Recently I have been discussing alignment with one of my players – so I thought it would be a good time to look at it in a bit more depth.  I know alignment has gone out of fashion as a role-playing tool, but I tend think that it just means players aren’t using properly.

As I go through life and meet real people – I can see that nearly all of them have a recognizable alignment.  There are people who like to have rules and structures to follow, while others have moments of absolute genius that appear to come out of nowhere and work much better without strict regulation.  Some people book their holidays a long way in advance, know exactly where they are going, and often go to exactly the same place. But there are others who are more spontaneous and leave it to the last minute, take whatever is available, and make it all work out really well.  I have worked with some mean people, there have been selfish or inconsiderate people and bullies.  But there have been others who are always kind, considerate and go out of their way to help everyone they interact with.  There are other people, of course, who behave differently in different circumstances.

It is easy to interpret: Structured > Lawful; Spontaneous > Chaotic; Considerate > Good; Mean > Evil – with those who I can’t categorize as True Neutral.  Of course these are watered down version of alignment, but then very few characters are strongly aligned in D&D style games either.  Take Pathfinder – unless a character is a cleric (or an equivalent class) they have no alignment aura until level five and even at L-20 they only have a Moderate alignment aura.  By contrast, a cleric has an Overwhelming alignment aura at level eleven.

In a long-running campaign game, the last thing I want is strongly aligned characters.  In a one off, or short game, it doesn’t matter if characters fall out or screw up each other’s plans – and sometimes it can be fun.  In a campaign game, however, I want characters that work together in ways that don’t irritate their players.  There is nothing worse than a chaotic who screws up every single plan the party makes –  or the extreme lawful character who can’t ever countenance any other character ‘bending’ a law.  Every player has the right to play their character with being constantly thwarted by someone else – if you can’t play the character you envisioned, the game stops being fun and you leave.

However, I tend to still see alignment much as we did back in the old AD&D days, with lots of overlap between the main alignments.  On the diagram below you can stray quite a lot, for example a character with a Lawful Neutral alignment could be in LN, LN(G) or LN(E) but a Lawful Evil character could be in LE, LN(E) or NE(L).  Even then, there aren’t big rules penalties for changing alignment – but there might be social consequences.

I should point out that I don’t allow evil alignments in my games.  I like running games for good aligned parties of heroes – so those are the characters I invite to join my games 🙂

Posted in Role Playing Aids, World Building.


  1. I do like those simple definitions ! :>

    One aspect the rules don’t cover (and perhaps can’t) is the difference between personal morality and (let’s call it) public morality. A character might be Lawful = Structural themselves, but might have absolutely no incentive in forcing anyone else to be just as organised as them. Similarly Evil characters would undoubtedly prefer to have lots of good people around them – whether to rob those well-meaning types blind or to seek their mercy when it all went pear-shaped. I’m imagining a new rating to determine how passionate or intense a character is about their beliefs – Clerics, Paladins and Monks being generally at the extremes.

    While on the topic, the old 1st Ed DMG NPC Traits tables (p100-101) goes some way to rounding out degrees of beliefs with things like Morals, Honesty, Piety etc, though as they warned random selection could give rather inconsistent results.

  2. Thank you 🙂

    Public vs private is an interesting subject, and you started me thinking about RL examples again 🙂 I expect a priest, teacher, policeman, politician etc. to live the life they advocate – and I expect them to do it consistently both in public and in private and I expect them to be harsh with themselves when they fail to do so – although, I know that is just wishful thinking. However, I expect them to be less harsh on followers, and the public, who don’t live up to those same standards in the same way. I expect a priest to counsel his flock, policemen to guide wrong-doers (long tern villains are different) and politicians to redouble their efforts to sell their philosophies.

    In a fantasy world with many deities and political systems, many of whom have different alignments and philosophies BUT still get on together, I would expect priests (and others) to recognize and understand a range different philosophies and approaches as legitimate, without too much interference but, perhaps, have a quiet word to their followers to discourage them from similar activities.

    I also think that in RL there are Rules, Laws and Structures that large swathes of ‘chaotic’ people can support. For Instance: which side of the road cars drive on; stabbing/shooting people; wearing clothes in public. No society really works without those rules – even an extreme anarchy has a convention that says ‘anything goes’.

    I think Will Wheaton had the right of it, particularly for long-running campaign style games – or don’t be a dick. In other words, let other players play their characters as well.

    As for those tables from the AD&D DMG – I used to love playing with those 🙂 However, only for serious and recurring NPCs – otherwise every L1 commoner the players come across runs the risk of being more interesting that half of the PCs.

  3. I’m not sure there are any public alignments that are not Lawful in nature in this day and age because the larger society alignments are themselves Lawful.

    Back in the wild west, you could certainly argue for N to C aligned cities and towns, but with the large infrastructure Federal governments the world over pretty much, it’s hard to argue there are any Public alignments that aren’t Lawful.

    I would also argue that almost any law abiding citizen is either Lawful or Neutral with lawful tendencies. Otherwise they’d be criminals for good or ill right? Breaking the law doesn’t make one Evil, though you can certainly do and be both. For those who do things like break laws they don’t care about, speeding regularly for instance, maybe Neutral with chaotic tendencies?

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