“How can one be well...when one suffers morally?”
―War and Peace
|Good and Evil, and the Bits In Between|
It’s a bone of contention for some. It’s restrictive, they say, confining. Maybe. Maybe not. It does give the player an architype to shoot for. A moral, or immoral, compass, if you will. It doesn’t need to be accurate from a RW point of view. This is D&D, after all, fantasy, not reality. There are no drow lurking in the depths of the earth, no marauding orcs, no dragons, just people, most of us largely unaligned, in game terms. Animals certainly are. They are only concerned with whether they are fed, or fodder.
We humans are a little more complex, I imagine, than our pets, although even they exhibit quite a range of polarity. But we are on a different plane, aren’t we? Even so, we are not chained to adherence to Law, or the Cause of Good, unlike solars, and demons, and modrons, which are actually defined by their higher planes they exist on. No Chaotic could hope to survive on the plane opposite theirs. Nevertheless, few would argue that there are free spirits among us. Those prone to belligerence and sedition. And a few who are undoubtedly evil.
We all have a good idea what Good and Evil are. Law and Chaos is fairly obvious, too, if not as well defined or understood as an ethos. Neutrality of any sort is the grey zone where arguments arise.
I doubt that anyone would deny that there has always been a struggle between Good and Evil. Our literature is rife with it. Is there actually one between Law and Chaos? Michael Moorcock would say there is. In his multiverse, Law (Singularity) and Chaos (Entropy) are locked in endless struggle. Too much entropy and the structure of the universe will break down and result in infinite raw possibility, nothingness. Too much law and singular purpose will eliminate chance. No more creation. The multiverse will stagnate, becoming a static, sterile wasteland, nothingness.
Those possibilities horrified my younger self, and resonates with me still, as noted in my earlier post, On the Green God and the Elder Evil, Part 3.
What exactly is “alignment?” I’ve heard/read quite a few views on this divisive subject over time, most of them personal opinions and not canonical.
One needs go back to the original source to know what alignment really is. AD&D 1e goes into far greater depth than later editions do, which tend to drift further from its presumed importance, so I’ll lean on it rather than the others. I will reference 5e, it being the most recent iteration at the time of this posting, to compare how the definition of the alignments have evolved, if at all.
Good [and] Evil: Basically stated, the tenets of good are human rights, or in the case of ADBD, creature rights. Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom, and the prospect of happiness. Cruelty and suffering are undesirable. Evil, on the other hand, does not concern itself with rights or happiness; purpose is the determinant. [DMG 1e – 23]
That’s illuminating: rights VS purpose.
Law [and] Chaos: The opposition here is between organized groups and individuals. That is, law dictates that order and organization is necessary and desirable, while chaos holds to the opposite view. Law generally supports the group as more important than the individual, while chaos promotes the individual over the group. [DMG 1e – 23]
How does that break down into the “accepted” nine alignment? I’ll begin with the definition presented to players, and compare that with the one given to DMs.
Creatures of lawful good alignment view the cosmos with varying degrees of lawfulness or desire for good. They are convinced that order and law are absolutely necessary to assure good, and that good is best defined as whatever brings the most benefit to the greater number of decent, thinking creatures and the least woe to the rest. [DMG 1e – 23]
Lawful good (LG) creatures can be counted on to do the right thing as expected by society. Gold dragons, paladins, and most dwarves are lawful good. [PHB 5e – 122]
The 5e definition is extremely simplified. Vague, in fact, to my mind. Each will be, as 5e steers clear of alignment, to my mind, allowing players to define their characters as they see fit. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not OSR.
Are the above helpful? I think so, but the corners of the spectrum are the easiest to wrap your head around. If only there was a simple checklist that might illuminate the above descriptions.
Actually, there was one:
· Will keep their word if they give it· Would not attack an unarmed foe· Will not use poison· Will help those in need· Prefers to work with others· Responds well to higher authority· Trustful of organizations
[From Another View of the Nine-Point Alignment Scheme, by Carl Parlagreco, from Dragon #26, 1979 – 23]
Each of the other nine is treated to the same bullets. Take careful note of the WILL, MAY, and WILL NOT texts. The PREFERENCEs and INDIFFERENCEs.
There was a time when paladins could only be LG. No more. Personally, I wish WotC would have renamed them Holy Warriors, or some such. But they did not, sparking decades of debates between grognards and new players ever more.
Those of this alignment view regulation as all-important, taking a middle road betwixt evil and good. This is because the ultimate harmony of the world – and the whole of the universe – is considered by lawful neutral creatures to have its sole hope rest upon law and order. Evil or good are immaterial beside the determined purpose of bringing all to predictability and regulation. [PHB 1e – 33]
It is the view of this alignment that law and order give purpose and meaning to everything. Without regimentation and strict definition, there would be no purpose in the cosmos. Therefore, whether a law is good or evil is of no import as long as it brings order and meaning. [DMG 1e – 23]
Lawful neutral (LN) individuals act in accordance with law, tradition, or personal codes. Many monks and some wizards are lawful neutral. [PHB 5e – 122]
· Will keep their word if they give it· May attack an unarmed foe· May use poison· May help those in need· Prefers to work with others· Responds well to higher authority· Trustful of organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]
I’ve heard LN described as the ideal judge, but the bullets tell a different tale. Judges act alone, albeit with tomes of laws and precedents at their disposal.
Obviously, all order is not good, nor are all laws beneficial. Lawful evil creatures consider order as the means by which each group is properly placed in the cosmos, from lowest to highest, strongest first, weakest last. Good is seen as an excuse to promote the mediocrity of the whole and suppress the better and more capable, while lawful evilness allows each group to structure itself and fix its place as compared to others, serving the stronger but being served by the weaker. [DMG 1e – 23]
Lawful evil (LE) creatures methodically take what they want, within the limits of a code of tradition, loyalty, or order. Devils, blue dragons, and hobgoblins are lawful evil. [PHB 5e – 122]
· Will keep their work if they give it· Would attack an unarmed foe· Will use poison· Will not help those in need· Prefers to work with others· Responds well to higher authority· Trustful of organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]
Creatures of this alignment see the cosmos as a place where law and chaos are merely tools to use in bringing life, happiness, and prosperity to all deserving creatures. Order is not good unless it brings this to all; neither is randomness and total freedom desirable if it does not bring such good. [DMG 1e – 23]
Neutral good (NG) folk do the best they can to help others according to their needs. Many celestials, some cloud giants, and most gnomes are neutral good. [PHB 5e – 122]
· Will keep their word to others of good alignment· Would not attack an unarmed foe· Will not use poison· Will help those in need· May work with others· Indifferent to higher authority· Indifferent to organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]
How would they know if someone is of good alignment without having cast a spell? Presumed good alignment would have been better phrasing.
Absolute, or true, neutral creatures view everything which exists as an integral, necessary port or function of the entire cosmos. Each thing exists as a part of the whole, one as a check or balance to the other, with life necessary for death, happiness for suffering, good for evil, order far chaos, and vice versa. Nothing must ever become predominant or out of balance. Within this naturalistic ethos, humankind serves a role also, just as all other creatures do. They may be more or less important, but the neutral does not concern himself or herself with these considerations except where it is positively determined that the balance is threatened. Absolute neutrality is in the central or fulcrum position quite logically, as the neutral sees all other alignments as parts of a necessary whole. This alignment is the narrowest in scope. [DMG 1e – 23]
Neutral (N) is the alignment of those who prefer to steer clear of moral questions and don't take sides, doing what seems best at the time. Lizardfolk, most druids, and many humans are neutral. [PHB 5e – 122]
· Will keep their word if in their best interest· May attack an unarmed foe· May use poison· May help those in need· May work with others· Indifferent to higher authority· Indifferent or organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]
Remember when druids had to be True Neutral? That said, when did Rob Kuntz’s Dark Druids make their debut? The module was published in 2015, but they are far older than that, as noted in the blurb:
“Dark Druids includes complete descriptions and maps for an outdoor area and a three-level adventure site, and is easily adaptable to most campaign settings. It also includes an outline for further adventuring, a selection of new monsters, spells, and magic items, plus Robert J. Kuntz’s historical context and commentary on this module’s relationship to his campaigns of the 1970’s.”
One wonders if Gary Gygax and Rob were not as constrained by their own rules as we were.
Similar to the neutral good alignment, that of neutral evil holds that neither groups nor individuals hove great meaning. This ethos holds that seeking to promote weal for all actually brings woe to the truly deserving. Natural forces which are meant to cull out the weak and stupid are artificially suppressed by so-called good, and the fittest are wrongfully held back, so whatever means are expedient can be used by the powerful to gain and maintain their dominance, without concern for anything. [DMG 1e – 23]
Neutral evil (NE) is the alignment of those who do whatever they can get away with, without compassion or qualms. Many drow, some cloud giants, and yugoloths are neutral evil. [PHB 5e – 122]
· Will not necessarily keep their word· Would attack an unarmed foe· Will use poison· Will not help those in need· May work with others· Indifferent to higher authority· Indifferent or organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]
Need one follow these points to the letter? Of course not. NEs will help those in need, if doing so helps them achieve their goals.
To the chaotic good individual, freedom and independence are as important to life and happiness. The ethos views this freedom as the only means by which each creature con achieve true satisfaction and happiness. Law, order, social forms, and anything else which tends to restrict or abridge individual freedom is wrong, and each individual is capable of achieving self-realization and prosperity through himself, herself, or itself. [DMG 1e – 23]
Chaotic good (CG) creatures act as their conscience directs, with little regard for what others expect. Copper dragons, many elves, and unicorns are chaotic good. [PHB 5e – 122]
· Will keep their word to others of good alignment· Would not attack an unarmed foe· Will not use poison· Will help those in need· Prefers to work alone· Responds poorly to higher authority· Distrustful of organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]
This view of the cosmos holds that obsolete freedom is necessary. Whether the individual exercising such freedom chooses to do good or evil is of no concern. After all, life itself is law and order, so death is a desirable end. Therefore, life can only be justified as a tool by which order is combatted, and in the end it too will pass into entropy. [DMG 1e – 24]
Chaotic neutral (CN) creatures follow their whims, holding their personal freedom above all else. Many barbarians and rogues, and some bards, are chaotic neutral. [PHB 5e – 122]
· Will keep their word if in their best interest· May attack an unarmed foe· May use poison· May help those in need· Prefers to work alone· Responds poorly to higher authority· Distrustful of organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]
Is this the most contentious of all the alignments? It could be.
How many of you have came face to face with players playing CN as CE, or as hopelessly random, and decidedly insane PCs?
The chaotic evil creature holds that individual freedom and choice is important, and that other individuals and their freedoms are unimportant if they cannot be held by the individuals through their own strength and merit. Thus, law and order tends to promote not individuals but groups, and groups suppress individual volition and success. [DMG 1e – 24]
Chaotic evil (CE) creatures act with arbitrary violence, spurred by their greed, hatred, or bloodlust. Demons, red dragons, and orcs are chaotic evil. [PHB 5e – 122]
· Will not necessarily keep their word· Would attack an unarmed foe· Will use poison· Will not help those in need· Prefers to work alone· Responds poorly to higher authority· Distrustful of organizations
[Dragon #26 – 23]
If I were to ban a particular alignment, it would have to be this one. I cannot see how anyone playing CE as written would not be dead in the first session, or on the lam for their remaining (short) life.
If there was ever an alignment type that could break a campaign, it would be this one.
Only the most thoughtful, and cunning, of players could pull this off without the above assured outcomes.
Do I like alignment? I do. As I said in the opening paragraphs, it gives a player a moral compass. Is it entirely necessary? No. A great many games have no such device. If you do not use it, players can do whatever they wish, without “moral” guidance as to what their ethos is. To my mind, that’s an accuse to play Evil without declaring Evil. That’s what the 4e’s “Unaligned” boils down to, doesn’t it? Players can kill and torture with abandon, and save the child, and brush off all criticism with a wave of a hand and a callously uttered, I’m unaligned.
Alignment can add a level of complexity that being unaligned does not. How many people contributed to, participated in, the Holocaust, and were not evil? I was just following orders.
Have I taken them? I have.
What’s my alignment, you ask?
That would be telling. And inadvisable.
Any character foolish enough to announce his or her alignment by publicly crying out in that alignment tongue will incur considerable social sanctions. At best he or she will be thought unmannerly, rude, boorish, and stupid. [DMG 1e – 24]
So, I think I’ll keep that to myself.
“I learned from him that often contradiction is the clearest way to truth”
One must always give credit where credit is due. This History is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them.
All art is wholly owned by the artist.
The Alignment chart, from Players Handbook 1e, 1978
2010 Players Handbook 1st Ed., 1978
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
Players handbook 5th Ed., 2014
Dragon Magazine 26
The Dragonlance trilogy, by Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The War of the Twins trilogy, by Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The sagas of Elric of Melnibone, and of Corum Jhaelen Irsei, by Michael Moorcock