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Amoral Characters

December 8, 2012

If there’s one thing certain to get gamers riled, it’s a discussion on alignment. It’s an oddity really as, no matter whether the game intends you to play heroic good guys or not, most players end up playing fairly amoral characters. Not particularly bad or necessarily even terribly lawless, depending upon the amount of law existing in the fictional milieu, just self-interested and largely programmed that ‘ the end justifies the means’. Sure, a lot of players like the idea of being the wonderful good-guy hero, but few really pull it off. No matter how many discussions you see about playing ‘evil characters’ and arguing over the morality and feasibility of doing so, very few players, in my experience, want to play genuinely evil characters. Even when you hear discussions about ‘blowing off some steam’ after playing do-gooders. Probably because those do-gooders are more often than not pretty amoral in reality rather than truly good. People may want to play an anti-hero, a character who is openly amoral and self-interested, as opposed to the usual gloss of goodness, but they don’t really want to play someone who is irredeemably evil.

Recently, I’ve been part of a D&D campaign in which we are playing openly amoral characters with little vested interest in anything beyond their petty concerns. (Amusingly, I even started with the concept of a law-enforcer with some degree of ‘goodness’ about him – it didn’t last!) It’s been fun not trying to justify our characters’ behaviour beyond their own immediate needs and wants. They haven’t done anything particularly bad, but they are hardly upstanding pillars of the community (well, they are, but it’s hardly the most salubrious of towns!). Although we may have set in train the end of the world, or, at least, civilisation as we know it, and, at the very least, have been inducted into a sinister ninja cult. But, we’re more worried about how that will impact our fortunes than about the great scheme of things!

It’s been good fun not having to try and justify our actions beyond the characters’ own scruples and desires – and has made for a surprisingly complex game. When one imagines the stereotypical ‘evil’ campaign, it tends to involve lots of unsubtle backstabbing and betrayal, coupled with unbridled violence. The amoral campaign is much more interesting than that – without moral certainty, characters grope about for solutions much as most people do in real life, making mistakes and regreting their actions, and, sometimes, scoring big time. It’s well worth trying….

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