Removing Alignment From Pathfinder – Part Three: Monsters

Monsters don’t usually present as many alignment problems as other parts of the game. Outside of sticking points like “are these baby orcs inherently evil?” it’s usually enough to know that the creatures inhabiting the dungeon are meant to be killed. Yeah, that’s meta-gamey as hell, but that doesn’t make it any less true. After all, whether it’s a Neutral gelatinous cube or a Neutral Evil daemon, it’s an enemy that’s trying to kill you, so why equivocate? As I mentioned last time, even the Bestiary has far too many monsters for me to go over them all individually (as shown by how little progress I’ve made in my series of articles that critiques each Bestiary monster). So instead, we’re going to look at the major areas where alignment is a concern for monsters, and discuss what’s involved in removing it.

Alignment Subtypes

Remove all alignment subtypes from creatures that have them. The major mechanical impact of these subtypes is to denote that these creatures’ natural weapons strike as that subtype’s alignment for purposes of bypassing damage reduction. Since we’re removing aligned damage reduction (see below), they then become totally superfluous.

Damage Reduction

Damage reduction in Pathfinder is largely defined by how it’s defeated; this allows us to view all types of damage reduction as falling into one of four broad categories.

The first category is damage reduction that is overcome by magic weapons (e.g. DR X/magic). This is also the broadest type of damage reduction seen among Pathfinder monsters. Epic damage reduction also falls here, as it requires a magic weapon with an enhancement bonus of +6 or more to overcome DR X/epic (in the whole of the Bestiary, only two creatures – the solar angel and the Tarrasque – have this type of DR).

The second category of damage reduction is material-based DR. That is, types of damage reduction that can only be overcome by weapons made of a particular type of substance, specifically cold iron, silver, or adamantine. It’s notable that a given material is generally used with specific types/themes of monsters (though exceptions abound) – cold iron overcome the DR of demons and fey, silver overcomes the DR of devils and lycanthropes, and adamantine overcomes the DR of constructs.

The third category is alignment-based damage reduction. Mostly limited to outsiders, weapons usually fulfill this requirement by having either a specific magic weapon property (e.g. a holy weapon will bypass DR X/good) or by a creature having a specific alignment subtype (as noted above).

Rather oddly, it should be noted that most monsters have aligned damage reduction that will be overcome by the creatures they’re most likely to fight anyway, making this type of DR questionable in its usefulness. An angel with DR 10/evil, for example, might as well not have any damage reduction at all when it fights demons and devils, since those creatures naturally strike as though their natural and held weapons were evil-aligned. But if the angel fights neutral creatures, or even other good creatures, then it’s DR will be much more useful.

I can understand the reasoning behind why this was done – playing up the “everything is weak against its natural opposite” idea – but it can make for some odd practical applications. Would not an angel best know how to harm another angel, since they’re the same sort of creature?

The fourth and final category is a catch-all for remaining DR types, since the few that remain are used so rarely that they don’t really count. Some of the better-known examples of this category are how skeletons and zombies have DR based on damage-type (e.g. DR X/bludgeoning for skeletons), or the unbeatable damage reduction (e.g. DR X/-) of barbarians.

So why does this matter? Largely because we’re phasing out the third group, and so to fill the void we need to turn to one of the first two (DR/magic and DR/material). We won’t be using the fourth group because, despite how rarely they’re used, the major types of damage reduction it has are generally too good to be viable choices; making all demons have DR/piercing, for example, punishes virtually everyone who isn’t using a spear (this is even more true than someone who isn’t using a specific material or aligned weapon against those types of DR, since those have spells and magic items that can temporarily mimic those properties).

Given the above, what’s the actual process for replacing aligned damage reduction? Well, we have something of a leg up since most creatures who use aligned damage reduction are outsiders, and as we saw before, they tend to have specific materials associated with their various sub-groupings. We’re going to expand on that slightly. The basic guideline to follow is: If a creature has aligned damage reduction, replace it with DR/silver if the creature is lawful or DR/cold iron if it’s chaotic. If it already has one of those as part of its damage reduction, replace the aligned DR with DR/magic.

For example, a Chaotic Evil vrock has DR 10/good. Under this system, this becomes DR 10/cold iron. Likewise, a Lawful Evil pit fiend has DR 15/good and silver; since it already has a special material to its DR, we change this to DR 15/magic and silver.

It’s important to remember that we’re making this change based on the creature’s alignment, not the type of alignment in its damage reduction. In the above examples, the vrock and pit fiend both have DR/good, but we changed them to different substances because one was a chaotic creature while the other was lawful.

By now, canny readers will already have noticed the flaw in this system: we have replacements for chaotic and lawful creatures, but what about good and evil creatures? The problem here is that we’ve got two remaining alignments to replace, but only one remaining special material.

Now, this isn’t a major problem simply because most creatures with aligned damage reduction are either of a chaotic or lawful bent – you’ll rarely meet outsiders who are Neutral Good or Neutral Evil…but it does happen. In this case, it’s probably best to replace the aligned DR of good creatures with adamantine (so a solar angel, for example, will have DR 15/epic and adamantine). Why use adamantine for good creatures and not evil ones? Mostly because there are more Neutral Good creatures with aligned DR (mostly the angels) in the Bestiary than Neutral Evil ones. This will be more of a problem when the Bestiary 2 (with its attendant daemons) comes out later, but for now it’ll have to do.

Some suggestions for what to do when the daemons do arrive, however, are that you can invent a new type of special material to use against them, have them only be subject to a specific damage type (e.g. DR X/slashing), or halve their existing DR value and make it unbeatable (e.g. a daemon with DR 10/good would have DR 5/-).

Holy and Unholy Water

So refreshing it's heavenly!

Holy water, and its unholy counterpart, aren’t monster abilities per se. However, since they only work in relation to monsters, lets include them here for the sake of completeness.

In looking these items over, some oddities quickly come to light. The first is how lopsided they are; most aligned effects have an equal level of applicability, just over different areas – here, however, holy water is clearly better than unholy water. The former affects not only evil outsiders, but undead as well. Unholy water, by contrast, affects only good outsiders.

Also strange is that these items deal damage based around positive and negative energy, yet only damage creatures of certain alignments. Why would the positive energy of holy water harm evil outsiders when a positive energy effect (like channeling positive energy) heals them? Why doesn’t the negative energy in unholy water damage all living creatures?

Personally, I’d like to completely rewrite how these two effectively work, but these articles are meant to remove alignment with the least amount of disruption possible. Hence, we’ll make the following alterations: Holy water damages undead, and outsiders with the daemon, demon, devil, and qlippoth (from the Bestiary 2) subtypes. Unholy water damages outsiders with the agathion, angel, archon, and azata subtypes.

Now, these do narrow the applicability of these items somewhat. Other kinds of nefarious (or benign) outsiders will be unaffected under this rule – that barghest, for example, will find holy water to be little more than a refreshing drink. Perhaps this can be thought of as only certain types of outsiders have enough inherent positive or negative energy for these waters to harm them; other such creatures aren’t “outsider” enough.

Spell-Like Abilities

Any creature with a spell-like ability that uses an alignment-based spell has that replaced with its unaligned counterpart (as seen in part two of this series). If this lists that a given spell has been deleted, remove the corresponding spell-like ability from the creature (don’t worry, it won’t affect it’s Challenge Rating).

In Conclusion

This concludes our look at how to remove alignment from your Pathfinder game. By expelling its influence from character classes, spells and magic items, and monsters, you’re now able to run Pathfinder with as many shades of moral-gray as you like. No longer must your characters fall into rigid strata of good or evil, lawful or chaotic, but rather can chart their own course without falling into objective ethical identifications.

If you use these alternate rules to run an alignment-free Pathfinder game, please take a moment to post about it here. I’d love to hear how well these alterations worked (or didn’t work) and how they changed your campaign. Until then, good gaming, and I hope that you enjoy your new-found moral freedom!

Tags: , ,

7 Responses to “Removing Alignment From Pathfinder – Part Three: Monsters”

  1. Alignment – Mechanics and Magic « Emergence Campaign Weblog Says:

    […] Removing Alignment From Pathfinder – Part Three: Monsters from Intelligence Check ( […]

  2. Minkle Says:

    Thank you, been considering running game’s without the alignment system, and this has helped me give the idea new life. honestly I was most stuck on the spells and Dr type stuff.

  3. David Finney Says:

    There has been some very good points here. While I have adapted Ravenloft rules for use in Pathfinder and find Evil in Magic and Items useful, the bits about Monsters and Character Classes make a lot of sense. Of course, my Paladins gain Detect Corruption, which only helps them find out people who have been tainted by the Dark Powers. But thanks for the work and keep it up!

  4. Matt Says:

    I am about to begin a no alignment campaign for the first time. I had been working on this for months when I found a PDF on DriveThruRPG that had rules for removing alignment. That was frustrating but I was going to use those. Now that I found this article however these seem much simpler to understand and implement. Thanks for doing to leg work for me. 😀

  5. Removing Alignment From Pathfinder – Addendum: Core Prestige Classes | Intelligence Check Says:

    […] mechanics from Pathfinder, focusing specifically on the Core classes, spells and magic items, and monsters. Since then, these posts have become some of the most popular parts of Intelligence Check, getting […]

  6. krackothunder Says:

    Actually, we do have another special material: Mithral. It’s a substance that’s normally useless for weapon construction, but it could fit here, since it doesn’t have other weapon applications anyway.

    • alzrius Says:

      Well, mithral could work, but what I meant was that there’s really no other special material that’s typically used as defeating DR/X. Otherwise, it’s easy to introduce anything as having that designation (so long as you let the players know ahead of time), such as darkwood or even unusual materials like gold.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: