Daily Archives: August 7, 2017

Alignment, Charisma, and Player Role-Playing Behavior

Your character walks into a bar… how does everyone react?

One of the biggest challenges for DM’s is matching the reactions of NPC’s to the characters in an organic fashion that accurately reflects the character’s behavior, appearance, history, etc.

One cheat is to simply peg things to Charisma and related skills. The problem with this method is that it can quickly get bogged down in reductive dice-rolling and skill checks, not to mention that it often seems to result in dice-rolls that result in utterly inane behavior or responses to the character by NPC’s.

The other cheat is simply to use the player’s roleplaying as a guide. The problem with this of course is that not all players are good at role-playing, plus it paradoxically may ignore a very high or low Charisma or lack of character skill if the player is good enough.

Lastly, there is the age old problem of how Alignment interacts with player/character behavior as well as the above two factors. The classic I’m really a good hero but all I do is act like a murder-hobo is a long-standing issue in the various iterations of D&D.

My own solution is a blend of all three factors, as the title of this post indicates.

Charisma is the easiest to explain, it’s simply how likable or unlikable you are. Honestly. we’ve all know people who do the dumbest, most annoying things but everyone still tends to like them? Or that backstabbing frenemy who you can’t quite get over? This is a class high Charisma person that people just can’t help but make excuses for or other wise like on some ineffable personal level. Similarly, some people are just screwed with having low Charisma and get picked on, aren’t trusted, etc. no matter what they do or say.

Included in this is skills, so if a character is skilled in persuasion or deception or whatever and that is filling up a large period of their time, it is factored in. Basically the idea is to not forget the role that the proficiency bonus might play in people’s reaction to the character.

Alignment, and this works even better in 5e than in 1e, is all about the innate ethics (Law-Chaos axis) and morals (Good-Evil axis) of the character. While certainly providing a rough set of guideposts for the players regarding role-playing behavior (though Palladium did a way better job of that with it’s method), what I use it as is a template for how the character acts while on autopilot and during downtime. The time and events that are role-played are actually quite a small percentage of the character’s life, and alignment provides a good measure as to how they behave the rest of the time sans any specific instruction from the player.

Most people are some version of good, selfish folk are often Chaotic Neutral or Neutral, some honorable but morally aberrant folk are Lawful Evil. Very few people are actually Chaotic or Neutral Evil in human and demi-human society. Interestingly this is, apart from possible Radegastian clothing choices, what makes classically neutral Druids so uncomfortable for many people, they often aren’t operating on “normal” human ethical and moral compasses.

Similarly, as folks age, they tend to become more extreme in their beliefs, moving away from Neutrality. Conversely Mages tend to strip away their ethics and morals in the search for arcane power and are likely to become Neutral (much like Druids but with a supernatural rather than a natural focus).

Character behavior by way of player choice (aka role-playing) is the big wild-card. The previous two elements pretty much run in the background, but role-playing can swing things in any direction. Sufficiently intense or long-term roleplaying can change Alignment (aka, no you can’t continually murder innocent people any stay “good”). Player/Character action can produce huge swings in reaction, especially when it seems grossly out of touch with how people expect the character to behave (aka Alignment). High Charisma can help you get away with things that normally wouldn’t be excused, but do it enough or often enough and people will change those expectations and I, as the game master, will also say that you are also (likely unconsciously) changing you day-to-day behavior to meet whatever that new alignment is.

Now, you can still play good characters tortured by their evil deeds and trying to atone, or evil characters who out of enlightened self-interest perform normally good acts, but those are things to be role-played though player and character action. They are not things that “run in the background” and the player is going to have to make sure that this sort of inner conflict or discrepancy is part of how they role-play because these are things that are part of the inner landscape of the character.

Lastly, it is also worth noting that race, class, and background can also impact things. Some races just have unwholesome reputations just the same as others are considered more upright. Almost every class other than Fighter and every race other than Human (Common Man) comes with some baggage – some good, some bad, and it’s more likely bad than good. And that is speaking merely from a human perspective – talk to the elves and they have an entirely different take on things. Background sets a character into some semblance of social class, and depending upon your game this can have a huge impact on how people react and what assumptions they make – my game is one of those where it does.

Anyways, I hope this gives some folks a more helpful way to negotiate what happens when the character’s in their campaigns walk into a bar…

TTFN!

D.

 

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