Friday, November 20, 2015

Thought of the Day... #2 - Is it worth being a bit of a "Jerk" about Alignment?

This meme is a total lie, P. Bubs is totally not Lawful Good by any stretch of the imagination... 

Listening to a recent Play on Target podcast on Character Behavior and Alignment while in the car and trying to move between a dozen reports at work and started thinking again about Alignment.

I have a pretty tortured history with Alignment and Morality in D&D and other Fantasy Heartbreakers, which is told partially through my previous (and often snarky, fair warning) posts on Alignment, as well as two of my character's from the Ginger Giant's games, the often equally hated (by other PCs, at least) Sid and Uwain.

What I'm thinking about now, is how much I should push players to play Alignment/Morality. In my Shattered World game, I made the decision to leave Alignment off, figuring that the Icons and NPCs would be able to enforce any moral issues I decide to make an issue of.

Now, I'm gearing up to start running Out of the Abyss with my Sunday group, and I'm wondering how much I should enforce their alignment. Do I just have them choose a few Ideals from the D&D 5e Backgrounds? Do I try and write up something like the Dungeon World Alignments, which seems like time I could spend on doing other prep for Out of the Abyss (which is incredibly prep heavy for a DM already) or for my two other ongoing games or for my upcoming Dread one shot. Or I could try and steal the Noble, Fear and Rage Passions from Unknown Armies? Do I just admit that of my playing group it seems like I'm the only one who feels like Alignment is an important part of the game and let my players choose various Good or Neutral alignments as they wish without trying to enforce "alignment" morality and keeping my mouth shut when "good" characters decide to be cruel or dishonest because they think they can get away with it?

One thought I have is to reward players who play close to the alignment they put on their sheet by giving them a mechanical boost against Madness, which will be a huge part of Out of the Abyss, but I also need to read the Madness section of the 5e DMG again and decide how by the book I want to go with Madness or how much I want to change for ease of play and/or avoid the Malkavian problem of people playing insanity as "wacky". But then, if we don't define alignments well, it becomes more of a case of "are you playing that alignment the way Zack imagines it?"

In any case, the podcast has it in my mind again, that I really do wish I could have each PC commit to a moral code they would hold to, more like Vampire morality paths than D&D's alignments, but I know that is utterly unfeasible to try and pry that out of most players.

Further complicating things, in Al-Qadim Church, I'm playing an Evil priestess of a Chaotic Evil goddess, Ragarra, and I find myself thinking that I need to work with Thomas to come up with a good well-written code of ethics to abide by. Last session there was a moment where one of the other players went with a very "traditional" D&D Heroic Good impulse to risk his PC and the party save a fairly helpless NPC and my PC argued against it and almost ordered him not to, as if the NPC was weak enough to die, then that was that and he should be left to die in the river or re-captured and murdered by gnolls. Now, my problem is when I play non-good characters, I tend to think a lot more about what code of ethics/behavior they actually hold to, which I haven't really done yet with Thema.

Anyway, this has gotten way long for what was supposed to be a quick "Thought of the Day" but y'all can consider it as an open thread to discuss Alignment with me.


  1. If there's no mechanics behind alignment, then there's little point in tracking it. This is why I had been thinking unaligned might make sense for many games, since it's largely clerics and paladins (and warlocks now?) who might be aligned with cosmic forces of good or evil or law. Basically, if you're not tracking alignment and having it mechanically relevant, what're you doing it for?

    This may, however, require the sort of buy-in where players agree some races are inherently evil, that there are cosmic forces of good an evil (or Law/Chaos) active in the world, and that some spells and magic items make alignment important.

    1. So, D&D 5E doesn't come with a lot of mechanics behind alignment, maybe even less so if I'm not using the Ideals from the 5e backgrounds because I'm using GM Intrusions to give out Inspiration. So then, do I just let PCs be a-holes to everyone they meet without consequence? If, say, they're wandering through the Underdark, not staying in one place, if they stumble on a group of non-aggressive Myconids but decide to slaughter them and take there stuff do I just let it go? If they capture a Drow NPC and decide to interrogate that NPC and promise the NPC freedom if they spill all the beans, do I just let it happen when they go back on their word and kill the Drow after "because Drow are evil"?


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