Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ron Paul: An example of the problem with action based alignment

So the other day on G+ I was treated to many, many, many viewings of Newt Gingrich running a D&D game,  with Texas Rick, Herman, Ron and Frothy Rick.  First of note is that the fez is real.

Secondly this brings a good example of why Alignment in D&D should never be based upon player actions,  and why in Neoclassical Geek Revival it is all about "the why" not "the what".

So a frequently I have seen him declared as "Lawful Neutral".  Someone who believes in the supremacy of law and order over concepts like good and evil.  This is due to his very strict adherence of the constitution and refusal, for any reason at all, to go against those laws and limits.  He is thus often viewed as having a cold dead heart, showing no compassion but no bias. People see his reputation as "Dr. No" as evidence of this.

Another very frequent charge, is that with so many racists and other ill folk who support him,  he is lawful evil.  He is using the law to its full extent to limit the powers of good and progress.  He wants to use legal red tape to remove government protections from vulnerable groups so that "the mob" can retaliate and discriminate against them.  He wants to make the world a work place,  but will use the framework of the law to enforce it.  He may want to increase suffering of those he opposes, but he demands order in doing so.  People see the support of racists and other assholes as proof of this.

Of course,  there is another option (at least if you look in the 2nd edition definition of alignment).  He is Chaotic Good.   He doesn't trust the government to not be Lawful Evil, and believes every limit on its power should be brought to bear.  He legitimately believes that most people are good, and without red tape they will deal with the evil in their midst quite effectively.  Violence should be avoided at all cost, and without laws to constrain the acts of the populace that is good (in his view the majority) society as a whole will progress without additional central oversight.  People see his work as a doctor (not taking government money, working for free if people were too poor) and his charity work as proof of this.

If you had three different people,  one of each alignment,  they could all act the same way.  They would be doing it for very different reasons,  but they would probably even get along as a party (depending on how much about their true motives they let on).  Thus someone who is "Chaotic Good" could be supported by many groups of "Lawful Neutral" or even "Lawful Evil" people, at least on their current course of action. It doesn't even mean that their actions alone are any of those alignments, the actions just are.  What is done with them once they are in place determines the alignment of people, not the act of wanting them put in place. All three alignments after all would support rules against murder,  simply for different reasons.

If the GM is trying to shift player alignment based on player action, this would fail horribly as someone seeing themselves as "Chaotic Good" having their alignment switched by the GM to "Lawful Evil" (a full 180) would be pissed. Especially if they hold similar views on why they were acting as they were (leading to an insult from one person to another, outside of the game).

If Alignment is how your character feels in their heart (rather than what they are doing), the problem goes away (again, such as in Neoclassical Geek Revival) An evil pirate captain may feel bad about going to rescue his friends when he could bail and take the treasure (and be cursing himself as being stupid as he is doing it),  but he could,  maybe he has long term reasons he needs them alive.  A good character may kill someone who has surrendered (and just have nightmares for the rest of their life), because they were convinced it needed to be done.


  1. This is an approach I like, as well.

  2. Ever since I read Raggi's Gridhouse Edition, I have been much more taken with alignment as a description of cosmic reality that is really indifferent to mortal actions. The idea that magic is an embodiment of chaos really resonates with me.

    For example, actions that end up rolling back the wilderness have a lawful effect, even if they are the brutal campaigns of a tyrant out to create the perfect state.

    Characters can't belong to an alignment so much as participate in the outcome of reality, which results in areas of reality tilting one way or another. Action and outcome based, rather than essence and aspiration based.

    I've been working on a blog post around these ideas for a while now, but it has been taking a long time to come together. Probably comes from my desire to read all prior art first (bad habit, not recommended).

  3. And, here it is:

    Thanks, your post helped prod me into actually finishing that.