Posts Tagged ‘alignment’

Removing Alignment From Pathfinder – Addendum: Core Prestige Classes

April 16, 2016

Several years ago, I wrote a brief series of articles about removing alignment-based 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 regular hits even after all of this time.

It’s because of that that I’m a little chagrined to have only recently realized that there’s an area of the Pathfinder Core Rules that I overlooked in my original series: the prestige classes found in the Core Rulebook.

Of course, the fact that no one ever bothered to point this out to me says, I think, something about how prestige classes are viewed these days. Even back during the heyday of 3.X, most prestige classes tended to be regarded with suspicion – at least insofar as their balance went – and a vague sense of frustration for how they seemed to nod in the direction of in-game story potential even as they were typically used for purely mechanical purposes.

Throw in the issues that come along with multiclassing, and it’s easy to see why archetypes – as introduced in the Pathfinder’s first major splatbook, the Advanced Player’s Guide – quickly replaced prestige classes as the go-to for how to customize your character (besides feats, races, etc.). But that doesn’t mean that they’ve gone away entirely. Should someone want to make use of a prestige class, whether for the mechanics or the story potential or both, the basic PrCs are right there in the Core Rules.

Now let’s see what they look like shorn of alignment.

Core Prestige Classes

Below are the changes necessary to remove alignment-based mechanics from the prestige classes in the Core Rulebook. Those PrCs that aren’t listed here have no such mechanics, and so require no changes.

Arcane Archer: Delete the “enhance arrows” ability gained at 9th level, replacing it with the following:

“At 9th level, every nonmagical arrow fired by an arcane archer gains the keen and bane weapon qualities. The keen quality functions even if the arcane archer fires arrows that deal bludgeoning damage. The creature type to which the bane quality applies may be changed once per day as per the arcane archer’s elemental and elemental burst qualities.”

The goal here is to grant the arcane archer a total of +2 weapon qualities to replace the alignment qualities he’s losing. Bane is the obvious choice to replace alignment-based additional damage, and since this narrows the range of foes that will be subject to extra damage, we can ameliorate this (at least somewhat) by adding in keen as well (along with a note so that the arcane archer isn’t penalized if using blunt arrows).

Arcane Trickster: Delete the alignment requirement for this prestige class.

Honestly, this particular restriction is so flimsy I’m surprised that it’s there at all. If rogues can be lawful, and wizards and sorcerers can be lawful, then why exactly can’t a rogue-wizard mashup be lawful? As such, we can get rid of this requirement without a second thought.

Assassin: Delete the alignment requirement for this prestige class.

You have to admire this particular restriction, as it managed to tick off both the story-gamers (who wanted to roleplay being a professional contract killer) and the power-gamers (who wanted the death attack power this PrC offered) by requiring an alignment that most GMs disallowed as a matter of course.

Shadowdancer: Change the second sentence of the “summon shadow” description to read as follows:

“Unlike a normal shadow, this shadow cannot create spawn.”

This removes the clause about the shadow having the shadowdancer’s alignment, which while a minor change (particularly with the removal of all other alignment-based effects), might still be significant if you want to place more emphasis on the shadowdancer having an undead familiar like this.


There wasn’t much to change here, but hopefully these alterations will be worthwhile if you’re looking at taking a Core prestige class in an alignment-free game. After all, why can’t the good guys have assassins too?

Law of the Land, Part 1 – Lexicon of Legal Loquacity

October 9, 2011

One of the background elements that is all too often ignored in most Pathfinder games is the nature of the law in various cities, towns, and other areas where the PCs frequently spend their time. For the most part, there’s little actual need for any sort of codified laws, since the PCs rarely run afoul of them. When they do, it tends to be simply part of a larger plot-hook, and is forgotten about once it’s served its purpose.

That’s something of a shame, because the laws of a given society are one of the best ways to demonstrate just what makes that society different from others. The extent of what the laws are and what punishments they mete out to those who break them can communicate a great deal about a given region of the game world. At the very least, it makes the Knowledge (local) checks more flavorful.

The source of all rules lawyers.

However, this bit of game theory tends to run headfirst into a problem of practicality. Laws – even the implicitly simple laws of a (fantasy) medieval world – are vast and complex. Coming up with a body of them can be quite a bit of work, and so tends to exist as little more than an interesting idea that never gets actualized.

It’s that problem that this series of articles aims to correct. We’re going to present a set of basic laws for a typical region in a Pathfinder game, complete with descriptions and punishments. These laws can then be tweaked, altered, and otherwise used however is most beneficial in your game. So let’s lay down the law!

A Legal Disclaimer

While it was heavily implied above, it’s worthwhile to come right out and say it: these laws aren’t intended to be anything other than a thorough framework for use in your Pathfinder game. They aren’t meant to represent or even approximate the laws as they actually were in medieval Europe or any other real-world society.

Likewise, the descriptions here are focused solely on criminal laws. No discussion is given to any sort of civil or tort law; these are the laws that govern the people, and if you break them, you’re subject to the punishment that doing so entails.

Laws for the Lawful

It’s inevitable that any discussion of a society’s laws will necessitate some discussion about alignment. In general, there isn’t as much overlap between the two as you might think. The Law-Chaos axis of alignment in Pathfinder, viewed in terms of the laws that tend to govern a society, can perhaps best be summarized as follows:

I am the Lawful!

A lawful society will see their laws as ideals to be followed for their own sake, with an implicit trust (almost to a degree of faith) in that they promote and protect what’s valuable in their society. Thus, breaking the law is an affront to these ideals and, through that, an affront to the society in which the people live. The nature of the laws and the punishments for breaking them will be fairly standardized, with relatively little flexibility based on the specific circumstances of the incident committed.

A chaotic society will, somewhat surprisingly, still have laws. However, these laws will function largely as guidelines outlining a series of general prohibitions (e.g. things that are crimes if you do them) and what to do to an offender. The actual facts of a particular incident will have a strong determining factor in whether or not a crime actually occurred, and how to punish the offender if so. The practical circumstances of what’s best for the people involved, and the community as a whole, will reliably take precedence over any particular body of legal conduct.

A neutral society is, of course, a blend of these two views. Laws will likely be codified, but with an understanding (whether formal or not) that the laws which are enumerated cover unspecified crimes and circumstances that may arise in the future (e.g. a law against murder can be understood to apply to someone who orders a mercenary to commit murder). Likewise, there’ll often be a range of specified punishments, with the circumstances of the crime determining which are applied.

Inquisitors Need Not Apply

One area that this series of articles will not cover is the impact of religion on the law. That is, none of the laws and punishments listed here will deal with any sort of crime against a religion, nor apply any particular religious punishment to a given crime. The default assumption is that the law is secular, in terms of specifying crimes and denoting punishments.

Thou shalt not suffer the witch class to live.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, there are too many in-game religions, each with a different view of what is and is not virtuous, to possibly try and develop any sort of standard beyond the most bare-bones approach…so bare-bones that there’s little point to making the attempt at all. Secondly, the degree to which church and state mingle is likely to vary widely even within the course of a single game world. Keeping the two separate allows a given GM to add religious laws (usually for a state religion) as he or she sees fit.

Of course, for all of the above disclaimers, there are a few places where religion and the law intersect in this series, but these are relatively few and fairly universal in scope when they do happen.

In the Criminal Justice System…

Before going any further, let’s look at how crimes are investigated and judged in the context of the game world.

Most localities will have people whose occupation is to represent and enforce peace and justice within that area. Typically, this tends to fall on the sheriff, town guards, local watchmen, or even soldiers. These people are responsible for stopping crimes that they see/know are occurring, as well as investigating crimes that have previously occurred. They have the power to question suspects, collect evidence, and make arrests. While small towns might choose who functions as the head of local law enforcement, larger areas will have their chief lawman (or law-woman) appointed by the head of the (local) government, with that person then hiring others to work under them.

Once a suspect is brought in, they’re typically brought before a magistrate; a person chosen by the local government to hear cases and render judgment. Typically, one who investigated the case (and made the arrest) argues for the suspect’s prosecution, though in some cases the wronged party might also be active in asking for punishment to be delivered. The suspect is usually on their own to argue their defense. Once both sides have been heard, the magistrate makes their decision (if there are multiple magistrates sitting in on a case, then it’s the majority opinion that carries), and that’s usually final – unless a member of the governing authority cares to step in (which is likely quite rare).

The Executioner's Perform (song)

Once the sentence is rendered, it’s usually up to the local law enforcement to carry it out, particularly if the sentence is something impermanent (e.g. a fine or a relatively short stay in jail). For more severe punishments, the criminal is usually turned over to a warden who runs a prison (notice the difference between a prison and a jail – the latter is meant to hold people for short durations and is usually a small establishment or even just part of another building, whereas the former is always a sturdy edifice and is meant to hold people for much longer stays), or even sentenced to die. In this case, the executioner – who’s identity is usually kept secret so as to foil retribution – carries out the sentence (often in public, both as a spectacle and to present confirmation of death).

Categories of Crime

One of the easiest ways to discuss the nature of a crime is by measuring how serious a crime it is; that is, measuring its degree of criminality. This, in turn, allows for the severity of the punishment to be more easily gauged. Below are several degrees of criminality, along with the typical punishment that they carry.

Co-opted from actual criminal terms, these are divorced from their real-world implications, and presented as broad categories from most-severe to least-severe. Note that these are not the actual crimes themselves (which will be dealt with next time) – these are just what sort of crimes they are.

Felony – The worst sort of crime that can be committed, this is typically punished with death, but banishment is also possible. In the event that death is the punishment, the body will typically not be allowed to be subjected to resurrection magic (perhaps by destroying the body, by using magic such as trap the soul, or by placing a mark on it indicating that they were executed for criminal conduct). Likewise, someone banished will typically have their banishment made known, whether by general proclamation, a brand forced onto a conspicuous spot on their body, or a mark of justice.

Larceny – This is a terrible crime, and commands a commensurate punishment. It typically involves long periods of imprisonment (possibly for life), being taken into slavery for a certain duration (also possibly for life), or mutilation of the offender (e.g. losing an finger, hand, eye, etc). As with a felony, pains will be taken to prevent the punishment from being circumvented (e.g. a tattoo so that people will know the criminal is not to be given the aid of regeneration magic).

Misdemeanor – Comparatively moderate crimes, misdemeanors are usually punished by inflicting pain/damage on the criminal (e.g. whipping or flogging), public humiliation (e.g. kept in the stocks), fines, or short-term incarceration. Additionally (or as an alternative punishment) the criminal might be sentenced to make some sort of restitution to the wronged party.

Infraction – Infractions are criminal acts so small that they typically don’t require a formal punishment, instead being disruptions that are fixable by the direct action of a local official. This typically involves sending people away from a particular person or situation (e.g. to let people involved in a fight cool off), settling a small dispute, or very brief incarceration (e.g. spending the night in jail).

Next Time: We go over specific crimes, discussing them in greater detail!

When Playing by the Rules is a Dick Move

September 18, 2011

There’s a lot to be said for running a Pathfinder game by the (Core Rule)book. While supplements and house rules can add a lot to a game, there’s a simplicity to running things by the Core Rules only that can be refreshing, both for the ease that comes from sticking to the rules that everyone (presumably) already knows, and for the fun that comes from working with a limited set of tools (which tends to heighten creativity). As they say, “simple is best.”

And yet for all of that, there are several areas of the Core Rules that are routinely ignored in many, if not most, Pathfinder games.

Now, that statement has likely left you scratching your head and wondering just what the hell I’m talking about. Surely there aren’t entire sections of the rules that are ignored by everyone, are there?

Well actually, yes. Yes there are.

You're Not Just Wrong. The Rules Also Say You're A Dick!

Because I couldn't find one where it had the rules saying you're actually right, but also a dick.

These are the parts of the game that tend to get ignored because players don’t want to be subject to them, and GM’s are wary of pulling them out, since they tend to be upsetting to the point of killing the fun. In fact, it seems to have gotten to the point where there’s an unconscious-but-understood “social contract” between the players and the GM that these things won’t be used in the game at all. That’s an overstatement, of course, but these rules do seem to be generally ignored.

Today, we’re going to shine a spotlight on these oft-ignored parts of the game and examine them in more detail. We’ll also cover why they shouldn’t be so readily dismissed, and hopefully make a good argument for why they deserve to be used as much as any other parts of the game.

Say hello to the dick moves of the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game.

Broken Gear

This one is a classic among the things you’re Not Supposed To Do To The PCs. Character death is tragic, even after leveling to where you can be reliably raised from the dead. But destroying a character’s items (both magic and mundane)? That’s just mean.

The above sentiment is fairly pervasive among Pathfinder players, despite the fact that destroying gear is built into the rules at myriad points. Beyond even the rules on item hit points and hardness scores, we have example upon example of the rules giving characters ways to break stuff. From the sunder combat maneuver (and Improved Sunder) to the shatter, disintegrate, and mage’s disjunction spells (despite the latter being neutered in Pathfinder) to the rust monster, it’s pretty clear that this is a very viable tactic.

It’s also a tactic that no PC is ever willing to use themselves. After all, notwithstanding experience points, treasure is the reward they get at the end of the adventure, and a significant portion of that comes from the gear that enemies are using. When you’re 3rd level, that masterwork longsword that the villain’s wielding is too valuable to be shattered. And who in their right mind sunders the enemy’s metamagic rod of quicken? Just kill him instead and take it!

Spellfire - Mordenkainen's Disjunction

The greatest and most feared of spells.

The problem is that, as mentioned above, a lot of players seem to think that because they don’t engage in this tactic, they don’t deserve to have it pulled on them. Unfortunately, that line of reasoning applies meta-game logic to decisions that are made in-game. It might make sense for a demon to disintegrate the party’s cubic gate so that they can’t escape a fight that’s going badly, but the players will still likely be ticked (and that’s a utility item – heavens help you if it happens to weapons and armor!) and likely will be upset with the GM for doing it, even though it made sense for the NPC.

It’s here that we need to talk about a subset of this particular dick move – one that’s extreme enough that it needs to be talked about specifically: targeting the wizard’s spellbook.

You can lose material components, or (divine) foci, but nothing seems to say “@#$% you, buddy” like having something happen to the wizard’s spellbook. Right?

But even this seems to be implicitly acknowledged within the game itself. Traveling spellbooks are still on the equipment list (albeit kicked over to the Advanced Player’s Guide). There are clear rules on the monetary and time costs of copying spells. Scribe Scroll is a 1st-level bonus feat for wizards (all the better to copy those backup scrolls you made into a new spellbook). And of course, there’s the Spell Mastery feat. All of this functions as backup for a wizard should their spellbook be lost or destroyed.

And yet, should that happen, the wizard’s player will often act like you just crumpled up their character sheet.

This is another one of those areas where players feel like they should have “script immunity”; that is, where something like this simply shouldn’t be in the cards. Enemies will never even think of going for the wizard’s spellbook, let alone do so if they have the opportunity. It’s just expected.

The problem with all of these assumptions is that they rest upon the more fundamental assumption that the PCs shouldn’t ever be crippled – that is, nothing should happen that puts a damper longer than a few rounds on their ability to function.

This assumption is flawed. Deeply, heavily flawed. The PCs enemies – the ones with the intelligence, means, and mindset to do so – should go for whatever means of winning they have, and if that means taking away the PCs tools, then that’s what they’ll do. After all, if you’re willing to kill someone, is it really worse to break their toys?

Alignment/Ethos Violations

Of all of the Pathfinder no-no’s listed here, this one is perhaps the most personal. Ironically, it’s also the one with the least in-game penalty (sometimes; see below).

Virtually everything else on this list is an in-game interaction between characters that creates a point of friction. But the GM telling someone that they’re not acting like their listed alignment is basically the same as pointing at them and saying

Calling someone out on alignment violations isn’t that far off from calling them out as a bad role-player, in other words. It doesn’t help that alignment is probably one of the most contentious parts of the game (hence why I prefer to play without it).

For what it’s worth, the Core Rules do broach this topic:

In the end, the Game Master is the one who gets to decide if something’s in accordance with its indicated alignment, based on the descriptions given previously and his own opinion and interpretation—the only thing the GM needs to strive for is to be consistent as to what constitutes the difference between alignments like chaotic neutral and chaotic evil. There’s no hard and fast mechanic by which you can measure alignment—unlike hit points or skill ranks or Armor Class, alignment is solely a label the GM controls.

It’s best to let players play their characters as they want. If a player is roleplaying in a way that you, as the GM, think doesn’t fit his alignment, let him know that he’s acting out of alignment and tell him why—but do so in a friendly manner.

The GameMastery Guide goes into this a little further, but really, that’s about all you can say. Given that alignment changes don’t carry a penalty, however, there’s little reason that – so long as the GM doesn’t do so nicely – an alignment change can’t be mandated.

Of course, this is a much bigger problem when the alignment change takes a character out of the acceptable alignment for his class (e.g. a barbarian acting lawful). In that case, the GM is essentially levying a penalty, one that ranges from not being able to take further levels in that class to losing all of that class’s powers.

Things are pretty well the same in regards to an ethos or code of conduct. These tend to be expressly called out for paladins, druids, and some other classes, and most divine spellcasting classes have an implicit set of religious tenets that they’re supposed to follow too. Breaking this ethos tends to be similar to having your alignment change to one that’s out of bounds for your class, in that there are tangible penalties.

These can be pretty hefty, but there’s still no reason to necessarily avoid them if they’re warranted. After all, the player knew about those restriction when he had his PC take that class, and how the character acts is (mind-affecting effects notwithstanding) completely under the player’s control. Hence, there shouldn’t be any hesitation on the GM’s part to go there if it’s necessary.

Besides, repentance is only one atonement away anyway.

Independent Hench-NPCs

You’ll have to forgive the imprecise terminology here. “Hench-NPCs” are those NPCs whom the PCs get as part of a class feature, feat, or other game mechanic. I’m talking about familiars, animal companions, cohorts, etc.

It's better than a red shirt...I guess.

There’s been a long-running debate over who gets to actually run these characters, the player or the GM. Honestly, both sides have some merit, but here at Intelligence Check we tend to side with the idea that the GM should control NPCs, including those that are gained because of a game mechanic.

The reason for this is that players have a tendency to treat these characters as being extensions of their PCs. Now, in some cases (e.g. familiars) that’s true, and the NPC’s primary motivation may be “obey the PC and work towards his/her best interests.” But for most other characters, that won’t be true – they’ll follow a PC for the in-game reason given in the mechanic, but it’s not some sort of absolute.

Take, for example, animal companions. These are actually a LOT more limited than most players give them credit for. I like to look at this article over on the Emergence Campaign Weblog that points out a little item that was in the 3.0 SRD (adjusted for readability), and was in the 3.5 DMG (but, oddly enough, not the 3.5 SRD) that seems to have vanished entirely in Pathfinder:

The lists of possible animal companions assume that the character spends most of her time in the animals’ home territory and treats it well. If she spends most of her time at sea, in cities, or otherwise in places that her companion doesn’t like, her companion will soon desert. Remember, animal companions are loyal friends but not pets or servants. They won’t remain loyal if being the character’s friend becomes too onerous.

The animal is still an animal. It’s not a magical beast, as a familiar or a paladin’s mount is. While it may have learned some tricks, it’s still no more intelligent than any other animal of its kind, and it retains all its bestial instincts. Unlike intelligent followers or cohorts, animals can’t follow complex instructions, such as “Attack the gnoll with the wand.” A character can give a simple verbal command, such as “Attack” or “Come,” as a free action, provided such a command is among the tricks the animal has learned. A more complex instruction, such as telling an animal to attack and pointing out a specific target, is a standard action. Animals are ill-equipped to handle unusual situations, such as combats with invisible opponents, and they typically hesitate to attack weird and unnatural creatures, such as beholders and oozes.

Left to its own judgment, an animal follows a character and attacks creatures that attack her (or that attack the animal itself). To do more than that, it needs to learn tricks. An animal with an Intelligence of two can learn six tricks.

So yeah, druids and rangers, along with cavaliers, samurai, and even paladins are likely to have a bit of a more difficult time than they thought with their animal companion.

Similarly, the Leadership feat says you gain a cohort and a number of followers, but fails to say why you gain them; there’s an implication that they’re following you just because you’re that cool that they’re hoping some of your greatness just sort of saturates into them, though that’s iffy. But far more iffy is if you need to pay them, if they automatically replenish when some of them are killed, through what hardship they’ll follow you (“No, I really meant it. Tonight, once we go through this portal, we will literally dine in Hell.”), etc.

The problem here isn’t with the game rules, per se. Pathfinder may be utterly silent on these issues where older editions were more forthcoming, but the silence isn’t the issue. The issue is that, in absence of any guidance on this, there’s become a general assumption that hench-NPCs just sort of accept that their lot in life is to serve their master’s (the PC’s) will, which they automatically know and faithfully execute.

Now, even this is usually underscored with the understanding that the PC will at least try not to put them in harm’s way. But even that tends to be undercut when these characters are gained as a result of a class feature or feat, simply because if they’re lost if leads to the complaint that “this is something I earned via levels/feat slots, and you [the GM] are making my character function at sub-optimal strength.” Remember what we said above about how PCs hate having their characters take long-term penalties? It’s that syndrome all over again.


A bit of a misnomer here, this actually refers to when an NPC focuses on killing a particular PC in combat. Now, on the surface, that sounds like a nonsensical statement. After all, aren’t all the enemies that the PCs engage in combat with trying to kill them? Yes, but they’re trying to kill the PCs as a group, rather than focusing on a particular individual.

To put it another way, when the PCs engage with enemies, they tend to expect that the enemies will vary their targets over the course of the combat. A single enemy (or smaller group than the PCs) will tend to switch up their targets every round or two, never concentrating on one character to the exclusion of the others. Groups of enemies will split up, dividing themselves evenly against the PCs rather than ganging up on a single character or two.

The rationale here is that no one likes feeling picked on, and that’s what it feels like when the monsters tend to single you out. Now, that’s a justifiable response if there’s no reason for it…but there’s usually a reason for the monsters to do that. Sometimes it’s for a reason that the PCs can understand, e.g. the horde of ghouls knows that the cleric can do the most damage to them. But it could be for something more arbitrary, such as knowing that it’s just smart tactics to reduce the number of enemies you face as a whole, rather than gradually trying to wear down the entire group at once.

And besides, these are the tactics that the PCs use all the time, so why shouldn’t the bad guys play by the same rules?

That about sums it up.

It’s worth noting that this section also covers how, a lot of the time, monsters don’t seem to finish a downed character off. A PC that falls below 0 hit points but hasn’t yet died all too often gets ignored by the enemy that just dropped it, giving the character an opportunity to receive healing from another party member. This is usually justified by saying “with the immediate threat down, the monsters turn to the next one.” That’s plausible, but so is saying “the monsters knew to make sure a downed character stays down.”

Some GMs don’t want their NPCs to make a coup-de-grace, in the above situation (AoO’s, after all), and have that be the reason why the creature that was trying to kill the character mere moments ago is now not delivering the death blow. This ignores that the monster can still make a normal attack against a downed character (which will almost certainly hit, due to the PC being prone and having massive Dex penalties from being helpless) which will likely finish them off.

All of this isn’t to say that the GM should try to wipe out the party; just that there’s good reason for the deadly foes the PCs face actually be…well, deadly.

Attacks of Inopportunity

A regrettable pun it may be, this section’s title refers to those attacks that happen when the PCs aren’t expecting them, with a particular emphasis on when they’ve made camp for the night.

Now, it’s not hard to see why this one gets frowned on by the PCs. After all, a sleeping character is the very definition of helpless (literally, where the game rules are concerned), and even if they don’t just get coup-de-grace’d by their enemies, the PCs are still in a very disadvantageous positions. Most defensive spells will have run out, and it can take a long time to get armor on (not to mention the actions just spent grabbing gear).

Attacked in the middle of the night by the forces of Hell? Put on the Armor of God! It only takes four minutes and two helpers to don.

Again, though, using this tactic isn’t going out of bounds. There’s a plethora of defensive spells in the Core Rules, from alarm to dimensional lock, so that attackers can’t get the drop on the PCs. If they don’t use them – or any other basic tactics, such as posting a guard on duty or taking Endurance to sleep in medium armor (and then buying some mithral heavy armor) – then they’re once again asking for script immunity to anything unpleasant happening. If the PCs think that the whole “scry/buff/teleport” combo takes the fun out of things, then let them be on the receiving end for a change.

As a bonus, here’s a new rule for characters who are concerned about staying safe when roughing it on their adventures.

New Rule: Sleeping in Trees

A character may wish to sleep in a tree in hope of remaining out of reach should enemies find him while he’s asleep. A character that settles down to sleep must make a Reflex save (DC 10), with success meaning that he stays in place all night. On a failure, the character falls out of the tree at some point during the night, taking appropriate falling damage.

And Finally…

None of the situations that we’ve talked about here are inherently unfair, or beyond the spirit of the game. Some of them do place the PCs at a disadvantage, and may even result in some character deaths, but that’s part and parcel of playing Pathfinder, as it is with almost any other RPG. Using themselves, using these rules doesn’t constitute a dick move.

What does constitute that is if you, the GM, are using them to punish the players. Not the PCs, but the players. The characters may not know why something’s happening, but if the players can understand the reason why bad things are happening to their players – even if it’s something like “yeah, that archmage really hates you” to “bad luck” – then it’s nothing personal, it’s just how the game goes. But if you’re using these to try and steer the players in a certain direction, or let them know that they’re not gaming “the right way,” then they’re going to get pissed, and rightly so.

In short, using the rules is never a dick move if you’re not a dick.

Removing Alignment From Pathfinder – Part Three: Monsters

December 13, 2010

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!

Removing Alignment From Pathfinder – Part Two: Magic

November 7, 2010

Alignment and magic is one of the newest examples of alignment changing from being a set of personal morals and ethics to becoming part of the game mechanics. While classics like detect evil have been around forever, it’s newer that spells like blasphemy can now damage you more or less depending on your moral state. And of course, this also goes for several magic item properties – want to know if someone’s a bad guy or not? See if he takes a negative level when he tries to wield that holy sword, and voila.

Continuing where part one left off, this is a guide to removing alignment from your Pathfinder game. In this installment, we’re going to comb through spells and magic items and remove alignment wherever we find it. So without further ado, let’s begin.

Alignment Descriptors

The first change to make, and the easiest, is to simply get rid of all alignment descriptors on spells and magic items. This is an altogether minor change, as these had virtually no game significance anyway. As such, getting rid of them requires little more than a hand-wave.

Alternately, you might want to keep these descriptors for spells as the sole place where you retain alignment in your game. That’s because – just like using the Dark Side of the Force can be inherently corruptive – using certain types of energies, found in specific magic spells, can also sway a character who utilizes them. Even if that happens, however, it’s purely a role-playing effect, as there’s no mechanic for a character being so altered.

Cleric Domains

Perhaps surprisingly, we’re keeping the Chaos, Evil, Good, and Lawful clerical domains. Why? Because these are still metaphysical ideals that gods can represent, and mortals can strive for. A cleric of a benevolent deity might still worship that aspect of his or her god, and strive to do good in the world. It’s just that goodness isn’t an absolute anymore, and so we tweak the alignment domains like so.

Chaos domain: The chaos blade domain ability now grants a weapon the throwing and returning magic weapon properties. Otherwise it functions as listed.

Evil domain: Delete the second sentence (“Creatures sickened by your touch count as good for the purposes of spells with the evil descriptor.”) from the touch of evil domain ability.

The scythe of evil domain ability now grants a weapon the wounding magic weapon property. Otherwise it functions as listed.

Good domain: The holy lance domain ability now grants a weapon the defending and merciful magic weapon properties. Otherwise it functions as listed.

Law domain: The staff of order domain ability now grants a weapon the ghost touch and spell storing magic weapon properties. Otherwise it functions as listed.

Finally, we come to the domain spells for these domains. In fact, these domain spells are near-total mirror images of each other. Since we’re merging, deleting, or tweaking alignment-based spells (see below), these domain spells are going to be completely identical to each other. Hence, all four of the aforementioned domains have the following spell list:

1st – ward of protection, 2nd – owl’s wisdom, 3rd – warding circle, 4th – blast of faith, 5th – dispel scourge, 6th – planar ally, 7th – word of faith, 8th – divine aura, 9th – summon monster IX.

Note that, of the original domain spells, only the 2nd- and 6th-level spells weren’t just analogues of each other (and the 9th-level spell, which was the same for each, save for a now-obsolete alignment restriction). I elected to replace these with, respectively owl’s wisdom and planar ally because both seemed appropriately religious without mandating a particular moral or ethical stance – being wiser, or summoning a divine ally, will advance your cause no matter what it is.


Align Weapon: Deleted. This spell has no application in this game, since DR doesn’t use alignment anymore.

Atonement: It’s barely worth mentioning, but this spell can’t undo a forcible alignment change since there is no more alignment to forcibly change. However, all of its other functions still work normally – so your paladin who was hit by a spell that made him start butchering orphans is still going to need somebody to cast this on him after he comes back to his senses and finds that his powers are gone.

Bless Weapon: We’re going to delete this spell entirely. Since we’re removing the alignment component of damage reduction (more on this next time), this spell’s ability to overcome DR is pretty well made superfluous by magic weapon. It does score critical hits on any threat now, not just against evil creatures…but frankly, I think this is rather stupid, as the spell says this effect doesn’t work if the weapon has any sort of critical-related enchantment, like the keen property.

A spell that’s actually less effective if you upgrade your weapon? How lame is that? As such, this spell goes bye-bye.

Detect Evil/Good/Law/Chaos: Delete these spells entirely. They don’t do anything except detect the emanations of a part of the game we’re doing away with, so they’re entirely superfluous now. From now on, determining what sort of person someone is will be more difficult than using a first-level spell that deals in absolutes.

Dispel Evil/Good/Law/Chaos: These spells, which have multiple functions, are all replaced with a tweaked version called dispel scourge, described below.


School abjuration; Level cleric 5, paladin 4

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, DF

Range touch

Target or Targets you and a touched creature from another plane, or you and an enchantment or spell on a touched creature or object

Duration 1 round/level or until discharged, whichever comes first

Saving Throw see text; Spell Resistance see text

Shimmering energy surrounds you. This energy has three effects.

First, you gain a +4 deflection bonus to AC.

Second, on making a successful melee touch attack against a creature from another plane, you can choose to drive that creature back to its home plane. The creature can negate the effects with a successful Will save (spell resistance applies). This use discharges and ends the spell.

Third, with a touch you can automatically dispel any one enchantment spell. Spells that can’t be dispelled by dispel magic also can’t be dispelled by dispel scourge. Saving throws and spell resistance do not apply to this effect. This use discharges and ends the spell.

This spell’s effectiveness is slightly curtailed by the loss of evil spells for it to dispel. To compensate for this, we open it up from enchantment spells cast by evil creatures to all enchantment spells.

Forbiddance: Despite not requiring a name change, this spell deals with alignment to such a degree that we’re going to have to rewrite it.


School abjuration; Level cleric 6

Casting Time 6 rounds

Components V, S, M (holy water and incense worth 1,500 gp, plus 1,500 gp per 60-foot cube), DF

Range medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)

Area 60-ft. cube/level (S)

Duration permanent

Saving Throw see text; Spell Resistance yes

Forbiddance seals an area against all planar travel into or within it. This includes all teleportation spells (such as dimension door and teleport), plane shifting, astral travel, ethereal travel, and all summoning spells. Such effects simply fail automatically.

In addition, it damages entering creatures whose religion is different from yours. The effect on those attempting to enter the warded area is based on their religion relative to yours (see below). A creature inside the area when the spell is cast takes no damage unless it exits the area and attempts to reenter, at which time it is affected as normal.

Same religion: No effect. The creature may enter the area freely (although not by planar travel).

No religion or different but non-hostile religion: The creature takes 6d6 points of damage. A successful Will save halves the damage, and spell resistance applies.

Hostile religion: The creature takes 12d6 points of damage. A successful Will save halves the damage, and spell resistance applies.

At your option, the abjuration can include a password, in which case creatures of religions different from yours can avoid the damage by speaking the password as they enter the area. You must select this option (and the password) at the time of casting. Adding a password requires the burning of additional rare incenses worth at least 1,000 gp, plus 1,000 gp per 60-foot cube.

Dispel magic does not dispel a forbiddance effect unless the dispeller’s level is at least as high as your caster level.

You can’t have multiple overlapping forbiddance effects. In such a case, the more recent effect stops at the boundary of the older effect.

Some clarification on the changes may be helpful. To be clear, a “hostile religion” is one that is considered an enemy of yours, whereas a non-hostile religion is one that isn’t an enemy to your own faith (and indeed, it may be an ally). What religions are hostile to your own are up to the gods to determine (that is, the GM).

Notice which class is the source of most of these spells?

Glyph of Warding/Greater Glyph of Warding: These spells function as normal, with one change: you can’t set them with respect to good, evil, law, or chaos.

Hallow/Unhallow: These spells only need a few minor adjustments made to them, rather than entirely new write-ups. Primarily, both spells now guard their site or structure with a warding circle effect. Secondly, when affixing a single spell effect to these spells, you can’t choose alignment as a designator for whom the spell affects or doesn’t affect; only faith may be selected in this regard.

Finally, from the list of allowable spells to tie to these, delete detect evil from hallow‘s list, and delete detect good from unhallow‘s list.

Holy Aura/Unholy Aura/Shield of Law/Cloak of Chaos: We could just pick out the alignment-based effects here, but once again it’s easier just to rewrite the spells into one.


School abjuration; Level cleric 8

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, F (a tiny reliquary worth 500 gp)

Range 20 ft.

Targets one creature/level in a 20-ft.-radius burst centered on you

Duration 1 round/level (D)

Saving Throw see text; Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

A shimmering aura surrounds the subjects, protecting them from attacks, granting them resistance to spells, and causing creatures to become blinded when they strike the subjects. This abjuration has four effects.

First, each warded creature gains a +4 deflection bonus to AC and a +4 resistance bonus on saves.

Second, each warded creature gains spell resistance 25.

Third, the abjuration protects the recipient from possession and mental influence, just as ward of protection does.

Finally, if a creature succeeds on a melee attack against a creature warded by a divine aura, the offending attacker is blinded (Fortitude save negates, as blindness/deafness, but against divine aura’s save DC).

Holy Smite/Unholy Blight/Order’s Wrath/Chaos Hammer: Yet again, these are four spells that do pretty much the same thing, just for different alignments. Here’s our singular version to replace these four.


School evocation; Level cleric 4

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S

Range medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)

Area 20-ft.-radius burst

Duration instantaneous (1 round); see text

Saving Throw Will partial; see text; Spell Resistance yes

You call upon the power of your deity to strike down your enemies.

The spell deals 1d8 points of damage per two caster levels (maximum 5d8) to each creature in the area (or 1d6 points of damage per caster level, maximum 10d6, to an outsider) and causes it to gain one of the following conditions (your choice; this must be the same for all creatures affected by the spell):

  • blinded for 1 round.
  • dazed for 1 round.
  • sickened for 1d4 rounds.
  • slowed for 1d6 rounds.

A successful Will saving throw reduces damage to half and negates the secondary effect.

For this spell, having it affect all creatures without regard to their alignment makes it slightly less desirable (since you’re now also potentially hitting allies for full effect). Given that the status conditions are different and last for different rounds, however, we can make up for the spell’s lack of discrimination in targets by letting you choose the condition it inflicts.

Holy Sword: This spell functions normally, save that is makes an affected weapon function as a +5 keen bane weapon. You choose the creature type subjected to the bane property at the time of casting, but once chosen it cannot be changed for the duration of the spell. The +2 enhancement bonus increase against the bane creature type does stack with the weapon’s +5 enhancement bonus granted by this spell.

This may seem like an increase in power for this spell. However, the total value of the bonuses is the same – the original version grants a +5 enhancement bonus and holy, a +2 bonus; whereas this version grants a +5 enhancement bonus and two properties that are +1 bonuses, keen and bane.

Using the bane property narrows the types of creatures the weapon causes increased damage to, but this damage is heightened thanks to the additional +2 bonus the property brings. Likewise, having it be keen increases the chance of a critical against all enemies, so it balances out.

Holy Word/Blasphemy/Dictum/Word of Chaos: Despite having some minor differences in the status conditions they inflict, these are all essentially the same spell. As such, we’re once again going to chuck them all in favor of a unified spell, given below.


School evocation [sonic]; Level cleric 7

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V

Area creatures in a 40-ft.-radius spread centered on you

Duration instantaneous

Saving Throw Will partial; Spell Resistance yes

Any creature within the area of a word of faith spell suffers the following ill effects. You may designate creatures that are not affected by this spell at the time of casting.

HD                                             Effect

Equal to caster level           deafened

Up to caster level -1          staggered, deafened

Up to caster level -5     paralyzed, staggered, deafened

Up to caster level -10  killed, paralyzed, staggered, deafened

The effects are cumulative and concurrent. A successful Will save reduces or eliminates these effects. Creatures affected by multiple effects make only one save and apply the result to all the effects.

Deafened: The creature is deafened for 1d4 rounds. Save negates.

Staggered: The creature is staggered for 2d4 rounds. Save reduces the staggered effect to 1d4 rounds.

Paralyzed: The creature is paralyzed and helpless for 1d10 minutes. Save reduces the paralyzed effect to 1 round.

Killed: Living creatures die. Undead creatures are destroyed. Save negates. If the save is successful, the creature instead takes 3d6 points of damage + 1 point per caster level (maximum +25).

Furthermore, if you are on your home plane when you cast this spell, extraplanar creatures that you designate within the area are instantly banished back to their home planes. Creatures so banished cannot return for at least 24 hours. This effect takes place regardless of whether the creatures hear the word of faith or not. The banishment effect allows a Will save (at a –4 penalty) to negate.

Creatures whose HD exceed your caster level are unaffected by word of faith.

The major change here is that this spell now potentially affects everyone within range, but you decide who is and isn’t affected. This is because making this spell work against everyone who doesn’t share your religion isn’t broad enough – an adventuring party may contain PCs of multiple faiths, making the risk of “friendly fire” too great. Instead, you can now designate whom this spell affects as you like; presumably, by 13th level, your god trusts you to make decisions like that, instead of making it have a blanket effect.

Magic Circle against Evil/Good/Chaos/Law: Like their lesser counterparts, these spells are all removed in favor of a singular new spell that replaces them, warding circle, described below.


School abjuration; Level cleric 3, paladin 3, sorcerer/wizard 3

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, M/DF (a 3-ft.-diameter circle of powdered silver)

Range touch

Area 10-ft.-radius emanation from touched creature

Duration 10 min./level

Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance no; see text

All creatures within the area gain the effects of a ward of protection spell, and summoned creatures cannot enter the area either. Creatures in the area, or who later enter the area, receive only one attempt to suppress effects that are controlling them. If successful, such effects are suppressed as long as they remain in the area. Creatures that leave the area and come back are not protected. You must overcome a creature’s spell resistance in order to keep it at bay (as in the third function of ward of protection), but the deflection and resistance bonuses and the protection from mental control apply regardless of enemies’ spell resistance.

This spell has an alternative version that you may choose when casting it. A warding circle can be focused inward rather than outward. When focused inward, the spell binds a called creature (such as those called by the lesser planar binding, planar binding, and greater planar binding spells) for a maximum of 24 hours per caster level, provided that you cast the spell that calls the creature within 1 round of casting the warding circle. The creature cannot cross the circle’s boundaries. If a creature too large to fit into the spell’s area is the subject of the spell, the spell acts as a normal ward of protection spell for that creature only.

A warding circle leaves much to be desired as a trap. If the circle of powdered silver laid down in the process of spellcasting is broken, the effect immediately ends. The trapped creature can do nothing that disturbs the circle, directly or indirectly, but other creatures can. If the called creature has spell resistance, it can test the trap once a day. If you fail to overcome its spell resistance, the creature breaks free, destroying the circle. A creature capable of any form of dimensional travel (astral projection, blink, dimension door, etherealness, gate, plane shift, shadow walk, teleport, and similar abilities) can simply leave the circle through such means. You can prevent the creature’s extradimensional escape by casting a dimensional anchor spell on it, but you must cast the spell before the creature acts. If you are successful, the anchor effect lasts as long as the warding circle does. The creature cannot reach across the warding circle, but its ranged attacks (ranged weapons, spells, magical abilities, and the like) can. The creature can attack any target it can reach with its ranged attacks except for the circle itself.

You can add a special diagram (a two-dimensional bounded figure with no gaps along its circumference, augmented with various magical sigils) to make the warding circle more secure. Drawing the diagram by hand takes 10 minutes and requires a DC 20 Spellcraft check. You do not know the result of this check. If the check fails, the diagram is ineffective. You can take 10 when drawing the diagram if you are under no particular time pressure to complete the task. This task also takes 10 full minutes. If time is no factor at all, and you devote 3 hours and 20 minutes to the task, you can take 20.

A successful diagram allows you to cast a dimensional anchor spell on the warding circle during the round before casting any summoning spell. The anchor holds any called creatures in the warding circle for 24 hours per caster level. A creature cannot use its spell resistance against a magic circle prepared with a diagram, and none of its abilities or attacks can cross the diagram. If the creature tries a Charisma check to break free of the trap (see the lesser planar binding spell), the DC increases by 5. The creature is immediately released if anything disturbs the diagram—even a straw laid across it. The creature itself cannot disturb the diagram either directly or indirectly, as noted above.

This spell is not cumulative with ward of protection and vice versa.

Protection from Evil/Good/Law/Chaos: Once again, we tweak these four into one.


School abjuration; Level cleric 1, paladin 1, sorcerer/wizard 1

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, DF

Range touch

Target creature touched

Duration 1 min./level (D)

Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance no; see text

This spell wards a creature from attacks, from mental control, and from summoned creatures. It creates a magical barrier around the subject at a distance of 1 foot. The barrier moves with the subject and has three major effects.

First, the subject gains a +2 deflection bonus to AC and a +2 resistance bonus on saves.

Second, the subject immediately receives another saving throw (if one was allowed to begin with) against any spells or effects that possess or exercise mental control over the creature (including enchantment [charm] effects and enchantment [compulsion] effects). This saving throw is made with a +2 morale bonus, using the same DC as the original effect. If successful, such effects are suppressed for the duration of this spell. The effects resume when the duration of this spell expires. While under the effects of this spell, the target is immune to any new attempts to possess or exercise mental control over the target. This spell does not expel a controlling life force (such as a ghost or spellcaster using magic jar), but it does prevent them from controlling the target.

Third, the spell prevents bodily contact by summoned creatures. This causes the natural weapon attacks of such creatures to fail and the creatures to recoil if such attacks require touching the warded creature. The protection against contact by summoned creatures ends if the warded creature makes an attack against or tries to force the barrier against the blocked creature. Spell resistance can allow a creature to overcome this protection and touch the warded creature.

One point to note is that the original protection from evil spell in the Pathfinder rules notes that it has a material component for the arcane version of the spell. However, there’s no parenthetical notation listing what the material component actually is. Hence, I’ve deleted that requirement for this replacement spell.

Undetectable Alignment: This spell is deleted simply because there’s nothing left for it to do.

Magic Items

Cursed Items: There are two tables regarding cursed items; one for items that are dependent on situations, and another for drawbacks. The dependent table lists (91-95) that the item only functions in the hands of a character of a given alignment. The drawback table lists (50-51) that the user’s alignment changes.

In both cases, if you roll randomly and get either of the aforementioned results, ignore them and re-roll.

Darkskull: A character of any alignment can create a darkskull, but woe betide the cleric of a benevolent deity who does!

Figurine of Wondrous Power (Obsidian Steed): This magic item has a 5% chance of carrying a rider off to the lower planes whenever it’s used, rather than a 10% chance whenever a good character rides it.

Helm of Opposite Alignment: Delete this item entirely.

Alternately, you may choose to keep this cursed item in the game, but with the understanding that a player affected by it would need to role-play his character’s ethics and morals inverted.

Holy/Unholy/Axiomatic/Anarchic weapons: These magic weapon properties are deleted outright. While it can be cool to have something called the “Dark Sword of Chaos” or something similar, it won’t be able to do additional damage to someone based on their morality (or, for that matter, hurt them if they hold it based on said morality either).

Horn of Goodness/Evil: Since this horn is expressly dependent on the user’s alignment, delete this magic item.

Mace of Blood: Delete this item.

The fact that this mace is a cursed item that needs to be bathed in blood every day or it loses its enhancement bonus fades might be considered enough of a curse to keep it in the game, save for the fact that even good adventurers regularly kill things in their questing. Hence, by itself that isn’t really a curse, so we might as well toss this item altogether.

Mantle of Faith: Rename this item mantle of might; it now grants DR 5/adamantine.

Phylactery of Faithfulness: Remove the various detect spells in this item’s prerequisites; don’t replace them with anything, but note that the creator must be a divine spellcaster. This item functions normally, save that it provides only warning about things that could affect the character’s standing with his or her deity.

Ring of Elemental Command: Delete the second, third, and fourth sentences in the fourth paragraph (“These creatures recognize that he wears the ring, and show a healthy respect for the wearer if alignments are similar. If alignments are opposed, creatures fear the wearer if he is strong. If he is weak, they hate and desire to slay him.”).

All of the above is still true, but it’s not based on alignment-recognition – elementals so commanded will react to the person as appropriate to what sort of person he is, what sort of person the elemental is, and what the person with the ring makes the elemental do.

Ring of Mind Shielding: This ring doesn’t protect against discerning your alignment, since there’s no alignment to be discerned, but otherwise works as normal.

Robe of the Archmagi: This item no longer has any alignment components; its color is whatever the GM wants it to be. It does not bestow negative levels on any wearers, though only arcane spellcasters can fully utilize it.

Rod of Alertness: Delete all four of the alignment-detecting spells from this rod’s list of powers, and from the prerequisite spells used in its construction. All other details (including price) remain the same.

Rod of the Python/Rod of the Viper: These rods functions for anyone, not just good/evil creatures respectively, and the creators need not be good/evil either.

Seriously, did anyone ever even bother with these details for these rods (for that matter, did anyone ever use these particular rods at all in their game)?

Staff of Defense: Replace shield of law in this magic item’s powers and prerequisites with divine aura. The creator need not be lawful.

Strand of Prayer Beads: The bead of smiting on the strand now uses blast of faith, and that spell replaces the four aligned versions in that bead’s creation prerequisites.


Deck of Many Things: Since the deck has effects for each specific card, we’ll need to change the results for the Balance card (which changes the drawer’s alignment) to something else:

Should the character draw the “Balance” card (the XI. Justice tarot card, or the two of spades playing card), their gender is instantly reversed. If the character is a member of a race that doesn’t have genders, then they gain a negative level instead.

Talisman of Pure Good/Ultimate Evil: Delete these minor artifacts altogether. Between the alignment-based effects, and the unenforceable bit about granting a saving throw unless the user is, basically, a paragon of their alignment, these are more trouble than it’s worth to bring to an alignment-free system.

Next Time: Monsters!

If you thought spells were a big swath of material to cover, just wait until we get to taking the alignment out of monsters! Watch as I go through every single monster in the Bestiary and… and…

…you know what, forget that noise! It’d take way too much time and effort to address the alignment of every single monster in Pathfinder. Heck, most don’t even need that much coverage. A series of well-thought out guidelines should be enough.

So, tune in next time when I lay down the instructions for how to remove alignment from your Pathfinder games monsters. Don’t worry, they’ll still be as nasty as they ever were, even if they’re not “evil” anymore.

Removing Alignment from Pathfinder – Part One: Classes

November 1, 2010

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).


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.

I’m Chaotic Neutral Good…ish

May 26, 2010

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?


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…


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!