6
\$\begingroup\$

I'm new to DnD, playing 5th edition. Some of us had decided it might be cool if my character could convince the rest of the party to join a cult, which might involve persuading them to change their alignment from good to neutral. One player stated that his character would never be anything but lawful good (because his character is based entirely off of Goku).

Alignments seem to be pretty subjective in how and why they are used, so there never seems to be a clear answer on the right or wrong way to use them. It does bug me that his character could never change, but I am unsure if this is bad roleplaying or just my own pet peeve. I've not told him how I feel because I don't want to be rude, but since 4/6ths of our party is new, we give advice on the game to each-other all the time. It doesn't matter to me if he can't be changed, it's his character. But still I wonder: Is it bad roleplaying to be immovable in alignment or is that a common character flaw/trait/attribute?

Here is our situation:

The reason we thought it might be cool for me to start a cult is because my character is based on Abdul Alhazred, author of the necronomicon. I'm a warlock that serves cthulhu.

I was expressing my desire to do something with him, because I wasn't sure what to do. They suggested maybe I TRY to convert them. They weren't really suggesting that we start a cult together, but rather that my character make steps to try and convince them of this.

The reason, in my mind, it needs an alignment shift, is because the position of the cult is self serving (power, money even) and worships a chaotic neutral/evil deity. We figured serving him would be a not-good thing to do. We could be wrong. Our DM thinks this way as well.

Goku seeks to do good whereever he is, that's the character he decided to play. He protects the weak (even goblins) and fights evil. Can he do that in a cult that potentially seeks to bring about the destruction of the world by awakening Cthulhu (not that this will happen, but that we will try). I don't know. We're exploring avenues here.

\$\endgroup\$

closed as primarily opinion-based by Joshua Aslan Smith, Grubermensch, BESW, wax eagle, Miniman Mar 3 '15 at 21:05

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Could you clarify how you imagined the alignment change to happen? Several answers seem to think that you expect the player to simply agree, and flip the alignment because of an out-of-character discussion. That was not the impression that I got at all; if this is what you meant, you should clarify and I will change my answer, or if it is not what you meant, you should clarify and then other answerers should (I think, in some cases) change theirs. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 '15 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan You seem to be absolutely on the ball with what I was thinking. We might be clinging steadfast to the alignments because we're new and it's our compass. However, the idea was to convince them that there is no good or evil and everything they do is pointless, so why not worship cthulhu. You know, existential stuff. My Druid friend stated (as a player) that I could try to convince him of this, but it'd take considerable roleplay and he is very keen to play his character how he imagines his character to be. Goku stated, upon hearing this, that you can't change his character for any reason. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Mar 3 '15 at 20:04
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ This may actually be a duplicate of What is "my guy syndrome"?, which @Zibbobz just linked me to; I didn’t even know it existed. Excellent answers there that may be useful to you. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 '15 at 21:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan So it is! Thanks for your answer at least \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Mar 3 '15 at 21:58
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Not a duplicate per StrangeDupe, but a very useful related link. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Mar 3 '15 at 22:08
15
\$\begingroup\$

The situation you describe is pretty complex. I'll pull it apart and look at the different aspects, but the short version is: There should be a way for both of you to get what you want.

Player Agency

To begin with, a player is entitled to control of their own character. Permanent changes to the character, particularly to the character's personality and core concept should be done collaboratively with the player who controls that character.

Think of it this way: if you sat down at the table with a Barbarian you were excited to play, it would probably irk you if two weeks in another player said "you're playing a wizard now." Your character's class was something that was your choice, and that choice was taken away from you. Most people don't like that.

This is not to say that change can't come from sources outside of the player. It routinely does in many campaigns. But if the player is actively against the change, if they feel that change invalidates the character they've created, then that tells you that you are crossing a line.

Alignments

Alignment, particularly in latter editions of D&D, is not intended to be a be-all end-all definition of the actions a character is allowed to take. Alignment is a rough descriptive guideline for your character, much as your background is.

All that "Lawful Good" really says about a character is that they generally like and support other people, and that they generally like order and consistency. That's it.

So unless this cult is a huge departure from the D&D norm (committing human sacrifices or kicking puppies on a regular basis or similar), it is highly likely that you can justify some reason for a Lawful Good character to be a member.

Making the Tough Decisions

Making the Tough Decisions is an essay by Rich Burlew. I recommend it as reading material for all role players, of all stripes.

The short version of it is that character decisions are ultimately controlled not by any concept of "realism," but by the choices of their players. It is the responsibility of all players to avoid situations that create a deadlock.

You shouldn't insist on changes to his character. If he's not interested in changing, just go along with it.

But at the same time, he shouldn't stand in the way of the story or the group. If the group is joining the cult, he should find a way to make that work for his character. If you are starting a cult, he should find a way for his character to be okay with what your character is doing.

The example I often use of this is Shepherd Book, from the Firefly TV series. He has an extremely strict code of conduct and ethics, a code which is dramatically different from the rest of the crew.

And yet, he is able to participate with the crew without turning every incident into an intra-party squabble. He does not apply his ethics to other characters, and he is able to find ways to bend his rules to join in ("The lord never said anything about shooting kneecaps").

At the same time, the crew doesn't push him to be anything other than what he is. No one demands that he either take up arms or be booted off the ship.

Putting it Together

If joining this cult is truly a direction that a majority of the players want to take, collaborate and find a way to make this work for all the players involved.

Why would joining this cult require an alignment shift? Is there truly no way for a Lawful Good character to participate? How far do they need to bend?

Can you come up with a few specific concessions, and get buy-in from the players and the DM involved? Perhaps the player needs to be a little more gritty, or the cult needs to be a little less evil.

Nuke the Site from Orbit; It's the Only Way to be Sure

Finally, if joining this cult is a radical departure from the existing game, it may be better to stick a pin in it. Come back to it later, when the first campaign is done (or as a parallel campaign). Give everyone a chance to build a character that fits the cult's play style, or to recuse themselves from the campaign if it doesn't sound fun to them.

Your Specific Situation

Given that this appears to be about adding some flavor and long-term goals to your characters, here is the easiest way to handle it. You say "I try to convert your character to my cult." He says "My character is not converted." He says "I give you a sermon to convert you from your wicked ways." You say "Yeah, that's not happening." You move on with the game.

It is possible to have characters be in conflict, without having the players be in conflict or making that conflict the focus of your campaign. As long as you never actually intend to cross a major line with your cult, and he never actually goes out and smites it, everyone can coexist.

If him joining the cult becomes necessary, there are plenty of reasons for a Lawful Good character to join such an organization:

  • He joined it to be with his friends.

  • He joined it to gain power to advance a good cause.

  • He joined it to try to keep the darker aspects of it in check from within.

  • He (the character, not the player) is simply unaware of how dark the cult's end game is.

  • He isn't a member of the cult. He's your friend, and he helps you.

  • Etc.

\$\endgroup\$
8
\$\begingroup\$

Let's forget cults, alignment, and player agency for a minute, and focus on your core theory question:
Is a static character bad roleplaying?

It depends: It's a question of Genre and Art

There is a wide variety of reasons people play roleplaying games. Unsurprisingly, there is an even wider variety of roleplaying games.

Just like in novels, movies, and TV series, roleplaying games have a huge variety of genres and conventions. If you're watching HBO's Game of Thrones, you expect Jon Snow to act like Jon Snow — but you also expect him to grow and mature as he struggles with personal and external dilemmas. He has the potential for major reversals in his moral compass, and as a viewer that is part of the point of investing in the character. Jon Snow is not static, and this is a critical part of what makes a dramatic TV series like this good.

But if you're watching Dragon Ball Z, you expect Krillin to act like Krillin, and part of acting like Krillin is being the same goofy, loyal guy at the end of the series as he is at the beginning of the series. He may grow and change in small ways, but significant change and moral questions are not part of how this kind of character is supposed to work in this genre. (This expectation of character constancy in these kinds of stories means that, when a character does change significantly, the plot twist is especially shocking.)

And these are only two examples in TV series of the spectrum (or multi-dimensional matrix, actually). If you think about the vast array of entertainment options outside of RPGs, the variety is so great that people can easily love one thing and hate another. There's difference in genre expectations from show to show, book to book. There is difference in art in each.

This is one thing entertainments can teach roleplayers

Roleplaying games are unique in that, when you sit down to enjoy this form of entertainment, you decide what the point is. You can as easily want to play a shining heroic archetype through an epic adventure, as you could want to play the story of a character who faces their internal darkness and doubt while navigating through a bitterly imperfect world.

Critically though, each of you can have different wants. In a show or a novel, you can't mix genre and artistic approaches — they need a unified vision in order to produce something that isn't broken. When they disagree about it, the writers and directors work together to all get on the same page about what kind of story it will be.

So although you can each have different wants in a roleplaying game, your game is destined for failure if you don't cooperate and work together inside one genre and one idea of the artistic meaning of your game (which includes "none, it's just a game!").

Neither is better; both are better for something

Neither the way you want to play or the way your Goku-emulating friend wants to play are better or worse than each other.

Each of your way is better for a particular personal entertainment goal though: your way is better for dramatic roleplaying; his way is better for heroic roleplaying. I have played in both of those kinds of games (and many other kinds, besides), and they're both fun. I love me some quiet interpersonal drama roleplaying; and I also love me some heroic adventuring.

They're different tastes, for different times, like ice cream is nice for a hot summer afternoon and a warm katsu curry is a comforting lunch on a chilly autumn day. Neither is better; each is worse than the other at the other's purpose and better at their own; and both are terrible when mixed together.

Now put theory into practice: Compromise

As alluded to above, you will have to compromise. You each want something different, and your goals are clashing. Figure out where your goals overlap, and build your game, genre, and art expectations — if any — on top of that shared foundation.

You will probably find that Mr. Goku does not want to play drama. Find out what he does want! Find out what kind of play goals he has, and see if you're on the same page for the point of this D&D campaign.

Come together to agree on the kind of entertainment you're going to create all together, and you'll find it works much better. Forget about trying to decide who is "right" about what constitutes good or bad roleplaying, and instead shape your roleplaying to the entertainment goal of this campaign.

Compromise now, and next time maybe your friends will be interested in trying a taste of something different. D&D 5e is a startlingly flexible roleplaying framework and game framework, and you can always play a D&D campaign with a bit more dramatic flavour… some other time.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ If I could accept two answers... \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Mar 3 '15 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TomSterkenburg I appreciate the vote of confidence in any case. If it helps, that's reward for me too! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 3 '15 at 21:25
3
\$\begingroup\$

Violating the social contract, however implicit and unspoken it might be, can be considered bad etiquette. Of course, the amorphous nature of the agreements at our table means this is sometimes subjective. The problem here might be too strongly coupling "Unwilling to change alignment" with "Unwilling to change".

Whether or not the player's behavior is rude is dependent upon what the group has established here. It sounds like changing alignments is something the table has decided is okay, but it is possible that the player did not have that in mind when creating their character. The underlying social contract should always be, we are here to have fun and maybe the least 'rude' approach here is to try and negotiate a way for your group to enjoy the involvement of the cult, while respecting the player's desire to portray a certain character, and find ways to let them coexist.

In many D&D games I've played or run, different players have different interactions with the alignment system, even in a Roleplaying heavy game where we've all made an unspoken agreement that characters change over time. Even if one fiendish elf warlock is chaotic neutral but pushing their character towards good and being tempted by evil and the wizard is planting their feet in Lawful neutral as a disinterested sage of magic, events in the campaign can still change both of those characters and their opinions without changing their alignments.

The answer for keeping the Warlock and Wizard interested at the table was to provide situations they could both react to, and let the Warlock dive in without making every character choose between good and evil every game, but also allowed the Wizard to maintain distance from the moral quandaries even while using their knowledge to help find solutions.

Maybe the other player is imagining more value in the story of their character interacting with, but not changing themselves to join this group, and talking about your respective ideas and how it could play out might be the least rude approach.

\$\endgroup\$
3
\$\begingroup\$

Underlying Social Situation

Some of us had decided it might be cool if my character could convince the rest of the party to join a cult, which might involve persuading them to change their alignment from good to neutral.

Specific to your situation - there's the problem. If I jump into a D&D game with the understanding that it's going to be about fighting monsters/getting treasure, but find out that the game is actually about working for a cult? So some of you decided, but not everyone.

Alignment, changing, etc.

Is it "bad roleplaying" to never change? Not necessarily. Alignment is a big deal, and characters may or may not change as part of their experiences. Hell, I'd say most people in life change "alignment" a few times in life... but that's over years. Most D&D campaigns don't cover decades of a character's life.

More importantly - is the game about character's changing? Is it about fighting monsters? "Good roleplaying" is entirely hinged on why we're here to play this particular game.

\$\endgroup\$
3
\$\begingroup\$

It is widely considered rude

I suggest that this player (and really, all players) read the Giant's “Making the Tough Decisions,” particularly the past about deciding to react differently. I consider it mandatory reading for people I play with, because it excellently addresses exactly this issue. Your player is failing to react differently, and it’s a perfect example of why this article is so important.

Because it’s not really about this player’s character; the character can be staunchly LG, and difficult to convince to move away from that. It may end up being that your character never does convince him of that. That’s fine. The problem is this player announcing, out-of-character and before any attempt at persuasion has been made, that it is never going to happen, no, not even then. That is, in my opinion and according to the linked article, behavior that is going to detract from the game. In effect, this player has kiboshed your character’s concept as being even worth playing, and that’s quite rude.

Considering that Rich Burlew, who has spent a long time playing and discussing D&D, felt the need to write this article, and it is one of the most popular non-OotS things he has ever written, often cited on this very site, I think it is more than fair to say that quite a lot of people would agree that this behavior is problematic.

But there is not, and cannot be, a hard and fast rule about how much intractability is acceptable or not. Every table is different. Because it's also widely considered rude for other players, DM included, to dictate one’s character. These two considerations are competing and every table needs to figure out where to draw the line between them.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @TomSterkenburg I suspect the downvote is from someone who also posted an answer defending the player’s right to make an immutable character; as such, their answer serves far better than any comment could why they feel this answer is wrong. I have downvoted some of the answers that disagree with my own, because I consider the described behavior quite toxic, and thus consider an answer defending it to be quite bad advice. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 '15 at 19:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't downvote it, but I think "It is widely considered rude" deserves some citation. Rather than downvote it though, might I recommend for citation: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/37103/what-is-my-guy-syndrome \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Mar 3 '15 at 21:06
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not voting either way here, but is it possible to back up "It is widely considered rude"? I suspect you are reading something into the situation - maybe correctly - who knows. It might be worth stating that explicitly, for instance it would be rude for one player to hold up an entire game by playing an inappropriate character for the premise of the adventure or campaign. I don't see that here (I think the game is established and the OP wants a change of direction now that the other player is not on board with) \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Mar 3 '15 at 21:06
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I agree with that - it does support it, but the way you've written the answer, it's not quite so obvious that it's meant to be supporting your headline - which is the first thing everyone's going to see and vote on (regardless of whether it is right or wrong to do so). Which is why I'd recommend adding some citation after your headline to better indicate that it is, in fact, a fairly well-documented issue in roleplaying. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Mar 3 '15 at 21:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You know, this answer got me thinking. I was at first really inclined to defend the rights of the LG character's player to play the way that he wants, but this answer gives some good inside of what's really going on. I gave it a +1, and really recommend anyone that would try to answer this question to read this first - even if you disagree with KRyan, his insight is really valuable to this question. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Mar 3 '15 at 21:24
2
\$\begingroup\$

The fun thing about D&D is that you get to play what you want.

I think your friend wanting to play a strictly LG character is perfectly fine, but I think overall you guys could be going about this poorly. The reason I say this is because it seems like you've found something you want to do in character, but then attempted to settle it out of character. I understand and support the idea of warning fellow players about something you want to do as a means of feeling them out a bit, but if you have something you want to do in character, do it in character.

Let me provide you with an example to illustrate my point:

PlayerA: "Hey guys, my character is going to want to join a thieve's guild. Cool?" PlayerB: "Ooooh my Paladin really won't like that, so no."

VS

CharacterA decides he wants to join a thieve's guild but knows that there is a goody-two-shoes Pally in the group who would want to bring the guild to "justice". CharacterA decides to secretly join the guild himself. This offers numerous RP opportunities where CharacterB(pally) could discover or almost discover that CharacterA is a part of a thieve's guild.

So to answer your question

No, it is not bad RP etiquette for your friend to want to play a very strict LG character.

However! Don't let this stop you and the rest of the group from joining a cult and maybe keeping it a secret from your friend's character. Or even just bring it up in-game and see how that plays up.

\$\endgroup\$
2
\$\begingroup\$

I think this is a problem in two parts, which somewhat complicates the answer. I'll try to answer both and I hope it gives you an idea of what I think is happening here.

Playing a character that does not fit a campaign is bad form

This is why you think the Goku player is roleplaying poorly. In a campaign where all the players will join a Neutral cult, playing a Lawful Good character who refuses to change is poor form. After all; the goal is to make a story together and saying "no" to the story by making a character that doesn't work in the story is basically trying to dictate a change in direction.

This can certainly be considered rude.

However...

Changing the campaign midgame like this is also bad form

As you say, "Some of us had decided" this change. This makes it sound suspiciously like the Goku player joined up for a different kind of campaign than "let's all be Neutral cultists" and you ended up changing the campaign as it was going. This is also quite rude, because the player might not enjoy this kind of game or might be excited to play a Lawful Good character, only to realise that suddenly he "has" to change it to Neutral.

In the end, the best solution would probably to make sure everyone is on board with changing a campaign mid-game, or to wait with playing an all-neutral cultist campaign at a later time, after the player has had to play his Goku.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I never really considered it changing the campaign, just sort of trying to follow my own character. Other people want to start guilds and do other things. Maybe our problem is our party makes no sense to be together \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Mar 3 '15 at 19:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I didn’t get the impression that the alignment switch was supposed to happen out-of-character. It seems more like it was going to be a thing that one character was going to start trying to convince the others of, in-character. This question is thus more about the out-of-character concern that one player has adamantly stated that no amount of persuasion, not even then, is sufficient to change his character. That is what I think answers need to address, and I don’t think yours does. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 '15 at 19:57
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think "The uncorruptable hero" is an unreasonable character to play. It's practically a trope. If a player wants to play that, and it's not against the original idea of the campaign, I think that should be fair. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Mar 3 '15 at 20:13
0
\$\begingroup\$

You say this person is roleplaying as Goku. Well, lets take a look at Goku. Goku is a guy who helps people everywhere he goes. He stops villains because it is the right thing to do. He's sacrificed his own life on more than one occasion to save his friends and others. He's a guy who is so merciful that when he is staring down Frieza, a guy who has murdered entire planets and killed several of Goku's friends, Goku offers Frieza a truce and allows him to leave with his life. Goku is a good person, that's who he is (I'd argue he's not actually lawful, he pretty much goes around doing whatever he feels is right regardless of any laws or customs mostly because he seems to be totally unaware of them; at least in Dragonball).

Goku might get tricked into joining a cult for some time, Goku could have a magical spell cast on him that takes away his agency, but Goku would sacrifice his life before willingly aiding or abetting an evil cause.

Your question was specifically about changing alignment to neutral, but as one does not simply walk into Mordor, Goku does not simply stop being good. People can change, and alignments can change, but I agree with your friend that Goku would not be one of those people. If he's trying to roleplay as Goku, it's not bad roleplaying that his character would never become neutral. "Alignment" is not something in game characters are aware of. It's a descriptor that gives a general idea of a character's behavior and strength of morals. A character cannot choose to change their alignment, they can only choose to do things that might be against your alignment.

If anything "persuading them to change their alignment from good to neutral" would be an example of bad roleplaying. You wouldn't have characters talking about their alignment, you'd just have characters trying to convince others of a difference philosophy, or to do things that would normally go against their alignment. I think a great example of this is how Palpatine turned Anakin to the dark side. He didn't just show up one day and ask Anakin, "hey man, wanna join a cool club? You gotta change your alignment though, brah." He toyed with Anakins emotions, played to Anakin's desires, and convinced Anakin to do horrible things under the guise of doing the right thing. Anakin didn't even realize he was changing until he was pretty deep into it.

If you want to convince Goku to do less than good things, it's going to take some epic level subtle manipulation.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I don’t get the impression that the persuasion was supposed to be so simple or straightforward; I assume it was intended to be quite like Palpatine’s persuasion. This is more about the out-of-character concern that one player has adamantly stated that no amount of persuasion, not even then, is sufficient to change his character. That is what I think answers need to address, and I don’t think yours does. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 '15 at 19:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan you'd be correct. I think this answer is too specific to our group. I intended the information about our party to be contextual to better serve why I'm curious about changing a character's behavior \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Mar 3 '15 at 19:59
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @TomSterkenburg That should be in the question; a lot of answers here are being confused on that point. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 3 '15 at 19:59

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.