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Is sticking to an alignment a limitation on your roleplaying?

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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.

 

Not exactly, but I did play a few adventures online where one of the requirements was filling out a player/GM survey at the end of each session. You filled one out for each player and scored them on how well you think they RP'd their character, then you marked what you thought their character's alignment was based on their RP and actions taken during the session. I had made a Lawful Neutral fighter, and my alignment scores were... pretty much all over the place, with Neutral Good being the most common pick. I had only a vague idea of why I wanted to be Lawful Neutral in the first place so it wasn't really a surprise that I couldn't sell it as my native alignment.

 

This brings me to my next point, which is that people have very different views on what it means to be Lawful. Per Pathfinder rules (not sure about D&D but I assume it's still the same) monks must be Any Lawful, however that manifests most often as adherence to their monastic vows, not necessarily the law of the land. Similarly I assume a paladin (or even cleric) will be devoted to their religious teachings first, and they will follow those teachings even if it causes conflict with earthly law. A dwarven paladin of a dwarven god may have a completely different set of priorities than an elven paladin of an elven god, even though they're both Lawful Good. As a GM I feel it's an important part of my job to discuss this with my players so we all start the game with the same expectations of behavior. This goes for any class that sets strictures on behavior, such as the aforementioned monk, and samurai or cavalier.

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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.  ^_^

 

Ah, you posted while I was posting! In your view, is a paladin never justified in lying or obscuring the truth? What if revealing the truth would put innocents in danger, or jeopardize the mission? How does the paladin feel about the phrase "the ends justify the means"? More importantly, how does her god feel about such a phrase? To me, there is no right answer to these questions because there is such a diversity of gods to follow - I am assuming a campaign in a polytheistic setting, of course. Maybe a hardline dwarven paladin would be willing to let innocent humans suffer if it meant protecting the dwarven community. And that would be perfectly justifiable to the god of the dwarves as well, thus making it both a Lawful and a Good act for said paladin.

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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.  ^_^

 

Ah, you posted while I was posting! In your view, is a paladin never justified in lying or obscuring the truth? What if revealing the truth would put innocents in danger, or jeopardize the mission? How does the paladin feel about the phrase "the ends justify the means"? More importantly, how does her god feel about such a phrase? To me, there is no right answer to these questions because there is such a diversity of gods to follow - I am assuming a campaign in a polytheistic setting, of course. Maybe a hardline dwarven paladin would be willing to let innocent humans suffer if it meant protecting the dwarven community. And that would be perfectly justifiable to the god of the dwarves as well, thus making it both a Lawful and a Good act for said paladin.

 

 

"Obscuring the truth" is very different from lying. A paladin might well not speak, say something that is misleading but absolutely true, or fail to correct a misimpression by an enemy. But he won't lie. This is a major part of the difference between a paladin and the champion of a NG or CG god, to my mind. Would a classically devout Christian or Muslim deny the existence of his god to save the lives of innocents?

 

A paladin might hate the result of such rigid adherence to his belief structure, but he'd do it anyway. The actions of others are the proper subject of his attempts to influence them, but they're not his responsibility. His responsibility is to his code and his god.

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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.  ^_^

 

Ah, you posted while I was posting! In your view, is a paladin never justified in lying or obscuring the truth? What if revealing the truth would put innocents in danger, or jeopardize the mission? How does the paladin feel about the phrase "the ends justify the means"? More importantly, how does her god feel about such a phrase? To me, there is no right answer to these questions because there is such a diversity of gods to follow - I am assuming a campaign in a polytheistic setting, of course. Maybe a hardline dwarven paladin would be willing to let innocent humans suffer if it meant protecting the dwarven community. And that would be perfectly justifiable to the god of the dwarves as well, thus making it both a Lawful and a Good act for said paladin.

 

 

"Obscuring the truth" is very different from lying. A paladin might well not speak, say something that is misleading but absolutely true, or fail to correct a misimpression by an enemy. But he won't lie. This is a major part of the difference between a paladin and the champion of a NG or CG god, to my mind. Would a classically devout Christian or Muslim deny the existence of his god to save the lives of innocents?

 

A paladin might hate the result of such rigid adherence to his belief structure, but he'd do it anyway. The actions of others are the proper subject of his attempts to influence them, but they're not his responsibility. His responsibility is to his code and his god.

 

As we've learned from Robert Jordan, the best liars in the world were the group bound by magic to never tell an untruth.  A strongly lawful good character might lie for the greater good, but he'd better feel really guilty about it and some penance could be called for (an interesting quest in itself maybe).

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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.  ^_^

 

No we're not.  The post in question dealt with aberration from the norm, and the specific example had special prior conditions (the bandit has already been caught once and escaped to do more unspeakable harm).  Assuming the paladin allowed the bandit honorable combat, I'd let it pass.  If played well.  Remember, it's not the paladin's first choice.  It's only after his attempt to satsify both lawful and good together that resulted in an orphanage of burned alive children.  So for his second try, I might let him finish the dude in honorable combat instead and consider it justice enough to scrape by. 

 

Geez, it's no wonder you people never have any fun in your games.  Lawful is the dominant trend.  The occassional variance doesn't alter this state, unless of an extreme kind. 

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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.  ^_^

 

Ah, you posted while I was posting! In your view, is a paladin never justified in lying or obscuring the truth? What if revealing the truth would put innocents in danger, or jeopardize the mission? How does the paladin feel about the phrase "the ends justify the means"? More importantly, how does her god feel about such a phrase? To me, there is no right answer to these questions because there is such a diversity of gods to follow - I am assuming a campaign in a polytheistic setting, of course. Maybe a hardline dwarven paladin would be willing to let innocent humans suffer if it meant protecting the dwarven community. And that would be perfectly justifiable to the god of the dwarves as well, thus making it both a Lawful and a Good act for said paladin.

 

 

"Obscuring the truth" is very different from lying. A paladin might well not speak, say something that is misleading but absolutely true, or fail to correct a misimpression by an enemy. But he won't lie. This is a major part of the difference between a paladin and the champion of a NG or CG god, to my mind. Would a classically devout Christian or Muslim deny the existence of his god to save the lives of innocents?

 

A paladin might hate the result of such rigid adherence to his belief structure, but he'd do it anyway. The actions of others are the proper subject of his attempts to influence them, but they're not his responsibility. His responsibility is to his code and his god.

 

 

A paladin won't lie?

 

I can think of many instances where a paladin might lie.  If he was being interrogated by some orcs who asked "is this where the villagers are hiding?" silence might imply "yes".  "I will tell you nothing", same effect.   So if he has to say something, what will it be?  Maybe?  Well then the orcs might go look.  Yes?  Clearly not an acceptable answer.

 

But "no, we've sent them to the canyon" would be acceptable.  Even if it's a lie.  I would argue that in this case his duty to protect the villagers far outweighs his duty to not lie to an orc. 

 

There's some leeway in interpretation.  He's a paragon of virtue, not an idiot.  When conflicts occur, he's allowed some discretion to resolve them.  He just has to be very careful about it, and intent matters.  I wouldn't let him lie casually, because he's not that kind of guy.  That would defy his bearing.  But lie under certain circumstances?  Yes, I'd weigh the circumstances in the call. 

 

Some discretion is necessary to avoid cookie cutter paladins.  It's supposed to be a character, not a bland archetype. 

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This post and the ones quoted within zero in on the sort of problems "Lawful Good" + Paladin can generate.

 

 

It usually boils down to the player and the DM discovering (often at awkward moments for the character) that they hold different views on:

  • What is or is not lawful behavior.
  • What is or is not 'good'.
  • What is or is not a lie.

 

Small aside for DS: "Obscuring the truth is very different from lying." (The person who was deceived will define both as a lie and will brand the deceiver a liar.)

Edited by TGP
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I like to think of Paladins as wandering lawmen who strive to uphold a very strict code of honor, goodness, and justice.  I would never require of that character to be perfect, but instead to do the absolute best he can.  Paladin can make mistakes.  And bad calls.  And when they really screw up, they should atone. 

 

They first have to try to meet the most stringent level of requirement, and if unable to do so can proceed down the various subtiers.  A solution should present itself before long.  All I require of a player is to try, to think carefully about what is done, and to demonstrate an intent to adhere to the strictures in place.  In return, I think it's my duty as a fair DM to weigh any mitigating circumstances into how I judge the call. 

 

I think people overcomplicate the issue by focusing on written parameters rather than the heart of the idea.  It's like being a starfleet captain - for all the speeches about duty, responsibility, the uniform, and the strict code of behaviour they're still allowed discretion (and bending the Prime Directive) from time to time.  Not willy nilly, but when crap gets weird they're allowed to make a call.

 

I allow paladins the same latitude, but they do need to be very careful about it. 

 

ETA:  A paladin, in particular, must always first try to find a solution that satisfies both lawful and good.  However, there will be situations where both cannot be satisfied.  The lawful thing may not also be the good thing; the good thing not also be the lawful thing.  If a DM doesn't allow for some player discretion when these situations arise, he's a poor DM. 

 

 

ETA 2:  Consider also a situation where a Paladin has solemnly sworn to one of his compatriots that he will protect him and never allow harm to come to his friend.  Said friend later turns out to be evil and a villain, bent on great cruelties and malice that threatens many people. 

 

Forcing said Paladin to always keep his word seems a bit silly under that circumstance.  It's highly likely, even if the paladin sets out to do the job non-lethally, that he is going to have to bring harm of some form to his friend. 

Edited by buglips*the*goblin
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I agree with you on Paladins. A well played Paladin must always try and balance the law and what is good and just. Generally I would lean towards what is good more than what is law if there is a conflict. That includes telling a lie. If it is not for his benefit (even if he can benefit from it) and is meant to protect someone from harm at the hands of evil or unjust, or simply uncaring persons. Any Paladin I play would probably do it in a heartbeat (and roll on persuade or whatever to look them in the eye while he did) That said, I can very easily see Paladins that are almost on the Lawful Neutral end of the spectrum who are more focused on the rules than on what is good being somewhat the opposite, though I wouldn't play one, someone else might want to.

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[ ... ]  A paladin, in particular, must always first try to find a solution that satisfies both lawful and good. [ ... ]

 

This above is combining Lawful with Good using a boolean operator: AND

 

How do you deal with a Player who insists that, for his character, the boolean operator is: OR ?

 

Lawful Good played as "Lawful AND Good" turns out very different from "Lawful OR Good".

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[ ... ]  A paladin, in particular, must always first try to find a solution that satisfies both lawful and good. [ ... ]

 

This above is combining Lawful with Good using a boolean operator: AND

 

How do you deal with a Player who insists that, for his character, the boolean operator is: OR ?

 

Lawful Good played as "Lawful AND Good" turns out very different from "Lawful OR Good".

 

 

Or is the second tier stage after being unable to satisfy and.

 

And has priority, because and is implied in the combination.  Therefore the character's natural first inclination is to satisfy both axes, and the player playing them should be aware that this is so.  It's only when this best choice cannot be met that the situation becomes "or" (moral dilemma, the lawful thing is not also the good thing).

 

I allow some flexibility, but alignment isn't multiple choice.  Being LG assumes that in the majority of circumstances a character will strive strenuously to be both at once.  The player might have to choose from time to time, they might get a little leeway from time to time, but if they want to be LG they have to play within the definition of same a majority of the time. 

 

****Note that this stricture applies to all of the extreme alignments when free choice is present.  A chaotic good ranger must demonstrate this inclination most of the time.  Lawful evil must be doing evil most of the time. 

 

Not because these are restrictions, but because these are extreme definitions for the character's primary inclination.  If a CG ranger isn't compelled to obey laws for some good reason, his natural inclination is to not.  But if he's forced to be lawful for a time it doesn't count against his alignment (i.e. he still doesn't want to be).  Similarly, a LE person under deep cover working a clever evil plan can pretend to be good for a long time to further this plan with no penalty.  Completely unfettered, the CG guy is going to be chaotic and good; the LE guy is going to be lawful and evil. 

 

It's important for a player to understand that their character wants to be their alignment.  The character likes their alignment.  It's their magnetic north.  Separation of a player's wants from their character's wants is good roleplaying, and I insist they play for their character's hierarchy of needs rather than their own. 

Edited by buglips*the*goblin
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To add an additional layer of complication, separation of player from character also applies to the DM.  If we go back to my example where the bandit lord was captured and escaped from prison to then burn an orphanage full of apple-faced urchins - I as a DM might rule that the extenuating circumstances surrounding the paladin's choice to kill the bandit in one on one honorable combat passes.  It does not violate the paladin's alignment, and it does not violate his class. 

 

But the paladin's order may hold a different opinion on it.  As a DM I might let it go, but the order might feel not enough was done to hold to its standards and that the paladin should have done more to ensure he carried out his duty in full accordance with the laws.

 

In this case, there are two rulings - and in the case of what the order would do I would consider that a "higher court" ruling than my ruling as a DM if the two differ.  If I'm running a fair game, I am obligated to play out their response straight.  So said example paladin would get a pass for alignment, a pass for class, but a fail for his order - and would be subject to whatever discipline the order saw fit to mete out for the infraction. 

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I'm reminded of the Virtues in the Ultima series, and how there was sometimes a clash between them.  I think it was in Ultima IX where you were presented with various clashes, which ultimately determined what your "primary" Virtue was.  For example, if your King ordered you to stand guard at his tent no matter what, but a nearby battle was threatening some innocents, would you follow your leige's orders or go save the innocents?

 

I think those kinds of situations help define the character; after all, not every paladin is the same (even those following the same tenants) and may play differing values on their various virtues.  Once paladin could have a more "ends-justify-the-means" mindset, whereas another is focused on helping people in the "real world" regardless of orders from his superiors.  Ultimately, I think it's a decision that has to be considered by both the DM and the player, and used as a tool to add to the experience rather than distract from it.

 

Now, if the player is continuously failing to uphold his paladin's code, that's when the DM should step in with censures from his order, temporary loss of power(s), or even revocation of paladinhood.

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I kinda like the idea of censure from the Paladins order. I think a rogue Paladin, still loyal to his deity, maybe even still with his deities granted powers, but no support, and no authority, could be fun. Especially in a campaign that involves a lot of urban intrigue, and interaction with authority.

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The way I've always played LG Paladins is that most of the goodly deities are NOT LG that have paladins, there are plenty of deities in the various pantheons who are NG or even CG, but they have their paladins which are required (by game rules) to be LG. To me it's no question as to whether the character should be doing things on the Good side all the time and Lawful as a secondary concern, the Lawful part isn't imposed by their deity, it is imposed by the laws of mankind (or dwarfkind, elfkind, etc). So when a something is put before my paladins they always choose the greater good even if it breaks the law of the land. I'm the same way when I DM, I expect the paladin to follow the tenets/codes of their faith first and foremost and then follow the laws of the land, otherwise you start to get into the moral dilemmas that force paladins to make nearly impossible choices. This is the main reason I decided in the games I run that I've tossed out the LG requirement and instead require the Paladin(s) to follow the tenets/codes of their god(dess), this is pretty easy in Pathfinder since there are splatbooks out now that have most of the deities' codes/tenets for the people who follow their faiths.

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