Alignment. Does it matter?

Greetings all! Over the weekend I was lazily doom scrolling through a 1000 D&D videos on youtube.
I stopped for a second when I saw a video titled ‘ALIGNMENT DOESN’T MATTER’ After a quick pause, I continued to scroll and thought it was an interesting statement and one I’d like to open to the forum. (I didn’t watch it btw!)

I get the impression that In previous editions, Alignment mattered. A lot. Does it really matter in 5E though? What does it mean to you? Are there any alignments that you absolutely ban your characters from choosing?

Yeah, kind of. Your lawful good paladin gets a parking ticket? Bam, instant fighter.

I think alignment is a minor help to roleplaying as it gives players a point of reference when they don’t know how to react to something in character.
Besides that there are a couple of options that force restrictions due to alignment (and I think they are mostly holdovers from old editions), a couple of magical items for example.
Ultimately I always considered alignment to be too objective to really be useful (and I assume a lot of old school players/DMs will disagree with me on that point, and that is ok!) . And honestly considering how abilities and spells that “address” Good/Evil (like Protection from Good/Evil or Divine Sense) are phrased in 5E it does not concern alignment anymore at all so I’d say WotC also thinks alignment isn’t useful (anymore).

I usually ask my players to consider that their character should be able to work with the group of adventurers at least, if that means they can suppress their chaotic evil reflex to kill anyone who disagrees because these people are useful to them, that is ok.
The simple rule ‘Alignment does not affect the Party’ paraphrases that in a pretty decent way.

In the end it depends on the players if they make (good) use of the alignment and the few things that either are affected by or that can affect (Deck of Many - Balance Card) alignment.
At the very least it is a lot more fluid than it used to be as it has far less mechanical implications than it used to have.

I would say 5e is pretty flexible about it, and it is a good thing. I perceive them more as general character behavioral guidelines, and when using them I prefer dynamic alignments. That is, players characters start with one alignment (of their choosing) which can change subjects to decisions these characters make. This becomes more pronounced when a deity is involved, where a paladin would tend to have his/her power diminish as they start ‘falling from grace’ but regain them by following a deity of another alignment or reverting back to the old ways etc.

On a slightly more serious note, alignment mattered in the original game because Law and Chaos and all that mattered in some of the stories on which the game was based, as well as in the fantasy subgenre which the game portrayed. Today’s game represents a completely different subgenre, and those early influences are now third-hand at best. It only makes sense that alignment isn’t as important now.

Besides, 5th ed has all kinds of other means of restricting character behavior, such as inspiration.

In practice, however, alignment probably never really mattered all that much anyway, at least not for players. The harsher bits, e.g. its effects when gaining levels, were generally ignored. Mostly, it was just useful to allow the DM to determine who can ride that unicorn or throw the book at any paladin who decides to branch out into grand larceny.

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Was it so? Beyond the fact, paladins tried to act heroically and morally as “white knights”, based on your perceptions GMs and Players took it seriously in the old versions?

I don’t mean settings-wise, but if a chaotic character ever acted even for a second logically or a good character had a bad day and kicked a puppy, did the peers punished them severly for leaving their pre-defined moral frames?

I can tell you from my 90’s games that paladins, being LG, were often a pain in the ^%$ to play. Players chose them with intent to be heroic cavaliers however that really really depended on the group…which more than often was chaotic. Thieves and pallys wouldn’t get along, pallys were often left behind, and eventually volunteered to stay behind, during dubious interactions with NPC’s and so forth. Eventually the player wouldn’t have as much fun as she/he wanted. On the contrary would be a group of heroic goody two shoes, where the paladin would get to shine but then the thief, let’s say, wouldn’t :). Talking about imbalances…
DMs took alignments seriously…as the mechanics were built around them. Deities also played larger roles (i.e. forgotten realms - time of troubles). Players not so much (after all who can blame them), and that led to long debates and rule lawyering, and often resulted in some homebrewing.

Does alignment matter? - I’d say yes and no. Fixing your alignment can give you a nice starting point to any character. A sort of guideline saying: ‘This is how my character is going to act… generally speaking’.
BUT once you get further into playing your character you sort of have to ‘forget about it’ because otherwise you will block yourself from a lot of character development. Life is as messy as Alignment is (and should be) fluid.

I do still like thinking about it because sometimes it does come into play (e.g. deck of many things, Book of vile darkness, etc.) at with point you have to ask yourself: “What alignment is my character at the moment? Is is the one I started out with, or did I shift over into another direction at some point?”
If a shift did occur, I love looking back at the path they walked and finding all those little moments that changed them into the person they are at that moment.

So: Most of the time no. But when it does it is always enjoyable.

Yes and no. Taking the rules literally, there were pretty harsh penalties for straying from however your alignment - or class, if I recall correctly - was theoretically supposed to behave. But it was like those laws you occasionally hear of with a ridiculously high penalty compared with the severity of the infraction that are therefore never actually prosecuted (there was a famous example here a while back). Ultimately, everybody ignored those rules.

Besides, rules that penalize players for deviating from some trait on their character sheets or provide rewards for sticking to them are garbage. Some of the best stories involve character growth, or downfall, or other manner of change, and disincentivizing that is ridiculous. It’s just bizarre that after mainly getting rid of this sort of thing in D&D, it snuck back in via the indie movement, of all things, which claims to be so concerned with narrative.

Since I was summoned …

Yeah, much as I dislike some aspects of alignment (don’t even get me started on Know Alignment spells and the like), I do see the point of objective alignment, or more specifically: objective evil.

In many D&D games, or a chunk of the fantasy genre as a whole, objective evil is pretty much the prerequisite for characters to be heroes. Without it, you’d at best get lost in a shades-of-grey moral quagmire, and at worst have to conclude that the characters are nothing but marauding murderers and thieves. Objective evil takes care of those problems.

Yes, it’s a simplistic fictional conceit that deserves to be examined and subverted every so often, but I think there’s a place for escapist adventures in which the lich isn’t misunderstood, but evil through and through.


That was pretty much one of the best described argument for high fantasy.

As mentioned before, in earlier editions alignment had mechanical effects. (e.g. detect evil, protection from good etc)
stuff, that I rather disliked usually …
unless when there was a campaign build around that concept

e.g. I once ran a Pathfinder campaign, that ran strong on the LE theme
(contract with devils, convincing a dragon to abduct a princess, etc …)

some official setting examples:
Tékumel (the D&D-Version) had a Law vs. Chaos theme, which I thought worked well
Planescape also dealt a lot with alignment, but I was not too happy with that
Eberron tried hard to subvert the “X has Y alignment” trope (maybe that’s why I liked it that much)

and there is also this Order of the Stick comic strip :smiley:

Regarding the banning of alignments in 5E

Usually I pick a “group-alignment” with the players,
and then they should create characters, that are up to 1 step-removed from that alignment-wise
(as in the old Temple of Elemental Evil pc games)

e.g. if we would pick CG, they could pick CG, NG, or CG