Monday, September 1, 2008

RPG Carnival: Homebrew Alignments

Donny_the_DM has decreed that the theme of this month's RPG Carnvial is homebrewing. So, let's talk alignments.

4e has breaks alignment down into lawful good, good, unaligned, evil, and chaotic evil. Prior to that, D&D used an axis of good - evil and law - chaos. I saw BAH! to both. Alignment is pretty much ripped screaming from Moorcock's Eternal Champion stories, particularly the saga of Elric of Melbinoné. The awesome thing about Elric, IMO, is that he can and did directly interact with the great powers of Law and Chaos, the very beings that formed the basis of the Multiversal struggle that Elric and the other eternal champions were caught up in.

What's this mean for your campaign? Well, here's how I'm handling it.

Rather than use alignment to describe good or evil, it instead describes the power source that your character sees as the most important piece of the cosmic pie. If push came to shove and only one power source could rule, which one would your character pick?

Of course, that means that the power sources have to stand for something. Well, here's my stab at it:

Divine (Deity-centered)
A character who embraces the divine alignment places the gods above all else. Divine characters typically worship a single god. They place their god's teachings and dictates above all other concerns, and actively battle members of rival faiths.

An adventurer with the divine alignment tithes to his church, seeks out enemies of the faith to slay, and relies on the church hierarchy for guidance.

A commoner with the divine alignment attends church services, prays regularly, tithes to the church, and obeys the church above the rule of law (unless his church is the law).

If the world ended in a final battle, those of the divine alignment would stand by their gods and fight for them.

Arcane (Self-centered)
The arcane alignment places its faith in its own adherents. Magic is power, and those who can master it are a cut above the rest. The other power sources can be explained and understood just like magic, with sufficient study and research. There's no reason to worship a source of power. Instead, such well springs of might exist to be studied and used. This attitude extends to everything else. The world is full of useful tools, and those who can master them deserve to do as they wish, without interference from others.

An adventurer with the arcane alignment is in it for himself. He seeks knowledge and power, primarily to improve himself and his skill. If he has to choose between helping himself and helping his companions, he is at least tempted to take the selfish path.

The commoner with the arcane alignment is probably a hedge mage or a would-be arcane apprentice. He sees the mastery of the arcane arts as the key to power, power that he wants.

If the world ended in a final battle, those of the arcane alignment would rely on their own power to survive. They'd try to leave the other factions to destroy each other, either to continue their studies in peace or to make a bid for cosmic domination that only one being can win.

Martial (Mortal-centered)
The martial alignment eschews external sources of power. Training, focus, and drive are all that these characters need to achieve whatever they want, and whatever they might want is a diverse list indeed. Most martial characters pick a mortal cause to embrace, whether that is the concept of democracy, their own personal drive for tyranny, or the freedom and peace of their home village. Martial characters fight for something rooted in the mortal world of men. They tend to view those of different alignments with suspicion, as they can never understand the impulse to rely on talents and power that comes from an outside source.

An adventurer who follows the martial alignment is a crusader for some cause, though that cause could be his own coin purse. He gets into dangerous situations because he is driven to by some overarching goal. It is the fate of martial characters that, when they resolve one cause or quest, their drive and ambition pushes them to find a new, grander and more epic one.

A commoner who follows the martial alignment similarly fights for a cause, and if given a good reason could very well become an adventurer. The farmer who volunteers in the local militia, the street urchin who picks the pockets of a merchant, and the peasants who hide their wounded king from a band of assassins all follow the martial power source.

If the world ended in a final battle, those of the martial alignment would rally to their causes. A great swordsman might stand watch over the vale he was born in, sworn to slay any god or archlich who dares enter it, while the queen's elite knights rally around her banner to ensure the realm's survival.

While the alignments map to the power sources, that doesn't mean a PC's power source is his alignment. A warrior who considers himself the greatest swordsman in the world might wander in search of skilled warriors to slay in battle, thus proving his skill. While such a character might use the martial power source, his alignment is arcane. He studies his craft, improves it, and thinks of himself and his skills first and foremost. A wizard might be an ardent worshipper of the sun god, using his spells to blast the priests of the god of devouring darkness, while a cleric might pray to Thor, but she studies divine magic to heal and protect the people of her home city.

There's room for the other power sources, and perhaps factions such as the Abyss, the devils of Hell, and the Far Realm.


Anonymous said...

Oh sure...homebrew alignments AFTER I spent two weeks writing about them ;)

Nice stuff though. Definitely worth a serious look for adding to my upcoming new campaign.

Donny_the_DM said...

You bring honor to my house, good sir.

Good concepts. Somewhat like the d20 modern alliance/allegiance system, only less specific, and more thematic.

I have never seen a n alignment system that has actually worked. They tend to be static things that aren't malleable enough to truly "Evolve" over the course of an adventure campaign.

Plotter said...

@donny "I have never seen an alignment system that has actually worked."

Everybody has some sort of motivation though. Some players are fine with picking a one or two word description, and being done with it. That's fine if that what you like.

But choosing that one word description that defines in broad strokes which side of a issue/conflict/moral dilemma that a character will fall on doesn't have to be the end of the definition.

You could writeup a seven page character background that codifies and describes a characters moral, philosophical and ethical views.

You could let the character's actions during the course of a game further define what they stand for.

That last one is the one I like, and I think it's what many players end up doing (even if they don't know it).

Alignment can be just a starting point. Whether that starting point is "Lawful Good" or "Divine", it's the journey and choices along the way that really give a character life. I don't think that alignment really gets in the way of that.

Steamtunnel said...

Reminds me of Palladium.

Donny_the_DM said...

Unless it becomes a crutch.

The old "I killed hm BECAUSE I'm evil."

I HATE it when players do that. Your alignment is who you are, not the other way around. a group of fighters could be identical in build, but in the same situation, they act completely different.

The NE fighter want's to kill the prisoners, the LN on wants to take them to town for a trial, the CE guy is edging towards them intending to stab one in the neck "just because". While the CG one is wanting to forgive them, as they are starving peasants that are being taxed to death - hence the banditry.

I just wish there was a more fluid mechanic, something that actually rewards a player for recognizing that they have changed as a player or character. 3E gave us Alignment specific PRC's, but they punished anyone who's worldview changed.

It's complicated eh?

Unknown said...

Much of this will probably be ported to my upcoming campaign. I like what you've put here as a guideline. It mirrors what I've been thinking about, but hadn't quite gotten to putting into words. Of course I'll modify it significantly :)

What I really like is it will help the players who want to roleplay a little more understand how to put their motivations into actions and not rely on Gods, Demigods or religious requirements.