I’m Chaotic Neutral Good…ish

I’ll admit it, I have a bone to pick with Pathfinder’s alignment system. Oh, I know it’s not really Pathfinder’s fault; it inherited that from D&D, where issues with alignment go all the way back to the beginning of the game. In fact, from what I’ve heard, the creators themselves disagreed on the concept of alignment – Gary was for it, while Dave was against it. So really, it’s been one of those wedge issues for gamers since the game began.

Now, I won’t be discussing the absolute nature of alignment, something which should be relative, in this post. I won’t even be talking about the limitations of the good/evil lawful/chaotic axes (well, I sort of will, but bear with me). Rather, I’m going to be venting my exasperation regarding alignment’s reduction to just being part of the crunch.

To be clear, I’m a big fan of crunch – I’m rarely so happy as when I can sink my teeth into some new mechanics. But alignment just shouldn’t be part of that system; despite that, it’s everywhere now.

Alignment subtypes, alignment-based damage reduction, alignment descriptors for spells, and worst of all: alignment-specific effects for certain spells and magic items. It’s this last one, more than any other, that really makes me grit my teeth. Mostly because it reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago when I was trying to get a D&D game together:

Player: So, I think I’m going to have my barbarian be Chaotic Neutral.

Me: I’d kind of prefer that you be Good. This is a game about being heroes, after all.

Player: Yeah, but doesn’t that leave me vulnerable to a whole bunch of evil spells like blasphemy and stuff?

Me:

I didn’t have an answer, because strictly speaking, that guy was right. Now, you can call that bad role-playing on his part (and you wouldn’t be wrong), but it doesn’t change the underlying fact that alignment – which should be strictly a role-playing consideration when making your character – had become a tactical choice.

That bothered me then, and it continues to now; good role-playing sometimes calls for making sub-optimal choices when making/running your character, but the game shouldn’t go out of its way to punish you. But when being good-aligned means being more vulnerable to several choice spells than you would be if you were Neutral, it really feels like it’s doing just that: punishing you.

Call it part of the necessary risks of being a hero. Call it a minor issue in terms of character-building (since there are only a few such spells like that). It’s still – at least to me – one of those aspects of the game that pushes players away from role-playing and towards roll-playing.

So I’m going to try and do something about it here. Let’s take a look back at a little-remembered “legacy rule” from previous editions…

ALIGNMENT TENDENCIES

In previous editions of D&D, some NPCs and even monsters would have “tendencies” in their alignments. These were (usually parenthetical) notations that, while the character was of a certain alignment, it was leaning towards one that was nearby. For example, a magister who cared only about enforcing the law as written might be Lawful Neutral. But if he also wrote laws that handed out harsh punishments for even minor infractions, and enforced them with rigid equality and no compassion, then he could be Lawful Neutral (with Evil tendencies).

While that’s interesting and all, what does it have to do with questions of alignment in Pathfinder? Well, I figure that if I can’t de-crunchify alignment in Pathfinder (which, let’s be honest here, would be quite difficult), I can at least make a new rule to try and strip out some of the mechanical penalties for being non-Neutral. Check this out.

A character with a Neutral part of their alignment may choose to have a tendency towards another alignment on the same axis. A Lawful Neutral character, for example, may have a Good or an Evil tendency. A character may only have a single tendency at a time.

A character is treated as their normal alignment in most respects. However, the character may use their normal alignment or their tendency, whichever is more beneficial, for meeting prerequisites for feats, classes (including prestige classes), and selecting clerical domains. Note that a character’s tendency does dictate whether they can channel positive or negative energy. Hence, a Neutral cleric (with Good tendencies) of a Neutral deity would channel positive energy.

A character with an alignment tendency registers to detect spells and powers, but their aura strength is always faint. So for example, a Lawful Neutral (with Evil tendencies) character would have a faint aura to detect evil spells and abilities.

And there you go. I suspect that the major result of using this rule in your game will be to encourage a lot of paladins who are Neutral Good (with Lawful tendencies), but I think that most campaigns can survive that.

Some may see this rule as a cop-out, letting you play a Neutral character who has the benefits of being Good without the disadvantages, but I think that this is actually rather palatable. It gives you some leeway in your alignment, can let you come up with some great character ideas for exactly why your character has this tendency, and most importantly, lets you be good without being so Good that you’re being blasted with blasphemy all the time.

Until next time, I hope this helps to realign your Pathfinder game!

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7 Responses to “I’m Chaotic Neutral Good…ish”

  1. UWTartarus Says:

    That’s a really interesting idea and a great use of that legacy of “alignment tendencies” though I think that just as the PCs may be vulnerable to Blasphemy, all of the enemies using it would (90% I’d say) be vulnerable to Holy Word, which like all aligned spells, I feel would taint a character’s alignment. It’s for this tainting purpose that I’ve made otherwise Neutral, nice guys who insisted on using Evil spells, roleplay how their choice of magics is turning them to the dark side so to speak.

    I never stopped and thought “oh, I’ll totally play Neutral and opt out of the alignment effects” but I suspect some of my more munchkin/optimizer players have done so…

    Great article!

  2. Damien RS Says:

    I’m not sure why you’d want to make it *easy* for players in your heroes game to be Neutral. Wouldn’t it be better to emphasize the upsides as well as downsides of being Good? Healing spells working better perhaps, or more magic weapons being keyed to or enhanced by alignment. If the world is a battlefield for cosmic Good and Evil, who’s going to make weapons for the Neutral everyman?

    • alzrius Says:

      It’s already easy for the heroes to be Neutral, since that innoculates them from a lot of spells that have alignment-based effects. These rules allow them to be Good without being penalized for it compared to their Neutral counterparts.

  3. Said Achmiz Says:

    This criticism is rather subverted by that fact that that is not how blasphemy works.

    The right response to the player in your story would have been:

    “No, actually, blasphemy affects all nonevil creatures, so being Good instead of Neutral makes you not one jot more vulnerable to that spell.”

    (And that’s the one we’re concerned with, right? Let’s be fair: it’s not “blasphemy and stuff”, it’s just blasphemy. The other offensive alignment-based spells are largely irrelevant.)

    • alzrius Says:

      I disagree that that subverts the criticism at all. I could also have pointed out that he was worried about a 7th-level spell when he was making a 1st-level character, but both are beside the point.

      The point is that there are mechanical effects to having an alignment, which means that regardless of how rare and/or minimal they are it makes what should ideally be a roleplaying-focused choice into a mechanical one. Hence the fix here.

      • Said Achmiz Says:

        Well, if you say “there are mechanical effects”, my response is: “Like what?”

        I think “regardless of how rare and/or minimal” signals a wrongheaded approach. Any fix, even a small one (and yours is at least medium-sized) has repercussions throughout the system. I think it’s a bad idea to fix what isn’t broken. And if the mechanical effects of alignment are, in fact, rare and minimal, then I think that qualifies as “not broken”.

        Separately from the above: if something is a roleplaying-focused choice with no mechanical effects, it’s likely not to be interesting. Can you provide an example of an interesting roleplaying choice that has no mechanical consequences? There are not many, I think.

      • alzrius Says:

        You do realize it’s inherently paradoxical to say that alignment has no significant mechanical effects, while at the same time saying that changing how alignment works sends repercussions throughout the game system, right? You can’t say that one aspect of the game is mechanically insignificant while at the same time saying that changing it can cause significant effects.

        That said, this post was primarily about the fact that the potential effects were impacting player choices, regardless of the actual significance or likelihood of that potential.

        Finally, for an example of an interesting role-playing choice that had no mechanical effects, one of the PCs in my last game got married, which changed the state of the campaign as it added a stronger social focus to how another PC (the queen of a fledgling kingdom) was unmarried, throwing a spotlight on that enough to affect how other local rulers related to her.

        If you think that role-playing-focused choices – ones without mechanical effects – can’t be interesting, I suspect that you might be playing the wrong kind of game.

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