Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about teamwork feats.
Okay, this is article is very much NOT like my usual ones. Ask Ryan, Anthony, or Perram, and they’d all tell you that I ALWAYS write my articles three weeks in advanced. Always. Well, this article is different. I actually bumped back ALL my Monday articles by one week in order to add this article to my Monday slot for September 15th. I’m writing this article on September 12th (again, COMPLETELY unlike me). But the reason I’m doing this is to write a response article.
There are many quality bloggers out there who talk about topical stuff in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. A Sword for Hire is excellent, Creighton Broadhurst of Raging Swan Press has a neat blog that gives Player and GM Advice, and there have been tons of Iconic Desgin-style blogs that have been cropping up in the past few months. But my response blog today isn’t responding to any of these blogs. My response blog is directed at Sean K Reynolds’s namesake blog.
Before You Read
First, yes. You are going to need to read the article that Sean wrote in order to follow along with mine. You can click this link to find the article that I’m going to be referring to, Five Moons RPG: Alignment, or Lack Thereof. Before you head on over, here’s some relevant information that will help you understand Sean’s article.
- Sean is an RPG legend. He’s worked on many editions of Dungeons and Dragons since the game’s TSR days. Up until early this year, he was also one of Paizo’s Designers for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. He worked on every Core Rulebook Line product Paizo has put out to date and plenty of their other supplements. He is well-known for being Paizo’s religion and gods expert and had an instrumental role on the recent Inner Sea Gods book.
- Sean is writing his own RPG. This summer, Sean announced that he is going to be writing his own RPG system. It was called Project Pentagon for a while, although he has recently started referring to it by his true name: the Five Moons RPG.
- The article that I linked to you is about alignment. When I first started writing this blog when it was still called Everyman Gaming, I promised to tackle the hot-button issues. Well, ever since I started playing Dungeons and Dragons, I have never seen an issue that is more of a hot-button issue than alignment, so Sean’s article was a good excuse for me to finally weigh in with my opinion.
- Read the article objectively. I can’t make this point any clearer. Leave any and all biases you have about the article, its author, alignment, or anything else on a different browser tab, please.
Okay. With all this in your head, click the article and read. Don’t worry, I’ll be here when you get back.
Alright! Let’s wage another debate about alignment! But no, not like the debates YOUR used to. I think Sean makes some excellent points in his article, and I’m going to call them out as they come. But there are also points that I disagree with and I’m going to denote why.
Ultimately, Sean’s purpose for writing this article is to defend his choice for excluding alignment from his new RPG, the Five Moons RPG. If that’s his choice, awesome! I am not writing my response article to try and persuade him to include alignment in his roleplaying game. Rather my purpose for writing this article is to defend the concept of alignment as a whole, because I don’t think that it is a worthless mechanic that is outdated and should be discarded. (My words, not Sean’s.) With all this in mind, I’m ready to dive face-first into my response article!
The Batman Problem
In Sean’s article, he mentions Batman as a cause for alignment issues. If you’ve never seen the internet meme he’s referring to, here’s an example for you to reference.
I don’t think that Batman is a good reason to eschew the alignment system altogether. Yes, throughout the thousands of pages of detailed character story and history, you can take just about any alignment and apply it to Batman. But the difference between you, a player, and Batman, a syndicated superhero, is that Batman has been written about and portrayed by no less than 22 different authors. Here’s a list of them. Batman also serves as an interesting character example because more than any other super hero, he is constantly written and rewritten differently based upon the author. Take other super heroes, like Super Man, for example. Superman is a few years older than Batman in terms of when his comic run began, but his personality has been MUCH more consistent over the years. Ask anyone for Superman’s alignment and you’ll get the answer of Lawful Good. There are individual stories where Superman makes a choice or two that isn’t Lawful Good and there are plenty of alternate realities and What If stories where Superman does evil things, but Superman’s “alignment” is consistent, and this is true for most Super Heroes. Batman is an exception, not a rule, and I would argue that this happened as a result of DC’s merging of their IPs into a single universe (the same way that all Marvel characters share a single universe).
In short, it is impossible to peg Batman’s alignment because Batman’s writing is not and has never been consistent from author to author. When analyzing his portrayal by a single author at a time, it is much easier to peg Batman down.
Alignment Definitions Have Changed
This is a good point. What is morally acceptable now may not have been morally acceptable ten years ago. Alignment has not been consistent in our society over the years, so it has not been consistent in Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons. This includes dress, personal conduct, and livelihood. For example, I affiliate myself with Catholicism, but I’m not a church-going man. Less then two decades ago, my pastor might have told me that I was going to burn in Hell for my lack of commitment to the church. Nowadays? Not so much. As new thoughts and ideas become more culturally inclusive in society, individual details about alignments in society changes with it. Alignment is extraordinarily difficult to manage in this regard. As a result, each edition of Dungeons and Dragons (as well as Pathfinder) has an alignment system that is the product of its era.
With all of this in mind, let’s look at some of Sean’s questions:
- If you’re days from town and you capture the bandits who have been stealing from caravans, is it evil to kill them, or do you have to take them back to town for a trial?
- Does the answer change if the town mayor sent you to deal with the bandits and she doesn’t care whether you kill or arrest them?
- What if the bandits are orcs instead of humans?
- What if the orcs had orc children with them?
- Are orcs inherently evil?
- Does that mean that orc babies are inherently evil?
- Does that mean that some races are inherently good?
- If a creature is inherently evil or good, what does that say about free will?
These are all interesting questions, but I also find that many of the questions stem from a lack of seperation of Good / Evil from Law / Chaos (this is ironic given one of our upcoming discussion topics). I’ll give you my answers to these questions, but I in now way claim that my answers are the RIGHT ones (especially not after what I had just said about alignments being the product of the times)!
- This question is essentially asking, “Is it Evil to kill people without the government’s consent?” Taking the situation apart, the bandits wronged you and retribution is a fairly Neutral thing to do because it is very much focused on reaction with an emphasis on one’s self. Keeping the bandits alive is Good, though, because you’re sparing lives. Bringing them back to town is Lawful because you’re respecting local authority, while ignoring that authority is Chaotic because you’re proactively dealing out punishment based on your own desires. So killing the bandits without a trial is a Chaotic Neutral act, letting them go is a Chaotic Good act (you’re still not respecting the local authority), and bringing them in alive is Lawful Good (you’re respecting their lives and the local authority).
- No, but going against her own government’s legitimacy is a Chaotic Neutral act for the mayor.
- Race doesn’t matter.
- If the child is attacking you, then the fact that the orc is a child does not matter. If the child is not attacking you, then the answer is still no. The fact that the orcs have children doesn’t change that they actively tried to attack you and steal your belongings. Killing children that have done nothing to you is, however, Evil. Choosing not to help the now orphaned orcs is Neutral. Helping them is Good.
- This is why my previous three answers were both “No.” 🙂 Environment, not birth, shapes alignment. Thirty years ago, however, the nature vs. nurture arguments were still being argued full swing, which is why you see more “Alignment as Nature” in older works of fiction rather than “Alignment as Nurture,” which is much more common today. That said, psychologists STILL argue nature vs. nurture to this day.
Alignment Doesn’t Matter to Most PCs
Sean’s argument basically boils down to, “Alignment matters to your PCs if you are playing a divine spellcaster, and in very few places elsewhere.” He also makes the point that choosing an outsider alignment with Favored Enemy isn’t REALLY interfacing with alignment, and neither is picking up an aligned weapon (such as a holy greatsword). I agree on all these points, but yet I still think he’s wrong in this sense. What Sean should be saying is that alignment doesn’t matter mechanically to most PCs. Following in Sean’s footsteps, here’s a volley of questions.
Does your name matter to your character? How about your gender? Your racial ethnicity, such as whether you are Chelixian or Ulfen, etc.? What if you are trying to take an ethnically-appropriate archetype? Does the archetype ever SAY that you need to a member of that ethnicity in order to acquire it? What if you’re going for the Ulfen Guard prestige class, which requires that you are a human of the ulfen ethnicity? What if I’m biologically an Ulfen, but not culturally? Can I still take this prestige class? If not, does being an ulfen matter to me at all? What if I’m using a patriotic weapon? Does ethnicity and nationality matter then?
Basically, alignment is important as a method for the GM and the PC’s player to have quick, easy-to-use labels for the PCs that help both PC and GM decide if an action is appropriate to a character. “I am Neutral Good,” and “Is what I am trying to do Neutral Good?” is more important than, “Is this specific action Neutral Good?” Actions have no morality. They are not people or things. People perform actions. People have an alignment.
Alignment is Based on Elric
This is cool to know, but I don’t think this matter to the discussion. At all. Magic in Pathfinder is based off of Jack Vance’s writings. That fact doesn’t impact whether or not Vancian magic works as a game mechanic or not. Western “morality” is primarily based off of Judeo-Christian tradition, which involved eradicating no fewer than six other religions and their worshippers off of the planet. Doesn’t stop people from using it.
But seriously, I’m going to have to check out Michael Moorcock. See what that’s about.
Alignment is an Excuse for Jerk Behavior
I don’t think that this is a good reason to get rid of alignment either. My brother has a disorder called Asperger’s Syndrome, its a psychological disorder that boils down to higher-functioning autism. Dr. Asperger first “labelled” students with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1944, but it didn’t become standardized as a diagnosis until 1990. (It had been tossed around when he was an infant, but my parents and I first heard the terminology in 1998 when my brother was approaching school going age.) But even though it had only just been standardized as a diagnosis, Asperger’s Syndrome had been a “thing” for over fifty years at that point. People had it. They were often put into insane asylums or prisons. People likely had Asperger’s well before documented history, too.
Generally speaking, labels do not create behaviors. Alignment is not an “excuse” for jerk behavior. Without alignment, those people would still be jerks. They would still say, “this is what my character would do.” Labels help jerks, I agree with Sean there, but jerks will be jerks whether or not they have labels.
So, I’ve taken a look at Sean’s thoughts and commented on them, but it would hardly be sporting if I didn’t share some of my own opinions on alignment. After, judge not lest ye be judged!
Alignment is a Roleplaying Construct
As Sean mentioned, one of the places where alignment shines is with monsters, specifically as a shorthand to tell GMs how creatures typically act. It should also be used primary as a basic guideline for how people (including PCs) are prone to acting. It shouldn’t be something that you have to absolutely be 100% of the time, as even the best people make mistakes. To that end, alignment should have NO mechanical strings attached to it. Your character’s name has no mechanical implications. Your character’s gender has no mechanical implications. Why should your character’s morality? Instead of relying on alignment, character classes that are expected to act a specific way should include Codes of Conduct that inform the player how he (or she) is expected to act. This does not need to be long or drawn out: the paladin’s code of conduct or the cavalier’s edicts are perfect examples of these restrictions done right. The only place where I could see alignment stating as a game mechanic is with outsider subtypes, but on the condition that those subtypes are reclassified to note that they represent the fact that the creature hails from a place that permeates evil magic, such as Hell or the Abyss. This is like how pyromancers can burn or necromancers can die. They are human. They are from a place where their body compositions are susceptible to fire and death. So if creatures born of Hell are susceptible to good attacks, then that’s fine. But that logic needs to be noted in the game.
Sean mentioned that it is extremely difficult to define what is good and what is evil, and he is right. As Sean mentions, real-world philosophers have been debating what it means to be good or bad. He’s not kidding: the topic is absolutely fascinating. It boils down to a concept called “the problem of Evil,” which is the question of how humanity can reconcile the existence of Evil while simultaneously confirming the existence of a deity who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent (all seeing, all knowing, and all loving). One answer to this question is called “the argument from Evil,” which claims that Evil’s existence proves that a deity that is simultaneously all seeing, all knowing, and all loving cannot exist as a result. The question gets even more difficult when you look at a setting such as Paizo Publishing’s Golarion, where there are multiple gods who are all seeing and all knowing. (Interestingly enough, as far as I’m aware none of Golarion’s gods are ever claimed to be ‘all loving,’ which might be Paizo’s out here.)
So ignoring any real-world implications, how can we define morality in our campaign setting while allowing for multiple omnipresent and omniscient entities? The obvious answer is to remove the omnibenevolence. Gods in the fantasy world are not all loving, and they only “love” people who subscribe to their religious beliefs. In this sense, it is the gods who decide what is Good and what is Evil. For example, one god might prize art and claim that anyone who destroys art is Evil while a god who isn’t concerned with art couldn’t care less. Before Judo-Christianism took hold, you’d see these sorts of clashes in religion-based morality in the real world too.
That said, as represented by the game itself, there has to be some sort of basic concept of rule of thumb of what it means to be Good. In the real world, there are actions that people can take that are considered vile regardless of culture or religion. For example, murder has always been considered a wicked act. So in order to give some cosmic backing to the gods, there needs to be some very vague ideas of what it means to be Good, Evil, Lawful, or Chaotic. The best answer I can come up with is a system of virtues. In a good system of morality, one axis cannot exist without the other. Without Good, there is no Evil. Without Order, there is no Chaos. I would recommend bumming the Seven Deadly Sins / Seven Heavenly Virtues for Good and Evil and drawing on real-world ethics to create Virtues for Order, then distorting them for Chaos. With that system, you would have a very vague list of rules for what being each alignment is universally, and then individual systems of morality enforced by individual religions or societies.
Why am I mentioning all this?
Because NO campaign setting that I have EVER seen takes the time to tell you what its people’s morals are. They assume that their mystical fantasy world has the SAME EXACT MORAL CODE as ours does. News flash: we don’t have gods flying around giving people spells and interacting in mortal affairs. Religion and morality are so deeply connected that if you plan on offering religions that are different from modern ones, you need to take the time to actually quantify what the morality of those religions is. If Good and Evil are REAL cosmic forces in your world, then you need to take the time to tell me what it means to be Good or Evil in your world.
Alignment is not the problem. The problem is that no one ever takes the time to define what each alignment should look like in the campaign world. In honesty, I feel bad that Sean and his team at Paizo had to try and sit down and explain to people what alignment should look like in a World-Neutral setting. That topic should have been handled in the Campaign Setting line, because what Good and Evil look like should be reflected by the Gods that style themselves as such.
And That’s a Wrap!
So, that’s my first ever response blog. Sorry for how long it is! So, after reading my article and Sean’s, what do you think? Should alignment be discarded or is it something that needs some extra elbow grease to actually be effective for players? How do you handle alignment in your campaign? Do you have any thoughts to share on either my points or Sean’s? Leave your comments and questions below and I look forward to hearing from you next time, where I promise I’ll be back on-schedule!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune godling, and [completely unobscured shoutout to Owen K.C. Stephens].