View Full Version : Pushing the Alignment Envelope (and other roleplaying issues)

2009-04-18, 04:35 AM
Let's take a look at what's laid out before us in terms of alignment -

Good - The morally inclined.

Neutral - The apathetic, or at least those with an actual belief in balance (not always necessary).

Evil - The morally non-inclined, whether they possess warped beliefs, are merely terribly insane, or actually realize their actions.

These super alignments (as I call them) are what defines the theme of a campaign, however as it has been said in the books themselves about alignment and characters, they should not act as a plot-churning thematic straight jacket; rather they should be a tool.

Good is proportionate, no matter what you say otherwise. Amid the soup of ideology that is inevitable to manifest in any universe bearing any race even closely resembling humans in mentality, there is likely to be an over all bystander view. Good usually represents a feeling of wanting to help strangers. But what if the entire universe is evil (or at least the vast majority, as is the case in such settings as WH40k)? There's still a balance! Why??? Because alignment is part of the rules of the game. It's proportionate to the morals reflected.

If a space marine from warhammer is lawful good for example and hails from a warrior culture, he might be inclined to kill a stranger after a duel. Even though this stranger is not his enemy, tradition demands it! No, he can't possibly be lawful good, but he is. Why? Because there's millions of ways in which this could be uphold in proportion to the setting. He could make the death a mercy killing (as painless as possible). Or if the person was a close friend of his, he might be beset by emotional trauma and attempt to desperately wade his way out of killing his friend despite whatever pain he causes those around him.

If deities exist, than deities are a different matter altogether. Whether a character transcends into the realm of deities of a specific alignment upon death is based on deity opinion (and divine rank determining the power of such opinion). While a character's alignment can often earn them points towards a specific realm, it ultimately falls on the choice of the deities. In fact, as was the case with Miko Miyozaki, she never actually changed from anything but Lawful Good. She may have became Lawful Neutral arguably, however deity decision rested in their opinions on what she had done, not strictly because of any potential alignment change. In fact, it would make perfect sense that (since alignment is supposed to be gradual for unwilling to change players and characters most of the time) she is still Lawful Good, despite all that she has done, despite falling from grace, despite everything.

It was deity opinion that her soul was confined to a lesser realm upon death.

Another thing: Super alignment shift is slow and gradual as it always should be. Of course, the player controlling the character can make it as quick as he likes, although it reflects a general soup of his core beliefs. His morals. Who he is. What defines him and how he perceives (aside from WIS affording the amount in which he perceives) the universe afforded to him.

And remember: It is always proportionate to everything else (although extremes are always perfectly fine as well, although it may always more dramatically affect the views of NPCs depending on what the GM decides).

Next, I will move onto paladins.

Given the direction of alignment I've outlined, it's quite difficult to maintain a paladin accordingly. It's too rigid and inflexible.

In fact quite often, we've seen paladins exhibit ideals of lawful stupid. While being brainwashed by their institution coupled by a very low WIS score might serve as explanation for this, in other circumstances they are simply just that. To refer to tvtropes, they actually disregard self preservation to uphold the law in the most fundamental, rigid and unyielding unmerciful sense and ruin play sessions. And they're serious! This is not lawful good at all, in fact.

This is them playing to their own individualist ideas and acting 'chaotic neutral', which by definition is benefiting a cause of a morally amorphous agenda as regarded by all bystanders, rather than 'lawful good'. Yet, they uphold the code according to the rules, and so they are not broken by the otherworldy divine source that grants them their power (they do not fall from grace as such).

Of course, this is only the worst case of the paladin, however he even players that are aware of this feel less malleable, whether it's due to lack of experience, lack of foresight, etc (I'll admit that even I found it hard at times to foresee how a paladin could keep their own workings together in the potentially millions of different settings).

So I've proposed two variants

The Vessel

The vessel is usually identical to the 'paladin of justice' (alternate name for LGP), however they are granted their abilities based on the ideals of their god. Their alignment can also vary according to their god. Vessels often do not choose their path, rather they are chosen, whether it be at birth, on the battlefield, etc.

The church/preachers of whichever involves worship/faith in/of such a deity/religion are the ones that preach to the paladin. Often times, the vessel will be required to attend ceremony, or consultation with such preachers or distributors of said religion for direction or advice. They need not obey orders, however they must respond to a summons within an amount of time specified.

These paladins aren't necessarily part of an association; there actual association differs. They merely need to uphold the ideals of their god, as they are a vessel to them. They must follow the paladin code according to what their god has assigned for them as holy vessels (either at GM discretion or after player has consulted GM) and essentially maintain that they are divine warriors in their own right.

Vessels never actively communicate with or pray to their god like a cleric might. They merely uphold the ideals and that's the main difference.

Most vessels are lawful and the servants of gods, often those with an agenda (while those of higher rank are more apathetic) and as such are almost never neutral, even when the deity itself might be neutral.

Chaotic vessels are rare and might be unwilling to bind themselves to such devotion unless of a smaller religion or of a unique agenda that contradicts current societal views (see: conspiracy devotion plot). Most large religions are parallel to the order of the civilization they reside in so as to maintain their existence (and thus encourage civil obedience), inevitably resulting in more lawful vessels depending on the strength religion has over a setting.

A vessels abilities vary according to alignment (LG vessels use the LGP progression, LE vessels use LEP progression, etc.). Their alignment still indicates that they are willing to commit to self sacrifice if their code demands it, no matter their true alignment.

The Zealot

The zealot is not granted their abilities directly by a deity (although they do attain their abilities through them), but rather serves according to their association's beliefs with great loyalty. They are special in that they are more courageous than fighters, and possess a particularly unique view on faith in comparison to clerics in that they are willing to commit to self sacrifice. Often times, a zealot may choose their path.

Zealots often uphold the greater whim of the religion rather than the spirit of the deity (or religion) itself. Lawful zealots are more strict in regards to obeying local law than vessels, while chaotic zealots are more wild (while vessels are restrained to code despite personal beliefs).

Zealots still maintain a code, however such a code can be slightly malleable in regards to underlying morals. In some cases, a zealot may be more bound to a code than a vessel in regards to a higher mortal power stressing that aspect of the code (ie. obey all local law as opposed to 'do not lie ever'). A zealot cannot negotiate his code as a vessel can and if they make enemies of those they serve than they are likely to fall from grace, while a vessel is free to uproot a power conspiracy in their own religion without risk provided they've convinced their deity (through some sort of commune, likely) that it's the right thing to do.

Vessels and zealots alike can be brainwashed to become who they are, although the zealots are often more willing and devout.

LG vessels are more prone to the messiah trope than zealots, while zealots can be easily driven to be lawful stupid unless self preservation gets in the way. Both in my personal opinion, are highly malleable and can be utilized in a variety of circumstances in addition to all of the abilities afforded to the paladin.

Next, I will move onto intelligence.

Intelligence in general has been known to affect the way one talks, however, as proven in real life, even the mentally decrepit do not always refer to themselves in the third person.


Dim. The ditz trope is often afforded this level. Not everyone of average WIS and INT will recognize this person's lack of intuitiveness, however they will obviously be called out for their unfortunate nature to be incompetent when the time is afforded. Of course players are free to roleplay as they like.

Generally, a ditz can speak perfectly well, although they will often resort to simple words for convenience ("Like y'know, right?").


Outright stupid in general. Those of average INT and WIS can recognize, almost immediately, this person's lack of thought capacity. But they will still speak ordinarily in a colloquial manner. Why?

Because, unless they are of a different culture that doesn't frequent the language or lacks a regimen of linguistical study (ie. an orc is used to speaking orcish and while his people know how to speak common they often don't until the encounter with strangers demands it), there's no justification that they cannot speak in harmonized sentences. Usually these people need assistance from another individual to comprehend grammar. They may have trouble writing, or speaking in proper prose.

Often times they might not even read independently because it's too mentally demanding. The level 1 commoner of 6 int is shallow, backwards (culturally, educationally) and cannot help it.

They are prone to malapropisms, however they can still maintain a conversation without sounding plain weird. They will visibly think things through in a slower manner than those of average INT.

When given a general instruction from a stranger, they might respond with, "Uh... so, that's what I'm gonna do?", and visibly require more practice than the quicker higher INT learners among the party.


Mind bogglingly stupid. Severely limits competency, ability to educate themselves, be educated, instructed, etc. But not to the point of retardation.

Other characters might find it appalling how much effort must be pooled into allowing them to understand concepts. Typical work is higher thought for these people. Speech is somewhat limited and malapropisms as well. These people are never knowingly relied on for mental forays. Forest Gump typically occupies this territory.


Mild retardation. But not the severe, drool absconding, limited motion kind, (otherwise other mechanics would come into play). Even this level does not necessitate distraction from combat (would suck for every other PC involved, obviously if the tank did this).

These individuals are often child like but perfectly capable of independent action. They might speak with a slight tone and pitch alteration and may view others in a completely different light than other characters, based solely on their INT score (although WIS does not improve this in a linear manner, it merely compensates with a unique perception).

Oh yah, and they speak differently, struggling to form sentences. They hum and haw at every opportunity ("Um... so, um... you um... real um... an adventurer um... too?" or "Me um... do work ruh... real good!"), or perhaps refer to themselves in the third person. Not because they haven't studied up on linguistics and grammar, but because that's how they perceive that everyone else refers to them and they have yet to learn otherwise.

Sometimes a high enough WIS might alter this, although chances are that their severely limited INT leaves them struggling to interpret everything else around them, such that they are left to simply not care about the grammar semantics.

So why aren't they any stupider? Isn't 3 INT the bottom line before they're reduced to basic instinct to survive? No. Why??? Because how else would they learn what they need to become adventurers? How else do they gain XP as quickly as everyone else?

Even severe instruction from others means that a level of reasoning bio-electrical energy is pulsating through their craniums. Of course, no PC in their right mind would be an INT reliant class with bottom line INT, but even martial classes need some level of thought capacity in order to gain their proficiencies.

The fighter in particular, although she sacrifices skill points, has bonus feats, which indicates even more learning in the field. The stuff (and maturity that goes with it) to become an adventurer. Darwinism, while dirty and true neutral in its judgement, ain't got nothing on these people (although it can; creating an adventurer with bottom line INT indicates that they still have a chance in a world without karma).

Any greater level of retardation beyond the bottom line demands a corresponding trait - and perhaps a back story as to why they are still not too stupid to live in that they've survived to the point of reaching first level. In conclusion, D&D ultimately demands (for the sake of role playing realism) that the border between reasoning and instinct is still rather broad, even if only separated by a single attributed point.

Next, I will move onto wisdom, and its place in interaction with NPCs (no additional mechanics actually involved mind you)...