WHAT – A Look at Alignment

Alignment Defined & Problems

Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder and other RPGs define Alignment as a character’s or creature’s basic moral and ethical orientation or attitude. Some game systems avoid alignment altogether. In simplistic terms, Alignment has to do with good and evil. However, life isn’t simple. We can all say we have seen “good” people do bad things and have witnessed moments of goodness from “evil” people. Only the brave and the honest can say “I’m a good person, but I’ve done some bad things” or “I’m a bad person, but I’ve done some good.” Just a quick aside – bad people aren’t the only ones in need of redemption.

WHAT (Warrior Heroes Adventures in Talomir) also has an Alignment system. And like all Alignment systems it is flawed in some respects. The section on Alignment begins by saying the “majority” of characters and creatures view their world in absolutes – good and evil. Those that are traditionally good follow the Red Sun and those thought of as traditionally evil follow the Black Moon. There is a third option, those who walk a fine line between good and evil have a neutral or Twilight Alignment.

For ease of play the populations of entire nations are given a predominant Alignment of Red Sun or Black Moon. Unfortunately, this system carries a bias – the Black Moon nations are all based on civilizations that were African, Asian or Middle Eastern – there isn’t a single nation of white folk that follow the Black Moon. It is an ancient stereotype that often gets buried and repeated in our psyche – that which is different must somehow be evil.

Then again, when looking at the ancient and medieval world, even a fantasy one, what is “good” and what is “evil”? Based on their historical equivalencies, all of Talomir practices slavery, including forced slavery due to conquest, economic slavery due to debt, indentured servitude and serfdom (the only form of slavery missing is minimum wage jobs).

Red Sun, Black Moon, & Twilight Interaction

My Black Moon aligned sorceress enters a crowded tavern in a Carousing Encounter and is seated next to a Red Sun apothecary, what happens?

The rules say that Black Moon and Red Sun aligned characters are hostile to each other and will attack when given the “chance.” “Chance” is the key word which gives the Game Master some control. Why doesn’t the sorceress and apothecary immediately pull knives and attack? Well, they could, but what kind of story is that?

It is easy to see that in the wilderness or on the battlefield, the two Alignments would immediately attack one another. But in a tavern, the characters may not know their respective Alignments. And if they did, do they have the “chance” to attack? The sorceress might not attack because she knows she’s in a Red Sun city that is rather fond of burning witches if caught. The apothecary might not attack because he knows there’s laws against fighting and killing. He might get off since she is a sorceress, but what if the local magistrate doesn’t like him or enforces the law regardless of Alignment? It would be a risky gamble.

You as the Game Master can decide outright or use a Challenge to decide when hostile Alignments have the “chance” to attack one another. This allows your Dwarven cook to grudgingly work with a Goblin scullery maid.

If you’ve played Dungeons and Dragons, or other RPGs, you are probably aware of skill checks – Intelligence Checks, Dexterity Checks, Charisma Checks – there are ten or twelve of them depending on the game. Well, WHAT has them too, they’re called Challenges – People Skill Challenges, Savvy Skill Challenges and then there’s Interaction and Intimidation based on Reputation.

Conclusion

I guess the whole purpose of this post is to say that there are situations and encounters in WHAT, just like the real world and other RPGs, where folk of different Alignments have to get along for the most part because of laws or mutual benefit. These kinds of situations are ideal for the Challenge mechanism and Interaction table.

If you aren’t using Challenges in your games, you’re missing a part of the story your character has to tell.

I mean look at your own life, or my life – here I am a sweet kind floozy living in a community full of zombie Republicans!

What are your thoughts on Alignment in role playing games? Is it strictly black versus white? Let me know in the comments.

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WHAT – A Look at Alignment

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5 thoughts on “WHAT – A Look at Alignment

  1. Any alignment system is really an attempt to provide a general objective guideline for character morality in order to help guide behavior in game. Generally:

    Hate, kill, main, steal and destroy = evil
    Love, protect, heal, build and create = good

    Having an alignment system also doesn’t mean “evil is genetic,” and doesn’t prevent more nuanced situations — the Orc tribe that isn’t xenophobic and aggressive and may even be “Red Sun or good. ” Or a human culture that practices ritual human sacrifice and cannibalism, or that oppresses and slaughters an “untouchable” class of people may be evil, or Black Sun – but a PC can reject that culture in favor of other moral practices.

    If alignment is too simplistic for you, other games like Harnmaster have a “Morality” stat from 3-18. An 18 would be an extremely selfless and self-sacrificing person, while a 3 would be essentially a psychopath that lived only to serve their own needs, no matter who or what was in the way.

    And without some kind of alignment system, you have no great struggle, no Hero’s Journey. Just people bashing each other about for loose change.

  2. Depends on the situation on alignment also if the persons or person did your character wrong or just don’t like them. I would use the challenge option for the encounter if a character saw the person that did him or her wrong and the character survived and met them again inside a tavern or outside on the road?

  3. I think I’d be more inclined to treat an alignment system at the individual level, rather than the national level. Historical characters from Middle Eastern cultures that would generally have been lumped into “evil” cultures, like Islam, were sometimes very much “good.” Saladin comes to mind here. Also Digenes Akritas’ father.
    Rather than peg everybody in a culture as Red Sun or Black Moon, it seems like it might be better to assign percentages, then roll against that. Accepting familiar cultures as generally Red Moon, characters from Mirholme or Capalan might have an 80% chance (ok, maybe 1-5 on a d6) of being Red Moon and a 20% (6 on a d6) chance of being Black Moon. So, the Mirholme pirate Skoggr the Vile could be an evil, Black Moon character, pillaging, looting, and subjugating his fellow not-Vikings, because he’s just that sort of fellow.
    This approach would create a little ambiguity to keep you from having to immediately go after anybody wearing a turban.

    1. Sure, but you can also do a general sense of a culture as well. The Aztecs ruled subject tribes by fear, practiced blood rites, human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism. If you were a warrior and wanted to advance, you had to prove yourself by capturing slaves for human sacrifice through a “flower war.” If you were a priest or noble, you had to participate in rituals that were brutal and bloody. So, for the “ruling class” it’s definitely Black Moon territory.

  4. I agree that factors such as class and culture would certainly constrain a character’s actions. At the very least, a Red Sun character in a Black Moon culture is going to behave differently than a Red Sun character in a Red Sun culture. In SBMINISGUY’s example, a Red Sun Aztec priest might manifest his beliefs by not sending the character off to the altar where his still beating heart will be ripped from his chest. Maybe he’d just be sent to work in the gold mines under the lash for the rest of his natural life. The other 50 prisoners will be more than enough to keep the boys at the altar working until well after sundown.
    There’s also the issue of how much you want to invest in a given scene. In Atomic Floozy’s example, do you want to spend time creating profiles on every patron and servitor in the tavern or just one or two near where your character chooses to belly up to the bar?
    If you are facing a crowd of Aztecs, an average based on a general sense of culture will probably do. If you are being brought before one person who will decide your character’s fate, you might want to create a profile for him.

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