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I'm currently involved in a really fun campaign with close friends and am running a PC with a troubled past. The character is Chaotic Neutral and has typically exhibited not entirely consistent characteristics: on the one hand, he's greedy, coarse and violent; on the other, he often stands up for those who can't stand up for themselves, who would be victimized (e.g., he might advocate for a wrongfully condemned man, or stay the hand of a friend ready to kill the last goblin as it begs for its life, etc.)

So far, I've tried to keep the PC fairly morally neutral; he gets along with the other PCs fairly well, and is happy to undertake quests (so long as the reward's good), but he has his own motivations and they aren't good, per se.

The GM has recently introduced some elements of my PC's backstory in such a way that enables, if not encourages, my PC to move into less morally ambiguous territory; whether this was the GM's intention in introducing these elements is unknown, but the result is that my PC's goals are now most likely evil, although the character likely doesn't see it that way. In some ways, I suppose, this is natural; isn't everybody a good guy in his own mind?

(And the goals of the PC will be pretty clearly questionable, arguably even to the PC: they involve enacting revenge on beings he at least philosophically knows are good-aligned, and potentially causing other mayhem, and he's prepared to do more or less anything, so long as it doesn't involve hurting those he considers innocent - so long as they stay out of his way)

At the end of the day, I think that I'll need to talk at least to the GM regarding my concerns, but I would appreciate opinions on the following before I do:

How much should other players be aware of my plans?

In-game, my PC has managed to avoid divulging most of his backstory to the other PCs. Usually, when this has come up, he's been able to casually provide vague answers and change the topic without too much prying. Bits and pieces of backstory have appeared from time to time - knowledge of strange arcana, familiarity with strange languages, etc. - but the other PCs have mostly let it slide. Out-of-game, players probably have a better idea of what I'm planning, although they may not be aware of how far I'm willing to go to do what I feel like my character would do.

How careful should I be about players' reactions to having my PC manipulate other PCs?

My PC is a fighter - a fairly high-intelligence fighter, FWIW, but a fighter nonetheless, and to accomplish my PC's goals will almost certainly require help - and who better to help than the other PCs? Out of combat, my fighter's intimidation and knowledge checks are solid, but for diplomacy, bluff, spellcraft, casting, etc., there's not much for it. A few points worth mentioning: (a) none of my plans would (at least directly) harm any of the other PCs, and that's certainly not my PC's intention in any event; (b) I would have no problem being made to roll checks to convince the other PCs to help me (bluff, persuade, etc.), and would gladly role play the result upon failing; (c) these activities aren't completely outside what we'd be doing anyway, and doing them would have other advantages for the PCs (i.e., I won't be hogging the show).

If my character does manage to enact his revenge (and he may never finish doing so), assuming the actions are metaphysically evil (e.g., knowingly killing a good-aligned entity, etc.), does this make my character evil? What about the other PCs - are they evil? If not, do they turn on me?

I enjoy playing and don't want to do anything to jeopardize the game; that said, my character has a bit of the Inigo Montoya - you killed my father, prepare to die! thing going on, and the GM basically just told me where to find the guy I've been looking for (not quite, but dropped a huge clue). None of the PCs are of classes that would necessarily suffer from an alignment shift (I think), but how would performing these almost surely evil acts affect how my character is expected to play the game from then on?

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but how would performing these almost surely evil acts affect how my character is expected to play the game from then on?

To me this is the most important thing you asked. The answer is: Not At All.

Your character appears to have a well-defined backstory and personalty. Those things define how your character should act. Alignment should reflect those, and that's all. Your alignment changing because of your actions should NOT affect how your character acts, as the alignment just shifted to reflect what you were already doing.

Don't fall into the trap of going "oh I got revenge and the DM made me evil, so now I'm throwing out my character's persona and going supervillan."

Alignment is there to help people who don't have a clear personality for characters, provide game mechanics for things like Smite Evil, and provide some restrictions that we could probably do without. It's not there to act as a straightjacket on what is a well-developed character.

Now, the actual act of getting revenge and fallout from that might cause your character to behave differently. That's RP and entirely in-bounds. If the party treats you differently afterwards that is going to have an effect, but the alignment system doesn't reflect that very well. (Parties can shun good aligned people too.)

How much should other players be aware of my plans?

Depends on the players, really. Are they players who will be okay with some manipulation and secrecy? Or are they players who really value team cohesion and won't appreciate being led around for a secret potentially evil plan?

There's not a good way for me to answer that, as you know them better than I do. I would say that your character probably won't tell them more than necessary unless he's sure that telling them would make them more willing to help.

How careful should I be about players' reactions to having my PC manipulate other PCs?

Same thing as above, really. Some players would have no problem with it at all, others would be rather unhappy.

If my character does manage to enact his revenge (and he may never finish doing so), assuming the actions are metaphysically evil (e.g., knowingly killing a good-aligned entity, etc.), does this make my character evil? What about the other PCs - are they evil? If not, do they turn on me?

While killing a Good creature like an Angel could be called an outright evil act, one evil act doesn't necessarily make you evil. Mortals almost never follow alignments perfectly, they're a mix of different acts and it's more the trend that determines it.

The other PCs may or may not have their own alignment trouble, depending on the situation. How much do they know about why they're helping you? How good are they usually?

And no, if they're helping you do this knowingly and your alignment shifts because of it, they shouldn't just automatically turn on you. That wouldn't make sense, would it?

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Philosophically, I'm completely on board. You make very good points. My only concern is that alignment is something that has been counted mechanically before in the context of our game; zones of truth, circles of protection against evil, paladins, etc. I'd probably have pangs of regret if, later, the other PCs suffer because I just had to have my way and blow up the temple, or flense an angel and wear its skin, etc. – Patrick87 Oct 18 '13 at 22:44
Why would you suddenly decide to blow up a temple? That "E" on your character sheet -- if you and your GM decide that your actions actually justify that -- doesn't mean that you're suddenly going to go psychopathic. There are plenty of Evil people that think they're doing the right thing, or just don't consider the feelings of others when they do something; that doesn't mean that they all want to eat babies. (A greedy merchant can be Evil, too.) – Paul Marshall Oct 19 '13 at 1:35
@Patrick87 Maybe your character gets his revenge (and shifts to evil), discovers that it's hollow, and decides to devote the rest of his life to something more meaningful. He could try to find that meaning by doing good deeds for others, which would eventually shift his alignment back. For the rest of the party, problem solved. (And aside from Paladins, the other mechanics are all fairly easy to deal with even if you're evil, provided the group gets along.) – Tridus Oct 19 '13 at 19:11
+1 for "Alignment is there to help people who don't have a clear personality for characters". I've been treating alignment as an afterthought for years, instead focusing on character development – Yamikuronue Oct 20 '13 at 4:01

I agree with @SevenSidedDie, in general "you're doing it right." An alignment should just be a descriptor of how your character acts. If you're acting evil, your choices are a) quit it or b) be evil.

Some notes:

  • Plotting and conducting the murder of a Good sentient isn't really different morally from plotting and conducting the murder of an Evil sentient.
  • It's up to each GM (with player interaction) how much evil actions, evilly aligned spells, and black cloak wearing pushes you over the line to evil (though there are actually some rules for this in newer Pathfinder supplements). "One" - well, it may or may not. One evil action one day might not, but one that is the consummation of a lot of planning and personal investment probably is - it's about one's internal commitment to disregarding morality and doing what they want instead.

It's OK To Be Evil

If your character is evilly aligned... So what? Especially in good roleplaying cases like this, you're not playing an unreasoning "burn orphanages for kicks" character. It's hard for the casual observer to tell you from your Good or Neutral buddy.

You're not a class where the alignment matters in terms of changing your abilities. Yes, you do have to worry about alignment effects working on you differently from the rest of the group - that's not always bad (NPCs who pop good-damaging effects are often disappointed with their results on the group of pirates I currently GM for...).

I ran a five year deep immersion 2e campaign with the policy of "You don't even know what your alignment is, I'll track it." The "CG" party leader was actually LE. It didn't really come up. Well, until he was willing to kill another (kinda ex-)party member to get an eldritch tome he wanted at the campaign climax. We had LG and NG and LE and CN characters in that game but because they didn't know they didn't trip about it; they certainly had conflict with each other from time to time (though about as much between the LG and LE guys as the NG and LG guys...)

But Not Really

It certainly is possible the other characters would react poorly to you manipulating them and/or being a murderer. It's also possible your actions could put them in danger. Your concerns about these things are often called "wrestling with your conscience" and it's what people do before they decide to do or not do something bad. No one else can answer that for you. Is a X% chance of screwing your friends worth the revenge kill? Will they be mad? Will they care? That's a decision every person makes themselves.

Just because your alignment box says E doesn't mean you automatically act differently after. However, it certainly might - once you do one thing, the temptation to perform other evil acts to cover it up, or justify acts as "not as bad as stuff I've already done" is a real factor. And it may certainly cause other people - your party, others - to treat you as a baby-eater. Those consequences are all part of the moral decision you're making. Cheers.

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While not quite what you're asking(and keeping in mind this is based off PFS rulings), casting a spell with the Evil descriptor(in combat) is NOT considered an evil act. As such it could follow logically that in combat at least, that killing a Good aligned creature would not be in and of itself an evil act either.

In addition a single or a few evil-type acts do not make a character incurably evil. A consistent patter of evil deeds, yes.

There is also the Atonement spell(if you can justify your character feeling remorse).

I've finally gotten my revenge, so why do I feel so empty.

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Interesting, I was unaware that evil actions (or at least some such actions) taken in combat might not count as evil for the purposes of gradually changing alignment. Then again, I suppose one good entity might kill another over a misunderstanding, which one might be able to consider to be close to my character's situation: ultimately, my character doesn't believe the thing he's killing is good, or at least that being good excuses what the guy did. – Patrick87 Oct 18 '13 at 22:36
Here's the quote from PFS campaign coordinator: Casting an evil spell is not an alignment infraction in and of itself, as long as it doesn't violate any codes, tenents of faith, or other such issues. Committing an evil act outside of casting the spell, such as using an evil spell to torture an innocent NPC for information or the like is an alignment infraction. Using infernal healing to heal party members is not an evil act. I can't possibly define what every evil act could be. That is why I rely on GM discretion. But simply casting an evil descriptor spell is not an evil act in and of itself. – Guest Oct 18 '13 at 22:57
Note that PFS ruling is somewhat in contradiction with the actual core rules.… – mxyzplk Oct 18 '13 at 23:55
Hence the specification that my answer was given based off a Society perspective. As well as the alternative in the form of the Atonement spell. – Guest Oct 19 '13 at 1:09

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