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Lately, in one of my campaigns, I've been having problems with a character who everyone agrees is acting out of alignment. Everyone, that is, but him. The problem, of course, is that he's playing a Monk, and his actions are clearly chaotic in nature. Not just on rare occasions, either, but continuously. Well, I've told him that if he doesn't start acting more lawful, that his alignment will change. He, however, insists that I'm just trying to force him to play the character as I would play it.

How can I justify changing his alignment, without making it seem like I'm trying to control how he plays his character, or just pulling the GM card?

NOTE: I'm not asking for people to agree or disagree with mine or his view on the situation. Regardless of whether or not his actions justify a change of alignment does not matter, I simply want to know how GMs have in the past justified alignment changes, or how people would suggest going about doing so.

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Law vs. chaos is so much easier in socially-oriented campaigns. Lawful characters are those who accept the laws of the area and willingly submit to the judgement of courts - seek it, even! - when they think they broke the law. In doubt, ask a lawyer NPC. ;) –  Martin Sojka Dec 18 '12 at 9:52

11 Answers 11

up vote 50 down vote accepted

I'm working on the assumption that D&D alignment is an objective mechanic: in a world where alignments can grant magical power and create planes of existence, and a spell can tell the difference between a man who saves babies for Pelor and a man who eats babies for Pelor, alignment must be objective and intent counts for very little.

This is a social issue, not a mechanical one.

Mandating changes to a player's character is a Big Deal and can destroy the trust in a group if handled poorly. If he thinks his actions don't merit punishment, he will go on the defensive and there will be Bad Feelings in the group regardless of the mechanical outcome. Before you lay down a ruling like this that will so seriously impact his character, understanding must be reached. To this end:

First decide if it's worth it.

I've had at least one chaotic monk who I just let alone because of the group's social dynamics: the player was younger by several years at an age when that was significant; his actions were rarely negative for the party; and he actually made the group laugh.

Alignment, especially as a class requirement, isn't a balance issue. Although alignment is almost impossible to excise from the system, exactly which alignment a character has is largely irrelevant to mechanical balance. So if everyone's safe and happy, maybe just let it drop because the problem is entirely cerebral and not actually impacting the game as it's played. Assuming that's not the case...

Work with him to create a common baseline.

Many alignment debates spring from both parties feeling the definitions are obvious when in fact everyone has a different idea of what the alignments mean and look like.

Before you bring in the alignment hammer, sit down with him outside the regular session. A lawful character is probably acting in accordance with a code of some sort, so ask him to help you understand his actions by writing down his code. Come prepared to study the D&D alignment concepts together (not to lecture him on them). Work with him to make the code fit the D&D definition of lawful while still being as close as possible to his vision of the character.

This gives you both a clear idea of what is and is not lawful for that character; now your discussions can have a reference point you both agree on. You might even find that he has some vision or insight you didn't understand before.

Make it a story.

Now that you have common ground outside the game, give his PC a chance to make the change organically from within: whether he adjusts his behavior to match his code, or changes his alignment, if you make it a cool story instead of a decree from on high there'll be more buy-in from the player.

  • He defies the outdated passiveness of his order and strikes off to be a vigilante hero; the Doctor in Doctor Who is a grand example of this concept.
  • His respected mentor needs the party's help and while they work together the monk is reminded of the importance of an ordered life.
  • He falls in love with a chaotic neutral druid and renounces his old life.
  • He's been influenced by some subtle mind magic and must throw it off before it destroys him.
  • An injustice that he feels personally about cannot be addressed through lawful channels; he still follows a personal code but disregards the societal structures that have failed him.

You get the idea: help him do something cool whatever the mechanical result is.

You're not the boss

Again, this is a social issue. The Game Master is rarely the leader of the social group and he's certainly not the High Judge of Fun. Remember this whatever you do, and remember that everybody needs to be safe and happy first. Only then can we worry about following the rules.

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+1 for sitting down with the player and working out a shared definition of alignment. In fact, I recommend you do this with the entire group at the start of any given campaign. –  GMJoe Dec 18 '12 at 1:29
    
@GMJoe I had a campaign or two where I had to require lawful characters to hash out codes of conduct with me before play in order to head this stuff off at the pass. The 3.5 alignment axes are silly, but so firmly rooted in the system that we have to deal with them somehow. –  BESW Dec 18 '12 at 1:31

One solution is to have him outline the tenets of his particular dojo. That way there is a hard set list of rules that determines what he should(n't) do. To me at least, what makes a monk LN is that they are constantly striving to bring honor to their dojo, which means unquestioningly following its laws. If the dojo in question has laws like "only speak plainly to allies", that would be a perfect example of being Lawful and seeming chaotic.

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Things That Are Not Really The Problem

He’s probably right.

It really does sound like you’re trying to dictate how his character should be played. Unless your group really feels that alignment and the tension it brings is an integral and interesting part of their game, don’t get hung up on it. A lot of people think alignment is dumb; I’m certainly one of them. It’s just not well-defined enough to bother worrying over it that much.

If you must do something...

Change his alignment, but don’t change his mechanics.

The alignment requirement rules are poorly-considered and do not work well for a huge number of tables. Some recognize this, and ignore them, and others don’t, and suffer under them. (some do enjoy them, of course, but your player does not appear to be one of them)

Instead of him losing his martial arts skills (which, let’s be honest, don’t really have a lot to do with how robotic you are),1 have him suffer social repercussions for his actions. Id est, have the monastery kick him out. Maybe make him find some other kind of “rogue monk” to train with in order to continue taking Monk levels (but throw him that plot hook pretty much immediately).

If he’s not a member of a monastery, what justification is there for the alignment restriction in the first place?

1 It’s been pointed out that the Monk does not lose any class features on “falling,” he just can no longer progress in the class. Since Monk itself is an awful class, that’s actually a good thing for the player (he can take Barbarian now! Awesome!), but that’s also irrelevant. The point is that a player character is the player’s character. While the rest of the world should react appropriately to the actions of the character, including a monastery kicking him out or Modrons recognizing him as “not on our side,” he should still be able to take the class he wants. Or, if Monk lost class features, he shouldn’t. Those are terrible rules, and some of the biggest failings of 3.5.

So this answer is: You cannot justify changing a player’s character. You can change how the world reacts to him – everyone can treat him as a known Chaotic individual regardless of what his sheet says. And if they do, magic can affect him as if he were Chaotic and not Lawful. And at that point, you should just say he is Chaotic and not Lawful – but that should only affect how the world interacts with him. Not the character himself.

The Real Problem

Disagreement in the Group

Basically you, and everyone else in your group, apparently, disagree with this guy. You seem to want to say, “we all agree that you’re not Lawful, so you’re not and you’re going to suffer for that, and you have to accept this because insert magic answer here.”

You’re not going to get that answer. Your player does not have to accept this, nor should he. Your group needs to discuss, explicitly, what they expect from the game. Do not consider that conversation complete until you understand exactly how your expectations differ from everyone else’s. If you think you and another player have all the exact same ideas, you aren’t done yet. There will always be differences.

And you have to respect that. Respecting that does not mean you have to accept it, but respect means you have to compromise. Tell him he’s Chaotic, but let him do what he likes with his character, for starters. Turn it into a plot point, have some crazy Slaad martial artist teach him the insane power of Chaos or something. If Drunken Masters can be a thing (and they are), Chaos-fueled martial artists should be utterly unsurprising.

Or, at the very least, have the respect to tell him, up front and without quibbling, that this is a game where he’s not going to get what he wants or expects. He may choose to leave at that point. I probably would. But at least have enough respect for him to tell him so, so he can make that choice.

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I like the social interaction part, especially bringing in his order. They can exert some pressure on the character, in game. But then the character can try to explain himself, in game. In the end the player can do what he wants with his character, even if it means finding other rogue monks instead of staying with his order. –  TimothyAWiseman Dec 19 '12 at 22:09
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One possibility, rather than having the order kick him out immediately, would be to bring him in for a kind of trial. His actions are causing them concern, and they need him to explain himself (the rest of the party could also choose to defend him, or, perhaps, not). It gives the player a chance to defend his actions in character, or perhaps to come to the conclusion that maybe the strict discipline of the monks' life is not, in fact, for him. Or maybe he might even find himself being courted by another order, –  The Spooniest Oct 26 '13 at 21:52

Have the player define what they see as chaotic. If he doesn't do it justice, show him the definition in the rule set. Explain why it is necessary to follow the rules in this case. The monk class will not work without the lawful restriction - it keeps the powers of the monk in check. Pathfinder's system defines the alignments quite clearly. Show him the rules each time he fails to comply with them, and add another "tick" to the alignment shift chart. At some point the behaviour will change or the alignment, class to follow, will change.

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A lawful alignment restriction keeps the powers of the monk in check, huh? Even though once you grab levels in monk, you always have those abilities, even if you stop being lawful? And even though the monk doesn't actually have powers worth keeping in check? –  Metool Jul 20 at 0:19

Ultimate Campaign pages 134–7 addresses how to track alignment. It uses a scale for good/evil and chaos/law and addresses how various actions move one toward other alignments along the scale.

You can get the details on the Paizo PRD website for free.

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I rarely consider alignment "violations" unless they are egregious and alignment is fundamental to the player's character, like paladins and clerics, who literally receive power for furthering the purpose of their deity. Alignment is an odd game mechanic; reality is, don't we all see ourselves in a better light than those around us? Many of us strive to adhere to codes or morals we simply don't attain. In game terms, would any variance make us in violation?

I do remember a video game mechanic in Never Winter Nights, where you could add or subtract points from an alignment axis based on the decision tree. For example, if you chose to assist someone without promise of reward, that would add +5 points toward good on the good/evil scale, or if you chose to steal, that might subtract 5 from the law/chaos scale. You could do something similar, kindly reminding the player of their alignment choice (perhaps reading the alignment description to the player) and quietly taking notes, so at least before you made such a judgement call, you would have several sessions' worth of metrics to base your decision on. And, of course, you could explain the way to correct the situation (if necessary, which I'm speculating since this is a monk, you aren't going to allow advancement while "chaotic"), would be to make enough "lawful" decisions to reverse course.

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I don't like alignment rules personally, so what I usually prefer to do is I define all characters as undecided. They have all the road in front of them and they can walk as many as they can, but to do anything which is alignment-related, like use a particular item or benefit from a specific alignment-limited spell they must consult me. My team usually knows that, so when they ask me to roll in as a monk, they know that any leveling up is pretty dependent on playing a code well.

Edited, based on comment: To exclude misunderstanding of alignment, when character is created, we are discussing character alignment, requirements and interpretation of common actions. I expect player to stick to this guideline. Sometimes player come up with a story - starting as LN guard, who joined a CG party and he is slowly travelling to CG, because of group influence and behaviour.

Example: During a game, player is acting as he wants, but when he tries to do something alignment-related action he might expect, that if some of his last actions has been not inline with his alignment and probably this action wont work for him. I tend to roleplay character changes around, giving player a feel of change his is undergoing.

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Vestel, it sounds like you're saying that the GM needs to clarify alignment requirements & interpretation with the players when an alignment-dependent character is first created. Can you edit your answer to emphasize & expand on that? –  Oblivious Sage Dec 19 '12 at 21:13

This doesn't exactly directly answer the question as titled, but does answer the problem in your description, take it as you will.

An alternate solution might be to ask the player to consider rebuilding with the Martial Artist monk-archetype, which need not remain lawful. Then he can play however he likes - if the problem is just that he's not being lawful, not that he's disrupting the group, then it's all good. The martial artist gives up some of the monk's more "magical" powers and replaces them with being tougher and stronger, a chaotic-monk might actually prefer the archetype.

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Law = order, chaos = disorder.

I hate the Alignment rules and tell my players unless your class requires an alignment, I don't care what you pick (no overtly evil characters, no characters who won't work with the group on principle, after that go nuts). Consider that even D&D/Pathfinder allows "lawful" to be ordered either along society's rules or an inner code (why the Monks need to be lawful). Further, consider the example of Caine. Yes, I'm bringing that old TV Show Kung Fu into this. He worked outside the system, was a Shaolin MONK. He held to a code the whole show, help the helpless (good?) and find his half brother. Simply put, just because a Monk needs to be Lawful, there is not the impending Sword of Damocles hanging over their head like hangs over the head of the Paladin class. Indeed, some of the greatest champions of order have been known to fly off the handle at times (such as Wyatt Earp, who upheld the law but wasn't afraid to hit people with the butt of his gun from time to time as a private citizen, a clear case of assault/battery). Still, the character should be walking down the path of Lawfulness (even if it's only their inner code) and going FORWARD more often than they are going backward, metaphorically speaking.

How do you fix the problem?

Like has been said in other answers, sit down with the monk's player and define precisely where he sees the lawful/chaotic divide existing, bring your own list and then figure out where the middle-ground between your two positions are. Likely the simple answer is that either he does not realize the full extent of "Lawful", or he wants to hold to an internal code. Those are his laws. Absent any examples on his chaotic behavior that he thinks is lawful; the best anyone can say is cryptic hints and guidelines.

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I'm going to provide a different perspective on this issue: I love the alignment rules and I strictly enforce them at my table.

The real question here is how to enforce alignment shifting based upon behavior without being a heavy-handed jerk. I handle this matter similar in many ways to how the D&D video games handle it. At character generation, when players choose their character's alignment, they also receive what I like to call "an alignment score."

  • Lawful Good: 10 / 10
  • Lawful Neutral: 10 / 0
  • Lawful Evil: 10 / -10
  • Neutral Good: 0 / 10
  • True Neutral: 0 / 0
  • Neutral Evil: 0 / -10
  • Chaotic Good: -10 / 10
  • Chaotic Neutral: -10 / 0
  • Chaotic Evil: -10 / -10

Each time a character performs a significant action, they will either receive or lose a point along a particular axis depending on how they acted. 10 is the maximum, -10 is the minimum. In order to remain at their chosen alignment, they must be within 5 points of where they started on both axes. In this particular case we are concerned with the law/chaos axis.

Lawful actions involve but aren't limited to obeying the law of the land, keeping and fulfilling promises, or strictly adhering to the character's own personal code of conduct. Chaotic actions involve but aren't limited to making impulsive decisions (did you roll Perception before rushing into that room to confront that NPC?), acting out of emotion, or openly defying legitimate authority figures. For this reason, the suggestion that others have made regarding sitting down with your players and hammering out exactly what their codes of conduct are should be the first priority.

After that, explain that any intentional actions which deviate from their code will cause them to lose points on the law/chaos axis and they need to balance them out with lawful actions. It's not that they are banned from doing anything chaotic, but that they cannot do so in excess without also performing more alignment appropriate actions. Explain in a nice polite manner to the players that once they lose enough points, their alignment will shift and no amount of complaining will change that. The good news is that it can also shift back, so just the fact that they shifted to neutral won't kill their progression in lawful classes. Just tell them they need to shift back (atone) before they can acquire any additional class levels.

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So a neutral character has to burn down one orphanage for every princess he rescues, in order to remain neutral? This sounds like a great system for enforcing the restrictions on alignment-bound classes, but misses that "neutral tending towards good" characters should still remain neutral unless their actions and outlook change. –  Paul Marshall Jul 18 at 1:03
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That and your definitions of chaos don't align with what chaos is usually about. Then again, none of the books align very well on any alignment, meaning this system is actually quite arbitrary and subjective according to (apparently) what the DM considers lawful/chaotic/etc. –  Jonathan Hobbs Jul 18 at 1:32
    
@JonathanHobbs As it has always been, for better or worse. Alignment is hugely debated on the Internet, because of the scale of speakers, and so appears useless/vague/inconsistent. But one GM controlling a world solves a lot of that, if players accept it. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 18 at 3:25
    
Paul Marshall: PCs who burn down orphanages have bigger concerns at my table than their alignment, like the elite hit-squad squad of Flaming Fist mercenaries and the Planetar-summoning Clerics who ran the orphanage in the first place. Jonathan Hobbs: You're of course welcome to your opinion but I actually pulled those examples right out of the books. Either way, tabletop RPGs require that you have a certain level of trust in your GM/DM. They are in charge. At the end of the day someone has to have the authority to say "I respect your opinions guys, but this is how it's going to be." –  Dyndrilliac Jul 18 at 4:52
    
Since writing the question, I've honestly found that the best way to explain alignment is as a game mechanic. Each alignment represents 'energy' from different plains. That energy exists naturally on the prime-material plane, and different energies are attracted to different personalities and moralities. Anymore, if someone challenges my changing their alignment, I just say, "Sorry, but in my world, (insert energy type) isn't attracted to the type of person you're portraying." Same basic end result, but I've found people tend to go with it easier. –  Zach Jul 19 at 7:47

First breath and then let go. Beginners argue about alignment. Experienced players learn that alignment is not worth arguing about. The first exceptions to this rule is that monks and paladins (lawful) can't multiclass with say barbarians (chaotic). The second exceptions is that paladins can't do evil and strive to destroy evil.

Other than that, all alignment arguments are is an attempt by one player and/or GM to control the actions of another player. You don't need to control another person's character to have fun. Give up control and breath and everyone will be better off.

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If I had to guess, I'd say you're getting downvotes for being off-target. From the question: "I'm not asking for people to agree or disagree... I simply want to know how GMs have in the past justified alignment changes, or how people would suggest going about doing so." –  SevenSidedDie Oct 26 '13 at 5:10
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@SevenSidedDie, I guess so. Doesn't seem like a terrible answer to me. Paraphrased: "How have people done it? How can I do it?" - "Just don't bother, unless it's significantly the opposite end of alignment, as it doesn't contribute to enjoyment of the game." –  Julix Jan 2 at 3:22
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@Julix There could be a good answer in that vein, but this one isn't it. A good answer that basically says "don't do what you're trying to do" needs to gently entice the reader around to this other frame of mind. This answer, though, just insults everyone who does want to make alignment work, and further contains a lot of typical "bad touch DM" language that undermines the suitability of the writer to even begin to comment on alignment. –  SevenSidedDie Jan 2 at 5:10

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