You’ve noted your distaste for the alignment system before, and I was wondering what you thought about using Magic the Gathering color identity in place of it. I’ve started using that in my own game and it feels much better
Inspiration Station: Magic the Gathering
TLDR: I really like the color alignment system as it can communicate a lot about a character's moral outlook and general vibe a lot clearer than regular alignment can. I like it so much infract that my drafts blog uses MTG color combinations as a sorting system so I can find things that go together easier. That said, its an extra level of game knowledge for new players to understand/have to do be taught. Alignment is supposed to give new players an idea how their character might act, and it's a lot easler for someone who's never roleplayed before to wrap their minds around acts that are "lawful" or "good" than for them to try to guide their character in a particularly "Blue" direction.
While I'm going to go on a bit of a ramble about this, I'm going to start with an explination of what "Color Identity" is for all the members of my audience that haven't lost years of their lives and chunks of their disposable income to a particular trading card game.
In Magic the Gathering (MtG from hereon out), there are five "elements" of magic that encompas the bredth of existance, all with their own emotional and thematic cores and endless interpretations of what they and their combinations represent.
Anything from creatures to magic to places to civilizations can be found in some combination of these one to five colors, which in turn have relationships with eachother ( harmonizing with their neighbors while conflicting and complimenting with the ones across from them). This makes it a great shorthand from a design perspective, as it links together ideology, iconography, and gameplay into a palate that you can use to paint your characters and settings. There are quite a few "Using the color-pie in d&d" videos on youtube which I encourage you to check out, as they can do a much better job explaining the basics than I could do here.
Advice on how you can use this framework in your own games below the cut:
1: MTG colors as character alignment
If you take a step back and consider the colors not as basic pokemon elements ( wood, water, fire, life, death) but as embodiments of different outlooks and philosophies, the color pie system suddenly becomes a radically efficient tool for summarizing how a character or culture carries out its beliefs, with the understanding that individuals within that culture will mix in new elements or lean away from others depending on their personal predilections. A character who relies on luck and wits (Blue-Red) may be tempted towards story beats that indulge either of their color synergies, but chafe against systems that would deny a part of themselves ( Such as the rule of a Black-White Authoritarian noble or the simplicity of Green-White peasant life).
2: MTG colors as writing tools
The fun in understanding how characters in your story fit into the color wheel isn't only in assigning them a static position, its in testing to see how they evolve and grow when exposed to external stimuli. Will the Blue/Black spymaster veer towards duty to their state (white) or personal power (red), will the righteous Red/White paladin give up their honor for vengeance ( becoming only red) or achieve some level of enlightenment ( white) after suffering through a crisis of faith.
Through the colorpie, and understanding your characters, you can make narrative arcs easy, or at least pencil some interesting questions as you develop the rest of the story.
3: MTG colors as setting design
The different colors have historically been tied to different types of terrain, and while I tend not to do a 1:1 conversion for all of my settings, its very easy to see how thematic throughlines can be made between setting and environment ( yes, necromancers probably would hang out in places full of shadows and rot, but those that embody Black's aspects of ambition and manipulation probably live in settlements infused with some form of social or infestructure decay, or perhaps a dark history concealed just beneath the surface)
To that end, I like to think of small to medium settlements as possessing a dual color identity made up partially of their land and culture, while larger settlements and nations tend to be two or three colors as they are a composite of diverse groups and interests. By looking at these combinations, finding contrasts between them and synergies with outside elements, you can easily begin to set up political and social dynamics: A White/Red/Green kingdom may have contrasting demographics between a warrior nobility ( WR), a traditionalist peasantry ( WG), and nomads who live on the frontier (RG). The kingdom could be threatened by an invading lich (UB) or by an alliance of nomads and peasants who resent the warrior nobility for their conquest generations ago (BRG)
4: MTG colors as game design
Bo yourself a favor and every time you're struggling to make a dungeon, try to figure out what color identity it has. Instantly you've given yourself a massive dose of inspiration for monsters, traps, hazards, and iconography for you to mine simply by visiting the gatherer and scrolling through the visual spoiler. Generally you can do this by thinking about where it was built and by who, with further richness added by thinking about what sort of creatures from the locality have crept in during the meantime and how their color identities harmonize and contrast with the dungeons own.
Likewise, if you're trying to think of abilities/gear to give a player or npc, think about how the different colors play:
White wants to bolster their allies before clashing head on
Blue wants to be tricky until they get in position to outplay their opponent
Black wants to fight dirty until they can really twist the knife
Red wants to go recklessly and blow their opponent away before they can retaliate
Green wants to level the playing field before getting really strong and stomping their foes into the floor
These playstyles ( and their combinations) can guide you in everything from what loot to give your party to the way monsters behave during an encounter: A (GR) barbarian would probably never want to pick up a (u) wizard's staff, but they might be tempted by a (UR) flaming arcane blade that let them expand their usual toolkit by going ethereal. A pack of hungry (BG) ghouls would lurk in the shadows of their crypt until they could ambush their prey, retreating to let their fetid bites weaken the party before sweeping back in with more numbers.
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a little neat trick to improve drow as a whole
Okay, consider this: you can put drow in your setting minus all the weird bd*sm flavored society, the weird fetish stuff, the obsession with sex and the skimply clothing. Or, uh, the whole nonsensical murder and hating everything and everyone 24/7 and the whole “no, drow can’t love things, they just do not understand what it is, it’s not in their nature” (which was canon in 3.5e, btw)
Even better, try to regard them as an intelligent race that isn’t inherently inclined to evil just because they’re drow! No one is born evil! Cultures exist, and no race has “absolute irredeemable bastard” written in their genetics! No one considers humans evil as a whole just because some fucked up societies existed!
I can assure you, it’s okay! It’ll improve them. It works. No one will get in your home to scream about how it’s wrong! I’ve been doing it for 6 fucking years now and it’s nice!
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Looking to start a Campaign?
First time DM? Looking to freshen things up? have an idea for rad high level adventure but unsure how to ensnare the party in your amazing scheme?
I’ve been in all those situations before, so I’m making a compilation posts of all my best “Starter” adventures. These prompts are intended to give you a very clear idea of who your party will be, what sort of adventure they’ll be going on, and lead to further stories of a similar genre.
The Commodore’s Manor: A classic “haunted mansion” that can make a great first adventure for either apprentice thieves or aspiring witchers. Better yet, the final loot haul includes a pirate’s treasure map, which can send your party sailing out into a wider archipelago of adventure.
A Fellowship forged in Fire: While delving a ruin, the party ends up overwhelmed by the appearance of an elite level drake, and are only saved by the intervention and sacrifice of a pair of veteran monster hunters. With an injured mentor to escort back to safety and a life-debt to avenge, the party has their mission set out to become hunters of renown themselves.
Cavern of the Venom Queen: A simple mission to squash some bugs under a sea-priest’s temple gets sidetracked when the players discover that they were hired by a smuggler’s gang. Do they make new enemies, in their home port or sign up with the scoundrels and begin a carrier of crime on the high seas? As a bonus: this dungeon comes with a free, massive battle map from the amazing @czepeku,
Burglars and Brigands: The bumbling antics of a pair of thieves ends up saving the realm from invasion, but ends up with the foreign army breaking up and scattering across the realm they were trying to save. Engage in glorious battle as your players save their town from bandits, rescue a foreign political prisoner, earn the favor of the nobility, and maybe even track down the idiots who started this whole mess and the fortune they made off with.
The least kindly Usurer: Interested in getting a party with scattered goals to work together for their first couple missions? Just do what this villain does: put them in debt, threaten their loved ones, and force them to take dangerous job to pay back. This is a great start for bountyhunters and economically minded players, who can earn their freedom and their fortunes once they find their way out from beneath the moneylender’s thumb.
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