Friday, August 1, 2008

Alignments: Breaking It Down

To continue my series on alignments, I thought it might be worth the time expanding upon and redefining the them. The Dungeons and Dragons alignments are given a basic outline in the Players Handbook, and are also dealt with lightly in the book D&D for Dummies. These alignments are great as a very basic outline, but if you're like me and use alignments as larger foundation for roleplaying, they could use some expanding.

First things first, I'll take a look at each end of the spectrum. What does "good" mean? Alignment is a pairing of both the Good to Evil spectrum and the Lawful to Chaotic spectrum. Before we pair these together however, it's best to look at what each ideal represents.

Breaking down every alignment into it's individual components will help to redefine them in the end.

Good versus Evil

Good: Being good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. This means that good characters typically care unselfishly for the welfare of others and will sometimes go to great extents to protect it. By respecting life you do not kill senselessly, and probably do not receive joy from killing (though the outcome of someone’s death, such as a city’s salvation, could certainly bring joy).

Good characters would rather solve problems through negotiations, rather then threats, but would use them if necessary for the greater good. Good characters however are generally unwilling to hurt others to get ahead, and would never resort to torture to gain information or to further their own means - though zealots and fanatics might view harm as the only way to secure the greater good. A good character has a kind spirit and is benevolent.

Evil: Being evil generally involves hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Many evil people simply have no compassion for others. They are the opposite of good, and do not respect life. Some evil characters are simply compassionless and kill whenever the need strikes them, while others use tools such as lies and deception to cause more mental pain, then physical pain.

Evil characters do not hesitate in hurting others to gain information or to get ahead, while they may even enjoy it. They revel in killing, or do it to further their own means. Evil characters are generally vile and despicable beings, though some may pose as being good.

Neutral: Being neutral on the good/evil axis generally implies that you have no feelings or devotion strongly towards either good or evil. Characters who are neutral in this way may try to accomplish good ends but are willing to use evil means. Such characters do what they think to be a good idea at the time, but usually based on what is best for themselves. They do not necessarily care for the welfare of others, or seek out the temptations of evil.

Neutral characters on this axis are usually much more driven by the side of their personality decided by law or chaos, though they are an individual, and will always probably do what is the best for them, or use whatever means are most convenient for the task at hand. When asked to do something good, or something evil, most such characters will ask, “What’s in it for me?” A tax collector who embezzles money to feed his family, is neutral in this way.

Law versus Chaos

Lawful: Being lawful means that you are bound through your actions and behavior to uphold a certain set of codes, laws, and standards. You make sacrifices to further these convictions. This could mean that you are loyal to the laws of society, to the code of your church, or to the set of morals that have provided for yourself.

A lawful character may also follow their own code of conduct, though they adhere truly to it. Lawful characters, no matter if good or evil, believe in the concepts of loyalty and tradition. Someone has defined the rules, and you play by them. Being lawful implies you are loathe to break laws or promises. Some lawful characters – like Paladins – hold others to their code of conduct, while others – like Knights – see it as a personal journey.

Chaotic: Being chaotic means that you believe above all else in individual freedom. Rules are made to be broken, and things such as codes, honor, and vows are wastes of time if they get in the way of common sense. You are reluctant to join organizations that bind their members either by place or beliefs.

Chaotic characters sometimes are religious, though they think putting faith into a building is foolish. You are free, adaptable, and flexible. You can also be reckless, irresponsible, and get in a lot of trouble with authority figures. Chaotic characters see everyone as equals, and do not put ranks or titles on society. They only respect people in terms of their actions.

Neutral: Being neutral on the law/chaos axis means that while you may not care for the laws and oaths, you don’t necessarily act against them. Let those who wish to be bound to such things be bound, and let those who wish to run free do the same. Such characters follow laws, but do not feel bound by them, readily breaking those they feel foolish or tyrannical. They are level-headed and show appropriate respect to authority figures though they won’t do anything they ask just because of their status, without a good reason.

Such neutral characters generally let others do as they wish, but neither bind themselves to order, nor resent it. They understand that laws are there for a reason, but they also enjoy their personal freedom and will not let unnecessary or corrupt laws overcome it. A guardsman who regularly chases down criminals and brings them in, but who would also consider a bribe is neutral in this way.


Bryan said...

What a controversial subject to start out on!

For the last couple characters I've made I've qualified their alignment. I think, just like in real life nobody is 100% liberal or 100% conservative, in D&D there's more of a continuum. So the classic faceless cowboy (probably my favorite archetype) would be strong chaotic, weak good; this allows for the occasional selfish act which he later regrets, and makes for a more realistic character, I think. As a bonus, it takes away using CN as an excuse for a player to just do whatever they want. Lastly, it allows for storyline/roleplaying-based changes in alignment without extreme actions. Maybe the heroes convince an SL-SE dictator who thinks he's working for the common good that he's really not such a cool dude. He won't all the suddent be CG overnight, but he might lighten the punishment for stealing and remove the curfew (WC-WE).

Also, as seen with Durkan, I like to think of neutral as a state in and of itself, rather than the lack of any other alignment. Some characters (court officials, druids, clerics of balance, monks) strive towards not having an alignment, and this isn't really shown anywhere in the current system.

Combining these two ideas gives 36 different alignments, instead of only 9 in the traditional system. This makes both roleplayers (like Mr. Storyteller) and mechanics-geeks (like lil' ol' me) happy.

Storyteller said...

Hey Bryan, welcome to the blog!

To tell the truth, I've never been a true fan of the D&D alignment system as it is in the books. Even after all this work I'm doing delving into and expanding upon them, there's still a lot of gray areas.

I was already planning on looking at alternate house rules at a later point on alignment. Variations on the "detect" spells, and other possible methods of playing the alignment system. One of my ideas had to do with a ranking on each aspect of the alignment spectrum, kind of like what you were saying.

In the end though, I do agree with you, alignments - as portrayed - have far too few options.