Monday, February 7, 2011

Revisiting alignment

Quick recap on my opinion on alignment. I'm ambivalent towards alignment. I use a form of Jeff Rient's "Ragnorak" explanation of Law vs. Chaos with the opinion that most of us probably lean towards Neutral. For the first two years of my AD&D campaign, I've kept alignment out of focus because there was no need. For my game, alignment's not important.

Except when it is.

Clerics are a good class to be in. You advance quick, you have decent HD (d6) and you get the best of both worlds - spell-casting and fighting. You can use all armors, there's no real disadvantage to blade vs. blunt and you can be assured of at least one chance at saving your own ass - Cure Light Wounds. You have access to ALL your level spells (assuming you're not a DM like me that makes the clerics go ask the gods for 3rd level and above spells...) unlike the poor mage that has to collect/amass libraries.

So where' the catch? Ah, you're subordinate to a deity(ies)/religion that might have its own agenda. Membership has its privileges and responsibilities.

I have two clerics of "the Light" that are 4th level. In OD&D terms, they're "heroes" and they are starting to gain a reputation of their own. (It also helps to have an annoying hireling who runs around proclaiming the grand stories of the "Mighty Mazlor" and "Amazing Alana"! The other players are cracking up now everytime "Isty" is hired to come along.) So they are cranking along... except now I'm starting to show them a new side to being a cleric... being responsible TO your ideals.

The Light is "lawful" in that it has rules, structure and believes in a code of conduct and morality. The good of mankind, the benefit of all, we're all in this together, kumbayah. No, really. It has a hierarchy but it also has people at the grassroots who really do believe and are trying to do the best they can. The people want to have some hope and after the Doom, "the Light" became the official religion of the Kingdom.

So now Mazlor and Alana are more than just joe-priests running around exploring dungeons and getting rich. The actions they do have consequences. The choices they make will affect more than just the party. The hirelings look to them (as they do the other 4th and above level players) as heroes, as bigger than life and they watch what they do. So do the deities. They're not high priests, but the choices they make can and will affect them.

So if the characters do something that I as the deity in question would not like, the clerics will face consequences. At this point, it was the "light" not giving Mazlor a 2nd level spell back for a couple of days. He'd not stood up to what was (in "the Light"'s opinion) a chaotic/evil act and so there was a small consequence.

Alignment won't be a huge DM hammer. It'll be reactive, but there will be reminders. This gave the players on Sunday a stage to really have a discussion on what was right (from their character's POV) and they thought hard about it and RP'ed it pretty good. I only asked "clerics, how do you feel about this" and now Mazlor/Alana are giving thought to actions - as they should be! They are heroes of the Light, they should be promoting what the Light is about. Benefits have costs.

It's still a fine wire and I want to avoid what Mazlor's player spelled out:
"But trying to restrict/penalize player actions very easily and frequently slips over the line into rigid stereotypes and/or a DM trying to dictate values.
So far, I haven’t had problems with feeling handcuffed or being pigeonholed, but I’m a little bit apprehensive and I hope whatever you’re planning involving alignment isn’t going to change that.
For example, I liked how Phalleum and Averin have both served as heads of the local Temple of Light, but were totally different people with very different attitudes and philosophies towards the Marshall, other religions, etc.
Trust me, buddy, neither do I. I won't stop players from doing things, nor do I have a "code of conduct/values" that everyone has to follow. If Mazlor wants to tie up helpless prisoners and brain them, I'm not going to stop him. If "the Light" disagrees with his actions/choices, he'll find out. If he goes over to the Dark Side, well, that's awesome as well and I'll have no problem with helping him adjust to his new world - but it will be his choices and his decisions, not mine. I won't use alignment as a limit, but I will use it as a consequence or reaction.

That seems to fit well with me and it's something I'm going to continue to explore gently.


Rob Conley said...

I ditch alignment completely. For clerics and paladins (myrmidons and the other crazy stuff I use in MW) I spell out what the creed and exceptions are in my one page handout. Players taking those classes catch on pretty quick to how things work.

I only had one issue in recent years and that was some younger players making up some Claws of Kalis (assassin). What could have been a major source of problems was quickly handled by the other players by the threat of exposure to the authorities. It helped that the adventure was dealing with demons which all the gods including Kalis hate.

My view is that it works better to jettison alignment and go with what natural to your campaign. However it is import to have some type of culture/society. Even if it the default merrie olde england fantasy kingdom. This give context to the player in which to make moral decisions.

Carter Soles said...

Wow, really well handled, your method here really speaks to me.

Tripper said...

The "catch" is an arbitrary and very personal DM hammer. Great. The last place I want to be is in a position where I have to judge how well a player fits his class and then take away his abilities when he doesn't. Better to let the overpowered paladin run with thieves or Sacrebleu! put him in a bathrobe and hand him a stick same as every other spellslinger.

Oh, and I guess I could address the title of the post - alignment is the most underrated aspect of D&D.

ChicagoWiz said...

@Tripper - so give me some scenarios and lets see how it would be handled in my game. I'm curious to see why you would think it would be such a bad thing?

ChicagoWiz said...

@Rob - I think you and I are kinda saying the same thing - "creed and exceptions" is exactly where this is going. You know, I have MW, now Imma gonna reread it carefully...

Tripper said...

Thanks for the reply! Outstanding post, as always, I think I neglected to mention how much I enjoy this blog. I really enjoy this blog.

Anyway, as I said, the altering of mechanics in-game based on roleplay is arbitrary and personal (unfair). The challenge of behaving within a creed or even the DM's mental idea of one can be fun. Being punished because you didn't do a good enough job (apparently), or because your class choice happens to be a paladin that casts spells, is not. Is there some reason we can't issue mechanical drawbacks to offset mechanical advantages?

I don't have room here to discuss scenarios, but this is a priest of peace and healing that can usually be found murdering and looting with a band of thieves and fighters. The conflicts should be readily apparent.

ChicagoWiz said...

@Tripper - thanks.

I don't think altering mechanics is unfair at all. If you attack a monster, you could be poisoned and have your attributes reduced. You could have levels drained. You could be knocked into a coma. You could find items that change who you are/what you do and so on.

With the Paladin and Ranger powers come responsibilities and I don't think that's a bad thing. If you want to play a fighter type woodsman who wants to be Chaotic, then you're a Fighting Man. Otherwise, you stand for Law (ranger) or as a deity's champion (Paladin) and you get the goodies but you pay the price.

In my campaign, I want the same to be true for clerics. Mages already pay a price for their power but clerics have (so far) gotten away with pretty much no responsibility.

At lower levels, OK, I can see that. You're growing into your deity, but once you get to 4th level ("Hero" in Chainmail/OD&D terms) you need to be walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

My reduction for two game days of a single spell was that "mechanical disadvantage" to the clerics advantages. Others could be that the cleric has the equivalent of a "reversed bless" on him and 10' around him.

Incidentally, I've taken steps to make the "decision on if you're being naughty/nice enough for your religion" a more codified one, thanks to Rob Conley's suggestion of creeds/exceptions. I'll be posting a followup tomorrow.

Thanks for the comments, man!

Tripper said...

"but clerics have (so far) gotten away with pretty much no responsibility."

This much we certainly agree on :) I'm really looking forward to seeing where you go with this. Thanks for the inspiration!

ChicagoWiz said...

@Tripper - take a look at yesterday's post.