Thursday, 2 October 2014

Scheming Dice: Perception & Alignments


With the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons released, eyeing the 2nd edition of Dark Heresy, and making final preparations for the campaign we started for the Dungeon World there is a lot on my plate when it comes to the tabletop RPGs these days. But one of the perennial problems that haunt, I could probably say most of us, is the alignment system. With my friends, this is like a festering wound of sorts. We all seem to have our own vision of how it works, and we always interpret the thing our own way. The stricter the definition the worse, the looser the definition even worse. It is like a little scab constantly itching that we love to revisit and scratch every so often only to end up agreeing we are in disagreement.

My personal opinion on the alignment grid, is that the damned thing is too rigid. That is why I love one-dimensional alignment system of the Dungeon World, where you choose only one alignment ever. There is no lawful good, chaotic neutral, or neutral evil. You choose between good, lawful, chaotic, evil, and neutral. You only ever choose one of the five alignments, and then get to experience all the nuances, joys and pains of it. Depends on the individual.

Alignments are not assigned by us, the individuals who are labelled with that alignment, but from other people, the society. Yes, you do choose your own alignment, humour me. For example, you are not chaotic because you support radical freedom. You are chaotic because other people that surround you, think of you as the one who breaks the rules. You are not good because you help people, but because other people think of you as a good Samaritan for helping those in need. You are not evil because you burnt the village to the ground, but because the villagers who lost their village think of you as devil's spawn. And you are not lawful because you follow the law, but because others can see, you adhere to the laws of society.

We could probably say that it is all about the appearance, and in consideration of role-playing, we would not be far from truth. You can tell yourself you are evil, and only deceive people with your good deeds, but if your deception is actually helping those in need, than in the eyes of the system you will be considered a good person. Alignment is not so much about how you act in the world, as it is how others perceive you. You might have best intentions in the world, but if you burnt down that village, you will still be considered evil by those villagers. On other hand, local group of orcs might consider you their hero. It all depends on the perspective.


We could say that this whole debate is rather redundant as the alignment system is there only to help the players in their roleplay, not to hinder the game itself. It is to be said that in reality, and whatever game you play, alignments will rarely come in play. If ever. In the end this is more a philosophical debate for the sake of clear lines and simple terms than for the sake of better roleplay. We could again argue about this, as many, myself included, will claim that by clearly defining what alignments do or do not do will in the end help the players in their roleplay.

If you find that the alignment is more of a hindrance than of use to the players, then the alignment has to go. The worst that can happen, is that your players will act as they would normally, while the best-case scenario brings better role-play to the table. I personally find a good incentive is an excellent motivator for players to role-play "according" to their alignment.

Next time, we will take a look at what are the prime motivators behind each of the alignments.

#Alignments #Tabletop #SchemingDice

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