In my last few campaigns, I’ve either eliminated alignment or used the Law-Neutral-Chaos spectrum rather than nine fold alignment system.
I began creating my current campaign with a quote from Joseph Brodsky firmly planted in my mind, ““Life—the way it really is—is a battle not between good and bad, but between bad and worse.” Thus, for nearly two years in real time, the characters have done great deeds of heroism and great deeds of villainy. If we were using the normal alignment system, it would be fair to say the party has acted throughout the range of “chaotic evil” to “chaotic good.” Here is a brief list of some of their exploits.
- Allied with and then became an enemy of the great druid who had been using his influence to keep the borderlands in a perpetual state of war. The great druid was concerned that civilization was destroying the forest. Since civilization couldn’t be established due crops being burned, peasants driven out etc, the forests were effectively preserved. This of course caused a lot of suffering for the people.
- Fought, captured a lord aligned with Law. They then sacrifice the lord to the Chaos gods.
- Allied with and then turned on a wizard that used the disturbing arts of vivimancy to build a society of “better” people. The wizard had stabilized and improved the life of the city, but was using horrible magical abilities in a horrific manner.
- Slew a dragon.
- Led an army that pillaged and burned a city.
- Fed peasants from their own coffers on multiple occasions.
- Killed tyrants and aristocrats oppressing the peasants
- Redistributed land and wealth to the peasants.
It’s a mix of decisions which, without the context of being there at the table with us, don’t seem to have any consistent pattern or reasoning. Sometimes the players choose “good” and others “evil.” The reason this seems somewhat arbitrary is that in many situations, “bad or worse” were the choices. There were times where the players were faced with a situation of joining one evil tyrant to defeat a worse one. If you are a low level party with very lucrative opportunities to serve someone who seems, in the moment, to have good intentions then you might choose that.
When I created the high level NPC’s for campaign, I decided that all of them had some serious character flaws or intentions which were going to be causing the lower classes serious misery. The outcome has been that the players have generally been the champions for the poor while being murderous, duplicitous destroyers of the great and powerful. The characters have done truly horrendous things to the rulers of the various cities and fiefs they’ve conquered. Some lower class people have been hurt in the process but generally, things have gotten much much better for them. Evil and Good at the same time.
I also like a quote I pulled out of Michael Moorcock’s book of essays on fantasy fiction entitled, Wizardry and Wild Romance.
“In the new books the magical and epic elements are combined with characters who have genuine passions, adult concerns, complex motives. It seems that in the best of these we shall soon no longer be able to discover heroes or heroines but read instead about real people. It will be interesting to see if the form will be able to take the strain!”
I wanted to play a campaign where those sorts of choices were part of what the player characters had deal with. That’s not for everyone and my group has been tremendous in this regard. It is without a doubt, the best group of players I’ve ever had the pleasure of game mastering for. We’ve managed to do the typical “kill the monsters and take their stuff” style of play but also infuse it with moral dilemmas which the players seem to have enjoyed dealing with. The way that I managed that was by making evil an option.