I want it to deviate from the rules of D&D and the the whole genre of "stochastic" roleplaying.

The scenario as I imagine it would not gain much from rolling dice about whether the axe hits or not, and how much damage it deals. No need for hit points, strength bonus, character level.
In fact, the very idea of a distinction between player and GM could be done away with. There might be a "main inspiration giver" that does not act as arbiter. Or everyone's just a player.

It could go beyond chronological storytelling and 1:1 mapping of players to characters.

For example, at the begining of the first session, one player might come up with the idea that when the lumberjack finally meets the marauders, they are already dead - but as far as the axe is concerned, it can still be buried in their hearts.
The other players like it, but when one of them comes up with the idea that the marauders disbanded, and each now lives as commoner with wive and children, they like it even more. They might together add the detail that the slaughter happened in a war that is now over, and authorities go to great lengths to prevent "old" tensions to flare up again.
Than they continue to tell the lumberjack's story from the point he leaves the scene of slaughter.

Later they might elaborate on what formed the bond between the lumberjack and the young woman back years ago.

Than they might come up with the idea that the lumberjack's father was exiled as a "bastard" child of lesser nobles, and the marauders were actually a revolutionary force that overthrew a feudal system to install an early republic - which by the population is generally considered an improvement.

And so on...

Offline David Roomes

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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #10 on: July 14, 2019, 12:53:00 PM »
So much to reply too... :)

First of all, I love resurrected threads to. It's nice to go back and reread stuff. Also, this solves a dilemma for me. I've often wondered if I should "clean up" the forum of old threads or just let it accumulate. I've been doing the latter. And actually, I think it's better to let old threads stay. I like the idea of anyone picking up a thread, but I also like the idea of other gamers coming along, discovering Khoras and the forum and reading conversations between creative folk that took place a decade ago. There are a lot of great conversations in this forum and I hope gamers and others (many of whom are lurkers based on the site traffic stats)  come along and read and enjoy them.

Ok, regarding alignment. I think we agree more than disagree. Alignment should be more descriptive than prescriptive. My problem is with the D&D game and they way they implement it. The D&D game is EXTREMELY prescriptive. There are no shades of grey. There are people, monsters, items which are labeled 100% good or evil or whatever. There are spells that have absolute effects when it comes to alignment. It's that black and white approach that I dislike so much, since people are never 100% good or evil. People tend to be shades of grey which are constantly changing based on circumstances. Yes, there are some literary examples of absolutes such as Excalibur, but that's tied to divinity and religion which is a whole other bag of worms that I dislike and exclude from my games.

Anyway... I did want to talk a little bit about morally ambiguous player characters and dice and such.  Role playing is a broad hobby with an equally broad array of players and playing styles. Groups tend to develop their own style and different groups are often wildly different in how they play. I've seen this first hand.

In my past experiences, my groups have tended to embrace morally ambiguous characters with complex character backgrounds, such as the lumberjack and sister you described. We never let the dice or alignment dictate how a specific character should behave. As I've said, we tend to throw alignment out in favor of a more nuanced approach to behavior based on character history, current situation and many other dynamics. I don't even roll dice for NPC reactions. The story and the current situation usually determine reactions.

Regarding your comment about the rules of D&D and stocastic roleplaying. I've long been an advocate of simplifying the rules as much as possible. Also, story and characters are the MAIN focus of a D&D game. Or at least, they should be. D&D games are not as dice heavy as you think they are. At least, the dice should not be determining the story. In my games, the dice don't do that. The only reason these games use dice is to introduce the randomness for lots of little things - the angle of a sword swing, the integrity of a piece of armor (does it hold or crack?), the way physics plays out (does the collapsing tower fall this way or that? or does the rolling coin fall through the grate or miss it?), the wind (does the arrow hit the bullseye or miss by three inches?) and so forth. You could say the dice represent chaos theory, the flapping of a butterfly's wings, etc. There are thousands of little variables at play in any situation which we, as players, have neither the time nor interest in trying to calculate. So we use dice to simulate the "randomness" of the world.

Again, the dice affect only little things. The decisions and actions of the player characters affect the flow of the story vastly more than the dice. And again, that's what it's all about. In a D&D game, it's about the story. And having fun. :) There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes the tiniest random event can have far reaching consequences. But then again, isn't that the way real life works as well?

I'm not sure about what you mean by getting rid of hit points, strength bonus, character level, GMs and so forth. Some of this I agree with. Character level can go. I hate character levels. But there are many things that need to be quantified in some way. Strength, for instance. Toughness, quickness, intelligence. These are ways that one character is differentiated from another. Think about any story or movie or whatever... you have characters and these characters are different from one another. A nerdy scientist, a brawny barbarian, whatever. These characteristics define the characters. When you read a novel, you are introduced to different characters and each is unique with specific characteristics. You, the reader, may not be given specific NUMBERS about a character's "stats"... but those characteristics exist nonetheless. George R. R. Martin may not have given us Tyrion's strength score, but you can be certain that there is a limit to how much Tyrion can lift, a specific number of kilograms that Tyrion can benchpress. This is true of every novel, short story, movie and play because all of them are telling a story. And stories involve characters and actions. The only difference with role playing games is that we quantify those things with numbers to more closely simulate reality and to ensure consistency.

I've heard about games that don't use dice and don't have game masters. Collaborative storytelling in the truest sense. I'll be honest. I've never played those games. I don't know how they work. And I don't know how they could work as well as traditional RPGs. Without numbers, you lose consistency. Without rules, you lose any semblance of structure. And without a game master, you lose the depth of the story telling. A game master generates content for the story and decides on thousands of little details, many of which connect and affect other details, all of which affect the world in which the players play. Without a game master, you lose all of that.

If you have no game master, then every player has an equal say in how the story unfolds. That's fine. But let's be clear, it's no that "everyone's just a player". In actuality, everyone's a game master. I don't get that. What happens if the players disagree on how the story should unfold? Who decides those thousand little details? Who crafts the overall plot? Seems like such a story would meander around without direction. It seems to me that such storytelling would have no arcs, no foreshadowing, no setup and resolution to threads of subplot... seems like "story telling by committee". I've never seen a game like. I'm not saying it can't work. I'm just saying I've never seen it. I've never witnessed a game without a game master and I have no idea how such a thing would work. Even if it did work, it seems it would be missing the structure and complexity and depth that a game master can introduce to a game.

I am curious about a game with no dice and no game master. I would love to sit and watch something like that unfold just to see how it would work.

Apologies for the length of this. My answer was meandering...








David M. Roomes
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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #11 on: July 14, 2019, 01:52:17 PM »
I agree that D&D has always had a very black and white conception of things, largely, I suspect because of the Satanic Panic forcing Gygax to attempt to clearly delineate player roles from villain roles, provide ways to deal more effectively with murder hobos, and give players guilt-free targets (they're orcs, don't feel bad for slaughtering their whole village; they're all evil).

And I agree that morally sophisticated characters are typically more interesting in storytelling.

I would say, though, that the former is mostly an issue with TSR's and Wizards of the Coast's campaign settings and worldbuilding, and not with the alignment system in general. I tend to dissociate the setting's flaws from those of the system, in cases like this. You can "fix" how alignment works without changing any of the core mechanics and thereby creating an altogether different game, and that's what I'm mostly interested in pointing out.

As far as storytelling games, I don't really think of them as all that closely related to RPGs, even though they're descended from them, because they do things very differently, and don't share the same focus or intended player outcomes. That said, I've watched a lot of Wil Wheaton's series TableTop on Geek & Sundry's YouTube channel, and they've played a number of storytelling and indie roleplaying games.

From what I've seen, many storytelling games that don't have a GM have in-built structures that constrain storytelling within traditional narrative structures like acts, scenes, or chapters, and their mechanics tend to provide means of developing narrative arcs, rather than handling detailed physical simulations or similar things. Quite a few of them still have dice, or some other mechanic to introduce chance and variety into the game, but some of the more experimental do really weird things.

There's even one indie horror RPG called Dread where players play Jenga to tie the building story tension to something in the actual playspace.

Most of the storytelling games that I've seen tend not to be focused on long-term campaign-length storytelling, though. They're more like short story- or screenplay-length stories, meant to fill a single night's gaming session, rather than a decade of play. So, while a lot of them look pretty fun, they're not really intended to compete directly with more traditional RPGs, from what I've seen.
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Offline Drul Morbok

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Re: Ingame Alignment
« Reply #12 on: July 15, 2019, 11:38:27 AM »
First of all, I'm totally glad you let the forum grow, and do not "clean up" (except for maybe some administration stuff about joining, correction of spelling errors or broken links).

About roleplaying without (or with only) GMs, I'd like to restrict myself to saying that maybe we try such a thing on our Ireland trip. I'll tell about it if we do so.
Apart from that, it's surely an interesting topic, but if I feel like discussing something general, I'd prefer a different thread.

Now back to alignment ;-)
My idea when I started this thread was to intentionally not look at alignment as a moral question. I wanted to go for a twist, where I assumed that alignment spells do work. Kind of.
I agree with everything said about why alignment ist at least dubious when you use it to judge behavior and/or intensions.
I wanted a world where there is a class of spells that measure alignment.

And I wanted to create a setting about what "kind of work" could actually mean. What I looked for was kind of a magic metaphor for Phrenology, which assumed that you could predict mental traits and behavior by measuring bumps on the head.
Of course, nowadays we look at phrenology as a pseudoscience. And I'm not sure how many people actually considered it a serious science back then.
Now from a modern real-world scientific point of view, detect alignment spells in my game world might be as dubious as Phrenology. But within my game world, nobody doubts them.

So my whole idea could be seen as a parable on faith in progress. I never watched the movie (nor read the novel) "Minority Report", but I think my setting comes close:
Not intending to answer the question about how to define "good" and "evil", but portraying a society that believes that magic can make the distinction (or if it's divine magic, it's the god's judgement, and who's to doubt the gods?).


So I really would like to thank both of you for giving me more inspiration for my setting. Right now I'm thinking about a campaign where at the beginning, a PC priest/mage casts a seemingly routine detect alignment spell on the heir to the throne. The result is "evil". But the PC is told to publish the result "good", since this is the only appropriate outcome for a ruler.

Now everything that is mentionned in the thread (and elsewhere) could be question that the PC faces ingame...
« Last Edit: July 15, 2019, 11:40:46 AM by Drul Morbok »