It’s obvious by now that the Gassy Gnoll sometimes gets… confused. Perhaps it’s the hair in his ears tickling his brain. (He tries valiantly to keep it trimmed, but as he gets older, it seems to gain speed and strength.)
I saw an old article from Derrek Myers about alignment in 4e D&D this week and it also tickled something in my brain… For nearly two decades I’ve been arguing against the idea of alignment. What do “good” and “evil” mean, anyway? Doesn’t the context matter? Even the whole debate of “law” vs. “chaos” doesn’t really capture it cleanly for me. It’s a very gray area…
For me, it’s more about deeds. Forget about the motivation behind the deeds for a moment and let’s look at a single deed. Let’s say someone gives money to a charity. Discounting for a moment that the organization managing charity funds may choose to misuse them, doesn’t the deed of the individual giving some of the money in his or her possession to another organization to use to help one or more others have merit? Yes, I think it does.
By that criteria, this is a “good” deed. Great!
So does that make the individual who *did* the deed a good person? Not necessarily. The individual may have given money to the charity to help them with their income taxes. Or perhaps to assuage some guilt about some “bad” deed they had done previously.
And does the deed ever get followed-through on by the charitable organization? Does the money ever reach the people it was intended to help? Or does it line the pockets of those working in the organization with little (or none) trickling to the people who need it?
Every deed is one in a chain of others. Sure, these “chains” may hint at patterns of “good” or “evil” by individuals, organizations, or businesses, but does that really make them any better or worse than any of the rest of us? I can’t say.
Are there people who have consistently done good? Of course. You can’t discount the deeds of Mother Theresa or Gandhi. They did more good than harm most likely. But through their deeds, they sometimes got hurt or others got hurt because of them. Did that make them less good?
At any rate, this is my rationale and why I’m not a fan of polarized alignment systems. They don’t reflect reality.
In-game, I’ve seen characters who are supposed to be “lawful” decide that they want to kill others because they stand in their way. I’ve seen characters who will rob corpses before they’re cold, stripping them down to nothing, and trying to sell those items to make a quick gold piece. Reminds me of a quote from Army of Darkness when Ash (Bruce Campbell) says “Good. Bad. I’m the one with the gun.”
So why continue the facade of including the same old D&D alignment chart everywhere?
Honestly, I can only think of one good reason and it is to help young people and inexperienced role-players to figure out their own moral compasses and relate to characters in books, on TV, and in the movies. Role-playing can be a tricky thing to wrap your head around at first (in my experience), so having some training wheels makes a lot of sense.
But beyond that, I think alignment should be tossed out the window. Instead of good and evil, law and chaos, I like the DCC RPG approach of using “holy” and “unholy” to describe those people/things/creatures that don’t fit into the religious world view. So if you’re worshiping a kind and good god who reveres life, anything “undead” would be “unholy”. Or if you worship an evil god, goody goody paladins might be “unholy” to you. It’s based on… context!
And I think that’s the key. Context. If you’re a priest, you won’t have “Protection from Evil” – you’ll have “Protection from Unholy” or “Turn Unholy”. And if you’re trying to “lay on hands” for someone not of your religion, it’s not going to be as powerful as if you’re healing another member of the flock… It becomes more about the context of the religious or philosophical beliefs than anything else.
So what do you think? Should we just toss the idea of “good and evil” or “law and chaos” alignments in RPGs except to help out new role-players? Or should we leave them in because they’re somehow sacrosanct and traditionally have been there?
Curious minds want to know!