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Is sticking to an alignment a limitation on your roleplaying?

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There was an article in an old Dragon magazine about the alignments of Players rather than their characters. Here are some sample 'alignments' from the article in no particular order:

 

  • Chaotic Crybaby
  • Lawful Bored
  • Neutral Puppet
  • Lawful Idiot
  • Chaotic Stupid
  • Neutral Dietosser
  • Chaotic Everywhere
  • Neutral Absent

 

It was a funny article, but it seriously described people I played the game with in case after case. I think there were 19 typical player alignments. (It was from August of 1987. titled: "New Front End Alignments".)

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As a player I don't feel sticking to my alignment limits my roleplaying.  Like buglips suggested above I find it helps flesh out character motivations etc.

 

AS a DM I regularly set in place limitations on people playing various things.  Ie.  In my current campaign, everyone has to be a "good" alignment.  I've too large a group and too many new players to screw around with those people who play evil characters in a game limiting way.  If a player wants to play something badly enough that if he/she doesn't get to play it they won't play in the sandpit, I just tend to shrug.  I don't have the time or patience to deal with players/games like that.  I put in place rules to make the DM'ing a more enjoyable role, and to help players enjoy the game (which is why with our new players our game is having a lot gentler view of the rules).

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I used to say no evil and no CN characters previously, but with my current group I don't limit the CN anymore after seeing how great the CN alignment can be played by someone. In my current game we have a CN Magus who is fantastic, the player has the alignment down perfectly in our opinions and is so much fun to role-play with and see what kind of trouble he causes with his spur of the moment actions. He's not the typical "CN madman" that I used to equate to the alignment.

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Sounds almost like my experiences, Uber.  But for me, CN was originally equated with 'self-centered sociopath'...the guy that used CN to justify doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, any level of dickishness, and call it 'in character' as long as they occasionally did something nice too [to stop them from being Evil, and ergo converted to an NPC antagonist].

 

Then came the rogue who had given so many people so many different fake names that he forgot what his actual name was.  Chaotic was 'if I have to do something illegal to accomplish my goals, so be it', along with wanderlust, a bit of kleptomania (rogue!), and easily bored.  Neutral was not going out of their way to cause harm, but preferring efficient to bloodless.

 

The rogue that talked the LG paragon of honor into stealing something in order to keep the rogue from stealing it themselves, on grounds that the rogue wouldn't steal it from them.

 

I miss DMing for that character.

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As a player I don't feel sticking to my alignment limits my roleplaying.  Like buglips suggested above I find it helps flesh out character motivations etc.

 

AS a DM I regularly set in place limitations on people playing various things.  Ie.  In my current campaign, everyone has to be a "good" alignment.  I've too large a group and too many new players to screw around with those people who play evil characters in a game limiting way.  If a player wants to play something badly enough that if he/she doesn't get to play it they won't play in the sandpit, I just tend to shrug.  I don't have the time or patience to deal with players/games like that.  I put in place rules to make the DM'ing a more enjoyable role, and to help players enjoy the game (which is why with our new players our game is having a lot gentler view of the rules).

 

Since I don't much care about alignments, I don't require a specific "alignment" for my players' characters. But one of my rules is that I'm only interested in running games where the characters are willing to take up heroic adventure hooks:

 

"Our poor village is having all of its food stolen by bandits. Whatever can we do?"

 

If the answer is "You can't pay me, why should I help you?", the NPC will go on to find heroes and there won't be a game that night. I won't jump through hoops to involve characters that aren't cooperative; it's not fun for me as a GM.

 

This doesn't mean that's the only way to run a game; I've had fun playing mercenaries, too. But as a GM, I do it for fun, too.

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There could almost be an argument made for true neutral there, Grump.  I suppose it comes down mainly to whether a statement regarding authority would be 'The slow-moving processes of authority/bureaucracy do nothing but hamper me' (chaotic) or 'I will cooperate with authority when it is beneficial to me, but have no desire to rely on it' (neutral).

The true neutral acknowledges that she is part of society - the chaotic neutral places himself outside of it.

 

A chaotic neutral may truly not care what others think of him.

 

Dissociative.

 

'To pass through the world as a sharp sword passes through water, leaving no ripple.' (Bad sign when I start using Zen philosophy... I think that I will watch Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters tonight, just to get the philosophy out of my system....)

 

What it comes down to is that Chaotic does not always mean Random.

 

The Auld Grump

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I have never played a Chaotic Neutral. But, I always wondered why the four 'Cardinal' alignments needed to have "Neutral" tacked on as a suffix.

 

A CN should simply be the guy that rushes into battle shouting... " Chaos!! down with Order! "

 

But I always wondered why the chart was not labeled like this:

No allegiance:

  • Neutral

Devotion to a single principle:

  • -Law
  • -Chaos
  • -Good
  • -Evil

and then the four combos:

  • --Lawful Good
  • --Chaotic Good
  • --Chaotic Evil
  • --Lawful Evil
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Yes - but that is what you want to do, which is completely fine.  I have also played characters like that - but it is what I wanted.  But, if I want to play something and the GM says 'no', I walk away.

 

I wouldn't have a problem with that.  I've walked away from lots of games because I didn't like the terms, and I've dismissed people who couldn't play by mine.  Everybody's definition of fun is different.  I may have opinions on the subject, and so may you.  Some of our opinions might even match up.  There are games out there whose definition of fun is starting everybody with maximum stats.  Or games where people don't like death as a factor or the random nature of combat.  The treasure sparse games and the monty haul.  Some variations seem fun, some seem like a waste of my time.

 

I tend to enjoy brutal, merciless struggle with long odds and lots at stake.  A game which is fairly run, but is also designed to stamp out my hope.  Because defying the limitations, odds, and nefarious plans strikes me as more epic.  So it's natural that I would prefer a Paladin who earned it, not started out as it.  And if everybody else didn't have the same struggle, my fun would only be enhanced.  My play would be better.  It'd feel like I created a self-made man, and the others were spoiled trust fund kids. 

 

Part of the game, despite its co-operative nature, is competition against other players for me.  And I compete by bringing my A-game, by doing things better the harder way than anybody else.  I love limitations and hindrances, and more often than not I request more than I start out with because I start out with things too easy. 

 

So you might not find that Paladin who's not a Paladin fun, and that is in itself fine.  But  I would find him even more fun, and lay odds that by the end of things he'd likely turn out to be one of the best characters I've played.  And quite probably one of the best examples of a Paladin anybody in the group has ever seen played, because that would be part of my mission - to play him so well that he's not just memorable to me, he's unforgettable for everybody else.  Everybody tells stories about their own characters, my aim is for other people to tell stories about mine. 

 

For me it's not about the sheet.  The sheet is only a template.  My character isn't on the sheet - my character is an abstract, living, breathing, believable entity.  The sheet's only notes and mechanics to facilitate the character's birth and development, to facilitate random events I can utilize to feed a story.  XP, levels, and treasure aren't meaningful to me because I define success or failure in the game by how interesting, memorable, and exciting to other people I can make what I play.  To get everybody in the room to believe it. 

 

And in my ideal game, everybody else would be doing the same thing and the DM would recognize that their primary role is not to create story, but to create opportunities for story to happen.  I want everybody at the table to push for that level of play because I want them to compel me to be invested in their characters.  I want to be interested in what they play and how their story turns out. 

 

So for me, I think the game works best when it's all about heart and soul.  And if a character is all about heart and soul, then I don't think it matters if he's got Paladin on his sheet at Level One or if he gets to scribble it in at Level Eight.  I'd just find the latter the more interesting development path, and the easier route to make everybody acknowledge this guy's got soul - because he's such an example of essence of Paladin that nobody could argue he's anything but.  He's a Paladin without any of the entitled goodies, and by the time he earned it every single person at the table would agree he deserves it.  And I'd get the satsifaction of having shown what it means to really be a Paladin. 

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As a player I don't feel sticking to my alignment limits my roleplaying.  Like buglips suggested above I find it helps flesh out character motivations etc.

 

AS a DM I regularly set in place limitations on people playing various things.  Ie.  In my current campaign, everyone has to be a "good" alignment.  I've too large a group and too many new players to screw around with those people who play evil characters in a game limiting way.  If a player wants to play something badly enough that if he/she doesn't get to play it they won't play in the sandpit, I just tend to shrug.  I don't have the time or patience to deal with players/games like that.  I put in place rules to make the DM'ing a more enjoyable role, and to help players enjoy the game (which is why with our new players our game is having a lot gentler view of the rules).

 

Since I don't much care about alignments, I don't require a specific "alignment" for my players' characters. But one of my rules is that I'm only interested in running games where the characters are willing to take up heroic adventure hooks:

 

"Our poor village is having all of its food stolen by bandits. Whatever can we do?"

 

If the answer is "You can't pay me, why should I help you?", the NPC will go on to find heroes and there won't be a game that night. I won't jump through hoops to involve characters that aren't cooperative; it's not fun for me as a GM.

 

This doesn't mean that's the only way to run a game; I've had fun playing mercenaries, too. But as a GM, I do it for fun, too.

 

 

Here we have another potential disagreement, because I don't like hooks.  I figure if everybody understands their characters and how they think, and if they're working to get into the heads of them, then I don't need hooks.  I should construct potential scenarios that they'd feel intrinsically compelled to follow because they'd be invested in them.  It's something that directly impacts their interests, so they're motivated to follow it up. 

 

I like to start the very first adventure with a compelling reason for a group of disparate people to team up, and then load it with lots of choices.  The entire rest of the game will be built from the effect, good or bad, which would logically follow from those choices and build upon them.  The world is already in motion before they roll their first dice.  People are doing things, people have plans, people have goals.  The players start making choices and pulling threads, and after that I just give them more threads to pull.  I drop in hints, rumors, and tales of effects happening off-screen, and leave it up to them to decide what to pursue.

 

For every thing they do, somebody will probably like it and somebody probably won't.  It won't take very long for them to have an impact, and the repercussions of that impact will ripple out.  The minute the start making choices, they start down the path of making enemies and friends.  I take that, build out from it, and work from that template to find new and interesting things for them to deal with.  To create opportunities for them to make story. 

 

It's their story, after all.  They're the main characters.  Since it's about them, it ought to be about what they do.  My job is only to give them things to do, choices to make, and maintain the world around them.  So I don't give them hooks, they give hooks to me. 

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Different style, is all. I see it as much the same as the difference between (say) Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series, where the plot grabs the protagonist by the throat and he spends six books reacting, then acting, and Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles, where the protagonist drives much of the action more directly.

 

Both can work, though IME, a strongly character-driven, sandbox world works better for small groups and a heavier plot works better for large groups (also, inexperienced players need significantly more guidance). I find that getting large groups to do things that are interesting without guidance is a bit lack cat herding: every player wants something different and they all want it now. And most of it is at least conflicting when it isn't mutually exclusive.

 

Since my current groups each contain 7 PCs, I'm mostly running more-scripted stuff right now.

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Has anybody ever tried just letting the characters play for a few sessions -- and then assigning alignments based on the characters' track record(s)?

 

I suppose either the GM could adjudicate it or the group could be polled somehow to assign alignments.

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Has anybody ever tried just letting the characters play for a few sessions -- and then assigning alignments based on the characters' track record(s)?

 

I suppose either the GM could adjudicate it or the group could be polled somehow to assign alignments.

 

I prefer that somebody have already worked it through and know their alignment and their character beforehand, but I've also allowed the above from time to time.  That goes back to alignment as a tool, not a straightjacket.  If somebody chooses chaotic good, or doesn't know which to pick, and then later reveals that they're more lawful good then so long as it's not a class stricture then it's just a matter of updating the notation. 

 

My goal is never to assign an alignment, I'd prefer people to understand what they are and how to use them as an organic part of the game.  If that goal is achieved, then alignment issues are self-resolving.  Alignments aren't really that complicated, it's just a matter of explaining how they work and using them fairly.  In other words, I'm probably never going to tell somebody they can't do something because it's "against their alignment".  That's not how it's supposed to work.  If they understand alignment, they should already know that the choice their character is making goes against their normal behaviour - and if a character suddenly does something they normally wouldn't, they can still do it - but there should be a pretty good reason for why.

 

Such a circumstance is hardly likely to occur by accident if a player has a good grasp of alignment, and so it should raise questions for both player and DM as to what this means for the character's development.  Indeed, there should be times when a character does something unusual - it just shouldn't be random or arbitrary.  Depending on the character and the strength of their previous alignment, such a change in behaviour can be either minor or very extreme. 

 

Players always have a choice.  Repercussions of choices may vary, but so long as they're played straight and fair then the player has no grounds to complain.  A paladin could certainly lie to an enemy without consequence if I felt the situation justified it.  But he could not lie to just anybody with the same result.  If he lies to regular people, or good people, or his church then he'll get a reputation. 

 

Similarly, his honor only compels him to do certain things.  He may, for example, accept a bandit leader's surrender.  If that bandit leader later escapes and burns an orphanage with all the orphans trapped inside, then the next time the paladin catches him he could choose not to accept the surrender (still not likely to accept the surrender and then execute the bandit, though).  He can bend the rules a little.  Maybe the law dictates that the bandit be captured and brought to trial.  The paladin decides that he's proven far too dangerous for this, his crimes too great, so he instead refuses the surrender and tells the bandit lord that it ends here - defend yourself.  His intent is a fight to the death, but he's still giving the bandit some chance and playing fairly.  More fairly than the bandit deserves.

 

He's breaking the strict letter of the law, but I'd let a paladin get away with that if he played it decently.  He's just putting more emphasis on the good side of Lawful Good in this instance.  Now if he captured the bandit and tortured said bandit with fire while screaming about the nuns and orphans and making him pay, probably not. 

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Players always have a choice.  Repercussions of choices may vary, but so long as they're played straight and fair then the player has no grounds to complain.  A paladin could certainly lie to an enemy without consequence if I felt the situation justified it.  But he could not lie to just anybody with the same result.  If he lies to regular people, or good people, or his church then he'll get a reputation. 

 

I'm surprised you'd let the paladin lie to someone just because they're the enemy. To me, what defines a character as lawful is their adherence to their word. The laws of a particular land may be unjust and worth breaking, but the characters own word is inviolate. Otherwise, a lawful evil character could lie to anyone (since they're pretty much all enemies) and a lawful good character wouldn't be nearly as challenging or interesting. 

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I'd agree with falstius that I wouldn't consider that character (assuming that were typical behavior rather than an aberration) to be lawful good (I'd make it neutral good trending chaotic). And I'd strongly consider violating a paladin that followed that course of action.

 

Capture the bandit, try him, and hang him? Sure. Kill him out of hand if he were declared outlaw by a competent legal authority with due process (assuming a typical medieval code)? Sure. But refuse his surrender and then kill him in a land where the legal system actually works? No.

 

Similarly, I consider following your given word to be the core of lawful. Even an evil scum won't break his word if he's honorable/lawful.

 

And now we're into "What does lawful mean to you?" territory, which is where alignment discussions always seem to end up.  ^_^

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