Laidback DM: Alignments in Games

Alignments are a leftover from the days of old school role playing. Originally there were three—Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. Then Mr. Gygax decided in AD&D that he’d spice it up a little by adding Good, Neutral and Evil suffixes to provide a bit more clarity. But are alignments necessary in a D&D game?

Players and DMs generally fall into two categories when it comes to alignments—you either love them or hate them. There doesn’t seem to be a sit-on-the-fence (or neutral!) option here. Personally, I don’t like alignments. I think players like the freedom to play their character how they wish, and alignments are just not that important in running the game.

Cave exit
Escaping the confines of alignments…

That’s not to say alignments are a complete write off:

Pros:

  • They make it easy to role play NPCs and monsters because they provide a basis for their motivation.
  • They provide players with some guidance as to how they might play their character.
  • They can create interesting conflicts for parties containing characters with wide-ranging alignments.
  • The rules are set up to use alignments, particularly where aligned magic items are used or in certain magical areas or traps that only affect specifically aligned characters.
  • They make it easy to tell who the good guys and bad guys are, thus ‘aligning’ the story with traditional high fantasy tropes.

Cons:

  • Players may feel restricted by having to ‘fit’ their role play to the alignment they’ve chosen.
  • Conflict between opposite aligned characters may feel ‘manufactured’ or meta-gamed, rather than natural.
  • DMs may feel restricted by an NPC’s or monster’s alignment e.g. that monster is Chaotic Evil, he would never do something to help out that party!

In the end, everyone has good and bad in them. Nothing is black and white in the real world, and role playing games are a bit like that, too (at least mine are). I don’t believe in the need for alignments, but I can see how they can be useful in helping to guide a player’s ethical decisions. When I’m playing an NPC or monster, I ignore alignment altogether and do whatever fits the story best.

In the end, whether you use alignments or not, you decide how they work in your campaign. Like many of the peripheral rules in TRPGs (i.e. rules that could be considered non-essential) they don’t really make much difference to how the game is played. Everyone will still have fun, whether you use them or not.

And that’s what the game’s really about.

Game on!

Steve 😊

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