View Full Version : Subjective Alignment [Crossroads]

Admiral Squish
2014-05-23, 11:52 AM
Subjective Alignment
Created for the Crossroads: The New World (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?345327-Crossroads-II-I-m-on-a-Mammoth) setting

Alignment has, for many generations of gamers, been a useful tool for the creation of characters, a shorthand for a wide variety of behaviors and outlooks that are as varied as the characters that hold them. Sometimes, it works exactly as intended. Other times, it can be a limitation on a character, or it can be entirely too defining. But it’s always been objective.
In a realistic setting like crossroads, that rigid objectivity cannot be applied to the wide variety of characters and acts possible, or to the traditional practices of the various factions. Practically every culture in the crossroads setting has aspects that other cultures may consider evil, disturbing, or simply nonsensical. When dealing with moral issues like slavery, human sacrifice, discrimination, sexuality, and others, one cannot be defined by an objective system like traditional D&D alignment.

In the crossroads setting, a character’s alignment is subjective, and it’s interaction with spells, abilities, and effects is determined both by their view of themselves, and by others’ views of them.

Personal Alignment
A creature’s personal perspective is what determines the goodness or evil of an act. If the creature believes the act to be a certain alignment, then the creature treats that act as one of that alignment for the purposes of determining its effects on their overall alignment. It doesn’t matter how they came to the conclusion that the action is that alignment, simply that they truly believe it to be so. In order for their alignment to be affected, they must believe an act to be a departure from their usual alignment, and then perform the act anyways. There are also situations where a change in perspective may cause the character to view acts of their past as a new alignment, which may have an effect on their alignment. Any effects they create treat themselves as their personal alignment, and they qualify for classes, feats, and other character options based on their personal alignment.

For example, if a European character believes that owning slaves to be a good act, no matter how they come to that conclusion, they will treat the purchase and ownership of slaves as a good act regarding their own personal alignment. The character’s personal alignment still answers to their conscience for other acts performed on the slaves or in the process of owning slaves. If the character has a change of heart, and comes to view slavery as evil, then continuing to own slaves would be an evil act to their alignment, and their personal alignment may change for past actions.

Perceived Alignment
The perspective of others is also important, for determining on how that character interacts with them and effects created by them. If another being believes that a certain creature is a certain alignment, then the being’s spells and abilities will treat the creature as the perceived alignment, regardless of what the creature's personal alignment is. It does not matter how the being arrived at the conclusion that the creature is the perceived alignment, be it assumption, prejudice, or personal experience, simply that the being truly believes it to be so. If their point of view changes and they no longer believe the creature to be that alignment, then that may alter how the creature interacts with their spells and abilities. Permanent effects will continue to respond as their creator intended them to upon casting, even if the creator's views later change.

For example, a Mexica priest comes upon a Spanish priest. Both characters have a personal alignment of Good. However, each has a perceived alignment of Evil to the other. Either one’s spells would treat the other as being Evil, regardless of what the character's personal alignment would be. If the two were to talk in a peaceful fashion and come away with a mutual respect, the perceived alignment may shift, and they may view the other as neutral, or even good. In such a situation, their spells would now affect the other as though they were the new perceived alignment.

Admiral Squish
2014-05-23, 11:54 AM
I know this isn't properly homebrew, but I needed somewhere to post a more detailed description of how alignment works in the crossroads setting, and I figured this is as good a place as any.
Anyways, if anyone has any commentary about anything that's unclear, or anything I forgot to address, please let me know and I'll be right on it!

2014-05-23, 03:25 PM
Do the detect alignment spells then only work on Outsiders due to the subjectivity of this alignment system, or do they still work as normal? I ask this because a Mexica priest who does not recognize Bartolomé de las Casas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartolom%C3%A9_de_las_Casas) post change of heart with regards to natives sees him, he will regard him as Evil, even though if he knew who he was seeing, he would see him a a Good person. What would Holy Word from the pries do to Bartolomé de las Casas?

Admiral Squish
2014-05-23, 05:54 PM
Hmmm... You know, detect alignment spells would be more or less useless in a setting where your opinion of the person affects how they are affected by your spells. Could make a new spell, I suppose, that would tell you what a person's personal alignment is.

To answer your question literally, if the priest believed him to be evil when he cast the spell, it would treat him as evil. If the priest recognized him and considered him good, then then the spell would treat him as good. If it was an ongoing spell and the priest recognized him while it was going on and considered him, good, the spell would start by treating him as evil, then would treat him as good once he was recognized.

2014-05-24, 01:52 AM
Just remove any alignment detecting spell from the spellbook.
I thought the idea was that it would be hard to distinguish good from evil in this setting. Every culture has things that another culture would consider evil.
Why not keep that morally ambiguous undertone and leave characters to make their own moral choices without a spell to solve everything for them.
Same for outsiders. If you remove detect alignment spells you can have characters make a knowledge check to see what kind of outsider they have in front of them and what kind of alignment these outsiders roughly have.

Question about perceived alignment: if a person is not sure about somebody's alignment, does he automatically fall under neutral in the perspective of that person?

Another question: why even keep alignment based spells?
For example Protection from Evil could become Protection from Foreigners. And Protection from Good would then become Protection from Countrymen.
And maybe a third spell Protection from Outsiders (or Magical Creatures, or Non-Humans or something like that) for all the others that don't fall under these categories.
That way a protection from good spell would work when a Tuniit fights against a Dorset Human because they're countrymen, but not when that Tuniit fights against a French trapper. For that he would need a protection from foreigner spell.
And if a wendigo attacks that Tuniit and that French trapper while they're fighting, they both cast a Protection from Outsiders (or any other name for the spell) and start fighting that thing together.

2014-05-24, 02:03 PM
What about having perceived alignment be determined based on the values (both known and unknown) of the target compared to those of the user, rather than their conscious opinion of the target? For example:

Priest A is from a culture where slave-owning is just and good (Plato's Republic logic that some people are ideally suited to life as a slave and their happiness is best served by being a slave), but denying a person their right to live is evil, even if that person is willing to give it up.

Priest B is from a culture where personal freedom is good and therefor slave-owning is evil, and death or killing are not considered evil so long as the subject is deserving or willing in some way and has not been denied the choices that led to their death.

However, both priests come from cultures where a sense of community responsibility and the denial of worldly goods in favor of spiritual pleasures are considered good.

If Priest A saw Priest B, he might think that the savage must be evil because B considers human sacrifice to be acceptable and frequently good. However, if Priest A uses a Detect spell on B, he might get back an unexpected Neutral or even Good because they share many less apparent but equally important morals; B could be seen in the culture of A as someone who has many good qualities (sense of community, humility, kindness) which might not fully balance out the bad (willingness to kill) but certainly do something towards it.

Maybe make alignment dependent spells work that way too. So a Holy Word from one person who considers themselves Good and their opponent Evil but doesn't realize their opponent shares their values doesn't work--even if the opponent thinks of himself as absolutely evil for holding those values because he holds them despite considering them evil.

My wording might be unclear, and if so I apologize. I'm a little spacey right now because I haven't had lunch yet.

2014-05-24, 02:10 PM
I think the end result of something like that would be that everybody from another culture would detect as neutral.
Every culture has a lot of things in common with any other culture. It might not seem so on the surface, but similarities can always be found.
End result: everybody is neutral, except people from your own culture who detect as good as long as they're not acting against the rules of their culture.

2014-05-24, 02:18 PM
Then I suppose the problem becomes how to balance the good and the evil aspects of a different culture. At that point it might be more reasonable to just remove detection spells.

Perhaps if I changed the wording though:

Rather than being determined by the perceiving character's conscious opinion of the target, perceived alignment is determined based on how the detecting character would see the target, if they were aware of the target's personal beliefs, actions, values, and disposition towards the perceiving character's person, culture, and values.

EDIT: This does not mean the perceiving character is actually aware of those beliefs, actions, values, or disposition, just that their magic reveals how they would feel if they were.

RE-EDIT: If using this dogma, the detect alignment spells would probably need to be boosted a couple spell levels to make them non-trivial. Again, I can support the removal of alignment detecting spells.

2014-05-24, 02:20 PM
I find the idea of Foreigners vs. Countrymen kind of awkward, since that changes too much over time with settlers and the like. Maybe just have protection circles that only allow allies to cross, keeping out all those who wish you harm.

2014-05-24, 04:45 PM
So Outsiders have a personal alignment that matches their perceived alignment?

Or do they have a set of morals that result in their actions being perceived as moral?

Admiral Squish
2014-05-24, 05:13 PM
Well, I would most definitely be removing the traditional alignment-detecting spells. The question is, do I replace them with anything, or leave it blank?

If the character has no idea what they other character's alignment would be, their spells would treat them as neutral, yes. Though, most would assume one way or another. If they're on the side of their opponents, even if they were good they may be considered evil and treated such.

I think alignment based spells and effects have their place. I mean, what would a paladin be without the ability to smite evil?

I think the idea of protection from foreigners poses more problems. How do you determine the line where one is a foreigner? What if they were born and raised elsewhere, but lived in the area their entire adult life? And if we're to have both, then that just means players will need that many more spells known. It's not like they'd be similar enough in nature to be spell versions.

I think if were to get into comparative ethics, we'll be here forever. Even if we didn't include any detail, and just declared one culture to believe the other to be one certain alignments, we'd have to make... 400 such calls, probably more. The system as written above is relatively simple, though I suspect the debate it's sparked indicates that I need to get in there and clarify a bit more.

Outsiders are treated by all effect as though they were the alignment described by their subtype/s. If it's a [good] outsider, the perception of them may still determine how they respond to law/chaos spells, but the [good] part is objective.

2014-05-24, 09:41 PM
Considering that war and hospitality are universal concepts, how about a protection spell that is Protection from Enemies, where only allies and those who agree to a truce can pass the circle. If you enter the circle, you are under a geas to take no harmful actions against the caster of the circle. Outsiders cannot bypass the circle in any case.

2014-05-28, 07:59 AM
Is one's personal alignment based on society's perceptions of what is "good"? If it's not, then a serial killer would see himself as Good, because he's cleansing the world of undesirables. But if it IS based on society's perception, then abolitionists would percieve themselves as Evil, because their beliefs don't mesh with those of society at large.

Maybe it would be best to remove alignment entirely from the setting, or else just use the traditional alignment grid and/or remove all alignment-sensitive spells? Just thinking out loud here.

2014-05-28, 10:19 AM
Maybe just keep the alignments for Outsiders, who are cultural cosmic forces of the alignments, and thus can be effected by alignment spells, while people are not affected? And replace Protection from [alignment] with Protection from Enemies? If we adopt this spell, then make it either shorter duration or impossible to make permanent to make sure that one cannot make their stronghold's unable to be infiltrated, since no enemy can be within the spell's circle?

Admiral Squish
2014-05-28, 11:52 PM
Protection From Enemies
Well, protection from enemies is kind of a flawless defense. It would apply to literally every attack against you and every save. After all, if they're not enemies, why are they attacking? With protection from evil, neutral enemies still get a pass, and good creatures of opposed goals wouldn't be affected. But if it were protection from enemies, it would really just be a straight buff all the time.
And as for a geas effect, that's a reasonably powerful spell effect all of it's own, attaching it to such an already powerful ability would be a bit much.

There are some people at the far end of the curve who think what they're doing is justified for whatever reason. At a certain level of crazy/evil, the perceived alignment would swing back toward good. However, that's not most evil people. The average thief, gangster, or murderer, is not that deluded. They know what they're doing is evil and they do it anyways.
Anyways, such crazy 'the ends justify anything' thinking is exactly what this was designed to support. How else would inquisitors still consider themselves good?

Removing Alignment
I had really considered it, but I think there should be SOME form of alignment, even if only for character creation purposes.
I have definitely considered removing all alignment-related spells/effects, though.

2014-05-29, 12:07 AM
I agree that my protection from enemies is a bad idea, it's just that I really do not want racial profiling to pop up. Maybe Protection from Construct, Protection from Monster [insert interesting classification, perhaps based on land of origin], Protection from Human, Protection from Undead, etc. I still like the geas idea to an extent though. Probably to game breaking though. Maybe I am a bit obsessed with hospitality laws.

2014-05-29, 01:46 AM
I have run a campaign for several years in which alignment was subjective/optional, and found that simply removing all spells that require objective alignments to function did the trick. A couple of "protection from outsiders" spells fills in the gap by the lost protection spells, and everything runs quite smoothly.

I'm confused by your description of outsiders, however. You wrote:

Outsiders with alignment subtypes are formed from human conceptions of ‘good’ ‘evil’ ‘chaos’ and ‘law’.... They are objectively one alignment or another.... They cannot commit acts that they believe would deviate from the alignment subtype they possess.

However, in your campaign, humans don't agree on what ‘good’ ‘evil’ ‘chaos’ and ‘law’ represent. If an outsider of pure good is only barred from an evil act if he believes the act to be evil, he can do evil all day long so long as he's of the opinion that he's doing good. The trouble you're running into here stems from trying to have both subjective and objective morality living side-by-side. It is a logical paradox: if an objective morality exists, then subjective morality is merely wishful thinking or self-deception. It has no validity. Contrariwise, if all subjective moral standards are equally valid, then objective morality is a mere fiction.

Does your system need outsiders to possess alignment subtypes? Perhaps angels and demons and such could come in various different flavors of good and evil, much like people. Maybe alignment in the outer planes is just as subjective as on the material realm; outsiders are simply more obsessed about it.

2014-05-29, 09:14 AM
However, in your campaign, humans don't agree on what ‘good’ ‘evil’ ‘chaos’ and ‘law’ represent. If an outsider of pure good is only barred from an evil act if he believes the act to be evil, he can do evil all day long so long as he's of the opinion that he's doing good. The trouble you're running into here stems from trying to have both subjective and objective morality living side-by-side. It is a logical paradox: if an objective morality exists, then subjective morality is merely wishful thinking or self-deception. It has no validity. Contrariwise, if all subjective moral standards are equally valid, then objective morality is a mere fiction.

Does your system need outsiders to possess alignment subtypes? Perhaps angels and demons and such could come in various different flavors of good and evil, much like people. Maybe alignment in the outer planes is just as subjective as on the material realm; outsiders are simply more obsessed about it.

Not quite how I understand it. Good outsiders are barred from evil acts if mortals believe those acts to be evil. Which does raise the question of whether outsiders are capable of different acts in different locations. Also, are they able to perform acts against their alignment in the pursuit of the greater good/evil/lawful/chaos? There's a pretty strong mythological precedent, especially for the fiendish types.

Admiral Squish
2014-05-29, 12:38 PM
You know, in hindsight, I shoulda known this was gonna generate a bunch of conversation.

Protection from (Type)
You know, I like this idea. It's a lot simpler and less convoluted than other proposed solutions.
Maybe I could make a Magic Circle spell with versions that apply to different creature types.
Maybe the church would have developed some sort of 'Protection from Supernatural' spell, which covers anything that's magical. Though, now that I think about it, that may cover too much.

But then, protection from X isn't the only issue, what about DR/good, or aligned weapons? Smite?

You guys raise good points.
I think I'll just drop the objective alignment part. It's just that much simpler.
I don't think I can drop alignment sub-types altogether, though, I don't want to get into changing the traits of the creature types for the setting. any more system changes and I might as well be writing my own game.

to clarify, originally, it was acts that they believed to be counter to their alignment subtype they couldn't perform. So, a [good] outsider that's lawful good would still be able to do chaotic acts, but they couldn't do any thing they believed to be be Evil. But it doesn't really matter at this point.

2014-05-29, 01:08 PM
Protection from x: consider creature subtypes as classifier. Also, I don't know the cosmology of your setting, but if it's simple, plane of origin could work. For example, in my setting, there are effectively only four other planes of existence, so one protection spell against natives of each plane is sufficient. You might also go with something like "protection from celestials", protection from fiends", "protection from nature spirits" (which could extend to elementals, fey, and giants). For that matter, one generic "protection from outsiders" spell shouldn't be a balance problem, especially if you have to designate a single plane of origin or type/subtype of outsider at the time of casting.

Damage reduction: If you replaced DR/<alignment> with DR/<exotic material>, that would be a smooth transition. For example, DR/evil becomes DR/silver, DR/lawful becomes DR/cold iron, etc.

Smite: Replace "smite evil" with "smite person whom you subjectively consider evil" and call it a day?

2014-05-29, 01:40 PM
You know, in hindsight, I shoulda known this was gonna generate a bunch of conversation.

It's a topic about alignment. Debates about alignment are to be expected, they happen in every place people talk about gaming.
It's not just debate, it's a tradition. :smallsmile:

2014-05-29, 02:20 PM
Though, now that I think about it, that may cover too much.

Maybe as a 9th level clerical spell it would be fine I think.

As for DR, what about this: Every culture has supernatural factions that balance against each other. So the DR mechanic balances between the two as well. So a Abramic Angel will deal more damage to a Demon from the same Cosmology, while dealing equal damage to all other factions (with potential other bonuses attached to do damage to undead from holy energy and such) and spells within each faith have support spells that allow to bestow a lesser, temporary trait to objects.

I did get the DR mechanic right, correct?

Admiral Squish
2014-05-30, 01:50 PM
Which is exactly why I should have expected this to generate so much buzz.

Protection from X
I think protection from various creature types would probably be the easiest solution, though I may decide not to have a protection from humanoids.
cosmology-wise, there's only the one other plane, the spirit world, so a protection from spirits might well work.

That would probably work, but I'm not sure how I would note such a change from the tradition.
Monsters made originally for the setting could easily do such a thing, but old monsters used in the setting would have to have this noted somewhere, which is challenging.
Mith, your suggestion would work, but not every culture has such forces that are arranged in direct opposition to one-another. Plus, it would probably get complicated.

That was a bad example, now that I pause and think about it.

2014-07-09, 03:50 PM
I've had a bit of a weird idea on how to replace the detect alignment spells:

Detect willingness to repent: the caster can detect if the person he casts the spell on is willing to repent for his sins. This spell can only be cast on members of your own culture group. If the person the spell is cast on has done a crime or something considered a taboo in that culture, the caster will know that he is either willing or unwilling to better his life.
This spell doesn't tell the caster if that person has done something or what he might have done. It will also work for potential crimes.
Example: A Knight Hospitaller is casting this spell on a group of pirates they've just captured. 4 of them register as willing to repent and are recruited into the Hospitaller Navy. 3 register as unwilling to repent and are sent to the plantations. The pirate captain registers as willing to repent, but as an officer he is nonetheless executed.

Detect willingness to adapt: the caster can detect if the person he casts the spell on is willing to adapt his views to that of another culture, temporary or permanent. This spell can only be cast on members of another culture group. This spell is no guarantee on that character adapting his views.
Example: A Fusang diplomat comes to a Hisatsinom city to negotiate a trade agreement. He casts the spell on the local leader to see if he's willing to import silkworm silk, even though it competes with the local spider silk. The leader registers as willing to adapt and he starts negotiations.
However, he makes a bad impression on the leader (fails diplomacy check) and his offer is refused.

Admiral Squish
2014-07-09, 07:34 PM
I don't know, those seem like awfully niche spells.
The first wouldn't be all that useful to players, since they would be traveling beyond their homelands in most cases, and thus wouldn't be able to use it on outsider culture groups. Second, most people wouldn't regard what they did as wrong in the first place, so they would have no reason to believe they needed to repent. And if they did do something they considered to be evil or taboo, then their alignment would shift. Beyond that, though, the concern is that such a spell would oversimplify such dealings.

The second is slightly more useful, but I feel it would remove a lot of the mystery from the game, as well. If a character could just ID who would be willing to change and who wouldn't with perfect accuracy, then why even bother with the unwilling ones? Besides, it's not a binary switch of 'willing/unwilling', it's a gradient. No character is ever COMPLETELY 100% unwilling to change, it just might take more than you can offer to do it. Sort of 'everyone has a price', but it's not always about money.

2014-07-10, 09:29 AM
Instead of having two sets of alignment per person, which may get confusing, you could use the color system. My group switched to that and it worked wonders for alignment decisions, spells, and et cetra. I like the idea of personal alignment and perceived alignment but what about natural things that affect things of alignment? Let's say an example is a plane that only heals "good" people or a magical island that bars entry to "evil". Do the natural elements have their own personal interpretation to generate perceived alignments?

2014-07-10, 11:49 AM
However, in your campaign, humans don't agree on what ‘good’ ‘evil’ ‘chaos’ and ‘law’ represent.
Here's a notion: Tie outsiders' alignment-based characteristics to the cultures that spawned them. If an angel appears as a white guy with wings and a halo, then he is bound by the generally prevailing European (i.e. Christian) notions of good. An outsider of good alignment that is in the form of something from Azte myth (please forgive my cultural ignorance and inability to name an example) then that creature is bound by Aztec notions of goodness. As others have pointed out, they would be more alike than different in their outlooks, but different enough.

Admiral Squish
2014-07-11, 06:13 PM
Color System:
I'm perfectly fine with the color system, but I just don't think it would fit this setting, especially considering how many cultures would have their own concrete concepts of good and evil that directly clash with anything beyond their own societies.
And you don't have two alignments. You have just the one you should keep track of, the personal alignment. However, other characters may perceive you as one way or another, and their spells treat you however the caster thinks they should.

That's more or less how I'm thinking they would work at the moment. I'm not sure if i'm going to keep the 'incapable of doing their opposite' thing anymore, since while it works with the good and evil ones, what about chaos and law? Chaos shouldn't be restricted from anything.

Natural Effects
I don't think there are any such truly natural effects relating to alignment. It is an abstract concept, after all, and it would almost by definition require a mind to create it. And if it was created or established by a mind, then it would react as that mind would, even if said mind is no longer in existence or has since changed. If a priest creates a permanent area that repels evil, then leaves, the spell would continue to act as the priest intended when it was cast. If said priest had a complete change of heart and later returned, it's possible the spell might even treat him as evil.

2014-07-13, 11:33 AM
I'm fond of the Color Wheel myself, but I feel like it would remind people too much of M:tG, which would jerk them out of the setting.

I think that even chaos and law are subjective. A barbarian is called "chaotic" even though he might come from a tribal society with myriad kinship relations, strict taboos, and concrete social rules of etiquette, just because he doesn't originate from "civilized" society.