Alignment is one of those concepts that will be debated forever. Can it be useful or not? Is its vagueness a bug or a feature? The fact that D&D has always been mechanics heavy, yet alignment has remained mechanics-free, says something. That few other games have even attempted to emulate the concept also speaks volumes. I had no intentions of using it in Foragers Guild Fantasy Roleplaying, until I had a wild idea about making alignment useful.
Ethical Stance, Not Alignment
First, to be clear, I’m calling it Ethical Stance rather than alignment. This is to create some distance, because I’m defining terms a little differently. These are how the people in the world of Desteon approach these concepts. It’s not meant to match up with any specific take you’ve seen before.
Good means that you’re willing to put other people’s needs head of your own when necessary. That doesn’t mean always. You need to take care of yourself, and we’re all a little selfish. It just means that, ethically, you know it’s wrong to advance your own cause to the detriment of other people.
Evil is the opposite. You care more about your own wants than anyone else’s needs, and if they suffer for it that’s their problem. It’s a selfish world view that sees everything as a zero-sum game. You can’t win unless someone else loses, because it proves that you’re better than they are.
Order is a belief that society is greater than the individual. Benefits are derived from adherence to a unified vision and purpose. Responsibilities take precedence over rights. That doesn’t mean that individual liberties don’t exist, but the whole is more important than the parts.
Chaos means that individual liberties are more important than the collective needs of society. There’s a time and place to work together, but it should be a choice and not imposed on people. Everyone should be free to make their own decisions, even if that’s inefficient on a larger scale.
Ethical Stance-Based Modifiers
Using the Lighthouse System mechanics, Ethical stance becomes a source of modifiers for certain task rolls. It has three components, and it is the interaction of these that has an impact on the system. The first is the character’s core behavior. That’s their personal stance: ordered good, chaotic evil, and so on. This is how the person is wired to behave, either due to nature, nurture, or a combination of both.
The second is the intention behind any action. This might be in line with their core behavior, or run contrary to it. Evil characters can do good things. People who believe in order can sometimes behave selfishly. When core behavior and intentions are aligned, it can result in a bonus to the task. There is force behind being true to one’s self. Should core behavior and intention conflict, the internal struggle can throw the character off and result in a penalty.
The third component is the likely outcome. Burning down a house infested with plague-carrying vermin, after the people have gotten out, in order to prevent the spread of disease is probably a good and orderly thing. Setting the house on fire while people are still inside of it is probably a selfish and evil act. Killing a monster before it eats you is okay. Murdering someone because you covet their stuff probably isn’t.
Stance-based modifiers can influence and combine with other bonuses and penalties. These are contextual modifiers that should be considered by the guide when determining what applies to a given roll.
- +1 The action supports the core behavior.
- +3 Either intention or outcome reflect the core behavior.
- +5 Both intention and outcome reflect the core behavior.
- -1 The action contradicts the core behavior.
- -3 Either intention or outcome contradict core behavior.
- -5 Neither intention and outcome contradict core behavior.
Making Alignment Useful
Why would you use this? Because it’s a game driven by character and story, not combat. Imagine coming up against a moral dilemma. It ought to be difficult for a good character to do a bad thing, or a chaotic character to perform a task that’s philosophically on the side of order. Your brain, your heart, your very values are going to cause you to choke. At the same time, you’re going to have more confidence and less hesitation doing something that you believe in.
Inner conflict, my friends, expressed in a game mechanic.
Do you have to use it? Of course not. You buy the game, you get to play it however you want. Only a fool designs a game and thinks no one is going to apply their own house rules to it. This is just a way to take an element that I never found particularly useful, personally, and make it work with my own preferred style of play.