Monday, September 14, 2015

EVIL spelled backwards is LIVE

Last time I discussed the nature of Alignments in D&D, on an individual level, as well as a racial level. It sparked a bit of discussion over Google+, as well as some commentary on Facebook. So, I thought I would elaborate on the idea, based on those comments.

The gist of most of the contention boils down to the mechanics of such spells as Detect Evil and Protection From Evil. Traditionally, casting Detect Evil to see if there are any evil monsters in the next room, and having that room be occupied by an orc (with or without pie) would return to the caster the feeling that, yes, evil is present beyond that door. But, what if the orc isn’t evil himself? By a strict interpretation of the rules, this wouldn’t matter. The orc is from an “evil” race, therefore he registers as “evil” himself.

If you choose to define a monster’s alignment individually, rather than as a member of his race, you could say that the orc isn’t actually evil, and therefore, would not register as such. Does this mean he won’t fight you when you enter? No, of course not. Because being willing, even eager, for a fight isn’t evil in itself. It’s what motivates that willingness that is. In other words, intent. If the orc is fighting to protect his pie, that’s not an evil intent. If the orc is using the pie to lure unsuspecting victims (through a closed door…ok, so no one said orcs were all that bright, regardless of alignment), then that is an evil intent, and thus he would register as evil.

So, the bottom line is, as a DM, you are free to define the alignment of any given monster any way you like. And doing so opens up a lot of interesting play possibilities. For instance, say the Detect Evil caster is a Paladin, sworn to stamp out the “evil” races of the world. Imagine his surprise when he expects to find no evil, but opens the door to see an orc standing there. A good player would instantly recognize the conundrum here. And as the DM you should maybe coax the realization if he or she doesn’t (otherwise, why did you bother to make the orc non-evil?).

This is the type of situation that can make tabletop games so much more enriching than their computer or console counterparts. Because now the Paladin must come to terms with his own intent. And if he intends to kill the orc simply because they taught him at Acme Paladin College that all orcs are evil, how does that reflect on his own alignment?

I think this kind of thing also has the side-benefit of mitigating the widely-popular notion of the “Murder Hobo.” Now players are forced to justify their actions, and as a DM you can justify consequences for those actions, based on what you know, and what the players fail to investigate. It’s easy to walk into a room, see an orc, decide it’s evil because its race is, kill it, and take its pie. But, if he’s not evil, then you just murdered someone and took their property for personal gain. Does that sit well with your alignment?

Obviously, this is not a simple solution, and probably shouldn’t be too widely used. I mean, for the reasons stated in my last post, the vast majority of orcs will register as “evil” and that will be that. But, dropping an occasional “good” orc into your adventures can spice things up and keep your players guessing.

Bonus points to anyone who knows the reference in this post's title.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's absolutely fine to have exceptions to the default alignment of intelligent creatures. It's worth mentioning that Elves, Halflings and Dwarves, are all listed in the 1st edition Monster Manual as Chaotic Good, Lawful Good, and Lawful Good respectively, and yet we know from our Player's Handbook that other alignments are entirely possible for these races.