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Chapter 4: Variant Rules

Alignment Variants

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 184
The alignment system has a long history in roleplaying games, and it helps define several aspects of Pathfinder’s worlds and characters. Yet it doesn’t work well for all games or groups. Altering or removing it offers new opportunities for your game.

Pathfinder’s alignment system summarizes a character’s ideals, signals that some of the players’ opponents are despicable villains, and establishes that truly evil monsters exist. The alignment system can trouble some players because it doesn’t simulate the nuance and complexity of real‑world moral issues, which are often not so easily categorized. What is considered “good” may be heavily influenced by societal norms or religious beliefs. It’s not hard to find two kind, generous people who hold starkly differing interpretations of what good is in specific situations. The variant alignment ideas below provide examples of other options and can serve as inspiration for your own games.

Minor Changes

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 184
If you want to keep parts of the existing alignment system, you can use either of the following variants to make changes without entirely removing or replacing alignment. Alignment-based effects still exist in both of these variants, but they might not be as useful as in standard Pathfinder.

Extreme Good and Evil

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 184
In this variant, some creatures exemplify the concepts of extreme good and evil by their very nature. Only fiends, celestials, and other residents of aligned Outer Sphere planes have an alignment. Remove most alignment restrictions— such as the cleric and champion restrictions—but not ones related to those extraplanar creatures. Replace the removed restrictions with appropriate anathema if necessary.

Incremental Alignment

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 184
Changing character alignment can be extremely dramatic under the Core Rulebook rules. Sometimes, this comes as a surprise to the player, as they find out they and the GM had differing ideas on how their acts impact alignment. The incremental alignment variant breaks each axis of alignment into seven steps that reflect how close a character is to shifting alignments.

This lets you and the player better understand where the character falls, and it allows a player who wants to play a character living on the edge between alignments to see that represented in the rules. This is not meant to be a highly granular system or one a player can exploit by repeatedly making trivial gestures toward a given alignment. It’s meant to indicate the trends of a character’s behavior and foreshadow any alignment change that might occur over time. It’s typically harder to reach the ends of the scale through minor acts, especially for the evil versus good axis. A character who commits multiple minor acts toward an alignment might shift one step, but it would take a truly reprehensible act to shift them fully to evil all at once— and to recover it could take a long-term atonement and commitment to good.

If a rule depends on a character’s alignment, disregard the “fully” and “somewhat” distinctions. A protection spell keyed against evil works against both somewhat and fully evil characters. However, some spells, like detect alignment, might give more precise information.

Table 4-4: Changing Alignment

1234567
Fully LawfulSomewhat LawfulSomewhat NeutralFully NeutralSomewhat NeutralSomewhat ChaoticFully Chaotic
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Fully GoodSomewhat GoodSomewhat NeutralFully NeutralSomewhat NeutralSomewhat EvilFully Evil

Major Changes

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 184
These two variants massively change how the alignment system works. In fact, one removes it entirely!

No Alignment

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 184
The simplest variant is to not use the alignment system at all. To many players, this feels like the variant closest to real-world morality. Creatures, NPCs, and players have complex and many-layered beliefs and motivations, just like humans in the real world. Not using the alignment system simultaneously embraces complexity and variance in what is seen as moral behavior. For example, worshippers of a powerful sun god might feel that spreading their deity’s light is virtuous behavior. Some might go so far as to say this means they should conquer their neighbors in order to achieve this. Another example might be a large and powerful government placing safety and security as its foremost concern, drawing the conclusion that it’s acceptable to sacrifice some individual liberties in favor of increasing the safety of its citizens.

Moral Intentions

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 185
In this variant, every character, NPC, and monster selects one or more closely held beliefs, intentions, or loyalties. Simple statements about a character’s intentions, like the examples listed in the sidebar, flesh out characters and enliven roleplaying scenes. This system requires some back-and-forth between the GM and the other players, and more thought on the part of everyone at the table.

Typically, specifying three intentions or loyalties works well to define a character. These personal intentions cover broad spectra of behavior and in large part define the subjective definition of good for that individual. Intentions could be as abstract as acting with honor or as concrete as devotion to the character’s mother. A person following their core beliefs or intentions feels like they are acting in a good manner, and they are likely to view actions against or restrictions to these beliefs as evil. For example, a character who believes strongly in the law would see allowing a crime to go unpunished as evil.

A specific individual will likely have different levels of commitment for each of their intentions. Determine a relative order of commitment by considering what the character would do if these intentions came into conflict.

Rules Adjustments

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 185
Alignment restrictions no longer exist in either major variant. You can replace them with edicts and anathema, if necessary, and make the following other adjustments.

Aligned Damage

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 185
If you’re using the no alignment variant, remove or replace aligned damage (chaotic, evil, good, and lawful damage), which requires significant adjustments for creatures like angels and devils that were built with a weakness to aligned damage. One option is to replace them one-for-one with new damage types like “radiant” and “shadow” that don’t have any moral assumptions. Another option is to simply change the damage type needed for creature weaknesses to some other damage type on a case-by-case basis. A third option is to remove the weaknesses, reduce the monsters’ maximum Hit Points, and call it good. No matter what you do with creatures, you’ll also have to replace abilities like the champion’s that deal aligned damage in a similar way, or remove those abilities.

If you’re using the moral intentions variant, you can replace chaotic, evil, good, and lawful damage with a single type of damage called aligned damage, which harms those with intentions directly opposed to those held by the character, as determined by you as GM.

Detection

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 185
Alignment-detecting effects don’t exist. In the moral intentions variant, you might replace such an ability with one that detects whether a creature is following its own intentions, or to detect others with similar intentions to the creature using the ability.

Traits

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 185
Alignment traits don’t exist, and anything that has those traits loses them. Effects that require the traits to function, like protection, don’t exist.