Recently Chris Perkins of Wizards of The Coast writes the column “The Dungeon Master Experience”. In a recent article “Moral Compass”, Chris talks about how one player in his group was the moral compass for the party. When this player left, due to moving out of state, he discusses how the actions of the PCs changed. However, like most PCs even the most moral do not always point north. This got me thinking about several things.
First, when you build a character, you attach an alignment to that character. In many cases, a player chooses undefined (in 4E rules) or “neutral” in most other rule systems. This is a kind of cheat, where a player can commit acts of either good or evil. As a DM, I really do not like this. One of the things that helps define a PC is their alignment. It means they have a code that they follow. A paladin may be lawful good, and follow strict rules about combat, tavern hopping and so on. While a thief or assassin will be neutral evil or even lawful evil (I have had players stretch definitions pretty thinly and have had chaotic good assassins). A barbarian or a fighter might be chaotic good, because who doesn’t love a little chaos in their game. Alignment is a beneficial element.
Alignment helps players define their character and it provides for the opportunity to challenge players during campaigns. A lot of PC drama can be pulled from just playing on their alignment. The alignment is supposed to be the moral compass for the player, which helps define the characters and their actions during game play. Now, it is just some words on a character sheet with little or no meaning.
Years ago, when I was a young and evil DM, I used to develop campaigns and encounters that would come in conflict with a PC’s alignment. Maybe, set up a situation where a paladin has to decide between the fate of a companion or torture an innocent. Players would sometimes enjoy solving the problem, while others would almost cry. To me this was just another tool in my DMs toolbox. To add to this I would track the actions of all the PCs to see if their actions met with their alignment. Each time they did something that fit their alignment they would get a (+) by their name. Anytime they did something contrary to their alignment they would get a (&ndash by their name. Now, this might seem a little arbitrary, but it was a useful tool. If a player did too many actions that were contrary to their alignment, I would shift their alignment. Nothing is more entertaining and heart wrenching when you tell a player that their Assassin is no longer chaotic evil, but chaotic good, or a Paladin has become neutral evil. This can have a damning effect on paladins.
While what Chris said is true, each party has that one moral compass; it should not absolve the other parties from straying from their chosen paths. Like life, I show my players that the choices they make have consequences. For making choices consistent with their character, they gain bonus experience, and since I generally run players through my own world, they build reputations, that can benefit or haunt them. While some players choose to play hack n’ slash campaigns, which I enjoy as well, there needs to be more for me and alignment is one of those things. Instead of just using it as a word on a character sheet, it should be raised to the status of a skill or ability. At a minimum, it should be a tool that a DM can use to build conflict into a campaign. Besides, why have a dark knight or anti-paladin if you are not going to be bad?
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