Monday, November 25, 2013

Laying It On the Alignment

Alignments. I have yet to meet two gms who agree on what alignments mean in the grand scheme of things. For that matter I have yet to meet two players who agree on what the alignments mean.

Some people consider alignments the be all end all and you better play every move according to your alignment or else. Playing against your alignment leads to sanctions. You can be docked XP. You can be forced to change alignment in which case your old friends won't want to stick around you. Your god can yank your spells and special abilities (if you are a cleric or paladdin.)

I prefer a more fast and loose treatment. There are after all nine alignments (without getting into those fiddly tendencies.) I never liked the idea of there only being nine responses to a given moral dilemma. I had a player ask me once how a paladdin should react to a betrayal by her superior (a non-paladdin.) I replied it depended on the paladdin and in that moment my take on alignment was born!

Basically all my players pick an alignment. They then tell me their personal interpretation of that alignment. On rare occasions I've had to explain their chosen path of morality didn't match the alignment they chose and we'd figure out what other alignment fit more closely. For example one of my favorite pcs of all time was a cheerful sociopathic little halfling who predated Belkar Bitterleaf by several year. He chose neutral for his alignment and his interpretation of it was that his character returned the treatment he was given. he's drink and laugh with orcs if they were so inclined. He nail a paladdin to the wall if the paladdin did him dirt.

As long as the halfling was played that way consistently there wano problem. The player wasn't constrained by his alignment unnecessarily. I had the best seat in the house for a good show. You darned well knew in a party of LG/CG types I'd have an LG personage do something to upset that halfling every so often. Either that or he'd tell the party to come meet his new friends, a bunch of hobgoblins he spent the night drinking with.

In order to give players as much freedom as possible in describing their characters I opted for very loose alignment descriptions.

Good= You believe all sentient beings have a right to life and liberty (barring altercations of course.)

Evil= Some beings are strong, others are weak. The strong rule over the weak. That's just the way it is.

Law= Society's rules ... rule. Traditions, customs, courts and judges decide all.

Chaos= There is no law save individual honor. Laws stifle and restrict unnecessarily. No law code can anticipate every situation. So none are worthwhile.

A Neutral alignment indicates disinterest in either the Law/Chaos or the Good/Evil aspects or all of the above. Either the character sees all philosophies as having their place in the world or doesn't interact with them unless he must.