Alignment (Dungeons & Dragons)
The earliest edition of D&D allowed players to choose among three alignments when creating a character: lawful, implying honor and respect for society's rules; chaotic, implying the opposite; and neutral, meaning neither. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) introduced a second axis of Good, Neutral and Evil, offering a combination of nine alignments. The D&D Basic Set retained the system of three alignments, keeping it through the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.
The nine alignments can be represented in a grid, as follows:
|Lawful Good||Neutral Good||Chaotic Good|
|Lawful Neutral||Neutral||Chaotic Neutral|
|Lawful Evil||Neutral Evil||Chaotic Evil|
This schema of nine alignments was used throughout the original AD&D and the second edition of AD&D, as well as the successor game, the third edition of D&D. The fourth edition of D&D, released in 2008, reduced the number of alignments to five: Lawful Good, Good, Unaligned, Evil, and Chaotic Evil. The fifth edition of D&D returns to the previous schema of nine alignments.
D&D creator Gary Gygax credited the inspiration for the alignment system to the fantasy stories of Michael Moorcock and Poul Anderson. The game's alignment system from the original 1974 boxed set initially featured only Law, Neutrality and Chaos. Law generally equated to good and heroism, and Chaos implied anarchy and evil; however, the good and evil parallels were not strongly defined. Dwarves were Lawful and elves Chaotic, while humans could be any of the three alignments.
The 1977 printing of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set added the good/evil alignment axis to the existing law/chaos axis. Characters and creatures could be lawful and evil at the same time (such as a tyrant), or chaotic but good (such as Robin Hood). Nine alignment combinations became possible in all. For example, lawful good (LG) or neutral evil (NE) are two possible alignments, referred to with the law/chaos component first and the good/evil component last. A character or creature considered neutral on both axes is referred to as True Neutral or simply Neutral.
Under the 2nd edition of AD&D rules, a character who performed too many actions outside of his alignment could find their alignment changed, with penalties requiring more experience to be gained to reach the next level. The 3rd edition of D&D removed this restriction.
In the 3rd edition of D&D, a character's alignment can restrict what character classes the character may take. For example, a lawful character cannot become a bard or a barbarian, a druid must be neutral in at least one aspect, and only Lawful Good characters can become a paladin. Certain weapons (such as a Holy weapon) or spells (such as detect evil) affect creatures differently depending on alignment.
A rule removed from recent editions of the game was alignment languages, wherein people of the same alignment could communicate through insinuations and intimations that only really make sense between those of like-minded affiliation with an aspect of a universal standard of ethic and morality.
The 4th edition simplified alignments by merging them into a single continuum, eliminating the Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, and Lawful Evil alignments. The remaining alignments are:
- Lawful Good: Civilization and order.
- Good: Freedom and kindness.
- Unaligned: Having no alignment; not taking a stand.
- Evil: Tyranny and hatred.
- Chaotic Evil: Entropy and destruction.
The 5th edition uses the nine alignment system from the 1st though 3rd editions.
Richard Bartle's Designing Virtual Worlds noted that alignment is a way to categorize players, along with gender, race (or what would be called by sub-species in the real world), character class, and sometimes nationality. Alignment was designed to help with roleplaying. A player character's alignment can be seen as their outlook on life. Players decide how their characters should behave when they assign them an alignment, then play them based on that decision.
Notable character class restrictions during some editions of the game included the Paladin, who had to be Lawful Good; the Druid, who had to be Neutral Neutral; the Ranger, who had to be Chaotic or Neutral Good; and the Thief, who could not be Lawful. Alignment is important for Clerics as well. D&D's gods are "strongly aligned", and their clerics must follow a similar alignment.
Alignments can change. If a Lawful Neutral character consistently performs good acts, when neutral or evil actions were possible, their alignment will shift to Lawful Good. In games, the referee (or Dungeon Master) decides when alignment violations occur because it is subjective.
Characters in a party should have compatible alignments. Lawful Good characters are compatible with Lawful Evil characters if they have a common goal, but the addition of a Chaotic Evil character may tear the party apart. The authors of Dungeon Master For Dummies have found that a party of good or neutral characters works better: the impetus for adventures is easier, group dynamics are smoother, and it allows the "heroic aspects of 'D&D' [to] shine through".
Law vs. Chaos
The law versus chaos axis in D&D predates good versus evil in the game rules. In esoteric Greyhawk setting lore, too, the precepts of law and chaos predate good and evil in the world's prehistory.
Originally the Law/Chaos axis was defined as the distinction between "the belief that everything should follow an order, and that obeying rules is the natural way of life" and "the belief that life is random, and that chance and luck rule the world". According to the early rulebook, lawful characters were driven to protect the interest of the group above the interest of the individual and would strive to be honest and to obey just and fair laws. Chaotic creatures and individuals embraced the individual above the group and viewed laws and honesty as unimportant. At that time, the rulebook specified that "Chaotic behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called "evil". Neutral creatures and characters believed in the importance of both group and individual, and felt that law and chaos were both important. They believed in maintaining the balance between law and chaos and were motivated by self-interest.
The third edition D&D rules define law and chaos as follows:
Law implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability. On the downside, lawfulness can include closed-mindedness, reactionary adherence to tradition, judgmentalness, 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 freedom, adaptability, and flexibility. On the downside, chaos can include recklessness, resentment toward legitimate authority, arbitrary actions, and irresponsibility. 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.
Someone who is neutral with respect to law and chaos has a normal respect for authority and feels neither a compulsion to follow rules nor a compulsion to rebel. They are honest but can be tempted into lying or deceiving others if it suits him/her.
It is more common in the game for creatures to be neutral with regard to law/chaos than good/evil. Certain extraplanar creatures, such as the numerous and powerful Modrons, are always lawful. Conversely, Slaadi are chaotic, representing beings of chaos. Dwarven societies are usually lawful, while Elven societies are most often chaotic.
Good vs. Evil
The conflict of good versus evil is a common motif in D&D and other fantasy fiction. Although player characters can adventure for personal gain rather than from altruistic motives, it is generally assumed that the player characters will be opposed to evil and often fight evil creatures.
The third edition D&D rules define good and evil as follows:
Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others.
Evil implies harming, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient or if it can be set up. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some malevolent deity or master.
People 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 people are committed to others by personal relationships.
Within the game, Paladins, altruistic heroes and creatures such as angels are considered good aligned. Villains and violent criminals are considered evil, as are inherently evil creatures such as demons and most undead. Animals are considered neutral even when they attack innocents, because they act on natural instinct and lack the intelligence to make moral decisions.
While the perception of and choice of alignment has shifted over the years in the D&D game milieu, there have been as many as nine alignments possible for people, creatures, deities and extraplanar realms.
A Lawful Good character typically acts with compassion, and always with honor and a sense of duty. A Lawful Good nation would consist of a well-organized government that works for the benefit of its citizens. Lawful Good characters include righteous knights, paladins, and most dwarves. Lawful Good creatures include the noble golden dragons.
Lawful Good characters, especially paladins, may sometimes find themselves faced with the dilemma of whether to obey law or good when the two conflict — for example, upholding a sworn oath when it would lead innocents to come to harm — or conflicts between two orders, such as between their religious law and the law of the local ruler.
A Neutral Good character is guided by his conscience and typically acts altruistically, without regard for or against Lawful precepts such as rules or tradition. A Neutral Good character has no problems with co-operating with lawful officials, but does not feel beholden to them. In the event that doing the right thing requires the bending or breaking of rules, they do not suffer the same inner conflict that a Lawful Good character would.
A Chaotic Good character favors change for a greater good, disdains bureaucratic organizations that get in the way of social improvement, and places a high value on personal freedom, not only for oneself, but for others as well. They always intend to do the right thing, but their methods are generally disorganized and often out of sync with the rest of society. They may create conflict in a team if they feel they are being pushed around, and often view extensive organization and planning as pointless, preferring to improvise.
A Lawful Neutral character typically believes strongly in Lawful concepts such as honor, order, rules and tradition, and often follows a personal code. A Lawful Neutral society would typically enforce strict laws to maintain social order, and place a high value on traditions and historical precedent. Examples of Lawful Neutral characters might include a soldier who always follows orders, a judge or enforcer that adheres mercilessly to the word of the law, and a disciplined monk.
Characters of this alignment are neutral with regard to good and evil. 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. They typically have a strong ethical code, but it is primarily guided by their system of belief, not by a commitment to good or evil.
A Neutral character represents Neutral on both axes, and tends not to feel strongly towards any alignment. A farmer whose primary overriding concern is to feed his family is of this alignment. Most animals, lacking the capacity for moral judgment, are of this alignment since they are guided by instinct rather than conscious decision. Many roguish characters who play all sides to suit themselves are also of this alignment (such as a weapon merchant with no qualms selling his wares to both sides of a war for a profit).
Some Neutral characters, rather than feeling undecided, are committed to a balance between the alignments. They may see good, evil, law and chaos as simply prejudices and dangerous extremes. Mordenkainen is one such character who takes this concept to the extreme, dedicating himself to a detached philosophy of neutrality to ensure that no one alignment or power takes control of the Flanaess.
Druids frequently follow this True Neutral dedication to balance, and under Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules were required to be this alignment. In an example given in the 2nd Edition Player's Handbook, a typical druid might fight against a band of marauding gnolls, only to switch sides to save the gnolls' clan from being totally exterminated.
A Chaotic Neutral character is an individualist who follows his or her own heart, and generally shirks rules and traditions. Although they promote the ideals of freedom, it is their own freedom that comes first. Good and Evil come second to their need to be free. Chaotic Neutral characters are free-spirited and do not enjoy the unnecessary suffering of others, but if they join a team, it is because that team's goals happen to coincide with their own at the moment. They invariably resent taking orders and can be very selfish in their pursuit of personal goals. A Chaotic Neutral character does not have to be an aimless wanderer; they may have a specific goal in mind, but their methods of achieving that goal are often disorganized, unorthodox, or entirely unpredictable.
A subset of Chaotic Neutral is: "strongly Chaotic Neutral"; describing a character who behaves chaotically to the point of appearing insane. Characters of this type may regularly change their appearance and attitudes for the sake of change and intentionally disrupt organizations for the sole reason of disrupting a lawful institution. Characters of this type include the Xaositects from the Planescape setting, and Hennet from the third edition Player's Handbook. In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Chaotic Neutral was mistakenly assumed to refer to this subset.
A Lawful Evil character sees a well-ordered system as being easier to exploit, and shows a combination of desirable and undesirable traits; while they usually obey their superiors and keep their word, they care nothing for the rights and freedoms of other individuals and are not averse to twisting the rules to work in their favor. Examples of this alignment include tyrants, devils, undiscriminating mercenary types who have a strict code of conduct, and loyal soldiers who enjoy the act of killing.
Like Lawful Good Paladins, Lawful Evil characters may sometimes find themselves faced with the dilemma of whether to obey law or evil when the two conflict. However, their issues with Law versus Evil are more concerned with "Will I get caught?" versus "How does this benefit me?".
A Neutral Evil character is typically selfish and has no qualms about turning on their allies-of-the-moment, and usually makes allies primarily to further their own goals. They have no compunctions about harming others to get what they want, but neither will they go out of their way to cause carnage or mayhem when they see no direct benefit to it. They abide by laws for only as long as it is convenient for them. A villain of this alignment can be more dangerous than either Lawful or Chaotic Evil characters, since he or she is neither bound by any sort of honor or tradition nor disorganized and pointlessly violent.
Another valid interpretation of Neutral Evil holds up evil as an ideal, doing evil for evil's sake and trying to spread its influence.
Examples are an assassin who has little regard for formal laws but does not needlessly kill, a henchman who plots behind his or her superior's back, or a mercenary who switches sides if made a better offer. An example of the second type of Neutral Evil would be a masked killer who strikes only for the sake of causing fear and distrust in the community.
A Chaotic Evil character tends to have no respect for rules, other people's lives, or anything but their own desires, which are typically selfish and cruel. They set a high value on personal freedom, but do not have any regard for the lives or freedom of other people. They do not work well in groups, as they resent being given orders, and usually behave themselves only out of fear of punishment.
It is not compulsory for a Chaotic Evil character to be constantly performing sadistic acts just for the sake of being evil, or constantly disobeying orders just for the sake of causing chaos. They do however enjoy the suffering of others, and view honor and self-discipline as weaknesses. Serial killers and monsters of limited intelligence are typically Chaotic Evil.
The D&D alignment system is occasionally referenced as a system of moral classification in other contexts. For example, Salon.com television critic Heather Havrislesky, reviewing the HBO television series True Blood, analyzed the program's characters in terms of D&D alignments (for example, identifying protagonist Sookie Stackhouse as chaotic good, and her vampire boyfriend Bill Compton as lawful neutral).
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