Wednesday, August 14, 2013

If You Have No Use For Alignments...

...then I have no use for you.

This is not really a discussion about alignment systems or other personality mechanics. It's about the people who think they don't need them. "Alignments are for people who don't know how to roleplay" and all that twaddle.

Because I think what those players are really trying to avoid is accountability. They don't want to be bound to any hard and fast rule about who their character is. Maybe it's so they can freely crap all over their GM's world. Or maybe they want to be open to whatever plot hook the GM throws their way.

But by avoiding making statements about your character's inner life, you lose a lot of opportunities to actually roleplay. Even if alignment is a straightjacket, the character always keeps a key under their tongue. It's the moments that you break your alignment that make the game interesting.

A prime example is the movie "Hot Fuzz". Simon Pegg's character is a by-the-book "supercop". Since we're talking alignment here, it's fair to call him "lawful good."

The turning point of the entire film is the point when he realizes that his alignment was holding him back and the only way to beat the bad guys is not with paperwork and warrants, but good, old-fashioned, cliche-ridden violence.

For a slightly more geeky example, look at the Original Series Star Trek episode "The Galileo Seven." Spock, a Vulcan, and therefore eminently logical, leads the crew of the shuttlecraft Galileo as they try to escape the planet that they have crashed on. By the time they are able to repair the Galileo and achieve a weak orbit around the planet, the Enterprise is forced to leave the star system on another mission. Spock then comes to the logical conclusion that he must do something desperate if he wants to get back to the Enterprise, so he ignites the remaining fuel to act as a flare that Kirk can see.

In both cases, the defining moments of these stories are not when the main character plays strictly to type, but the moments that they realize that they need to break out of their boxes in order to reach their larger goals. And that's what alignment and similar mechanics can enable in your game if you let it.