Alternate Alignment Mechanics (5e)

One of the things I do when I run home game is I test out a wide variety of random mechanics. One of the 5e mechanics I’ve been playing around with is a mechanical reinforcement of Alignment inside 5e. I’m going to assume everyone is familiar with alignment. If you’re not, you can grab a quick overview here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alignment_(role-playing_games)

The goal of this little mechanical exercise is to add some weight behind the character choice of alignment, by adding some mechanics that enforce consequences and mindfulness to player actions. It’s still very “alpha” drafty, and being used in play but I thought I’d share it out there with folks.

How it works:

You’ll notice below that each possible alignment has three questions associated with it. At the end of each session, each player answers the six questions based on their alignment (baring “neutral”, which just has a general four.)

Each Yes answer gives them an Crisis point (I need a better term here.)

If a player has more than 3+Level Crisis Points, they automatically shift one of their aspects towards the other end of the Alignment grid. (So Law shifts to Neutral, then to Chaos.) They should choose the aspect that feels the most likley to shift, but a shift must be made.

Now, with 5e’s deemphasis on class abilities tied to alignment, the actual mechanical consequences are a little less severe than they’d have been in 3.x or earlier eras of gaming. But I find that just the idea that a part of their character sheet has a mechanical element outside of their control is often enough to get the player to play attentions. Of course there are always RP consequences (Paladin Orders/Religious Orders getting cranky, allies wondering what’s happening to you, etc.)

The questions are based on my home game and setting, but they should be tweaked to fit your game (though I’ve tried to keep them as general as possible.) Obviously, three questions can’t account for the full nuance of morality, ethics, and virtue, but since it’s for a game of playing pretend, I’ve tried to keep it broad strokes, as well as easily tweaked and adjudicated in the heat of the moment.

Law

  • Did your actions break any laws this session?
  • Did your actions mislead, deceive, or undermine legitimate authority?
  • Did your actions reward those who oppose order and structure in society?

Chaos

  • Did your actions submit to authority without challenging it?
  • Did your actions operate and work inside the bounds of legal strictures in overcoming obstacles?
  • Did your actions maintain order in society around you?

Good

  • Did your actions take intelligent life? (Note: alignment is irrelevant for this question, though I do not count “yes” when it’s only against otherworldly/supernatural evils like Undead, Demons, Devils, etc. Killing a mortal, intelligent foe, regardless of alignment is a yes.)
  • Did your actions fail to show mercy to those in need when given the opportunity, even if it costs you something?
  • Did you take actions that only benefited yourself, with no regard for the well-being of others or the world?

Evil

  • Did your actions show kindness, mercy, or love without gaining something for yourself?
  • Did your actions fail to actively harm or inflict violence against the weak or helpless if given the opportunity?
  • Did you make any actions that weren’t calculated selfishly for your own gain?

(The evil ones were kinda hard to write generically. They’re the most likely to change based on your setting.)

Neutral

  • Did you take take actions that promoted Order and Law over the wants of the individual?
  • Did you take selfish actions, regardless of the impact for society?
  • Did you do harm to a living creature?
  • Did you show kindness, mercy or love to another?

You’ll notice that it’s VERY hard to maintain a neutral alignment. That’s by design. I dislike the neutral alignment for mortals (otherworldly beings are a different conversation), and so I make it hard to maintain a semblance of true neutrality.


Text above is © 2021 Alan Bahr.

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