View RSS Feed


Lake's Theory of Dungeon Master Alignment (Revised)

Rate this Entry
Lake's Theory of Dungeon Master Alignment.

First off, I know this may be controversial to say the least. There are a number of you that despise the traditional 9 alignment system in it's griddy/ wheely glory. I understand that you feel that it's limiting player choice, etc. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about DM Alignment.

I am of the opinion that different Dungeon masters are of different alignment, but it of course it requires some changing and redefinition.

For Dungeon Master Alignment, I choose to define The Law- Chaos axis as such: Lawful is strict adherance to Rules As Written (or RAW), Chaos being Heavy reliance on Homebrew rules and Improvisation.

Good-Evil for Dungeon Masters is a little trickier. You could look at Good as always placing the enjoyment of the group, both DM and players, above everything else, in Which case Evil would consist of the DM placing their own agendas and power fantasies or 'the story they want to tell' before player enjoyment.

With those definitions established, let's look at the alignments that would then occur.

Lawful Good- “Hey guys, This Adventure/ Module seems really cool. Let's try it.”

This DM relies on modules and rules, but does so generally for a few reasons and really does want to have a good time. One is they really love the setting or adventure.
I don't blame them. Both Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons 5e have put out some excellent premade adventures that can be a lot of fun. There are fascinating worlds to be explored from swirling deserts to forbidding castles and many strange and wonderful companions and Non-Player Characters to encounter.
The second reason is experience and confidence. Many Dungeon Masters, when beginning to DM at all, or moving to a new system, may not have the confidence to homebrew a campaign, which can be a lot of work. Therefore, they may rely on Modules and Rulebooks to help them.
The obvious weaknesses is that well...your players are always Chaotic. Every. Single. One. (except Rules Lawyers). You can't predict what they'll do. They could take one look at the town they're in, go 'Nope' and skip your quests altogether or go way off the rails when doing it. If you rely too much on modules and paths, you'll find yourself frustrated.

Neutral Good- “Well, you could go fight these rats for the tavern owner or you could help out the old farmer with his problem.”

This DM prepares and plans. They present the player with a few different options to do when questing. They often dabble into homebrew, creating their own settings or twists on existing settings and worlds. They may bend or ignore certain rules or add or remove others. They're still focused on the players and making sure they have fun overall.
The weakness of this style is that you have to be good at improv and making snap decisions. Your players will try things no rulebook or adventure path has covered. They will also sometimes go somewhere you may not have prepared for. You absolutely have Roll with the punches. If you struggle with this sort of quick thinking, you will struggle with this using this style, so it may not be for you.

Chaotic Good: “So you want to try to seduce the T-Rex? Make a Diplomacy Check.”

Chaotic Good Dungeon Masters are the kings and queens of improv. Armed with nothing but a notebook, some dice and imagination, these DMs run hours of sessions. They still make sure that player fun is a priority. Oftentimes they make heavy reliance of random charts and tables to generate monsters.
Chaotic Good DMs are the masters of Homebrew. Monsters, Classes, Worlds, It's all made up on the fly or scribbled in notebooks. They will adjust or nerf things as needed to match the party, but still give them a challenge.
A weakness of Chaotic Good Dms is that since a lot of it's made up on the fly, it's easy for them to forget NPCs and plot points since they just made it up and they might not remember. If you are a Chaotic Good DM, it's good to have a player that takes detailed notes.

Lawful Neutral- “Sorry, Man. That's the way the dice fell.”

Lawful Neutral Dms stick close to the Rules As Written or the adventure paths. They know the rules backwards and stick close to them. They strive to be completely fair in everything. Unfortunately if that means a PC is crunched by a monster's special ability, the DM won't fudge or tweak the rolls.

A Lawful Neutral DM will most likely stick close to offically approved sources for character creation without allowing their players to use 3rd Party Content or Homebrew. This can be both a good and a bad thing. It does keep out a lot of the DnDwiki nonesense that certain types of players like to pull, but it does hamper a lot of interesting and unique concepts as well.

Their main weakness is obviously their adhesion to the rules and paths. Players WILL Shenanigan, and it's so easy to derail a campaign or put a DM in a situation where RAW won't cover it. It can also suck the fun out of a campaign if it gets too crunchy for players.

True Neutral- “You can try that, I Guess.”

I debated with myself whether or not that True Neutral is a DM Alignment. After all, I believe that Every DM is a bit biasd one way or another. If the True Neutral DM exists, then they are a juggler, tryign hard to balance their story with the player's desire and RAW. A True Neutral DM is easily overwhelmed by trying to balance everything.

Chaotic Neutral- “Around the corner you see...FIRE BREATHING PENGUINS!”

The Chaotic Neutral Dungeon Master is all about them jokes. They insert random encounters, inside jokes, memes and references because it's funny to them. Like they Chaotic Good DM they homebrew pretty much everything, but their focus is on laffs rather than player enjoyment.

The obvious weakness is that this style of DM is very frustrating to play under. It can be hard to tell when they are throwing something at you for laughs and memes or because it's something they want you to seriously face. This makes dealing with serious and dark themes that RPGs sometimes have very difficult to play with this style of DM.

They also share the weakness of Chaotic Good Dms that they don't plan ahead much, so it's easy to get turned around and lost in the wacky.

Lawful Evil- “No, you absolutely can't do that.”

A Lawful Evil DM uses their knowledge of the rules to bully or punish their players. This can involve a bit of metagaming in using monsters you know your party will have trouble with, such as a rust monster for a melee centric party or a flail snail for a caster heavy crew. I understand that tossing a challenging monster at your party can be fun and force them to think outside the box and battle creatively, but LE take this to an extreme.
LE Dms also demand strict adherance to their preplanned story or or whatever module has caught their current whim, and they can get quite angry at those who stray from 'the story they want to tell'. This can easily lead to a frustrated and angry party. If you have a Lawful Evil DM, I recommend leaving and finding a less toxic group to game with.

Neutral Evil- “Yes, That scene was entirely necessary”

This Style DM likes to incorporate some dark and twisted elements into their RPG sessions. Rape, Murder, Torture etc. all find their way into the game because the DM likes those elements. This can either stem from a lack of maturity or because they have a very macabre sense of humor. As a side bar, sometimes dark elements appear in the brightest of games, but NE Dungeon Masters dwell on them and bring them in whenever possible.
Macabre elements may be more normal if it is a horror themed campaign, but if it is, a responsible DM will state upfront if a game contains horror elements so players that dislike that content can avoid it. The problem comes when these elements come out of nowhere.
The obvious problem is many players will not ever be comfortable with a high level of this sort of content. Often, It's more about the DM bringing in themes that they personally like rather than being aware of player enjoyment and comfort. Again, if your DM is like this and you don't feel comfortable with it, find a different group to game with.

Chaotic Evil- “Rocks Fall. Everyone is Dead.”

A Chaotic Evil DM is petty. They do things to purposely annoy players they don't like very well. They often take the dark and macabre themes of the Neutral Evil DM and the randomness of the CN DM to throw characters and monsters into a massive stew of ugliness and randomness. They do whatever they want without worrying about how their players feel. If they're ever criticized, they have a tendency to become vengeful and petty.
Again. If you have this sort of DM, get out.

So to conclude, I'll leave you with a simple question. Where do you think you fall?