Friday, June 19, 2015

When It Doesn't Matter and Yet Does.

When I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons the only consequence for doing an evil act was the empty threat of an alignment shift that would never come - and on the few occasions that it actually happened there was no meaningful change in the game for me or my character. Non-player characters didn't become more adverse to dealing with me. Magic didn't stop working for me. There was literally no reason, other than my own personal preference, for me to worry about being a terrible bastard in the game world. 

The Death of Sardanapalus by Eugène Delacroix

The alignments that we were playing, and the actions that we performed in the game worlds that impacted those alignments and the game's denizens, held no meaning. We may as well have played without the alignments and just simply gone through the game without them - yet that would have been a mistake because we agonized over what alignment we were going to play. And when the threat of an alignment shift was made it often resulted in a change in the player's behavior to avoid the shift.

Clearly the alignments mattered to us in a meaningful way but it was how they were reflected in the game world that was causing the problem. So how do we fix that? How do we make our actions have a meaningful response in the game that not only rewards the choices of a character in the game but that provides them with consequences that feel appropriate to their actions?


  1. One problem with alignment is that the shift almost always goes one way only. The DM almost never threatens to shift you up because your chaotic evil character isn't evil enough. It's played as more of a downward spiral, like the humanity score in vtm.

    Once a DM threated to shift me for using a necromantic spell like animate dead. I said I'd just spam a good aligned spell, like detect evil, around until I shifted back...

    1. Motive matters too so unless the DM isn't paying attention that wouldn't work.

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  2. "How do we make our actions have a meaningful response in the game?" That calls for a DM to do two things: create a comprehensive world for the players to run in, and to run that world according to logic and reason as well as human nature. alignment system in the world will do that for you. The game world has to respond to the players actions exactly as the real world would respond if those actions were taken in real life. If the world doesn't respond to player actions in a realistic manner (or at all) you may as well be watching cartoons. It takes a lot of work on the part of the DM, but it can be done.

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  4. I've always felt that Alignment isn't a DM tool, but a Player tool. I choose an Alignment for my character because that's how I imagine his moral compass to work, regardless of how mine does, personally. So, when I have my character take an action that is counter to his Alignment, that little note on my character sheet should serve as a little angel (or devil) on my shoulder wagging his finger at me. "That's not how he would act." At the very least, it should make me question why he chose to do that. was it moment of weakness? A moment of uncharacteristic nobility? Does he have a soft-spot for that one thing? Or maybe an unreasoning hatred based on a past experience? All of this feeds into our minds as we develop the character, and eventually (ideally) manifests itself as "role play."