Don’t Make Alignment Hard Part One

So, when I got the D&D bug a while back I joined a few online discussion groups. I thought it’d be a fun way to connect with the gaming community (and get some market research in for my game design projects). However, for the most part, it has been weird. Not all bad or all good… just… ugh… Some of these questions. I mean, I’d hate to single someone out and I know a lot of the users are younger but still… weird…

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It’s like this. Someone makes a post with a question like: “GUYS! My chaotic neutral ranger murdered all the party members for their leet loot and now the GM is saying I’m evil–but I’m not! My character is just insane so it’s cool–right? Give me validation!”

I really don’t want to wade into most of the discussions. I mean there are hundreds of replies on every post (and many of them are level headed and good responses). I think my issue is that I’m not a member of many groups this large and active.

That said, I wanted to take some of the biggest/most common/confusing topics I see boil up on the pages and write short essays about them. Not necessarily as a rule lawyer (that ain’t me bro) but more as a roleplayer’s guide. That said, here are my thoughts on (what seems to be an insurmountable concept to most) alignments.

Here’s the real gods’ truth about alignments: they are there for flavor. Getting bent out of shape over what they mean is the opposite of what they are for. They are fun–don’t get me wrong–but also don’t spend too much time that could be spent gaming on philosophical discussions that don’t have an end.

For some deeper meaning, though, good old Gary G. spoke about alignments like cultures. All Lawful Good characters could speak to one another using an alignment specific language. This meant that alignments were more like the backgrounds of the characters and the cultural identity that they carried. It worked like how Catholics in the middle ages might know Latin or Greek, depending on where they live or grew up.

Flash forward, now we think of them more as barometers. They are the moral compasses of the characters at the current moment they exist in the narrative. To me, this is an interesting idea (and one that has captured many’s imaginations), however, it too often distracts from the game itself. A player’s alignment should NEVER inform their actions totally. A previously Chaotic Evil character may have a change of heart or not be all that bad after all (think Morrigan from Dragon Age). Players CAN mix Good, Neutral, and Evil players in a party. You just have to know how and why they would travel with a party.

What I see most often is a player letting their moral compass be their role play compass. These actions force characters into unnecessary conflicts that can spill off the table and into players’ lives. Instead, I offer this–play as your character would and change your alignment if it changes. Character classes in 5th edition are not bound to their alignments. Goblins don’t have to be 100% puppy-murder-hobos–they can be adventurers and explorers too. Every Paladin doesn’t have to be the perfect person–they can throw down in a bar fight or serve dark gods.

The bottom line is that alignment should be ancillary to your character’s mindset. It is a sum of their parts that they display. Characters change, grow, adapt, and in time become something else. Work with your dungeon master and players to craft an amazing story.

Here’s an example to help illustrate my point. I play a bard named Viktus. Vik was a soldier. He thought that he was protecting innocents and defending the weak. He WAS Lawful Good. However, his unit was made up of mercenaries used by a wicked king to do his dirty work. Vik became disillusioned and deserted. He still wanted to do good but didn’t trust his country. He became Neutral Good and took up adventuring. Now a Chaotic Neutral demigod is trying to take him under his wing. He still wants to do good but his character is ever shifting slowly as his life goes on.

That’s a character’s journey. That’s what growing up, having misadventures, and learning lessons do to real people. So too, it is what happens to imaginary people when it feels right in the story. Dungeons & Dragons (and other role-playing games) come down to the story. Role-play your story your way.

To be continued in Part II

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Make Alignment Hard Part One

  1. I’ve heard a lot of rumblings about alignment lately too, and it sounds like we share an opinion on the topic.

    Descriptive, not prescriptive.

    Looking forward to part 2.

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