Using the traditional alignment system found in Dungeons & Dragons is a difficult chore for those looking to adventure in the world of Eberron. Unlike the world of Greyhawk, where the world is constantly trying to find a balance between good and evil, law and order, the world of Eberron is more often seen in shades of gray. This is a reflection of Keith Baker’s, the creator of Eberron, own views on how alignment should work in the world that he used in his home games. As he described it:
. . . in my home games I’ve always preferred to challenge the players to think about their actions – to have things be less clear-cut than “we’re good, they’re evil, beating them up is the right thing to do.” From the start, film noir was called out as a major influence of Eberron, and a noir story relies on a certain level of moral ambiguity and shades of gray. It shouldn’t always be easy to decide who the villain is in a scenario . . . or if killing the villain will solve the problem . . .”Baker 4/4/12
The new book, Eberron, Rising from the Last War, echoes Baker’s views on alignment as it emphasizes the difficult nature of telling good from evil:
. . . In Eberron, it’s not always easy to separate the heroes from the villains. Good people can do terrible things, while cruel or heartless people might serve the greater good. An inquisitor might torture innocents in a quest to root out a cult of the Dragon Below; if she’s stopped, the cult will survive and flourish. A group of orcs periodically raids a human settlement because the settlers built their village on land sacred to the orcs and are disrupting wards that hold evil at bay . . .
Certain situation demand straightforward decisions. If Emerald Claw cultists are about to detonate a necrotic resonator that will kill half of Sharn, they need to be stopped. But in a good Eberron story, the simplest solution may not be the best . . .”Crawford, 9
With such a complicated and morally ambiguous world it becomes difficult to think about continuing to use the traditional alignment system. How could we define someone as “good” or “evil” in a world where things can’t be defined in black and white terms?
Baker argues that not only is it important that we not discard the alignment system, but that it should instead be understood differently. Traditionally we tend to view alignment as hard lines in a character’s moral makeup. If you are evil, then you are always evil and should be conquered by the forces of good and weal; however, this won’t work in a world where noir stories are being told as the character’s motivation behind their acts takes precedence over their moral definitions. Baker describes this type of alignment as a spectrum of behavior and illustrates it in the following example:
“. . . Eberron allows clerics to have an alignment that is different from that of their divine power source. But it is again important to realize that an evil cleric of a good faith can mean different things. One evil priest of the Silver Flame may be a hypocrite and liar who is secretly allied with the Lords of Dust or abusing the faith of his followers for personal gain. However, another may be deeply devoted to the faith and willing to lay down his life to protect the innocent from supernatural evil – but he is also willing to regularly engage in ruthless and cruel acts to achieve this. The classic inquisitor falls into this mold. He truly is trying to do what’s best, and in a world where demonic possession is real his harsh methods may be your only hope. But he will torture you for your own good, and feel no sympathy for your pain. This makes him “evil” – yet compared to the first priest, he is truly devout and serving the interests of the church . . .”Baker, 4/4/12
In order to tell the sort of stories that Eberron asks us to tell we are required to take on this new understanding of alignment. We’re being asked to live in a world heavily influenced by Noir fiction and that means that we have to explore stories where good and evil become blurred. Where an evil man can do the right thing and where the best among us can fall.
Baker, Keith. “Dragonmarks 4/4: Good and Evil.” Keith-baker.com http://keith-baker.com/dragonmarks-44-good-and-evil/ Accessed 20 February, 2020
Crawford, Jeremy, et al. Eberron, Rising from the Last War. Wizards of the Coast, 2019. pg. 9 PRINT