The other week I wrote a post where the thesis was that D&D isn't a role-playing game because you don't actually have to get into character in order to play it. you can use your character as a really complicated pawn in a really complicated game of Candyland, more or less. That was the thrust of the post.
But now I'm going to argue the other thing: Now I'm going to argue that D&D is explicitly a role-playing game, and there are indeed game mechanics that require you to play a role in the world and think of your complicated pawn as a person rather than a piece of plastic that gets to send other plastic pawns back to start if you pull the right card from the deck.
Wow, that was a tortured analogy!
In Mythical Journeys, I spend about as much time talking about alignment as I do talking about any of the individual character classes; about as much time as I spend talking about encumbrance; more time than I spend on language or on the chase rules; almost as much time as I spend talking about jousting. It's really a remarkably important thing when I play D&D.
There is a game-mechanical aspect to it: it grants you an alignment language for free.
Specifically for the Cleric (and then for the Paladin, Druid and Thief), alignment matters quite a bit. Different nonhuman fantasy races line up on one side or the other of the Great Alignment debate just by virtue of being born that race. It's clearly something woven into the universe in which D&D resides.
In the case of the Cleric, you might even say that the Anti-Cleric or Evil high Priest is a different character class, because they only have access to the reversed version of spells and reverse undead turning. (I'm not sure I go that far, but it's a fair thing to conjecture.)
Therefore it's both mechanically important and enforces the implied setting to a moderate-to-strong degree.
A pawn can't have morals or ethics. A pawn knows not good from evil. Only a sapient being with agency can know good and evil and act upon that knowledge. Therefore D&D does require you to inhabit your man and breathe life into him like he's a real person. No pure pawn will do.
Therefore D&D is indeed a role-playing game.
NEXT TIME: What the heck is Lawful (Good)?