I’ll never forget my first alignment debate. It was all my fault.

So no shit there we were, hanging out in the AP physics lab and chucking dice. The lab tables were big enough to contain half a dozen pimply high schoolers. Our imaginations were big enough to contain worlds. Adventure, camaraderie, and untold narrative possibility stretched before us. The Mountain Dew flowed freely, and all was right with the world. That would soon change. 

In the game world, our merry band of weirdos had been tasked by the local liege lord to hunt down some traitorous lordlings. Standard starter quest stuff, and plenty of impetus to tromp out into the local wilderness. We hadn’t gone half a league before some exposition accosted us by the wayside.

“A dude who’s totally not Robin Hood leaps out of the bushes. He draws his sword, then plants it in the earth before him. Holding his hands wide, he explains that he wants to talk.”

To our credit, we managed not to murder this NPC on sight. Not-Robin explained that our whole ‘hunt down the traitor lords’ quest line was bogus. We were in the employ of a tyrant, and would do better to align ourselves with the noble freedom fighters of the Wherever Woods. 

We looked from one to another, unsure what to do. A clear decision point lay before us, but no one wanted to pull the trigger. 

Into this silence I ventured, “We have to choose between obeying the king or siding with the outlaws, right? That’s the whole Law vs. Chaos thing we filled out on these sheets. Everyone check your alignments!” 

You can imagine the result. With the opinions that we were “supposed” to have clearly labeled in #2 pencil, everyone dug in. Lawful dudes wanted to obey; chaotic dudes wanted to rebel. The game devolved into hopeless argument, and soon dissolved completely into a morass of, “I can’t do next Tuesday.” Such is the way of things. 

But in the interest of avoiding future conflict non-resolution, I thought it might be helpful to float some alternatives to those entrenched opinions of yesteryear. The following represents a first stab at forming a taxonomy of methods for picking between competing battle plans. 

  • Keep Arguing — This is what we opted for back in high school. It’s the baseline, and represents a vague hope that someone will eventually change their mind. 
  • Yield — The natural consequence of the Keep Arguing approach. Someone has to snap out of “my character wouldn’t do that” by finding a way that their character would do that. 
  • Roll Off — If you’re well and truly at loggerheads and just want to move on with life, you can dice off for it. This method has the advantage of reflecting an in-game trope, where arguing adventurers resort to boulder-parchment-shears for difficult decisions. 
  • Just Go For It — If you’re tired of arguing, you can always try out your plan regardless of the party’s opinion. Imagine the old “sneak in vs charge in” argument at a dungeon entrance. The fighter and the rogue are at an impasse, but the barbarian gets bored and simply hurls himself at the gates. 
  • PVP — The unfortunate consequence of the Just Go For It method, PVP in this context looks like, “I do the thing,” followed by, “I prevent him from doing it.” It’s player agency vs. player agency in its purest form, and only works well if your group is prepared for it. The decisions of Session Zero apply.
  • Vote — Democracy in action! There are multiple choices, and a simple majority wins. 
  • GM Adjudication — When there are Zax in Tracks and neither wants to blink, it might take a GM’s touch to solve the dilemma. This is often a last resort, and may be suitable to arguments between players rather than characters. For example, “Let’s follow Alice’s backstory for now. I promise Bob will have the chance to avenge his master later.” 
  • Pick Up Your Dice & Go Home — If your paladin would never go along with the dastardly plot or whatever, there is always the ultimate moral stand. Retire the character and reroll somebody willing to go with the plan.

These are just some ideas to get us started. What I really want to hear in today’s discussion is your approach to intractable problems. So I’m looking for two things: 1) Tell us about a major disagreement that your party had to negotiate; and 2) tell us how you managed to solve it. See you and your gnarly problems down in the comments!


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