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I've DM'ed alignment free pen and paper games that worked out just fine. You just have to substitute character motivation and personality. it also allows you great freedom since you can make essentially any npc into a more significant character should that deliver more interesting options for your party. Sure the inkeep "looks amenable and nice" and he might behave that way, and you don't have to go deeper. but that doesn't mean he is "lawful good" it's just an arbitrary thing that puts characters in boxes, makes stereotypes and boxes you in with them.

stereotypes are boring and clichéd.


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It defines the Character's overall personality, allows the DM to design his campaigns without having to try to account for every possible variation, and defines roleplaying expectations.

An alignment is never required to define a character's personality. A character in a RPG is barely different from, say, a character in a book. It is up to the player / the author to define the character's personality. It doesn't need to be expressed in game mechanics, it just needs to exist somewhere, whether it's purely in the player's head or scribbled onto some notepad. It's that personality that defines roleplaying expectations.

 

Without it, you have a Character personality that is largely ad-libbed, inconsistent, and often ends up with the Character being an Avatar for the Player's personality rather than the Character being seperate. It largely starts entering LARPs land where the Player is the Character, rather than the two entities being seperate..

Why would a character suddenly become inconsistent just because his personality has not been forced into the constraints of an alignment? If that were true, no book author could write any believable character without giving them an alignment first, because writing a character is a very, very similar creative process to playing one in a roleplaying game. If Tolkien had no note that said "Sauron is lawful evil" (or whatever really), the Dark Lord of Mordor would have suddenly started to build orphanages or something?

 

Further, it's hell for the DM, since he has no reasonable expectation of how any given event will play out, since now all actions are completely arbitrary. A Paladin can pee on an altar, because there's nothing that defines the Character's personality as an individual who would never do such a thing. Campaigns themselves rapidly become ad-libbed since the DM constantly has to deal with the random actions of players.

A paladin is free to pee on an altar, and the God in question is free to strike him down with some lightning from the sky. I've been a gamemaster for years, none of the system we played used alignment, and I never had to worry that any paladin crapped on his deity's altar or any acolyte ever told his inquisitor "y'know, I think the God-Emperor is the biggest douchebag in the known galaxy". Honestly, if players are unable to make up a character personality that fits the setting and the storyline and act at least moderately sane in that character's role, well, then roleplaying maybe ain't the right hobby for them.

 

Alternative systems, such as Reputation systems, are plagued by far worse problems than a Alignment system. Since now you attach values to actions, you end up with utterly ridiculous situations, such as a town's hero suddenly killing nearly everyone and ending up with an neutral reputation. Or worse, the "Pay a fee to commit a crime" scenario, where you identify someone who has something you want, find a reputation sink in the town, kill the person and then go donate your reputation back up.

That potential trouble is easily avoided by defining a robust reputation system. As a general rule, a good reputation is frigging easy to ruin - the local hero who is caught stealing will very quickly stop being a local hero. And you simply need to define "points of no return" - kill somebody, and your rep can never go over a certain point again. No matter how much your donate to charity after murdering someone, you'll still be a murderer and appropriately unpopular.

 

TBH, the only thing I've ever seen a Reputation system, or any other Alignment alternative do is facilitate people's desire to take arbitrary action and avoid consequences.

Consequences do not require the presence of an alignment, it requires simply common sense from the game master, or, in the case of a computer game, the scripters of the system. You desecrate an altar - bad things happen to you, no matter what alignment you are. You murder someone - people will hate you, no matter what's on your character sheet.

 

I think alignment is mostly a constraint. A crutch, at best.


When in deadly danger

When beset by doubt

Run in little circles

Wave your arms and shout.

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