My GM would like to implement the 3.5e grid-based alignment system in his 4th edition game. He would also like to implement better penalties for not playing within your alignment.

I understand that 4e doesn't provide for any such thing as penalties so he doesn't have an applicable framework to proceed from.

What are some house rules that could work here?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Other than alignment-restricted classes in 3.5, were there any penalties then, either? Other than reactions from knowledgeable NPCs and a handful of magic items, alignment is mostly color. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Apr 25, 2013 at 20:54
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1: Upvoting because I think this is an important issue to address, not because I agree with the GM in the question. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 26, 2013 at 17:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @okeefe Houseruling in penalties for alignment violation in 3.5 was trivial, though. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 4, 2015 at 0:24

5 Answers 5


Alignment is a description of how you have acted in the past, NOT a restriction on how you act in the future

There can be no penalties because alignment is not a straitjacket. This was one thing that 4e absolutely got 100% right (though I prefer the 9 alignments to the 5).

Playing out of alignment may anger others who share your alignment, may draw the attention of people who prefer the alignment that you’re uncharacteristically acting like (e.g. cause Evil creatures to try to corrupt you more), and so on, but these are all roleplaying issues, and that is all they should ever be.

The Dungeons & Dragons alignment system is simplistic and binary (well, nonary, I suppose). It can be a little useful as a shorthand for what side you are on, but trying to use it as anything more is a mistake that leads almost solely to arguments.

There’s a quote I like particularly well here:

Alignment just determines what color your light saber is.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Only as commentary: I like the 5-alignment system, but only when I switch the ends around. Lawful Good is less "good" than Good, and Chaotic Evil is less "evil" than Evil. This allows for righteous-but-flawed paladins and bad guys who'd rather party than rule. (Spike vs. Angelus, if you know Buffy.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jadasc
    Apr 25, 2013 at 21:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jadasc I interpret the current spectrum not as being “more good” or “more evil” but instead “more specific” toward the ends. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 26, 2013 at 17:55

Alignment isn't meant to be a hard rule. Characters that are, for example, Lawful Good aren't restricted in any way from taking actions that have been determined by the group to be evil.

Alignments are guidelines. It is a representation of what the character would generally do. A character is allowed to make decisions that are against his alignment without penalty. I don't recall any edition providing penalties for acting "out of alignment". Older editions had penalties that kicked in after he acted out of his alignment so much that his alignment actually changed (we never used the penalties - so I honestly don't remember - I think they were XP penalties).

I don't think it'd make for a healthy game for every action to be scrutinized by the DM as he determines if the action is in alignment with the character's alignment. That'd probably just end in lots of disagreements.


AD&D 2nd edition's Dungeon Master Guide had guidelines for alignment change. Definitely worth reading the whole chapter on alignment if you're interested in using it more strongly, but here's a good excerpt:

Unconscious change happens when the character's actions are suited to a different alignment without the player realizing it. As in the case of a deliberate alignment change, the DM must keep track of the character's actions. If the DM suspects that the player believes his character is acting within his alignment, the DM should warn the player that his character's alignment is coming into question. An unconscious alignment change should not surprise the player—not completely, anyway.

If, over the course of several playing sessions, a character's actions consistently fit an alignment different from the character's chosen alignment, an alignment change is probably in order. If small actions are taking a character outside his alignment, the change should be gradual—maybe even temporary. Severe actions could require an immediate and permanent alignment change.

AD&D 2e's penalties for alignment change are harsh. Unless the DM agrees that the alignment change is necessary for the good of the game, the character who changes alignment must now pay double the XP cost to reach the next level. I don't recommend such a heavy penalty in a D&D 4e game, though.

You might also have NPCs distrust someone who behaves outside of their alignment. To an NPC, that person might appear erratic, irrational or untrustworthy. For example, can you really trust someone who donates gold to the poor while murdering people, or someone who follows the rules one day and breaks them tomorrow?


With the premise that a 3x3 grid alignment system is going to be introduced into the game, and enforced, here is how I would start looking at it:

First, establish with the players what is essential to each coordinate. You have to be specific about what the expectations (and especially) requirements will be.

Following that, encouraging any sort of behavior tends to work best with a carrot and stick system, rather than just a stick (which is generally how alignment has worked out). If you just penalize players for "acting out of alignment" in an arbitrary way, then they will just become upset. This goes into clear expectations, above.

Create a carrot: What benefit will players get if they act in accordance with their alignment and it makes their life more difficult? In other words, what do they get if they don't take the easy way out? That is really what we're getting at here. XP is always popular with players, but some groups are opposed to differing rates of advancement. A small bonus to actions directly related with that decision, perhaps representing taking strength from your convictions.

Create a stick: What penalty will players get if they act outside of their alignment? Essentially, what happens if they take the easy way out? To follow in theme with the previous example, a small penalty to all of their actions until they come to terms with what they did. This may mean making it right in some way (perhaps even unrelated), or changing their alignment to reflect how they now view the world. In the latter case, I would strongly suggest that there is no loss of XP or other abusive penalty. People change, it doesn't make it harder to get better.

Those are some places to start, but definitely establishing clear expectations, then creating a reward and penalty to reinforce those expectations are the best way to get buy in. At least in my experience, as in all things, ymmv.


Ok, so it seems the whole "alignment isn't airtight" has been pretty well covered but the actual question isn't really being answered so here's my take.

Whenever the PC acts in such a way that it doesn't properly line up, the GM could have the world (NPCs mostly) react accordingly. Let the penalty be the worlds reaction to said actions. If a supposedly good or neutral character keeps acting in an evil fashion, the NPCs start to turn on them.

And don't let the power of WORD OF MOUTH and RUMOR pass by either. The character should eventually gain a reputation that precedes them. Suddenly, prices are higher, the inn's "All booked up", the town guard keeps following and watching them, people won't want to interact with the character, possibly causing problems with Gather Information and Diplomacy checks among others. Perhaps, eventually alignment based spells and effects begin reacting differently towards the character.

Use this as a guideline for how to get the world to enforce at least mostly consistent alignment play.


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