Where have all the cowboys gone? Pt. 1

The lawful good paladin who stands up against even the most vile demons to save a small village no matter what the cost to him self. The wizard who uses his arcane skills to ward off an army of goblins bent on terrorizing the country side only because he disdains the mere thought of destruction they would bring. A brave warrior who swoops down in time to take an arrow to the shoulder instead of letting it hit a young girl. Where have these heroes gone? I have noticed an increasingly large amount of neutral and evil player characters entering the world of Dungeons and Dragons, and worlds with a more ambiguous ideals of good and evil are becoming popular, i.e. Dark Sun and Eberron. As I was DMing D&D encounters a few nights ago the pregen paladin in the group took part in some very harsh intimidation techniques, and that really made me start thinking about alignments in D&D.

When Wizards goes out of its way to include a pre-made unaligned paladin in their new D&D encounters program I think it is time to realize that something has changed. When I was first introduced to D&D I was sold on the idea of valiant knights and wizards roaming the country side seeking to destroy evil in all forms. For a 12 year old an adventure hook needed to be nothing more than Orcs invading a city or a kidnapped princes. At thirty a kidnapped princess and Orc invasion is not enough to get my character out of the Tavern.

What the hell happened to me in the last 18 years? When did I stop caring about the people of the land and start caring more about my bank account and the level of my gear? I have so many theories I don’t even think I can cover all of them right now.

First, Innocence vs. Experience: Back when I was young fairness was the golden rule. Life was supposed to be fair, you do good work you receive good favor. After being in the work force for 12 years I have found that fairness is only a concept that will frustrate and confound you. If this were not true my friends who build orphanages in South Africa and help kids who’s parents have died of aids would not have had to sell their house to pay for their work. And the guys on T.V. who get to play basket ball would not be making 20 million a year for doing something the dictionary defines as a hobby or pastime. This life lesson easily makes its way into any players philosophy. “Orcs are attacking your town? Well life’s tough isn’t it” Says the dark hero in the corner as he rubs his fingers at the elder man to indicate a request for payment. In life we learn there is no real cosmic fairness and that those who can do, charge for it.

Second Invincibility vs. Mortality: As a youth I knew I would never die. Death was an abstract concept only seen on the T.V. shows and movies I was not supposed to be watching. As an adult I know my time on this planet is short, and so is my characters. Leaping into a fight with out thinking of the risk to my well being does not make sense to an adult.  Felling bound to do so when playing a good or lawful good character makes me feel more inclined to play unaligned or neutral. It means I can hesitate before heroic actions or I can request compensation more fit for the size of the risk.

Third Biology: Since I am a biology major I can’t omit this argument, though I can try to make it brief. As a humans brain develops the last section of the brain to reach full maturity is the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain which controls and influences decision making and impulse control. As youth it took little more than the hint of wrong doing to send me into action. Rushing out to face off with wrong doers on a whim. As an adult I rarely leap to my feet from a chair to do battle. Now I must plan, I must prepair and make sure I have all the proper provisions. I must also understand the situation fully. Is the enemy I’m going to fight truly the enemy or is there something else going on I don’t yet know? Unaligned characters seem more likely to ask these questions and look at the situation with a broader view.

Fourth Absolutes vs. Relativism: As a child the world was painted in vast arrays of black and white, good was good and evil was evil. There was no in between, no gray no possibility of  redemption for the vampire king who was tricked into his fate, just destruction. As adults we live in a world of moral ambiguity, and this often feeds into our worlds. Eberron where every kingdom is at odds with their neighbors, leading to good being defined by the side you take. And Dark Sun where survival is key and often moral choices are made based on preservation over selflessness. Our adult world is seeping into our game.

Fifth fun vs real fun: It is no secret that the bad guys get to have more fun. Being able to take revenge on the sworn enemy who has done so much wrong feels good. But when they beg for mercy and you let them live it feels like a downer. Getting to be mean, getting to bully and push people around seems to make the game more fun for many of us. Getting to claim ownership of the keep we were sent to clear out instead of giving it back to the small town which hired us feels more rewarding than the 200 gold they had promised. I can’t say why, when I was a youth just deposing villains from power was enough to make me happy, but now as an adult it’s not enough. What is it inside of me that needs to see vengeance? Is it all the pent up frustration with all the bad drivers who have cut me off or failed to use their blinker? Is it the part of me that needs release for being frustrated at the DMV with no recourse of action. Or the part of me who hates to see most of his paycheck vanish with taxes and bills and having no way of venting? Do I use D&D as a vent and the poor villains as my punching bag? As a youth wrongs didn’t go unpunished. Teachers or parents could be told if some one did wrong and I feared they would get away with it.

Newbie DM had a rant on twitter a while ago about D&D not being marketed for children and youth any more. I agreed with him for the most part, understanding that the game evolved and matured with the original audience. When I sat down at the D&D encounters table and found a pre-made unaligned paladin I knew that the target audience had definitely shifted far from where it had started so many years ago. Kids don’t need unaligned characters to enjoy playing. They don’t need in depth adventure hooks, or epic destinies to drive them on to save the world. I do, an adult does. At some point in my life it became less about the adventure and more about the ends, the reward. This makes me feel more unaligned than good, and thus I play unaligned characters.

Perhaps the lawful good characters are not in short supply where you play. But where I play, from what I can see the lawful good paladin is disappearing from the table, only remembered in stories told about the time the group was hindered by their presence. The Lawful good cleric is being replaced by the neutral cleric who can now charge for their healing services. I wonder if they will ever come back?


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.


About Thadeousc

Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.
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