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Pathfinder Unchained

Alignment (Unchained)

Source Pathfinder Unchained pg. 95
Many campaigns treat alignment mechanically—as a class prerequisite, a rough concept of moral standing (often open to much bickering and debate), and a benchmark for letting you know what weapons and spells to avoid. Others treat it with more reverence, with each player delving deeply into her character’s alignment and the PCs becoming exemplars of their respective moral philosophies.

The following variant system treats alignment as a storytelling mechanic, giving you guidance on creating challenges, tracking shifts, and presenting rewards to those who champion their alignments appropriately.

For each character in the campaign, you’ll need a copy of the alignment diagram reproduced below as Table 3–1. Whether the characters’ positions are tracked by the GM or the players is up to you. There are two general ways you can start using this system. The first is the relative alignment method, which starts a character at neutral on both axes (or as near to neutral as his class’s starting alignment allows). Alternatively, you can use the standard alignment method, which allows each character to start with the alignment he wants, though he will begin closely bordering neutral and must work to fulfill the true ethos of his chosen alignment. The basic principles for each method are detailed below.

Relative Alignment: In the relative alignment method, many, if not most, characters start out as truly neutral on both axes of the alignment charts (the number 5 position on both the law/chaos axis and the good/evil axis). If a character’s starting class has an alignment restriction, the character starts at the nearest border to the neutral range on those charts as she can without breaking the class’s alignment restriction. For instance, a monk would start at the 3 position on the law/chaos axis, but would still start at the 5 position on the good/evil axis. A paladin, on the other hand, would start at the 3 position on both axes.

This method makes moral conflicts dangerous for low-level characters. For a character who must adhere to a specific alignment ethos to keep certain abilities or progress in her class, an early slip might have her searching for an atonement or rethinking her chosen career path.

Standard Alignment: The standard path is less restrictive than the relative method. A player chooses his character’s alignment normally, and the character is positioned on the chart within that alignment but as close to the border of neutral as possible (either the 3 or the 7 position on each axis). If the player chooses neutral on either axis, then the character starts right in the middle (the 5 position) on that axis.

This method can also make early levels and moral conflicts precarious, but it does make it easier to stay on track and gain the rewards allowed later on.

Table 3-1: Changing Alignment

← Lawful →← Neutral →← Chaotic →
← Good →← Neutral →← Evil →

Moral Challengers and Dilemmas

Source Pathfinder Unchained pg. 95
During the course of play, characters fight monsters, find treasure, and decide to take the left fork or the right, but there are other choices that come up in a game as well— moral choices. In most games, these choices are fairly straightforward. Do you help vanquish an ancient evil from the kingdom? Do you stop the raiders from pillaging? Do you put down the hungry troll raiding far-flung hamlets? Without mitigating circumstances, all of these can be seen as good (and probably lawful) moral choices, and can count as such when you are using this system. But this system really shines when the choices are not nearly so clear-cut.

Real moral conflict occurs through either moral challenges or moral dilemmas. A moral challenge occurs when something assumed to be a clear moral path is shown to be false or more complicated, requiring the characters to reevaluate based on the new information. What do characters do when they find out the ancient evil threatening the kingdom is actually a rebellion trying to feed the poor? What if the raiders are hill people who were displaced by a dragon and are just trying to survive? Perhaps that troll is seeking revenge for the slaughter of its mate and children by the hamlet-dwellers. What the characters do in these situations, and their reasoning for their actions, may cause individuals to shift on either of the alignment axes.

Consider, for instance, a situation in which a group of characters is tasked by a monarch with ridding the kingdom of an ancient order of cultists threatening the status quo. The act of taking the monarch’s quest poses no real moral challenges or dilemmas, and thus does not have a chance to push a characters’ alignment in any direction on the two spectrums, though an argument could be made that the characters’ obedience to their monarch might be an intrinsically lawful act. But for the moment, let’s assume the characters are being amply rewarded for such a quest (as they usually are), so unless a particularly lawful-minded character turns down such rewards, the characters can be seen as pursuing their own self-interest, which is intrinsically neutral within this system. Through the course of their quest against the disruptive cult, the characters find that while the cult is indeed working to undermine the monarch, its reasons for doing so are not even remotely evil. The cult is chaotic, yes, but good, and it seeks to throw down the status quo as a way of relieving the social injustices the ultra-lawful king pursues to keep his power nearly absolute.

What do the characters do? If they blindly follow the monarch’s commands, and even find themselves agreeing with the throne’s more draconian methods for keeping the peace, they will slide toward the lawful side. Depending on their level of support for some particularly heartless policies, they might also drift toward the evil side of the spectrum. If they throw in their lot with the cult and actively fight their former employer, they’ll shift more toward the chaotic end of that spectrum, and depending on their motivations, they could also drift toward either end on the good/evil axis. These are not the only options, of course! The characters could try to get one or both sides to recognize the concerns of the other. This would be the ultimate peacemaker role and, if accomplished, would be a major victory for the good of the kingdom as a whole (and thus a large shift toward good on that axis). It is possible they could also play the sides against one another, pushing them into a deeper and more bitter conflict, then take advantage of the power vacuum created by such strife, which would be evil and probably also chaotic.

Regardless of the outcome, it is only in moral conflict that characters have a chance to make decisions about competing moral goals on both the good/evil and law/chaos axes, and it is those kinds of challenges this system requires.

More difficult to design, and often harder to adjudicate, is the moral dilemma. Moral dilemmas are like challenges, but they contain moral paradoxes, meaning there is never a clear solution, and the PCs must struggle to find the solution that is best for them. A group of adventurers sworn to protect the king and the royal line finds out that the king is a power-hungry demoniac who is opening a gate to the Abyss, and the only way to stop the plan is regicide. Killing the king would mean a bloody civil war, and the characters would be branded as traitors. Not killing the king, though, could lead to deeper suffering, or force the PCs to try to defeat an army of demons before the fiends tear the kingdom apart. The adventurers must decide the best course of action when neither is optimal. Naturally, the point in these situations is not to make the “right” decision, but to see what decision the characters make, and adjust their alignments based on that decision.

Timing and Focus

Source Pathfinder Unchained pg. 97
Nearly every adventure has the potential for moral conflicts, but you should be careful not to spring them on your players too often; otherwise you risk creating conflict fatigue or lessening the dramatic impact. While moral conflict can be a fun and thought-provoking part of a campaign, remember that some players like to focus on more concrete aspects of the game, and the best sessions often feature a diverse selection of moral, strategic, and tactical challenges. Moral challenges are often nuanced, and moral dilemmas can be frustrating with their “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” nature. Both can be just as stressful as a challenging battle, and can ramp up tensions at the table—for better or worse.

In addition, oversaturating a game with moral challenges and dilemmas may have the unwanted effect of cheapening them. Try to think of these conflicts as something akin to the classic “boss fight” in a combat-oriented game: a momentous occasion of great struggle, as opposed to the more common nuisance of a trap, which can be foiled quickly once the mechanism is understood. Consider limiting these types of challenges to once per character level, at most. Some groups may thirst for more, and you should give them what they want, but once per level is a good place to start.

While it may be fun to constantly challenge strongly aligned individuals, try to create moral challenges that the whole group can participate in. In these situations, characters will act as individuals and put forward many points of view and desired actions. This inter-character strife is often enough to create the framework for spin-off moral challenges, and give individuals the opportunity for alignment shifts and affirmations through interactions with other party members. Be ready to assimilate such spontaneous moral challenges and gauge them as appropriate. Even more so than the moral challenges you design into your campaign, these interactions can be visceral and fulfilling to players because they come from natural character interaction.

Shifts and Affirmations

Source Pathfinder Unchained pg. 97
When faced with a moral challenge or dilemma, use each character’s response to inform whether he or she gains a shift or an affirmation. It’s up to the GM to judge whether a response warrants a shift on the alignment axes. Often, this will be easy: Did a character act in a selfish and uncaring manner? That may cause a shift toward evil on the good/evil axis. Did the character uphold the law of the land over the rights of its citizens? That may cause a shift toward the lawful side of the law/chaos axis. Particularly severe actions may warrant a 2-step shift. However, you should never allow more than a 2-step shift for a single action. As the GM, the final decision is yours, but keep in mind that players may disagree with your initial judgments. Allow them to appeal your decision. Take their arguments seriously, and don’t be afraid to change your mind.

Early in a campaign, you will likely have many shifts as the moral dimensions of characters take shape. Later, as those moral characteristics start to gel, some characters will settle at the extreme ends on one or both of the alignment axes. At this point, they’ll likely commit acts that support their alignments, but since they’re already settled on one or more extreme ends of the alignment axes, there will be no movement on the charts. In these cases, the character is awarded one or two affirmations—small, temporary benefits keyed to the affirmed alignment—based on how many steps you think the action would otherwise have shifted the alignment. A character can spend an affirmation she has gained once within the next 24 hours; any affirmations not spent within that time disappear. Spending an affirmation is usually not an action, but a character must be conscious to do so. The following are benefits gained by spending affirmations.

Chaotic: When attempting a Reflex or Will save, you can spend a chaotic affirmation to roll twice and take the higher result. If you already have an ability that allows you to roll twice and take the higher result, you can spend this affirmation to gain a +2 bonus on both rolls instead.

Evil: You can spend an evil affirmation to gain a +2 bonus on the damage dealt to or healed for all targets when you use an inflict spell or channel negative energy, or you gain a +4 bonus on a single weapon damage roll you make in pursuit of your own desires.

Good: You can spend a good affirmation to gain a +2 bonus on the damage dealt to or healed for all targets when you use a cure spell or channel positive energy, or you can impose a –4 penalty on the damage roll of a weapon attack made against one of your allies or an innocent.

Lawful: You can spend a lawful affirmation to gain a +4 bonus to AC against a single attack. You must choose to spend this affirmation before the attack roll is made.

Note that neutral characters do not gain affirmations—this is because neutral characters already have the advantage of not being targetable by alignment-based spells and effects.

As players advance in level and become more invested in the system, feel free to create your own affirmations based on a particular character’s emergent moral dimensions. For instance, if one of your players is a paladin of Torag, it’s reasonable to allow her to use a lawful affirmation to grant an adjacent ally her bonus to AC. You can also design your own affirmations based on the action that led to the affirmation.

Going Cosmic

Source Pathfinder Unchained pg. 98
Morality and alignment in Pathfinder are about more than just everyday actions. When you truly pledge yourself to an alignment, you become part of a timeless struggle of ideas that transcends mortal life and the physical world, a conflict so vast and eternal that the gods themselves are caught up in the fracas. As characters increase in level and power, they can play correspondingly larger roles in these cosmic struggles.

These larger ideological battles also involve moral challenges as already outlined, but the individuals participating in them tend to be powerful extraplanar beings like angels, demons, proteans, and inevitables— creatures that in many ways exist as physical manifestations of their alignments.

Alignment Feats

Source Pathfinder Unchained pg. 98
As characters enter the larger cosmic struggles of morality and alignment, they are able to gain new tools to help them champion their philosophies.

Alignment Feats: If you have at least 10 Hit Dice, you can take any alignment feat that matches your alignment. You cannot have more than one alignment feat at any time, but after changing alignment, when you reach a new character level, you can freely switch your alignment feat to your new alignment’s feat. Most alignment feats have a Residual entry that allows you to benefit from some part of the feat even when you no longer meet the alignment prerequisite for the feat, usually aiding you in a small way to regain that alignment. Most alignment feats also allow you to store affirmations for later use. If you shift alignment and no longer have the ability to store affirmations, any affirmations stored by that feat are lost.