This is, in general, the problem that I have with the concept of alignments. Not that alignments aren’t appropriate for certain games, but when you get down to the human elements of characters, it’s often difficult to draw the line. That paladin is obviously Good, since he’s casting good spells, but he just burned down an entire village to find one criminal, which is clearly Evil. The local sheriff will arrest you on a technicality, because you broke the law even though you didn’t really do anything wrong, so obviously he’s Lawful, but then he also refuses to execute an innocent person even after the court finds him guilty, which doesn’t sound very lawful at all. Alignments draw sometimes arbitrary lines, and unless you’re willing to play with them a bit they can be very limiting.
Having said that, I was in a one-shot game where we all played Evil characters. I was a fallen angel at the head of a mafia, another was a cancer mage trying to topple a city with disease, and another was pretty much a straight demon. We betrayed each other in the end, and I was the only one who survived (by teleporting the fuck away from the battle). If you don’t mind using somewhat goofy comic book style villains who are evil simply for evil’s sake, the game can be really fun.
Some players like working towards a common goal while planning to backstab their friends. It provides amusing conflict, and if everybody has fun then the game is a success no matter how the story goes.
I will say though that personally, I prefer antiheroes to straight villains. If someone is trying to do good through evil methods, that can provide good conflict within a party without resorting to PvP. An argument about whether it’s right to torture a prisoner for information can be much more interesting than a straight out fight.
Regarding your “Evil Characters” post. I think part of your problem is that you are using the terms “Good” and “Evil” too absolutely. In most roleplay settings I use, particularly Warhammer 40k (PARTICULARLYx2 Dark Heresy) there is a very VERY blurred line between Good and Evil. It’s been my experience that the “Evil” characters in my campaign are just as nuanced and complex as the “Good” characters. It falls to the GM to create situations where those characters can be developed successfully.
I distinctly remember playing Dark Heresy, where we found a room of Inquisitorial Acolytes that we didn’t know were Acolytes, and didn’t know we also worked for the Inquisition, and they attacked us. After a small fight, we realized that they worked for the Inquisiton.
Everyone in my party decided to spare them for not knowing, but the Guardsman PC slit their throats. He then didn’t understand why he gained Corruption Points for it, as “They were on the wrong side of a Holy War!”
He was pretty pissed.
Dark Heresy is strange for a moral system. Technically, things that are “Good” (Intellectual progression, acceptance of different races/ideas, mercy) are evil.
Tangent aside, this raises an entirely new question. Would either of you say there is a need or reason for a hard-lined or set alignment system in games where one is not already in place?
If playing to the character rather than the alignment makes for better characters, of which I believe we can universally agree, is there still a need or reason for a hard-set alignment system in games at all?
Even in a game like Dungeons & Dragons where there are mechanical changes for going against alignment? (A Paladin losing her powers, for example)?
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