D&D 4th Edition, 3.5, 3 etc. – Alignment House Rule

I’ve been thinking about alignment and how to ‘fix’ it so that it is something that I want to bother putting in my game. I’ve already talked about D&D alignment in the past a few times, and have laid out the problems with its various iterations.

I came up with a fix, while hanging out with Aric at work today (another author on this blog), and I kind of like it. I want to see how it works in an actual D&D game, because I’ll be damned if I’m using the alignment ‘system’ that 4th Edition has in place. In order to use this alignment system, I end up changing alignment to feed into an action-point mechanic. (As I imagine how this works, the closest thing I can come up with is Burning Wheel’s Artha mechanic. I’m also thinking about H. Richard Niebuhr, as it turns out.)

What goes in the alignment slot on your character is what I’ll call your “center of value”. That is, it is what your character values most. This should be relatively abstract, so that it can be interpreted a few different ways during the game. Some examples we came up with could be “Personal Gain” or “My Code of Honor” or “Peace Between my People and X Neighbor”.

You will regenerate action points when this center of value, this alignment, is threatened in some way in the game. What this does is it rewards the players for putting their characters into situations where their center of value is threatened. This also provides the DM with a source of ideas of ways to push the characters and challenge them in dramatic ways.

Now, once your alignment is set, you have three more things to write down.

1. The first thing to write down is a specific goal that is related to your alignment. This has to be something achieveable in-game, and the DM and other players have to agree to it, because you’re obviously not going after these goals alone.
2. The second thing to write down is one important thing you are willing to sacrifice for the sake of your alignment.
3. The third thing two write down is one thing you are not willing to sacrifice or compromise for the sake of your alignment.

When you achieve the first goal, you add one to your action point pool, meaning you can have more than one action point saved at any given time.

When you face an opportunity to make the sacrifice you wrote down, you increase your total pool of action points.

When you betray something important for the sake of your alignment

So, here’s an example.

Alignment: “Personal Gain”
Whenever this character sacrifices their personal gain for the sake of something else, they get an action point. So, if they donate their money to a village so it can buy medicine to halt a plague, that is worth an action point.

1. “I will become the most renowned rogue in the city.”
When you become the most renowned rogue in the city, you increase your action point pool.

2. “I am willing to sacrifice my family’s good name for the sake of personal gain.”
When you have destroyed your family’s good name for the sake of personal gain, you increase your action point total by one.

3. “I am not willing to betray loyal allies for the sake of personal gain.”
This one will work whether you betray a loyal ally or not. If you betray the ally, then you increase your action point total. If you decide at the last moment to remain true to your ally and suffer the consequences, you also increase your action point total by one.

Without talking about these ideas in game-jargon – what the intent behind this is to reward players for doing cool things in game, for causing their characters trouble, for making the DM’s job easier, and for keeping foremost in their minds what it is that their characters value most, what it is that drives them to be adventurers rather than shepherds or cobblers.

Right now this not a final idea. I might come up with better things to put beneath alignment. Maybe one thing at a time would be better. One important aspect of this house rule is that the players and DM come up with these as a group when you are designing character concepts. This way, your alignments will fit together well and will hopefully feed off of each other in dramatic ways.

I also want to have the option of “Unaligned”, meaning you don’t have strong values and are sort of easygoing and blow with the wind. This will mean that you won’t regenerate action points at all, but I should add some kind of mechanic which will enable the Unaligned character to have action points as well.

As I said, this alignment hack needs some more thought.

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