The inclusion and use of alignments in defining how our characters are supposed to act is one of those great issues in the role-playing enthusiasts community. There are countless posts on blogs and forums where people are vehemently arguing about how to properly play a given alignment and how others are doing it wrong. More often than not it seems like most of these discussions are really just people arguing against things they don't like in their home games and have projected onto these alignments as a result.
I recently ran across this very phenomenon when I went over to the Lifetime Loser Lounge. A friend of mine had invited three teenage players into his game. The three players decided to play characters with different alignments. The first decides to play Lawful Evil, the second elects to become Lawful Neutral, and the third chooses to become Lawful Good. The trio then send their characters into the dungeon where the Good and Evil player begin to push themselves to the extremes of their alignments which soon sends them into exasperated fits with each other. Their bickering gets so bad that the Neutral player finally shouts, "God, I'm so tired of playing with the Lawful Stupid!" Now, none of them are talking to each other but they're telling anyone who will listen about why the other players' alignment choice is the reason why the game fell apart. As one of the young ladies playing told me, "Playing my alignment correctly is what broke the game and it's why I fucking hate alignments to begin with!"
After listening to her describe what happened in the game I'm fairly certain that the actual problem isn't that she was playing her alignment correctly, or that anyone else was playing it incorrectly, but rather that the Good and Evil players were pushing their characters to act in a way that their mental caricatures of how those alignments would act. To put it another way, they wanted the "Good" or "Evil" descriptor of their alignment to stand out so they pushed their characters to act in a way that left no room for question about where they stood on that spectrum. They left themselves no room for common ground because they allowed themselves to be fooled into believing that their alignments dictated their actions.
That isn't how role-playing games are supposed to work.
Alignments aren't supposed to be the thing that dictates how you play; rather they're supposed to inform how you play. That's a complicated way of saying that an alignment is there to help you pick which choice you want your character to make and not to force you to make that choice. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of players treat their alignments as this constrictive thing that will force their character to make a set choice every time and it causes them to forget that role-playing games aren't choose-your-own-adventures. We have the freedom to chose what our characters care about and what gets under their skin and what the repercussions for such things have for our characters.
Unless we're playing Cavilers. Then we must fight, and fight, and fight until we die.
|Larry Elmore, title unknown|