Not all role-playing games have such a system, and some narrativist role-players consider such a restriction on their characters' outlook on life to be overly constraining. However, some regard a concept of alignment to be essential to role-playing, since they regard role-playing as an exploration of the themes of good and evil.
Some games have used other methods to encourage certain behaviours. For instance, superhero games like Marvel Super-Heroes and DC Heroes each have points that players could earn with heroic behaviour or lose with inappropriate actions. Given that these points could be used to improve their characters, or affect dice roll results in their favor, the players have an incentive to have their characters behave heroically and morally to earn them. The Star Wars RPG by West End Games uses the rules governing the use of The Force for the same purpose.
The original Dungeons & Dragons game created a three alignment system of Law, Neutrality and Chaos. In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, this became a two-dimensional grid, one axis of which measures a "moral" continuum between good and evil, and the other "ethical" between law and chaos, with a middle ground of "neutrality" on both axes for those who are indifferent, committed to balance, or lacking the capacity to judge. This system has been retained through the second and third editions of the game. By combining the two axes, any given character has one of nine possible alignments:
|Lawful Good||Neutral Good||Chaotic Good|
|Lawful Neutral||Neutral||Chaotic Neutral|
|Lawful Evil||Neutral Evil||Chaotic Evil|
In the current 4th edition of the game, the alignment system has been simplified into single one-dimensional axis of good vs. evil.
Additionally, in White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade and derivates (such as Ghouls: Fatal Addiction), vampire and human characters may have a "Humanity" trait ranging from 0 to 10. The higher levels are the compassionate and humane while the lower levels are psychopathic (further enhanced by the predatory nature of the vampire psyche). The average living, non-magic human has a Humanity score of about 7 or 8. Other Paths (moral philosophies) were created for vampire types. The "path" mechanic was sharply criticized for providing an "out" for gamers to avoid having to pay in-game penalties for actions which would exact them from a character on the humanity path. Kindred of the East provided a system for "dharmas" which superficially resembled path mechanics, but was meant to represent the characters mastery of an occult philosophy rather than to gauge its moral state.
However, with the recent re-imagining of the World of Darkness setting, this has changed. In the new editions of the White Wolf games (new World of Darkness, Vampire: The Requiem, Mage: The Awakening, etc.), all characters have a morality trait ranked from 0 to 10, though what it is called varies from game to game, and what sorts of behaviour will raise or lower it depend on the character type as well (though in Vampire: The Requiem it is still Humanity and is still affected by the same behaviours). In addition to this, all characters now have a Virtue and a Vice based upon the traditional seven of each, which represents their major (though not only) vice and virtue. This is intended to illustrate that even the very good are never perfect, although characters with a score closer to 10 will be much more capable of avoiding evil behaviour while characters of lower moral tone will begin to care less about and get off more on simply being wicked.Illustration: A vampire with a Humanity of close to 10 respects and admires the gentler aspects of mankind, seeking to rise above himself and bring a more compassionate and life-affirming tone to vampire society. A vampire with a very low Humanity (between 2 and 4) will be unmoved by the deaths of innocents, possibly including those of small children, whereas a vampire with a Humanity of 0 is a frenzied, inhuman monster (a wight) who must be killed for the good of the vampire community. Similarly, a mage with a score (called Wisdom) close to 10 avoids using magic whenever it is not necessary, and only indulges in its usage in order to better and enrich others and rarely himself. A mage with a low Wisdom seeks power for its own sake, disregarding the needs and the well-being of others; a mage with a score of 0 is considered an abomination, and may be someone who magically binds others (robbing them of their free will), or a soul-eater.
Additionally, unlike Dungeons & Dragons in which every character is subject to at least a cursory moral classification, not all World of Darkness characters are subject to morality: some beings, such as very old and very powerful Spirits (like the Idigam), or entities from the Abyss (like the Acamoth) are beyond manifest conception and thus are outside any measure of useful definition.
Unlike the majority of other Role Playing Games, the World of Darkness "alignment" system is meant not to reflect philosophical convictions about 'right' and 'wrong', which are left entirely up to the creator of the character, but rather, they represent the generalities of the character's state of mind. Believing in or adhering to a certain set of abstract moralisms is not considered to be as strong a motivating factor as the concrete conditions of what a character's personality may bring them to do. While philosophical moralism may play a strong role in a character's thought, lifestyle, and development, these may be violated with only minor to moderate repercussions, depending on the situation, while striking out against a character's basic temperament carries strong psychological consequences, and the behaviour of comprehensively changing a character's disposition takes a great deal of time and diligence. This system was designed specifically by White Wolf in order to avoid having characters pigeonholed as stereotypical heroes and villains who are often driven by beliefs so strong they seem to be psychic imperatives. It was created with the goal in mind of enforcing the moral and ethical 'grey area' within which the World of Darkness setting as a whole resides, and generating focus around the struggle of each character throughout the Chronicle (WoD Campaign) to syncretise their personality with their beliefs and the situations which test them.
To enforce the motivations, players are awarded or deducted character points, which have various uses, depending their actions. For instance, good characters are awarded points for good and heroic behaviour while evil behaviour can cost them.
Each category contains answers to a set of questions on moral behaviors. For example, given the question "Would you keep a wallet full of cash you found?", most selfish or evil alignments would keep it, while most good alignments would seek to return the wallet to its owner. The categories are not organized into a pattern like Dungeons & Dragons. The system specifically does not include any sort of "neutral" alignment on the grounds that a neutral point of view is antithetical to the sort of active role heroes and villains should play in a story.
In the older West End Games game, behavior is controlled with Force points which indicate one use of it per point. When using The Force for evil deeds will give the character a Dark Side point which can accumulate and put the character at risk of being turned to the Dark Side and player loses control of it. By contrast, self serving deeds with the force simply permanently costs the player the point while heroic deeds allow the player to regain the point. In addition, using the Force for a heroic deed at a dramatically appropriate moment, such as Luke Skywalker firing his proton torpedoes in the Death Star's exhaust port in the Battle of Yavin, will allow the player to earn an extra force point.
In practice the system was used to regulate reactions between characters of different alignments.
However, in the newer edition, the concept of alignment (as well as, apparently, the presence of 'Law' as the antithesis of Chaos) has been discarded, with the emphasis more on the personalities and unique natures of characters, rather than a linear alignment system.
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