Alignments in Conflict
There are advantages and disadvantages to building a campaign around alignment
struggles. On the plus side, players always have a goal, even if they're not
always aware of it. This goal is useful when constructing adventures. It
motivates player characters and provides a continuing storyline; it ensures that
characters always have something to do ("Restore the balance of Law, loyal
followers!"). Also, a sense of heroism permeates the game. Players know that their
characters are doing something important, something that has an effect on the
history of the campaign world.
There are disadvantages to this approach, too, but none that can't be avoided
by a clever DM. First is the question of boredom. If every adventure revolves
around maintaining balance or crusading for the cause, players might get tired
of the whole thing.
The solution is simply to make sure adventures are varied in goal and theme.
Sometimes characters strive in the name of the great cause. Other times they
adventure for their own benefit. Not every battle needs to be a titanic struggle
of good vs. evil or light vs. darkness.
Another concern is that everything the characters do may affect their quest.
An aligned game universe is one of massive and intricate cause-and-effect
chains. If X happens over here, then Y must happen over there. Most adventures must
be woven into the thread of the storyline, even those that don't seem to be a
part of it.
This is in direct conflict with the need for variety, and the DM must do some
careful juggling. A big quest is easy to work into the story, but what happens
when the player characters take some time off to go on their own adventure? Are
they needed just then? What happens in their absence? How do they get back on
track? What happens when someone discovers something no one was meant to know?
For these problems there are no easy answers. A creative DM will never be idle
with this sort of campaign.
Finally, there is the problem of success and failure. An aligned universe
tends to create an epic adventure. Player characters become involved in
earthshaking events and deal with cosmic beings. Being at the center of the game, player
characters assume great importance (if they don't, they will quickly get bored).
This is standard stuff in sword-and-sorcery fiction, so it is natural that it
also appears in a sword-and-sorcery role-playing adventure.
Fiction writers have an advantage DMs do not, however--they can end the story
and never return to it. At the end of the book, the good guys win, the world is
set right, and the covers are closed. The writer never has to worry about it
again, unless he wants to. What happens when characters win the final conflict,
the battle that puts all to right? What can be done after peace and harmony
come to the universe?
Further, the author knows who is going to win. He starts by knowing the good
guys will triumph. There may be many twists, but eventually the heroes come out
on top. Many DMs make the same assumption. They are wrong.
Never simply assume that the characters will win. What if they don't? What if
the forces of darkness and evil win the final battle? No matter how high the
odds are stacked in their favor, there is always a chance that the characters
will do something so stupid or unlucky that they lose. Victory cannot be
guaranteed. If it is, players will quickly sense this and take advantage of it.
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