Good and Evil.

If our actions had no consequences, there would be nothing wrong with anything we might do. This statement is as implausible and impractical in real life as it is in an RPG fantasy setting. Why is that? It is fantasy, after all. It's just a story, isn't it? Copernia provides the environment, suggested directions, and plot elements of the story but relies on the players, guided by the game master, to fill in the blanks. This requires real interaction, between real humans, with fundamental differences in opinion. So to keep a game from degenerating into a philosophical debate, there have to be rules. Perhaps the most debated set of rules in D&D surround alignment.


Copernia is a fictional fantasy construct but needs to have relatable elements that contribute to that suspension of disbelief. In Tolkien's words, "the inner consistency of reality," something that goes beyond imagination. A fantasy world and story, such as ours, has more complexity, depth, and "consistency of reality" when it has a representation of "evil." That evil can be embodied by a shared moral and/or natural enemy, either physically or metaphysically. Evil is that which embodies the antithetical morals of the protagonists, our heroes.


Traditionally alignment was fixed. Players chose an alignment when they create their character. According to the rules of the game, you were bound to act in a manner befitting that choice. The 2nd and 3rd editions had mechanics for classes, spells, and a host of other variables tied to alignment. 5th edition lets you choose whatever alignment you want and do pretty much anything the GM will allow. So does this mean alignment means nothing in the 5th edition? No, it means that alignment is back where it belongs, in the plot, story, and player interaction, rather than in the mechanics.


Over the last 40 plus years, I deliberately restricted players in my games from playing evil characters. I did this in part because of the forced mechanics surrounding alignment. I also believe that pretending to act evil is unhealthy both spiritually and psychologically. That worked in my gaming circle, and I don't expect everyone to share my opinions. I also believed that there is always a little bit of the player in the character and a little bit of the character in the player.

Now that I am finally working on the publication of my campaign world, I can apply my interpretation and variations on definitions and game mechanics. In my world, alignment is fluid, based on perception, and defined by action.


All living things possess natures that are inherently in conflict. This conflict is created because we have free will, and we are simultaneously inclined by nature to goodness and evil. I am not claiming to be omniscient here; I am just establishing a reasonable and potentially debatable foundation for building the definitions that will drive some direction in this fictional setting.

Therefore, characters (are) inclined towards evil because their will is not fully good. Characters are "good" because they choose actions that are "perceived" as being morally good. Creatures are evil because they choose a path that is "perceived" as being morally corrupt. In both cases, "perception" is the primary defining factor. The waters are muddied even further because the perception can be defined both by the masses and by the individual carrying out the actions. Differences in perception pose significant problems in real life and yet enhance the drama in our fictional world.


Immanuel Kant was an 18th-century German philosopher. Kant believed that our free will, the fact that we choose between good and evil, gives moral value to a good act. Kant also thought that the root of evil was self-interest. Whether or not you agree with his philosophy, it plays very well into the definitions of character alignment. I think it's fair to say that the more focused a PC, NPC, or encountered creature is on its self-interest, the more evil, chaotic, or both they are likely to be. If a character always expects a reward for otherwise morally "right" actions, they are not all that altruistic, are they? If that's the case, are they really good?


What about the gods? You do have gods in your world, don't you? Yes, Copernia has a very large, very detailed, and if I may say so, epic pantheon! The thing I think D&D has always gotten wrong about gods is how they constrained them. They are, after all, gods, fictional, yes, but lets at least stick with the definition.

The supreme or ultimate reality: Being perfect in power, wisdom; creator and ruler of the universe. (paraphrased Merriam-Webster)

What is good, evil, neutral, lawful, and chaotic to a god? Whatever they want it to be, whenever they want it to be. They don't care; they're gods.


So in the absence of tying game mechanics to good, evil, lawful, and chaotic actions, how do we differentiate good versus evil when perception is at least half of the equation? A moral foundations theory was first proposed in 2004 by social psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Joseph Craig. This theory has five original moral foundations and a sixth later added by Haidt. The important thing is that these six foundations transcend religion, politics, and most of the other topics that can get us in trouble around the dinner table or gaming table. The six moral foundations are:

· Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm

· Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating

· Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal.

· Authority or respect: submitting to tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion.

· Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation

· Liberty: Freedom from coercion by a dominating power or person (opposite of oppression)


These real-world moral foundations give us a framework upon which can be built the fictional but relatable moral foundations for the societies within Copernia. The good guys are for these things; the bad guys are against them. Let's face it; if the alignment wasn't based on some external rule, the concept of evil would make no sense. If there is no evil, what are we saving the world from? If the world doesn't need saving, it doesn't need heroes.


Game over.

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