Redefining Alignment

Asymmetrical symbol of Chaos“Do you think you know what the word Chaotic means?


Are you sure?

Care to place a wager…”

Andy Collins, RPG System Design & Development Manager, Wizards of the Coast R&D

A while back, I got into a discussion over on Andy Collins’ message boards regarding alignment. It was called Redefining Lawfulness, and was created because the Law/Chaos axis of the D&D alignment system is not nearly as well-defined as the Good/Evil side.

Despite the focus on Law/Chaos, I felt the Good/Evil definitions were also very vague, and far too wordy. So pretty early on in the discussion, I proposed a new set of simple, yet complete, definitions for all four axes. I’ll be using these as my own guidelines when alignment questions come up in my new game that’s starting soon, and I’m going to share them with you now.

So, I may as well just quote from my original post, first. The conversation quickly included a Spock quote (“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”) to try to help define Law. I took that general structure for my definition, though the terms changed a fair amount.

But perhaps we need to change the classic Spock quote around a bit, in order for it to match the alignments.

Good — The needs of others outweigh the needs of yourself.

Evil — The needs of yourself outweigh the needs of others.

Law — The needs of society outweigh the needs of the individual.

Chaos — The needs of the individual outweigh the needs of society.

… I think this covers it quite well, actually. Let’s break it down into the corner alignments, as well.

Lawful Good — Upholding society or organization to fulfill the needs of others, even if it means sacrificing your own needs.

Chaotic Good — The needs of other individuals take top priority (even if that means all of the people in a kingdom, it’s still their individual needs), even if it means sacrificing your own needs.

Lawful Evil — Creating an efficient society/organization so as to best fulfill your personal needs.

Chaotic Evil — Personal, individual needs take priority over all others.

Keep in mind that in order to uphold a society or organization (or to keep an efficient society running for your own benefit), there needs to be certain codes in place. This, therefore, covers honour and all that as well. This was from my early post, and no longer applies. Codes, laws, and honour are not solely the area of Lawful in this new definition, though Lawful people are still more likely to follow codes of honour.

Remember as well that there are different strengths to these beliefs. A Good person, for instance, may be passively Good (attempts to not let others come to harm through his actions) or actively Good (actively seeks to help others). An Evil person, similarly, may actively harm others in order to accomplish his goals, but they also may just ignore the consequences to others as a result of their actions.

The neutral alignments in this definition structure are rather vague, still. A neutral on the Good/Evil axis may tolerate the suffering of others, may help others as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them greatly or it benefits them as well, may hurt others so long as the benefits from it outweigh the damage caused. The reluctant hero and the thief with a conscience all fall under Neutral.

On the Law/Chaos side, there are similar levels of Lawfulness or Chaosness… Chaoticness… Chaositude. Law, for instance, may range from “respects the hierarchy and works within it happily” to “believes that only a well-structured, well-ordered society can possibly provide for the needs of its citizens”, even if that means that some of its citizens get executed, remain poor and hungry, etc. Chaos, on the other hand, can be anywhere between “free-spirited hippy who doesn’t like to see individual rights stepped on” to “No laws will ever respect individual rights! Abolish government, and let the people resolve conflicts personally on their own terms! Anarchy! Anarchy! Anarchy!!!!!”

The neutral aspect of Law/Chaos is somewhere in between, of course. They may not like the hierarchy, though they contentedly live within it. They may not like laws that diminish individual rights, though they see the use of them. (Neutral Evil would only have a problem with laws that diminish their own personal rights, of course, but the point still stands.) Democracy, for instance, is a Law/Chaos Neutral (likely Neutral Good) construct, where the individual desires and societal needs come together in order to govern. (LG and CG do, of course, use democracy to further L or C, but it is still an inherently N concept.)

We went through many discussions, and many examples. If you feel like it, you can read them all here. (I go by ShadoStahker in the conversation.)

I think this would make a nice, clear, concise alignment chapter, don’t you?


ChattyDm  on January 4th, 2008

I see the essence of Great Grahamism in these short, to the point definitions.

Neutrality could also be defined with the concepts of balance and equality. (At least true Neutrality)…. But I prefer the L1G1 or C1E1 aspects of neutrality.

Good work mate.

Tommi  on January 4th, 2008

Pretty nice definitions, in that they are clear and easy to remember. The real question is, of course, how do they get used when gaming?

Graham  on January 4th, 2008

What do you mean? They would be used like the normal alignment definitions, as a roleplaying aid for character actions.

They aren’t hard and fast rules, of course, and alignment shouldn’t be that.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re asking?

Tommi  on January 4th, 2008

Just that “used like normal” varies a lot from group to group.

For example: Does alignment change because of actions or does it limit them (in fiction, out of fiction)? Is alignment a matter of belief, actions, will to act, or something else?

On more practical level: Is alignment only a tool that players can refer to if they aren’t sure what their character would do? How is it changed, if that ever happens? Are class alignment restrictions still relevant (all monks, the people who devote themselves completely to personal perfection, value society above individual)?

Are paladins justified to slay all evil beings when their evil-radar blings? What about baby kobolds? Or are such situations simply not encountered in the game? Are undead evil by definition? Can there be mindless evil creatures?

I could go on. The point is that the big question about alignment is not, IMO, the definitions, but instead the way those definitions are used.

Graham  on January 4th, 2008

Ah, yes. Agreed.

In that case, the answer would still be “use like normal”, whatever that normal might be for your group.

I’m not about to tell someone how to play “right”. Though I’ll gladly explain how I play, it’s not necessarily “right”.

This topic came about as part of a discussion about clarifying the definitions for Law and Chaos, so that’s all I covered.

As for the rest, I’ll leave that up to the individual groups. 😛

On that note, here are my personal answers.

Actions dictate alignment, not vice versa, though alignment is a useful tool for guiding actions.

Alignment restrictions are stupid to begin with. As such, all alignment restrictions are gone for my games. Monks will tend to be Neutral on the Law/Chaos axis, believing in a balance in the world, though that of course won’t apply to all of them. Paladins may tend to be good, but it is unnecessary. I have personally played a Chaotic Neutral Gully Dwarf Paladin, years ago. Similarly, Bards and Barbarians may tend to chaos, but there is nothing preventing a Lawful Barbarian (which may make a lot of sense in a hierarchal tribe) or Bard.

Paladins are not, and never have been, justified to kill just because someone is “Evil”.

Mindless undead are neutral by definition, just as golems are. Intelligent undead may tend towards evil, but it is not a given.

Those are my answers to your questions. I could discuss this all day. In fact, on those same boards that spawned this topic, we’ve been discussing it for weeks. 8)

Tommi  on January 6th, 2008

Personally I don’t use alignment (but I don’t play a lot of D&D or Palladium, either, so it doesn’t actually come up). But the ways in which people handle it are interesting.

Back in the old days I have participated in quite a few alignment “debates” on WotC’s and Dicefreaks’ forums, together with Vaalingrade Ashland and the rest. Interesting, in its own way.

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