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Jeremy Morgan

Written by Jeremy Morgan, tabletop games editor, gamer, and software developer.
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Planescape 4E - On Alignment

29 August 2011

So last post, I introduced a framework to help me with my thoughts moving forward.

Disclaimer #1: I realized after beginning to dig through the material that there is more here than I expected. This may require a spiral development of ideas, which is fine by me. I may revisit topics, and the pace may be a bit meandering. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the journey with me.

Disclaimer #2: I’m not sure how long of a series this will be. It will probably be an ongoing one that may or may not end. I’ll have to see.

Now to the topic for this post: alignment.

I said the following last time:

The first major problem is definitely the new alignment system. The Planescape cosmology depends very heavily on the older 9-alignment system. This is actually not a large problem as I see it. I’m unaware of any crunch (the mechanics or rules) that require certain alignments. Gone are the days of alignment languages, detect alignment, and the like.

I’ve had a small amount of time to think about this, but there’s an elephant lurking behind this issue.

The Elephant in the Room

In Planescape, belief determines reality. The planes are formed and continue to exist because of belief. Law vs Chaos, Good vs Evil, Neutral in-between. These aren’t just abstract concepts, they are part and parcel of how (and why) things are. I need more time to think of all the ramifications here, but I think dropping in the older alignment system doesn’t do justice to the original source material. We need a better way, and I’m not sure what direction that should take right now.

The 4E concept of the eons-long battle of gods vs primordials doesn’t fit here without some modifications, either. The world-axis cosmology (the 4E conception of the planes) pits the gods of the Astral Sea against the primordials of the Elemental Chaos. I think we need more variation: evil gods, evil primordials, good gods, good primordials (?). We also need to bring law vs chaos back into the mix, and add neutral to balance it all out.

A Possible Solution

Can we simply add keywords? Can they do all the heavy lifting? My gut says no, but we can definitely get some mileage out of it. What if we had the following keywords: Good, Evil, Neutral, Law, and Chaos? What if we said that a character’s alignment added these particular keywords to every power they cast?

I hear some of you crying foul at this. ”Healing is innately good, isn’t it? Shouldn’t all powers with the Healing keyword be Good as well?” That’s one approach, but I think my approach allows for more flexibility.

I certainly don’t think I’ve pinned down all of the issues with this, but hopefully this can serve as a jumping-off point for discussion. What do you think? Throw something against the wall, and we’ll discuss whether it sticks.

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