On Alignments

Given the scope of the changes I have planned for Echelon, and even just what I’m got in mind for my D&D 3.x campaign, I think it’s a good time to review alignment systems to see what would best fit my settings.

It’s pretty easy to say “no alignments”, and I’ve seen a lot of rationalizations about how the removal of alignments makes for a more ‘mature’ game. I’m not entirely convinced this is so. A reasonably objective measure of whether or not a character is a good guy or bad guy is kind of handy.

Honestly, I’m moderately satisfied with how D&D 3.x treats alignments and would be willing to use similar rules. On the other hand, it’s worth reviewing assumptions and options from time to time to see if they still hold and whether there are better ways to go about achieving goals.


I’m looking for an alignment system that allows easy adjudication of supernatural effects when the attitude and beliefs of a character are relevant. I would prefer something descriptive to something prescriptive. I’m more looking for a convenient labelling system for how people tend to behave than I am looking for a system to coerce specific behaviours.

Frankly, I’d be satisfied with a Cosmic Team Jersey approach that fit the teams I want on the field.

Comparing Options

Off the top of my head, there are at least five ways of doing alignments. Let’s review them as I understand them and see what we’ve got.

D&D 4e Alignments

I haven’t read this section of the 4e rules in detail, but I’ve seen a number of discussions about it and have the impression that it amounts to the set of (“gooder good”, “good”, “neutral”, “evil”, “eviler evil”)… and that it doesn’t really have much bearing on anything, being little more than arbitrary labels. This may have been intended as a simplification of the D&D 3.x alignments, but I don’t see how removing four of the orthogonal set of nine (or collapsing them into the other alignments) makes it all that much easier, apart from putting things in a linear scale. It appears to throw away some important distinctions that could previously be made using the D&D 3.x alignments.

Given my understanding of D&D 4e alignments, I have no intention of using them.

D&D 3.x Alignments

I’m fairly okay with these alignments. A two-dimensional array of that can coarsely describe each character’s behavioural tendencies in two directions. The system itself is pretty straightforward. It is a measuring device that can be used to determine how certain supernatural effects will interact with the character.

It has had some difficulties with people trying to apply it as they did in AD&D, and some disagreement about how certain things affect the measurement of alignment, but overall it wasn’t bad. I’d be willing to use it, as long as it matches the ‘Cosmic Teams’ I want.

AD&D1 and AD&D2 Alignments

Alignments in AD&D were superficially similar to those in 3e in that they are measured on a two-dimensional array and have the same names. However, the definitions of each shifted between editions and the alignments were prescriptive in that they defined how your character was expected to act, and you could be penalized – sometimes quite harshly – for acting against them.

AD&D alignments were a mess and I have no intention of using them.

BECMI Alignments

BECMI had a simpler alignment system similar to that of Michael Moorcock’s books, with Law, Neutrality (Balance), and Chaos. Good and Evil weren’t really a consideration, though you’d tend to find that ‘lawful’ was considered a better side to be on than ‘chaotic’. On the other hand, elves were chaotic and generally considered good, if not entirely trustworthy. I don’t remember seeing the ‘balance is crucial’ themes present in Moorcock’s works, chaotic beings fighting against unreasonable oppression by the lawful didn’t come up that often.

I don’t particularly remember alignments in BECMI being all that prescriptive, or really having much effect on things. Seems a lot like Cosmic Team Jersey to me.

I don’t think I’d use this, it seems somewhat underdeveloped for what I’d want out of an alignment system.

d20 Modern Alignments

d20 Modern had an interesting take with ‘allegiances’, where a character declared what groups or ideologies he was strongly enough attached to that it should have an effect on his actions or powers. It was possible to have allegiances to people, groups, and even alignments. I don’t remember it really making much difference what you had an allegiance to. Again, seems to me like Team Jersey (though not necessarily Cosmic Team Jersey).

FantasyCraft Alignments

FantasyCraft actually provides an alignment system wherein they admit that they are basically arbitrary poles, around which creatures with similar interests or goals collect. They give examples where the RSRD alignments are present (Lawful Good, Chaotic Neutral, etc.), and one where alignments are all elemental, and one where each god or other major power is its own alignment. From memory, each alignment comes with allies (friendly alignments), enemies (opposed alignments), identify interests (portfolios, domains, goals, etc.). I may be projecting how I would apply this system.

I find I really like this approach. It can be more structured than the d20 Modern allegiances system.

It supports Cosmic Team Jersey (with the option of being unaligned – IMC that means you don’t get the benefits of being aligned, but don’t carry the complications of being aligned either). The rules for each ‘alignment’ can be made as specific and detailed as I’d like (providing objective determination of how well a character suits an alignment), and each alignment identifies complications and hints at adventuring hooks. The D&D 3.x alignments can still be applied after a fashion (Trenneth, god of justice, can still grant the Law domain and associated powers) but are not really what the characters are measured against. It’s important that a character complies with and encourages use of the Ten Precepts of Trenneth and stands fast against the followers of Baalshamoth if he wants to stay in Trenneth’s good grace, but as long as he does so unrelated matters are just that.

Planned Alignment System

As should be evident from the above, I expect to use a variant of the FantasyCraft alignment system. I don’t yet know what all the alignments are (what gods will be present, in other words), but the structure this gives allows an arbitrary but objective system. I can even use or adapt existing D&D 3.x alignment powers and the like by matching them up to the alignments they are congruent with.


  1. This was so in 3.x, where the alignments are descriptive (AD&D, really not so). What I’m looking for in this article is what alignments I want. The 3×3 alignment chart doesn’t appeal to me so much right now, but I still want characters to pick sides, as it were. The FantasyCraft system seems to handle that passingly well, and I can adapt it to be even more what I want.

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