Thursday, March 28, 2013

Alignment and such

Threads about paladins in RPGs are always entertaining.  You know, entertaining in the way that two guys getting into a fistfight on the side of the road because they had a fender bender is entertaining.  I find the arguments about what is good and evil and what is the right thing to do in a given situation really interesting - not because I give a crap what random guys on the internet think of my paladin but because it says a lot about their perceptions of the world.

Some people are absurd and think that paladins should never use arrows (unchivalrous!) and have an obligation to attack anything they perceive as evil even if the consequence is a certain and pointless death for themselves.  This sort of thing comes, I suspect, from a bad experience with a paladin player who was a total jerk and used their vows as a bludgeon to force all of the other players to do things their way.  That paladin was a jackass, better make sure nobody can reasonably play a paladin ever again!  I have a bit of an odd take on it in that I think playing a character who is seriously Lawful Good but not a paladin is much harder and more interesting.  You don't have constant Detect Evil as a crutch to figure out what to do and you don't have Atone spells or other magical guidelines; just you and your conscience all alone.

I have been thinking about player priorities in games while watching Game Of Thrones.  Initially, like most people, I thought of Eddard Stark as the Good Guy.  He is all honourable and just, right?  Especially after watching the TV version of the story though I am coming around to the idea that he is actually a neutral character at best and might even be thought of as having a villainous streak.  The thing about Eddard Stark is that he values his honour above all else including the lives and happiness of thousands of other people.  Rather than capture Cersei Lannister right away or surprise her he gives her a chance to run so that Robert's soldiers and Cersei's soldiers can spend as much time as possible murdering each other.  This might be fine for Eddard's honour but it sure doesn't do much for all of the other people who are lined up to get killed in the crossfire.  What is evil but the willingness to disproportionately sacrifice the well being of others for your own gain?  Sure, when he has nothing to lose Eddard is happy to make reasonable decisions that help others but when the chips are down he will sacrifice anything and anyone to preserve his image of himself as righteous.

These real decisions are something I try to put into the tabletop RPGs I run.  I want the characters to consider the costs of their actions and to think of the unnamed masses rather than just the local nobility.  There is nothing inherently more important about the disappearance of the local princess than the local milkmaid.  The princess might be politically more critical but I try to avoid placing too much importance on the lives and designs of just the powerful few.  Just like in Game Of Thrones I want the cast to be difficult to categorize.  Empress Hawktail might be utterly ruthless, usually rude, and occasionally cruel but never without cause - she always thinks of what is best for the realm.  Is she evil?  Hard to say, which is why I banned Detect Alignment spells and effects.  Figure that stuff out on your own, it is far more interesting that way.


  1. Wait a sec, I added a comment and it's gone. Did I do it wrong?

  2. Pesky Captcha, I must have missed it and not completed the 8-step commenting process. My brilliant insights and wisdom lost forever...