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Is sticking to an alignment a limitation on your roleplaying?

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So, in an epic failure of my Google-fu to find some record of how Wizards of the Coast did or did not flub its advertising of Dungeons and Dragons 4.0 to earlier D&D players, I ran across a blog post unhappy with various aspects of the game.

 

I was particularly struck by the issue the blogger had with the Alignment system:

You can't play a Paladin unless you're Lawful Good at all times. How do you make a Paladin interesting then, while still remaining a Paladin? They're all going to be shining paragons of justice and virtue.

I found it interesting that the author considered keeping to the lawful good alignment to be boring and a limitation of player creativity. I happen not to agree, but I wonder how common the attitude is.

 

I'll start with an admission that the alignment system is artificial and a little silly, a relic of Gary Gygax's infatuation with the work of Michael Moorcock and his whole law and chaos thing. But it is part of the rules, and it can be fun and challenging to take it up.

 

I've played with lots of people over the years, and most of us have gotten as much entertainment out of the alignment system as any other aspect of D&D rules. We've played characters of all alignments, and I've seen my friends be inspired in all sorts of interesting ways by trying to act in accord with them.

 

A paladin, to take one example, could be priggish, or boisterous, or slightly off-key and carrying a book of etiquette for every occasion, all while faithfully adhering to the lawful good alignment. He or she could be stern, merry, contemplative, ambitious, humble or pushy, all the while promoting justice and questy stuff the way the rulebooks say paladins should.

 

Sometimes they don't quite make it. I'll just put in a mention here of poor Dudley Didwrong, the post-mortal not-quite paladin from a friend's campaign. He tried, the poor dope.

 

My thesis is that playing to alignment rather than stifling individuality and creativity can be liberating and open up new possibilities in roleplaying.

 

What are other people's opinions?

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I think that alignment is a decent starting point for roleplay - it gives a core to build the personality around.

 

I have played a Boy Scout paladin that always tried to do the best for everyone around him, a hardcase paladin with a bad case of hellfire and brimstone preaching, and a wily diplomatic paladin that was not above setting up a sting with the party rogue to catch a corrupt priest in his own church. (This last was a lot of fun to play - he had a high Charisma and Diplomacy, and was not afraid to use it.)

 

I have had a Chaotic Good rogue/sorcerer with an 18 intelligence, an 18 Charisma, and an 8 Wisdom - a good natured con man by nature, he was also a sucker for every sob story that he ever heard.

 

So, not as much of a limitation as a guideline.

 

The Auld Grump - my girlfriend tells me that I am Lawful Good, all my protestations of being Lawful Neutral to the contrary....

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I've never found it particularly rewarding to "enforce" an alignment stance on players. I also have never seen any frickin' point in alignment languages.

That being said, I do believe in maintaining strictures upon paladins, barbarians, assassins, and suchlike. It's part of the tradeoff for the additional bags of tricks. These strictures don't necessarily have to be an alignment, but it should involve limitations on acceptable behavior.

Truth is, alignment has been a PROBLEM more often than it's been useful. Far, far too many times have I heard or seen or heard about the ancient excuse for being a jerk, "Hey, my character is evil. I was just playin' my character."

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I have attempted to play evil, but will always gravitate towards neutral over time. Unless there is an option that could possibly be funny if done evilly. Though, I am never fully good.

 

Let's save the slaves? Why? They could be criminals for all we know.

Go save the people in the caves. Will you lend us a dozen people so we can storm the place in safety? No? Why not? Why should we risk our lives to help out if you won't risk yours to save the people you grew up with, who you have known since childhood?  What do we get out of it. XD

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Excellent question. I've run across the same stereotypical lawful goody-two shoes that the blog poster was complaining about several different times. The response to why the player was playing the character in that fashion was also pretty much the same, 'You have to play LG that way'. A lot of it is open to interpretation. I've only played in one campaign where someone ran a really fun, creative, LG paladin with a personality.

 

It was 2nd ed and he was a dwarf (we house ruled a lot of the class/race and level limits stuff)  In one of the earliest game sessions we had, the party was tracking a group of orcs back to their lair in order to rescue the teenaged children of some local nobles who thought it would be good fun to go 'adventuring' without any clue as to what was actually involved. At the conclusion of one fight we had three orc prisoners who had surrendered. The dwarven paladin reminded the rest of us that we had to show mercy to the prisoners, etc. So we stripped them of all weapons and armor, left them tied up, and admonished them to gather the women and children if/when they got loose and flee. A couple of hours later we were embroiled in another fight with more orcs when all of a sudden the party mage gets laid low (unconscious and bleeding out) by an attack. From behind. It turns out that the other 3 orcs had gotten loose somehow, went to the armory and re-equipped themselves and come after us. Eventually, we got the fight in hand, saved the mage and had 2 of the original three orcs again trying to surrender. The paladin said, 'Your surrender is not accepted. You were shown mercy once, and we have seen how you repay it. Defend yourselves.'  The rest of the party was like 'huh?' and the DM asked 'Are you sure about this?' Fast forward a few minutes, and we had 2 dead orcs, a brand new dwarven fighter, and play effectively stopped while we all hashed out whether the paladin's actions were 'right' or not. Eventually, we managed to change the DM's mind and he rescinded the dwarven player's loss of paladinhood. One of the arguments used was that LG doesn't equal stupid, and leaving living enemies behind you is kinda stupid, as is falling for the same trick multiple times. I wish I could remember more, as there were some quite good ones. By the time that campaign ended, the dwarven paladin had gotten drunk, been seduced by the tavern keeper's daughter and forced into a shotgun (crossbow?) wedding which was interupted (and ended by the death of the bride to be) by an attack by the neighboring human kingdom, and convinced the rest of the party to join a rebellion to overthrow the (evil) ruler of said kingdom. Through all of that, the character was played in a very lively, memorable, and fun fashion without ever once falling into the lawful-boring rut.

 

So, yes I agree with you. It can open new possibilities, and encourage different ways to think about things.

 

It's getting late, and I've already gotten a little wordier than I had originally intended, so I'll pop in some time later to regale you with a story of a Chaotic Neutral character I played once.

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In regards to the dwarfen paladin... the surrender must be given in good faith - and the orcs had already shown that they had no intention of honoring their surrender.

 

I would not have even thought of nerfing the paladin in that situation.

 

Part of the problem is people not being familiar with the mytholgy that paladins were drawn from - the twelve paladins of Charlmagne, or the Kiev cycle (which comes complete with magically summoned warhorse).

 

They were hardcases - warriors as well as men of the gods.

 

The Auld Grump

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The biggest problem with D&D alignment isn't that it's occasionally enforced to get extra bags of biscuits. Rather, it's that finding two people who agree on what the alignments mean is nearly impossible.

 

I generally ignore alignment for my own characters and just pick a personality and play it. Then my alignment matches what the GM thinks my alignment is and I get to play the character I want to play.

 

When I do have alignment-restricted classes (usually paladins, because most other alignment restrictions have been removed, and for good reason, IMO), I discuss what kinds of rulings I'll make before the start of play and whenever hard situations come up. I don't promise to warn before violating a paladin, but it should never be a surprise.

 

But as to the original question, I don't have any sympathy for a player who wants to play a class defined as a champion of good and order while not playing a champion of good and order. (I don't have much sympathy for an inveterate coward fighter, or heretic cleric, or whatever, either.) Don't want the restrictions? Great, play a different class.

 

Of course I'm unwilling to run evil games, either. I don't have a problem with people playing evil characters so long as they find a GM that wants to run those characters. It isn't me.

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+1 for the points about alignment being a guideline and that LG =/= stupid

 

Alignment should only ever be used as a starting point to build your character around.  In any situation, you should be thinking "what would my character do?" and if you aren't sure, then you can go back to your alignment to give you some guidance around thinking about what your character would do.  The key here though is that you should still be thinking in terms of "what would my character do?"

 

If you ever find yourself using alignment as a justification for your actions (ie "but my character is evil!") then I consider that a failure of roleplaying by the player.

 

Another way of looking at this - think of the best evil characters in fiction.  They all have a personality, motivations and act towards those motivations.  The only bad guys who do random acts of evil are mooks who are there simply for the heroes to stomp all over.  

 

Don't be a mook.

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Couldn't read that blog post beyond the heading of the first 'point' "Roll-Playing".  An inane and pointless label self-absorbed gamers slap on any thing and everything they dislike.

 

As for the actual question about alignment limiting roleplaying since I make my character's motivation and drives up as I create him alignment is something most often tacked on at the end.  Rarely do I set out to emulate a particular alignment but often find my PC falling within the limits of one anyways.  At its worse alignment is used as a club to brow beat players by weak GMs who can't figure out how to motivated their players with story, setting and interesting NPCs.  At its best alignment is seemlessly integrated into a character and used along with a strong personality and motivation to help define who he is.

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What folks always seems to forget about Alignments is that the Alignments are the foundation of that game's reality. Rather than just social norms and mores guiding a character's thinking, characters are shaped by Alignment to their very core, so in a way it limits them. It limits them like how most folks in RL are limited by their upbringing from going on murderous rampages or tracking down old enemies and killing the enemies' children. 

 

And it doesn't help that TSR / WotC is generally vague on Alignment. 

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I am pleased DnD is moving away from defining characters through alignments. Alignments are a good DM tool, they are a good hook for understanding how NPCs see the world without having to develop a personality for every orc and goblin that will be alive for maybe 20 minutes of game time. For players there are far more powerful tools for developing a good character than a 2 word summary that very few people can even agree on the meanings of.

 

That said I have had plenty of fun playing LG characters. 

 

Of all the alignments LG is probably the most interesting simply because it is the most challenging to hold within the restrictions of without slipping into another alignment. In particular because "Lawful" can come into conflict with "Good" far more than any other alignment ever struggles with.

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I think some people get the wrong end of the stick about alignment.  The way I see it, alignment is a *description*, not an imperative.

 

A character doesn't do evil things because it says evil on his character sheet.  It says evil on his character sheet because he does evil things. There is no reason why the label on the sheet should constrain someone to behave in a particular way, except maybe to serve as a reminder to play the character in a consistent way.

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Currently, we pretty much ignore the alignments.  I slap neutral good on everything, and that one seems to work :)

 

In the past, I played in 1 campaign where alignment played hugely into our group.  2 lawful good goods, I was a neutral good guy, and then there was the rogue.  WE had an hour long idscussion, in character, about whether to steal the dragons loot, since we only needed to talk to him.  In the end it was decided to walk right past the loot, and the thief didnt like that.

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