Entry 15b: Alignment and Mechanics

Warning:  This is part two of a multipart blog entry on alignment.  Please read Entry 15a before reading this one.

This blog entry is all about the things that I believe alignment should and should not restrict from a gameplay perspective.  This refers to things like certain classes (in Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, this means classes like Paladins who have to be Lawful Good, Monks who have to be Lawful, Barbarians who cannot be Lawful).  It also refers to feats and spells, though there are fewer examples with feats and less notable examples with spells.

So here is the ground rule: I believe that something should interact with an alignment in order to require an alignment.  What specifically do I mean by this?  I mean that if a class comes with an ability like “Smite Evil” then it is ok to require that class to be good aligned.  Which means that of the core classes that I just listed, the only one that I feel has any justification for an alignment requirement is Paladin because they have a Smite ability.

Now I know that there are some internal fluff reasons for making barbarians unable to be lawful and monks having to be lawful, and it usually revolves around ideas like discipline.  There are a slew of issues with this reasoning though.  For one, discipline is only one factor of a lawful alignment and it is entirely possible to have a disciplined character who is also all about independence, adaptability, and freedom and individuality.  For an example from a fun, if kind of ridiculous movie, look at Grammaton Cleric John Preston from the film Equilibrium.  He is extremely disciplined, but by the end he is all about fighting the power and the law.  The other most glaring issue with this argument is why does using the rage ability have to imply a lack of discipline?  There’s no reason that rage cannot be a controlled fury where a warrior taps into his inner beast but does not let it control him.

So for feats and spells that have an alignment descriptor, I believe that they should have to include a certain amount of interaction with an alignment.  A good example is the Protection from [Alignment] spell group, which always has the opposite descriptor of the alignment it is affecting.  A slightly more dubious example would be “Infernal Healing” from Pathfinder which is a healing spell that has almost no effect other than healing a creature.  However, it also requires the use of unholy water or demon’s blood and specifically interacts with a creature’s alignment even though it has no practical negative or addicting effect.

Now for a statement that may actually be more controversial.  I think that if a class is going to require an alignment it should not be a core or base class.  Yes, that means the Paladin.  I have felt for a long time that Paladin was more appropriate as a Prestige Class similar to Pathfinder’s Hellknight.  In 3.5 there was a Prestige Paladin and a Prestige Ranger in Unearthed Arcana and I pretty much used it any time I ran a game.  I know that not everyone will agree with me, but it stems from my opinion that base classes should be more generic and not tie a player to a concept beyond basic mechanics which I feel that the Paladin does.  For example, you can play a fighter and be any type of dedicated warrior.  You can play a Barbarian and play any type of warrior who goes into an extra dangerous mode.  You can play a monk and play any type of warrior who uses his body as a weapon, so basically any type of martial artist.  A cleric can be any type of holy man, a wizard any type of spellcaster who learned his spells out of a book, and so on.  If you play a Paladin though, you’re playing a crusader of justice against evil because your abilities and roleplaying requirements are very specific.

Anyway, that’s all for alignment and mechanics.  Stay tuned for next time when I talk about changing alignment, either willfully or not.

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