So lets talk alignment. The source of more internet nerd fights than what high level fighters should look like, katanas, and firearms combined.
Alignment is, has always been, and will always be a tricky subject in role playing games. Most vaguely define it and leave to the groups to debate periodically whenever it comes up, and one or two people feel validated, and others feel annoyed. In K20 we are defining alignment definitively, and that means some people will find themselves disagreeing with our definition of Good and Evil. That is fine, but you are wrong for the purposes of this game. For the purposes of life, you might be right, but that is not important.
Choosing and changing an Alignment
Players can choose an alignment during character creation, but they are not obligated to do so. This alignment is a starting choice and may be altered by the GM at any time, without notice and at their discretion. After play, the GM should alter alignments in the event significant changes in how the character is played, but this does not warrant a conversation. Most of the time, alignment has minimal to no mechanical effect, so these conversations should not come up often. In general characters follow their alignment. That does not mean they always follow their alignment. A good character may cheat at a game of cards now and again without consequence or alignment shift, just like an evil character may choose not to tell nothing but lies.
Good stands for helping others above oneself. In general, their actions should help others, or at least do no harm. They are not required to go out of their way to do good all the time and aren’t expected to go sell their sword so they can donate a tithe to a beggar they encounter.
Godliness is not goodliness
Many games mistake godliness for goodliness. In many real-world religions, God is Good and Good is God, end of discussion. In Fantasy RPGs, especially K20, this is not the case. The evil god of death and slaughter is a god. Following his orders is not good. Evil priests of disease pray to the evil god of infectious disease to give people syphilis. They are objectively not good.
Neutral characters tend to not put a lot of thought into doing the good or evil thing or following law or evil. This tends to be the alignment for people who do not care about good v evil, or law v chaos or generally do not want to think about it. In general, they tend towards good and law, because they do not want to be murdered in their sleep. They recognize that this is a good thing, but they do not take particular actions to uphold those ideas themselves. This alignment tends to be the least likely to change.
In other editions of d20 RPGs, Neutral/Neutral characters sought balance. As in, if too much Good was done, they would go do some Evil, and make sure they broke even at the end of the day. In the abstract this is fine for minor cults or societies, but in practice it is not what the majority mean when they select N/N as their alignment.
Evil stands for helping oneself above others. In general, their actions should help themselves, even if it does harm to others. They are not required to go out of their way to do Evil and aren’t forced to kick stray dogs when they see them, but if asked they never have spare change for the beggar.
Undead are Evil. Many undead do not think. How are they Evil if an evil undead’s actions are focused around helping oneself instead of others? Insentient undead do not abide by the standard definition of evil. If left alone, a skeleton, zombie, or whatever will wander about actively looking to cause harm on others. It is not uncommon to find zombies in the forest chasing squirrels trying to rip them apart. Not out of joy or because it helps them, but because that is what zombies do. As such, only the truly evil actually create the undead. Sure, it is handy to have a mindless autonomation, but if something happens, or you are not paying attention, it will kill someone.
Lawful characters obey the law. They find value in following the rules and generally try to work within an established framework to fix problems. When there is a law, they disagree with, they generally follow protocol to have the law changed, and generally abide by it in the short term. Lawful characters are not constructs and evaluate situations based on reason, and therefore are not bound to follow every law they come across to the letter, but more often than not they will try to get clarity.
Chaotic characters do not care about laws or rules. They find value in laws, but generally have no qualms going outside of the established process to fix problems. When there is a law they disagree with, they generally ignore it. Chaotic characters are not insane, and generally do not break laws for the sake of it. They pay taxes, but mostly because they know the king’s army will come and take their head if they do not. Not out of any sense of moral obligation.
Law, Good, Chaos, and Evil
When the concepts of alignments were first applied to “the world’s greatest fantasy RPG” they pulled from many sources. Most of these sources used the classic “Good vs Evil”, and when talking about good vs evil, pretty much everyone gets what we are talking about. One popular source at the time was the fantasy stories of Michael Moorcock. In Moorcock’s writing, he did not like the terms “Good” and “Evil”. He wanted more shades of gray, where the Just Cause was not immediately obvious. He came up with the stand in terms Law and Chaos. Law represented civilization, and Chaos represented the wilds. In his stories, law quickly became a stand in for good, and chaos evil, but the core idea was to make it different.
What that means for us today, is that Good characters tend to be Lawful, and Evil ones tend to be Chaotic. After over 40 years of play, we have added some other caveats and criteria to make law/chaos different enough, but there are strong undercurrents of sameness. In many groups, Lawful Good is described as more good than chaotic good, and lawful evil is “Evil light”. Heck, the 4th edition of that game even codified that in their alignment charts and descriptions for a few versions of their rules. In K20 this is not the case. Lawful Good is not more good than Chaotic Good. It is simply also a good option.
Codes of Conduct
Many characters enjoy following a code of conduct. Here are some sample ones you can employ for your use. Note, there is no penalty for failing to uphold them, outside of potential roleplaying penalties you feel are appropriate. Feel free to use these or create your own.
You are a warrior of Good devoted to the destruction of Evil. Your order has strict behavior guidelines, and members are almost exclusively Lawful aligned.
- You must destroy an Evil creature at the nearest opportunity. You are not suicidal and should plan for the opportune time.
- You may never travel with, or ally with, an Evil creature. Even if it is only for a short time.
- You must destroy any Evil items at the nearest opportunity.
- You are forbidden from using poison. This ranges from drinking alcohol on through to snake venom.
- You cannot lie.
- This does not mean that when runaway slaves are hiding in your basement that you hand them over to the catcher. It does mean that you tell the catcher “I will not be a part of your foul deeds.” Depending on the character, it might even be followed with “I do know where they are, and will not tell you.” Followed by an attack.
- You do not cheat. See lying above. This includes omitting the truth or allowing others to cheat for you.
You are a thief, with a heart of gold. Sure, you will steal a coin purse or two, but you make sure to drop a percentage at the local orphanage on your way. You have killed, but you do not work with murderers. You have some less than savory contacts, but at the end of the day, you are on the side of good.
- If you take money for a job, you complete it. Even if paid more by someone else not to.
- You do not steal from the poor.
- In general, you try not to kill unless forced. You do your best to use nonlethal means.
- You always treat (your attracted sex) with the utmost respect.
You are an expert in your martial art and have spent a lifetime perfecting it. You act with honor and discipline at all times.
- You can never turn down a duel from a fellow practitioner.
- You cannot turn away a worthy disciple. If someone proves their worth in your craft, you must train them.
- Fighting is a last resort. Not a first.
- You must always accept surrender, if offered.
- You must always fight fair according to the rules of your art.
4 thoughts on “K20 The Alignment Post”
Wish I had this to roll out earlier. Apparently my NG Cleric was going over the top with the “purifaction” of evil looking artifacts in a haunted house….. Made for a quick bypass of the loot tables though…
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Hope you can get some mileage out of this framework for your next game. A haunted house is always a good time, but I’m curious if you used any modifiers from core D&D? Its never really modeled benevolent spirits very well, and IMO that’s a staple of a haunted house.
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So a) I meant purification and b) did you mean malevolent?
I’m quite enjoying 5e. Playing the Cleric as someone who believes that he and his forefathers are gods and his power is handed down.
He’s silly, knows NO religion except his own and likes to … in this order…. Wrestle ( literally ) with evil . ( specialist Athletics then enhance strength ) and cleanse bad things with holy lightning !!!
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It handles malevolent ghosts just fine IMO. They show up, you blast them with spells and they run through walls and get away. A big trope in the haunted house genre is the Friendly Ghost. The ghost who doesn’t know they are a ghost and needs your help, or the ghost who doesn’t know they are a ghost.
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