Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why I hate D and D alignment

Note- this post will be of interest of those who A-know what D and D alignment is and B-care about order of the stick. I give no promises for anyone else.

In the most recent order of the stick, Haley kills crystal. I found this act deeply disturbing. Haley, while often a little obsessed with making herself money, has had a tendency to do the right thing. This, however, was a rather cold and calculated act, taken when there was no pressing reason to do so- she is at peace with the thieves guild, and has decided to create a dilemma herself. For me, this felt, if not out of character for Haley, at least disturbing. Some people on the order of the stick forums disagreed, and thought it was just awesome. Some disagreed, giving fairly decent reasons as to why the act might have been justified. An annoying amount got very irate at the very notice of a criticism.

Now there were two main arguments that really irritated me, the first being that the comic is set in a different world, so the same laws of morality don't apply. This is in some ways accurate- if someone dies in this world, they can be brought back (although it is an expensive and not guaranteed process). Yet the characters mostly have fairly human attitudes, and indeed the comic itself does. Actions that we think of as evil or morally grey in real life are generally morally grey here. I think this argument bothers me most in the way it is presented- it is meant to shut the other person up, close off discussion, because my morality doesn't apply here. I would prefer to have a discussion about what is right and wrong here, and why the scene made me uncomfortable, but that is often hard to do.

The second argument, and this always bugs me, is alignment. Alignment is a pretty stupid concept in dungeons and dragon. The axis goes from good to evil, from law to chaos. This is meant to describe a characters moral compass, but it is woefully inadequate at doing so. The concept of evil is nebulous at best, and the idea of someone being pure evil is generally speaking, rather stupid. It's fine in a comic book world, which d and d sometimes is, where the lich is irredeemably evil, but it becomes far more complicated when you have a character who is driven to hurt others because of the oppression of his race.

The main issue with alignment is it seems like it gives people an excuse not to think about who their character is. What drives them to do what they do, what decisions they would make. Haley's killing of Crystal is driven by a multitude of motives. Revenge, a cool assessment of threat, perhaps a move to rid the world of evil. All possible motives. I'm very much NOT interested in whether doing this makes Haley evil or not, I'm interested if this makes her different to the character I thought she was, whether her actions were justly inspired, whether she is changing into something different. I guess I do sort of care as to whether the murder is an evil act, but to get bogged down in technicalities bothers me.

Alignment in roleplaying has always seemed stupid to me. Telling a character that they risk changing alignment is usually pointless, as it doesn't have that many in game effects, and also should not be necessary. A good roleplayer should be taking a character in a particular direction based on who that character is, and how they've been changed by the events they've encountered. Alignment might serve as a starting point, but it should never be a strait jacket to who someone is.

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