Oh, those patron higher powers. So prickly. So judgmental. So demanding.
And when a GM has to portray a boss, patron, king, devil or god, by what means does she use to evaluate a character’s devotion to a particular ideal – then act accordingly?
Is the cleric’s faith strong enough? Is the paladin’s heart pure enough? Is the monk’s mind in tune? Are the druid and ranger at one with the environment?
And what of other characters? Is the warlock abiding by the infernal contract? Is the wizard acting in accord with the astrologies and signs? Are the scoundrels keeping up their ends to business deals? Are the warriors keeping to their oaths?
A lot of GMs like to use the alignment axis to keep tabs on such things. Is the paladin lawful good? Well, let’s see. She helped that old fella across the street. That’s good. But she can’t shake a gambling habit, and the king has a degree against dicing. So, we have to take off a few points on the lawful side. Tsk, tsk. A little wobbly.
Alignment has its uses, and in most fantasy d20 games are hardboiled into a lot of rules, including spells, so it’s difficult to excise even if you wanted to.
But when it comes to judging by what degree a character is abiding by the core behavior of their class, when it comes time for another NPC to interact with them based on their perceptions of that character’s actions, I find alignment to be a poor barometer.
Better than that is a sliding scale from 0 to 10 that I keep in my head that evaluates a character’s fervor.
What is fervor? It’s a catch-all term I use for judging how the portrayal of a character fits with the essence of that character’s class.
Understand, it’s not a requirement that a player run a character a certain way, that they must always strive to be an exemplar of their class. If the PC is portrayed as lax or wanting in some fashion, that’s great. That’s good roleplay.
But a player character that goes that route, either intentionally or if it develops during play, then that portrayal has consequences.
As an example, let’s use the cleric. Do the cleric’s actions match the tenets of that character’s faith? Maybe the character started out abiding by those expectations, but over the past several sessions has started to veer into behavior that might require disciplinary actions from his church’s superiors. Or maybe, the actions are suited for another deity’s faith entirely. Maybe there is an overture from another church to adopt their faith. Using a fervor scale, as GM I’m figuring out how that interplay might work.
Daphne, a cleric of Zeus, laments during play that all the party’s good deeds are being ignored by the townsfolk, and most galling, by her own brethren. So I slide the indicator on the fervor scale down a bit. Then I send a priest of Ares her way. “Join us! We’re all about the glory and honor bit. Nothing in the way of a pension plan, but you can bet we’ll celebrate your victories.”
Then you let Daphne consider the offer and roleplay off her decision accordingly.
As a GM, I would never use fervor as more than a rough estimate of the situation. Codifying it would actually be contrary to its utility.
Remember this isn’t a tool to guide or direct PC actions. Let players develop their characters as they will. But as a means of helping a GM decide if an NPC should act as tempter, seducer, friend, or instigator, it can be invaluable.