Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition – The Good and Evil of the new Good and Evil (Alignment Changes in 4th Edition)

I’ve been waiting for today’s D & D preview to come out even know I was pretty sure I already knew what it was going to say. It was about alignment. I have already spoken about how I feel about the old alignment system and anyone that read that post can be fairly certain that I was looking for a change. Well, it looks like I got what I wanted or at least got part of what I wanted.

You can check out the full article over at Wizard’s site. Essentially there are now only five alignments: Lawful Good, Good, Unaligned, Evil, Chaotic Evil. Right off the bat we can see a few things missing, most notably neutral. Indeed there is no longer an alignment known as neutral at all so I’ll talk about that first.

What’s the Difference Between Neutral and Unaligned?

I think in a nut shell Neutral implies some amount of choice where the very nature of Unaligned is the lack of choice. Most people in the real world are Unaligned. If you give them a good reason to do something they will do it but they rarely stick their neck out do to ideological reasons. In a way this alignment feels a bit like Chaotic Neutral from 3.0 but we don’t get into the problem of “But I agree with this law” which could occasionally occur in the old system.

Wizards has a quiz over on their site for determining the alignment of a character. I took this quiz but instead of using a character I answered them for myself. It wasn’t exactly ideal of course since some of the questions were geared toward a fantasy setting but I was not at all surprised by the results. I came out Chaotic Neutral. I think I am a pretty decent person… most of the time. I try not to hurt others and I try to help people when I can and I am even a bit of an idealist in certain ways and yet I am still human. I think most people that honestly took the alignment test would come out the same as me. (Remember Chaotic Neutral is the “Selfish” alignment.) When I say honestly I mean that there are things we would wish ourselves to do but in truth would never actually do if the situation arose. These things are hard to admit and someone who insists that they would do them (even though they have never been tested) might get a different result from the quiz.

What Happened to Robin Hood?

The new alignment system does away with Chaotic Good and Lawful Evil and I am sure some people will not be pleased about this. Lawful Evil was always described as your typical tyrant and that type of character will simply be Evil in the new system. I think they might have felt that Lawful really didn’t fit with the portrayal of Evil as they wanted “Law” to imply a more positive image. Things can be really awful (“Every day we murder a puppy! Very orderly, right at noon!”) but still be in control. Similarly they seemed to feel that a Good character was not going to follow “Evil” laws anyway and thus making an alignment that specifically disobeyed laws they didn’t agree with unnecessary.

Interestingly Dungeons and Dragons originally had no Good or Evil alignments. It only had Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. This idea is more like Warhammer where the forces of Order battle against the forces of Chaos. Order is only the “good” guys in the sense that they oppose Chaos, which is generally thought to be a bad thing.

Questions Unanswered

I found two statements in the article to be slightly at odds.

One of the issues they mentioned about 3rd Edition Alignment was: “In 3rd Edition, choosing an alignment usually had the unfortunate mechanical repercussion of making the aligned player vulnerable to an opposing aligned attack of a foe. It’s not really ideal that being good made you more vulnerable to demonic attacks, for instance. Another reason some players stuck with the neutral alignment of previous editions.” –Bruce Cordell

But then Bruce goes on to say: “For the purpose of determining whether an effect functions on a character, someone of lawful good alignment is considered good and someone of chaotic evil alignment is considered evil. For instance, a lawful good character can use a magic item that is usable only by good-aligned characters.”

I have read that most or all of the detect alignment abilities have been removed and in fact that alignment has little actually impact on the game but the above quote worries me. (When I say “read” I mean on other blogs and places that claimed to have inside information.) When I read their acknowledgement of the alignment problems I was excited but then to see that there are still some cases that alignment enters actual play I was disappointed. I’ll have to wait and see just how much it actually does effect things.

Unaligning my Thoughts

I like the idea of Unaligned. I think many players will take advantage of it and it is certainly a lot easier for a DM to say “Well, you really aren’t living up to the ideals of “Good” so your character is now considered Unaligned until he changes his tune” then to tell a Neutral Good character that he is now True Neutral, simply because of all the baggage that goes with that alignment.

This news wasn’t everything I could have hoped for but it certainly seems to be geared more for people with my mentality. Still it is a fantasy game and Good and Evil have a bit of place in a game of this nature and complex moral debates have little place in an action adventure game I suppose. However the old alignment system did create some debates in my games rather than preventing them and I hope that the new system will help to solve this.

Feel free to sound off about your thoughts!

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    I find it amazing that so many people have gotten very upset about the alignment changes in 4th Edition. Many people have said that the lack of Chaotic Good and variety of Neutral LIMITS their characters. I can only assume that these people were simply playing an alignment rather than a character because in all honesty the new system allows for a wider variety of “good” than the old system did.

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    Scott Says:

    Lawful Neutral for me, per the quiz. Huh.

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    Scott Says:

    Yeah, that would be my first reaction to such complaints, that maybe these people had a rather different understanding of what alignment means?

    For an average Joe, being Unaligned is where it’s at.

    While I too would feel disappointment in the idea that alignment still has some direct game effects, the spectrum of alignments seems to be smaller on the surface but is actually wider considering many will be Unaligned and lean toward a particular alignment in certain situations. Such pluralism should lead to richer character interaction than one blanket set of principles to follow all the time, regardless of their fit.