Sunday, 29 January 2012

Lawful What? An Alternative Alignment System

I have always been vaguely fascinated with the alignment system in Dungeons & Dragons; somehow, its unsatisfactory codification of ethical complexities into a simple nine-point grid holds a certain charm. You know what your Lawful Good paladin stands for, and why he has issues with the Chaotic Good bard, even though they're both on the side of the angels. The merits of the scheme are probably best expressed in Planescape, where it forms an expressive backdrop for the Great Wheel's unique cosmology and the interplay of belief and ideas.

In that vein of thought, let me present a somewhat whimsical alternative to the standard system of ethical and moral alignment, in which character's personal values and codes are presented in the form of Colours, Pieces, and Suits. It could be easily used in place of any system of codifying characters' moral or ethical alignments. A honour-bound steel-hearted paladin might be a White Knight of Diamonds, while passionately faithful paladin might be a Red Bishop of Hearts.

The Colour of one's character represents their moral perspective on the world. In a phrase, you might say it colours their definition of good and evil.

The colour White stands for strict benevolence, for the greater good over all other concerns and emotions. To be aligned with White is to reject the concerns of the self and focus only on the betterment of the world. White is the most moral of all the Colours because it rejects selfishness and destructive emotions.

Passion and romantic idealism are embodied by Red. Red characters are lovers and warriors, fighting boldly for their ideals even in the face of reason. Red is the most moral of all the Colours because it holds love to be the most important force in the universe.

Grey is a rejection of extremes. The Greys stand for balance between competing forces; a neutral stance in a complex universe that cannot truly be understood. Grey is the most moral of all the Colours because it rejects extremes and holds to neutrality.

In the spectrum of Colours, Yellow represents greed and self-interest, but also ambition and the seizing of opportunities. Yellow characters can be greedy mercenaries or gluttonous merchants, but they can also be ambitious artists who hold their work above all. Yellow is the most moral of all the colours because one can only be true to one's self.

Black is the colour of the void and of oblivion. It is the colour of nihilists who hold that the universe is flawed and the destruction, and deserves to be corrupted or destroyed. They may not take any pleasure in suffering or destruction, but Black characters fundamentally believe in the wrongness of creation. Black is the most moral of colours because the universe deserves to be destroyed.

Pieces refer to the relationship with power and authority; how one reacts to rules and laws, and where one believes ultimate responsibility lies.

A Bishop places their faith solidly in the otherworldly and the divine. They hold that moral order stems from some force greater than themselves, rather than from any human ideals. Morality may come in the form of a divine text, or in the answers they hear in their personal prayers, but it is something unmistakably unworldly and immaterial.

Knights hold true to a personal code of honour and conduct, unalterable by external forces.

To be a Rook is to respect temporal authority and to hold true to one's station in society. They hold laws and traditions in high regard, and will not easily be moved to break them. Rooks make implacable servants and loyal officers, and can often be found serving in bureaucracies, or as guardians of civic order and virtue.

"No lords, no masters!" is the dying creed of the Jack. Mercurial and changeable, they cannot be pinned down to any code of conduct. Jacks are anarchists and radicals, scoundrels and renegades; found only on the edges of a society they fundamentally reject.

Some believe that authority stems fundamentally from themselves. These Queens are the ambitious and the powerful, those who believe themselves the rightful makers of law. While they may hold to some moral code, they believe themselves best placed to implement it in society.

A character's Suit represents the virtues that they value most strongly, and the means by which they seek to achieve their goals.

Diamonds respect excellence in all areas of life, and disdain the mediocre. No Diamond will settle for good enough; they will always push to achieve greater heights of skill or quality. The greatest gift you can give a Diamond is an exquisitely crafted tool or weapon.

A character in the suit of Hearts will hold creativity as the greatest of virtues. To create is to be close to the divine spark, to touch the gods. They strive for innovation, beauty, and clever solutions to difficult problems. The greatest gift you can give a Heart is an expressive work of art.

Spades value diligence and simplicity; the virtue of a hard day's work. The greatest gift you can give a Spade is to satisfy simple pleasures with a hearty meal and a refreshing beverage.

Clubs thrive on competition and in contests of skill. They seek to prove themselves superior through victory over their foes and rivals. The greatest gift you can give a Club is to challenge them to a game that tests their strengths against yours.

The unpredictable and the unexpected are the domain of the Joker. Nothing is sacred; they push for change at every opportunity. The greatest gift you can give a Joker is something unique and surprising.


  1. The only problem I see here is in Player's personal preferences. Favorite colours suddenly start influencing alignment choice. It isn't the worst problem-- especially when you are making a character in a vacuum of your own preferences, but for new players & casual players who make characters they most easily identify with, it could be an issue.

    1. To a limited extent, yes, this might be true. However, one of the design aspects of this system is that any of the colours can interact with anyone else; even Black. Black characters can span from evil masterminds with a plan to destroy the world, to nihilistic anti-heroes who aim to reduce the suffering of those who inhabit the world before its inevitable destruction.