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Alignment has been one of the most vigorously debated topics in the forum over the last year or so, and consequently we've been thinking hard about the right way to implement an alignment system in Pathfinder Online.
As Ryan noted in this blog almost a year ago, good and evil aren't abstract concepts in Golarion. Including a reasonably faithful implementation of the alignment system helps Pathfinder Online provide a better translation of the tabletop game into a MMORPG. After all, what's the point of including the paladin if we don't define objective standards of "lawful" and "good" in the game? Without those, the paladin would be just another fighter with some cross-training in cleric, or vice versa. Likewise, clerics dedicated to serving good-aligned gods should experience real consequences for committing evil acts, and monks who abandon their lives of discipline and community should likewise suffer the loss of special abilities arising from their devotion to a philosophy greater than themselves.
In addition to specific character abilities dependent on alignment, alignment also matters for dealing with NPCs, equipping certain magic items, and the alliances a character can join—the Hellknights don't have much use for chaotic folks, for example. Settlements also have alignments; a settlement's alignment is selected by its leader at founding, and anyone who wishes to join the settlement must have an alignment within one step of the settlement's alignment. Unlike Reputation, alignment isn't immediately apparent on inspection. There are spells and abilities that allow you to discern a character's alignment, but without magic, you'll have to rely on careful observation to determine if someone is evil or simply misunderstood.
Your character's alignment consists of two major components: Your core alignment, and your active alignment. Think of these as the standards you strive to uphold, and standards you actually demonstrate through your behavior.
During character creation, you can select your character's core alignment. This is basic standard of behavior your character strives to maintain at all times. In fact, the game assumes that your character routinely thinks, acts, and behaves in a way that supports this core belief—there are countless minor events and interactions every day that the game can't detect that provide your character with the opportunity to act his or her alignment. While you may deviate from this standard, over time your natural tendencies assert themselves, and you slowly return to this core alignment. You can change your core alignment at any time, but you can only change to a new core alignment that matches your active alignment.
Active alignment represents your character's actual, objective alignment, as determined by the measurable and observable choices he or she makes in play. If your character aspires to be good but you murder someone for no reason, your character's active alignment takes a hard swerve toward neutral (hey, maybe it was an honest mistake). Make a pattern of that behavior, and your character's active alignment soon turns full-on evil. Killing people is almost never a *good* act, but there are plenty of times when it's justified and therefore doesn't automatically shift you toward evil—for example, if you're defending yourself against an attacker, fighting in a war, battling evil monsters, or putting a stop to another character's heinous behavior.
The reason we settled on a system that naturally allows your alignment to drift back to your core alignment over time is that we wanted to avoid senseless grinding to maintain an alignment. In an early draft of our system we were considering an approach in which you gained chaotic alignment by breaking laws, and the longer you didn't break any laws, the more lawful you became. Needless to say, it would be a nuisance to suddenly discover you had to go find laws to break in order to prove your chaoticness. Instead, we'll just assume you're thinking chaotic thoughts and being chaotic in ways we can't see.
A character's alignment is measured on two axes: Good-Evil and Law-Chaos. Your character has a score on each axis ranging between -7500 to 7500. A character with a good-evil score of -7500 to -2500 is evil; a character with a score of -2500 to 2500 is neutral; and a character with a score of 2500 to 7500 is good. Your core alignment value is set in the center of each of these ranges. For example, a character with a core alignment of lawful neutral would have a good-evil score of 0 and a lawful-chaotic score of 5000, while a chaotic good character would have a good-evil score of 5000 and a lawful-chaotic score of -5000. Your active alignment varies, depending on what you've been doing. Over time, your active alignment's values drift back toward your core alignment "target" values. Not only does your alignment recover from deviations, but it's also hard to keep your alignment "maxed out" for long.
Events that alter your active alignment score include:
Your character also gains (or loses) alignment points and moves toward core alignment maximum when you activate a long-term PvP flag, such as Assassin, Champion, Enforcer, Outlaw, or Traveler. Spending time actively representing your core alignment tenets and standing ready to defend them is a good way to "live your beliefs."
Failing to live up to your standards can have serious consequences. While your character's core alignment determines which alignment-restricted skills he or she can train, the character's current active alignment determines which alignment-specific feats or abilities can be slotted. For example, a paladin can train her smite evil ability at any time based on her lawful good core alignment, but if her active alignment is currently neutral because she killed characters without justification, she won't be able to actually use her smite evil ability until her active alignment returns to good. Characters who spend a lot of time with their active alignment and core alignment out of sync may find it easier to change their core alignment to match the alignment they're actually demonstrating.
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