Recently I have been discussing alignment with one of my players – so I thought it would be a good time to look at it in a bit more depth. I know alignment has gone out of fashion as a role-playing tool, but I tend think that it just means players aren’t using properly.
As I go through life and meet real people – I can see that nearly all of them have a recognizable alignment. There are people who like to have rules and structures to follow, while others have moments of absolute genius that appear to come out of nowhere and work much better without strict regulation. Some people book their holidays a long way in advance, know exactly where they are going, and often go to exactly the same place. But there are others who are more spontaneous and leave it to the last minute, take whatever is available, and make it all work out really well. I have worked with some mean people, there have been selfish or inconsiderate people and bullies. But there have been others who are always kind, considerate and go out of their way to help everyone they interact with. There are other people, of course, who behave differently in different circumstances.
It is easy to interpret: Structured > Lawful; Spontaneous > Chaotic; Considerate > Good; Mean > Evil – with those who I can’t categorize as True Neutral. Of course these are watered down version of alignment, but then very few characters are strongly aligned in D&D style games either. Take Pathfinder – unless a character is a cleric (or an equivalent class) they have no alignment aura until level five and even at L-20 they only have a Moderate alignment aura. By contrast, a cleric has an Overwhelming alignment aura at level eleven.
In a long-running campaign game, the last thing I want is strongly aligned characters. In a one off, or short game, it doesn’t matter if characters fall out or screw up each other’s plans – and sometimes it can be fun. In a campaign game, however, I want characters that work together in ways that don’t irritate their players. There is nothing worse than a chaotic who screws up every single plan the party makes – or the extreme lawful character who can’t ever countenance any other character ‘bending’ a law. Every player has the right to play their character with being constantly thwarted by someone else – if you can’t play the character you envisioned, the game stops being fun and you leave.
However, I tend to still see alignment much as we did back in the old AD&D days, with lots of overlap between the main alignments. On the diagram below you can stray quite a lot, for example a character with a Lawful Neutral alignment could be in LN, LN(G) or LN(E) but a Lawful Evil character could be in LE, LN(E) or NE(L). Even then, there aren’t big rules penalties for changing alignment – but there might be social consequences.
I should point out that I don’t allow evil alignments in my games. I like running games for good aligned parties of heroes – so those are the characters I invite to join my games 🙂