Thursday, July 31, 2008

Alignments: Playing Your Character

Alignment, in my opinion, is of one of the more unique and difficult parts of Dungeons and Dragons. Alignment only plays into the rules of D&D in a very minor way - affecting the outcome of a handful of spells and abilities. Often, players (especially new players) fall into a trap when it comes to alignments - using their own personalities to guide those of their characters, or not putting any great effort into the development of their character's moral compass whatsoever.

In the grand scheme of things, whether you "play your alignment" or just leaving it by the wayside will not have any profound effect on gameplay, but it is probably one of the best ways to improve roleplaying skills, and to bring your characters to life, so I think it's worth discussing.

DM Note: Before I get too much into this, I should mention that all players of course have different playing styles. Some people just flat-out don't like roleplaying and I'd like to stress that there's nothing wrong with that. In the end, what's important is that everyone is having fun. You shouldn't force alignment down the throats of your players, since it might scare them off! Learning how to roleplay is usually a gradual process, and as such, you shouldn't force it.

The typical strategy most DM's use is to award good roleplaying with small sums of experience points. I've found that this works well and highly suggest it. My intentions in writing this post are to explore some of the finer points of alignment, add a guide for those who want to incorporate it more, and delve into some of the typical "issues" that new roleplayers face.

First, let's approach the idea of something we'll call Player Alignment. Player Alignment is a classic pitfall that people stumble into, where they use their own personal morals, beliefs, and personality, to guide that of their characters. This most commonly happens if someone does not have a lot of experience with roleplaying, or who is new to D&D and much too worried about learning all of the rules. Player Alignment usually comes in two forms.

1. It's just a game: Yes, it's true, you're playing a game. The characters don't really exist, the world is just in your imagination, and D&D is sometimes nothing more then a glorified choose-your-own-adventure book. People who aren't skilled roleplayers generally play D&D just to enjoy the game and good company - rather then to make any great effort to bring their characters "to life". They approach D&D much like someone might approach a board game. They feel no need to give their Scottish terrier figurine a reason for buying Marvin Gardens - they just won a beauty pageant after all, and that money's doing nothing but burning a hole in their wheelbarrow.

But I digress.

As an example, when people approach D&D as nothing more then a game, they get angry when their characters die just like everyone else, but it's more of the that-guy-must-have-used-hacks-to-get-that-headshot Halo 3 kind of upset, rather then the sadness one might feel when their favorite book series character finally bites the dust in volume 7. So what does this have to do with alignment? Well, when people see D&D as just a game, rather then a story, their character acquires the personality of someone playing through their life as a game, usually with fairly lucid concepts of HP and experience points.

The gamer cleric might walk up to their party's fighter and ask him "Hey buddy, how many hit points are you missing?" Or perhaps a better example, gamers will cast spells like suggestion, or try to influence their enemies with diplomacy and intimidate checks, but they won't actually talk to them. If you've ever had a player say "I'm going to intimidate him," and then roll the die, or "I cast suggestion to make them stop fighting," without actually offering them any kind of suggestion, then there's a good chance they have It'sJustAGame tendencies.

If the lawful good cleric of hope, love, and pretty flowers thinks that breaking a prisoner's fingers is a good tool of intimidation - they're looking at D&D as a game. They know that no one's fingers are really being broken, and that they can walk away from the session in a couple of hours without the slightest of regrets. All that matters, is getting past the encounter and of course, gaining experience points.

2. Me, Myself and I: People who want to roleplay, but have no concept of how generally fall into this trap. They have difficulties creating personalities, or don't understand how they can us alignments as a foundation for their characters, so they use the only personality available to them - their own. Rather then having their characters act as a players in their own life with no distinguishable personality, they insert themselves mentally into the minds of their characters. The everpresent question then becomes "What would I do in this situation?" It doesn't matter if they are the most righteous and exalted of heroes on their character sheet - when it gets down to roleplaying they are themselves.

DM: "Why did you run away from the dragon?"
MeMyselfAndI: "Because that's what I would do! Dragons are scary!"
DM: "But the dragon is killing babies, dancing on your father's grave, and consuming priests of your god one at a time!"
It'sJustAGame: "How many hit points does the Dragon have?"

In the end, with people who take on this modern-day human personality, they always fall into the neutral category. In this day and age, I would probably classify 99.99% of the human race as neutral. OCCASIONALLY, in one instance or another, someone might lean towards good, evil, law or chaos. Only in very extreme cases however are these positions permanent. Think: Ghandi or Mother Teresa. Stalin or Emperor Zurg.

When you approach D&D with this modern day alignment, if people want to be "good" they generally play their characters as Neutral Good, regardless of what it says on their sheet. If they want to play an "evil" character, they generally turn out to be more Chaotic Neutral. In Dungeons and Dragons, the adventurers you play are supposed to be the Heroes and Villains of the world - not the college students and cubicle workers of today.

Dungeons and Dragons is built to give you the chance to play the Mother Teresas and the Ghandis. It gives you an opportunity to become the individuals who battle the greatest evils of the world. In D&D the villains worship gods of death and destruction. They torture, kill, laugh maniacally, and occasionally monologue. They are evil.

To really excel at roleplaying you can't just play your character through your own personality, because in the real world you would never find yourself in a position to be chasing after these villains. The characters you are playing should be a step outside of yourself. The judgments and decisions you as a person would make should rarely influence what decisions your character would make. You're heroes. Start acting like them.

Having said that. I personally think that the alignment system really adds something great to the game. When I make characters I hold it as high in importance as skills and save modifiers. I see alignment as how you become a hero, and how you leave your own opinions and actions at the door to take up a unique character in a fantasy world. If you are looking to expand your character, or to take on a new roleplaying challenge, I highly suggest taking some time to meditate on what your character's alignment really means, and to build a personality around that. Make a bullet-pointed list of your characters morals. Jot down a list of what your character would never do. This way, when faced with moral decisions in game, you can be consistent.

Next time on The Good, The Bad, and The Neutral, I'll take a look at each of the alignments and try to give players a better idea of what they mean.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Runelords Recap: Part One

The kind old Brodert Quink, a fine Thassilonian scholar, sat comfortably in his overstuffed armchair as the large group of Sandpoint children tugged at the bottom of his robes and continued with their questions. He knew they sought more of the story he'd been writing up over the past week. Such stories deserved print after all, and since he knew more of the story then many others, he felt it his duty. Word of his publication in progress got out though, and since then, children have been banging down his door for the story...

If he was ever to get some peace and quiet, Brodert knew he had no choice but to tell it... "Come Sihd," he called to his familiar. The small butterscotch colored cat hopped up into the man's lap - all too eager to escape the crazed hands of Sandpoint's youth who seemed to have some addiction to tail-pulling. Brodert sighed. "You all wish to hear the story concerning the heroes of Varisia?" The children nodded furiously. "Very well. You know, these heroes all started out right here in Sandpoint! I even tutored a couple of them! It all began with the Swallowtail Festival...

Once upon a time, a group of five noble adventurers arrived in the small town of Sandpoint for the Swallowtail festival. When I met these six travelers they were simpy known as Jaime, Nakor, Slavla, Blayne, Deanda, and Kiikii. You though, I'm sure, know them as Sir Jaime the Just, Lieutenant Nakor the Skullbasher, Slava the Dragonslayer, Blayne - King of the Squirrels, Lady Deanda - Defender of the Branch, and Kiikii Jiikii the Mirror Breaker."

The children piped up at this. "Mr. Brodert Sir. What about Kraca the Giant Toppler! " Another child piped up. "Yeah, he's my favorite!" Brodert chuckled at his. "In good time children, in good time. Kraca did not join our heroes until after the seige on Thistletop. It all happened like this..." Brodert cleared his throat and began his story...

"The Swallowtail festival took place on the longest day in all of Autumn, and was well attended. I was sadly out of town during it, but I have heard the stories from many of Sandpoint's citizens. It seems that a horrible seige was staged on the town that day as many goblin tribes sent their best warriors to attack. This of course was simply a distraction though, while Nualia - the presumed-dead daughter of the late Father Tobyn - snuck into the Sandpoint graveyard and stole her father's remains. The battle raged through Sandpoint and was quite a sight to see. Goblins leapt off of roofs and accidentally lit each other on fire. In hindsight, I suppose it was quite silly. Goblins are strange little creatures after all. Anyways, there were our heroes carving through all of them like so much warm butter. Even the town guards couldn't hold a candle to these newcomers, bashing skulls, slinging spells, and singing songs which echoed far above the roar of combat.

In the tides of battle, they happened upon one man, a noble from Magnimar by the name of Aldern Foxglove... this meeting was one that they would never forget... This handsome young noble thanked the party over and over again for their aid, and offered to meet up with them later for an official reward. After the goblin assault ended, our heroes met with Father Zantus, who told them of the true intentions of the goblin assault - to steal the remains of Father Tobyn who perished in the fires of the Late Unpleasantness. None could have predicted the sinister intentions behind this assault... Things began to wind down and the adventurers did meet up with Aldern again, sharing dinner at the Rusty Dragon. He granted each of them a hefty sack of coin, in addition to some horses and an invitation to come hunting with him - an invitation I'm sure that today, they wish they'd declined. For you see children, Aldern had become obsessed with the young druid Deanda, a woman whom you all know was an elf, and therefore quite beautiful. They hunted, and the noble finally took his leave, saying farewell for what they thought to be the last time.

Our adventurers had become town heroes, and were praised by the locals. Many of the shopkeepers granted them gifts or offered them discounts on products. Slavla, a young barbarian in those days, had attracted the eyes of quite a few young mistresses of Sandpoint. I wonder if that ever got him into trouble... Anyways, they were heroes. They traveled the town, fishing off of our harbor and even trying their hands at the drinking games down at the Hagfish. They were true citizens of Sandpoint, even though they didn't officially live here. In addition to father Zantus, the heroes became companions with Sheriff Hemlock, the brave guard captain who admired them for their work against the Goblins. During one of their meetings with him, Hemlock introduced the adventurers to a hunter by the name of Shalelu Andosana who told them of the goblins in the region. She turned out to be a fast companion and close friend in the times to come.

The peace did not last long however, as soon the heroes were called on again to help a woman and her family. Apparently a goblin had been hiding in the closet of her child's room! Well, they dispatched the goblin easily enough, but at some cost. The family's father had passed away. This was a dark day indeed. It would seem that not all goblins were so light-hearted and laughable. They were truly evil hearted creatures...

Soon enough, more problems came around. The tavernkeep of the Rusty Dragon, Ameiko Kaijitsu, went missing. The group was informed by Ameiko's maid, a nice old halfling woman by the name of Bethana. A letter they recovered from Ameiko's room linked her to a meeting the night prior with her brother Tsuto. Bethana quickly went on to note that Tsuto had always been somewhat of an outcast in Sandpoint, and was nothing but bad news when he used to live there. Tsuto fled Sandpoint several years ago, and if he'd come back, she feared that Tsuto was up to something... Bethana figured that the group may want to go and investigate the Sandpoint Glassworks - a business run by the Kaijitsu's where the brother and sister meeting was supposed to take place - just to make sure nothing foul has happened to her mistress, the lovely Ameiko.

The inspection of the Glassworks brought more then our heroes expected. The place was crawling with goblins, not to mention Tusto himself who had killed his own father - encasing him in a block of glass. After dispatching these foes however, the heroes found Ameiko tied up in the basement and freed her, but in their explorations, they found an area beneath the Glassworks that had long since been sealed off and forgotten to time. Smuggling tunnels mostly, but they also happened upon a series of catacombs that led into an ancient temple site of some kind. A location they later learned was called the Catacombs of Wrath. They defeated the foul beasts known as Sinspawns which guarded the place, and finally went toe to toe against a quasit named Erylium who called these pits her home. The battle was fierce as they fought back sinspawn, summoned beasts, and the Erylium herself.

How did they fair? Well, that is a story for tomorrow."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

And so it begins...

Ah, the first post. A fresh slate. A new blog. Mmm... don't you love that new blog smell? I've played the blog game before. I, along with every other warm-blooded suburbanite, got hooked on Livejournal in middle-school. I graduated to Easyjournal during my early college years, trying to "express myself" but... in the end... I failed. I lost the blog game. You can only write so much about your daily activities before you realize wow... no one probably wants to read this. And so, I left those blogs by the wayside.

A few weeks ago, I had an epifany. I needed to blog. Why? Why was the blogosphere calling me? Well for a few reasons. First and foremost, I love writing. I like to think of it as one of my hobbies, if writing can really be a hobby... which it can. Quiet you! Secondarily (is that a word?) I wanted to become a better writer. And how do you become a better writer? By writing of course! Thirdly, I spend way too much time on the interwebs. SO - logical solution? Write more. Online. So... blog. I needed to blog. But what about?

Well, when we get right down to it, my previous blogs failed because I wrote about things that I felt like I was supposed to write about in a blog. Bzzz. Wrong. I realize now that I should write about things I enjoy writing about. I know... a novel concept. And so, here we begin it. My very own, sparkly and new, fancy-schmancy RPG blog. *Fanfare* In preparation for the grand unveiling of beneath the screen, I've already generated quite a few ideas for things to write about. So, here's a little preview of what's to come...

- Adventure Recaps: I'm always running at least one tabletop game. These days, they've been from the lovely Pathfinder adventure paths, and almost always 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons. I'll offer recaps of the adventures as they go, my personal reviews on any published modules I use, and so on. This will also double as a resource for my players.

- Homebrew Stuff:
I enjoy incorporating various house rules into my game, along with anything and everything homebrew. When I'm using pre-published adventurers, I can't help but add in unique encounters, detailed NPCs, new spells and feats, and even the occasional homebrewed monster or prestige class.

- Reviews:
I am always looking to try newer, geekier things. I'll take the leap so some of you might not have to. I'll toss reviews up here for not only tabletop games, but the occasional movie or videogame that fits in with the whole fantasy genre as well. Along with tabletop games, I also play live action rpgs (LARPs) which I'll toss up the occasional review for or recap of as well.

- Getting Published:
And here we come to my quest. Turning my hobby into a job. It's a pipe dream, but it's my pipe dream. I have an idea in my head for a game setting, and have come close to magazine submissions a few times. Sadly, I've never had the wherewithal to follow through. My hope though is that this blog will gather some sort of following off of which I can bounce ideas, and receive suggestions. So, here I will be documenting my eternal quest to get paid. Maybe if I'm successful, my trials and tribulations in the rpg market will be able to provide others with some tips of what to do, or what not to do, in order to get published. Should be an adventure.

- And Everything Else:
Tips for DMing, thoughts on the philosophy of roleplaying, and other senseless ramblings. It'll be fun.

So there we go. I've got the blog, and I've got plenty to write about. I'm going to enjoy seeing how this plays out! Before we begin though, I must give credit where credit is due. I need to tip my hat to Chatty DM for his recent posts about the whos, whats, hows, and whys of rpg blogging. His thoughts and suggestions on starting an rpg blog were really the stepping stones for me starting this up. He gave me the jumpstart I needed, so if anyone else out there is interested in starting something up like this, I strongly suggest you check out his tips. You can just go ahead and check out his entire blog too.

Next time, we'll get off to a running start. See you then!