5e Alignment Now THIS Is How You Fix It!

5e Alignment Featured

Many of us have scratched our heads at the 5e alignment system in Dungeons and Dragons. I played for years without defining my character’s alignment. I just made up a character with convictions and motives. But it is not as straightforward for new players or even existing players.

So, how is it beneficial, how can it be improved, and should it just be removed?

As both a player and a Dungeon Master, I have given much thought to the 5e alignment system. The following is an analysis of how it currently works and the best way to adapt it to take the depth of your characters to the next level.

Why do we need the 5e alignment system at all?

It is essential to understand that the 5e alignment system is more like a compass than a map. It can lead you in the general direction of how your character would behave but not like a point-by-point list of dos and don’ts.

The 5e alignment system is a tool you can use to create a general idea of a character’s way of acting. But beyond that, it comes down to Evil, Good, and Neutral decisions as well as Lawful and Chaotic behaviour.

This provides your character with a moral compass. But not in-depth enough to follow step by step. Your character would be one-dimensional if you used it that way.

Context Matters in 5e Alignment

We must consider which society our character exists in. If you are a Lawful character, you follow the rules of your society. However, society might be broken so being Lawful Good means you are committing Evil acts in someone else’s eyes. 

If your whole community is based on the idea that the Lizardmen worship a demon then they need to be destroyed for the greater good. Consider however if the lizardmen are actually a peaceful people who worship a harvest goddess. Both sides see the other as evil and themselves as lawful.

One might say, “But lawful good means they do acts of kindness and help.”

This is true. But good in the eyes of who and which society? A Knight defending the weak farmers and then going on a rampage through the enemy territories is both a Hero and a Villain at the same time. This all comes down to one thing, conviction.

What do you believe in?

The world is too shattered and opinionated to say good.

Alternative approach to the 5e alignment system

Another TTRPG, Vampire the Masquerade, introduced the Humanity system. In older editions, they also used a Nature and Demeanour system, which makes sense to a certain degree. However, this way of doing things mostly relates to the inner beast. Not your direction regarding personal matters or your wants and needs.

The Nature / Demeanour system did scratch the surface of stereotypical behaviour deeper than a 5e alignment system. And perhaps it can provide an alternative for character creation in Dungeons and Dragons. The Nature / Demeanour system would not by itself be enough as it would give you a rather black and white image of a person. Both the good and bad sides are rather extreme due to the dark nature of the gothic horror the system is set in. 

Five Pillars of the Improved 5e Alignment System

What is it we need in the 5e alignment system?

As we mentioned earlier, we have the compass. Now we need a map of how to react in a situation according to conviction and self-reservation. This part is essential. Facing life-threatening situations, we might be convinced that we would sacrifice ourselves in a fight against evil. However, self-preservation is the opposite. It is our need to survive no matter the cost despite the convictions we might have.

Now we have two significant and contrasting factors that drive anyone: Conviction and Self-Preservation. 

Using the pillars of Conviction and Self-Preservation could help bring back some logic to the oft-heard phrase: “This is what my character would do.” That line is brilliant. It means I might disagree, but my character would do this. However, it has a terrible reputation because people make broken characters with no self-preservation, driven by conviction alone. 

Characters with only conviction can be self-destructive. This is usually what we think of when someone says, “That is what my character would do.” But we need to stop associating that line with something terrible. The sentence shows your willingness to put your ideas and convictions aside to let the character do what they would do from their perspective with their knowledge. The problem arises when it is an illogical decision based on actions your character may want to take but also would know better than to do.

Outside Interference 

Sometimes we do things for those we love, which is neither for Conviction nor Self-Preservation, and this third pillar is opposite to both. This is Compassion. The love and care for others. Compassion can make us do things we would never do or not do something we always thought we would. These moments of compassion can be compelling and can make or break a person. 

The Fourth pillar is the opposite of all three. Fear can come in many forms and shapes. Fear of a dark secret coming out, fear of losing your nobility, or even a simple fear like the fear of losing your job. Fears are not fear of death as this would be covered by Self-Preservation. Fear is more of an inner voice that tells you to do things to not have that fear come to pass. Fear is often related to your own personal status quo, to keep things the same.

So far, we have worked out that our characters are supported by four pillars: Convictions, Self-Preservation, Compassion, and Fear. The final piece of this structure is Aspiration. The wanting or dreaming of becoming something more, or simply wanting something more. Aspiration can also overrule all of the above pillars.

Reality

In real life, we do things we don’t want to do all the time. A customer yells at you and is extremely rude, but you do not scream back or misbehave. Why? Because of your workplace’s internal rules (laws), you have to give the customers the best service. This is an example of practice to uphold a conviction in their employees. 

You may disagree with it, but because of the fear of losing your job and not being able to pay your bills, you endure this. On the opposite end of this, you may spend an hour with a customer trying to find the best flour for her baking simply because you find this old lady endearing and want to help her. This is Compassion. 

If we again say you are the cashier and someone holds you at gunpoint and asks for the money in the till. You give it to them. You might be brave and want to fight back, but will you fight your own feeling of self-preservation?

The feeling is strong for a reason, to keep us alive. 

Your manager asks you to stay after closing hours to help with a tedious task you don’t particularly want to do. You have a Dungeons and Dragons session after work. To do the task, you will have to cancel D&D. You aspire to become a manager one day, and this task would help you understand the job better, so you cancel D&D to pursue your dreams. 

No One’s Perfect

We don’t always do what we want; we break our morals for better or worse. As human beings, we are not consistent in our behaviour. We wear many faces with different people and in different situations. Going out clubbing on a Friday night or taking your grandma grocery shopping are two different faces you wear.

Now that we have cleared up the five pillars of the human driving force, we can begin using them.

How to use this knowledge!

Now let me explain how I think we can best use Convictions, Self-Preservation, Compassion, Fear, and Aspirations to make a deep character.

Draw a circle on a piece of paper. Then place 5 smaller circles along the edge of the circle. All equally apart from each other. Then think about which drives your character more than other ones. Then draw a line between each. It may look like we are summoning a demon but stay with me.

On each line between two pillars make an ‘X’ where you think your character lies between the two.

How to Use the Five Pillars of the Improved 5e Alignment System

This helps you to remember how your character thinks. Keep it handy and check over it when you face a situation where you are not quite sure what your character would do.

The next part is what helps you flesh out the character.

Convictions in the Improved 5e Alignment System:

You can have multiple depending on which Society/Community/Grouping you want to address.

  • 1—I follow the rules of our society, and I genuinely believe our way is excellent and Honorable.
  • 2—I follow the rules of our society. I do not always agree, but I follow without arguing.
  • 3—I follow the rules of our society. Sometimes I stray a bit from the path, but I believe in the greater good.
  • 4—I follow most of the rules but secretly don’t follow the rules I disagree with. 
  • 5—I follow the rules but will call out any rules I disagree with, but if told to stop by a superior in my Society/Community/Grouping, I will stop challenging the rules publicly.
  • 6—I will follow the rules but challenge any law I disagree with. Even my superiors cannot stray me from the right path even if they have. 
  • 7—Society is for the greater good. I follow some rules if It makes sense to me. 
  • 8—Society is a great construct. I follow the rules, but I do what I want when no one is looking.
  • 9—Rules are there to keep the weak in check. I do not follow any rules and openly do not care.
  • 10—The rules of our society are flawed, but I aim to change them from within. 
  • 11—The rules are corrupt and made to control us, and we must rise to break their power over us. 
  • 12—Any rules should be broken. We should not limit ourselves to such trivial pursuits.
  • 13—I don’t break the rules because they are wrong; I break them because I want to.

Self-Preservation in the Improved 5e Alignment System:

  • 1—I will run away if a situation seems dangerous.
  • 2—I will defend myself if attacked.
  • 3—I will fight for what I believe in if the fight seems easy.
  • 4—I will fight for what I believe in if the fight seems at good odds.
  • 5—I will fight for what I believe in if the fight is even.
  • 6—I will fight for what I believe in even if the fight seems against my odds.
  • 7—I will fight for what I believe in even if it means I will die to stay true to my convictions.
  • 8—I will defend my loved one with my life or surrender myself to ensure their safety.
  • 9—I will sacrifice anyone around me to survive and make any deal with anyone if need be.

Compassion in the Improved 5e Alignment System:

  • 1—My loved ones mean everything to me. I will do anything to help them if it is not dangerous.
  • 2—My loved ones mean absolutely everything to me. I will fight for them. 
  • 3—I am willing to lay down my life defending my loved ones. 
  • 4—I will do anything to keep my loved ones safe. Anything.
  • 5—My loved ones are secondary to my convictions. Not even they are above my code. And if they break the rules, I will try to convince them of their mistakes.
  • 6—If my loved ones make a mistake or break a rule, I understand they will be punished.
  • 7—If my loved ones make a mistake or break a rule, I will punish them. 
  • 8—I will try to help anyone I meet if it’s simple and not dangerous.
  • 9—I will try to help anyone I meet if it is within my capability.
  • 10—I will try to help anyone I meet, even if it might be dangerous.
  • 11—I will try to help my loved ones somewhat if it does not interfere with my own life.
  • 12—I know the rules are wrong and but I use them to cover my schemes within the lawfulness of the society/community/grouping.
  • 13—Anyone expecting me to do something also knows I expect something in return. 

Fear is Essential in the Improved 5e Alignment System:

  • 1—I have a deep-rooted fear of something, and I will never shake it, and it controls me.
  • 2—I have a deep-rooted fear of something. It sometimes takes over, but I want to overcome it.
  • 3—I have a fear of something, and it is always at the edge of my mind. But I mostly contain it.
  • 4—I fear something, but I can hold it in check under ordinary situations. 
  • 5—I have fear, but I do not let it control me. 
  • 6—I have overcome my fears.
  • 7—I have many more little fears, and they impact me during my day. 

Aspirations to Guide Your Character Through the Improved 5e Alignment System:

  • 1—I want to be the best there ever was.
  • 2—I want to be known as one of the greatest in my field. 
  • 3—I want to be successful within my field.
  • 4—I want to become a master in my field.
  • 5—I want to learn the basics within my field.
  • 6—I want to learn something more about my field. 
  • 7—I don’t know what I aspire to do yet. 
  • 8—I want to perform a specific task worthy of a grand celebration.

With simple lines like these, you end up with a more in-depth character approach to alignment. You can add your own or use these. Before, we had only a few stereotypes with some degree of lineage, but now you can make a more living character with several nuances across the five pillars.

Improved 5e Alignment Example:

Joe the Knight is in the Employ in the service of the Church of Bob. Joe is married and studying to become a Paladin.

Convictions:
  • 4—I follow most of the rules but secretly don’t follow the rules I disagree with.

Sometimes, Joe has to do the dirty work that he disagrees with.


Self-Preservation:
  • 3—I will fight for what I believe in if the fight seems easy.

Joe is not that brave. He pretends to be the hero.


Compassion:
  • 11—I will try to help my loved ones somewhat if it does not interfere with my own life.

Joe is cheating on his wife in secrecy, so he is also an Adulterer. Again, this may be in direct opposition to his Convictions due to his work with the church.


Fear:
  • 3—I have a fear of something, and it is always at the edge of my mind. But I mostly contain it.

Joe fears someone will realise he is cheating on his wife and somehow use it against him.


Aspirations: 
  • 8—I want to perform a specific task worthy of a grand celebration.

Joe, driven by his fear and lack of bravery, hopes to one day perform a great Heroic act to redeem himself from the sin he commits.

Final Thoughts—Improved 5e Alignment System

So fairly quickly, you can make a complex character using just a few lines. And this example was related to one conviction. If we say the laws of the country he lives in are also in contrast to his personal direction, then you can build and build. 

You can add several layers for each group, and you can have multiple of each of the pillars for the same character. As many as you wish and feel you need. As long as you outline it properly and keep things separated.

This is a better way to build a character’s motives and understanding of their world. The above lines are examples and not a complete list, so please let us know what you would add to the pillars in the comments below.

Now create your own. Try it out and let me know what you think! 

Thank you for reading my thoughts on improving the 5e alignment system! Message me on Twitter if you agree or disagree! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And be sure to follow J’hon, Celeste, Dreccik, and Ingue, as they unravel the mysteries behind the Legacy of Darkness in Monsters & Mayhem on Twitch and YouTube!

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