Sunday, August 1, 2010

In the Beginning...

... there was alignment. And it was ... meh.

Alignment was the first real step toward character definition in RPGs, encouraging characters to take a side in the grand battles between good and evil and law and chaos. It gave players a hook to hang some roleplay on, but it wasn't very well defined and occasionally contradictory.

Palladium took the next step and defined alignments more rigorously. Detailed lists of common alignment-defining situations and how each alignment should respond. And let's not forget the oft-reprinted rant against "neutral" alignments.

The real question I'm facing as I try to bootstrap this into a modern design is: Is alignment still valid in games these days? Even the grand-daddy of all RPGs, D&D doesn't use them much anymore. The 4th edition of that game reduces alignment to a spectrum, rather than its classic grid configuration, and also allows PCs to be "unaligned", with no inclination towards good or evil.

One thing I am considering is a system of "behavior tags", in which players define things that their character would never do, must always do, will risk to achieve and so on. More like Beliefs, Instincts and Traits from Burning Wheel than FATE Aspects.

Something a little broader would encompass the old Palladium insanity rules. Like most of the Palladium system, insanity worked fine when it was first introduced (in Beyond the Supernatural, clearly intended as a competitor to Chaosium's Call of Chthulhu), but after getting bolted on to a dozen games, it becomes less relevant and even a little silly. Particularly amusing is the Crazy Hero tables added in for Heroes Unlimited. Though most of what that does is try to cover up the fact that Heroes Unlimited didn't really have a robust power system. Especially the "Power by Association" table. "Green Lantern doesn't really have a magic ring. He just has a delusion that the ring given to him by the Guardians of the Universe gives him his powers."

One thing I will NOT do is create a disadvantage system. At least not for mental status. That just makes the system a little too easy to twink, as you can get points back for all of your insanities and then do your best to make sure the GM never notices exactly what it says on your sheet. If disadvantages exist in this system, they will have direct mechanical implications, but more on that in a later post.


  1. First off, great blog. I'm also in the process of trying to "fix" RIFTS... I think there is a great game buried deep (really, really deep) down under a lot of mechanical confusion and stuff being bolted on wholesale.

    I find that alignment doesn't add much to any game. I'm not actually a big fan of mechanically regulating regular PC behavior. (Not possession or mind control or insanity, but their beliefs, values, etc.)

    I also find the anti-Neutral alignment particularly amusing, especially since Kev actually calls it one of the few unbending rules of the game. Really, Kevin? That's where you're taking your rules stand?

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

  2. I'm inclined to keep alignment, but find a way to make it work and be interesting, for a couple of reasons.

    1) The infamous "no neutrals" rant. Another way of saying it is "everybody must stand for something, even if only themselves." That would be an interesting element to explore.

    2) The world of Rifts is highly moral. Mostly in that there's a lot of evil floating around. Supernatural evil. Which means that it's crying out for Big Damn Heroes. Not a lot of gray, not a lot of standing around, either.

  3. For the most part I don't think Alignment is necessary for most games. I think it would work great in a RIFTS type game if it simulated the black and white aspects to the story and the need for Big Damn Heroes; of course, behavior tags might be a less rigid way to accomplish this.