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Unearthed Arcana


pict Honor is a measuring stick that reflects a person’s worth in society, trustworthiness, decency, and loyalty.

Honor can be used as a tool, similar to alignment, for defining characters. In the extreme case, it can replace alignment. A game that defines a character’s outlook based on his honor rather than his alignment can still feature conflicts between good and evil, or law and chaos; however these concepts are ideals rather than phenomena detectable by spells.

You may choose to use honor as an actual game mechanic, tracking numbers that change according to the characters’ individual accomplishments. Alternatively, you may choose to avoid mechanics, just as the alignment system avoids them.

Using honor in your game requires a campaign with understood codes of behavior. Individuals who act within the proper code are considered honorable by others. Those who act outside their code are considered dishonorable, and not to be trusted. As the GM, you are responsible for creating these codes of honor. Several examples appear later in this section.

This system proposes a way to determine a starting honor score for each character, and how a character’s actions affect his honor score thereafter.
Starting Honor
A character’s alignment determines his starting honor score, with lawful alignments tending to have higher scores than chaotic or neutral, and good alignments tending to have higher scores than evil or neutral. See Table: Starting Honor Scores.
Earning Honor
Honor comes from action, not inaction. While a character can lose honor by not acting, he cannot gain honor by refusing to act. Actions that increase one’s honor score vary, depending on the individual character’s code (see Sample Codes of Honor, below). Some examples of actions and their impact on a character’s honor score appear in Table: Earning and Losing Honor.
Losing Honor
Depending on the character’s code of honor, dishonorable actions — those that reduce one’s honor score — may include any of the examples in Table: Earning and Losing Honor.
Table: Starting Honor Scores
AlignmentHonor Score
  1. A hero among one’s ancestors could be a successful merchant, a creator of spells or items, a victorious leader, the founder of a thriving community, someone god-touched, or someone who was the focus of a great prophecy.
  2. A failure among one’s ancestors could be an unsuccessful merchant, the founder of a failed community, a defeated leader, a traitor, a rebel, an exile, a villain, or someone who was the focus of an evil prophecy.
Lawful good25
Neutral good20
Chaotic good15
Lawful neutral20
Chaotic neutral5
Lawful evil15
Neutral evil5
Chaotic evil0
ModifiersHonor Score
Ancestral hero1+2
Ancestral failure2-2
Table: Earning and Losing Honor
in Honor Score
Heroic death+10
Fulfilling a family debt+7
Avenging murder of family member+5
Completing a great deed+5
Escaping prison+5
Leading a force to victory+5
Saving the life of another at the
risk of the character’s life
Completing an assigned task+3
Defeating an archenemy+2
Fulfilling an oath+2
Serving a powerful person+2
Acquiring property+1
Defeating a superior opponent
of the same class
Giving a valuable gift to an NPC+1
Granting a favor to an NPC+1
Healing, curing, or restoring NPCs+1
Making a masterwork item+1
Pulling a humiliating prank on an enemy+1
Removing a curse+1
Showing mercy to the fallen+1
Winning a contest+1

in Honor Score
Defeating monsters+1/CR above
character level
Losing a contest-1
Losing a masterwork or magic item-1
Taking a bribe-1
Losing to an inferior opponent
of the same class
Overindulgence in food or drink-2
Rash or improper social behavior-2
Refusing a contest-2
Requesting a favor-2
Failing an assigned task-3
Murder of a family member-3
Refusing your master-3
Accused of a crime-4
Breaking an oath-4
Ownership of a dishonorable
weapon or item
Killing unarmed or helpless foes-5
Convicted of a crime-10
Taken prisoner-10
Benefits of Honor
It is important to remember that the benefits of honor only apply when interacting with someone who shares the same or similar honor code. Refer to the following table, using the row that relates to your honor score, when you interact with someone of that sort.

When an honorable paladin interacts with an assassin or rogue, no matter how honorable, the benefits change to penalties.

Honor ScoreEffect
-20 or lessThe previous three effects and a -2 Leadership score modifier for cruelty
-19 to -10The previous two effects and a +2 circumstance bonus on Intimidate checks.
-9 to -5The previous effect and a -1 penalty on Will saves when the consequence of failing the save would bring dishonor on the character.
-4 to -1A +2 circumstance bonus on Bluff checks when the target is behaving honorably.
0No benefit or penalty.
+1 to +4A +2 circumstance bonus on Sense Motive checks when the target is behaving dishonorably.
+5 to +9Previous benefit and a +1 circumstance bonus on Will saves when the consequence of failing the save would bring dishonor on the character.
+10 to +19Previous two benefits and a +2 circumstance bonus on Diplomacy checks.
+20 or morePrevious three benefits and a +2 Leadership score modifier for great renown.
pict Here are some guidelines for determining a character’s honor according to the character’s actions or according to alignment.
Measuring Free-Form Honor
No game mechanic measures or tracks a character’s honor in this system, just as no game mechanic measures or tracks a character’s alignment. Honor functions as a tool for developing a character’s identity, not as a straitjacket. As part of creating a character, a player should decide whether he intends to play the character as a paragon of virtue, a dishonorable scoundrel, or something in between — perhaps someone who struggles to live honorably but too often succumbs to temptation. As a general guideline, consider these five “ranks” of honor.

Honorless: An honorless character does not adhere to any code, and mocks such codes as irrelevant ideals. Such a character cannot be trusted, for betrayal comes as naturally to this person as breathing. An honorless character is usually both chaotic and evil.

Untrustworthy: Codes are an inconvenience to untrustworthy characters, who see them as tools best used to manipulate others. Such a person would betray almost anyone in the right circumstances, but can usually be relied on to come to the aid of his guild, clan, club, or other association. With self-interest taking precedence above all, such characters are usually chaotic or neutral, and often evil.

Honorable in Action: A character may act according to a code of honor even though his heart and mind are not in it. Subordinating one’s own interests to those of a group is difficult for such a character, and living up to the ideals of his code is a constant struggle. With each successful bout against temptation, however, the character’s resolve grows stronger. This minimum standard of honor usually represents a neutral alignment, with leanings toward law.

Honorable in Thought: A highly honorable character does not doubt his code or its demands. Such a person, while not free from temptation, easily overcomes it. The difficulty comes when the character is forced to bend rules, however slightly — because doing this is a challenge for the highly honorable character. Such characters are usually lawful neutral.

Honorable in Soul: A paragon of honor cannot be swayed from the call of duty to family, clan, guild, or other association. To even question the honor of such a character is unthinkable. Characters so immersed in honor are selfless, completely devoted to their association, and willing to give up their lives for the safety and security of others. They are usually lawful neutral or lawful good.

Benefits of Honor
Under a free-form system, the GM must determine how much a character benefits from honor. A character who is honorable in soul should benefit more than an untrustworthy or honorless character, for example. Someone with an opposing code of honor reacts differently to a character than one with a similar code.

Potential benefits of honor include the following:

  • A +1 Leadership score modifier for fairness and generosity.

  • A +2 circumstance bonus on Diplomacy checks.

  • A +2 circumstance bonus on Sense Motive checks when the target is behaving dishonorably.

  • A +1 circumstance bonus on Will saves when the consequence of failing the save would bring dishonor on the character.

At the GM’s discretion, other known associates of a character with a reputation for honorable behavior may also receive the bonus.

If you’re also using the reputation rules, you can apply a bonus on reputation checks based on a character’s status as an honorable or dishonorable person.

A common concept in games and fiction that involve honor codes is family honor. The idea is that characters can “inherit” some portion of their family’s reputation for honor, or dishonor.
Table: Starting Family Honor Modifiers
Family RelationshipHonor Score
Honorable Family
Same alignment as family+2
Alignment same as family’s in one dimension+1
Class favored by family+1
Alignment opposed in one dimension-1
Alignment opposed in two dimensions-2
Class opposed to family-1
Dishonorable Family
Same alignment as family-2
Alignment same as family’s in one dimension-1
Class favored by family-1
Alignment opposed in one dimension+1
Alignment opposed in two dimensions+2
Class opposed to family+1
Family HistoryHonor Score
Family’s public reputation beneath contempt-2
and private ethics untrustworthy or evil-2
Family’s public reputation beyond reproach+2
and private ethics fair or good+2
Family’s public reputation undeserved
and private ethics fair or good
and private ethics untrustworthy or evil+2
Family enmity with state religion-2
Family open heretics (cumulative with above)-2
Family part of state religion+2
Family strongly committed to state religion
(cumulative with above)
Family reputation good+1
Family reputation outstanding+2
Family reputation mostly bad-1
Family reputation bad-2
Family is part of the government+2
Family strongly supports government
(cumulative with above)
Family loyal opposition to government+0
Family dissidents-2
Family radicals-4

When using family honor under the mechanical system, a character’s starting honor score can be affected by several factors related to the family’s status (honorable or dishonorable), alignment, and preference for a particular class, as shown below.

For example, Annoth comes from an honorable family and a long line of fighters. Since he is also a fighter, his starting honor score gets a +1 increase. His alignment is the same as that of the majority of his family members, so his starting honor score gets an additional +2 increase.

Hero Builder’s Guidebook contains five tables in the section titled Creating Your Personal History that have information useful in a mechanical honor system. They are Table 6: Family Private Ethics, Table 7: Family Public Ethics, Table 8: Family Religious Commitment, Table 9: Family Reputation, and Table 10: Family Political Views. These family characteristics, if used in the game, affect a character’s starting honor score as shown below.

When using the free-form honor system, the categories defined under Measuring Free-Form Honor also apply to families.

Characters who are as honorable as their families, or more honorable, get more honor benefits (see Benefits of Honor) than those who are less honorable than their families.

Lawful neutral and lawful good characters are generally what people think of when they imagine honorable characters. Honor is about obeying a code, either because a character wants to live up to society’s expectations for the rewards that doing so provides, or because something inside her compels her to live in accordance with a set of beliefs. Thus, it is possible to be chaotic and still live in a way that society considers honorable.

Good-aligned characters have many reasons to live honorably. Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Such characters are often compelled by their own hearts to live according to an honor code.

Evil is a slightly more complex issue. Lawful evil characters may behave honorably toward their followers and associates because doing so furthers their cause. They may even treat respected foes with honor, while oppressing everyone else. Neutral evil characters are likely only to see honor in treating their associates and followers with fairness and generosity, provided those people are necessary for the neutral evil character’s cause.

Chaotic evil characters, however, use honor as a way to trick others. While they and their associates may possess no honor of their own, they understand what it is and how to manipulate others through it.

Here are some codes of honor drawn from fiction and history.
Bushido is the code of the samurai from ancient Japan. Many books have been written about how a samurai should live, including the Go Rin No Sho (Book of Five Rings) and the Hagakure. According to one version of the code, a samurai must possess the following seven virtues.
  • Gi (honesty and justice): A samurai deals openly and honestly with others and cleaves to the ideals of justice. Moral decisions do not come in shades of gray, only right and wrong.

  • Yu (heroic courage): A samurai never fears to act, but lives life fully and wonderfully. Respect and caution replace fear.

  • Jin (compassion): A samurai takes every opportunity to aid others, and creates opportunities when they do not arise. As a powerful individual, a samurai has a responsibility to use that power to help others.

  • Rei (polite courtesy): A samurai has no reason to be cruel, and no need to prove his strength. Courtesy distinguishes a samurai from an animal, and reveals one’s true strength.

  • Meyo (honor): A samurai’s conscience is the judge of his honor. The decisions he makes and how he carries them out are a reflection of his true nature.

  • Makoto (complete sincerity): When a samurai has said that he shall perform an action, it is as good as done. He need not make promises; speaking and doing are as if the same.

  • Chugo (duty and loyalty): A samurai feels responsible for his actions and their consequences, and loyal to the people in his care. A samurai’s loyalty to his lord is unquestionable and unquestioning.

Code of the Knight Protector
The Knight Protectors, a loose organization of chivalric-minded warriors described in Complete Warrior, hold to this code of honor. It makes a fine code for lawful knights.
  • Courage and enterprise in obedience to the Order.

  • Defense of any mission unto death.

  • Respect for all peers and equals; courtesy to all lessers.

  • Combat is glory; battle is the true test of self-worth; war is the flowering of the chivalric ideal.

  • Personal glory above all else in battle.

  • Death before dishonor.

The “code of silence” of the Cosa Nostra isn’t codified or written down. It makes a good code for a thieves’ guild or other criminal organization. One interpretation is as follows.
  • Do what you’re told by your superiors.

  • Always look out for ways to make money for the Family.

  • Do not hide or hold back money from the Family.

  • Respect your elders in the Family, and in the Organization in general.

  • Never let a debt go unpaid.

  • Never be late paying your debts.

  • Don’t get caught.

  • If you do get caught, keep your mouth shut.

Paladin’s Code
The standard rules offer the following code of conduct for paladins.
  • Never commit an evil act.

  • Respect legitimate authority.

  • Act with honor (don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t use poison, and so on).

  • Help those who need help (provided they do not use the help for evil or chaotic ends).

  • Punish those that harm or threaten innocents.

Don’t Tread on Me
This relatively short code of honor works well for barbarians, fighters, and rangers.
  • I won’t be wronged.

  • I won’t be insulted.

  • I won’t be laid a hand on.

  • I don’t do these things to others, and I require the same from them.

Thieves’ Code
“Honorable” thieves in a guild might abide by a code similar to this one.
  • Never steal from another member of the guild.

  • Never perform another thief’s assigned task or “steal” jobs from another thief.

  • Never let your own jobs interfere with the guild’s jobs.

  • Don’t attract attention to the guild, especially not the attention of the town fathers.

  • 10% of the take from your jobs goes to the guild; you keep the rest.

  • 100% of the take from guild-assigned thefts goes to the guild, and maybe you get a taste.

  • Don’t kill anyone in the commission of a job, except in selfdefense. It attracts too much attention.