What DO I Know About Opinions? THe Alignment Poll Answers

So, I decided to see how this would go–I would post a question at the beginning of the week, and then take a look at the answers at the end of the week. I decided to kick off this experiment with a tried and true RPG discussion: alignment.

Origin

I posted this poll at the following locations online:

I thought of a few more locations after I got rolling, but we’ll address that when I post new questions. Right now, I just wanted to frame the context of the answers I received.

I received 43 responses. I was hoping to get a bit more than that. Obviously 43 across the sources I mentioned isn’t even close to representative, but also, social media algorithms are weird, and this poll gets buried fast, because nobody knows who I am.

I left open the option of providing a comment as well, and of the 43 responses I received, I got 31 comments to go along with the initial vote. I started this last Sunday, and closed it this morning (12/11/2020). It did take about three days to get my post approved on the D&D 5e Facebook page.

Picture1Answers

Early on, “Yes” and “No Alignment” were trending way faster than “No, Good/Neutral/Evil.” That last response began to catch up later in the voting, which may indicate that those responses were coming from the D&D 5e Facebook page, but I didn’t capture where people first encountered the poll.

Just from our sample, we can see that people are evenly split between wanting more nuanced personality trait style “alignments,” and being happy with the status quo. While not as large as either of the other options, there is a significant response for “No Alignment System.”

One of the reasons I wanted to post the locations is to show that two sources are D&D or D&D adjacent sites, one is an RPG site that has a lot of D&D players, and one is a more general RPG site. My Twitter catches whoever looks for it.

Comments

I’m not going to reprint all of the responses, but I did want to find a through line if one exists. These are the general trends of the comments:

  • At least two comments weren’t clear that this was about the Good/Neutral/Evil axis as opposed to the Law/Neutral/Chaos axis.
  • At least five comments had, at their heart, expressed a desire to “keep the game simple,” with alignments granting “permission” to “triumph” over evil.
  • There were at least seven that favored the idea of character traits that nodded towards morals, rather than providing absolute labels
  • There were at least three comments that were opposed to anything that might provide an external grouping that could be used to justify acting against the other category based on the category itself
  • I received a nice discourse on deeper philosophical studies and some recommended texts to explore those deeper discussions
  • I had at least two people that instead of commenting on their responses provided a primer on what alignment is, assuming I didn’t understand it well enough
  • One response actually wanted a rating system for each element of alignment to provide a more accurate measurement of moral and ethical positioning
  • There were at least three responses that favored leaning more towards the Anderson/Moorcock style of Order/Chaos structure to the multiverse

I wanted to make the question as simple as possible, especially since I think I was already displaying some biases in asking the question in the first place. I didn’t want to lean too heavily into that opinion, but I did notice a few of the responses indicated that the way I phrased the question left some ambiguity about what I was talking about.

I intentionally said “adventurers,” because I wanted this focused from a player character, mortal being, person living on the prime material plane point of view. This question wasn’t meant to preclude that some big cosmic things could still have an alignment, like angels, demons, and devils. But, I didn’t expressly say that. Also, it’s not intrinsic to the premise that you DO keep alignment even for those cosmic beings.

More Words from Me

I don’t want to definitively draw conclusions from what anyone answered, even if they provided a comment. That said, it’s my blog, and I’ve got opinions, so I can’t help but have a few things to say on some topics.

It’s interesting to me that in introducing that alignments might not be as nuanced as they could be, some of the pushback in the comments was that “some people just want a straightforward good versus evil story.” What’s interesting about this is, there are lots of good versus evil stories where characters don’t have defined “teams” of good, evil, and neutral, and the good versus evil theme is still evident.

Let’s take a well known example that has RPG representation. There have been multiple Star Wars RPGs that only really keep track of “Dark Side Points” or an alignment to “evil” for Dark Side Force users. But in that paradigm, it’s still pretty easy to see Tarkin as “evil” without having an alignment to hang on him.

Superhero games can be VERY clearly good versus evil, but there are rarely alignment systems associated with those games.

Without being too uncharitable, it feels like some players don’t just want a game to be good versus evil, they want to be able to retroactively say that their character is good, when their main motivation was to have an opponent to kill. Essentially it’s like saying you want a “Good versus Evil” game, where you character just really likes killing people, but you want to say your character is “Good” because you limit your murders to “Evil” people.

That’s some Dexter level reasoning there.

Not That It Matters . . .

I’ve belabored alignment several times on the blog, so I don’t want to go down that road too far again. I will say that currently, the way I treat this in D&D, when it needs to be addressed, is that anyone with a more “mortal” perspective doesn’t have an alignment, but they may have an alignment they aspire to follow. Essentially, it’s like a character trait. As with any philosophy, you might try to follow something and be really bad at it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not what you wish you were.

Cosmic beings like Celestials and Fiends can have alignment, but they also have a hard time viewing reality in terms of a mortal perspective, and if they do get a more mortal perspective, they lose their ability to connect to the “big picture.” A cosmic being gaining mortal perspective is often why they “fall,” rather than it being a simple shift of alignment.

From the more “old school” perspective, I’d argue that even in stories where Order and Chaos were cosmic forces, even the champions of those forces were often opposed to the imbalance between them, rather than the dominance of one over the other. “I like order and control, but the world is too stagnant and staid, so I need to destabilize the establishment” wouldn’t be out of place in those stories. 

More Opinions!

Hopefully I can have a compelling poll question ready to go by this Sunday. If you have any simple RPG related questions you would like to nominate, feel free to let me know. Additionally, if you have some solid RPG sites or communities that won’t be more of a headache than they are worth where I can post access to the poll, please feel free to nominate some of them.

Thanks for stopping by!

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