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Character Alignment In Single Player Rpg

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Hi all,

 

I'm designing a single player RPG, and would like some feedback and suggestions on character alignment (standard Good/Evil, Lawful/Chaotic).

 

In most RPGs the player is the archetypical hero fighting to slay the big bad.  I envision a system where you are asked a series of alignment questions at the start of the game and that is how your character starts out.  This could also be done with a short series of quests, where the way you complete them determines your starting alignment.  As the story progresses, it may turn out that you are the big bad, attempting to overthrow the emporer and rule the land.

 

As you progress through the game, your alignment would affect things such as what kind of magic is made available to you.  Lawful/Good? Get an invitation from the order of Paladins.  Evil? Get approached by a necromancer, etc.

 

NPCs will also interact differently with you.  Perhaps you get a discount from the local blacksmith because you saved his son in a side-quest, or you are shunned by the town and need to go to the black-market underbelly.

 

Party members may only join your party if your alignments are compatible (or you have high charisma to trick them into joining you).  As you adventure together the choices you make may force some of them to leave your party or even attack you, while others will "have your back".

 

One of my main problems is in thinking about the type of quests an evil or chaotic character would want to do, as I always play towards the Lawful/Good end of the spectrum.  Some that I've thought of are theft and assassination, but I'm not sure what else would be of interest.  I guess there are some crossover quests such as the aquisition of powerful artefacts and puzzles to pass parts of the map.

 

Although I appreciate the extra work involved, I am aiming for this game to be procedurally generated with automated quests whose goals adapt towards your alignment.

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As I am a big fan of anti heros and being able to play the baddies, make sure you get your baddies right. If you do, might as well kick the goddies to the bin as well done baddies are just 10 times as cool as any good hero. There is a reason why most stories live and die by the quality of the anthagonist / bad guy, while the hero often adds little to the overall quality.

 

Now, bad guys. How to:

 

1. Make sure your bad guys have CHARACTER. Yes, this is just as much true for your good guys as a Hero that risks his life just to serve others without any f***** reason other than being so bloody nice is just... flat, boring, and uninteresting.

Same is true for a bad guy. If your baddie anti hero is just bad for the sake of being bad, you know, the histerical laughter emitting, baby seals slaying evil whose only real reason for doing the things he does is "for the glory of lord satan!" (to quote the internet meme), he is just as boring, flat and uninteresting.

 

Characters need motivations. There are just as many motivations for a character to do bad things as there are to do good things. To be honest, the SAME motivations can drive one character to do bad, and another to do good things. Your parents got slain by a burglar with a gun? Your hero might become batman and avenge his parents death by hunting down criminals and bringing them to justice. OR he might blame the police and society as a whole for his loss and become a criminal himself (plenty of super-villains that have this kind of motivation). Then there are the really interesting heros that fall in the middle ground, like the Punisher. Not a bad guy, but neither really a good guy... he seems interested in his revenge so much that he doesn't care to much about collateral damage.

 

2. Characters need development! Think of the heros journey. The same can be done for baddies too. Nobody wakes up one day and decides to destroy the world. Well, some might do, but they are not just bad but need their heads checked in this case (more even than other baddies).

 

There are some very interesting cases to analyze for this. Have a look at Breath of Fire 4, especially the story arc introducing the later end-boss, Fou-Lu. I don't want to spoiler it, because its the best part of the best game in the series, but it is a perfect example on how a neutral character turns VERY bad because of the unfair / unlawful treatment by others.

 

Your bad guy might start as neutral, hell he might even be a good guy. Let the story of the game turn him bad. Because that is WAY more interesting for the player than a "Natural Born Baddie"...

 

3. There is no Good or Evil! I know, this goes against the RPG alignment system, but really, if you want interesting characters, don't take the good/evil alignment too serious. Your goodie two shoe paladin most probably will do quite a lot of evil in the name of faith. Maybe he suffers because of that? Maybe that is the nucleus for further story development?

 

Your baddy might be burning cities to the ground, but has a soft spot for little kittens? Because, hell, they are just so adorable... and opposed to those nasty humans, are not responsible for his parents death?

 

4. I think there should always be a neutral option! Because those tend to be the most interesting characters. Because every believable character tends to be neutral at times, as not everyone can be an angel or devil all the time.

 

 

Now, lets brainstom your baddies mission/quests:

 

- Revenge: this is always a good option. Slightly overused, but never gets stale. Most people LOVE to see those bad guys gettin what they deserve. Why should this be a bad guys mission? Because really, revenge in itself is not something a "good guy" would be doing. Most of the time, revenge means a spiral towards war and madness. Which means revenge as a quest or overarching story motivation is a good way to show how the hero became "evil".

 

- Reward: Hunting for riches and fame is also a pretty common motivation. Now, this shouldn't be really the main motivations for really pure good heros. It fits neutral heros extremly well, but could also be used for evil heros. After all, destroying the world costs a ton of money. This can show the ruthless side of the evil hero well as he will sacrifice tons of innocents just to get to his rewards.

 

- Power: Yes, now this is overused for evil guys... but of course, it fits well. If its trying to summon that powerful demon trying to become more powerful, overthrowing the emperor or just amassing an army, the search for more power is clearly an evil trait. It could also be done for a greater good (good hero), if you want interesting goodies... neutral characters also fit it. But really, its mostly for the evil guys.

 

You should ALWAYS give the evil hero a motivation for seeking power. Even if he just seeks power for the sake of being the most powerful being in the world, there most probably is a reason for that. Maybe he had a difficult childhood?

 

 

In general, you can use the exact same quests for good/neutral/Bad characters. The setting might be the same, the outturn is different. Of course, random villagers will not walk up to your foreboding looking necromancer to ask him to fetch their cat from the tree...

 

But for example, lets say your heros village was attacked by bandits while he was away, several villagers have been killed including the heros parents, and the bandits threatened to return to get the rest of the villagers stockpiles.

 

Good Hero: He will try to rescue the surviving villagers, and defend them against the bandits should they catch up. He has suffered a tragic personal loss, but his thoughts are more with preventing more pointless death than anything else.

 

Neutral Hero: The hero will go hunt after the bandits, trying to avenge his parents death. He doesn't care enough about the other villagers to even notice he is leaving them in danger.

 

Evil Hero: The hero will be consumed by rage. He sacrifices all the surviving villagers to the dark gods to gain the power needed to bring bloody justice to his parents killers. Of course that will only be the first step on his path spiralling down into bloodshed and madness.

 

 

Or, in short:

 

Good Hero: Thinking about others before himself.

Neutral Hero: Thinking about himself and those close to him before others.

Evil Hero: Only thinking about himself. Making no difference between friend or foe.

 

 

Of course, that means that a party of evil characters needs to have a different kind of bond than the usual "lets just be friends and hel each other" that lead the good characters to form a party.

Think of black mailing a character to follow another, common goals (Riches or Power), one character summoning another and forcing that demon character to do his will, and so on.

 

Of course, you can have fun with this kind of unstable party when creating your story. Will there be a traitor in the party? Will a character become treacherous once a goal is met? Will a black mailed character search for a way out to murder the other characters and leave the quest? Will two characters get into a fight over nothing? Will the summoned demon character try to break free from its shackles?

That alone can make for some extremly cool story parts, and maybe the odd quest. After all, your evil hero needs to keep his henchmen under control with an iron fist, so maybe there is a quest to punch some of them back into following his orders.

 

 

 

 

If you want some stories about neutral or evil heros, a very good book series is Elric of Melniboné... character here comes from a society which would be called evil by our standarts, but turns into a neutral hero in the end.

An extremly good manga series is Berserk. Main Hero is pretty much neutral throughout the story, but always on the brink to be turned on the evil path, while having companions that try to bring him on a more good path. Also, what turns out to be the antagonist is a very interesting example how a good/neutral character turns extremly evil because of personal loss and character traits.

Edited by Gian-Reto

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I really like the concept actually and intrigued how it may look/play. I think using procedural generation to give each player a unique experience is really appealing too. There are many "bad" quests to be created - theft, murder, kidnapping, treason and you can just have different flavours of these. I think it maybe cool to also alter the appearance of the player based on their actions although this maybe quite complex.

 

Good luck with the concept and keep us posted!  :cool:

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Wow Gian-Reto, amazing reply, a lot of food for thought! It's one thing writing NPCs with compelling back stories for why they are good/evil/etc, but it may be a challenge making the player feel they have a back story.

The scenario you played out fits well with my idea where the world is generated with a number of predefined scenarios picked from a much larger set, each one shaping the story through the actions of the player.

One of the things that annoys me about a lot of RPGs is a lack of consequences. Like you can wipe out a village and they'll just respawn, or you go to the next one and they only know you're "bad" but not why. Rolling consequences, like a bounty system where a large army starts to track you down (on either side of good/evil) meaning you have to recruit your own army through force or renown could fix this.

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Following with Gian's, I kind of like having different meters that are or are not hidden from the user.  Instead of having just good/evil, break it down into lots of different ones.  Like Orcs killed.  Now, have several factions which have these different sets of meters to come to an opinion about that character.  You could have a faction that hates orcs, likes elves, and likes those who give to charity.   You could have another faction that likes orcs, hates elves, and dislikes those who give to charity, or a faction that abhors all killing, and likes those who give to charity.

 

Another interesting thing I've seen articles written on, but never done, is a witness system.  One of the things that bugs me about videogames is picking up a spoon when no one is around, and then having a guard magically appear, or being labelled a thief and the spoon considered a stolen good that no one will buy.   A witness system basically only adds to a meter if someone was there to witness it and pass that information on.  For the aforementioned orc deaths, you might instead turn that into collecting orc scalps, which would then gather reputation as you turn them into some faction (who presumably hate orcs), or have your reputation for killing orcs only go up if some of the orcs get away.

 

I can't find the article, but there was another one that would instead of directly correlating an act to a player, it would correlate it to the player's description, based upon how clearly the witness was able to see the player.  (How far away they were, was it night, was it foggy, etc)  That way rather than always knowing that the guy who kills orcs is called Bob Boblaw, it would instead be, "Woman in red cloak and stag helmet" is an orc-slayer, or the assassin "had a tail and used two ice daggers".  Gives more meaning to how the player appears, and what they wear and use.  They might be able to disguise themselves to avoid being recognized, as opposed to being magically known at all times.

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Just a quick thought.

 

Perhaps some sort of system centered on more specific events that can happen in the game. Any given character might be somewhat apathetic to the player's general tendencies but care more about specific things the player's done, particularly when they affect that character.

  • Player robbed NPC's bank: NPC is not interested because his account is insured and this is at a mild inconvenience at best. NPC maybe asks PC for loan.
  • Player killed NPC's brother: The NPC seeks to avenge his brother's death and see justice done.
  • Player trampled NPC's flower bed: The player is clearly evil incarnate and the NPC will unleash the full force of divine light upon him.
     

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I'm going to offer some criticism, but just to be clear, this doesn't mean don't pursue your idea, it just means think about what benefits you actually gain, and whether the detriments are worth it.
 

In most RPGs the player is the archetypical hero fighting to slay the big bad.

Solution: Write a better story.
 

I envision a system where you are asked a series of alignment questions at the start of the game...

At the start of the game? That's often the worse time to ask any question.

One game design guideline is, "Don't ask players to make choices before they are knowledgeable enough to give informed answers."

(Note: Guidelines are default lines that guide you to better design, but not absolute rules. You should feel free to break out of the guidelines after you comprehend the "why" of the guideline and make an intentional decision to design outside of it for rational well-thought out reasons. But if you don't understand why that's a good guideline, then you breaking out of the guideline will likely be handled poorly)
 

...and that is how your character starts out.


One of the major reasons some people play RPGs is for the ability to make choices and customize their player.
 

This could also be done with a short series of quests, where the way you complete them determines your starting alignment.

Why not just ask me what alignment I want to play as?

Knights of the Old Republic tried to detect my alignment, but kept posing scenarios that often gave stupid options that I'd never pick, so I was forced to choose something that rarely lined up with my actual motives.

I'd often make decisions that I felt was reasonable and not-evil, and it'd give me dark-jedi alignment points for them, because the game tried to detect my motive (which was impossible for the game to know) based off my actions. You're making the same mistake.
 

As the story progresses, it may turn out that you are the big bad, attempting to overthrow the emporer and rule the land.


So, by branching the paths, you're quadrupling your workload, because you are making alot more content that most of your players will never see if they only play a single playthrough (and I'd guess less than 10% of your players will play more than one playthrough).
 

As you progress through the game, your alignment would affect things such as what kind of magic is made available to you.


That's terrible. You're removing my choices.

"Games are a series of interesting decisions" - Sid Meier

Instead of empowering me, the player, by offering me important real decisions, you're trying to have your computer detect what I would want or should have based on entirely unrelated actions I took much earlier in the game. No thanks!

Think of it: Suppose you see me kick a dog. Humans are already terrible at detecting my motive (alignment) for doing so. But not only are you terrible at detecting my motive, you're going to write code that's even WORSE at detecting my motive, AFTER limiting my choices down to three or four arbitrary dialog choices that you force on me that I'd never have chosen anyway, and use that to try and detect my motive, and then use that failed detection to try to determine how my character should behave, what he'll become, and what rewards he'll get. You're taking everything about role-playing out of RPGs.

I get it if you write a really good story, so now I'm playing the role that you have defined for me. Great! That's what books (and many RPGs) do.

But if you pretend I'm playing my own character, defined by my choices, and then keep forcing decisions on me based off of your flawed interpretations of my earlier decisions, then I'm no longer playing my character. It'd be like me trying to play my character, and you keep on overruling what I'm wanting my character to do by making decisions for me, while continually trying to pretend it really is my choice.
 

Although I appreciate the extra work involved, I am aiming for this game to be procedurally generated with automated quests whose goals adapt towards your alignment.


So now we have a human who is terrible at judging my actions writing code that's worse at judging my actions, and using it to generate quests that are absolutely horrendous at judging the motives of my actions.

You'd probably have better accuracy flipping a coin to determine whether I'm playing a good or evil character.
 

Lawful/Good?


If you are using the famous D&D alignment system, Lawful and Good are on two separate axes. They aren't the same thing.

D&D has two separate axes:
Lawful <-> Chaotic
Good <-> Evil

Most villains are Lawful Evil, like Darth Vader.
Some villains are Chaotic Evil, like the Joker from Batman.

Some heroes are Chaotic Good, like Robin Hood.
 

Lawful/Good? Get an invitation from the order of Paladins.  Evil? Get approached by a necromancer, etc.

And what if I want to be evil and infiltrate the Paladins? e.g. Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.

What if I want to be good, but want to try to sway the Necromancer away from the dark arts? Or what if I just go to the necromancer, not for anything malicious, but merely because he happens to be good at sewing corpses together, and I want to be a medic?

Obviously I'm not expecting you to script every possible option. All I'm saying is, if I go with the Necromancer and you ASSUME it's because I'm evil, you are making the exact same mistake KOTOR made.
 

Some that I've thought of are theft and assassination

Both which can be done for non-evil reasons.
 

NPCs will also interact differently with you.  Perhaps you get a discount from the local blacksmith because you saved his son in a side-quest, or you are shunned by the town and need to go to the black-market underbelly.


This is fine, because just as you personally are terrible at determining my motive based on my actions, so are NPC villagers. If they mistakenly think I was being evil when I killed their inn-keeper, that's a legitimate interpretation for the NPCs to make, and that legitimately can govern their behavior and actions towards me.
 

Party members may only join your party if your alignments are compatible (or you have high charisma to trick them into joining you).  As you adventure together the choices you make may force some of them to leave your party or even attack you, while others will "have your back".


Overall, my suggestion is not to think in terms of alignment. I believe in black-and-white morality, but I also believe your interperations of my morality based on my actions is heavily suspect.

Instead, have your world and NPCs react to actions, and constantly remember that your interpretation of the reason for those actions is always wrong. No, I really do mean always wrong. Because for any action you put in the game, if a thousand people play your game, every "evil" action will be chosen by someone for a good morality reason, and every "good" action will be chosen by someone for a bad morality reason.

The best way to handle it is for every situation where some NPCs react in a negative way, do some good writing and make some NPCs "see where [the player] is coming from".
Jeff Vogel talks about this (coming from a different angle) in his RPGs.

Here's him talking about one of his games (Geneforge):


"The Geneforge games are very morally open-ended. I have long been annoyed with fantasy's over-reliance on characters who are all-good or all-evil. I wanted to write a game where you could play through the whole storyline looking for this guy who is evil, meet the guy, listen to his side of the story, realize he has a point, and join him. And I did. It's called Geneforge.

The Geneforge games are full of factions you can join. Some are sensible. Some are insane. Some are peaceful, and some are violent. Only a few of them are truly bad people, trying to do horrible things. I tried to be truly even-handed when making the factions. When writing them, I always had them make the case for their point of view as clearly and convincingly as possible. When I wrote a faction, I was really trying to convince the player to join it.

This is what I am most proud of about Geneforge: I have gotten many e-mails that said, "I loved the games, but I had one problem. I joined [some faction], but I thought you made it too obvious that [that faction] was the right faction and I was supposed to join it." They were all convinced that I was secretly supporting their own pet faction. Hee!
"
 

 

Compare this with my experiences playing KOTOR 1 and 2 (which, don't get me wrong, were great games!).

KOTOR: Girl asks me to train her as a Jedi. Sure! -> MASSIVE dark side points. Apparently she was from an order that swore an oath to never learn jedi powers. I just offered to help her because: A) She asked politely and B) She was was rather cute and was basically flirting with me.  :P

She made a great apprentice though - I taught her how to dual-wield frost-blue lightsabers and had her specialize in anti-droid combat. By the end of the game, her morality was higher on the light-side than mine was.

 

KOTOR: Guys in shiny armor ask for my help in overthrowing a tyrant. Sure! -> MASSIVE dark side points. Turned out the people in shining armor were evil (they were nice enough to me!), and that the "tyrant" was loved by her people. K... so I made a massive mistake that NPCs should react negatively to. That's absolutely awesome. What's not absolutely awesome is KOTOR using that to try and determine that I'm playing an evil Jedi (I wasn't), and using that to limit my future options, which two hours of gameplay later seriously lead me to have zero choice but kill a half-dozen benevolent Jedi masters in some absurd bid to wipe out the Jedi order, which had ZERO to do with my actual motives and choices earlier in the game.

The two major lessons here is,
1) No matter how well you think you are setting up choices to be clearly good or evil, you still can't determine any player's moral alignment from that.
2) If you're a terrorist trying to bomb an airport, just ask me to hold your bags for you, because I'm super gullible when it comes to helping people.

Determining public reputation? That's fine. Limiting my future actions (and taking away choices) purely because you think you know what I want to do? Not fine.

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What if alignment is determined by your actions along the game? So expanding a bit on the idea of just the first quest. Unless you do something extreme in the first quest, it feels a bit rigid to force the player into a box based on that. Likewise, the player might answer questions in the beginning, but then act very differently.

 

For instance, not that it is taken very far, but in dishonored, your actions gradually affect your alignment. It might be easier to kill everyone, but if you do that, you will contribute to bigger chaos in the world, more enemies and a bleaker outcome.

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Wow Gian-Reto, amazing reply, a lot of food for thought! It's one thing writing NPCs with compelling back stories for why they are good/evil/etc, but it may be a challenge making the player feel they have a back story.

The scenario you played out fits well with my idea where the world is generated with a number of predefined scenarios picked from a much larger set, each one shaping the story through the actions of the player.

One of the things that annoys me about a lot of RPGs is a lack of consequences. Like you can wipe out a village and they'll just respawn, or you go to the next one and they only know you're "bad" but not why. Rolling consequences, like a bounty system where a large army starts to track you down (on either side of good/evil) meaning you have to recruit your own army through force or renown could fix this.

 

I think as long as you keep the combinatorial explosion in check, that is one terrific idea.

 

For example, not every deed done needs to lead to big consequences. But if you let the big deeds lead to big consequences, or instead let deeds increase a counter that when filled leads to thos consequences, you could already fool players into thinking that the story IS reacting exactly to what they have done.

 

For example, we have 3 main story arcs (Good / Neutral / Evil), and links between them that make sure you goodie two shoe character is not jumping from the good to the evil story line without any lead up. Depending on how far you are into the main story line (and maybe how much time you spent on it, maybe you only became a good character some "story ticks" ago), the lead up will be longer and longer, as a character that has been the bad guy for most of the story campaign will not be welcomed as the good hero just like that.

Those linking story arcs might then become small campaigns of their own later in the game, making sure as long as players are not trying to stay totally good or totally evil, no players story will match 100%, as inevitably players will branch off (maybe they rejoin later, but a good portion of the story was already quite different).

 

With that basic structure in place, you could now work out 2-3 main story arcs for each alignment, that again could link togetheter at branching points. At this point it starts to become very complicated, but the idea is that 1) everything that happens in the world has consequences, 2) those consequences are not just separated (like "oh remember that village you murdered all people in last week? Its now empty, but the neighbouring villages seem to be not concerned about it"), 3) you keep the amount of needed story branching to a limit by having not as many story arcs, but making sure these can be mixed and matched to form the players expierience.

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I'm going to offer some criticism, but just to be clear, this doesn't mean don't pursue your idea, it just means think about what benefits you actually gain, and whether the detriments are worth it.

Constructive criticism is always welcome, you don't improve your ideas if everyone agrees with you  :D

 

It seems the main argument here is that the computer will do a terrible job of determining your true goal, which is very true.  Ferrous mentioned a witness system, which I very much like the idea of.  Going back to the Order of Paladins example, they aren't going to let you in if they just saw you burn down an orphanage, but if you were well disguised at the time (and nobody tracked you to the point you took your disguise off) then they would still accept you.  This could still limit your choices in the game, but in ways that are easier to avoid (rather than stopping you becoming a Paladin because you killed a pet chicken at the start of the game).

 

Conversely, some NPCs may require witnessing you murdering the children to prove to them that you really are evil.

 

I'm wondering how far you could take this with "Higher Powers".  For example (Paladins again, because they're easy to pick on as a class) if you become a Paladin, but then murder some innocents, do you lose the powers the angels have bestowed upon you?  Maybe you fool your way into the order and when you undergo the rights of passage the deity shows up calling you out and you get to kill him, weaking the Paladins' magic (taking them down from the inside).  Can you take over as the leader and spread rumours about the (actually good) enemy, so that your follwers believe they are doing good and therefore create a loophole?

 

There is a lot more complexity in this topic than I first thought about, which was just to have a set of scenarios that could be completed in good/neutral/evil ways that may influence the kind of NPCs that offer you help/try to kill you.

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