Friday, November 27, 2015

DCC Without Character Alignment

This post will outline one possible method for running DCC without character alignment.  I'm sure there are many other ways to do this.  And as always, everyone is free to run their game any way they want.  Hopefully this is helpful to some.


Mongol General:  "Conan!  What is best in life?"
Conan:  "To crush your enemies.  See them driven before you.  And to hear the lamentations of the women."
Mongol General:  "That is good!  That is good!"
-Conan the Barbarian

Leeloo:  "Everything you create, you use to destroy."
Korben Dallas:  "Yeah, we call that human nature."
-The Fifth Element


The Motivation:

In the film Conan the Barbarian, what alignment was Conan?  Did he properly follow his character alignment through the film?  When Conan and Subotai fought Thulsa Doom and his followers at the Battle of the Mounds, who were the good men, and who the bad?

These are the wrong questions.  And Conan had no concern for the answers.

Let me tell you what I did with character alignment in my DCC game.  When we started, I had already rolled up characters for all the players in Roll20.  On every character sheet under Alignment I wrote "Neutral."  And from then on, character alignment was never mentioned again.  If I had it to do over again, I would redesign the Roll20 default character sheet for DCC and strip out the section for Alignment.

I started with Sailors on the Starless Sea, with the characters questing against the rise of an Avatar of Chaos. This to save the people of their village. The clerics worship Crom and The Four Winds. They heal party members and cast spells.  The wizard has a demon from another planet as his patron. The party has enjoyable debates about whether and how to help the people of Hirot.  The thief is a bit selfish.  The wizard is somewhat unhinged.  The amazon warrior is a champion of the people.  All this without official character alignment, and certainly without any policing from my end of any mindcrimes they may have committed.

DCC as a game has already gone halfway to eliminating the concept of character alignment. Consider the following dialogue from Intrigue at the Court of Chaos:

Why don't you steal it yourselves if you're so powerful?
"...In this matter, we must rely on mortal servants with souls as yet undevoted wholly to one side or the other.  You mortals' curious and most delightful gift of free will makes you immune to the wards that prevent us from acting directly."

But I am a devoted servant of Law (or Neutrality)?
"Are you?  Are you truly?  How quaint is the concept of devotion in you mortals...Tell us: Do your gods always answer your prayers?...What you mortals call 'faith' is nothing more than lighting a candle against the eternal darkness of the multiverse."

As we are already halfway, let's see how far we must go to finish the job.


The Mechanics:

Step 1: Take the Word 'Alignment' Off the Character Sheet

Characters do not select an alignment at creation or at any other time.  They exist in a universe with a cosmology as determined by the Judge.  If the Judge follows the cosmology explicated in the Rulebook, then the universe has the Law Gods and the Chaos Lords, and neither side is necessarily on the side of humanity. Humanity is the random element at the middle of the conflict between these two overwhelming polarities.

Step 2: Fixes for Character Classes

Alignment is used at several points when defining the character classes in DCC.  To strip out this component, make the following changes:

  • Clerics
    • Choosing this class requires the character to devote themselves to the ideals and worship of the deity they follow.  This devotion goes well beyond the bargain between a wizard and his Patron.  Failure to follow the proper ways will have predictable mechanical and roleplaying consequences.  The specific ideals of the deity may not necessarily align with the Law/Order split predominant throughout the Rulebook - it's up to the Judge.
    • Healing:  Redefine the words in the matrix as follows:
      • Same - those who worship the deity
      • Opposed - those who by their actions or nature are in opposition to or abhorrent to the deity
      • Adjacent - everybody else
    • Turning: "Unholy" creatures are those who by their actions or nature are in opposition to or abhorrent to the deity
  • Thieves:  Thief skills are determined in the Rulebook by alignment.  Instead, allow each character to select which "Path" they want to follow.  Or, if you are feeling particularly feisty, switch to a point-buy system and let your players do what they want (this is what I do).
  • Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings:  All player characters have free will and no set alignment, including demihumans.  A demihuman race may have a propensity for one alignment as determined by the Judge or as listed in the Rulebook.  The player may choose to adopt the predominant alignment or not, as desired.
  • Class Titles:  These are just flair anyway.  Let the players pick which column they like, or have them select a title from each row depending on level, or better yet, let your players come up with their own title as reasonable and in keeping with their power level and reputation.  Or have the Judge come up with their own naming system in keeping with the way their gameworld works.

Step 3: Fixes for Magic Spells and Eldritch Events

Several wizard and cleric spells and magical effects (mercurials, phlogiston disturbances) refer to alignment.  I went through the Rulebook and I only found very minor effects, usually one or two points penalty or bonus for a save.  Here is a list of the spells I found that mention alignment:
  • Runic Alphabet, Mortal
  • Consult Spirit
  • Emirikol's Entropic Maelstrom
  • Eternal Champion
  • Fly
  • Runic Alphabet, Fey
  • Sword Magic
  • Write Magic
  • Blessing
  • Detect Evil
  • Find Familiar

For Blessing and other appropriate cleric spells, use the same trichotomy I listed above for clerical healing. For cleric spells like Detect Evil and Protection from Evil, the spell does all the work for me.  "The definition of evil is based on the cleric..." (pp.263).  Enough said.

For the remaining spells above, simply ignore the penalty or bonus for alignment in the spell description if the spell targets a playable race or party member, or have the Judge determine an appropriate result (see below).

For Find Familiar, either allow the player to choose which row or column they would like to roll on, or have the Judge determine an appropriate result (see below).

Step 4: The Judge Tracks 'Alignment'

The Judge will track all the actions of the players, and how those actions may create a stronger affinity for or commitment to one polarity or another of the Law/Chaos divide.  This is no different from the Judge weighing the behavior of the characters as far as their local and regional reputation is concerned.  Actions have consequences.  As the PCs adventure, they will make choices and those choices will say something about who they are - in a more metaphysical sense, those choices may change who and what they are.

It is up to the Judge to determine how those changes mechanically effect the characters, especially concerning spell effects and magical item effects that trigger off alignment.  This is more an art than a science.

Step 5: Completely Disregard the Paragraph on Page 360

There is a paragraph in the Rulebook on page 360 describing the relationship between Luck and Alignment. Cross this paragraph out.  Do not in any artificial way punish or reward the players for acting according to one alignment or another.  The only consequences they should face from doing so are, as always, the natural consequences of their actions.

This means that the Judge will need to determine under what circumstances they will grant or take away luck from the players.  I leave that to your excellent discretion.

Step 6: Keep Alignment for Monsters, Items, and Beings as Desired

The point of this hack is to free the players to play the way they want.  I personally love the Law/Chaos divide of DCC, and make heavy use of it in my games.  Monsters, patrons, gods, magical items, feel free to assign them an alignment and have them act accordingly.  But where I draw the line is the minds of the players/characters.  You can have both - strong alignment mechanics, and player freedom.

Step 7: Handle Metagame Problems Through the Metagame

If PvP or 'evil' characters are not allowed in your game, just say so and have the players agree to such in advance.  Don't police these issues in a roundabout way through the Alignment system.  Address the problem head on, and solve any issues by talking to the players rather than punishing their characters.


Hopefully this guide was useful to a Judge or two out there.  There are many rpgs that don't make use of alignment at all, and I personally find alignment to be one of the best and worst aspects of d&d inspired rpgs. DCC came very close to my personal taste on this issue - with the simple changes above, it's a perfect match.

If you find any other issues in the conversion or have a different take on the matter, feel free to let me know in the comments.