Sunday, August 2, 2020

Race & Alignment in D&D - The Case for Removing Alignment

There are many hold-overs from older editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Many clunky features and mechanics have fallen by the wayside to rust and wither, and that’s for the best. I can’t say D&D would be the phenomenon it currently is without changes. Sometimes you need to lop off the broken bits and forge something new—that’s exactly what 5e has done. But, as our society shifts and grows more inclusive, changes are a must. One of the longest-lasting hold-overs from classic D&D is alignment. It has gone vastly unchanged since the inception of the game. 

I think it’s time for a change. We are no longer playing stereotypes meant to fill a roll in a war game. I’ll come out and say it—alignment sucks. What does it even mean? Everyone is the hero of their own story, and alignment makes it so every individual must fit into a peg or role that doesn’t quite fit. In addition, alignment is the main focal point for discrimination in D&D. The fact that good & evil is tied to a race is an issue. Doing away with the alignment system would open up the interpretation of the other “evil” races. 

Anyone who has read the Drizzt novels knows that drow aren’t evil beings. Hell, you could put any race in the same environment as they are and come out with the same society. Races aren’t evil. They don’t “lean towards evil” as the PHB states. Situations, society, pressures, and discrimination bring out different goals in people. I hear the complaint that removing these notions and stereotypes will “ruin the lore.” I don’t think so. We can all have our cake and eat it too, so to speak. 

Do away with perceptions of evil. Don’t even mention it. Instead, describe societies. Describe cultures. Tell of the houses of the drow and their desires for greatness in the eye of their goddess. Speak of the orcs and how violence leads to social status. It’s as easy as not placing these labels on societies and people as a whole. While many players may break the molds set in the PHB, just as many fall into the trap of exacerbating racial issues in their game with these labels. 

But what do we do instead? Well, I think a game can play fine without alignment at all. Roleplay takes the place of these figurative training wheels. We already have the toolsets needed to make dynamic characters without it: flaws, ideals, desires, etc. There’s already a spot for all of that on the character sheet.

 If one must hold onto any remnants of alignment, perhaps consider whether your character falls more towards law, neutrality, or chaos. It doesn’t have to be a box you build around your character, rather it can be a flexible membrane that melds elements of the world around them through experiences and hardship. 

Let me know your thoughts on alignment and the changes proposed here. I’m very interested to hear any other ideas and/or solutions.