Over at Dyvers, Charles Akins reports that players are still struggling with concept of alignment in their tabletop fantasy role-playing games:
A friend of mine had invited three teenage players into his game. The three players decided to play characters with different alignments. The first decides to play Lawful Evil, the second elects to become Lawful Neutral, and the third chooses to become Lawful Good. The trio then send their characters into the dungeon where the Good and Evil player begin to push themselves to the extremes of their alignments which soon sends them into exasperated fits with each other. Their bickering gets so bad that the Neutral player finally shouts, “God, I’m so tired of playing with the Lawful Stupid!” Now, none of them are talking to each other but they’re telling anyone who will listen about why the other players’ alignment choice is the reason why the game fell apart. As one of the young ladies playing told me, “Playing my alignment correctly is what broke the game and it’s why I… hate alignments to begin with!”
Now, you’d think this would make for a great teachable moment about the nature of D&D, the history of the game, and what really works in actual play. The fact is, even in the more erudite corners of gamerdom this is a topic that inspires grown men to come to blows.
What’s gone wrong here? Well… it’s complicated.
Alignment is in the game because, to the original designers, works by Poul Anderson and Michael Moorcock were considered to be at least as synonymous with fantasy as Robert E. Howard’s Conan, Jack Vance’s Cugel, and Tolkien’s Gandalf. This in and of itself makes alignment weird to nearly everyone under about the age of forty or so. Things are further complicated by the fact that the concept of alignment lost more than a little in its translation to role-playing rules. Further, the waters were hopelessly muddied with the introduction of the Myers Briggs style nine-point system with the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
But for anyone that struggles with just precisely how to portray the archetypical Lawful Good paladin of Dungeons & Dragons, it would be helpful to know that an entire fantasy novel was dedicated to the topic well before the game even existed. (For people that struggled with the premise of the iconic module B2 Keep on the Borderlands, that same book has answers for that as well nearly four decades before its publication.) At the opposite end of the spectrum, one of the most popular swords and sorcery characters of the New Wave demonstrates just how exactly irredeemable demon-worshipping miscreants of Chaos could be motivated to perform heroic acts and even ascend to the ranks of an eternal champion on par with mythic-level heroes like Roland.
What then is the root cause of the alignment trouble players have with the game…? Well, the mass market fantasy of the past four decades is significantly watered down in comparison to the works that inspired Dungeons & Dragons in the first place. Combined with the short fiction’s loss of status as a primary source of gaming inspiration, this constitutes a de facto attack on the imagination of an entire generation. Consequently, when they sit down to play a game that depends on the imagination of the players in order to function, they’re inevitably going to have a hard time.