The Forge Archives

Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: John Kirk on October 01, 2005, 01:33:58 PM



Title: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: John Kirk on October 01, 2005, 01:33:58 PM
I recently started a thread here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16990.0) soliciting feedback on a book I am writing: “Design Patterns of Successful Role-Playing Games”, which you can download in a rough draft form from http://legendaryquest.com.   In that thread, the criticism was raised that the Alignment design pattern in the book lacks in its support and justification.  That is a valid criticism.  It is not that I do not want to justify the pattern.  It is simply that I have been unable to do so on my own, which leaves the pattern description somewhat biased.  But, that discussion was not germane to the topic of that thread, so I split it off here.

The purpose of this thread is to determine whether Alignment is a Design Pattern or a Design Anti-pattern.

For it to be considered an anti-pattern, it must be shown that for all reasonable design goals, there is a better alternative to Alignment.  Conversely, for it to be considered a design pattern, it must be shown that there is some design goal that a properly implemented Alignment satisfies as well or better than all alternatives.

I do not want this to degrade into an opinion poll.  So, if you respond please state your design goal and provide an example implementation where you believe Alignment is the best design choice.  Or, provide a counter-example where you believe a previously mentioned design goal could be met in a better way than using Alignment.  I know that this can potentially be a sore point with some people, so please keep your posts civil.  All I really need is one single example of where Alignment can be shown as the superior design option for a given goal.  More would be better.  To make sure everyone understands the goal, solution, and reasoning you are proposing, it would be helpful if you used the following format:

Design Goal:
State the design goal you are trying to accomplish.

Solution:
Give an example that meets the stated design goal in a superior fashion.

Reasoning:
State why you think your solution is superior.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Stefan / 1of3 on October 01, 2005, 02:53:23 PM
Alright.

First of all, it might be useful to understand, what an Alignment is.

Alignments are similar to Idioms, except they are not Gauges. Useful applications therefore cannot be Gauge applications:

Quote
Use a Gauge when you:

1) Want to want to emphasize an important game concept.
2) Want that concept to play a mechanical role in your game.
3) Have seriously considered not representing that game concept as a gauge.
4) Having properly pondered, concluded that introducing a gauge brings more of a
focus on the game’s core rather than distracts from it.

Furthermore Alignments are similar to Classes. They can give a character a "collection of flaws, gifts, skills, and/or handicaps" (p. 28, Class pattern). So we should look on the applications of the Class pattern for reference.

Quote
Use the Class Pattern when you want to:
1) minimize the number of decisions that players need to make when generating
their characters
2) allow players to learn only the subset of rules pertinent to their characters
3) protect character niches so that characters with different classes play different,
meaningful roles within the game


There is one game with the Alignment pattern, which IMO used in the best fashion possible: Nobilis.

The Affiliations in Nobilis meet the Alignment pattern perfectly.

So what could be considered the design goal:

Goal: Explain in simple manner, how divine beings behave in the setting.

Two sample Alignments from Nobilis:

Quote
Code of the Heaven
1.) Beauty is the highest principle.
2.) Justice is a form of beauty.
3.) Lesser beings should respect their betters.

Code of the Wild
1.) Freedom is the highest principle.
2.) Sanity and mundanity are prisons.
3.) Give in kind with a gift received.

Why are Affiliations necessary in Nobilis?
- The answer is easy. Most people (including me) have a hard time, imagining how gods behave.


Why is the Alignment pattern well suited?

- It is not necessary to assign a value to the Affiliation. Either you are a servant of Heaven or you are not. Characters in the game change their Affiliation rarely.

- The Affiliations are supposed to make a character part of a group. If the Affiliations were Gauges, players would not only need to the difference between Angels and Wildlords, but also between different levels of the Alignment.

- In Nobilis the Alignments actually manage to make believing characters follow their prescriptions. In the description of the Alignment pattern John explained that,

Quote
In most cases, this reward [i.e. the reward playing out the Alignment] is
exactly the same type of reward that a player will earn for performing other activities.
If a game gives out experience points for playing his character’s alignment and also
gives the same reward for slaying an orc, players will naturally tend to focus their
efforts on those activities that generate the greatest reward in the shortest amount of
time.

In Nobilis the reward for following the Alignments code is Miracle Points: The standard reward in the game. Still it works, because in Nobilis the Affiliations are the easiest way, to gain MPs. The other main possibility are Restrictions. And it is in fact easier and more comfortable to appreciate some art, than enter a situation were on of your Restrictions strike.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: John Kirk on October 02, 2005, 08:39:09 AM
Stephan,

That is an excellent write-up.  Very clear.

In Nobilis the reward for following the Alignments code is Miracle Points: The standard reward in the game. Still it works, because in Nobilis the Affiliations are the easiest way, to gain MPs. The other main possibility are Restrictions. And it is in fact easier and more comfortable to appreciate some art, than enter a situation were on of your Restrictions strike.

This may be where I went astray with the pattern, in that I didn't explore the possibility of when the rewards for playing alignment are actually the easiest way to attain them.  It also helps explain why my own alignment system in LQ doesn't really meet its own design goals well.

Does anyone have a counter-example of how Stephan's Design Goal could have been accomplished better in Nobilis with some other pattern or technique?  Or, does anyone have another example of where Alignment is the optimal solution?


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on October 02, 2005, 11:08:26 AM
I can say a few words about Alignement in Planescape, an ADnD 2e world supplement.

One very strong idea in the game is that you go exploring the whole cosmology (and there's a very neat structure for that), killing demons and angels and whatnot and of course taking their stuff.
Thing is, each plane is itself aligned. Characters get bonuses or penalties depending on the differences of alignement between themselves and the plane they are visiting (invading?).

I think if you're a good guy on an evil plane you get penalties, on a neutral plane you get nothing and on a good plane you get bonuses.

I like the way alignement here is taken as a tangible concept, and the way it affects tactical considerations. (There are also a lot of roleplaying opportunities thanks to the various Factions (philosophers with clubs, also more or less aligned) that roam the setting's main city at the very center of the cosmology, Sigil.)

It must be said that there are a bit too many weird rules in Planescape (a priest who is wandering off too far from his god's plane will cast weaker spells for example) to make the whole supplement an example of good insertion of alignement (in a gamist sense), but there are a number of nice "Color affects Character effectiveness" bits in there anyway.


Sorry if it's a bit chaotic, that's what I remember off the top of my head right now.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Owen on October 02, 2005, 10:23:59 PM
Alignment is a good choice in systems where you do not expect the characters to vary significantly from their chosen alignments, whatever those might be.  Nobilis is a perfect example of this, though it is still true of D&D.  In most D&D games, it is not expected for the characters to shift alignment, and if they do it is usually a game-changing thing.

Alignment is better than idiom for games that want to deemphasize the possibility of change in the character's moral affiliations.  For many games, this is not what they seek to achieve.  But for those that do, it is a workable system.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Bankuei on October 02, 2005, 11:00:41 PM
Hi John,

I wouldn't say Alignment is an Anti-pattern, I would say traditionally it's been used for the wrong purposes.  Alignment works best as a means of promoting conflict.  If you draw lines, people will take sides.

For D&D, this has often stepped on the concept of "Us vs. Monsters", by causing many groups to eventually have to face, "Us vs. Us" when alignment conflicts break out.  You can compare this to T&T, which, pretty much has the same premise, just without alignment, intraparty conflict is rare to non-existant.

For other games, such as Vampire or Paranoia, Alignment under the guise of various splats, such as Clans or Secret Societies, work great to get the characters at each other's throats.  You can also see this at work in most CCGs and RTS videogames- make sides, give them an identity or theme the players can identify with, and let the players defend that identity through conflicting with other groups.

Many other rpgs followed the splat formula, but ended up with results similar to D&D, mostly because Alignment divides instead of unites.   And, the more restrictive the Alignment, that is, the less players can choose to deny or act against it, the more sure conflict will happen.

Chris


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Jasper Polane on October 02, 2005, 11:18:48 PM
I don't think the purpose of Alignment is to help roleplaying your morality or something like that, and the text in Design Patterns is, well, wrong. Alignment is a descriptor to indicate if some spells work on the character, which aligned magical weapons he can use, if some class features work on him, etc.

So if, for example, your character is Good, it means an Evil cleric can cast the spell Dispel Good on you, and it works. When your character is Evil, it means Protection from Evil works against you, and that a good cleric can damage you with Holy Smite, a spell that only damages Evil creatures.

I think this is the main purpose of Alignment in D&D, at least it is in 3E and 3.5.
 
--Jasper


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Adam Dray on October 03, 2005, 05:55:37 AM
Including the Clans of Vampire in the Alignment pattern is very interesting. Is Alignment nothing more than a Faction, a group to which one belongs rather than an intrinsic quality of the character? Even in D&D, this appears to be the case. Members of an alignment "faction" can be identified by various Detect spells and the various factions don't get along well. In versions of D&D prior to 3E, alignment "factions" even had their own languages.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: John Kirk on October 03, 2005, 08:10:24 AM
Do the "Affiliations" in Nobilis have this "faction" effect?  That is, do characters of different affiliations tend to conflict with one another?  If so, I would guess the Miracle Point awards would strongly encourage players to have their characters compete with one another.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Bankuei on October 03, 2005, 08:24:01 AM
Hi John,

I'm not familiar with Nobilis, so I can't say.  I don't think it's necessarily a faction, as much as it's a philosophical faction.  That is, my character could be from one order of knights, and your character could be from another order of knights, and there's difference there.  But if the game lists the orders and gives them various philosophies that conflict- now there's alignment. 

You can see that in D&D, you don't have competition between the Wizard's Academy and the Thieves Guild, because those are not loaded with differing viewpoints, but alignment, which is based on abstract philosophies of "ways of life", instantly creates sides and conflicts.

Chris


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Arturo G. on October 03, 2005, 09:11:04 AM

Hi there!

I would say that alignments/factions do not necessarily imply conflict. Depends on their definitions. I think we are marked by our old D&D alignment's experience.

I can see three situations:

1) Alignments which are conflictive by their definition (which can be interesting for competitive games)
Examples: Religions in open war for any reason. A philosophy which search the enlightment by study vs. a philosophy which predicates the danger of the knowledge, inspired by demon, which followers burn books.

2) Alignments which are not conflictive, but do not support common interests (which can be interesting for games which do not focus on colaborative work between the characters)
Example: A philosophy which search the enlightment by study of the ancient tomes vs. a religion which predicates the experience of wild nature as the way of being one with the high-spirit.

3) Alignments which somehow overlap, producing common interests in the characters (more appropriate for games which promote colaborative work between characters).
Example: A religion of love and peace vs. a philosophy which promotes the community as mean for social development.

Anyway, all of them may be useful for certain games.

Cheers,
Arturo


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Owen on October 03, 2005, 09:28:41 AM
Perhaps we could formulate that alignment is appropriate for representing some fairly static difference in point of view with respect to some important philosophical aspect of life as appropriate for the game in question.  For instance, the Traditions in Mage: the Ascension could be considered alignments, but they're not exactly conflictive.  Certainly they might cause a bit of strife within the party, but they are not the primary source of conflict.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Bankuei on October 03, 2005, 09:30:33 AM
Hi Arturo,

To clarify, I am saying that all Alignment = a form of factioning, but not all factions = Alignment.

So, as I pointed out- the faction of Wizard's Academy and the faction of Thieves' Guild do not imply conflict, because there is nothing behind it dictating how characters should act, and in a mutually exclusive fashion.  But there is behind Good/Evil, Law/Chaos as defined by D&D.  If we look at Palladium's examples, which are more complex, the differences are in the individual rules or codes for their alignments ("It's ok to lie to enemies" vs. "It's never ok to lie") etc.

It is these differences, and how often they come up in play, that will produce intra-party conflict.

Chris


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Stefan / 1of3 on October 03, 2005, 03:25:28 PM
Do the "Affiliations" in Nobilis have this "faction" effect?  That is, do characters of different affiliations tend to conflict with one another?  If so, I would guess the Miracle Point awards would strongly encourage players to have their characters compete with one another.

The main Affiliations are Heaven, Hell, Light, Dark and Wild. - I feel negative vibrations.

Normally most of the PCs will have the same Affiliation and there probably won't be opposed Affiliations (e.g. Heaven and Hell) in the same group.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Shreyas Sampat on October 03, 2005, 04:08:13 PM
The main Affiliations are Heaven, Hell, Light, Dark and Wild. - I feel negative vibrations.

Normally most of the PCs will have the same Affiliation and there probably won't be opposed Affiliations (e.g. Heaven and Hell) in the same group.
I'm not sure that either of these statements in the case.

At any rate, the Affiliations are constructed so that they deliberately come into conflict without being mutually exclusive, which is basically the opposite thing that D&D alignments do; I'm not sure they they really belong in the same basket.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Clyde L. Rhoer on October 04, 2005, 09:57:58 AM
Hi John,

Firstly, let me admit to being ignorant to what you mean by "design anti-pattern" This may make the rest of my post worthless. With that in mind, I think you are asking a weighted question. Let me quote you really quick.


The purpose of this thread is to determine whether Alignment is a Design Pattern or a Design Anti-pattern.

For it to be considered an anti-pattern, it must be shown that for all reasonable design goals, there is a better alternative to Alignment.  Conversely, for it to be considered a design pattern, it must be shown that there is some design goal that a properly implemented Alignment satisfies as well or better than all alternatives.


So...

A. There are two choices given.
B. One choice requires showing the set of all reasonable design goals in addition to comparing alignment to what may be fictional solutions.
C. All reasonable design goals is not presentable, and fictional solutions to many may not be definable, and even if they are definable the set is too large for reasonable discussion.
D. Therefore not B.
E. Since not B, then not A as one choice is not a choice.

Perhaps I'm missing something obvious, it wouldn't be the first time.

I think a better question would be : Is Alignment useful in game design? I realize that's opinion, but I doubt that game design is actually all that quantifiable. Here's a quick example that may satisfy your requirements for considering Alignment as an idea that could have some use in game design.

Design Goal:
To easily define enemies and allies.

Solution:
D+D alignment system.

Reasoning:
D+D is a system that revolves around combat, most of it's rules set up how strong a player can be, how strong their enemies are, and how combat takes place. If one takes the idea that players are supposed to be mainly good aligned characters. (There are special player classes that require goodness, but none require evil...certain non main rulebook exceptions withstanding) then alignment is a built in way to guarantee animosity with monsters, and facilitate getting into combat.

Now the rules for the D+D alignment system as written don't point to this goal as perhaps as well as they could. They instead pose as something that feels like an arbitrary morality system with no good rules of judging or enforcement. So this is perhaps an example of how alignment could be used well and not so well as a design tool.

-Clyde


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Clyde L. Rhoer on October 04, 2005, 10:08:01 AM
Reading that over it sounds like my post can be read in a condescending voice. It was not intended that way.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: SicaVolate on October 04, 2005, 06:36:38 PM
Hey C,

The definition of "Anti-Pattern" as used here is in RPG Design Patterns, which can be downloaded from the bottom of this page: http://legendaryquest.netfirms.com/Download.htm

Quote
Sometimes, careful analysis of a design pattern concludes that, in every situation likely to consider a pattern as an option, some other design pattern would better satisfy the design goals. In such cases, that pattern becomes a design anti-pattern.

I would also like to submit that the intent of the alignment used in D&D might be a different pattern then the one used in Rifts. The Alignment Pattern as currently written seems accurate for Rifts and Warhammer. In D&D, it seems more like

Intent: Demarcate the intrinsic nature of characters in the game world.

That would mean that the roleplaying aspect of alignment is a consequence of its inclusion, not a goal. There were lawful and chaotic creatures all the way back in Chainmail, after all, before the dawn of roleplaying as we know it (primordial mists, 8-tracks, etc).


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: John Kirk on October 05, 2005, 08:09:56 PM
Owen and SicaVolate, in case I'm the first to greet you, Welcome to the Forge!

I think you are asking a weighted question.

Quite true.  Declaring a pattern to be an anti-pattern is a very strong statement.  It says: "Never, ever, do this."

As far as there being an infinite number of reasonable design goals, all I am looking for here are the set of design goals that we, in this thread, can dream up.  It's always possible we'll overlook an important design goal in our discussion and would be forced to re-classify Alignment later as a design pattern rather than an anti-pattern.

But, I think that the discussion that has transpired so far has pretty well convinced me that Alignment is a good option for some goals and is therefore not an anti-pattern.  I'm just not sure yet if it should be split out into more than one pattern, such as "Faction" and "Alignment", or whether a single pattern suffices.

For example, I could create a "Faction" pattern that rewards players for having their characters perform acts that support their own faction and conflict with others.  Such a pattern would promote conflict between factions.  The question currently in my mind is whether games that segregate various characters into "Alignment" categories but do not reward players for pushing inter-category tension represent a different pattern.

So, are there games that use "Alignment" to segregate characters into categories where those categories do not come into conflict with one another?  If so, what is the point?  Or, does Alignment necessarily introduce conflict between different groups to varying degrees?  If that is the case, then an implementation that introduced rewards would probably be superior to one that didn't.

I would also like to submit that the intent of the alignment used in D&D might be a different pattern then the one used in Rifts. The Alignment Pattern as currently written seems accurate for Rifts and Warhammer. In D&D, it seems more like

Intent: Demarcate the intrinsic nature of characters in the game world.

Yes, but to what end?  Why demarcate the intrinsic nature of the characters?  What purpose does that serve?  Is it to promote strife or is there some other design goal here?


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Blankshield on October 05, 2005, 09:47:28 PM
So, are there games that use "Alignment" to segregate characters into categories where those categories do not come into conflict with one another?  If so, what is the point?  Or, does Alignment necessarily introduce conflict between different groups to varying degrees?  If that is the case, then an implementation that introduced rewards would probably be superior to one that didn't.

I would also like to submit that the intent of the alignment used in D&D might be a different pattern then the one used in Rifts. The Alignment Pattern as currently written seems accurate for Rifts and Warhammer. In D&D, it seems more like

Intent: Demarcate the intrinsic nature of characters in the game world.

Yes, but to what end?  Why demarcate the intrinsic nature of the characters?  What purpose does that serve?  Is it to promote strife or is there some other design goal here?

White Wolf also does this (did this?  I'm not taking my supplements...) at a very fundamental level: Nature and Demeanor.  I won't guess at Mark RH's reasoning, but from observation I would suggest that it's simply to give 'personality niches' in the same way that character classes/clans give functional niches.

James


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: SicaVolate on October 06, 2005, 02:17:29 AM
 
Yes, but to what end?  Why demarcate the intrinsic nature of the characters?  What purpose does that serve?  Is it to promote strife or is there some other design goal here?

The short answer is that slicing up the population into a set number of alignments provides a foundation to build game mechanics on.

As already mentioned in Artanis’s and Jasper Polane’s posts, in D&D alignment is more than just an outlook, it’s a physical property. It can be tested for. It can be repelled or attracted. It can be a vulnerability. It’s more like the electromagnetic spectrum than the moral spectrum, which is spot on for a high fantasy setting. Every hack fantasy writer that’s been trotting out “aura of evil,” “emanating dread,” “palpable evil,” etc for the past century has been leaning on the idea of intrinsic evil.

Effects such as magic circle against chaos, smite evil and turn undead all rest on the same idea, that is, that the characters involved have an intrinsic nature which affects the game world around them. This idea is contrasted with the Idiom pattern, which generally has a metagame reward for something the character does, and the Alignment pattern, which is drama advice or metagame restrictions based on what the character is.

Take this example idea from Breaking Out of Scientific Magic Systems by John H. Kim, which I was just reading:

Quote
In a given magic system, chance of success of a spell might depend on what type of spirits inhabit the place where it is cast. There is no spell which simply answers this. The magician would have to deduce from other clues to find this out. The spirits might follow the traditional humors: choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic. The spirits of a place would subtlely influence it according to their nature.

Why does Mr. Kim off-handedly break up the spirits into the traditional humors? Because it would be an easy way to decide which spirits are going to react which way to a work of magic. Roleplaying the spirits would certainly be affected by this system, but the primary thrust would be to make magic more interesting. That's what I'm talking about right there. Demarcating the intrinsic nature of characters in the game world so that you can attach the crunchy bits and make it matter to your resolution system, to whatever degree is appropriate.

Also, since praise was already heaped on you in the parent thread, I'll keep it short and say: great book.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Arturo G. on October 06, 2005, 03:17:07 AM

What SicaVolate is saying has a lot of sense for me.

There are also games where all the characters of the players has the same alignment (order and code of behaviour), opposed to some NPC's alignment which are foes.

But think in Paladin. In this case it seems that the alignment works as a game mechanic that promotes colaborative work and clear objectives. However, the mechanics also allows the character shifting to the "black side". There is a temptation on using the power related to "bad" behaviour. The focus of the game is questioning moral issues related to the strict code of the alignment.

Cheers,
Arturo


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 07, 2005, 11:13:25 AM
Looking at both D&D Alignments, which I like most people have played,

Design Goal: To easily define enemies and allies.

and Nobilis Affiliations, which I don't know at all,

Goal: Explain in simple manner, how divine beings behave in the setting.

I begin to wonder if "Alignment" is a functional pattern for a game in which moral issues are significant, but moral uncertainty is undesirable -- i.e. morality is important, but not the focus of the game: If morality were unimportant, there'd be no need for a rule; but if morality were the focus, you'd want rules about moral choices and uncertainties and conflicts, just as most wargame-derived RPGs have rules about tactical choices and uncertainties and conflicts.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Owen on October 07, 2005, 02:19:42 PM
John, thanks for the welcome!

What Sydney said sounds good to me, and is to a large extent what I was trying (but failing) to explain earlier.  I find that Alignment is appropriate when one wants a factional membership to significant to the game (either in creating conflict with the players, or to demarcate some common enemy), but it is NOT desirable for change in factional membership to be a focus of the game or frequent.

For instance, D&D is designed to be played with all players being non-evil, and usually some form of good.  And while, as the game has matured, people have begun to explore the concept of alignment as a dynamic attribute, the game is really intended to be played with it as a static attribute.  Being good or evil is important, but killing things and taking their stuff is the focus.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on October 07, 2005, 06:44:02 PM
Being good or evil is important, but killing things and taking their stuff is the focus.

And I'd argue the "I'm good, they're evil, they'd do worse to innocents if I don't do them first" aspect is essential support for the "killing things and taking their stuff," because without that justification the heroic adventure becomes murdering & looting at best and ethnic cleansing at worst, which is fun-ruining for most people.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Kintara on October 07, 2005, 10:00:39 PM
Hi, I'm Adam.

I think the D&D alignment system has certain idiosyncracies that I think are worth mentioning.  What strikes me about the system is the Law/Chaos axis.  I think that Good and Evil, as simplistic as those monikers are, do the intended job pretty well.  If you're Good, then Evil things are bad.  I think, if there's something in the system that fails to meet its design goal, it's the Law/Chaos axis.  In certain cases, it may certaintly make for an interesting way to frame a party's conflict (especially if you consciously cultivate its importance, like if you were play a "Robin Hood" game).  But I think that D&D alignment picks up an odd dissonance when a group tries to work within two moral/ethical dimensions.

I wonder if the system might improve if the Law/Chaos axis was subsumed into a system reminiscent of the Domains that Clerics can choose to devote themselves to.  If a Cleric doesn't wish to devote himself to a deity, he can choose abstract concepts to venerate instead.  I think that if the second component was a larger set of abstract concepts, like the list of domains, it might break some of the intraparty conflict and "square peg, round hole" definitional issues that occur with just Law and Chaos.  If a group, or character, wants to play up the conflict between freedom and order, then they can choose to align themselves to Law or Chaos.  But maybe they wish to define themselves some other way.  The trouble is that I can't think of a very long list of concepts.  It helps to subdivide Law and Chaos into a number of concepts, though, like Honor, Society, and Stasis.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: M. J. Young on October 13, 2005, 01:38:54 PM
I stayed out of this thread to this point primarily because I'm one of the most prolific writers on the subject of OAD&D alignment, and find them one of the better features of the game.  That puts me at odds with a lot of players who, in my view, never really figured out how they were supposed to work or what they accomplished.

Let me simplify the two axes in a way you might not have heard before:
    Others over Self versus Self over Others.
    Society over Individuals versus Individuals over Society
In a very real sense, alignment was the real religions of the game, performing all the real functions of religious belief (I had already completed two degrees in theology before I discovered the game) for the characters in the game world. The deities materials were primarily color to differentiate effectively different denominations of similar basic beliefs.

As I say, I've stayed out of this because I really could say much more. However, alignment provided the core definition of how the character related to the world around him, and as such provided the framework for how he would naturally think about everything from government to slavery to charity to war and beyond.

--M. J. Young


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 14, 2005, 08:45:47 AM
Sure, MJ, but did they function mechanically?

I think that some of the problem here is that we're thinking about alignment as part of the description of the character. Which all stats and such are, yes, but the question is do the mechanics behind the rules make the game play better?

Well depends on what those mechanics are, no? A large problem here is that we're also looking at many versions of the alignment rules, even if we only refer to D&D. I can think of three that I've seen myself in different versions of D&D, all of which had different effects (and I'm no D&D expert).

For example here are some things that aligment may or may not do in a system:
1. You must have one and only one. This is usual, though I think there are exceptions (to say nothing of the crossing of the axes in D&D). This alone has all sorts of ramifications.
2. The player is not allowed to intentionally change his character's alignment.
3. The DM can change the character's alignment if the character is played counter to the alignment.
4. The DM may penalize a character's EXP gains if they are gotten by doing something against his alignment. Sometimes these are flat penalties, or EXP denials, sometimes these are percentage deductions. Interestingly in some versions it was profitable to go against alignment if the opportunity costs of not taking an action exceeded the penalties.
5. Characters can be denied use of some abilities.
6. Some magical effects only work on characters with certain alignments. Both positive and negative.


Yes, MJ, alignment serves to describe the character's belief system, in theory. But does it lead to play in which those things are reasonably examined in any way? Most combinations of the mechanics above serve merely to provide incentive to play to the character's alignment, or punishments to play against it. Considering the gamism orientation of most D&D rules sets, does this fit in, in any really effective way? What most play about alignment ends up being about, in my experience, is how to get around the penalties and such to gain as many EXP anyway. Does metagame play to avoid playing your character to type really deliver what's sought here?

I have no problem with just rule #1 all by itself. That is, it makes sense to me to require players to say something about what their characters are like in their belief systems. But most of the rest of the implementation seems to be problematic to damaging to most of the potential goals of play that I can think of. Good idea, bad implementation.

Mike


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Shreyas Sampat on October 14, 2005, 12:31:27 PM
What most play about alignment ends up being about, in my experience, is how to get around the penalties and such to gain as many EXP anyway. Does metagame play to avoid playing your character to type really deliver what's sought here?
A classic example of alignment failing to do anything meaningful is the common D&D strategy of making an all-good party, and defining all antagonists as evil. This way, alignment mecomes mechanically indistinguishable from "them and us".


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: John Kirk on October 18, 2005, 10:05:27 PM
I've split Alignment into two patterns: Alignment and Faction.  Their descriptions follow.  Do these capture the essence of what we've been discussing?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Alignment

Intent
Differentiate characters by segregating them into different categories that define how in-game events affect them physically.  Characters can also be distinguished by limiting their abilities based on these same categories.

Also Known As   
Not applicable.

Related Patterns
Faction, Idiom

Motivation
The goals of Alignment are easy to misconstrue.  This is because many games present alignment as a common characteristic that specifies how a player should portray his character.  Alignments are usually specified with words rather than numbers, the most common of which are “Good” and “Evil”.  To extend the field of aligned behaviors to a wider range of possibilities, many games specify a number of alignment characteristics, each of which must be assigned values.  In addition to “Good” and “Evil”, a game might require a player to decide between “Lawful” and “Chaotic” or “Social” and “Antisocial”, etc.  Because of these moralistic names, it is easy to come to the conclusion that a game having alignments is actually trying to persuade players to portray their characters in certain ways.  The text might even say this.  However, the Alignment pattern does nothing to promote role-play in any mechanical way (such as by rewarding players for doing so).  Thus, the pattern cannot really be described as a mechanical means of promoting role-play.  (Note that the Faction pattern, which is similar to the Alignment pattern, does provide rewards for role-playing characters according to specified belief systems.  Alignment and Faction are often used together, so it is easy to confuse the two.)

The Alignment pattern is useful, though.  One must simply recognize that the actual design goal which Alignment satisfies has nothing to do with promoting role-play.  Rather, its purpose is to differentiate characters by assigning various physical effects to some in-game events based on alignment categories.  It can also be used to distinguish characters by constraining character abilities based on their alignment category.  A character’s alignment might therefore limit the character to a subset of a game’s career choices.  For example, a player wishing to play a “White Witch” might be required to select a “Good” alignment.  Selecting this option might simultaneously prevent the character from ever becoming a “Black Witch”.  A game might even view “Good” and “Evil” as physical properties that can be detected and manipulated.  Thus, a “White Witch” might have specialized skills that have different effects based on the target’s alignment.  She might get a palpable sensation whenever evil approached, for example.  Or, she might be able to summon a “Radiance of Goodness” to aid her Good companions, hinder her Evil foes, or both.

Applicability
As a role-playing aid that gives guidance to players concerning the manner in which they should portray their characters, the Alignment pattern does a poor job.  Other patterns, such as the Faction and Idiom patterns satisfy this goal to a far better degree.  It is highly recommended that you understand these patterns before deciding to use the Alignment pattern as a role-playing guide.

As a means of differentiating characters based on pre-specified categories, the Alignment pattern excels.  Use the Alignment pattern if your goals include:

1)   A desire to define a fixed set of broad categories into which each character is placed.
2)   A desire to have in-game effects vary from one character to another based on his assigned category.
3)   A desire to limit player options based on the category to which a character is assigned.

Note that goals 1 and 3 can be satisfied by the Class design pattern.  If you do not want to vary the in-game effects of character actions based on a character’s alignment, you might want to consider that pattern instead.

The Alignment pattern tends to work well with the Skill and Gift patterns, but is less harmonious with the Traits pattern.  The reason is simple.  If you want to vary the in-game effects of various actions based on alignment, you need to specify exactly how those effects vary.  Pre-defined skills and gifts provide this opportunity in that each requires its own description.  The traits pattern, on the other hand, demands a more general rule describing how each player-specified trait interacts with the various alignments.  It is telling that none of the games analyzed in our study used both the Trait and Alignment patterns together.

The Alignment pattern mimics the Faction pattern in structure, in that both require characters to be placed in groups.  Consequently, many games combine the Alignment and Faction patterns.  Player options are constrained by a character’s alignment, in-game effects vary based on the alignment, and the alignment serves as a faction promoting conflict between the different categories.

Consequences
The Alignment pattern essentially adds a characteristic to each character that interacts with the game-world reality as if it were a physical property.  It can often be detected, leveraged, and manipulated as in various ways by game rules specifically designed to do so.  Although alignments are often identified by moralistic words such as “Good”, “Lawful”, “Evil”, “Antisocial”, and the like, they do not provide any mechanical effect to encourage players to role-play in any particular way (although many players will do so anyway because they closely associate a character’s alignment with his behavior patterns).

Since the alignment pattern seeks to vary the effects of actions based on a character’s alignment category, it can add a large burden to the game-writer’s shoulders.  The set of possible alignments essentially spans the entire game and has far-reaching consequences.  It is likely that a large portion of the skills and gifts contained within a game’s text will have alignment-based effects.  Each of these effects requires its own discussion to clarify the differences.  This means that the various skill and gift descriptions will be lengthier than if no variable effects existed.  You might decide to lessen your workload by having relatively few skills with alignment-based effects.  However, if you do so, you probably should reconsider using the Alignment pattern.  After all, why complicate your game for something that will only have a minor impact?

Implementation Concerns
If you decide to use the Alignment pattern, you need to concern yourself with categories to which you are going to assign characters.  The whole “Good” versus “Evil” alignment concept has been explored by a great many games.  So, you may want to avoid using these alignment categories in your own games to differentiate it from its predecessors.

Note that a game exploring the dangers and moral dilemmas faced by mountain climbers might categorize characters as “High Altitude Acclimated”, “Moderate Altitude Acclimated”, and “Sea-Level Acclimated”.  After all, these are broad categories that limit player options and the specific category would define the effects that a high-altitude environment would have on a particular character.  By spending sufficient time at a given altitude, a character may gradually change from one category to another.  So, it satisfies the pattern in a way that completely strips out all moralistic judgment of character behavior.

Samples
Same as currently in book

Known Uses
Same as currently in book

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Faction

Intent
Segregate characters into opposing groups to promote in-game conflict.

Also Known As
Clan, Code

Related Patterns
Alignment, Idiom

Motivation
A faction is a group or category to which characters belong.  A faction may be represented as an organization, such as a mob family or police department.  Or, it may be abstract, as is represented by the concepts of “good” and “evil”.  What is important is that factions adopt codes of conduct, either explicitly or implicitly, that come into opposition with what the game’s other factions consider acceptable.  Then, when a player has a character perform acts in accordance with his faction’s code, a counter response is demanded by characters of other factions.  This generates conflict to drive the story forward.

In a game with many factions, it is possible for different factions to have common goals at times.  In these cases, two or more factions may actually cooperate with one another for their mutual interests.  However, a well-designed faction system ensures that some factions exist that will take exception to virtually any action.  So, even though some factions may cooperate with one another on occasion, their collective opposing factions are likely to unite against them.

For example, in a modern-era game exploring the inhumanity of America’s underworld, a terrorist organization might link up with organized crime in order to obtain black-market weapons.  Neither of these groups trusts one another, and neither would go out of its way to support the other.  They might even come into conflict with one another on occasion.  But, the terrorists’ need for weapons and the black-market’s need for cash bring them together to serve their mutual goals.  However, an arms deal of this nature is likely to attract the attention of not only the local police force and the FBI, but also that of the CIA and Homeland Security.
 
Applicability
Conflict is the heart and soul of role-playing games.  The faction pattern does a good job of generating inter-group conflict but does a poor job of generating inter-personal conflict.  If your game is more about person-to-person conflict rather than group-to-group conflict, you may want to avoid introducing factions into your game.

Consequences
The Faction pattern introduces tension between characters in different factions merely by the fact that the characters belong to different opposing groups. When characters perform actions that support their own factions, they often oppose the interests of other factions and conflict inevitably results. 

Implementation Concerns
The Faction pattern does its job of promoting conflict between groups.  Characters in different factions will conflict with one another.  So, if you want to encourage cooperation between player characters, you need to either avoid using this pattern altogether or ensure that player characters all belong to the same faction.  At the very least, you need to restrict characters to a sub-set of highly-similar factions that generally get along well, even though minor differences will inevitably cause some degree of conflict to arise, however small.

You also need to specify each faction’s code of behavior, making sure that characters following that code necessarily oppose the interests of other factions.  This demarcation is critical.  Suppose you hear of a game where characters belong to law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, CIA, local police, or Homeland Security.  Would that tell you enough to let you know where the game’s major source of conflict arose?  Hardly.  Such a game could be designed such that all player characters are member of the “Law Enforcement” faction, working harmoniously in conjunction with one another to oppose crime in all its forms regardless of the specific organization to which each character belonged.  Or, it might be all about inter-agency competition where gaining credit for a “collar” was all-important, regardless of which agency actually deserved it.  In such a game, the actual solving of a crime might be of secondary importance.  Most likely, though, it would fall somewhere in-between these two extremes.

Factions can have either a minor effect on your game or a major one.  This ultimately depends on how much you reward players for having their characters support their factions in opposition to other factions.  The rewards can come in many forms.  However, if you want a character’s faction to have a significant influence on how players role-play their characters, make sure that the rewards given for supporting a faction are either:

1)   entirely independent of other reward systems or are
2)   the primary means of obtaining a given reward.

Once again, if you want factions to have only a minor effect on play, you probably should reconsider using this pattern altogether.  After all, why introduce complexity into your game for a minor benefit?  Strip it out and focus the rules purely on the game’s central core.

Samples
Suppose we want to create a game about the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.  In doing so, we could create several factions modeled after historical groups involved in the movement.  Some of the groups and their beliefs might be described as follows:

Followers of Martin Luther King, Jr.
1)   All races are equal.
2)   All races should live together peacefully.
3)   Violence is unacceptable as a means to victory.

Followers of Malcolm X
1)   All races are equal.
2)   The black race should form its own separate nation.
3)   Violence is acceptable as a means to victory.

The Ku Klux Klan
1)   The white race is superior to all other races.
2)   Blacks and whites should be segregated.
3)   Violence is acceptable as a means to victory.

Known Uses
Nobilis has five “Affiliations” that act as factions.  These are “Heaven”, “Hell”, “Light”, “Dark”, and the “Wild”.  Each of these factions has its own “Code” and these Codes come into direct conflict with those of other factions.  For example, the highest principles of each of these codes are:

1)   “Beauty is the highest principle.” (Heaven)
2)   “Corruption is the highest principle.” (Hell)
3)   “Humanity must live, and live forever.” (Light)
4)   “Humans should destroy themselves, individually.” (Dark)
5)   “Freedom is the highest principle.” (Wild)

The primary reward system of the game involves awarding Miracle Points to players for having their characters follow their code in situations where doing so involves conflict.

The World of Darkness actually contains two forms of faction in Vampire: the Requiem.  One faction involves a vampire’s “Clan”, which represents a character’s particular breed of vampire.  Players must choose one of five clans: “Daeva”, “Gangrel”, “Mekhet”, “Nosferatu”, and “Ventrue”.   (Clans also follow the Template pattern, in that they provide characters with skills.)  Each of the clans has “Stereotypes” of how they view the other clans.  These stereotypes are universally derogatory, although each clan varies in the degree to which it looks down upon the others.  The other faction category involves a character’s “Covenant”.  A covenant is a vampire organization or government.  Players may choose from “The Carthinians”, “The Circle of the Crone”, “The Invictus”, “The Lancea Sanctum”, and “The Ordo Dracul”.  Each of these covenants has its own aspirations and is involved in political maneuverings against the others.  So, the game is brimming with built-in conflict.






Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 19, 2005, 11:23:45 AM
Well I think identifying alignment as a pattern that doesn't incentivize certain kinds of play is problematic. Because for the most part it does (or even forces adherence). Rather, most of what are alignment rules are actually what you'd define as some sort of reward, right? Or penalty? Or guage, or characteristic? In Hero Quest a character could have "Antisocial" as an ability (characteristic), and it would be used normally. In D&D a player might be penalized EXP for playing outside of alignment, and this is a reward system. Etc, etc.

I've can't think of a system that has "alignment" that as a mechanic isn't some other pattern. What you describe above as alignment is a characteristic (trait?). That is, how is "Tall" as a trait that merely has certain effects listed for it not the same as "Lawful Good" if it's mechanically handled in the same fashion? I'd just chuck alignment altogether as a pattern. I'm not seeing it anywhere as distinct from other patterns.

Then I'd point out in the other appropriate patterns how alignment in game X is an example of that pattern.

Mike


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: John Kirk on October 22, 2005, 10:09:09 AM
Well I think identifying alignment as a pattern that doesn't incentivize certain kinds of play is problematic. Because for the most part it does (or even forces adherence). Rather, most of what are alignment rules are actually what you'd define as some sort of reward, right? Or penalty? Or guage, or characteristic? In Hero Quest a character could have "Antisocial" as an ability (characteristic), and it would be used normally. In D&D a player might be penalized EXP for playing outside of alignment, and this is a reward system. Etc, etc.

Well, it's possible that I need to rename Alignment to something else because the name itself might interfere with some people's understanding of it, given their pre-conceived notions of what it must mean.  (Any ideas there?)   The pattern, as currently written, does not "incentivize certain kinds of play", as you say.  It contains no reward system and does not enforce "adherence" because there is no "adherence" to enforce.  The pattern refers to a common characteristic that is set to one of a pre-defined set of values.  It is not a gauge, because their is no graduated scale associated with it, only categories. It is also not a trait, because the game designer must provide the categories.

In fact, the pattern has far less to do with the actual common characteristic and its possible values than the impact it has on the rest of the game structure.  I believe it is this feature that distinguishes it from other patterns.  It essentially must be used in conjuction with pre-defined lists of abilities and/or classes because it is there that the pattern truly appears.  Any skill, handicap, gift, or flaw that has differing effects based on what category into which a character falls exhibits the pattern.

In software development, this pattern is characterized by a lot of "switch" statements, or numerous "if, else if, else if" blocks scattered throughout the code that cause a program to behave differently based on a characteristic of some object.  It is considered an anti-pattern in software development because of the problems it introduces when a new category is added.  The same is a problem in game design.  Suppose, for example, a new alignment category was added to a simple "Good" and "Evil" alignment system.  Say, "Wild" was added.  This would require every ability whose effects differed based on alignment categories to be visited and re-written to accomodate the new category.  That is potentially a lot of work and is something to be avoided if possible.

But, if a game has a set of alignment categories that is not going to change because the categories themselves are core to a game's focus, the arguments against the pattern's use are weakened.  After all, D&D's alignment categories have not changed over the years.  So, no "re-visiting" and "re-writing" has been necessary because of this.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 24, 2005, 07:32:26 AM
You might go to programming here for a label. This would be a "Property" of the charater, no? Basically a flag for booleans. "Flag" might work, too.

Because, again, the problem is that rarely does alignment only work this way. Usually in addition to being a flag for these sorts of tests, it's also linked to a reward system, and/or other stuff.

Mike


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: M. J. Young on October 27, 2005, 06:50:58 PM
That which in Multiverser is most like alignment is called "affiliation".

It is mandatory for "gods" and most supernatural entities, but optional for characters. It has essentially a positive, negative, and neutral position.

Multiverser has no classes. Affiliation will impact the use of some kinds of magic, particularly "holy magic", obtained by petitioning a supernatural being for assistance, but anyone can do that.

As with D&D alignment, the three slots are all-inclusive: anyone has to be either for, against, or uncommitted, as there are no other possibilities.

I mention all this because a lot of what you say about "alignment" doesn't fit my understanding of it, probably for these reasons, and because "affiliation" might work as a term for what you're saying.

--M. J. Young


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 28, 2005, 09:30:50 AM
MJ,

Actually this sounds pretty much precisely like what Kirk is talking about for Alignment. Though you might want to look at his "faction" pattern to see if that's part of it, too.

What I'm thinking is that alignment and such are often "Alignment" by Kirks definitions (I'd call em flags or something), Factions, and reward systems or guages.

Mike


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Shimeran on November 03, 2005, 08:38:47 AM
Here's a quick list of what seems to define alignments in general:
  - Personality Classification: Alignments attempt to sort people into personality types.
  - Mandatory: Everyone has an alignment.  The classification system is set up so that any target can be placed in a category.
  - Exclusive: No one can have more than one alignment.  Being in one category excludes membership in others.

If we compare these to idioms, we get a few key differences.
  - Breadth: While alignment tries to classify entire personalities, idioms focus on aspect of one's personality.
  - Measurement: Alignment is an all-or-nothing deal while idioms can have a range of values.
Note that idioms also tend to: 1) have mechanical effects, 2) be optional rather than mandatory, and 3) allow more than one to such trait.

An alignment is basically character classifier (supposedly based on the characters personality, beliefs, and/or behaviour), a way of grouping individuals into categories.  By itself, they do nothing.  After all, you could as easily use things like Myer-Briggs personality types to do the same thing.  However, many games also attach mechanical effects to alignments.  These effects tend to either enforce or rely on alignments.

Alignment enforce helps force the character into certain types.  Note that these systems tend to focus more on enforcing alignment consistant behaviour rather than thoughts or beliefs.  The assumption being that people act in accordance with their personalities.  A system with strong alignment enforcement supports archetypical personalities.  On the other hand complex personalities that don't fit any categories particularly well are hindered.  In short, alignment enforcement is good if you favor simple, archetypic character types over more complex and potentially contradictory personalities.  This enforcement can be negative (punishments and penalties) or positive (awards and bonuses).  Negative enforcement leads characters to avoid actions that "break" the classification while positive enforcement encourages certain actions.  In short, penalties limit actions while bonuses promote them.

Alignment targetting is basically a modifier for other abilities.  In essence, the designer slaps a "only works on this character category" limitation on the ability.  This makes these classifications far more important, at least to players with such abilities.  After all, it tells them who their targets are.  For example, consider a character with "Heal Good" the other with "Smite Evil".  He's more likely to ally with Good character since he's better at playing with them but no better at fighting them.  On the other hand, he's more likely to fight Evil characters since he's better at it.  The more prevalent alignment targetting abilities are the more important alignment becomes and the bigger it's impact on player reactions.

Alignment dependant abilities are modifiers that apply alignment enforcement.  In short, the designer says "you must fit this personality type to use the ability".  Most such abilities work on negative enforce (they fail to work when alignment is "broken"), though an ability could be set to trigger when character's exemplify their alignment.  When combined with alignment targetting, these abilities can do a lot to set the relationship between alignment types.  If these linking abilities are positive, the groups will tend to cooperate (since aiding is boosted but harming isn't), while if they're negative opposition and hostility will be more common (as those harm abilities can only be used on certain targets).

Alignments are usually fixed in number, though this is not required. For example, White Wolf's Nature and Demeanor fit all the other marks of alignment.  However, there's not a fixed number of them.  While characters in WW can have only one of each, they can invent their own nature and demeanor or find extra options in supplements. Variable alignment sets tend to be based on the character's strongest personality traits.  Alignment enforcement can apply to fixed or variable alignment sets, so long as the guidelines for that particular character's alignment are set.  Alignment dependant abilities can affect fixed vs variable sets.  If the dependancy is also variable, them it works fine with either, but tends to weaken type distinctions.  If the dependancies are fixed, then each such ability makes that alignment that much more apealing.  Alignment targetting abilities lean even more strongly towards a fixed alignment set.  After all, fixed sets have a finite (usually fairly small) size, which means people with the target alignment will show up more, thus allowing that ability to be used more.

That's my break down on alignments so far.  Hopefully you'll find it helpful.  By the by, the design patterns book is very interesting and certainly helps break things down.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: brightstar on November 03, 2005, 11:44:41 AM
I think those that claim that Storyteller Factions (Clans, Traditions, Tribes) are a form of Alignment are making an enormous leap of logic. 

With the chief system function of alignment you can detect it, you can form protections against it, it restricts character options (as listed in the Book of Vile Darkness) etc.  A Storyteller Faction are not controlled by this mechanism. You cannot detect a Brujah.  As a Brujah you are not power restricted based on Clan, Tribe, etc.  They do have favored disciplines, gifts etc, but they do not have to follow them.   

This next point some have disagreed with here, but I went back and read the D&D 3.0 Alignment descriptions in my hardback.  Putting aside my own subjectivity it becomes clear that yes they are designed for the purpose of "morality" to enhance roleplay.  From here you can make an assumption that Storyteller Factions deliver a similar result with dictating morality and roleplaying choices through their splats (i.e. Brujah believe in Anarchy - chaos, Ventrue believe in Order - Lawful).  However this is where Alignment and Storyteller Factions part ways.  Within a Storyteller Faction, the design tool is a quick interface into that particular group, but one can deviate from the norm as much as one wants without penalty to the character or retribution from the system.  I.E. a Ventrue who wants to commit Anarchy - not be lawful can do so of their own free will.  Yet in D&D breach of Alignment code (strictly a roleplay decision, for those who think it is not part of roleplay) can have disastrous effects on your character.  For example A Paladin must be Lawful good.  Committing acts against their alignment will cost them their class special abilities.  This function is repeated throughout various classes in the D&D manual.  Being a Ventrue committed to Anarchy rather than social order costs nothing to a character, ever, except in roleplay where he might run into trouble with his elders.  But that is not an inherent system penalty, rather an "in game" penalty that can be chosen or not chosen by those involved in the game. 

My third point of the failures of Alignment in the context of D&D (which is a very system heavy game) is that it is the only rule left arbitrary.  It spends no time clearly defining what would be a failure in law, chaos, good, evil, etc and what would be a success.  There are no rewards for playing ones alignment.  There is really no delineation between the terminology.  Therefore it becomes the only part of the system left to completely arbitrary decisions on the part of the Game Master and player.  These terms, of course, are then defined by a particular gaming group.  By the inherent nature then, of alignment being a debatable point, it goes against the very nature of the rest of the system. 

What makes d20 so strong is that nothing is debatable.  There is a page xx with a clearly defined rule for just about everything that players and Game Masters can think up so arbitration on the part of the Game Master becomes a moot point.  There is a rule that has already made those decisions for him all he has to do is see page xx when a dispute comes up.  But with alignment, there is no page xx.  He is abandoned by the system and left to his own devices to finally make a decision on his own, which normally, as I've seen time and time again, leads to arguments about what determines good and what determines evil.  The only time this does not occur is when players of similar religious/philosophical backgrounds are playing together.  Then alignment itself becomes clear. But if a Christian and Cannibal were playing together, one would define eating human flesh as evil, the latter good. 

Looking at my third point and using the actual definition of anti (opposite, against) I would say that alignment is an anti-pattern to D&D.  It is not cohesive to the rest of the system.  But before I can say for sure, I must look at this example from Nobilis, which was the most convincing argument for its existence.           

Code of the Heaven
1.) Beauty is the highest principle.
2.) Justice is a form of beauty.
3.) Lesser beings should respect their betters.

Code of the Wild
1.) Freedom is the highest principle.
2.) Sanity and mundanity are prisons.
3.) Give in kind with a gift received.
(sorry for the color instead of a quote, couldn't find it on the list and I'm running out of time). 

These two descriptors are meant to allow quick interface into what it means to be a God.  These are then defined as Alignment in Nobilis. 

As a roleplay tool, yes, they are decent defining aspects for playing a God.  As a system to base how one receives Miracle points they work. 

But there is an alternative all together that has been left out thus far in this argument.  The Storyteller System employs four clear methods for creating this type of morality without confusion and within the simplicity of the system. 

The first part of these being Vampire The Masquerade had Paths and Kindred of the East: Dharmas.  These came with an overall description of the ideology of the path (like Alignment).  They were reinforced with ten levels, each with their own descriptor.  Now, the function of these two ideas parted ways in the way they played out in the system. 

In Vampire, being above a certain rating meant you behaved a certain way and obeyed the rules of all the lower points on the track.  Failure to follow ones path meant you slid downward on the track.  Once a character fell to the third level, they were quick to frenzy and needed to begin to reform themselves or chose a new path. 

In the Dharma mechanism, how good one was in one's dharma withheld access to higher rated powers.  Failure to meet the demands of your level of Dharma or below could lead to a temporary loss of power (much like the Paladin's failure to be Lawful Good). 

The Personality Archtypes of the old storyteller system also gave a quick interface into a moral and roleplay system mechanic.  These are similar to Alignment since they do not have numerical values attached to them and a player simply chooses a Nature and Demeanor and went with it.  However, they differed because a clear reward system was put in place for roleplaying ones nature and demeanor in the form of Willpower regain and Experience Points and an exact description of how those points were awarded.  Thus saying, this is how you play x archetype.  They also differ since Archetypes could not be detected by magical means and that loss of one's archetype had no dire consequence for certain characters.     

Lastly, Storyteller created in Werewolf: The Apocalypse Glory, Honor and Wisdom.  Based on ones deeds in a given session one gained points that determined advancement in your power rank.  These take on a similar trapping as alignment because they assert that what it means to be a good Garou was to do these type of actions, thereby creating a moral code for Garou "to obey".  Again, where it part ways with alignment like the storyteller factions is that it is still open ended for free choice. 

Any of the four above systems are superior to the Alignment's of Nobilis.  Why?  Because they offer a broader range of possibilities and could set perfectly clear ways of gaining the Miracle Points.  For instance the Glory, Honor and Wisdom system could be transcribed and broken down into the major aspects of the dieties.  (there is a previous post here concerning those categories, don't have time to re-post them now but they were things like wind, good, evil, etc).  the Personality archetype mechanic could also be used to define the different aspects of a God with things such as hospitality, happiness, luck, fate, etc.   A player chooses a number of them which would then define their godly outlook and way of being.  A Moral Path such as the Dharma of Kindred of The East and The Paths in Vampire would not only show how good of a God you are (because God's do make bad calls and can go against their natures, it has happened before) but it would also allow a clear delineation of how one gains Miracle Points (as well as possibly, lose them or be hampered in some other way). 

Similarly, this path structure could be used for Paladin's code of conduct to clearly transcribe what could cost them their powers.     

In conclusion, based on this analysis, Alignment is an Anti-pattern. 

As a final thought though, let us look at Alignment in terms of the history of gaming.  It was the first attempt at imposing Roleplay upon the Roleplaying universe, originating with D&D.  But over the years there have been a number of advancements in how to treat function of morality with a character.  I used storyteller as my example, but it is not the only example of this change in technique.  I don't feel it is wrong to say it is an Anti-pattern and that it is inferior to more recent developments and that it should never be used.  Hand Cranked cars were once the norm for people, but we don't use them anymore.  Because it was a by far inferior mechanic to the automatic start engines we have now.  Therefore it was made obsolete. 

My problem with Roleplaying in general is there is too much nostalgia for archaic out of date concepts and little focus and promotion (in the mainstream) on progress and innovation.


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: John Kirk on November 06, 2005, 11:59:29 AM
Shimeran and Brightstar,

Welcome to the Forge!

It is obvious to me that the Alignment pattern needs to be re-named to cut through any preconceived notions of what the pattern is about.  Something Shimeran said made me think of a term that just might fit:

Alignment targetting is basically a modifier for other abilities. In essence, the designer slaps a "only works on this character category" limitation on the ability. This makes these classifications far more important, at least to players with such abilities. After all, it tells them who their targets are. For example, consider a character with "Heal Good" the other with "Smite Evil". He's more likely to ally with Good character since he's better at playing with them but no better at fighting them. On the other hand, he's more likely to fight Evil characters since he's better at it. The more prevalent alignment targetting abilities are the more important alignment becomes and the bigger it's impact on player reactions.

That is a good point.  Characters often tend to group with characters of the same category.  So, what we need is a term that describes the categorization of characters based on behavior and/or physical characteristics.  Environmental effects may be different based on a character's category and, based on Shimeran's comment, the term also needs to convey the point that characters of a particular category may tend to "flock together".  There is a word that fits all of these requirements: Demographics.

A game with "Good" and "Evil" categories may contain a concept of Heaven and Hell.  Hell's demographic is that it is populated with Evil spirits, such as devils and demons.  Heaven's demographic is that it contains Good spirits, such as angels.  It is possible that a game world has a mixed demographic overall, but individual cities may have a primarily Good or Evil demographic.

Modern society has a smoking and non-smoking demographic.  Depending on which of these demographics you fall into, you may have very different physical reactions if forced to smoke a cigarette at gunpoint.  Smokers will have no physical reaction while non-smokers are likely to cough and wheeze and may even become ill from the experience.

What do you think?  Should the Alignment pattern, as listed above, be renamed the Demographics pattern?

If we did this, the "Alignment" systems of several games could be classified as combinations of the Demographics and Faction patterns as follows:

D&D: Demographics + Faction
Legendary Quest: Demographics
Nobilis: Faction
Rifts: Demographics
Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play: Demographics + Faction
The World of Darkness: Faction



Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: brightstar on November 08, 2005, 06:58:28 AM
I disagree with the demographics idea.  Keep Faction as you state, because yes, factions have a tendency to group, but alignment does not necessarily have the same function.  But evil does not necessarily get "along" nor group with each other.  Nor does good.  The terms are so relative they could be defined as anything.  Like I said before, eating human flesh in one culture is bad, another is good.  They both would have the alignment good if played within their basic culture.  Of course, the players could set a bias for the moral interplay of their genre, but that is up to them alone. 

The other word I was kicking around was archetypes.  Good and Evil are purely archetypes.  They relate closer with the true definition of archetypes.  This way the Nobilis system, which is working off an archetype can be included as well as old storyteller nature and demeanor, but still inclusive to their new Virtues and Vices.  Basically, the purspose of these things is to influence roleplay choices bottom line.  That's their core function.  The second layer of that function is to sometimes perscribe a system mechanic stemming from them such as detect good/evil, will power regain, gain miracle points.  This is a mechanical archetype where type two would be purely aesthetics (but come to think of it, I can't think of an archetype in any system that does not have a system side note which is key to the function of the character's success or failure.)  I just think its a stronger word then demographic, which is broad, vague, and somewhat confusing.  Technically fried chicken eaters and non fried chicken eaters are demographics...therefore, assumably, friend chicken eater could be the fourth D&D alignment and all fried chicken eaters cannot be lumped together and many will never, ever get along.   

 


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: alejandro on November 13, 2005, 12:03:36 AM
well i'm new here, and i have to say that i have always hated alignment. i think that alignment is an anti-pattern that imposes artificial control over a PC, now this is coming from a dnd background, i can appreciate what mj was getting at earlier (sorry that i didn't copy his post, but i don't really know how, it almost convinced me,) but i agree with mike holmes (?) in that it is a good idea but poorly implemented, again as related to dnd.

the problem i have with the dnd alignment system is that 'good' and 'evil' is relative to the individual defining the terms, though i don't agree with either hitler or lucifer they probably would have had different examples of 'good' and 'evil' had they written an rpg.

now i apologize, but i didn't actually read ever single post, but i do tend to agree with the demographic notion of handling alignment, if it is a system that needs to impose this type of role playing control over a PC, planescape for example. other then this i think that alignment is only best used for a gm to better understand NPC's.

that said, i think the best way to handle alignment is to encourage the players to develop a 'good' background, from which any alliances, factions, demographics, etc can be extrapolated and thus the gm can deal with 'alignment' shifts through game play, and not through direct xp penalties (if you screw an important contact, that contact won't trust you much thereafter, etc.)

if a character is encouraged to develop a background that is a) consistant to the setting, and b) strong enough that the character cares about it, then no abstract mechanics that don't make sense need to be imposed on a player.

so to finish, i believe that elements that impose mechanical penalties on acting is generally a detriment to the game, those elements should be dealt with through the effects it has on an unfolding story.

thanks and good night, alex


Title: Re: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?
Post by: Shimeran on November 16, 2005, 09:22:08 AM
Let's say we've got a pattern called "Classifiers".  A classifier is basically a descriptor for some aspect of the character.  Unlike more open-ended descriptors (such as one's name), adding a classifier involves picking a single option from a given set.  Player's usually only get one pick per set.  Each set in turn covers a certain aspect of the character, such as their personality, background, origins, hair color, ect..  By themselves classifier have little game effect.  However, there are two ways to increase the importance of a given set of classifiers.

If there are abilities that rely on the classifier, it suddenly becomes much more important.  For example, some abilities might only work if the user has a specific classifier, while others might only target characters with that classifier.  Combining these modifiers tends to imply certain relationships between classifier members.  For example, if followers of Blorg have a damaging effect that only works on followers of Glat, it's probably safe to say the two sides aren't too fond of each other.

Another option is to attach templates to a classifier.  Since each option costs the same in a given set, it's generally a good idea to make sure they're of roughly equal value if you want an even distribution of choices.  Unlike normal templates, the player loses all attached characteristics if they drop this classifier at a later date.  However, since classifiers are more often changed than just lost, this simply means trading the old characteristics for those of the new classifier.  Note that some classifiers have attached effects that make it harder or less desirable to change classifiers.

From here we could model alignment as a personality classifier.  D&D style alignments are basically behavioural classifiers with the flaw "experience penalty if alignment code is broken".  Similiarly, D&D contains effects that target or depend on one's alignment.  The system also encourages opposition along the good-evil and lawful-chaotic axises by giving each side effects that make them more combat effective against the other side.

Note that things other than alignment can be modelled with classifiers.  The key thing is to provide a selection from a set of values where each option has a similiar value and properties.  For example, classifier could work well for "elemental attunement" where character get a +1 to use and protection from their favored element, but -1 to resist their opposing element.

Classifiers are useful when you want:
 - a key word to cover the target characteristic (providing simplicity and focus)
 - selection from a set of options (usually predefined rather than custom traits)
 - the ability to differentiate characters later based on that characteristic