Going out of alignment

Because tires should be aligned, not people

Loyal reader Isaac sent me an email with a simple question indicating that I may still have much to do to eliminate pointless rules from D&D. With a single sentence, he demonstrated that I’ve missed at least one targeted low hanging fruit in my redesign.

As a result of this, perhaps I should go back to the books looking for more ridiculousness to remove.

Of note, here’s the sentence Isaac sent me:

Did any of your redesign ever tackle the now-classic 3×3 D&D Alignment grid?


Facepalm material there.
Seriously, how could I have missed that?

Its been a while since we addressed a D&D redesign, so before we get to work realigning the game, let’s go back and recap what we’ve accomplished so far, the methodologies we’re using, etc.

For reference, let’s take a quick look at what we’ve already proposed:

Phew, that’s a hefty list… and apparently we’re not quite done.

Once again, today we’re going way back to the very nearly the core of D&D again to remove something from the beginnings of the game.

But first, let’s review the usual ground rules:

Try to remember that this is just an exercise in what I would have done. Everything here is opinion. Feel free to disagree, consider me an idiot, whatever. If some edition of the game works for you and your gaming crowd, then by all means play it to your hearts’ content. I applaud all fun had in this hobby. However, as I’ve stated numerous times, D&D at its core no longer works for me or my gaming crowd. As a result of this, I would not have made the same changes to the game that WotC did. What follows is another path where I would have focused my changes and where I would have gone with the intellectual property.


My methodology in the process will be guided by a short list of principles:

  • Rules should be simple guides, with options to be expand by the DM.
  • Rules should lead to interesting options.
  • Rules ignored should be rules removed.
  • No Rule is sacred.
  • No inspiration forbidden.

The Starting Point

For this process I’ve decided that my jumping-off point with be trying to turn 2E into a better version of 4E by removing the bloat of the 3.xE versions of the game. However, today we’re once again going to go all the way back to the roots of the game and remove something unnecessary.

As referenced above, this post is about ethics and morality and how they’re quantified in D&D. Namely, this post is about:


I’m not gonna…

So I considered creating a rather lengthy dissertation on the roots of the system we’re discussing today. But instead I’m not going to bother to delve into the history of where the 3-fold (or expanded 9-fold) Alignment system came from.


Because its boring and irrelevant. Go do an internet search and listen to the rambling of those who have little better to do with their time than to do so… or don’t and thank me for saving (at least some small part of) your sanity.

Nor am I going to also take the time to host a heady discussion on how to fix the system by bothering to try to shoe-horn my personal opinions of how Law = Ruled and Chaos = Free-form and Good = … well good while Evil = … uh… evil.


Because Alignment is supposed to be about personal motivations and responses of characters and creatures. As a simple result, my own personal opinions don’t belong in this discussion. Also, go do that internet search again if you need to see the ranting. Personally I’ve got better things to do with my time.

Nor will I bore you with a simplified/modified/fixed version of Alignment.


Because at its core, Alignment is unnecessary and absurd. It offers us no options, it leads to no interesting options, and is often ignored for non-aligned classes.

That means Alignment violates 3 of the 3 reasons to eliminate a rule.

Impressive in that it gets a hat-trick in the reasons to be removed. Equally impressive that I failed to address it earlier.

And what do we do with rules like this?
We remove them.
And in this case we won’t be replacing it with anything more useful.


Because at its core Alignment is a lot like Charisma.
Its a role-playing choice masquerading as a statistic.

Realigning D&D

I propose Alignment be left on the cutting-room floor in our D&D redesign.

Instead of pigeonholing characters and creatures, instead of quantifying the actions and outcomes of acts of said characters and creatures, instead of trying to so order the universe that we place blinders and limitations on the nuances, I say we unshackle the options by empowering players to role-play a character as they see fit, not as some classification dictates.

Feel that?
Feel the freedom?
Feel choice creeping back into the game?

Doesn’t it feel good?

First, thank Isaac for reminding me I have more work to do.
Then, breathe deep my friends, for the air of freedom is magical.

Posted on
Last modified on:
This entry was posted in Game Design, Roleplaying game (RPG).
Tagged , .
Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Going out of alignment

  1. Demiurgus says:

    Here here!

    Hear hear?
    Hear here?

    I have no idea which it is, but I agree.

    For good measure: Here hear!

  2. Thanks.

    At first I was concerned my tone was a bit too abrasive.

    But I realized Alignment seriously needs to be removed from the game and any attempts to justify its presence by historical or nuanced means is just fear of change.

    Best to let the truth be told and risk annoying others than to deal in a soft touch and not get the concept across cleanly.

  3. Phillip_IO says:

    Good call. Alignment should have never been part of the rules.

    Any attempt to demonstrate how great such a system is as a shorthand or anything else intuitively leads to logic loops and unanswerable questions such as:

    Why does my Chaotic Evil Priestess of Death who travels to the realm of the Vampire Lich-King suddenly looks like a Lawful (though perhaps still Evil) individual to the eyes of the realm’s inhabitants?

  4. Maximus says:

    Fair enough. I like alignment, but I can’t find a good argument against dumping it if it gets put back in on the roleplaying side of things.

  5. Demiurgus says:

    I find the math and implications of the 3×3 alignment to be interesting and possibly fun in its applications, but it’s hard to make an interesting, original villain, I believe, if said villain is definably evil.

    Very few even truly horrible people consider themselves so; they have a cause, and to them it is just, and possibly the only right thing to do.

  6. Phillip_IO says:

    That the Ogre is evil is not even slightly interesting when the Ogre is trying to kill you.

  7. Whoa! That’s deep Phil.

  8. Demiurgus says:

    That the ogre is really quite Good, and either you misunderstood the situation or your demise is necessary to the local ogre community, can be really interesting in the aftermath.

    The lesson here is: evil removes interesting consequences from stories, empathy introduces them.

  9. Exactly.
    How about…

    Consider the Darkwood setting (or any D&D setting for that matter actually) where civilization ekes out a meager existence from the wilderness. In the Darkwood, humans continually attempt to impose their will on the chaos of the wilds…

    They clear out forests and force the land to become meadows.
    They force trees to grow in groups they call orchards.
    They reap and sow before the wind and rains do the same.
    They build their buildings which block the wind and the rain and the sun.

    They’re selfish and impose their unnatural laws on the natural world… therefore they’re chaotic.

    While the fey are in tune with the natural order and let everything happen as it should (How high will the sycamore grow? If you cut it down you’ll never know) … therefore they’re lawful.

    … counter-intuitive?
    And by this same logic in any D&D world, dwarves and humans are chaotic while elves and the like are lawful.
    See, that’s what happens when you change perspective and try to use moral compass points to define such things..

    In reality, what you have in the Darkwood is a sometimes struggle of good vs evil but not necessarily the struggle of Law vs Chaos, rather the struggle of civilization vs wilderness.

  10. Phillip_IO says:

    I’m not sold on simple evil removing interesting consequence.
    It is justifiable (or understandable) evil that makes for a good villain.

    The thief who steals to feed his family.
    The bounty hunter who kills to gain his father’s love and respect.
    The king who imposes martial law to prevent a greater disaster in an epidemic.
    The necromancer who seeks to perfect her raising of the dead in order to eventually being back her dead husband.

    Taking our cues from comics and the super-movies, we can find all manner of empathetic villains such as a Zod who does everything for the rebirth of his culture or a Mr Freeze who simply wants to be reunited with his love.

    These are all evils we can relate to. And they all present a much better villain than their cardboard cutout “evil” versions.

  11. Demiurgus says:

    But everyone you described can be characterized as extreme examples of either Chaotic Good or Lawful Good.

  12. Demiurgus says:

    Except the bounty hunter. That one I must have missed.

  13. Phillip_IO says:

    And therein lies the main problem that Kevin touched upon:
    Alignment is too subjective and perspective based.

    From the perspective of the shop owner, the thief is evil because his actions prevent the owner from providing for his own family. In extreme cases the thief is actually killing the shop owner and his family.

    From the perspective of someone shut in with other diseased individuals, the king has unnecessarily condemned that individual to die with no recourse. That is evil.

    Taking a cue from Kevin’s Darkwood discussion, from the perspective of the natural order of things, and the way inn which the dead feed new life, the necromancer has prevented that new life from occurring and has selfishly altered the natural cycle of things. That’s an evil act.

    Evil and Good are subjective sides of a coin.
    Your evil may be my good.

    Form the real world, the dropping of the atomic bombs is often seen as evil from the perspective of the number of deaths it caused, but good from the perspective of the number of lives it ultimately saved by shortening the war.

  14. @Demiurgus: Congrats on posting the 1000th comment on my blog.

  15. Demiurgus says:

    Huzzah! Milestone!

    @Phillip_IO I think what’s happening is we’re agreeing on the basics but using different words. What I mean when I say “evil removes interesting consequences” is that focusing on your enemy’s faults alleviates any responsibility for thwarting/killing them, but presenting an opponents actions and motivations from their perspective, where this is clearly the only right thing to do and here’s why, is what makes them interesting.

    Designing someone who’s clearly an antagonist isn’t uninteresting; not presenting an empathetic view of them is.

  16. Phillip_IO says:

    I also suspect that’s the case. After reading your comments again I believe we agree completely but are having a language difference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *