Saturday, 19 June 2010

Alignments (New Era Mechanics) UPDATED 20/06/10

From the results of the Blog Update Poll so far, I can see there is still quite some interest in a weekly blog. Therefore, I will try to bring some information on a weekly basis, even if it means just giving an insight to some of the game mechanics that can be expected in the module. As it happens, I have been doing a little more work on the module in the way of conversations and monster allocations with respect to crafting materials. However, as this is material I cannot easily divulge, I will spend this week discussing the alignment arrangements for the module.

Before I go any further, I would like to point out that the blog entitled Alignments & Influence already covers a good deal about this topic. However, this week's blog goes into a little more depth about the specific role of alignments within the module in general.

Alignment Aspiration (Good or Evil)

One of the key aspects about alignment in Better The Demon, is that early in the game, the player has the opportunity to determine how they believe they will play the game with respect to being good or evil. (This early decision is governed by another gaming element that I will not comment on until the game is played.) To be clear, however, the player is given the opportunity to determine whether their PC (or party of PCs) are aspiring to play either an evil or good path in the game. Once this decision has been made, it is assumed the player will continue to play towards that aspiration, with consequences of going adrift. i.e. Good or evil actions that lead the PC(s) off their chosen alignment path will have consequences.

What About Law & Chaos?

I looked at the alternative axis of the alignment spectrum when considering the mechanics, and after comparing it with real life behaviour, came to the conclusion that the law-chaos axis was simply a sub-division of the good-evil one. Now, I know all the arguments for and against this additional axis within the game, and having examined the rule ever since the very early days of 1st edition "Pen and Paper" D&D, conclude such for the following reasons:

When examining the reason why someone obeys or ignores laws, it normally (insanity aside) falls down to the reason of a good or evil response again. For example, in all aspects of law/chaos, a good person would choose to obey (lawful) or disobey (chaotic) a law depending on how much they have faith in the law and how it is supposed to benefit everyone. On the other hand, an evil person is more likely to choose to obey (lawful) or disobey (chaotic) a law depending on how much it gains them. (Because they are selfish/evil.)

The bottom line is, however, alignment shifts will still occur on both the good-evil and the law-chaos axes. However, whereas the good-evil are shifted for more obvious reasons, the law-chaos shifts are shifted in the following way:

CHAOTIC: Behaviour that verges on the unsocial (evil) or insane (good or evil).
LAWFUL: Normally rewarded as a complementary shift of a good act that supported the law as well.

The important thing to remember when playing is that the actions you make with your PC(s) can have an impact on alignment. And if you are playing a class very much dependant on alignment (cleric or paladin), then you should be sure of your actions before carrying them out.

Alignment Mechanics In-Game

As stated in previous blogs, the players actions (for the PC in question) will be representative of a party response for the PCs. Therefore, a party will be expected to work as a party towards the alignment of good or evil that they chose to aspire to in the first place. It is not possible, nor would it be practical, for a player to play a party of mixed good-evil alignments. However, this is not the end of the matter. For just like in the real world, following every law does not make one good, and by definition, neither does breaking certain laws make one evil. Specific examples of this do not come easy, as it begins to encroach on what I am aiming at: a party conscience! And just like in real life, consciences are personal and are arguably open to personal interpretation of what is the right or wrong thing to do. (E.g.s Abortion. Homosexuality.)

This could easily become very complicated very quickly in trying to explain, but what it boils down to is having to include an absolute reference of good-evil to help govern all alignment movements in the game. And all of these "decisions" are of course going to be "governed" by my own interpretation of what a player decides to do in the game, based on my own experiences. Hopefully, however, most players (short of being sociopaths) will play along and agree with the decisions I make in the game with respect to the actions they play with their PC(s) and accept what I decide to be correct alignment shifts for said actions. At worst, even if they disagree, they will just have to accept that these are the "rules" of right and wrong for my world. ;)

Alignment Changes In Action

After reading the above, I can see players may raise the concern about not being able to have as much "fun" while playing due to their actions being against the alignment of their class. A player may want to bash down a door to a room or walk off with an item they find, only to find their alignment shifted due to what is considered a chaotic action (bashing a door) or an evil one (stealing an item). However, I must stress that these actions are only considered as such alignment shifts when in an organised society. For instance, bashing down a door to an abandoned dungeon (or needing to rescue someone inside the room beyond) would not be considered a chaotic action at all, and would not cause an alignment shift. There are even circumstances where a rogue may be asked to pick a lock or "acquire" an item for the good of all. The bottom line is, the party's actions will be based upon the reasons they are doing something and not specifically what they are doing. It is quite possible that picking a lock to a chest is considered evil in one set of circumstances, or quite normal in another!

If a player does not want to be "hampered" by having to role-play their party accordingly, then I would recommend playing an evil party, as they would not then have to worry about any of the consequences. (Apart from having to avoid a good path now and then.) After all, if stealing loot and bashing down doors is something you want to do as a matter of course (regardless of where you are), then it will soon become obvious that your party is a Chaotic Evil one. On the other hand, if you want to play a party that sticks within the rules of society wherever possible, and try to overcome issues by sticking within the law and not causing chaos, then it will soon become obvious that your party is one of Lawful Good.

The Neutral Zone

Finally, while it is possible to have shifts that will eventually bring you into a neutral zone, you will find this to become a disadvantage in the long run, as the gaming element I spoke of earlier requires a definite good or evil alignment standing one way or another to gain benefits. Furthermore, this is not a problem to those classes normally associated with neutrality (like druids), because in the Althéa Campaign, these classes are generally seen as neutral as an overall class as opposed to individuals, and that they can easily sway from good and evil, law or chaos over time, alluding to an overall neutral behaviour in a lifetime. In the Althéa Campaign, remaining permanently neutral is only possible by the god Vol. (See Soul Shaker.)

The Henchman

I have added this last section to the issue of alignment after Kamal's comment. (See comments.) I felt that he raised a point that I had not explained too well about the "party" aspect and decided I should give a highlight to it in within the main blog. He raises the question of a character "using" an opposed alignment party for their own benefits. In this, he also points out how the same character can become a part of the same group of PCs. However, I have tried to explain that the "party" is a defined group that reflects the aspirations of the player and that some characters that become attached to the party (as henchmen) do NOT qualify as a member of the party in this sense. By definition, a henchman is a NPC of its own mind that could betray the true "party" at any time. This will be when the DM takes control of the character and reveals their true nature and perform actions against the player's will. True "party" members cannot turn against their aspiration/alignment in this sense. I hope that helps explain the party alignment mechanics better and I thank Kamal for raising the issue.

2 comments:

Kamal said...

Well, good and evil can work together, if only for short periods of time or limited purposes.

In my evil campaign you can pick up a Paladin as a henchman. The reason you do this is to betray the Paladin to someone else later. I did put in checks that make other questgivers (who are of course evil) refuse to work with you while the Paladin is in the party. Basically, evil can trick good into working with it by hiding their alignment/motivation.

Let's say a good wizard hires the party to go find some items. It's only after our heroes do so that they realize the wizard has been possessed by an demon and the items they gathered are going to be used for evil.

On the other hand, evil may see a point in working with good if there is some larger threat like the King of Shadows. The alliance will likely break apart as soon as the threat is dealt with of course.

You could also have a party that feels the ends justify the means. So they hire an evil assassin to kill another bad guy because the party can't enter the bad guy's lair.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Kamal,

Actually, your comment shows that *in a party* good and evil do NOT work together. After all, a player cannot hide evil motivations (from themselves) between two PCs that he or she controls. ;)

However, what you describe shows how a party might be able to interact with an evil or good NPC, even to the point where they become a "henchman" within the party. As a henchman, they are not, however, considered a member of the party.

The key point I am trying to make here, is that a "party" (ultimately constructed by the player) will always be the alignment they choose to be. That is not to exclude the party being infiltrated by someone who is not who they seem to be.

There is a difference between the "party" and associate members. By definition, the player would have less (or no) control over a henchmen in some situations. i.e. When they reveal themselves to be the bad guy. ;)

Lance.