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Author Topic: Is Alignment an Anti-pattern?  (Read 19595 times)
John Kirk
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« on: October 01, 2005, 01:33:58 PM »

I recently started a thread here soliciting feedback on a book I am writing: “Design Patterns of Successful Role-Playing Games”, which you can download in a rough draft form from http://legendaryquest.com.   In that thread, the criticism was raised that the Alignment design pattern in the book lacks in its support and justification.  That is a valid criticism.  It is not that I do not want to justify the pattern.  It is simply that I have been unable to do so on my own, which leaves the pattern description somewhat biased.  But, that discussion was not germane to the topic of that thread, so I split it off here.

The purpose of this thread is to determine whether Alignment is a Design Pattern or a Design Anti-pattern.

For it to be considered an anti-pattern, it must be shown that for all reasonable design goals, there is a better alternative to Alignment.  Conversely, for it to be considered a design pattern, it must be shown that there is some design goal that a properly implemented Alignment satisfies as well or better than all alternatives.

I do not want this to degrade into an opinion poll.  So, if you respond please state your design goal and provide an example implementation where you believe Alignment is the best design choice.  Or, provide a counter-example where you believe a previously mentioned design goal could be met in a better way than using Alignment.  I know that this can potentially be a sore point with some people, so please keep your posts civil.  All I really need is one single example of where Alignment can be shown as the superior design option for a given goal.  More would be better.  To make sure everyone understands the goal, solution, and reasoning you are proposing, it would be helpful if you used the following format:

Design Goal:
State the design goal you are trying to accomplish.

Solution:
Give an example that meets the stated design goal in a superior fashion.

Reasoning:
State why you think your solution is superior.
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John Kirk

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Stefan / 1of3
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Posts: 88


« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2005, 02:53:23 PM »

Alright.

First of all, it might be useful to understand, what an Alignment is.

Alignments are similar to Idioms, except they are not Gauges. Useful applications therefore cannot be Gauge applications:

Quote
Use a Gauge when you:

1) Want to want to emphasize an important game concept.
2) Want that concept to play a mechanical role in your game.
3) Have seriously considered not representing that game concept as a gauge.
4) Having properly pondered, concluded that introducing a gauge brings more of a
focus on the game’s core rather than distracts from it.

Furthermore Alignments are similar to Classes. They can give a character a "collection of flaws, gifts, skills, and/or handicaps" (p. 28, Class pattern). So we should look on the applications of the Class pattern for reference.

Quote
Use the Class Pattern when you want to:
1) minimize the number of decisions that players need to make when generating
their characters
2) allow players to learn only the subset of rules pertinent to their characters
3) protect character niches so that characters with different classes play different,
meaningful roles within the game


There is one game with the Alignment pattern, which IMO used in the best fashion possible: Nobilis.

The Affiliations in Nobilis meet the Alignment pattern perfectly.

So what could be considered the design goal:

Goal: Explain in simple manner, how divine beings behave in the setting.

Two sample Alignments from Nobilis:

Quote
Code of the Heaven
1.) Beauty is the highest principle.
2.) Justice is a form of beauty.
3.) Lesser beings should respect their betters.

Code of the Wild
1.) Freedom is the highest principle.
2.) Sanity and mundanity are prisons.
3.) Give in kind with a gift received.

Why are Affiliations necessary in Nobilis?
- The answer is easy. Most people (including me) have a hard time, imagining how gods behave.


Why is the Alignment pattern well suited?

- It is not necessary to assign a value to the Affiliation. Either you are a servant of Heaven or you are not. Characters in the game change their Affiliation rarely.

- The Affiliations are supposed to make a character part of a group. If the Affiliations were Gauges, players would not only need to the difference between Angels and Wildlords, but also between different levels of the Alignment.

- In Nobilis the Alignments actually manage to make believing characters follow their prescriptions. In the description of the Alignment pattern John explained that,

Quote
In most cases, this reward [i.e. the reward playing out the Alignment] is
exactly the same type of reward that a player will earn for performing other activities.
If a game gives out experience points for playing his character’s alignment and also
gives the same reward for slaying an orc, players will naturally tend to focus their
efforts on those activities that generate the greatest reward in the shortest amount of
time.

In Nobilis the reward for following the Alignments code is Miracle Points: The standard reward in the game. Still it works, because in Nobilis the Affiliations are the easiest way, to gain MPs. The other main possibility are Restrictions. And it is in fact easier and more comfortable to appreciate some art, than enter a situation were on of your Restrictions strike.
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John Kirk
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« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2005, 08:39:09 AM »

Stephan,

That is an excellent write-up.  Very clear.

In Nobilis the reward for following the Alignments code is Miracle Points: The standard reward in the game. Still it works, because in Nobilis the Affiliations are the easiest way, to gain MPs. The other main possibility are Restrictions. And it is in fact easier and more comfortable to appreciate some art, than enter a situation were on of your Restrictions strike.

This may be where I went astray with the pattern, in that I didn't explore the possibility of when the rewards for playing alignment are actually the easiest way to attain them.  It also helps explain why my own alignment system in LQ doesn't really meet its own design goals well.

Does anyone have a counter-example of how Stephan's Design Goal could have been accomplished better in Nobilis with some other pattern or technique?  Or, does anyone have another example of where Alignment is the optimal solution?
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John Kirk

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Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2005, 11:08:26 AM »

I can say a few words about Alignement in Planescape, an ADnD 2e world supplement.

One very strong idea in the game is that you go exploring the whole cosmology (and there's a very neat structure for that), killing demons and angels and whatnot and of course taking their stuff.
Thing is, each plane is itself aligned. Characters get bonuses or penalties depending on the differences of alignement between themselves and the plane they are visiting (invading?).

I think if you're a good guy on an evil plane you get penalties, on a neutral plane you get nothing and on a good plane you get bonuses.

I like the way alignement here is taken as a tangible concept, and the way it affects tactical considerations. (There are also a lot of roleplaying opportunities thanks to the various Factions (philosophers with clubs, also more or less aligned) that roam the setting's main city at the very center of the cosmology, Sigil.)

It must be said that there are a bit too many weird rules in Planescape (a priest who is wandering off too far from his god's plane will cast weaker spells for example) to make the whole supplement an example of good insertion of alignement (in a gamist sense), but there are a number of nice "Color affects Character effectiveness" bits in there anyway.


Sorry if it's a bit chaotic, that's what I remember off the top of my head right now.
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Regards,
Christoph
Owen
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Posts: 20


« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2005, 10:23:59 PM »

Alignment is a good choice in systems where you do not expect the characters to vary significantly from their chosen alignments, whatever those might be.  Nobilis is a perfect example of this, though it is still true of D&D.  In most D&D games, it is not expected for the characters to shift alignment, and if they do it is usually a game-changing thing.

Alignment is better than idiom for games that want to deemphasize the possibility of change in the character's moral affiliations.  For many games, this is not what they seek to achieve.  But for those that do, it is a workable system.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2005, 11:00:41 PM »

Hi John,

I wouldn't say Alignment is an Anti-pattern, I would say traditionally it's been used for the wrong purposes.  Alignment works best as a means of promoting conflict.  If you draw lines, people will take sides.

For D&D, this has often stepped on the concept of "Us vs. Monsters", by causing many groups to eventually have to face, "Us vs. Us" when alignment conflicts break out.  You can compare this to T&T, which, pretty much has the same premise, just without alignment, intraparty conflict is rare to non-existant.

For other games, such as Vampire or Paranoia, Alignment under the guise of various splats, such as Clans or Secret Societies, work great to get the characters at each other's throats.  You can also see this at work in most CCGs and RTS videogames- make sides, give them an identity or theme the players can identify with, and let the players defend that identity through conflicting with other groups.

Many other rpgs followed the splat formula, but ended up with results similar to D&D, mostly because Alignment divides instead of unites.   And, the more restrictive the Alignment, that is, the less players can choose to deny or act against it, the more sure conflict will happen.

Chris
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Jasper Polane
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« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2005, 11:18:48 PM »

I don't think the purpose of Alignment is to help roleplaying your morality or something like that, and the text in Design Patterns is, well, wrong. Alignment is a descriptor to indicate if some spells work on the character, which aligned magical weapons he can use, if some class features work on him, etc.

So if, for example, your character is Good, it means an Evil cleric can cast the spell Dispel Good on you, and it works. When your character is Evil, it means Protection from Evil works against you, and that a good cleric can damage you with Holy Smite, a spell that only damages Evil creatures.

I think this is the main purpose of Alignment in D&D, at least it is in 3E and 3.5.
 
--Jasper
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2005, 05:55:37 AM »

Including the Clans of Vampire in the Alignment pattern is very interesting. Is Alignment nothing more than a Faction, a group to which one belongs rather than an intrinsic quality of the character? Even in D&D, this appears to be the case. Members of an alignment "faction" can be identified by various Detect spells and the various factions don't get along well. In versions of D&D prior to 3E, alignment "factions" even had their own languages.
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John Kirk
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« Reply #8 on: October 03, 2005, 08:10:24 AM »

Do the "Affiliations" in Nobilis have this "faction" effect?  That is, do characters of different affiliations tend to conflict with one another?  If so, I would guess the Miracle Point awards would strongly encourage players to have their characters compete with one another.
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John Kirk

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Bankuei
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« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2005, 08:24:01 AM »

Hi John,

I'm not familiar with Nobilis, so I can't say.  I don't think it's necessarily a faction, as much as it's a philosophical faction.  That is, my character could be from one order of knights, and your character could be from another order of knights, and there's difference there.  But if the game lists the orders and gives them various philosophies that conflict- now there's alignment. 

You can see that in D&D, you don't have competition between the Wizard's Academy and the Thieves Guild, because those are not loaded with differing viewpoints, but alignment, which is based on abstract philosophies of "ways of life", instantly creates sides and conflicts.

Chris
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Arturo G.
Member

Posts: 333


« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2005, 09:11:04 AM »


Hi there!

I would say that alignments/factions do not necessarily imply conflict. Depends on their definitions. I think we are marked by our old D&D alignment's experience.

I can see three situations:

1) Alignments which are conflictive by their definition (which can be interesting for competitive games)
Examples: Religions in open war for any reason. A philosophy which search the enlightment by study vs. a philosophy which predicates the danger of the knowledge, inspired by demon, which followers burn books.

2) Alignments which are not conflictive, but do not support common interests (which can be interesting for games which do not focus on colaborative work between the characters)
Example: A philosophy which search the enlightment by study of the ancient tomes vs. a religion which predicates the experience of wild nature as the way of being one with the high-spirit.

3) Alignments which somehow overlap, producing common interests in the characters (more appropriate for games which promote colaborative work between characters).
Example: A religion of love and peace vs. a philosophy which promotes the community as mean for social development.

Anyway, all of them may be useful for certain games.

Cheers,
Arturo
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Owen
Member

Posts: 20


« Reply #11 on: October 03, 2005, 09:28:41 AM »

Perhaps we could formulate that alignment is appropriate for representing some fairly static difference in point of view with respect to some important philosophical aspect of life as appropriate for the game in question.  For instance, the Traditions in Mage: the Ascension could be considered alignments, but they're not exactly conflictive.  Certainly they might cause a bit of strife within the party, but they are not the primary source of conflict.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #12 on: October 03, 2005, 09:30:33 AM »

Hi Arturo,

To clarify, I am saying that all Alignment = a form of factioning, but not all factions = Alignment.

So, as I pointed out- the faction of Wizard's Academy and the faction of Thieves' Guild do not imply conflict, because there is nothing behind it dictating how characters should act, and in a mutually exclusive fashion.  But there is behind Good/Evil, Law/Chaos as defined by D&D.  If we look at Palladium's examples, which are more complex, the differences are in the individual rules or codes for their alignments ("It's ok to lie to enemies" vs. "It's never ok to lie") etc.

It is these differences, and how often they come up in play, that will produce intra-party conflict.

Chris
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Stefan / 1of3
Member

Posts: 88


« Reply #13 on: October 03, 2005, 03:25:28 PM »

Do the "Affiliations" in Nobilis have this "faction" effect?  That is, do characters of different affiliations tend to conflict with one another?  If so, I would guess the Miracle Point awards would strongly encourage players to have their characters compete with one another.

The main Affiliations are Heaven, Hell, Light, Dark and Wild. - I feel negative vibrations.

Normally most of the PCs will have the same Affiliation and there probably won't be opposed Affiliations (e.g. Heaven and Hell) in the same group.
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #14 on: October 03, 2005, 04:08:13 PM »

The main Affiliations are Heaven, Hell, Light, Dark and Wild. - I feel negative vibrations.

Normally most of the PCs will have the same Affiliation and there probably won't be opposed Affiliations (e.g. Heaven and Hell) in the same group.
I'm not sure that either of these statements in the case.

At any rate, the Affiliations are constructed so that they deliberately come into conflict without being mutually exclusive, which is basically the opposite thing that D&D alignments do; I'm not sure they they really belong in the same basket.
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