Friday, April 6, 2012

Charting Alignment

So, here's how I think I'll chart alignment.

First, I need a scale. I was originally thinking of using a scale of 1-100, but that seems too small for me. I don't want just a few actions to rapidly shift alignment; I want a character's alignment to really, really be a product of habitual action. A scale from 1-300 is, I think, about the right size; without testing, I won't know for sure.

Next, I need to decide which ranges are Chaotic, which are Neutral and which are Lawful. I think the 1-50 range will be Chaotic and the 251-300 range will be Lawful, with 51-250 being Neutral.

Then I need a list of activities that move a character along this scale. These should be relatively big things; pickpocketing, for example, doesn't significantly support the cause of Chaos or the downfall of Law. In fact, I'm leaving theft completely off this list since that's such a common activity in D&D in the first place. The actions on this list should actively and significantly build up or tear down the health and order of society and the universe at large. Here's the list I have so far; other item suggestions are welcome.

Lawful Acts:

Healing: +1
Freeing the enslaved: +4 per slave freed
Defending or rescuing the helpless: +5 per victim rescued
Bringing the guilty to justice: +10 per HD
Banishing Cthuloid beings: +15 per HD
Moderation: +1 per 100 Gold Pieces given to worthy causes or the less fortunate
Joining and taking the vows of a Lawful order: +50

Chaotic Acts:

Necromancy: -10 per HD
Slaving: -2 per slave bought, sold or owned
Slaughtering innocents: -10 per HD
Sparing the guilty: -1 per offense overlooked
Consorting with Cthuloid beings: -10 per HD
Excess: -15 per ostentatious purchase or night of debauchery
Betraying or falling from a Lawful order: -30

You'll notice that Chaotic acts will bring someone towards Chaos more easily than Lawful acts will bring someone close to Law. This is for a few reasons. One is that it is easier to destroy than to build. The other is that Law is a lofty ideal that is difficult to attain and maintain, while Chaos is insidious, tempting, easier and, being the corruption of the ideal, multitudinous in its paths.

Some things I like about this:

This gives a more objective criteria for allowing or barring existing characters from joining Lawful orders: If the +50 from joining an order won't get a candidate into the Lawful range on the alignment scale, they aren't accepted. By a similar token, fallen Paladins (or whatever other Lawful orders boot their members when they mess up) may only undertake a quest to redeem themselves if the -30 from breaking a rule of their order and being expelled doesn't take them outside of the Lawful range; otherwise they won't be allowed to re-join, ever (or, if you want to be nice, until they get into Lawful range again).

This also allows for Paladins and other Lawful types to engage in limited Chaotic activity, so long as they are balancing it out with Lawful acts. This way, they don't have to be super-careful about their actions. A very Lawful Paladin could indulge in a night out on the town with his friends and still be a Paladin. With this system, Paladins don't have to be as strict and grumpy about every little act.

A quirk I purposely built in: buying a slave and setting him free results in a net gain of 2 alignment points. Rescuing a slave and killing the 3HD slaver nets 34 alignment points.

I'm currently planning on all classes starting out at 150 unless their class is inherently Chaotic or Lawful. If a class is Chaotic, the character starts at 50; if the class is Lawful, the character starts at 251.

I realize this system is still rough, dirty and untried; I have no idea what the kinks are that will need to be worked out, but I do like this system and plan to try it out. If you have comments, critiques or suggestions, they are very much appreciated: what to you think of this system?


  1. I will be interested to hear how this works in practice. Will you be recording these numbers secretly, or will it be on the character sheet?

    I've always thought it might be fun to have alignment be another 3d6 "ability" score, with 18 being lawful and 3 being chaotic, and having players roll for it randomly at the beginning. But that's more in line with alignment as behavior rather than alignment as allegiance or even ontological reality (like the LotFP idea of elves and magic-users being inherently chaotic) which is closer to how I play alignment now.

    1. My plan is to record these numbers secretly. First off, that will keep players who aren't running (or have never run) Palidins, Rangers and some Clerics (as I think about it, probably Clerics from certain churches) still unaware of the actual importance of alignment. That makes it so that players discover the war between Law and Chaos along with their characters.

      This also makes it so that Paladins and other members of Lawful orders won't know whether they will be allowed a quest to redeem themselves if they fall, and so that players will experience real doubt and surprise when they start interacting with items that act differently depending on alignment.

  2. Occurs to me a more old-school style rather than tallying points would be to have each character who cares about alignment have a personal relationship with a guardian angel, saint, wood spirit, whatever. Then things that are questionable in that alignment can be warned about, and discussed afterwards in conversation with the DM-as-spirit. I just think it's fair to give players clues or moral qualms about things they know will infringe their alignment, but give them the choice as to whether or not to break it, and have it reflected in a worsening of relations with the divine.