Alignment as a roleplay aid. Prepare the fire extinguisher!

So a question just popped into my head:

I can understand alignment as an on-sheet reference for alignment-related mechanics (though I don't prefer them myself), but I never understood alignment as a roleplaying aid.

If a player has enough of a concept of who their character is and what they'd do that they can pick an anlignment that describes, sums up, or matches their character, why then do they need an alignment written down as a roleplay aid? Don't they already "have it" and need no aid?
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So a question just popped into my head: I can understand alignment as an on-sheet reference for alignment-related mechanics (though I don't prefer them myself), but I never understood alignment as a roleplaying aid. If a player has enough of a concept of who their character is and what they'd do that they can pick an anlignment that describes, sums up, or matches their character, why then do they need an alignment written down as a roleplay aid? Don't they already "have it" and need no aid?

If you ever find out let me know. It never made the least bit of sense to me. If my background and personality don't tell me what my character should do, how is an alignment paragraph going to help?

I have to agree with admcewen that the fireworks should be fun to watch. While it mystifies me, I know lots of people here think that alignment IS a roleplay aid. 

Well maybe because alignments never were meant to be a roleplaying aid. They are just a meta-game mecanic in order to make powers like Smite Good and Detect Neutral or whatever manichean schtick.
Here's my alignment system idea: Alignment is a character's sense of self. If someone acts out of alignment, they're not going to be happy with themself. It requires a list of defined actions for each alignment.

Basically, acting within one's alignment makes one feel good, and acting outside of one's alignment makes them feel bad. Determining alignment is as simple as figuring out how someone would react to performing a certain action.

Lets use good vs. evil, as it's a bit easier to quantify. Lets say killing someone in cold blood is an evil action. An evil character can do it without compulsion or remorse, and they don't dwell upon it; heck, it even makes them feel good about themselves. A neutral character can do it if they have to, but they're going to really need to justify it to themselves; it's going to make them feel bad for a while (and if they want to avoid the penalty, they can accept an alignment change, though that would have it's own rules). A good character is going to have a very hard time doing it, and if something forces them to do it, they're going to feel awful; they might feel bad for the rest of their lives, developing some sort of psychosis that is triggered whenever they run into a similar situation (a paladin who was forced to kill an innocent when they were younger now has to fight back those memories every time they kill, even when killing in defense or when killing a demon or an undead).

To use a real world example, and one of the more difficult law vs. chaos access, I feel bad when breaking even minor traffic laws. Sometimes I can justify it (no one's on the road, it's the middle of the night, and the stupid sensors are  broken at the red light by my house; I've been here for 10 minutes and it hasn't turned green ...), but I'm still compelled against doing it. My ability to justify breaking the law when it doesn't hurt anyone might suggest that I'm neutral in relation to law and chaos, but the fact that I'm put out by doing such suggests I might be lawful (and am just making my saves vs. minor infractions).

As for a roleplay aid, I too have never seen alignment as a roleplaying aid. I've always seen it as a contractual agreement between player and DM; I'm going to play my character this way, meaning the DM can use certain things for and against my character. 

Poe's Law is alive and well.

That's pretty much exactly how I treat alignment.

Particularly, I find it helpful for the times when I roleplay something very different from my own personality.  It's a check, a buffer against just saying what I think I should do, rather than what my character thinks I should do.

It's an aid, yes.  If someone knows their character well enough, then they don't need the aid.  That's a big if, though.
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As for a roleplay aid, I too have never seen alignment as a roleplaying aid. I've always seen it as a contractual agreement between player and DM; I'm going to play my character this way, meaning the DM can use certain things for and against my character. 

See, for me I write out a full background and personality for my characters, I find it WAY more useful for me and the DM. I just can't see how alignment is at the same level. AN evil character might be nice to people that remind him of his sweet old granny and that's something that you just can't see in NE.

Even if someone doesn't want to do the work for a full write up, I'd rather have them give a character that they act like (from movies, comics, anime, books or even real life). IMO, characters are way too complex for simple two letter alignments.
Once-upon-a-time I found it pretty useful.  Of course I was 11 or so....

But in general I do think it's slightly usefull to have a paragragh that describes how members of each alignment generally deal with the world.
Because (hopefully) there'll alway be more 11 year olds joining the game.  And THEY need to know the differences bewteen the alignments. 

And I'll NEVER support getting rid of alignment.  Mechanicly you just lose too much neat stuff like anti-spells, magic keyed to certain factions, etc etc etc.  Great story-telling mechanics IMO.
Alignment is most definitely a useful roleplay aid - for NPCs.
Alignment is most definitely a useful roleplay aid - for NPCs.

About the only time I'd use alignment is for a race, town or country as a general idea how the average member acts. ANy individual npc get a background that trumps alignment IMO.

As far as neat alignment stuff, I can see supernatural alignments. Devils and demons are [evil] while angels are [good] and all that neat stuff can work on them. Not a fan of it working on anyone else though. 

i use alignment in my campaigns and i track the actions of the party. i use the hackmaster alignment tracking system, i would not like them to get rid of alignment. if dms dont use it good for them. opponents get to into well evil people dont believe they are evil when they do things,ect. i call bully on that evil people know the views their society have on the actions they take so in that way they know they are evil.
I don't mind alignment as long as it doesn't have mechanical functions, because at that point, it stops being a roleplay thing.
To me it's a statement of intent for how the PC is going to play. Fairly useful for the DM and therefore the game experience. It can highlight PCs that won't fit the campaign, and/or the agregate party leanings can indicate the tone of adventures that wil appeal.

There's a fair bit of unfair criticism thrown at it, but the fact is no other system (or lack of) can deliver the above with the brevity of an additional two capitalized letters on the character sheet.
There's a fair bit of unfair criticism thrown at it, but the fact is no other system (or lack of) can deliver the above with the brevity of an additional two capitalized letters on the character sheet.

For me, it's that brevity that's the issue. IMO it's trying to put ten gallons in a 2 gallon bucket. I can't see a world where there are only 9 kinds of people.

There's a fair bit of unfair criticism thrown at it, but the fact is no other system (or lack of) can deliver the above with the brevity of an additional two capitalized letters on the character sheet.

For me, it's that brevity that's the issue. IMO it's trying to put ten gallons in a 2 gallon bucket. I can't see a world where there are only 9 kinds of people.



I see it more like that childrens "drop the block in the holes" thing.

Let's say that the child is given a literally infinite variety of blocks. Each is different colours and different shapes, and some have different images on them. But the board has only 9 holes. You can put a matching shape into a matching hole, but then it just falls through the hole and the colour or image on it can't be seen anymore. It's no longer a blue square with a cow on it. It's a square. And some shapes don't fit. The child needs to reshape what may have been a very amusing shape (let's assume the child is industrious and knows how to use power tools) into one of the WotC Hole Board approved shapes. You lose all the uniqueness of the shape. It's just a square now, because it wouldn't fit otherwise.

Why wouldn't I just play with all my blocks? Why would I bother with the board?
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For all the 'individuality' of people and personalities (you're your own individual person, just like everyone else!), I've never met a person whose alignment was ever in question.  Perhaps that's because I don't see alignment as nine big holes, but rather one big 3x3 hole with an imaginary plus through the middle of it.  Sort of like the political compass.

Everyone starts at neutral.  The ideological beliefs that people actively take interest in defending quantify any change from there.  Maybe that's why so few people 'get' alignment -- most people in this world are neutral (neutral neutral) and very, VERY few people are actually good or evil.

"Lightning...it flashes bright, then fades away.  It can't protect, it can only destroy."

I feel like there's two questions - that often get conflated. In fact, you can think of it as a two-by-two grid of questions, which get unfairly lumped together a lot:

Question 1a is "Is it often valuable for roleplaying purposes to have things written on the sheet that say more about the character than just how good he or she is at different things - in particular, a description of how they view the world and react to it and what they're priorities are?"

Question 1b is "Given that you accept 1a as a 'yes', at least to some degree, is D&D's traditional alignment grid a good way of describing characters for this purpose?"

Question 2a is "Is it often valuable for mechanical adjudication purposes to have things written on the sheet that say more about the character than just how good he or she is at different things - in particular, a description of how they view the world and react to it and what they're priorities are?"

Question 2b is "Given that you accept 2a as a 'yes', at least to some degree, is D&D's traditional alignment grid a good way of describing characters for this purpose?" 

I think that thinking in those terms is a lot more valuable than just "Alignment! In or out?"

My answers to the questions, in order, happen to be "Aboslutely", "Not at all", "I can see it, if it's done in a principled manner" and "Not so much", though I recognize that clearly a diversity of opinion exists. I personally feel that describing a character's tendencies, priorities, outlook and loyalties is a great thing to be doing on a character sheet - right on the front, boiled down into the most important stuff. I don't feel that a character's position on the GE or LC axes typically tells a very complete story on its own, and often those details aren't close to the most important things about what a character is like or how they view or approach the worls or what's important to them. Certainly for characters where that is the case, those can be part of the description, but I don't personally feel that they're often a particularly important part.

Similarly, for mechanical constraints, I feel like trying to express things in D&D's alignment system rarely produces results that make as much sense as just expressing the same idea in English. If you look at 3.5's PHB class alignment restrictions, for example, they're all things that are neither sufficient nor necessary on their own. Druids, for example, have to remain Something Neutral or Neutral Something, and they also have revere nature and basically be faithful druids and stuff. The second clause is all you need; the first adds nothing important (and if it does, that can be rolled into the Normal English part of the restriction) and it also cuts off too much. If you cut it out entirely, you end up with a much better bounding box on what might be considered druids remaining faithful. 

I get the brevity issue, but making an alignment system so mind-staggeringly more useful at the cost of just a few additional character sheet words seems like an awesome deal. I personally think that having (what I consider) a very strong alignment system instead of (what I consider) a very weak alignment system to be worth even a much large amount of character-sheet space if necessary, but it's something that I think is worth doing right if you're going to do it at all, and I value the RP benefits of such a stronger system more than enough to be a little charitable with the space it's allocated on a character sheet.
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I think alignment is useful as a roleplaying aid at the very, very early stages of character creation, when you're still DECIDING on the personality, ideals, and worldview of your character. As such, it's more useful for new players (who might be new to the whole idea of "playing the role" of a character) or for players in action-heavy, roleplay-lite games (where the character's mindset really is secondary to how efficiently he can beat up zombies). It's one of very few entries on your character sheet that isn't pure mechanics.

It's also useful shorthand for figuring out party compositions: if my buddy is playing a lawful good character, I might not want to play an evil character in the same group (unless I don't mind intra-party drama). If alignment is left out, it might not be as immediately clear before we start playing that we're headed for trouble.

I think alignment RESTRICTIONS are often counterproductive, because they don't actually provide much RP guidance to those types of players. For example, the current cavalier would be better-served by having an actual (sample) code to follow, which the player and DM can customize right from the beginning if they choose, rather than just saying he has to be Lawful Good and putting it on the player and the DM to figure out what that means in practice.
I don't mind alignment as long as it doesn't have mechanical functions, because at that point, it stops being a roleplay thing.



This.  I think there should be mechanical modules of course.  But all that should be standard is characters and monsters get it assigned.  Otherwise it's not used except as a roleplay aid for player and DM.
Well maybe because alignments never were meant to be a roleplaying aid. They are just a meta-game mecanic in order to make powers like Smite Good and Detect Neutral or whatever manichean schtick.



This.

Alignment is a roleplay impediment, not aid.
So a question just popped into my head:

I can understand alignment as an on-sheet reference for alignment-related mechanics (though I don't prefer them myself), but I never understood alignment as a roleplaying aid.

If a player has enough of a concept of who their character is and what they'd do that they can pick an anlignment that describes, sums up, or matches their character, why then do they need an alignment written down as a roleplay aid? Don't they already "have it" and need no aid?



Yes, they do already "have it" and the aid isn't necessary.

But having the concept included in the book does help new players get into the "world mindset" of cosmological struggle which underpins a lot of traditional D&D.

So alignment as a roleplaying aid is only a useful tool for new players and shoud be totally optional.   
Well maybe because alignments never were meant to be a roleplaying aid. They are just a meta-game mecanic in order to make powers like Smite Good and Detect Neutral or whatever manichean schtick.



This.

Alignment is a roleplay impediment, not aid.



I disagree.

Alignment mechanics are a roleplay impediment.

But alignment as a concept in the world and as a character design element can be a roleplaying aid.   
I disagree.

Alignment mechanics are a roleplay impediment.

I disagree.

"Always" and "Never" are the roleplay impediment.  Alignment is merely the most common implementation of "always" and "never".
If a player has enough of a concept of who their character is and what they'd do that they can pick an anlignment that describes, sums up, or matches their character, why then do they need an alignment written down as a roleplay aid? Don't they already "have it" and need no aid?



So if I have a concept of playing a Strong character, do I actually "need" to write a Strength score on my character sheet?

Cant I just roleplay that my character is strong?

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Strength has a metric. Alignment doesn't.

Otherwise I'd say yes.

Or if alignment had a scale. Like I'm LG, but it's 20% L & 80% G.

That would be more comparable. And more interesting. IMO
I was one of the 2nd Ed players who "rejected" 3rd edition and 3.5.

We played 4th a bit, it seemed a lot like oD&D to me.

But this alignment argument seems strange, everyone I knew used to houserule out all the alignment restrictions on classes.  Why would anyone want them back?

Just using alignment as a guide to play character is the right way to do it.

And I must say it's funny to hear people used Detect Evil on ordinary people, it said quite clearly that it only detected supernatural evil (Evil Clerics, Baatezu and Tanar'ri), how was that a damaging "alignment mechanic"? 
Strength has a metric. Alignment doesn't.



Not really.

Since it is a game of imagination, strength requires as much measurement as what colour your characters eyes are.

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I like alignments, especially from a DM perspective.  I enjoy a LG bound Paladin in the party being placed amid a moral connundrum because his alignment requirement forces him to figure out a different solution to a problem than the obvious, easy path.  "Well, killing him would be wrong, but I do have to get past the gate to save that innocent." as a lame example.  I like the idea of baiting alignment shifts as a subtle challenge to the players.  Only a lawful character can use the item they need later, but I've laid out opportunities for non-lawful acts that greatly benefit the character and let him choose between living up to his alignment or making it change based on his actions.  For some characters it's more meaningful such as Paladins, whereas the Rogue can float more through the subtleties of similar alignments.  Apply more stricly where it's more important and more loosely where it matters less, but I wouldn't want to do away with it.
Alignment as a Roleplaying aid only works if you have ways for Alignment to be forcibly changed. Not to mention the Helm of Opposite Alignment, there was also an adventure I played where you fought a mirror image of yourself... if you lost, your alignment switched because you played the mirror image (you were destroyed permanently).

Obviously this type of play is not for everyone. If the group doesn't want it, then it's not a problem, but if it's part of the game and a player isn't happy with the switch, you need some rule for flagrantly ignoring your new alignment (i.e. a penalty for poor roleplaying).
I honestly see alignment as a detriment to roleplaying. It makes you think all backwards and weird. Real people don't have an ideological core that guides everything.

Alignment excuses bizarre, unrealistic characters. What does it even mean to be chaotic neutral? Nobody actually likes chaos. If it seems like somebody likes chaos, usually what that really means is that they have their own different order they would rather impose on the world. Enjoying causing chaos is not something real people do.

And evil is the same way. Who wakes up in the morning and says, "I feel like being evil today?" Nobody. Some people enjoy giving other people pain, which is evil, but the cause of their behavior is their desire to feel good. Evil is something you do, but it's not a motivation. Evil is what happens when your desires conflict with the desires if others. Good is what happens when they're in harmony with the desires of others. Either way, when making a character it makes more sense to focus on the motivations themselves rather than on broad categories of good, evil, law, and chaos.

Here's an interesting character: "Jimmy enjoys other people's suffering. He likes walking into villages and killing everyone, sowing madness and chaos everywhere he goes. After each bloodbath, he carefully arranges the skulls into a pyramid and walks around it three times." How does this fit into alignment? Is he chaotic or lawful? The fact is he's neither, because law and chaos are stupid categories. He has his own vision of how the world should be. That vision involves a lot of burned villages and carefully arranged skulls. That vision is neither more not less lawful than the world as it is. It is merely different.
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Left to make an alignment system that should be a roleplaying aid, why make one so useless and manichean?

Really who does it help to know his character is loyal good? How do you interpret that specifically, since this is totally subjective? Can I kill people, but only when I judge them evil? How do society see me, as a good guy because I go and kill a lot of people without any form of trial or anything? What is loyal? Loyal to what, to who? Etc.

I would prefer a system where you can choose an Ideal to live for, be it for the goodness of the people or your wealthness exclusively, and Values to stand for, weither to be loyal to your family or to your kingdom per instance, etc. I would prefer some sort of traits of personnality, like curious, wild, kind, greedy. That would be a real roleplaying aid. Moreso if the system support giving advantage or even automatic success when using one's trait when it fits.

I'm sorry, but I never understood the 9-alignments system nor even used it as a player or as a DM. To me it is very much the same as having everyone just take unaligned and roleplay his character at his whim. The only difference is meta-game and mecanical. Not that this is a bad thing, I respect other people using them. I would really prefer the game providing a second, more thorough system about alignments.

Alignment isn't used to categorize real people's motivations in the real world.  It can't cover all the nuances of the human psyche, nor is it meant to.  It's a broad guide to the dramatized attitudes of fictional characters in a fantasy setting.  Litterature, movies, games and the like are plentiful with examples of characters who are, in fact, evil and/or chaotic.  The way the Joker was portrayed not too long ago in the batman flicks was completely chaotic.  That was his root motivation, to inject chaos into the ordered system.  If he was a real guy, we'd wonder what psychological disorders made him feel that way and there would probably be a great deal of contradiction and nuance to it, but he's not a real guy and we just accept the character for what he is.  Alignment doesn't become a hinderance or a problem until you over-analyze it and try to make it something more than it actually is.
I also don't think it's a simple 'Alignment dictates Behavior' situation.  Your actions determine your alignment and in some cases that has benefits or censequences.  In 3.x a paladin could lose a lot of his abilities by failing to live up to his LG alignment (in fact as a DM I juiced paladin up  a little and made it a prestige class you had to earn your way into, part of which was demonstrating your devotion and goodness, etc.).  Choosing an alignment at character creation doesn't mean you must play the character that way, it just means that is where you're starting.  Alignments shift due to your characters choices and actions and you deal with the results.  It's an easy mechanic for connecting things to a character's behavior.  Act evil, your alignment becomes evil, now Smite Evil works against you.  Act good, your alignment becomes good, now that Good aligned sword gives you bonuses.
I don't think a more comprehensive system is a good idea.  I think one of this systems virtues is its vagueness and ability to be interpreted.  But it's not for everyone as we can all see.  I just think it's better to have it in the rules and let people who don't want to use it take it out, than to not have it in and leave it to people who want to use it to put it in.  Removing it is a lot easier than adding it in.
Campaign dependant, in Dark Sun, it doesn't mean so much, in a Planescape campaign it means everything.
I say characters (roleplaying games or fiction) need motivations. A big group can´t work without "team spirit", if there isn´t sacrifice because everybody is totally selfish, the group is defeated. 

I suggest adding allegiances (religion, fatherland...) to aligments. A villain can totally selfish, but a great evil faction need other motivations, because nobody wishs be canon fodder if other get the reward. 

* My opinion is fantasy characters bonded to mystical forces (Heaven and Hell) ought to have got a morality or ethical behavior what was coherent with their cosmic faction.

 

"Say me what you're showing off for, and I'll say you what you lack!" (Spanish saying)

 

Book 13 Anaclet 23 Confucius said: "The Superior Man is in harmony but does not follow the crowd. The inferior man follows the crowd, but is not in harmony"

 

"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of." - Confucius 

As long as they aren't tied to mechanics, then it's not a big deal in the slightest...no more than hair color or visible scars.

If someone thinks alignment can help them RP their character better, then by all means use it. For others, it isn't necessary and they're unneeded.

I recently signed on to play in a PbP 4E game (it's rare that I ever get to play...I'm always the DM). I chose to play a LG Cavalier. In over 30 years, I have never played a LG character before, and wanted to put LG in that little alignment box to remind me of such. Will it help me RP my Cavalier better? Can't say for sure. What it will do is remind me that my entire background, personality, motivations, etc. all play into the lawful good mindset.
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I've said it before, and it's still true now:

Alignment is a tool the same way millstones are life preservers.

If alignment is going to exist in game, I would prefer it be on a Good-Neutral-Unaligned-Evil axis, where Good, Evil and Neutral each give you mechanicals benefits and penalties, and Unaligned gives you no benefits or penalties.
So a question just popped into my head: I can understand alignment as an on-sheet reference for alignment-related mechanics (though I don't prefer them myself), but I never understood alignment as a roleplaying aid. If a player has enough of a concept of who their character is and what they'd do that they can pick an anlignment that describes, sums up, or matches their character, why then do they need an alignment written down as a roleplay aid? Don't they already "have it" and need no aid?



Well it is a roleplay aid in the folowing way, when you come to a disicion point.
well this is what i would to by my character is evil lets see what he would do in this situation.

In roleplay you play a character in the world with it's own personality wants and needs.
Your not playing a avatar a person who exactly matches the persdonality of the player. 
Alignment as a Roleplaying aid only works if you have ways for Alignment to be forcibly changed. Not to mention the Helm of Opposite Alignment, there was also an adventure I played where you fought a mirror image of yourself... if you lost, your alignment switched because you played the mirror image (you were destroyed permanently).

Obviously this type of play is not for everyone. If the group doesn't want it, then it's not a problem, but if it's part of the game and a player isn't happy with the switch, you need some rule for flagrantly ignoring your new alignment (i.e. a penalty for poor roleplaying).



That's not roleplaying, that's anti-roleplaying.  Forcing someone to act a particular way like that is total bull.

The good news is, since actions determine alignment and not the other way around, you just act like you did before, and it switches back.
Alignment as a Roleplaying aid only works if you have ways for Alignment to be forcibly changed. Not to mention the Helm of Opposite Alignment, there was also an adventure I played where you fought a mirror image of yourself... if you lost, your alignment switched because you played the mirror image (you were destroyed permanently).

Obviously this type of play is not for everyone. If the group doesn't want it, then it's not a problem, but if it's part of the game and a player isn't happy with the switch, you need some rule for flagrantly ignoring your new alignment (i.e. a penalty for poor roleplaying).



That's not roleplaying, that's anti-roleplaying.  Forcing someone to act a particular way like that is total bull.

The good news is, since actions determine alignment and not the other way around, you just act like you did before, and it switches back.



then to me it seems you are playing a avatar game, where the character is only a extention of the player.

Not a role playing game, where the character has a personality seperate of the player, and the player is rewarded to express that seperate personality well.
 

Though i think there are better systems then alignment.
Like personality traits.
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />then to me it seems you are playing a avatar game, where the character is only a extention of the player.

Not a role playing game, where the character has a personality seperate of the player, and the player is rewarded to express that seperate personality well.



... what?  Is your reading comprehension really that bad?

No.  The fact that actions determine alignment has ALWAYS been the case.  I didn't say 'act like the player', I said 'act like you did before'.  You know, playing your character.  Alignment does not, ever, block you from actions.  You NEVER say 'Well, I'm (alignment), therefore I (must/must not) (perform action)".  The idea that someone, whether player or GM, would say "I'm/you're chaotic evil, therefore I can't save someone's life" is total and complete balderdash.
Alignment isn't used to categorize real people's motivations in the real world.  It can't cover all the nuances of the human psyche, nor is it meant to.  It's a broad guide to the dramatized attitudes of fictional characters in a fantasy setting.  Litterature, movies, games and the like are plentiful with examples of characters who are, in fact, evil and/or chaotic.  [Snipped for brevity] Alignment doesn't become a hinderance or a problem until you over-analyze it and try to make it something more than it actually is.

[The rest snipped for brevity]

+1 to this.

Over-analyzing something like alignment is an excercise in frustration and disappointment.  Alignment is a tool that works best for make-believe situations and characters; it isn't intended as a real world tool.  As far as fantasy goes, everyone can agree the Joker is coo-coo.  In the real world, we'd be at odds.
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