Aligning the Lines
October 14, 2010 dungeons and dragonsMatt and I have debated the merits of the D&D alignment system for years. It is simplistic. Everyone's sorted into nine categories, based on the categories of Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic and Good/Evil. (You can read more about it and take a little quiz to see what alignment you are here.)
It's actually a pretty broad system, and accurately describes many basic archetypes. Knight in shining armor saving village from being destroyed? No problem. Ruthless magical overlord? No problem.
The system fails in complex situations. A lawful good paladin, where the rightful king is plotting to tax peasants into starvation? Er... the paladin's lawful, so they're supposed to follow the law. But taxing peasants into starvation isn't good, is it? There's all sorts of cultural and social assumptions bundled up in here, which makes this decision doubly difficult. Add in a plot point that the peasants were going to revolt, and it's a deeply ambiguous situation.
There have been a number of "house rules" that work like software patches on this system. "Lawful good with XXXXXX tendencies", for example. Other players (and systems) have done away with alignments entirely.
I think that's a shame. I think each adult does have a kind of "default" moral compass. They differ from individual to individual, but it's there. Like alignment, that moral compass is also hard to shift. But the basic categories aren't quite enough.
So let's swap the order.
Instead of Lawful Good, maybe our paladin can be Good Lawful. (Think of every TV cop who does it by the book - unless it's going to cost someone's life.) Or Evil Chaotic (Maximum of selfishness and causing pain to others, but not so insane they do good things as well).
It's a thought. Your comments are, as always, welcomed.