Tuesday, April 03, 2007


I am currently pondering the Dungeons and Dragons alignment system.

I'm wondering if it's possible to take it out of the game. And if I should. Or if I should go the Eberron route and just maybe make it kind of not matter so much.

It's not that I dislike the system, in the abstract. I'm just thinking about it's in-game effect, and whether I really want players to be able to tell whether or not someone is "evil" with a first level spell. And what I want that to mean.

I want to run a campaign that involves the players trying to figure out whether various people are on their side. I don't know if this is actually a good idea; the concept may change at some undetermined future point, but that's where it is right now. I do know that having the alignment system in place, as it is written, will make that difficult. More difficult than it would be, without it in.

Because that's what the alignment system is for: telling you whether a given person is on your side. Yeah, there's a lot of silliness in the books about how it's a "guide to develop your character," and I am aware that it's possible (more than possible) for two evil-aligned or chaotic-aligned or even good-aligned groups to come to blows, but that's still basically what it's for. It tells you, the player, whether or not a given creature is okay to kill.

This is cool. If what you want to do is kill wizards, it's an excellent system. Having some elaborate system, ideally involving extended surveillance and social puzzle-solving, to figure out whether you can kill the wizard would, in this sort of game, be actively detrimental to the game play experience.

However. While I've had fun running "kill the wizard" type games in the past, that's not what I'm planning at the moment. I'm planning a game that involves the calculations and challenges that the alignment system is explicitly designed to bypass. Something involving politics as well as wizard killing. And while I'm pretty sure that the alignment system, as written, is going to interfere with that, I'm not exactly sure what I should do about it.

Should I change the actual mechanics of alignment, or just adjust what the little words "mean"? Should I remove references to it entirely, or change them to something else? By which I mean--should detect evil be entirely purged, or changed to, say, detect foe?

Making any change to the system is going to alter cleric and paladin power. Changing things to "detect foe" and "smite foe" would make them more powerful; removing them from the game would make them less powerful. But how much more or less powerful? Is there any way to tell?

Do I need to change anything? Is it really going to be that big of a problem? Or can I get away with, say, banning paladins?

These are questions I may not even be qualified to answer.

1 comment:

  1. You could change it to be something like "detect < belief >", where there is some finite list of acceptable beliefs. That might make it a level or so higher. Something like "detect solipsist" or "detect hates elves" might better reflect a more complex alignment system.

    That said, removing the spells entirely is probably fine.