Friday, February 15, 2013

Dungeons and Dragons vs Alignment

I was going to write an adventure for Space Opera today. then I read this blog post by +Cody Connelly and I decided to write about a subject that has interested me for quite some time. The implications of alignment within the D&D cosmology. So tomorrow will be the adventure, today alignment.

Alignment, it's a simple concept really. Two axes, four directions the combinations of which give a simple description of your morality and worldview. It is far different from most ethical thought, though. For those who live within the D&D universe alignment is a testable observable law or force. It acts upon the world external to all agents within the laws of the D&D universe. Everyone in that universe must follow the tenets of one of the alignments.

There are actions that cause you to move from one alignment to another. In older games this change actually had serious physical repercussions. You would lose levels and the like. It was bad news. Also there are spells, devices, skills, and abilities that interact with alignment of beings in interesting ways. It can be detected, it can be blocked(wards and such), it is a tangible thing.

Even the gods must bow to alignment. You would think that a god would not view itself as evil. Yet within the cosmology they inhabit they can do nothing but admit the alignment that they inhabit. Alignment is about choice,but not in the normal sense of moral choice. This is closer to locational choice than to any internal struggle. Good is no better than Evil, which is no better than Chaos or Order. these are merely places to stand on a plain of existence. Like height, breadth, length and time, alignment is merely a way f locating an object on a specified plain. To me that is strange.

It gets stranger when you start to dig into the planar cosmology. You step outside the normal universe and the alignments system exists. No, not merely exists, it thrives. There are whole plains(universes really) devoted to specific alignments or groupings of alignments. The higher up you go the more locked into the alignment law/plain/force.

Now what could this mean? It seems to imply that the gods of D&D are not in control the universe, not even their little corner of it really. They are bound by forces larger than, and outside of, themselves. This itself has odd implications. If the gods do not dictate morality then it is inflicted on them by some outside force or law, or it is inflicted upon them by some outside intelligence. I could see this developing into an interesting campaign, provided all the players were into it. A sort of D&D ID debate, if you will;p.

Also the ability to know for certain if someone is good/evil with certain spells/abilities is very interesting. What kind of world would occur if D&D paladins exist? They are all lawful good(in non 4th ed games that is) and can detect evil. that means if you can prove you are a paladin in good standing with your god(say by healing someone) you are known to have to tell the truth, and you can detect evil. How the hell do evil people exist? I mean, think about it for a second, it would not do to simply act good, you would need to BE good. Be good or face the mighty smite. And it would be a lawful good thing to do. No one would question you. You may not be able to read minds, but you can smell evil.

And I think  that is where I will leave it. I would like to leave more questions than answers in this post. I would love to hear that you all played this to with your groups and you all got different answers to these questions.


  1. The strange, tangible nature of Alignments within the D&D/Pathfinder universe has always been one of the minor problems I've had with the concept. As I stated in my post, I tend to view alignment more as a basic idea of a character's personality and philosophy towards life than a strict straight-jacket.

    However, with spells like Detect Evil and Protection From Good, that idea becomes somewhat tricky because for those spells to work, that means those metaphysical concepts must have some tangible presence that can be measured. Either that, or they sense a person's inner thoughts and motivations and judge by some mysterious, universal laws whether the person is good or evil.

    Also, I agree that a setting where the gods are actually subjects to more mysterious forces that control their actions is an interesting idea that could add some flavor to a campaign. Maybe the gods are children to the Primordials, twin entities that created the multiverse. One is dedicated to order and the other to entropy and they are constantly struggling with each other for control.

    1. or four primordial beings each dedicated to one of good, evil, chaos, and order. Or perhaps there is one creator god who made the gods and the laws of teh universe and then left them to their own devices. Do the gods have an afterlife? How would one judge the actions of a god?

      Perhaps there is no higher power/creator beings. the universe is the only really eternal entity and the laws within it require that gods exist and that morality be a fixed dimension like width breadth and height.