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Is sticking to an alignment a limitation on your roleplaying?

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I am of the opinion, from years of observation, that anybody who doesn't like alignment doesn't understand alignment and lacks imagination.

 

It is the richest, deepest part of the whole game.  I've probably devoted more game-thought to alignment than any other facet (I've mentioned before that I wrote a 100+ page treatise on the subject). 

 

Alignment is the definition of a character's morality, and thus an essential part of the character as a three dimensional construct.  How alignment is used and interpreted is very much open, but must be logical and thoughtful.  This is where most people fail with it.  Alignment is the first consideration I have for any character before anything else, because it's the seed around which everything else is built.  It's their inner driving force, their compass, it is why they are who they are.

 

And, IMO, the AD&D law/chaos axis is elegant, simple, and outrageously deep if used properly. 

 

 

Before I made a Paladin, every single one was boring Mr. Snooty Shinypants Nofun.  My Paladin was not.  I wanted to give my Paladin particular hardships and challenges specifically designed to encourage the DM to try and break him like he had broken every other Paladin before.  I declared the DM could not break this Paladin.  It was literally impossible.  It was impossible because I knew his alignment - I knew what this man was all about.  And I could build him so dedicated to his moral outlook that nothing short of death could sway him from his course.  He was thoughtful, judicious, quiet, and brave.

 

He was a Paladin of Tyr.  But he had no church.  His church had been infiltrated and corrupted, and he didn't know who to trust.  Nobody would believe him.  Correcting this was his challenge, his first duty.  In a way he was sort of undercover, but still Lawful Good.  And not full of pride, either.  He was the first Paladin anybody had seen who would help till fields and mend fences.  He didn't give a tithe, but he was generous to the poor.  And not randomly, but with a plan.  He would find trustworthy people of poor status but good merit and give them the means to help others.

 

And the DM tried to break him.  Threw up all sorts of interesting dilemmas.  Unfortunately, he was randomly killed by bad rolls and bugs so we never got to see his whole arc. 

 

 

But in my recent campaign, I used an example where two Paladins, both Lawful Good, could come to confrontation.  One might believe that the strength of the state requires sacrifice from the people of it and want to requisition from peasants to support an army.  The other might believe that this imposes too much hardship and it is better to encourage the peasants to work harder and try to produce more, rather than simply abscond with the fruits of their labours.  That such excessive requisition would be little better than theft. 

 

That could turn heated in a hurry, especially if both of them were right

 

And then there's the question of what a Lawful Good Paladin might do if a friend, who happened to be a bit shady (rogue), got himself into trouble.  Well, my Paladin would review the record.  If he did some bad things but had also been helpful to the party, he'd advocate on his behalf.  He'd see potential for the thief to reform and become better, maybe.  Or he might owe a debt of loyalty.  Or any number of things.  And if the situation was urgent, time pressing, and crap all the way into the fan he might even organize a jailbreak.  Even if it meant risking his titular status of Paladinhood.

 

Because no Paladin of mine would ever let a technicality stand in the way of good.  No title is worth sacrificing a friend.  He is, after all, Lawful Good

 

But you better believe that after it all settles down he'd submit himself to trial and take full responsibility for his actions, too.  And accept all consequences.  And he'd still come out of it a Paladin, because what makes a man a paragon is not the powers he wields, the mount he's called, or the banner he serves.

 

It's what he is.  And I had hopes that the above storyline with my churchless paladin would have developed into an arc where he lost his powers but still kept up the struggle as vigorously, and unflinchingly, as before.  And maybe gotten the powers and status back, after proving they had been unfairly stripped. 

 

Yeah, that would have been pretty epic. 

 

I agree for the most part but my only issue with your point is the concept that some GMs would go out of their way to screw a player over because he is a pally. The whole "trying to break" you thing is a major turn off, for me personally.

 

When my group of 15+ years runs a campaign we run that campaign, that story. It has a "timeline" and ALL the people in it have daily things that occur. For the GM to purposely try to screw a party member because of class/alignment, I would get discouraged. I love playing D&D and Pathfinder because of the great adventures and stories and plots we go through. My highest level character and main character is a pally. It would have been MUCH less enjoyable for me and anyone else with a pally if the GM was constantly trying to screw us over from being a pally.

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If a GM misuses alignment, that doesn't mean alignment is bad, though.  That's my point.  And using alignment is challenging, because it requires a quick mind and judicious application to be used effectively.  (Also why I strongly disagree that it's simplistic)

 

We should note that Paladins are a special case, though, with more severe class restrictions outside of their alignment.  A lawful good fighter would not face the same challenges.  It's part of what makes a Paladin extra special, not just as a class but as a philosophy in play. 

 

That's why I used that example, because my Paladin could not be broken and I knew it.  Stripped of his Paladinhood?  Sure.  But in his heart he would still be a Paladin, and every bit as good and noble and paladiny with or without his class powers.  Because that was the point of my challenge to that DM:  to show to everybody that you can beat a man to pieces, strip away all he holds dear, tear him down and leave him with nothing... but never defeat him.

 

Because he is a Paladin.  He'll prove it by living it.  And he'd be a better Paladin as "just a fighter" than all the rest.  That was the gauntlet I threw down when I told him to bring his worst. 

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Or how she could simultaneously be a total team player who never once betrayed or abandoned the party - but also killed huge batches of characters because she couldn't be bothered to properly calculate the volume of fireball.  Also, every time she did that she made sure she was in the area of effect - just survived on blind luck. 

 

 

Well I can tell ya, we had several incidents in our group that were similar to this. One was a rogue who screwed a mage over. After he went to sleep each night she just cast disintegrate until he failed (we also play where spells can blow up your items, I believe it was something introduced in D&D 2nd ed that we continue to use as it adds another element to gear) his fort save. He lost a ton of his stuff and the mage, while still pissed, counted it as even. 

 

Another campaign we had a wizzy who wanted to Leach Field several enemies which also would have hit several group members. He decided against it but I assure you, 3 or 4 people would have instantly used their round to gut him on the spot and go back to fighting the giants.

 

Like I said before we are all about alignment but saying "Well i'm a chaotic neutral wizzy so I don't much care what group mates I hit in my spells." is fine if that is how you want to run your toon. But the other 8 or so people run their toons as "If a "friend" nuked me they ain't much of a friend", we are at least gonna boot that character from the group and at worst gut um on the spot and get a new wiz or someone to fill that role that understands regardless of your alignment, that isn't acceptable to our group members.

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I am of the opinion, from years of observation, that anybody who doesn't like alignment doesn't understand alignment and lacks imagination.

 

I am of the opinion, from years of observation, that anyone who relies on alignment to describe or define play in a roleplaying game is closed minded and completely misunderstands the breadth of human interaction.

 

(I mean, if we're going to be slinging insults.... ^_^ )

 

Well, I'd say you're using it wrong.  First, the standards of you campaign determines the morality of the campaign.  So if slavery is not bad in your world, then it's up to you to make sure your players understand that Lawful Good doesn't necessarily have a problem with it.  That's not a failure of alignment, that's a failure to properly use it for your situation.

 

I'd recommend examining the No True Scotsman fallacy and considering its utility in describing this situation.

 

If a GM misuses alignment, that doesn't mean alignment is bad, though.  That's my point.  And using alignment is challenging, because it requires a quick mind and judicious application to be used effectively.  (Also why I strongly disagree that it's simplistic)

 

If a GM uses alignment in such a way that the group ends up in a two-hour argument about "what should a Lawful character do in this situation?", as far too many (in my 37 years of gaming on two continents, that would be "the vast majority of GMs who use alignment seriously") GMs do, then it's alignment that's the root of the problem.

 

I can get better results by ignoring the alignment system and asking for characters with actual, defined personalities and I've had the same results when playing in other peoples' games. I've never had "alignment" increase the value of a game to me.

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Or how she could simultaneously be a total team player who never once betrayed or abandoned the party - but also killed huge batches of characters because she couldn't be bothered to properly calculate the volume of fireball.  Also, every time she did that she made sure she was in the area of effect - just survived on blind luck. 

 

 

Well I can tell ya, we had several incidents in our group that were similar to this. One was a rogue who screwed a mage over. After he went to sleep each night she just cast disintegrate until he failed (we also play where spells can blow up your items, I believe it was something introduced in D&D 2nd ed that we continue to use as it adds another element to gear) his fort save. He lost a ton of his stuff and the mage, while still pissed, counted it as even. 

 

Another campaign we had a wizzy who wanted to Leach Field several enemies which also would have hit several group members. He decided against it but I assure you, 3 or 4 people would have instantly used their round to gut him on the spot and go back to fighting the giants.

 

Like I said before we are all about alignment but saying "Well i'm a chaotic neutral wizzy so I don't much care what group mates I hit in my spells." is fine if that is how you want to run your toon. But the other 8 or so people run their toons as "If a "friend" nuked me they ain't much of a friend", we are at least gonna boot that character from the group and at worst gut um on the spot and get a new wiz or someone to fill that role that understands regardless of your alignment, that isn't acceptable to our group members.

 

 

 

In the particular example of the Tiefling there were additional extentuating circumstances and I was sworn to never do it again.  However, I should note that multiple times other characters saved my character - despite knowing she was a menace.

 

Part of that was because I shared equal risk, part of that was that even as a menace she was still entertaining.  However, I would have accepted a gutting because, frankly, I deserved it.

 

The genesis of that particular menace came about because I had had several excellent characters ruined by idiot players I wanted out of the group.  The kind who would screw up a whole campaign just for a cheap laugh.

 

Having grown tired of this, and having my pleas for ousting ignored, I resolved myself to saying "well, if that's how it's going to be then I will show you all how it's done".  I will create a character so troublesome and such a menace that she will be the ruin of all - and she'll still be the best character in the game, people will love her, and she'll be full of depth and nuance. 

 

So it was specifically my objective to ruin an already ruined campaign so I could re-arrange the seats with some new, quality blood.  It is not something I would do under any other circumstance.  Nevertheless, menace or not, she got the full fleshed out treatment.  And it paid out. 

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Buglips, Could you not play that paladin the same way WITHOUT the label of lawful good attached to him?

 

Possibly.  But the alignment does make it easier to figure out what he's likely to do, or how he's likely to see things, when faced with a dilemma.  It also helps create a dilemma.

 

Again, people not using alignment are still using it because their character must believe in something or it's not a character.  So if you have defined what your character believes in, then why not choose the appropriate alignment anyway?  At least then there's some guide for how your character is going to respond to things, and that can help make a DM's job easier.

 

It's like Wisdom.  That's a primary stat for clerics.  Is it important to know for your character if your character is not a cleric?

 

I'd argue yes.  It determines how wise your character is.  It helps you make decisions in character based on that.  It helps define the character in a more rounded way.  Everybody includes it whether they make a cleric or not.  Most people use it whether they make a cleric or not.  I think alignment works the same way. 

 

And I've seen just as many "your character isn't smart or wise enough to figure that out" arguments as alignment ones.  Anybody here prepared to play a game where only clerics use that stat and it's irrelevant to everyone else? 

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Or how she could simultaneously be a total team player who never once betrayed or abandoned the party - but also killed huge batches of characters because she couldn't be bothered to properly calculate the volume of fireball.  Also, every time she did that she made sure she was in the area of effect - just survived on blind luck. 

 

 

Well I can tell ya, we had several incidents in our group that were similar to this. One was a rogue who screwed a mage over. After he went to sleep each night she just cast disintegrate until he failed (we also play where spells can blow up your items, I believe it was something introduced in D&D 2nd ed that we continue to use as it adds another element to gear) his fort save. He lost a ton of his stuff and the mage, while still pissed, counted it as even. 

 

Another campaign we had a wizzy who wanted to Leach Field several enemies which also would have hit several group members. He decided against it but I assure you, 3 or 4 people would have instantly used their round to gut him on the spot and go back to fighting the giants.

 

Like I said before we are all about alignment but saying "Well i'm a chaotic neutral wizzy so I don't much care what group mates I hit in my spells." is fine if that is how you want to run your toon. But the other 8 or so people run their toons as "If a "friend" nuked me they ain't much of a friend", we are at least gonna boot that character from the group and at worst gut um on the spot and get a new wiz or someone to fill that role that understands regardless of your alignment, that isn't acceptable to our group members.

 

 

 

In the particular example of the Tiefling there were additional extentuating circumstances and I was sworn to never do it again.  However, I should note that multiple times other characters saved my character - despite knowing she was a menace.

 

Part of that was because I shared equal risk, part of that was that even as a menace she was still entertaining.  However, I would have accepted a gutting because, frankly, I deserved it.

 

The genesis of that particular menace came about because I had had several excellent characters ruined by idiot players I wanted out of the group.  The kind who would screw up a whole campaign just for a cheap laugh.

 

Having grown tired of this, and having my pleas for ousting ignored, I resolved myself to saying "well, if that's how it's going to be then I will show you all how it's done".  I will create a character so troublesome and such a menace that she will be the ruin of all - and she'll still be the best character in the game, people will love her, and she'll be full of depth and nuance. 

 

So it was specifically my objective to ruin an already ruined campaign so I could re-arrange the seats with some new, quality blood.  It is not something I would do under any other circumstance.  Nevertheless, menace or not, she got the full fleshed out treatment.  And it paid out. 

 

 

 

Well in that situation I can understand more or the "why". But in the end, as you obviously mentioned, that surpasses D&D, Pathfinder, Role Master or any RPG (and alignment!) and goes to the quality of the actual people playing.

 

One of my friends in his 40's who has played since he was very young always talks about a group that his dad ran. The group he grew up and learned in. They would constantly screw one another over and then after the gaming session go grab coffee and food and laugh about it. They were all close friends.

 

If you have guys who genuinely aren't getting along, or aren't really friendly towards one another outside of the campaign, that brings up a whole other issue which makes RPGs substantially less fun.

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I am of the opinion, from years of observation, that anybody who doesn't like alignment doesn't understand alignment and lacks imagination.

 

I am of the opinion, from years of observation, that anyone who relies on alignment to describe or define play in a roleplaying game is closed minded and completely misunderstands the breadth of human interaction.

 

(I mean, if we're going to be slinging insults.... ^_^ )

 

Well, I'd say you're using it wrong.  First, the standards of you campaign determines the morality of the campaign.  So if slavery is not bad in your world, then it's up to you to make sure your players understand that Lawful Good doesn't necessarily have a problem with it.  That's not a failure of alignment, that's a failure to properly use it for your situation.

 

I'd recommend examining the No True Scotsman fallacy and considering its utility in describing this situation.

 

If a GM misuses alignment, that doesn't mean alignment is bad, though.  That's my point.  And using alignment is challenging, because it requires a quick mind and judicious application to be used effectively.  (Also why I strongly disagree that it's simplistic)

 

If a GM uses alignment in such a way that the group ends up in a two-hour argument about "what should a Lawful character do in this situation?", as far too many (in my 37 years of gaming on two continents, that would be "the vast majority of GMs who use alignment seriously") GMs do, then it's alignment that's the root of the problem.

 

I can get better results by ignoring the alignment system and asking for characters with actual, defined personalities and I've had the same results when playing in other peoples' games. I've never had "alignment" increase the value of a game to me.

 

 

It's not intended as an insult.  I can't think of a better, gentler way to put it.  All the arguments I see against it only reinforce to me that people don't use it right, and that they don't use it right because they can't see how to.  And I think that comes back to a lack of imagination in using it because it's just a tool, and a tool is only as good as what you use it for.

 

I'm not trying to insult anybody, but I am trying to earnestly, and honestly, make my point.  And that point is, at its core, exactly what you find insulting.  I think alignment does cover the whole breadth of human interaction, that it is full of variables, complexities, and shades.  And I think if you don't see that it does, then you should examine it more closely.  Because it is a wonderful, elegant tool if employed properly.

 

I'm sorry if my opinion offends people, but I will stand by it and hope we'll still be friends afterward.  Insult is not my intention. 

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I'll make this addendum in a separate post rather than an edit so it doesn't get missed:

 

What I want out of this, and the reason I argue it, is for people to really look closely at the alignment system and find ways to put it to good use.  I can't force anybody to, and I wouldn't want to, but I would strongly encourage it - and the fact that so many people misuse it doesn't argue against the system itself, it only makes it more imperative that I put out the argument that it can be used right, should be used right, and that if this is done there's net benefit. 

 

Don't let people who didn't know what to do with it sway you from really giving it a solid try and really working it over to see how you can employ it best - just like any other stat or blank on the sheet that fills out a character.  Because if you do that, and it works, then that's that many more people not using it wrongly.  Maybe it'll catch on.

 

And IMO, that's a lot better than just tossing it away.  I'm evangelical about it, yes.  But that's only because I know how much value it gave to me once I really explored it, and why I'm so confident that everybody can do likewise and gain a lot from a pretty simple template. 

 

I think too many people have been ruined on it by people who used it badly, and I think that's sad.  I think it's rotten to see arguments against the system itself here based mostly on that, because I don't think it represents a fair evaluation of its merits. 

 

That's the sum of my argument.  The rest is example, illustration, and particulars. 

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I am of the opinion, from years of observation, that anybody who doesn't like alignment doesn't understand alignment and lacks imagination.

 

I am of the opinion, from years of observation, that anyone who relies on alignment to describe or define play in a roleplaying game is closed minded and completely misunderstands the breadth of human interaction.

 

(I mean, if we're going to be slinging insults.... ^_^ )

 

 

 

 

To specifically address this point, I don't always start with alignment and then figure it out.  Sometimes I work the reverse, figuring out what somebody believes and then choosing an alignment.  But I'm still using the system to do that, and to help me narrow down and define a character's priorities.

 

That's how I wound up with a true neutral thief who never robbed anybody.  She had been dispatched to retrieve an important stolen item.  This was, literally, the sole thing that mattered to her.  It was that important.  She'd work with the party to achieve this end, or she'd betray them for same.  She'd do good to gain contacts and allies, or just as easily join a band to raze and terrorize.  That's why she was sent to do the job. 

 

Now you could argue that such singular devotion might be more lawful than neutral, but I think that given that her overall natural behaviour and inclinations meant she'd be game for anything to accomplish her goal then she would be strongly neutral about it.  Anything goes.

 

And in this particular instance, it was the complications she found along the way that would change her.  That other things would eventually start to matter as much, or more - at which point she would have to make decisions, or she would have enough accumulated behaviour, that her alignment would change to a new one. 

 

Now you could certainly do the same without the system, but working within it allowed me to communicate the intentions of this development with the DM so that he could construct dilemmas, tests, and challenges along this path.  In particular, if the character wound up treasuring her new friends and turning good, then this would be a time to start throwing in "chances" (real or rumored) to gain my objective through betraying them.  Would she?  What would she do?  I dunno, we'd find out. 

 

And what if she betrayed them, but it turned out it was for no good reason?  What then?  Anyway, in order for the DM to feed this arc it was handy for him to have this shorthand.  I didn't start out with the alignment to define the character, I did it reverse, but alignment was still a critical element in what unfolded thereafter.  It was a crucial element of moral conflict that would go hand in hand with the original objective and the growth of the character.  

 

And I don't see that it would have worked, or threaded in so well, without alignment because it wouldn't have had the same moral definition.  She just would have been doing stuff on the way to a treasure.  But with the moral element, she had a story.  A chance to be a hero.  Or villain.  To be more than just the sum of her consequences, to put some meaning behind her actions that would go somewhere and be a significant part of the plot.   

Edited by buglips*the*goblin

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I know I'm writing too much, and I'm not trying to browbeat here, I'm just trying to address loose ends.

 

I saw mentioned several times earlier about misusing alignment, or arguments, or punishments for alignments so I need to address this specifically.

 

In order to use the system properly, it's important for parties using it to understand the following:

 

Actions only count when they are wilfully done and challenge the status quo.  The question of whether or not a Lawful character would do something is dead simple:  is it strongly against his prevalent alignment?  If no, then he'd do it.  If yes, he could still do it but there might be consequences depending on severity.  Free will and all that. 

 

I.E. A lawful good guy might turn a blind eye to something relatively minor or harmless.  Or might disobey an edict with some cause.  Or be late with his taxes.  Just because LG is his prevalence doesn't mean it's 100% constant and turned up to 11.  What it does mean is that he's highly unlikely to sally forth and sow chaos and destruction.  He's not likely to cause a mass jailbreak.  Or default instantly to the murderizing/killing in a disagreement.  Or get drunk, rowdy, and start smashing up the place.  Because those are strongly contrary to his overall schema.  And there shouldn't really be an argument, because these things should be rather obvious to all involved.  Everybody will have some contradictory behaviours, but unless it's a major event or a strong trend then it doesn't register. 

 

Circumstantial things or things done in ignorance also don't count.  If a LG guy is infiltrating an evil stronghold under cover, and somebody is being beaten in front of him, well he should feel compelled to intervene.  But, depending on the stakes of his mission, is not compelled to intervene or risk an alignment hit.  So long as he is disturbed thereby, and ready to make plans to try and help out afterwards, or is confident that the outcome of the mission is of much greater import to all, etc. then it's fine.  And I'd even allow it if he's forced to take part in the beating to maintain cover.  Because he's doing it under duress and doesn't like it.  In fact, I'd argue that this not only doesn't count as strike, but it proves through play that the character is true to his alignment.  Because he's morally disturbed by it all.

 

Now putting him in a situation where he might have to kill the prisoner is really upping the stakes.  But that's a cruel thing to do as a DM, so a responsible DM would do this with extreme caution and not have the sword of damocles ready to strike the hapless player forced into such a devious trap.  It's a judicial challenge, and if the player is worth their salt they should be left to sort it out as best they can.  If they're playing true to form, they should be into the role enough afterwards to feel guilt and remorse even if they knew it had to be done (and might become morose and develop an ale consumption problem to still their demons).

 

But if the character willfully, gleefully, and remorselessly joined in on the fun then it's clearly a strongly evil act and would definitely impact their alignment significantly.  Because that's obviously not lawful good at all.  I'd still let them, but I would mention the strongly contrarian nature of the act and that it may alter the alignment to a more suitable one that matches the actions.  Heck, maybe they'll decide the evil keep is their kind of place and decide to stay.  ::P:

 

ETA:  I think I'm done for a while now, and I'm not sure which of us is more exhausted after all that.  I know some of you are praying I'll get arthritis in my fingers or something and only be able to write in short clips.  My apologies for the verbosity, just trying to cover the angles fully.  

 

 

ETA 2:  I have more words!  Stop groaning.  Anyway, it occured to me to point out that if, in your game without an alignment system, you make a distinction between loyalty and treachery; good and evil then whether your define it as such or not, you are still using an alignment system.  And I'm pretty sure most of you are making those distinctions, or you wouldn't have much of a story going on because nobody would be doing anything important.  Or anything at all, really.  So in a sense, we do essentially agree because what you're doing by "doing away" with alignment is actually just using it properly (and imaginatively, to refer back to my unintended insult).  It's not a straightjacket, it's just a tool to help nail down where things fall as result of questions resulting from those distinctions.  A loyal man is probably a lawful man, and a lawful man is probably a loyal man.   Good and evil are pretty explanatory.  That's all the alignment system really is, is marking down those distinctions so people have some idea what the score is and can exploit it in play. 

 

ETA 3:  Re: nuance of human behaviour, the Law/NeutralChaos spectrum works out to 33.3%, 33.3%, 33.3% plus change.  So there's a lot of play within that category.  A paladin might be closing in on trouble if he/she was only 66.8% lawful, and should be getting higher marks, but everybody else would be okayish unless they kept sliding.  And unless it's such an extreme single act that it's worldbreaking (or a curse), a person would have to pass through neutral before hitting chaos.  Same goes for good/neutral/evil. 

 

That's not to suggest anybody should precisely math it out, only to show that there's significant wiggle room in the categories.  70% lawful and 53% neutral wouldn't be the same as 95% lawful and 36% neutral.  They might have plenty to argue about despite being the same alignment - and the latter example might get along better with somebody lawful evil.  They could have coffee together, maybe go on a picnic, talk about how the other LN person is silly and cares too much about the french and not enough about france. 

Edited by buglips*the*goblin
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Let's go back to the paladin of Tyr that you described. Had the GM violated your paladin for playing the character you described, that would have been a massive failure of the alignment system. Your character was a paradigmatic example of a holy champion of his god and to have that god pull his powers would have been a travesty. And I've seen exactly that sort of thing happen as a result of reading and applying the rules in various editions of D&D.

 

Now, had his temporal powers been pulled by a corrupt or misguided church hierarchy, that would have been good roleplaying (and it almost certainly wouldn't have happened in a world where you can determine a character's alignment with a trivial expenditure of spell power.) But if the god he is devoted to, and who could presumably see what was in his innermost thoughts, decided to remove his powers, that's a problem.

 

Another example:

 

When I was playing in the Shackled City AP, I built a rogue character. He had grown up in a lower-middle-class family and had drifted into gang activity along with the friends he ran with. Eventually he ended up as a guild thief. But while a guild thief, his family had been murdered as an example to others, which ended with him deciding that the guild needed to be exterminated. Further, he saw that as a violation of a basic code of honor that he thought applied.

 

The character who started play, then, had the following precepts:

  • Help the helpless. (He had felt helpless when growing up and felt that shouldn't happen to others.)
  • Follow his code of honor rigorously. (As hadn't happened to him. This resulted in many long-winded discussions about what was honorable and at least one case where he walked away from the group because he felt they were behaving dishonorably.)
  • Take any action necessary to end the Thieves' Guild permanently. (Including murder without warning, theft, arson, whatever.)

I'm sure you could assign an alignment to him; so could I. But the likelihood that the two of us would agree with each other and some random GM is so low as to be effectively 0. (I could make a case for anything but NE or CE, depending on exactly how to weight various things.

 

Regardless of that, though, I don't see how applying a label to the character would have enhanced the roleplaying, either for myself or for the other members of the group.

 

Build the character. Reveal the character in play. Let the other characters react to the revealed character, not the label someone decides to place on him.

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Let's go back to the paladin of Tyr that you described. Had the GM violated your paladin for playing the character you described, that would have been a massive failure of the alignment system. Your character was a paradigmatic example of a holy champion of his god and to have that god pull his powers would have been a travesty. And I've seen exactly that sort of thing happen as a result of reading and applying the rules in various editions of D&D.

 

Now, had his temporal powers been pulled by a corrupt or misguided church hierarchy, that would have been good roleplaying (and it almost certainly wouldn't have happened in a world where you can determine a character's alignment with a trivial expenditure of spell power.) But if the god he is devoted to, and who could presumably see what was in his innermost thoughts, decided to remove his powers, that's a problem.

 

Another example:

 

When I was playing in the Shackled City AP, I built a rogue character. He had grown up in a lower-middle-class family and had drifted into gang activity along with the friends he ran with. Eventually he ended up as a guild thief. But while a guild thief, his family had been murdered as an example to others, which ended with him deciding that the guild needed to be exterminated. Further, he saw that as a violation of a basic code of honor that he thought applied.

 

The character who started play, then, had the following precepts:

  • Help the helpless. (He had felt helpless when growing up and felt that shouldn't happen to others.)
  • Follow his code of honor rigorously. (As hadn't happened to him. This resulted in many long-winded discussions about what was honorable and at least one case where he walked away from the group because he felt they were behaving dishonorably.)
  • Take any action necessary to end the Thieves' Guild permanently. (Including murder without warning, theft, arson, whatever.)

I'm sure you could assign an alignment to him; so could I. But the likelihood that the two of us would agree with each other and some random GM is so low as to be effectively 0. (I could make a case for anything but NE or CE, depending on exactly how to weight various things.

 

Regardless of that, though, I don't see how applying a label to the character would have enhanced the roleplaying, either for myself or for the other members of the group.

 

Build the character. Reveal the character in play. Let the other characters react to the revealed character, not the label someone decides to place on him.

 

You're putting too much emphasis on it as a label.  Look, everybody - real or imagined - falls somewhere on a spectrum of loyal/untrustworthy or good/evil.  If I'm a liar, backstabber, thief, and murderer then I am clearly different from somebody who is honest, forthright, loyal, and willing to make sacrifices for others. 

 

All the alignment system does is function as a notation.  Just like height, weight, race, hair colour, WIS/INT/STR.  They're all elements that round out a character.

 

So does alignment.  Now in the particular examples of restrictions, as I walked myself through my argument I realized we're essentially on the same page.  In that emphasis on the restrictions is a problem we both have - but our solutions are different, even if they're similar.  We're doing the same thing, I'm just using the tool to do it - and I think it's a useful tool for the job.  Because having an alignment note on a sheet is another part of the character, and it can be used in lots of ways.  But I would never advocate beating somebody over the head with it.

 

However, in my paladin example I might well have lost my paladinhood.  But that's a class restriction, not necessarily an alignment one even if it uses alignment to explain the standards of the class.  (which I count as useful notation that illustrates how high a standard that class should be)

 

You don't have to write in lots of stuff on a character sheet, but few people fill them out with just stats.  I think alignment is an essential part of the development, it's shorthand for the moral element of the game and just as important as anything else on the sheet.  And, as I mentioned, if you have a moral distinction in your game you're using it anyway.  You're just not enforcing silly restrictions or writing it down.  On the first part, I agree.  That's why I don't employ half xp if somebody slips a category, because that's a silly rule.  But writing it down and keeping track of it I think is exceptionally useful because it allows DMs and players a means to put some focus on the nuances of moral dilemma, and I think that is an essential part of the depth of the game. 

 

Understanding it can help a player define the character as a separate entity from themselves.  Using it as a DM helps you construct challenges which hit at the heart of what their character believes in.  I just can't see why you'd want to throw it away just because some people you've known use it as a punishment bludgeon instead of a guideline, and I think that by doing so, yes, you're limiting the potential of the game.  You're certainly free to do so, it's your game and it says on the inside cover to fiddle with it however you want, but I certainly can't agree that discarding it entirely is a benefit.  Without it, if I were playing in your game, I'd feel cheated out of the moral challenges it provides and I'd lose an essential part of the story's meaning.  It wouldn't matter as much, because there's no score.  It's just action and consequence, it's external to my character.  It's things that are done and things that happen in return.

 

But having that little moral notation keeps me on track with who I'm playing, what matters to them, and why.  I'd never play a game that robbed me of such a critical tool - any more than I'd play a game that robbed me of stats that tell me how strong, wise, deft, and smart my avatar is. 

 

ETA:  With your thief character, let me illustrate how I'd use alignment not as a label but as a tool.  Now whatever alignment you'd assign and how it would be different is, I'll say upfront, irrelevant.  Hopefully I'll show why in a second.

 

So you have outlined three priorities.  Now, to determine alignment I need to tier these priorities.  Which ones are worth more than others, especially ones that conflict. 

 

So let's put help the helpless on top, follow the code second, and do anything to get rid of the thieve's guild third.  Now, we know that regardless of the latter he's not likely to harm the helpless because that is a higher tier.  So automatically that provides a caveat to #3.  It means he will do anything but certain things. 

 

Now killing thieves, that's probably overall for the greater good.  We also know that he has a code of honor, which I have also place above getting rid of the thieves.  So in most circumstances he will only do #3 when it does not violate numbers 1 and 2.

 

That tier schema makes him lawful good.  Maybe only marginally, but that's where he lands by 2:1.  It strongly outweighs #3.

 

But let's reverse it:

 

1. get rid of thieves

2. follow code of honor

3. help the helpless

 

Now he's still got 2:1 in favour of goodish behaviour, but he's prepared to do whatever it takes.  He's still got honor and goodness, but taking out the thieves outweighs all.  In this tier, he's more likely to be chaotic good or neutral good.

 

 

But what I'm trying to show here with this example is that using alignment helps me figure out what this guy's exact priorities are.  And how they change on the tier structure significantly changes what kind of person he is and what he's prepared to do when faced with conflicting challenges and goals.

 

Do you see where I'm going with it?  And having made my determination about this structure, I can then inform the DM.  I've never had to argue about it.  Instead I can rest assured that I'll find creative encounters that test this structure, that really put me in a vise to see what I'll do when two very important but conflicting things hit that tier*.  And I know what he's likely to do, but I can choose something different - but I also know that if I do, I don't have to worry about being punished by the DM, but I should probably devote some thought as to why he turned his priorities around.  And getting to that answer may lead me down some interesting paths, and possibly a revision of his priorities.  That helps me narrow down how my character has changed and grown. 

 

 

*Example:  character can take out the top thief, but may lose his love interest in the process.  Which is worth more to him?  What will the fallout of the decision be?  Because he's inclined to take the chance with set 2, but with set 1 he wouldn't.  Two different results, if I chose to abide by his established priorities.  An unusual and significant change of heart if not. 

 

Additional example:  Code of honor prevents him from breaking his word to a friend.  Breaking his word will grant an opportunity to cut the head of the thieve's guild snake.  What does he do?  In set 1, his word means more.  He'd let the chance go.  With set 2, needs must. 

 

ETA 2:  Also, in this example it's kind of the reverse of how I'd use alignment - which is usually to use the alignment to set the tiers.  It's not really an A to B thing, though, since I'm working out both at once.  However, for the sake of this particular example, even though we know his specific tiers it's still useful to have an alignment worked out from them as a guide to how he normally operates when those tiers are not necessarily in question or in conflict.  So set 1, lawful good, might tell us how he'd get along with, I dunno, negotiations with some wemics.  How he'd view them in relation to him, whether he'd negotiate in good faith or with suspicion, so on. 

Edited by buglips*the*goblin
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Oh, also with that Paladin example I should note that the alignment question and his paladinhood were crucial to his central conflict.  Because he knows he should be very lawful and good.  He also knows that he may not see everything clearly.  Now he would try to find a solution which is lawful and good - but opportunity might present which is not both of those but gets the job done.

 

So what does he do?  Take the chance and justify it for the greater good?  Wait for a better opportunity?  Remember, his god should know what he must do - but the paladin may not.  The god may know that a better opportunity awaits, and may even be testing him to see if he's loyal and strong or will take the easy way out.  Just how dedicated is this guy to my cause anyway?

 

So there could be plenty of grounds for my paladin to make the "right" decision, only to find out that god disapproves and he has to figure out how he fell off the path, reckon with his failings, and how he might right things. 

 

Where you might see a screwjob from a stick in the butt DM, I might see an exquisite opportunity to take the character down an even richer path.  And that could very well hinge just on that little question of law vs. chaos.  Tyr's got high standards.  It's not for me to question them, but to try and do better.  I mean, I have to trust my DM here.  If I don't, I wouldn't play anyway. 

 

But having the question hang in the balance raises the stakes for my decision, and that makes it exciting to play.  I have something to lose, in a defined and meaningful way. 

Edited by buglips*the*goblin
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