Alignment (Dungeons & Dragons)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In Dungeons & Dragons , alignment is a categorisation of the moral and ethical perspective of the player characters, non-player characters, monsters, and societies in the game.
The system in the original Dungeons & Dragons consists of three alignments: Law, Neutrality and Chaos. In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, this became a two-dimensional grid, one axis of which measures a "moral" continuum between good and evil, and the other "ethical" between law and chaos. Those characters that fall on one of the extremes are "good" or "evil", "lawful" or "chaotic"; in addition, there is a middle ground of "neutrality" on both axes, describing characters that are indifferent, committed to balance, or conflicted about the struggle between good and evil (or law and chaos). By combining the two axes, any given character has one of nine possible alignments:
Game creator Gary Gygax largely derived the alignment system from the cosmology imagined by science fiction writer Michael Moorcock. This is especially evident in the original Dungeons & Dragons game, in which "lawful", "neutral" and "chaotic" were the only three alignments available, with "lawful" including characteristics ascribed to "good" and "chaotic" those ascribed to "evil". The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game revised the alignment system into the biaxial system that is currently used.
Gygax was also influenced by a novel by Poul Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions, in which the forces of law, the paladins of Charlemagne, were at war with the forces of Chaos, the faerie kingdom. Note that elves were of chaotic alignment in the original Dungeons & Dragons.
The first edition of Dungeons & Dragons suggested that Lawful Good was the "best" alignment and Chaotic Evil the "worst". Later editions moved away from this perspective, but continue to discourage player characters of the three evil alignments (Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil and Chaotic Evil).
Certain character classes are restricted in the sorts of alignment they can take. A paladin traditionally must be of Lawful Good alignment; while a monk must be lawful, but not necessarily good. Bards and barbarians are never lawful in alignment, while rogues seldom are. Clerics and other priests must uphold the alignments favored by their deities, typically within a one-step margin. Druids must be neutral along at least one axis (although in prior editions of the game, they had to be neutral on both axes). Assassins are always evil. These restrictions are typically enforced by loss of powers; for example, if a paladin commits an evil act, he immediately loses all his special powers until he atones. Additionally, a Dungeon Master may penalize a player character who acts in marked variance from her declared alignment or may shift the character's alignment to match the actual behaviour.
Players are usually discouraged from playing outright evil characters, leaving these alignments only for non-player characters, as evil characters don't make for heroic fantasy.
The alignment system was originally designed as a tool for the Dungeon Master, and not something the player needed to be much concerned about. As the system became more detailed, many Dungeon Masters used alignments as an encouragement for role-playing, by making stricter judgments over whether player characters' actions matched their alignments.
Dungeon Masters sometimes allow characters to be of an alignment falling between two of the traditional nine alignments; for instance, a character could be neutral good / lawful good, meaning that he is primarily neutral good but has lawful tendencies. Indeed, this system was supported canonically in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition, particularly in alignments of the Outer Planes as depicted in the Manual of the Planes; for example, neutral good / lawful good is the alignment of the plane of Bytopia. These Dungeon Masters treat alignment as a two-dimensional plane rather than a grid, allowing for a much greater range of alignments. Dungeon Masters using nine strict alignments have often had conflicts with players over punishments for behaviour on the borderlines of one alignment and the next (earlier editions of the game included severe penalties for changing alignment, or for repeated or flagrant violations of one's current alignment).
Good vs. Evil
Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices for a greater good than their personal convenience.
Evil implies a concern for one's own ambitions or desires without concern for its consequences to others, or an intentional effort to cause pain and suffering for others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is necessary or convenient to their goals. Others are actively malicious, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master.
Characters who are neutral with respect to good and evil have compunctions against killing the innocent but lack the commitment to make sacrifices to protect or help others. Neutral characters are generally committed to others by personal relationships rather than by a general sense of moral obligation.
Being good or evil can be a conscious choice, particularly in the case of characters or entities that recognize the objective existence of alignment in the default Dungeons & Dragons cosmology. For most people, though, being good or evil is an attitude that one recognizes but does not choose. Being neutral on the good/evil axis usually represents a lack of commitment one way or the other, but for some (particularly druids) it represents a positive commitment to a balanced view. While acknowledging that good and evil are objective states, not just opinions, these people maintain that a balance between the two is the proper place — if not for all people, then at least for themselves.
Animals and non-sentient creatures are neither good nor evil. Even man-eating carnivores and animals trained to kill are neutral because they lack the capacity to distinguish between morally right or wrong behaviour.
Law vs. Chaos
Law implies self-discipline, obedience to authority, and a favour of logic and reasoning over emotions. On the downside, lawfulness can include closed-mindedness, reactionary adherence to tradition, judgmentality, and a lack of adaptability. Those who consciously promote lawfulness say that only lawful behavior creates a society in which people can depend on each other and make the right decisions in full confidence that others will act as they should.
Chaos implies personal freedom, self-reliance, and impulsiveness. On the downside, chaos can include recklessness, resentment toward "legitimate" authority, and arbitrary actions. Those who promote chaotic behavior say that only unfettered personal freedom allows people to express themselves fully and lets society benefit from the potential that its individuals have within them.
A person who is neutral with respect to law and chaos has a normal respect for authority and is neither driven by emotions nor a strict code of conduct.
Devotion to law or chaos may be a conscious choice, but more often it is a personality trait that is recognized rather than being chosen. Neutrality on the law/chaos axis is usually simply a middle state, a state of not feeling compelled toward one side or the other. Some few such neutrals, however, espouse neutrality as superior to law or chaos, regarding law and chaos each as an extreme with its own blind spots and drawbacks.
Animals and other creatures incapable of ethical action are neutral. Dogs may be obedient and cats free-spirited, but they do not have the ethical capacity to be truly lawful or chaotic.
In Dungeons & Dragons there are nine separate alignment categories which characters can fall into:
Lawful Good combines honor and compassion for the innocent.
Lawful Good characters uphold society and its laws, believing that these laws are created to work for the good and prosperity of all. They believe that an ideal society is one with a well-organized government and law-abiding citizens. They are both honest and benevolent, and will work within the established system to change it for the better, and will strive to bring order to goodness that other good-aligned characters might pool their resources to better the world. Lawful Good characters combine commitment to oppose evil with discipline. Most Lawful Good characters live by a strict code of honor, or by the rules of conduct set down by their deity. They will generally selflessly act by these codes even at the cost of their own life.
It must however be stressed that blind obedience to local laws is not required by the Lawful Good alignment. For example, Paladins are not in violation of their alignment if they decide to take up arms against a usurper on behalf of the rightful king, even though that means going against the sedition laws instated by the usurper. This is because the word "law" is actually taken for the concept of "order", and order may fight order.
An incorruptible policeman, a ruler or politician who acts for the good of the people, and a heroic soldier who strictly obeys the laws of battle are all examples of Lawful Good characters.
This alignment desires good without bias for or against order.
Neutral Good characters do good for goodness' sake, not because they are directed to do so by the law or by whim. These characters believe that the forces of law and chaos should not moderate the need for people to do good. These characters will support social structures only when they are for the good of the community. If overthrowing an existing social order is what needs to be done to foster good, then they will not be afraid to do so. Their need to help others and reduce suffering may take precedence over all else.
A doctor who treats both sides in a fight, a knight who stands up to his own master to protect a wrongfully accused servant and an aid worker who feeds the starving in a war zone are all examples of Neutral Good characters.
Neutral Good has sometimes been described as the "purest" form of good, without bias towards law or chaos, though this has fallen out of favor recently with most of the gods of good being declared "Lawful Good", as well as their attendant servants.
Chaotic Good combines a good heart with a free spirit.
Heroes of the downtrodden, Chaotic Good characters act as their conscience directs them with little regard for what others expect. They believe firmly in making their own way in life, and dislike others who try to intimidate or use their authority on them. They are kind and benevolent, and are strong individualists, hostile to the claims of rules, regulations, and social order. These people will actively work to bring down unjust rulers and organizations and to liberate the oppressed. They find lawful societies distasteful and will often avoid them, living as nomads or hermits.
Noble rebel leaders fighting corrupt or venal regimes, vigilantes acting for what they see as the greater good, mercenaries who only work for the good guys, and anyone who "robs from the rich to give to the poor" are all examples of Chaotic Good characters.
Lawful Neutral combines reliability and honor, without moral bias.
Lawful Neutral characters are directed by law, logic, tradition, or personal code. Order and organization are paramount to them. They may believe in personal order and live by a code or standard, or believe in order for all and favor a strong, organized government, whether that is a compassionate democracy or an oppressive dictatorship.
This does not mean that Lawful Neutral characters are amoral or immoral, or do not have a moral compass; but simply that their moral considerations come a distant second to what their code, tradition or law dictates.
A functionary, soldier, or employee who follows orders without question regardless of the result; an arms dealer who sells wares to the highest bidder, whatever that bidder may do with them; and an impartial jurist who sticks rigidly to the rule book are all examples of Lawful Neutral characters.
The Neutral alignment is without prejudice or compulsion.
Neutral characters do whatever seems to be a good idea. They do not feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good and evil or order and chaos. They think of good as better than evil, after all, they would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. However, they are not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way.
This is the most common alignment of sentient creatures and the alignment of almost all animals and other creatures of very low intelligence.
Some Neutral characters commit themselves to a philosophy of neutrality. These people are extremely rare in a world where most people make value judgements, and are said to be "True Neutral."
True Neutral characters see good, evil, law and chaos as simply prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate that the middle way of neutrality is the best and most balanced road in the long run.
Some True Neutral characters will actively support neutrality and balance in the world. They will avoid having to support any one side, whether that be good or evil, order or chaos; and will work to see that all of these forces remain in balance.
Other True Neutrals are simply characters who are tired of this concept of 'morality', and find that they draw no meaning from it. These characters are not Neutral out of choice, but simply that they care not either way - they are passively Neutral, but still falls under the banner of True Neutral.
An example is a simple farmer whose only concern in life is to work his fields to feed himself and his family.
Druidic True Neutral
In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, all druids were True Neutral. The True Neutral alignment is central to the philosophy of neutral druids. This is not true for the newer rules, as druids are allowed to be of any Neutral alignment in the more recent 3.5 rules.
This is because a druid's main charges — plants, animals, and the health of the planetary ecology — essentially lack alignment or ethos. Therefore, druids can feel free to use almost any means necessary to protect them.
The druidic order works to maintain the natural balance among the alignments. However, druids do realize that the actions of others — including their own — will prove significant to the cosmic balance. The druid sees the friction between alignments as the driving force in the world.
When faced with a tough decision, a druid usually stands behind the solution that best serves nature in the long run.
A good example of Druidic True Neutrality is a druid helping a village fend off gnolls. However, when the gnolls are close to near extinction, the druid will start the gnolls side to protect them until their race is preserved.
Chaotic Neutral is freedom from both society's restrictions and a do-gooder's zeal.
Chaotic Neutral characters follow their whims. They are individualists first and last. They value their own liberty but do not strive to protect the freedom of others. They avoid authority, resent restrictions, and challenge traditions. Chaotic Neutral characters don't intentionally disrupt organizations as part of a campaign of anarchy. To do so, they would have to be motivated either by Good (a desire to help people) or by Evil (a desire to hurt people).
Chaotic Neutral characters may be unpredictable, but their behavior is not totally random - they are not as likely to jump off a bridge as to cross it. However, they do act on momentary whims, and are known to be unreliable. As some would say, "the only reliable thing about them is that they cannot be relied upon!"
A wandering rogue who lives both by work for hire and petty theft, an eccentric mage who experiments with dangerous magic just to view the results, and a con-artist or hustler who plays all sides against the middle to further his own aims are all examples of Chaotic Neutral characters.
Strongly Chaotic Neutral
There are some Chaotic Neutral characters, such as the Xaositects, who choose to act in a manner that is as random as possible. Such people will regularly change their appearance, their attitudes, even the way they speak . These characters see chaos as the most important force in the universe (similar to how Lawful Neutral characters may see Law as a force upheld regardless of consequences). As a result, these characters might intentionally disrupt organisations on the simple basis that organizations are lawful entities which oppose the chaos. Such characters may appear insane to those not similarly inclined towards chaos.
Lawful Evil is the methodical, intentional, and frequently successful devotion to a cruel organized system.
Lawful Evil characters methodically take what they want within the limits of their personal code of conduct (which are frequently their laws, as this alignment tends to only work for people in positions of power) without regard for whom it hurts. They care about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. They play by the rules, but do so without mercy or compassion. They are comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but are willing to serve. They are loath to break promises, and are therefore very cautious about giving their word unless a bargain is clearly in their favour.
This reluctance comes partly from their nature and partly because they depend on order to protect themselves from those who oppose them on moral grounds. Some lawful evil villains have particular taboos, such as not killing in cold blood (but having underlings do it) or not letting children come to harm (if it can be helped). They feel these personal morals put them above unprincipled villains but also know that they are protected by the orderly, systematic structure they exist in.
A member of a cult practising human sacrifice and torture but with a strict code of conduct and hierarchy, a ruthless dictator or king who rules with an iron fist and kills those who oppose him and a scheming Grand Vizier are all examples of Lawful Evil characters. Devils are considered the embodiment of Lawful Evil. Another example is a leader of an organized crime family who demands loyalty and order and yet kills those who get in the way of business.
Neutral Evil is pure pragmatism without honor and without variation.
Neutral Evil characters do whatever they can get away with. They are out for themselves, pure and simple. They shed no tears for those they kill, whether for profit, sport, or convenience, and have no love of order. They hold no illusions that following laws, traditions, or codes would make them any better or more noble. On the other hand, they do not possess the restless nature or love of conflict that a Chaotic Evil villain has.
Some Neutral Evil villains hold up evil as an ideal, committing evil for its own sake. Most often, such villains are devoted to evil deities or secret societies.
Career criminals, particularly those who harm others for money, such as hitmen, are the most obvious example of Neutral Evil.
Chaotic Evil characters do whatever their greed, hatred, and lust for destruction drives them to do. If they are simply out for whatever they can get, they are ruthless and brutal. If they are committed to the spread of evil and chaos, they are even worse. Most prefer to work alone but will sometimes join or form a group which usually doesn't last very long. Typically, chaotic evil people can be made to work together by force or through self-interest, and their leader lasts only as long as he can thwart assassination attempts.
These characters will commit any act to further their own ends. Chaotic Evil is sometimes called "demonic" because demons are the embodiment of Chaotic Evil.
Many serial killers would fit this description, as would indeed most of the more violent and reckless criminals found in the worst sorts of places. Psychopathy, as defined by the twenty points of Hare's Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) certainly comes close to the concept of Chaotic Evil. However, not all Chaotic Evil characters are psychopaths. Raistlin from Dragonlance was Chaotic Evil in that all he cared about was his power and ambitions. He betrayed his friends and even his evil Goddess, Takhisis, to further his own ends. He had no allegiance to anyone but himself and was willing to destroy everything to become a god.