Removing Alignment from Pathfinder – Part One: Classes

I’ve blogged previously about my dislike of the alignment system; how it’s become part of the mechanics of a character instead of something that gets role-played. Now in that previous post, I talk about using “alignment tendencies” to scale back some of the worst parts of the mechanics of alignment. But today, I’m going to be discussing something different.

Today, I’m going to lay out some guidelines for removing alignment from the game altogether.

Why go “out of alignment” like this?

Pathfinder works just fine with alignment – it’s not one of those parts of the game that most people consider “broken” or “unbalanced” to any real degree. Rather, it’s because alignment quite often becomes a hindrance to characterization. How often do PCs decide whether or not to trust an NPC based purely on a detect evil spell? For that matter, how many avoid being Lawful because they see it as a straitjacket; something that will force them to role-play a certain way?

It doesn’t matter if these views are true or not – a lot of players think they are, which means they might as well be. If you believe that there’s a constraint on a given character type, you aren’t going to play that type, even if you want to. I’ve seen players who’d love to play a paladin, but can’t stomach the “Lawful” part of Lawful Good.

Making good, evil, law, and chaos into absolutes with well-defined boundaries makes it much harder to play characters with shades of gray. There’s no room for asking the difficult ethical and moral questions when the answer is just “that’s an evil act, and may result in an alignment change for you.”

I’ve seen plenty of supplements that try to use different systems for charting alignment, or trying to deepen the meaning of the existing alignment structure. I say, why bother? Just throw out the concept altogether. Let your characters be who they are, without labeling them as being utterly good or evil, lawful or chaotic.

That’s what this guide is for.

An example of the problem (click to be able to actually read it).

Classes

Besides monsters, PC classes are probably the subject of the greatest changes by removing alignment from the system. Here, we’ll go over the necessary changes to each class (this only covers the Core classes, and not those in the APG). Classes not listed here need no alignment changes made (notwithstanding spells, which are dealt with later).

Barbarian: Remove the alignment prerequisite from this class.

Cleric: Remove the section on the cleric needing to have an alignment within one step of their deity’s alignment (since we’re removing alignments for deities also). Also, delete the “aura” class listing entirely, and the section on “chaotic, evil, good, and lawful spells.” While we might keep spell alignment descriptors (dealt with next time), the fact that clerics and deities have no alignments means that the caveat of not casting spells opposed to their own/their god’s alignment makes that restriction meaningless.

Finally, clerics may choose to spontaneously channel positive or negative energy. They make this choice with their first cleric level, and once made it cannot be changed, but they can pick either. Optionally, some deities may restrict their clerics from one type of energy, but this is up to the deity in question.

Druid: As with the cleric, the druid deletes the alignment restriction on this class, and the “chaotic, evil, good, and lawful spells” section.

Monk: Delete the alignment restriction for this class. Further, in the “ki pool” class feature, make the following change. At 10th level, the damage from the monk’s unarmed strikes count as being slashing, piercing, or bludgeoning damage, as the monk desires. The type of damage must be declared before the attack roll is made, and may be changed as a free action on the monk’s turn.

When we get to monsters, we’ll see that damage reduction is perhaps the thorniest part of removing alignment from the game. The change to the monk’s unarmed strike here is largely made because it’d be too powerful to give them the ability to overcome another sort of material-based damage reduction (e.g. cold iron). However, slashing or piercing fits perfectly, since that comes up about as often as a creature having DR X/lawful.

And besides, the idea of a monk inflicting piercing damage by thrusting a finger straight through an enemy’s skull is just too cool not to have as a class feature!

Paladin: Of all the Core classes, this one is the biggest alignment-whore. So, let’s take this one special ability at a time.

Delete the “aura of good” and “detect evil” class features. No, paladins don’t get a replacement for detect evil; it’s so minor an ability that it really doesn’t weaken the class to get rid of it totally. Also, the change we’re about to make compensates for the loss.

The paladin’s “smite evil” class ability simply becomes “smite.” It functions universally, without regards to the target’s moral status. The damage on the first attack is increased against all types of outsiders, dragons, and undead.

The paladin’s ability to channel positive energy is unchanged. Despite the fact that we’re removing alignment from Pathfinder, we’re not removing all morality – the paladin is supposed to be a holy warrior in service to goodness and law; we’re just making goodness and law be abstract concepts rather than absolute forces. Hence, channeling the energy of life and healing fits right in. (That said, if you really want a paladin that channels negative energy, there’s no reason you can’t have it, the same way you can have a paladin of an evil deity if you really wanted – you’ll just need to make some more changes in that case.)

For the paladin’s “divine bond” class ability, if the paladin chooses to have a divine bond with a weapon, remove the axiomatic and holy weapon abilities as possible choices. Don’t worry, there are still plenty left over.

The paladin’s “aura of justice” functions just like the altered “smite” ability in what it lets the paladin grant his or her allies (see above).

For the paladin’s “aura of faith,” it now allows him to treat his weapons as cold iron for the purposes of overcoming damage reduction. Likewise, “aura of righteousness” gives him DR 5/silver. This is again a preview of what we’re doing with monstrous damage reduction, but here we’re equating the paladin’s lawful nature with that of other lawful creatures (a la devils), and giving him the associated type of damage reduction. Likewise, he can defeat the damage reduction of quintessentially chaotic creatures (e.g. demons and fey) by attacking as the weapon type that they usually fear.

Naturally, “holy champion” increases the paladin’s DR to 10/silver.

Finally, the paladin’s code of conduct doesn’t require a lawful good alignment anymore (since there aren’t alignments now). The rest of the code of conduct remains unchanged, however.

Ranger: The only change to the ranger is with their favored enemy list. Specifically, since we’re removing alignment subtypes from creatures, they can’t choose outsiders with those subtypes. However, you should allow other subtypes to replace them for specific sorts of outsiders. That is, they should be able to pick Outsiders (demon) or Outsiders (azata) if they wish. It’s slightly narrower, but should still be relevant in most of the same places.

Sorcerer: The major changes to the sorcerer come in regards to the changes to specific parts of their bloodlines. In other words, most of these alterations are to bloodline spells that will be changed when we get to spells, or are DR changes. We’ll note the spell changes here now, but they’ll be covered in greater depth when we get to the section on spell changes.

The Abyssal bloodline has its unholy aura bonus spell changed to divine aura. For the bloodline arcana, it now grants a summoned creature DR/magic equal to 1/2 the sorcerer’s level.

The Celestial bloodline has its magic circle against evil bonus spell changed to warding circle. The “heavenly fire” bloodline power now heals or harms a creature as per the sorcerer’s wishes, and may target anyone, friend or foe. For the bloodline arcana, it now grants a summoned creature DR/adamantine equal to 1/2 the sorcerer’s level.

The Infernal bloodline has its protection from good bonus spell changed to ward of protection. For the “corrupting touch” bloodline power, delete the part where it says an affected creature radiates an aura of evil. For the “hellfire” bloodline power, all creatures who fail their saving throw are shaken, unless they have the “devil” subtype or the Infernal bloodline (at the GM’s option, certain other characters, such as diabolists, may also be immune to being shaken by this power).

What’s Next?

When you get right down to it, alignment really only affects three portions of the game. Those are character classes, magic (spells and magic items), and monsters. Since we covered character classes today, we’ll go over magic next time, and finally end with monsters. Hopefully, once this series has concluded, you’ll be able to play an alignment-free Pathfinder game, one where a character’s actions determine their morality instead of a notation in their stat block.

An example of the solution.

After all, actions speak louder than alignment anyway.

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8 Responses to “Removing Alignment from Pathfinder – Part One: Classes”

  1. The Red DM Says:

    Alignment is one of those thing that I don’t have any love for, but don’t care enough to remove it. Usually in my games it is completely ignored unless someone is playing a paladin.

    • alzrius Says:

      In earlier editions of the game (2E and previous) I’d have probably done the same (I remember the idea of “alignment languages” in Basic D&D being too implausible to take seriously).

      However, starting in 3E, ignoring alignment became harder because of aligned damage reduction and alignment-specific spells like blasphemy. At that point, a more hands-on how-to guide for removing alignment became necessary. Hence these posts.

  2. seaofstarsrpg Says:

    I pulled alignments from my games some time ago. But I like how you are reordering things here.

  3. Nemitri Says:

    Kudos to you, I really like your idea man, I once got really angry because a player posted on the DDO forums that just go neutral and I quote “Because you don’t take extra damage from evil creatures”. Aligments aren’t supposed to be used like that, they should be used for guidelines on how to roleplay your character!

    • alzrius Says:

      Well said. I had a similar experience once, which I talked about in my previous post about alignment.

      Of course, that post proscribed a patch to mitigate some of alignment’s worst effects in the game. This post lays out a much more radical series of steps so that it can be eliminated totally. Different needs for different games.

  4. Hethraklin Says:

    The true purpose of alignment is roleplaying. Many players wan to do anything they wan in the game, thus chosing neutral. Dnd 3.5 made a mistake by posting a confusing theoy implying u can do anything you wan with a neutral character.The fact that you are neutral only means you will not act,interfer or decide. In game terms, it is very bad for the DM.Makes the game try finding a reason for you to adventure.

  5. The Evolution of Alignment (Where it’s been…Where it’s Going) « Mr. Sharp's Gaming Emporium Says:

    [...] as completely chucking the system? Well, for that answer I introduce you to Alzrius at the blog Intelligence Check. The ideas here are, without question, brilliant! Alzrius not only makes the removal of alignment [...]

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