Archives of Nethys

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Infinite Worlds / Alignment / The Alignment System

Using Alignment

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 102
Every world, nation, settlement, organization, and community can have an alignment, though quantifying it is neither simple nor universal. A society’s alignment reflects the typical alignment of its citizens, leaders, and government. This alignment is neither homogeneous nor inherent to its inhabitants or environment. Individuals and smaller communities within these groups and cultures can be of any alignment, regardless of their surrounding society or governing body.
Much like individual alignments, a society’s alignment isn’t static. It changes over time, as behavior shifts, cultural mores change, or when new generations come into power. Typically, this change happens over centuries. When change occurs at an accelerated pace, it’s often the result of internal shifts, such as cultural reform, revolution, or new leadership; external influences, such as natural disaster, war, or other shared calamity; or rapid change in a community’s other attributes, such as accord, magic, religion, or technology.
When creating worlds and settlements, alignment is a useful descriptive tool meant to differentiate locations from one another, quickly convey societal information, and spark creativity. Applied well, alignment enhances a location by setting a baseline for a society that events can be measured against. Alignment alters worlds completely, making two worlds with the same attributes and biomes distinct. A world governed by ascetic ysoki warrior-mages that idolize self-sacrifice will be very different from that same world governed by backstabbing ysoki gangs vying for supremacy, scrappy ysoki freedom fighters hiding out among the trees, or spoiled ysoki aristocrats who wield social connections and magic to suppress lower castes. Among these varied worlds and cultures, a single act—perhaps the theft of an apple or a pernicious lie—can have drastically different meanings and repercussions. However, alignment shouldn’t restrict player creativity or actions. Rather, it should provide context, qualities, and quirks for a location and its inhabitants; drive social interactions; and engage players in the people and places around them.
In addition to alignment’s ability to affect the gaming environment, alignment is a helpful guideline for GMs. It indicates which player characters will find easy acceptance and which will have to work to fit in, or more easily rebel. When encountering random NPCs, most will be of the same alignment as their surrounding culture; those who don’t fit these expectations are likely to catch the attention of players. Alignment is also useful for determining basic laws, social encounters, and typical combats. GMs running a lawful world might introduce law enforcement, customs agents, religious leaders, professional greeters, or ardent patriots tasked with acclimating— or assimilating—foreigners. GMs running a chaotic world might introduce a band of criminals, dashing musicians, wily pickpockets, or frantic philosophers who battle in the streets with lyrical soliloquies. Generally, chaotic worlds feature dangerous wildlife and hazards more often than lawful ones.
The nine alignments and how they might influence a society or world are examined in more detail below. As with any system, alignment is a tool meant to enhance gameplay and inspire adventure. If you don’t enjoy the interactions facilitated by the alignment system, feel free to ignore it altogether.