Alignment

Alignment
Alignment is easily one of the most debated topics in
roleplaying, and straddles the line between descriptive
element and rules element. How it is treated varies wildly;
for some GMs it’s merely a two-letter description, while for
others it’s a web of permissions and restrictions. Sorting
out how this system works is important; it determines
how players portray their characters, and how you as GM
adjudicate certain aspects of the game.
Alignment exists primarily to define and summarize the
moral and ethical tendencies of characters in a game, for both
PCs and NPCs, and finds its roots in the fantasy literature
that inspires most roleplaying games. Many characters in
such stories easily fall into the camps of good or evil, but
others straddle the line and seem good in one instance and
evil in the next. Additionally, the relationship and outlook of
these characters toward matters of law, justice, freedom, and
anarchy further divides them. Just as one character might
ignore society’s rules in order to do what he knows is right,
another might work great evil by manipulating laws to his
own ends. Alignment is summarized on page 166 of the Core
Rulebook, but the interpretations are endless, and ultimately
lie with you as the GM at a mechanical standpoint, and with
your players in how they define their characters’ morality.
Some gamers favor strict alignments and black-and-white
judgments, while others prefer a gritty, “realistic” game
in which morality is relative, and well-intentioned “good”
characters are capable of terrible atrocities.
Many of the debates spawned by alignment arise as the
system moves beyond mere description to taking on a role
that affects the game’s rules. While no real-world humans
can say they’re entirely good or law-abiding, there exist
creatures in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game that are
fundamentally good, evil, lawful, or chaotic, and some magic
depends on judging a character by its alignment. Because
game effects are associated with an ultimately subjective
system, you should make sure your players understand your
interpretation of alignment ahead of time. The following
are a few ways you might handle alignment in your game or
use it to help players develop their characters.
Predestination
The simplest way to view alignment is as nine literal
personalities. If a character is lawful good, he always obeys
the law and always does the “right” thing, while a chaotic evil
character always shirks the law and acts maliciously. This
is a system of absolutes, where free will and context mean
little, everything is pre-ordained, and every creature has a
path. Players who view alignment as predestination might
wear alignments like straitjackets, but at the same time, they
always know how to roleplay their character’s reaction to
situations. This proves both helpful and comforting to many
players new to or ill at ease with roleplaying. This approach
also renders alignment-based rules easy to arbitrate, turning
every matter of determining alignment into a simple yes-no
question. Problems with this method tend to arise when a
game ventures into sketchier moral and ethical situations. A
player might become uncomfortable when his lawful good
character feels forced to obey the laws of an evil society, or
might have trouble in a campaign that requires him to work
with those whose alignments differ from his own.
Free Will
Many players tend to focus more on creating characters with
consistent, specific personalities rather than alignments.
These players envision their heroes’ backgrounds, personality
traits, attitudes, and goals, and only then choose an alignment
that best ref lects these facets. A character’s alignment then
becomes a way of categorizing his personality, rather than
defining him and channeling his actions. As long as the
player understands the impact of his choice on gameplay,
this approach works smoothly. For example, a player who
chooses the chaotic neutral alignment needs to understand
that certain elements within the game world will judge him
based on this decision (as with any other alignment). Some
temples might deny him healing because the biggest threat
in the region is chaotic monsters, viewing her alignment
as grounds for suspicion. This method is also problematic
when it becomes too general. Accepting alignment as a
broad category can render it almost meaningless and make
it difficult for you as the GM to judge whether a character
is acting outside of her alignment and arbitrate any game
effects associated with doing so.
Defining Deeds
Another way to see alignment is as a series of concentric rings.
In the center ring are all the behaviors that are obviously
acceptable according to a character’s alignment. Around that
is a middle circle that covers the gray areas—actions that
might be allowed under certain circumstances or are unclear.
On the outside is the forbidden area of extreme actions that
obviously violate the alignment. Taking prisoners offers
examples of all three circles. Accepting an opponent’s
honorable surrender is clearly good. Torturing that prisoner
for information might be in the forbidden area for a given
good character. But what about threatening torture, if the
PC doesn’t intend to carry out the threat? That falls into
the middle circle. Taking this route means players must
remember their characters’ alignment and act accordingly.
At the same time, while this route goes far toward suggesting
how characters might act in specific situations, debates might
arise when group members don’t see eye-to-eye about which
acts are permissible. Additionally, some characters might
have varying access to the gray areas of their alignment, and
GMs should discuss where this line exists for characters who
face repercussions for deviating from their moral code.

Alignment

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