Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Alignments - Final Thoughts

After 3 weeks, 9 alignments and several hours of writing we've finally come to a close on the alignments series. Now before you go FULL DREDD on your party next time you play D&D, or any other tabletop RPG. Here's some final thoughts on the alignment system and its practicality.

Current state (5th edition Dungeons & Dragons)

As of last year, Wizards of the Coast released the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and the way alignments work has changed dramatically. Before, your  characters alignment was an integral art of how you played him or her. It used to be impossible to make a Paladin that wasn't Lawful Good, or a Sorcerer that wasn't chaotic.

As it stands the current way alignment works is only seen as a vague guideline that doesn't even define your characters. They are now defined by their background and how they act upon their bonds, quirks, personality traits, and flaws. What this means is that if you give your character a well thought out background, then THAT is what will define him.

It basically means that Chaotic Good Half-orcs can now be Paladins.

Gul'Thak kill puny man... FOR JUSTICE!!!

Neat huh?

But let's try to look a bit further from what the books say about alignment.

Alignment as guidelines for NPCs

As a Dungeon Master, it is my personal opinion that ditching the concept of Alignment in characters is not really necessary. Player characters may not have any real use for this system anymore. But NPCs can be a lot more flat in terms of character development. It helps define the way they will act during the story arc that you are narrating to your friends.

You can use the alignment system and the titles we gave them in the last three weeks, to create compelling and well defined archetypes for the NPCs in your campaigns. Do you need a Villain that is pure Evil? Go Neutral Evil (The Villain). Do you need an NPC that will serve as an instigator and a revolutionary leader that will ask for the party's assistance? Chaotic good may be the choice for your dashing Robin Hood-type rogue.

Needless to say, keeping these alignments in mind when narrating or playing out the characters in your story will make it a lot easier for you when faced with the question "How would this character react to what the players are doing?" That is not to say that your NPCs should always be flat characters that never go through any type of character development. Any believable villain or hero has its own motivations and background as well. however when you think about them as characters whose morals are aligned to one of the 9 alignments, then it becomes easier for you to narrate and present them.

Also, it sort of gives you a tool to avoid voicing all of your characters the same way. When Bob the innkeeper sounds and talks in the exact same way than Robert the fighter, and Robbie Lightfoot the halfling rogue... then you might want to start thinking a bit more about the NPCs you present in your games. The alignment table could help you to think about the different motivations all your NPCs could have before running your game, and thus making it easier to differentiate each character from each other.

Alignment as guidelines for Player characters:

Player characters are the main protagonists of your story. As such, their personality (and maybe even their moral code) should go through some kind of development as the story develops. A Lawful Neutral "Judge" may start as a hard ass, black and white judgmental type with a stick up his ass.Then, after going through some dramatic story arcs, he realizes that sometimes the law does not cover every single possibility out there. He finally learns to see the good intentions behind the more chaotic members of his party, and learns to make exceptions to the rule and look the other way when the law just doesn't make much sense.

Instead of seeing the alignments as straight jackets that put your character in a cage, try to see them as starting points. Your background choices, and your personal history as an adventurer made you take some decisions that took you down the path of Chaotic goodness, but maybe through the experiences you go through while adventuring, you end up as Neutral Good, because you realize that Chaos can sometimes hurt more people than it helps.

To this effect I think the background system of 5th Edition D&D is perfectly suited to tell your character's story in a way that is easy to present and easy to understand as well. The backgrounds could be generated randomly by using the tables in the Player's Handbook, but they could also be created on your own. This means that you can ALSO modify your bonds, flaws and personal traits as your story progresses, with your DM's permission of course. 

Sure, it's fun to play as Bob the fighter and simply hit problem X with your B.A. Sword until X is not a problem anymore, but you're playing a Role Playing Game.  This means your role as an adventurer can be SO MUCH MORE than just a "tank" or "Damage dealer". You can be an iconic character within your adventure's setting, setting an example for all adventurers that come after you (they will probably be played by you as well... cool huh?)

Batman v Superman Spoilers: They end up as BFFs. FOREVAH

So I'd like to close off the alignment series by asking you: If you're a player, what alignment will YOU be starting off as next time you play an RPG?

And if you're a DM: What type of NPC alignment is easier for you to narrate? 

(you can answer both if you want)

Thanks for reading!