On my inaugural Cabin Trip outing in February of 2001 a firm precedent was set. That lengthy campaign, which would enshrine the heroic deeds of Chase’s Wil Delving and my own Jerome de la Croix, opened with a simple conceit: magic is evil, and those that practice it must be put to death. What followed was an intricate argument between the player characters about what it truly meant to be a ‘evil’ person. Far surpassing the textbook definitions of alignment one might consider during character creation, that hours-long group meditation on the nature of what is ‘good’ has resonated across the years. This week, the roots of that dialectic came home to roost in our Pathfinder campaign.
Here are the facts of the case. My player character, a Level 3 Gunslinger called Jerusalem Jax, leads a rogue band of mercenary treasure hunters. According to our Group Template, our characters are military veterans who now use their unique skills to procure unique artifacts and valuable trinkets for the highest bidder. As it pertains to alignment, my character sheet insists that Mr. Jax is of the Chaotic Good persuasion.
Recent events have led me to believe otherwise. As of our last game session, I had determined that the defendant’s true alignment was Lawful Evil. Weighed against the description of ‘Alignment’ in the Pathfinder SRD, this decision focused intently on the phrases “takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct, without regard for whom he hurts” and “he cares about tradition, loyalty, and order not about freedom, dignity, or life”. The damning evidence for this conclusion goes like this:
- Mr. Jax, while apprenticed to the preeminent gunsmith in the kingdom, staged a theft of the entire stock of military firearms his employer had prepared for delivery.
- During said theft, Mr. Jax also stole a priceless antique firearm from his employer, for his personal use.
- While confronting hostile foreign agents, Mr. Jax caused significant property damage to a respectable business establishment without recompense.
- Once engaged in the execution of their contract, Mr. Jax secretly abandoned his business partners under the cover of darkness, taking with him the only guide the group had who spoke their language.
- Mr. Jax executed four foreign agents while they slept, providing them no chance to defend themselves.
- The final surviving member of the foreign contingent was lashed to his boat by Mr. Jax and sent into the rushing river to perish by exposure to the elements.
- After obtaining the item his party had been contracted to find, Mr. Jax took possession of said item, and abandoned his partners in an ancient tomb to battle the undead monsters that had ambushed them.
- Mr. Jax was only prevented from fleeing the ancient tomb and claiming the sole reward for their prize by the fearful perception of primitive traps in his path.
In addition to digital reference materials noted above, a July post by CWhite also condemns Mr. Jax’s behavior as ‘evil.’ Such acts as those undertaken by Mr. Jax to procure wealth could certainly be described as “employing evil to get him to a desired outcome more quickly or easily.” Likewise, it takes little imagination see that “upon realizing that the solution [to a problem] would be difficult” Mr. Jax used his disreputable skills to “go a different route.” Rather than working to honor acceptable societal boundaries and financial contracts, Mr. Jax saw “the opportunity to use a shortcut” to gain the wealth he desired.
These accusations may seem unfair, given Mr. Jax’s theater of operations. It may be said, upon further review of the Pathfinder SRD, that his alignment falls within the definition of Chaotic Neutral. The untamed wilderness in which Mr. Jax seeks his fortune is fraught with constant peril. Further, his years of training in his country’s military system have bred a warrior instinct and a survivalist spirit in him; both have proved useful in protecting his party members to date. It is reasonable to assign some credit for the survival of the mission to Mr. Jax’s sense of self-preservation.
While several of the actions outlined in the argument for an Evil alignment could be interpreted as a dangerous lack of concern, they could also point to a reflection of the ideals of Chaotic Neutral character: “He values his own liberty but doesn’t strive to protect others’ freedom.” The slaying of sleeping pursuers could be forgiven as an action of necessity, an instance of ‘kill or be killed.’ While it is true society would would condemn such a course, a Chaotic Neutral alignment “represents freedom from… society’s restrictions.” To label these killings as an ‘evil’ act, one would have to show that Mr. Jax’s intentions were “motivated either by good (and a desire to liberate others) or evil (and a desire to make those others suffer).” As his actions were motivated by an intense desire to avoid personal suffering at the hands of his pursuers, a strong argument emerges that Mr. Jax was acting neither in benevolence or malice- but rather in order to protect “his own liberty.”
The central issue at hand seems to revolve around the character’s intentions. The character sheet for Mr. Jax clearly indicates a ‘good’ intention. Likewise, the Pathfinder SRD is quite explicit that “[w]ith the GM’s permission, a player may assign an evil alignment to his PC.” This sentence would seem to preclude the option of an ‘evil’ label, however dreadful their intentions, for a player character. Instead, the idea that Mr. Jax may “have compunctions against killing an innocent, but may lack the commitment to make sacrifices to… help others” seems quite viable.
And yet… Premeditated murder of one’s helpless enemies. Selfish pursuit of riches at the expense of human life. Blatant disregard for the social laws of order and morality simply because “doing so is convenient.” Surely such actions, taken in concert with one another, point to a voluntary shift in one’s alignment “in light of game events.” When a character takes actions that “obviously violate [his] alignment,” he runs the significant risk of those offenses becoming the defining deeds by which his character is judged.
The verdict is up to you, loyal readers. If you were the GM spinning this yarn, what alignment would you assign a character with this history of offenses? If you were a treasure hunter following Jax into the wilds, would you tolerate his selfish dirty deeds? Or would you take a swing at him, only to miss on the attack roll and earn his bitter hatred? Give us your decision here in the Comments!