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Background

The campaign's upcoming antagonist was raised in a good-aligned but poor home in a typical Dungeons and Dragons setting. He's since dedicated himself to wealth redistribution, using the feat Cards over Swords (Three Dragon Ante Web enhancement "Luck of the Draw") to initiate card games, distributing winnings to the poor, and not caring if he loses because he has the feat Vow of Poverty (Book of Exalted Deeds 48). (Luckily, as the DM, I get to decide what use means for the feat Vow of Poverty. Also, either his cohort, familiar, or animal companion will carry the deck, or he'll rely on the challenged creature to provide one.)

Question

I'm looking for evidence as to whether this kind of act (or an act analogous to it) is mentioned somewhere in the canon as being not an evil act or, alternatively, mentioned elsewhere as an evil act. Just to be clear, some acts are mentioned as being inherently good or evil. For example, the Player's Handbook under Neutral Clerics Turning Undead says that

[C]hanneling positive energy is a good act and channeling negative energy is evil. (160)

and the Dungeon Master's Guide says that

The characters should be aware... that trying to dupe someone into buying a cursed item is an evil act. (277)

I am concerned with references to specific acts like these, unconcerned with the act's intent or result.

I know that alignment questions are mine fields and that it's very difficult to prove a negative, but my hope is that someone who has plumbed the depths of the alignment system might have a solid reference that initiating such no-lose situations doesn't cause a character to lose his exalted feats, as "A character who willingly and willfully commits an evil act loses all benefits from all his exalted feats" (BE 39). So while I know the character, for example, can't channel negative energy and can't rook a mark into buying a cursed magic item, is he likewise prohibited from making a bet he can't lose (or performing an analogous act)?

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closed as off-topic by mxyzplk Jun 3 '15 at 23:40

  • This question does not appear to be about role-playing games within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I recommend asking this on the philosophy SE as well; you'll get much better ethical answers there. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jun 3 '15 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer I'm wholly unconcerned with the actual, real-world ethics of such a situation. I was, instead, hoping for a relatively pure (and, if not, analogous) by-the-book example approving the behavior. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 3 '15 at 21:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because of our site guidance on what kind of alignment questions are on topic: meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/5357/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 3 '15 at 23:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Despite answering this question, I’ve realized my mistake, and fully agree with @mxyzplk on this point. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 4 '15 at 0:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk With the edit--although I'm hesitant to do so--should I tag the question rules-as-written because I'm looking for specific evidence? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 4 '15 at 0:43
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Alignment doesn't really work that way.

Alignment in latter additions of D&D isn't really intended to be a harsh white/black, can/can't model of the universe. It's a means of fluffing out characters that occasionally interacts with the rules in awkward ways for nostalgic reasons.

With that said, here's some rules:

"Good" implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others.

Someone who transfers wealth to others while maintaining a state of poverty for himself definitely meets the criteria for "good."

"Law" implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability.

Are your character's opponents aware that they are playing for uneven odds? If so, there is nothing against Lawfulness. If not, then this is a lot of lying, which Lawful characters tend not to do.

On the other hand, a Vow is very lawful.

"Chaos" implies freedom, adaptability, and flexibility.

Flexibility, including some mostly harmless lying seems right up Chaotic's alley.

On the other hand, a Vow is not very chaotic.

All told, this character appears to closely match the description for Neutral Good:

Neutral Good, "Benefactor"
A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them.

Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order.

But other alignments (even diametrically opposing ones) could apply.

Why Assigning Alignment to Actions Doesn't Work Very Well

Most alignment debates present a course of action, and ask what alignment the action is. The problem is, that there are three very different means of judging actions:

  • By the objective state of the action.

  • By the outcome of the action.

  • By the intent of the person committing the action.

Suppose a player is asked to save a small kingdom, and does so.

Saving kingdoms is a good action (objective state of the action), and therefore the character is Good, right?

But then suppose that in a subsequent war against Evil, Good loses because they spend too much time protecting the small kingdom you saved and the world ends (outcome of the action). Committing an action that results in the world ending is Evil, right?

Finally, consider a character who goes around saving small kingdoms deliberately to create a drain on Good's resources in the upcoming war. Machiavellian schemes are Evil, right?

The same action, three different ways of looking at it, and two diametrically opposed alignment judgments. Judging whether an action is good or evil is a very hard problem, and the designers don't give us any guidance on which criteria apply.

In fact all they give us is this:

Alignment is a tool for developing your character’s identity. It is not a straitjacket for restricting your character. Each alignment represents a broad range of personality types or personal philosophies, so two characters of the same alignment can still be quite different from each other. In addition, few people are completely consistent.

By RAW, you're allowed to violate your own alignment. Alignment is just intended as a guide... A way for you to signal what aspects of your character you want to focus on, and to help other players get a better idea of who your character is when you're not doing full-on immersion roleplaying.

Exalted Feats

A character who willingly and willfully commits an evil act loses all benefits from all his exalted feats. She regains these benefits if she atones for her violations.

Remember what I said earlier about awkward rules interactions for nostalgic reasons? This is a good example of a bit of rules text that hearkens back to a time when alignment was a lot more literal.

Unfortunately, the game gives very few tools for implementing this standard. I can say that cheating in this way doesn't appear to be objectively evil. It doesn't use positive/negative energy, or the [evil] descriptor, or any extraplanar forces of that nature.

It isn't as bad as the few examples of evil behavior (such as selling someone a cursed item).

In the end, it's likely to be a DM's call. Talk to your DM, and figure out what criteria they want to apply in cases like this.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yet there are inherently good acts (e.g. channeling positive energy) and inherently evil acts (e.g. channeling negative energy, tricking someone into buying a cursed item). Is it safe to say, then, that the act in the question is ambiguous? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 3 '15 at 21:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Short version: good characters can commit evil acts; and vice versa. Extraplanar stuff like spells and positive/negative energy can be objectively good/evil. I haven't the text of the "tricking someone into buying a cursed item" clause, but my memory is that it was listed as an example of a thing someone evil does. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 3 '15 at 22:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ While good characters can commit evil acts, good characters who want to keep their exalted feats (like Vow of Poverty) can't: "A character who willingly and willfully commits an evil act loses all benefits from all his exalted feats. She regains these benefits if she atones for her violations" (BE 39). That's my big concern. (Rooking a mark into a cursed item is on DMG 277.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 3 '15 at 22:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Ah, I see. You're not concerned with character alignment, so much as falling afoul of the evil acts clause on an exalted feat. I've added a section to cover this, but... Good luck on that one. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 3 '15 at 22:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that Exalted requires a different question - it uses a different alignment, called 'Exalted Good', which is different from regular 'Good', and described differently. It's about as different from regular good as Neutral. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Jun 3 '15 at 23:42
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Fairness in a game is a concern of Law, not Good

A Lawful creature would have a problem with rigging the rules, so to speak, in a game supposedly of chance. A Lawful creature would also have a problem describing or advertising a game as one of chance when he or she actually knows ways to give him-or-herself better odds, as this would be a form of deception.

But a Good creature would only be concerned about who is targeted for the ruse. You are, effectively, taking money from someone, but since you give it to the poor, you can easily argue this is Good behavior so long as the person who lost the money is not materially injured by the loss. In other words, so long as the character is Robin Hood with a unique take on “stealing,” well, the character is Robin Hood, quite possibly the quintessential Chaotic Good character (at least, in those versions of the story where Robin Hood doesn’t secretly have a lawful claim to Sherwood Forest/Nottingham).

Whether the simultaneous Lawful behavior of strictly keeping to a Vow of Poverty counteracts this Chaotic behavior sufficiently to make the character Neutral Good as a whole is largely a matter of opinion. The character might even remain Lawful despite this Chaotic behavior; one’s alignment does not necessarily mean that one always behaves that way, or even that one never behaves the opposite way.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is not strictly true. While some sources have indicated this, others have indicated the direct opposite - Machiavellian schemers and evil viziers are lawful evil, after all. It also makes no sense that elaborate, complicated, pre-planned lies are Chaotic, and blurting out the truth on a hunch is Lawful. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Jun 3 '15 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JackLesnie Alignment makes no sense, full stop. Sure, you could make an argument that this form of theft is actually Lawful. Because Law and Chaos basically mean nothing at all to begin with. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 3 '15 at 23:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ They're a defined artificial system without relevance to real-world morality, but in terms of that system they do mean things. They are defined in the game which uses them, just like 'Initiative Score'. And advising people to say that 'Telling the Truth is Lawful and Lying is Chaotic' opens bags of worms that crap all over games. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Jun 3 '15 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JackLesnie No, they are not (consistently) defined. Law and Chaos, especially, literally have no meaning that you can point to and say this is Law or Chaos – because some book somewhere will contradict you and say it’s the opposite. The system is stupid, pointless, and implemented terribly. It has absolutely no redeeming qualities of any kind. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 4 '15 at 0:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is pretty terrible. That said, the primary source for Alignment is probably going to be the main writeup in the core book. Existence of contradicting definitions doesn't overrule that there is one definition which is more definitive by virtue of being in the core rulebook (And repeated more often in other rulebooks). Therefore indicating that that isn't the case is incorrect - and using it in a different sense is just going to confuse people and make things worse. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Jun 4 '15 at 0:41
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Yes, and we can show this by a simple deduction from uncontroversial premises. However, we do need to add in one premise from your background to make it work, as it's relevant for the deduction to function (but relevant to your situation, so that's OK): that he's targeting the rich to redistribute the wealth to the poor.

  1. Robin Hood is widely and uncontroversially accepted as an archetypical example of Chaotic Good. (premise)
  2. Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor. (premise)
  3. ∴ from (1) and (2), robbing someone of their wealth is within the remit of Chaotic Good (appropriate justifications underlying (2) being involved, of course, omitted for brevity).
  4. Cheating someone of their money is a lesser crime than openly robbing them. (premise)
  5. ∴ from (3) and (4), cheating someone of their money is within the remit of Chaotic Good, and may actually be considered relatively benign.

So at least Chaotic Good is capable of cheating for the benefit of the needy, ergo it's possible to do so while being and remaining Good.

For bonus points, this is fairly evidently within the 3.5e canonical description of Chaotic Good (emphasis mine):

Chaotic Good, “Rebel”
A chaotic good character acts as his conscience directs him with little regard for what others expect of him. He makes his own way, but he’s kind and benevolent. He believes in goodness and right but has little use for laws and regulations. He hates it when people try to intimidate others and tell them what to do. He follows his own moral compass, which, although good, may not agree with that of society.

Other alignments may also work. This only shows that it's within the realm of the possible to be Good and undertake such actions.

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This is probably the wrong question.

The means of phrasing and asking it imply viewing alignment as a straitjacket, which 3.5e goes out of it's way to avoid. Secondly, you're asking it in a manner that indicates you are equating 'Good' with 'fair and law-abiding, a good citizen', which is not what the Alignment section of the 3.5e rules describes it as, at all.

What you actually need to ask here is what is 'Good'?

Which is an excellent question. The 3.5e PHB spends half a page talking about this, but i'll try to summarize - A 'Good' character is one that tries to act towards the greatest help he can give to others.

So the evil vizier who thinks the world needs to be controlled, and that it's the right and good thing to do to murder all the halflings? He's evil. Because while his desire is for a positive outcome, it is not, in the Timeless View of the Gods (who hand out Alignments from their Celestial (and Infernal, and Mechanical) Thrones), going to help the greatest number of people. Ergo, while he believes it to be helpful, he is incorrect about that course of action, if successful, resulting in helping more people than it harms - he's deluded.

The important thing to note is that it's not the desire to help which is important - it's the consequence of the desire. If you succeeded at it, obviously. So if you wanted to help the halflings, and failed, that's Good. If you wanted to 'help' the world by killing all the halflings, and succeeded, that's Evil.

So Big Jimbo the Troll with a Heart of Gold who is under a Curse that means all those he tries to help die? Big Jimbo is Good. He leaves a trail of death and destruction in his wake, but Big Jimbo intends to help, and if successful, his actions would probably be helpful (Big Jimbo isn't very bright), so he's Good-aligned. The Wizard who cursed him is probably, however, Evil.

In your specific example, whether or not a Good person would retain their Good alignment when making bets (fair or unfair) would depend entirely on the situation and their desired outcome of the situation, and whether that outcome helps more people than it harms.

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Alignment is Descriptive, not Prescriptive

Alignment is a tool for developing your character’s identity. It is not a straitjacket for restricting your character. Each alignment represents a broad range of personality types or personal philosophies, so two characters of the same alignment can still be quite different from each other. In addition, few people are completely consistent.

Quote from the d20 SRD.

Outside of certain "Code of Conduct" classes like the 3.5 Paladin, a character can declare themself whatever alignment they like and interpret it very liberally. To answer your question; a Lawful Good character could easily make such bets without violating alignment, because they could be doing it for the greater good. The strictest interpretation of alignment also makes alignment a very loose term, oddly enough.

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