Character alignments are a tricky topic. Some players don’t understand the philosophy of certain alignments and role-play their characters in random fashion or by personal interpretations of an alignment’s ethos. Other players understand their character’s alignment all too well and are forced to take certain actions despite their better judgment or what is best for the party or for the DM’s story.
Conflict in your campaign is welcome, and to be encouraged. However, it should be the kind of conflict that the DM creates and controls. Certain alignments for player characters (PC’s) could create situations where this conflict is out of your hands. This can cause a lot of problems for your game. So why would you consider restricting certain alignments ?
To prevent conflict within the party. A dedicated, functional team of PC’s is critical for the success and longevity of your campaign. Your players will probably create characters of widely diverse racial, social, class, and age backgrounds. There are a number of plausible back-stories or starting conditions that can establish a logical reason for these dissimilar characters to come together as a team. But in the long run, compatibility of PC alignments is crucial.
If the party has opposed alignments, this imbalance can only grow over time. PC’s may be able to conceal their alignments at first…but if the players are playing in character and following their alignments (which, sadly, in many campaigns this is not guaranteed) then eventually the PC’s actions will expose their moral and ethical leanings to their teammates. This puts the players in conflict with each others’ characters – instead of unified as a team against your story’s conflicts. This rift may even dissolve the party and reset or end your story.
To prevent the party from causing problems. If some or all of the PC’s have alignments opposed to those of allied NPC’s, NPC villagers, and authorities (even your campaign’s society as a whole) there could be problems. A party of selfish or evil PC’s, if played properly, should be acting that way. Over time, their reputation and deeds would conflict with a generally good or law-abiding society. This conflict might come to isolate the party so much that progression in your story becomes impossible.
To fit the theme of your story. This is essential. If your story is about doing good and upholding the law of the land, the party’s median alignment should fit that. If your story’s theme is one of chaos, freedom, self-serving interests or moral ambiguity, then again the party’s alignments should compliment this. The party’s alignments should suit the kind of adventuring they will be doing, the interactions they will have, and their goals as individuals and as a team. A fundamental conflict in this regard could spell disaster for your campaign.
How do you accomplish the restriction of alignments at the outset of your campaign ? First it is important that a DM decide what alignment(s) are not compatible with the story’s theme, the setting, and the party. Think carefully about what could happen if a PC had such an alignment, and justify your decision. Some ways to restrict alignment(s) include :
- Specifically banning named alignments. (e.g. no Chaotic Evil or Chaotic Neutral)
- Requiring all PC alignments be the same.
- Requiring all PC alignments have the same Prefix (e.g. Lawful) or the same Suffix (e.g. Good).
- Requiring all PC alignments to be Neutral on at least one axis.
- Requiring all PC alignments to be within one “step” of a chosen alignment.
- Seeking assurances from players choosing potentially disruptive alignments, that they will not run their characters in a way that will disrupt the party, setting, or story theme.
It is not essential to restrict alignments in your game, but it may be necessary. However, don’t be too heavy-handed or too overbearing. Don’t let personal preferences or prejudices about certain alignments motivate you. Don’t be inconsistent with who can or who can’t play a given alignment, as your game progresses and new characters join. Don’t assume that certain alignments are “un-playable” in your campaign – there may be ways to interpret an alignment that you haven’t considered.
And above all, don’t limit your players’ creativity or their choices in character creation. Prohibit certain alignments only because you know in advance the detrimental effect they would have on your campaign and its story.