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Misalignment

Alignment, as a concept, has been in tabletop roleplaying games, original Dungeons & Dragons from 1974. It was different back then, a choice between "honor," "chaos," and "neutrality." What makes a man turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were they just born with a heart full of neutrality? In the 1977 reorganization into "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" and the "Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set" , a second axis of "good vs. evil" was added (allowing for the worst character, the neutral neutral, or "true neutral.") Of all versions, D&D’s third edition probably sees the most recognition today, with nine-box "alignment chart" memes made up for any number of media ventures. The oft-maligned fourth edition changed things yet again, reducing alignments to five options: "lawful good," "good," "evil," "chaotic evil" and "unaligned." Again, Wizards of the Coast couldn’t help themselves with the fifth edition, (but when can they seem to help themselves?) and went back to 3/3.5’s nine alignments with the addition of "unaligned"- "unaligned" differing from "true neutral" in that it applies to creatures operating on instinct without a sense of morality. What good (or evil, or neutral) is alignment though? Should we do away with it completely? This week join Never Say Dice as we align ourselves on alignment.

Alignment on the Level

Were you sent here by the devil? No good sir, I’m on the level. Alignment, at least mechanically, has been a strange thing to contend with in D&D. In many cases, it might allow you access to certain spells, the use of certain magical items, or the availability of certain prestige classes things one might consider a “reward.” More often than not though, you’ll likely see alignment used as a way to punish or prevent players from doing something. “You’re not acting your alignment, so your god has taken away access to this spell.” or “your alignment can’t use that type of device.” We're talking about magical things here, it seems far-fetched to say a certain magic can’t be used at all if one's morals are too different from expectations... unless the item itself happens to be intelligent. While this is a tool that DMs can use to keep players from acquiring "too much power." it isn’t absolutely necessary. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t use the tool of alignment , but that rather that we be mindful to level off just how much we do so.

Morals and Ethics and Carnal Forbearance

What alignment (or its absence) doesn’t get us away from are morals and ethics in our games. These can be central to a story's theme, or just an aspect present within a narrative. In a recent gaming session at my own table, a party of heroes found themselves faced with a dilemma: another adventurer was found in a dungeon on their own. They seemed to be "on the level," and, while they were surviving fine, could use some help returning to town. Was the adventurer being honest or did they have nefarious schemes in mind? Would the players do the “right thing” and help the adventurer return, despite this requiring them to turn back from their current path? This is where alignment can again be a tool, but not for the DM this time. While you can play your characters however you want, the character sheets are guides in just how we do so. Alignment is simply an aspect of this: “what would my character do?” If you’re sitting in a quandary answering that, alignment can help be your deciding factor. So would your character help a lost adventurer? If they’re good, they’ll likely jump at the chance. If they’re neutral, they might not care either way what happens, unless there's also something in it for them. Evil... evil might surprise you with their own machinations, but are unlikely to see a benefit to themselves in this case. While you may know that instinctively for your own character, it can still be useful to look to alignment, especially when you’re still feeling out a new character or a situation you never expected to find yourself in.

Should we get rid of alignment altogether? It certainly isn’t a necessary aspect of the game. You can get along perfectly fine without it, albeit with a bit of needed rules shifting when it comes to certain spells and items. It can absolutely be useful, though, and yet another item on the character sheet you can ignore until it comes up. (Do you really pay attention to your height, weight, eye color, or even that backstory you wrote unless it becomes relevant?) While the next iteration of D&D has yet to be released, it will certainly touch on the subject, even if it's to render the concept moot by removing it as a requirement. While we could continue to discuss the potential virtues (or villainies) when it comes to the uses of alignment, the choice is really up to you (unless you’re one of those dirty, dirty neutrals) even if a the creators of a particular game choose to get rid of it. Until next week, enjoy your tables and your dice!

- A

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