Moral Compass – But where to go?

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Alignment is not as easy as it sounds, since the old days of D&D, it was a very important trait a character had. In some editions (like 3e) there were plenty of rules about what spells subjects you to what degree depending on your alignment, what magic weapon you could use, etc. In 3e especially you were punished for having an alignment other than neutral and double punished for not having any neutral in your alignment. Pathfinder, too.

In 4e alignments were reduced from nine to five, since some alignments are somewhat difficult to actually pull off and so some harder borderlines were combined. So a chaotic good character would be a ‘good’ character, since the anarchy of chaos don’t mash well with the good component. Chaotic neutral is in most cases chaotic evil either way, and so on.

In 5e we’re back to 9, or more precisely 10, since a creature can be unaligned, which means that there is not enough intelligence or self-awareness to actually have a proper understanding of morality. And here we come to the core of alignments, they’re the morality compass! Which means that whenever a character have problems in solving a dilemma of morals, he’d lean towards his alignment. Would he rather give in the demands of the bandits, who keeps hostages or start a bold maneuver in hope to keep them all save? Both would be good-natured but to not risk the hostages is a more lawful way of thinking, while chaotic characters takes more chances.

But sometimes it can be hard to actually choose an alignment and the PHB and Base Rules doesn’t offer much help and some descriptions aren’t good advertisement for their respective alignments, like ‘Lawful Good (LG) creatures can be counted on to do the right thing as expected by society’. Even though it’s completely right, the ‘society’-part is kinda repulsive for most players at first sight. Because they want their characters to be exceptional beings, which are able to sh*t on society, if needed.

So I thought I’ll just explain how I handle it in my campaigns, which are my personal attributes each alignment extreme have.

Good: To be a good character, one thing is not required: To say that all you do is for the good. Most of those who says it are evil anyway. If I need a personality trait which defines a good character, it would be: You’re helping others even if it doesn’t benefit you and might get you in danger! Or in one word: Selflessness.

If you act out of kindness, feels sympathy to the suffering and doesn’t think of rewards when helping people, than you’re definitely a good character.

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Evil: When good characters are selfless, evils are logically selfish. When a character is mostly about having the best comfort, use any shortcut and easy way you find and doesn’t care much about others, than said character is most likely evil. Those who are power-ridden, use any means necessary for their goals (even though they happen to be good) and only truly respects themselves, are about to fall into the evil alignments. Greed is a source for evilness, too.

So if your character doesn’t actually feel any compassion and always says “It’s just an orc” and other excuses, while only looking into what his/her reward is, that character is evil.

Lawful: A lawful character is someone who wants to give to and take from society. He has a stable set of rules, tries to minimize risks at all cost and keep thinking about the greater picture. Order is important, since when things are orderly, you can make your decisions with less error rate. You acknowledge laws by themselves, even though you don’t need to agree with them yourself, but at least you have a decent amount of rules, be it by your own society or by yourself. And you stick with your rules!

If you’re playing a character who think things normally through, shows a decent amount of self-discipline and play by certain rules your character acknowledges, he is most likely a lawful character.

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Chaotic: The character has wimps and goes with them at any opportunity he faces problems or sometimes even discomfort. An chaotic character have himself under much less control, so he tends to impulsive and sometimes irrational actions, often fueled by his good/evil awareness. The character will simply infringe laws if needed and think more about his own surrounding and emotions, be they selfless or selfish.

If your character is moody, screw the rules repetitively, is more short-sighted and have a lack of self-control, all points to a chaotic alignment. A more tempered way to say it is: He’s thinking with his heart and disregarding his head at times.

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Neutral: Neutral is always a balance-act, since it means to be neither the one or the other. If someone tries to keep balance between good and evil it means, he/she’s good if he/she can and evil, if he/she must. If the character is neutral on the order/chaos-axis, this means that he will neither go with every wimp nor restrict himself as much as a lawful character would do. A true neutral character would seek balance in every possible aspect, being an extreme by himself/herself.

Of course these are my personal impressions, but if you start to combine those angles, you get imo a somehow accurate picture. It’s not entirely perfect, but after explaining these, I can even get my players to grasp the difference between chaotic evil and chaotic neutral (which is a difference even a lot of experienced players have trouble in seeing).

But if that’s not sufficient, take nederbird’s alignment chart. It’s also decent, even though I’d personally disagree here and there. 😉

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Reasons why it may be worth switching to 5e

Instead of shifted balance, I took the liberty to talk about my experience in previous editions (and Pathfinder, also called D&D 3.75e) and which aspects of the editions I didn’t like and how they got fixed or otherwise handled in 5e. This is (like all my posts) my personal opinion and I do agree, that I’ve a lot of fun playing these systems, but in the end there is a reason, why I enjoyed the test play and the result of it so much.

3e, 3.5e, Pathfinder

In the end, I don’t see too much differences here, most problems are in one version more present than in others, but in the end they’re almost identical, so I spare time and space and sum them up.

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  1. First of all, 3e and 3.5e had dead levels, levels in classes where you gained nothing from your class, this is not an issue in 4e or Pathfinder and 5e got it fixed, too.
  2. The customizing options resulted into a broad field for power-gaming and every rulebook made it worse. In 5e you can still customize, but there are some restrictions at the basic level (like ability score cap or concentration spells) and even though further rulebooks might bring options, which are simply better than existing one, we’re still at the beginning of this edition. Will take a while.
  3. Dump-Stat Charisma for most classes, in 5e Charisma is a bit better off, since any ability can be a saving throw and some of the nastiest effects for non-maincasters (like being send to another plane) are CHA-saves. Maybe Intelligence might get an occasional dump, but on the other hand, players aren’t that clever most of the time.
  4. Most rules were too complicated to explain them new players, without testing them, if they’re willing to become nerds. Since there were so many tables, so many different rulings for different circumstances, it became somewhat more realistic, but less fun. Now I get my standard set of rules, which comes in handy in about 90% of the cases and will be helpful for the remaining 10%.
  5. Too many buffs made a combat encounter to advanced bookkeeping, especially since not all bonuses stacked. And since there were lots of more spells per day possible, you didn’t hold back too much. Now with less spells and the concentration spell mechanic, the number of buffs a character can get is much more limited and generally spells stacks as long they’re not the same.
  6. Debuffs were usually bad choices, since they always trigger saving throws, often with no effect on a successful save. Even though the saving mechanism remained, spells are generally harder to resist and while the corresponding buff often targets only 1 ally, the debuff gets multiple enemies (haste gets one, slow gets up to six creatures).
  7. Obvious (feat) choices were always kinda annoying, since a Rogue should always get his DEX high and chances to sneak attack in range were slim, weapon finesse were almost a no-brainer choice. There are some others, like Power Attack to re-use all resources you got to hit as damage or some class specific choices like archenemy humanoid (humans), since most enemies you’ll encounter will be… MAN! I like to think, that 5e will do it better and on some regards they do, like giving finesse weapons instead of thieving a feat out of the Rogue, less hard bonuses or real choices (you can get +10 damage with the Sharpshooter or Great Weapon Master, but the -5 on attack rolls are pretty harsh: it will definitely decrease your accuracy by 25% most of the time).
  8. Monsters were too complicated: To create monsters meant to give them feats, skills, etc. and drove you insane, while you had to get a good memory to handle the Monster Manual fluently. It wasn’t the difficulty of the task, but the time consuming factor, which got me really annoyed.

I’ll leave it with this and go to over to the 4th edition.

  1. Half level bonus is great in theory, but annoying in reality, you have to erase your felt half character sheet, all bonuses let normal enemies be worthless and decreased this way the sense of danger. There are still bonuses which increased, but only hit points and hit dice do so every level and even a 20th level fighter shouldn’t take on a hundred goblins without some magical back-up, since your AC might not be enough to prevent hits on less than natural 20s.
  2. Rituals were nice, but since they always cost components, players didn’t use them much. The spell system is back again and take on most Rituals, which were meant to cover spells like Teleportation or Raise Dead, which couldn’t be handled as a power.
  3. The inflation of magic items is over now! In 4e you need magic items (weapon, armor, neck) to remain competitive with the enemies, but a 5-headed party will find 80 non-consumable magic items over the course of 20 levels, another 40 to 30th level, while selling their old ones. They needed the +X bonus, daily item powers and such were just whelming. Now with less options to get your attack and damage high, you’ll be smiling like an idiot after finding a magic weapon, because magic items are not really necessary in 5e, so they’ll make your hero indeed much stronger.
  4. Grinding battles were boring at some point. In 4e at around the paragon levels about every standard encounter becomes an unending terror of grinding, since powers were used, regained, used again and the opponent’s and PCs still had a bunch of hit points and PCs were healed quickly. In 5e combats are more of a quick and dirty thing.
  5. Too many non-actions due stunning and dazing effects were always kinda sad, especially after every class got those powers. You could have one elite monster, which couldn’t use a single power, since it always got hindered until the end of someones next turn or had to save at the end of its own turn. Still possible, but much harder.
  6. Too many balancing issues in the late-game kinda overshadowed my only campaign which went to 30th level. Every player had at least one defense a monster could hit only on 17+ (or in one case natural 20), at least one defense could be hit by 2+ and other issues, this was due the right choices of equipment, feats and the fact that in epic everything gets higher bonuses. Again, less stacking bonuses and more restrictions here and there seem kinda helpful.
  7. Essentials. I liked the fact that the classes got balanced by using the same standard structure. After some rulebooks I foresaw that the balance was unbalanced and Essentials was the final kick to the balls to it. 5e didn’t fix the existence of the Essentials, but make it easier to forget them.

I have to say, I’ll miss some mechanism in 5e, like Minions (even though I can use weak monsters, since getting AC high is a trial), Experts or Solos (latter will be regulated by Legendary Actions and something I’m looking forward: Lair Actions!!!), but I think I might stay a long time in the new edition. Especially after recalling why I got so unhappy with the previous ones.

If you reconsider your D&D system because of one of the upper reasons, I hope you’ll find what you seek at 5e. Be flexible, try it and maybe you and your gaming-group will find something they missed since a long, long time ago.