When I first started roleplaying, I was introduced to the hobby through MERP, a Rolemaster variant. It was lots of fun, though it was a simple game with plenty of design issues. We explored Middle-earth, got tired of it, made our own worlds, and pursued radically different creative agendas concurrently and somehow made it work. I got to play with some awesome people who were my best friends, and we had some deep, rich, and rewarding campaigns.
Then I went away to college. I was introduced to AD&D2e. I had heard it wasn’t all that great of a system, but it was the only thing the guys around there knew how to play. When I first met up with them, I asked to borrow the Player’s Handbook. As I read over Chargen, I seized on Alignments. I thought it was the coolest part of making a character. I could see how it would challenge me as a player to hold to it, and I figured that the game would reward sticking to your alignment even in situations where it would be advantageous to abandon it. The game did no such thing.
In fact, alignment almost never came up in the games I played. I got to game with about five separate DnD groups in college (truth be told, I crammed 4 years of college into 6). And not one time did alignment matter. No one cared about it. The mechanic seemed more of a shackle than invitation for roleplaying. Eventually, I gave up my quest for it to matter.
I hated that. I really wanted alignment to be important, in fact the center of my character. In truth, I think it should have been. It seems obvious that, at some point in DnD’s design, someone thought moral dilemma would be an interesting facet of play, but the game never supported it. Alignment is the ultimate flag in DnD when it comes to what a player wants his character to really be about, but the game never provided incentives for challenging and changing alignments. It would tell you how to do that (and offer some nominal punishments for the change), but not why a person should, or when, or offer bonuses and temptations for doing so. I felt the mechanic was almost entirely ignored by the game. I wish it wouldn’t have been.
This is why I have high hopes for Dungeon World. I’m not really plugging that game here, just relating that I am sorrowful that my experience with DnD marginalized what I found to be the most intriguing part of character creation, and that I hope DW offers me the chance to see what it would have been like if Alignment mattered.
Have you ever felt this way about a game? That there was a mechanic that seemed really awesome and even central to play, but was ignored altogether by the rest of the rules and/or players?