GM Tips, hosted by the talented veteran Game Master Satine Phoenix, is our show to help Dungeon Masters and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. Last week, we covered keeping pace and tempo, and this week we are tackling the finer points of alignment.
In the time-honored tradition of placing characters into boxes, alignment is one of those topics that gamers just love to cast at anything they see. Captain America is lawful good, but based on more recent storylines, that might be up for debate. Jason Charles Miller (GM of Starter Kit) goes on to talk about playing some old 1980 Basic D&D rules set where there were only three alignments—Lawful, Evil, and Chaotic. Get caught up on the episode below and how classic D&D handled alignment.
This episode Satine really nails what it means to be a character and makes a solid point to just ignore alignment entirely like they do on Maze Arcana. To aid in putting the nail in the alignment coffin, here are more ways to twist and bend a staple of D&D.
Let Your Players Be Evil
This is something I really want to shout to every GM out there that is still running the classic alignment system. Let your players play evil. Seriously, just do it and stop with one of the most debated topics at any D&D character creation session. Evil characters are always bound to be more interesting. Let the entire group do it if you want and have a field day with more compelling characters generated from a single tagline on a sheet than a mountain of back stories.
Just because you allow evil characters doesn’t mean you need to have player vs player at the table either. It’s all about how you as a GM set their goals and missions. The Zhentarim are a fine political mercenary faction, they just want to get paid, even if they have to work right next to the Order of the Gauntlet. Having characters in a party across the full alignment spectrum will only increase character development and roleplay at the table.
People who are going to abuse evil characters for a negative play-experiences are the same people who will destroy lawful good or make their true neutral characters needlessly obtuse. So storytellers, take a GM tip to heart — let your friends be evil.
Eschew Alignment Completely
As Satine has done in her Maze Arcana game, simply tossing alignment out the window is one of the easiest house rules you can do in D&D. Thanks to the way roleplaying has evolved, characters aren’t portrayed in most games as walking stacks of hit points with a single moral guideline. The worlds we play in are often filled with moral grays. Real people, do not fit into a single box described by a matrix of 9 different possibilities. We ebb and flow often by the situation presented to us at hand.
If you are going to do a no-alignment game, it can be helpful to do one thing as a storyteller though — give your factions alignments. While individual people are complex entities, armies and companies often are not. Organizations are either abiding by the law, or they aren’t, hopping in and out of various nations with their own agenda. While the people who make up them can be complex and shades of gray, a larger society or culture can be iconically defined.
See How Other Games Handle Alignment
Out of all the games that exist, D&D, Pathfinder, and its other clones are the few who use a strict alignment system. But with countless other games out there, it’s no wonder that alignment in D&D is often on the chopping block. Other systems have developed far better ways to handle such things.
Star Wars keeps things easy with Light and Darkside. Vampire: The Masquerade has long used humanity, paths of morality, and even Nature and Demeanor across many game lines. Nature is what the character really is on the inside, like a teacher, or a bully, and demeanor is the mask you present to the world; like a teacher who acts like a bully, or a bully who acts like a teacher.
Even further, Legend of the Five Rings keeps characters bound to a rigid path of Honor and plays off the moral choice that sometimes collides with Western culture, and the beliefs of Shorido.
Morality mechanics aren’t often tied to their home system, and each one brings something different to light, so shop around! It’s okay to mix and match between systems to craft the game everyone wants to play.
Alright… let’s open up those floodgates and have you guys tell us your alignment horror stories. What are the best and worst game stories around alignment that you’ve got? Tell us in the comments below!
Looking for More Useful GM Tips?
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- Take a look at these awesome 1st level spells for both GM’s and Players.
- Shop the Geek & Sundry store for DM gear, like a Vox Machina Dice Set!
Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook.