Alignments have always been a headache for me in D&D. However, this method seems to be effective for determining alignment in playing characters. The information from this article exists already, so I am not introducing anything new. The information is in the SRD for D&D 3.5 but I’m just adding some of my thoughts. And since the words associated with each alignment are easily understood, it sometimes helps the players define their characters easily. Alignments have their place in D&D … so let’s find a way to make them useful to advance role-playing.
Remember that in Original 1977 D&D, the first five alignments are the standard alignments for player characters. The three evil alignments along with True Neutral are intended for monsters and villains.
The nine distinct alignments define all the possible combinations of the lawful–chaotic axis with the good–evil axis. Each alignment description below depicts a typical character of that alignment. Remember that individuals vary from this norm, and that a given character may act more or less in accord with his or her alignment from day to day. Use these descriptions as guidelines to promote role-playing, not as scripts to punish players and pigeonhole characters.
Just remember that when you’re discussing alignment, you are talking about A+B not just A. It’s a mash up of a character’s view of society (A) plus his/her moral code (B.) So if a character tends to follow the law to the best of his/her ability within society, that makes the character Lawful. That’s A. Then if the character’s moral code tends to lend towards doing “Good” things then that makes the character Good. That’s B. So adding A+B comes out to what we call Lawful Good.
So if I described my character as a “Rebel With A Cause” instead Chaotic Good, does that help bring my character a bit more to life?
THE CRUSADER FOR JUSTICE
Lawful Good : A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act according to norms within their society and culture. She combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. She tells the truth even if it hurts, keeps her word and honor, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. This moral code will allow for misdeeds to occur but only to serve the greater good. Lawful good is the alignment of those people considered to be true heroes who follow old time traditions like Superman, Dick Tracy, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Gandalf.
Neutral Good : A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do in a given situation. He is devoted to helping others. He works with the forces of law and order but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against Order. Examples of this alignment might be Robin Hood, Classic Batman, Spiderman, Frodo Baggins, and Golden Age James Bond.
THE REBEL WITH A CAUSE
Chaotic Good: A chaotic good character acts as his conscience and moral code directs him with little regard for what others expect of him within society and culture. He makes his own way, but he’s doing it to help other people the best way he knows how. His methods may be questioned in the eyes of Law and Order. He believes in goodness and right but displays disregard for laws and regulations. He hates it when people try to intimidate others and tell them what to do. He follows his own moral compass, which, although good, may not agree with that of society. Examples would be Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Wolverine, Dark Knight Batman, Boromir of Gondor, or even the classic Punisher from Spider-Man comics. Chaotic good combines a good heart with a free spirit.
THE PURPOSEFUL JUDGE
Lawful Neutral: A lawful neutral character acts as law, tradition, or a personal code directs her. She is reliable and honorable without being a zealot or obsessed. Order and organization are paramount to her. She may believe in personal order and live by a code or standard, or she may believe in order for all and favor a strong, organized government. This might include Princess Leia, Wonder Woman, or even Nick Fury.
Neutral: Also called “True Neutral” this alignment is usually set aside for beings from other Planes or worlds, along with seemingly mindless creatures and monsters. Animals in the wild might also be neutral. Most playing characters are discouraged from playing neutral because it does not lend to productive role-playing. However, there are monsters and beings that are neutral and the alignment does have a place within the game. Neutral beings without prejudice or compulsion. The Watchers from Marvel Comics would be a good example of a Neutral being. Some creatures who are Neutral strive to bring balance to the cosmos, others simply do not care.
This alignment is not suggested for playing characters because most players will not be able to actually remain in character with this alignment. However, I have found that most characters WANT to play a neutral character because they THINK that their characters are less restricted by being neutral. However, if a player REALLY played a Neutral character the right way then they would be playing a character with a lack of a real moral code. That’s hard to fathom as a player because we all have some kind of moral code we follow. So really play a Neutral character it has to involve animalistic thinking, following instincts, or completely alien outlooks.
Chaotic Neutral: A chaotic neutral character follows his whims amd tends to be annoying to other people because of it.. He is an individualist first and last. He values his own liberty but doesn’t strive to protect others’ freedom. He avoids authority, resents restrictions, and challenges traditions only because these do not fit into his moral code of focusing on the Right Now. A chaotic neutral character does not intentionally disrupt organizations as part of a campaign of anarchy. To do so, he would have to be motivated either by good (and a desire to liberate others) or evil (and a desire to make those different from himself suffer) and usually is not. A chaotic neutral character may be unpredictable, but his behavior is not totally random. He is not as likely to jump off a bridge as to cross it. Examples of this would be Deadpool, Merry and Pippin, Presto from the D&D cartoon, Tasselhoff Burfoot, and JarJar Binks.
Lawful Evil: A lawful evil villain methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He condemns others not according to their actions but according to race, religion, homeland, or social rank. He is loath to break laws or promises. This reluctance comes partly from his nature and partly because he depends on order to protect himself from those who oppose him 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 imagine that these compunctions put them above unprincipled villains. Sometimes they are the worst villians because they are often the bad guys who think they are good guys. They are fighting for a cause that is usually against the social or cultural norm. Darth Vader fits this alignment well as does Magneto, Doctor Doom, and Ultron.
Neutral Evil: A neutral evil villain does whatever she can get away with. She is out for herself, pure and simple. Pain, morality, logical thinking, and every other normal human trait go out the window when one thinks of the Malefactor. She sheds no tears for those she kills, whether for profit, sport, or convenience. She has no love of order and holds no illusion that following laws, traditions, or codes would make her any better or more noble. On the other hand, she doesn’t have 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. Neutral evil is the most dangerous alignment because it represents pure evil without honor and without variation. An example would be Bullseye, Rhino, The Joker, and Grima Wormtongue.
Chaotic Evil: A chaotic evil character does whatever his greed, hatred, and lust for destruction drive him to do. He is hot-tempered, vicious, arbitrarily violent, and egotistical. If he is simply out for whatever he can get, he is ruthless and brutal. If he is committed to the spread of evil and chaos, he is even worse. Thankfully, his plans are sometimes haphazard, and any groups he joins or forms are poorly organized because he cares little for those who serve him. Most Big Bads are this alignment, for example: Sheev Palpatine, Ras al Ghul, En Sabah Nur, and Darkseid.
So are alignments important? If by alignment, we mean the motivations and values of an individual that serve as guiding principles in life, then yes, it would seem that this information should be important to fleshing out your character. Furthermore, when certain universal motivations serve as the primary values of an individual, it seems that some motivations are compatible while other motivations are less likely to be included in that individual’s value system. This brings about a circular continuum of values, much like the “ring” alignment model. Although these universal motivations are different from the traditional alignments, there are parallels that can be drawn between the two systems. Knowledge of these parallels can be used to create a more “realistic” alignment system and finally make the alignment system a tool for creating interesting characters rather than uninteresting caricatures.