January 17, 2011 by Jeremiah McCoy
Editors Note: Last month McCoy wrote an Explain Yourself article about playing an evil PC. I thought it was good enough that after some conversation I asked him to do a series for a feature. This is the first installment of that series but is a follow up to the previous article.
So, you want to be a good guy? The shining paragon of all that is right is a compelling character in literature. Lancelot, if you ignore that whole adultery thing, is a commentary on the ideal men should aspire too. Arthur, and his court in general, has shaped our ideas of what a really good guy is. The court of Charlemagne also plays into this. In more modern times, we have the Lone Ranger, Superman, and slew of upstanding heroes to draw on. One would think this is an easy role to pursue.
That, of course, is not exactly true.
We have all seen the guy at the table who is playing the paladin who is completely clueless or worse, abusive. The good guy in a party often sets the course of the campaign, as his morality is sharply defining on what is and is not allowed. What is almost worse is the guy who plays a sterling good guy, but doesn’t know what actual heroism or upstanding morality is.
Maybe we can clear that up.
Lets start with a painful truth. As much as we all like to think of ourselves as good guys, we are mostly unaligned in a 4e sense (or neutral for you old school types). We are all deeply concerned with our own lives, and looking after our own. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with people looking to their own interests, but to be good with a capital G, to be a paragon of good, you have to be more. You have to be the sort who will give to the poor when you see they are in need, even if it is costing you to do so. You have to not tell the petty lies we say every day. You have to not shrink from doing the right thing, because it is hard or scary. If you really think about it, you can think of times you could do more to help, or be a better person. It is part of being human.
The thing about the classic lawful good icon, he (or she) is better than us. Not in a I can beat you up sort of way, but in a Mother Theresa or Gandhi sense. These are people we should aspire to be like. They will not be cruel, they don’t torture, and they don’t willfully look away when someone else is doing wrong. They stand for justice and charity.
How do you translate that into being something you can play? Well, we have to return to that message in my article on playing evil PCs. Communication. Communication. Communication. You need to start by explaining to your fellow PCs and your DM what you are looking to do. Make sure everyone is okay with playing along. You really don’t want to be the dashing cavalier when everyone else is planning on doing dirty jobs for dirt cheap.
Once everyone knows what sort of characters they want to play, then try and work out how they work together. It may be, that everyone is okay with your characters morality setting the limits to behavior in the group. Try and work out how you will deal with the shady ones in your group. Threatening members of the group for not for not being as good a guy as you, is not actually a good idea. Try and work out with the player a way the conflict can bring some enjoyment and entertainment for all involved. And communicate.
Another thing to keep in mind is that being ultra good does not mean being unyielding and judgmental. One of the great stories to play with is the cleric in a party of more shady types. You can try and convert your party members to walk a more righteous path and that is good story. You don’t do this by condemning them, but by being a good example and calm voice. A great example of this is Shepard Book on Firefly. While he does not approve of their criminal ways, he stays with them, knowing they will need the good word more than those who already believe.
The classic D&D icons for the lawful good are Paladins and Clerics. The Paladin can be played as an ass. If you need an example of an unpleasant paladin, think of the witch-hunters in the real world who punished innocent women for essentially being midwives. That is turning good to evil, but still the paladin is the classic D&D idea of the sterling good. The thing to play to here is the knightly virtues: mercy, courage, valor, fairness, protection of the weak and the poor. These people should be above reproach. While they approach life with sword in hand, they are not bullies.
Clerics, of a good god are another one. Playing a man of peace, justice, and service to their god. Playing a pacifist priest, is a classic archetype I have enjoyed, but the more classic D&D Cleric was more active. Still, though, they were colored by the restrictions of their faith. In the early editions of the game, Clerics were not allowed to use a weapon with a blade, because they were not allowed to shed blood. Of course anyone who thought a mace could not shed blood obviously did not think that one out. The Cleric is ideal for playing to the “conversion and ministering to the needy” stories you may want to pursue.
In the Essentials products, they have introduced the Warpriest and the Knight. The Warpriest is pretty much the cleric listed above without the pacifist option. The Knight is a fighter build, but is an example of the paladin archetype, only without the divine power. A simple and humble knight can work just as well as the classic paladin. Indeed, what is more righteous, the man gifted by his god with the power to strike down evil, or the simple man with no such power who still stands, because it is the right thing to do.
You can be the upstanding good guy in most any class or race. One of my favorite 4th ed characters was a Tiefling Lawful Good cleric of Pelor. He was clearly playing against the racial stereo type. I did so by embracing completely the upstanding good guy icon instead. You can be deeply good guy rogue (raiding the temples of evil, for the greater good), a shaman of great peace and understanding, or monk whose inner calm is shared with all around him.
There are some classes less suited to the archetype. A Warlock, is really hard to see as being an easy mix with being a upstanding good guy. If you have made a deal with an infernal power, you are not really living up to the ideal of the paragon of good. Likewise the rage driven Barbarian is not an easy mix. That is not to say they can’t be the upstanding good guy. The Warlock who made the deal for power but see’s his error and now seeks redemption is a powerful story, or maybe a fey pact warlock serves a summer queen in all of her goodness and lives to her ideals. The possibilities are there.
A word of warning here. Try and avoid the cliche of the martyr. It is tempting to be the guy who must throw himself on every terrible fate to spare others, because the good always protects those around him. The martyr may be fun to read about, but it is kind of annoying to play with. If your in a D&D party, then you are all heroes of some stripe, or at the very least, able to take care of themselves. If the rogue is going to go disarm the terrible trap of doom, don’t jump in front of him to save him. He probably had it taken care of.
To sum up, to play a really good guy, is something worth doing, but it is not as easy as it looks. Whichever build or type you go with, make sure you make a distinction between being a good guy and being a pain. You can easily become an annoyance to your friends, if they are not playing the same sort of game as you, or at least how their concepts and yours work together. Try and communicate and it should all work out. Have fun and do some good.