Alignment in D&D is a controversial topic. Some love using alignment in D&D while others think alignment is a useless outdated system. They are both right and wrong at the same time.
Alignment in D&D is best used as a guide. When used as a defining trait alignment is never good, but it can help learn about someone.
I have been on the fence for both sides of the alignment argument. After years, I have fallen into the idea that alignment is overall a good thing in D&D. It should be left to each dungeon master to try and interpret what they want alignment to mean.
Different ways to view alignment
Generally, people view alignment in D&D 1 of 2 ways. The best way to go about this is the orc baby scenario.
You kill the orcs and find an orc baby. Do you kill it or not kill it?
Either answer tells what you think of alignment. If you kill the baby you believe that alignment is unbreakable. If you do not kill the baby it is because alignment is not fixed. Alignment can change and is based on one’s circumstances.
Monster races being evil like orcs make sense when you view it this way. Instead of being naturally evil like an evil monster would be, these are sentient humanoids. They are evil because of their culture and not because they are wired to be.
I prefer to as a dungeon master view alignment as a guide. It is part of the whole person, but it does not define the individual.
You can be different than others even if you have the same alignment.
Think of it this way. Is every evil person the same? No, they are not. Each evil person is evil in their own right. This is the same with alignment. Each alignment spectrum, even lawful good, can be terrifying.
That is why as we go through each alignment there will be a section on how that alignment is generally perceived and how that alignment can be viewed differently than normal.
Alignment is not black and white. If someone is ‘good’ that does not mean they are automatically trustworthy. If someone is ‘evil’ that does not mean they mean you harm. Keep that in mind as we go over every alignment in the spectrum.
Before we get into each spectrum there are some basics that we need to cover.
Alignment is split into 9 different categories varying from lawful/good to evil/chaotic. If you are interested in learning about the basic alignments here are a few charts to help you. I am sure that 1 of these charts will help you understand.
Those are the 9 basic alignments, but why do they exist?
In Dungeons and Dragons the universe is split this way. The lawful good area is generally viewed as a form of heaven. It’s counterpart, lawful evil is viewed generally as hell. This makes sense, but what about the chaotic side of things?
It may surprise you, but good vs evil is secondary in D&D.
At least, on the cosmic scale. Demons are chaotic evil. They are constantly at war with devils in almost every edition because law vs chaos is more important in the typical D&D universe. This is very different than our normal idea that good vs evil is the ultimate clash.
Since D&D is already subverting our expectations, it is trying to tell us something. Do not view alignment so simply or you will not understand and enjoy the alignment system.
When using alignment with character creation use it to help guide that character. A character that is lawful good does not have to be a paladin. A lawful good person can be interesting to play, but if they are lawful good find out why they are lawful good and not something else like neutral good. This way alignment in D&D is used as a benefit to fleshing out a character instead of a crutch.
Now that we have that covered, let’s cover each alignment in D&D.
“I am here to serve the law and will always give you a fair fight. We cannot ambush and I must adhere to the lawful stupid doctrine.”
This is the worst way to play lawful good. Anyone who plays this way does not understand how alignment works and is trying to use the alignment system as an excuse for being an idiot.
This may surprise you, but most people in real life are lawful good.
Chances are that you are lawful good yourself. If you deny it then think about this. Do you generally follow laws and think that laws are a good thing? Do you want to help people?
Those are some basic questions, but most people would answer yes to both. This is pretty much the criteria for lawful good. You don’t have to be an idiot who is obsessed with dumb honor and have to be dumb all the time.
Lawful good allows a diverse set of personalities. People can be lawful good and decide to help the poor by dedicating their life to a cause. Others can just live their life and follow the laws. If they see a person in need, they naturally will want to help them if there is no harm to themselves.
That is right. People who are lawful good do not always put themselves in danger to help others. If the situation is too dangerous this is not neutral to value yourself over others. The desire to help others is there, but realizing that you cannot or probably should not is a different topic altogether.
Lawful good is generally viewed as the best option and there has never been a bad lawful good individual. This is a terrible misconception of the alignment system.
Horrible lawful good
Lawful good is not all paladins and sunshine. Lawful good can be absolutely horrible and is something that we have to be careful of in our own world. If you thought lawful good meant that people were the good guys, you are wrong. Here are some examples.
They hunt down all those who do not obey the law or society’s principles. They kill without hesitation because those who oppose the law will harm others. Inquisitors are trying to do the best that they can. Anyone who is in their way is trying to stop justice and harm others. All orc babies must die.
The forceful ruler.
In order to ensure that safety is kept for every citizen, the law must be followed to the letter. Any instance of crime must be punished appropriately. This means that those who steal food to survive must be punished with death. In fact, any crime is punishable by death. This will protect the citizens, and everyone must work for the benefit of all. Individual desires have no place.
There have been quite a few examples in fiction about AI, or robots, taking over. These robots have what is best in mind for humanity. To save it from itself by locking everyone up and making sure that everyone must adhere to strict laws or be punished.
All of these examples involve good intentions at the start but quickly devolve into reigns of terror. The inquisitor wanted to protect people. The tyrant wanted to keep people safe and prosperous. The golems want to protect humanity from itself.
Any alignment taken too far is bad, and lawful good is no exception. Now that lawful good is out of the way, let’s move onto lawful neutral.
Lawful neutral is a rare alignment in D&D. Most players do not play lawful neutral since it is hard to roleplay for the usual adventurer.
Lawful neutral is best represented by a judge. Someone who abides by the law and does not care about circumstances. If a criminal did something wrong they are to be turned in no questions asked. If the law finds an obvious murderer not guilty then they are free to leave.
A lawful neutral character might not go that far as to let an obvious murderer roam free. The court might be corrupt and the character wants to restore proper order.
A lawful neutral character can also respect the rules of 1 faction and not another. For example, a cleric of a lawful neutral order might value the order’s laws above that of the states and not care about what the state wants.
Others might value the state’s laws above anything else. One’s personal code could be valued above anything else. Honor is all and if a person is starving but honor does not call to help them, why should they?
If everyone was lawful neutral, it would be bad.
Bad lawful neutral
The law should be followed to the letter. That means that personal choice and freedom are not necessary. It is best to make everyone as robotic as possible to make society function. Therefore, any ounce of free will must be squashed for society to run smoothly.
If the contractor is corrupt, then the servant will be viewed as corrupted as well.
The boss might contract the party to kill a person in front of them. They signed a contract to fulfill whatever the king asked, and the party is horrified. All except the lawful neutral character. She will murder that poor person in an instant.
Morality is not an issue. Cold hard facts are all that matter to a lawful neutral character. This alignment in D&D might seem a little bland, but it is just a template to help you create a character.
Lawful evil characters are typically viewed as evil lawyers, but there is more to them than that. Lawful evil characters are those who push the limits of society. If you are a lawful evil character you are most likely going to try and push the rules of what society deems appropriate.
Many businessmen in the real world’s past have been lawful evil, but also progressed society. They did not try to help others but their greed made them help others.
If you are going to make a good lawful evil character, make one that is focused on greed. In order to get money the best way is to get repeat customers. Value customers and act nice so that your reputation grows, but all the while do it for yourself.
Lawful evil characters do not have to bad!
They don’t need to be helpful, but they will always use the law to further their own ends.
The main thing to consider with lawful evil characters is that they are not necessarily malicious and desire harm. These individuals have a goal and stay within the law but don’t need to harm others. In fact, harming others is almost never the primary goal. It is just a bi-product of achieving personal goals and harm to others is understandable to these individuals.
Now let us move onto the neutrals!
Neutral good is the alignment in D&D of most adventurers. Most adventurers act in a neutral good manner since they don’t care for the law, but will use it to their own whims.
If a law says that the party cannot do something, screw it. That law doesn’t exist right now. When the laws benefit the party, a neutral good adventurer will make sure to use and abuse these laws for their own ends.
Neutral good lets individuals ignore corrupt rulers and get the job done in the best manner possible.
Of course, this is all up to you. Is that idea really a good idea ruler? I don’t think paying taxes for you to ineptly fix roads is best. Instead, I am going to make others who are capable fix the roads.
That is 1 mentality that can be adopted from a neutral good character, and it can lead to a downfall of society if there is no respected order. This is why the most neutral good characters you will find are the players. Respect the laws when you can, ignore them if they are annoying, and help people as best you can.
“Do you like… wana do anything man?” “Naw.” “Cool.”
This is a way of looking at true neutral. Complete apathy.
A true neutral character might go along with almost anything. They have no real ties to good, bad, lawful, or chaos. They just do whatever suits them in the moment and are completely unpredictable.
Other true neutral characters actively try to maintain a balance between all forces. Druids are usually thought when it comes to this, and it can be problematic or a blessing in disguise.
For example, a nation is being ruled by a lawful good ruler and is gaining more power by eradicating the forces of evil. Evil is going to be wiped out at this rate, so an individual might poison the king to maintain balance. Is this a bad thing?
We already discussed how too much of 1 thing can be bad. A lawful good king can become a tyrant. So maybe it is best that he ends up dead before creating a 1984 dystopia.
Neutral characters will generally want to be around good neighbors and let good win out over evil since good is easier to work with. Just remember that True neutral is possibly the most unpredictable alignment in D&D.
Neutral evil is very similar to another alignment in D&D. That alignment is chaotic neutral. A neutral evil character will do whatever they want and need to in order to survive and advance themselves. The difference between neutral evil and chaotic neutral is that there is no wanderlust, and neutral evil works towards something.
This ‘something’ can be an ideal like making the world eviler. Helping an ancient god come to kill everyone. Emo, goth, edgelord stuff.
This ‘something’ can be a personal goal. A rogue might want to advance in the rogues guild and will do anything they can in order to do so. Murder is definitely on the table but so is using the laws.
If an individual goes into a society of neutral evil people and declares that they are conquered the neutral evil society will declare that person the winner. They will then either kill that conquerer in his sleep or just do nothing to acknowledge it.
Societal constructs mean nothing to neutral evil characters and are only useful to gain an upper hand on others. This alignment is not to be trusted like true neutral characters, but neutral evil characters are more likely to be malicious towards you.
If you can’t tell, that little plush thing is meant to be an image for Robin Hood. Give to the poor, steal from the rich, you get the idea.
Chaotic good characters don’t care at all about the law. If they see an injustice and want to fix it then go ahead and do it! Stealing is fine. Murder I guess could be fine if that person is evil. Everything is okay as long as you end up helping others.
The degree of criminal activity allowable is up to the individual. Some may not want to kill while others have no issue. Of course, you do not have to commit a crime to be chaotic good.
You can choose to help people in whatever way you see fit, but almost all chaotic good characters are benevolent. What society says is the best does not matter to them. They know what is good and what is bad when they see it. A chaotic good character will then act upon what they see and help others.
If everyone was chaotic good, society would crumble. There is no respect for laws and what a person sees as wrong might not be wrong to another. Punishment is also variable from individual to individual. Bullying for 1 person might be punishable by death while another gives a stern talking to.
Either way you look at it chaotic good is an interesting alignment in D&D.
These characters are unhinged.
Your personal freedom is the most important. What you want is to be able to do what you want, where you want, and however you want! Good and evil are beneath you. Deciding to harm or help others is stupid. You just do whatever you want and go where the wind takes you!
Not all of that is completely true, but chaotic neutral is the jack of all trades alignment. You can do whatever you want and justify it however you want. This is why most players chose chaotic neutral even if they are not. It is the ultimate alignment in D&D for freedom.
Generally, these individuals do not have true goals or motivations. There is a reason why they do something, but it is not usually for gain. A chaotic evil character will do what they want for themselves, but a chaotic neutral character will only do things to make sure they themselves are free. No one else matters anyway.
While this sounds fun to play, it is tiring. You don’t have an attachment to comrades, are once again unhinged, and not a good friend. Most people don’t want to associate with a person like that and a whole group of people like that would only work as nomads.
If a chaotic neutral character could make a form of government it would be anarchy. Tear down society and let everyone and yourself do whatever you want. After all, isn’t that the most fun? If people die because of it who cares. It is fun!
Every cat is chaotic evil! Well, not every cat. Some are extremely nice but many people have aligned cats with chaotic evil. This is because cats are selfish, put themselves first, and will do anything to get whatever they want.
This is a misunderstood alignment in D&D. Chaotic evil can mean that you act on impulse. I see. I want. I take! It does not have to be this way.
Chaotic evil doesn’t have to be an alignment that only allows idiots who have no impulse control. Chaotic evil can be much more interesting.
A chaotic evil is the typical bad guy who will do whatever they want, but they could just be a person in the city. These people are usually in terrible crowds and you might find them in charge of some shady business. These people might also just be thugs, but you can have a thoughtful chaotic evil character. A character who thinks about getting what they want and then going for it.
There are different variations of chaotic evil. Chaotic evil does not have to be chaotic stupid just like how lawful good does not have to be lawful stupid.
If you were wondering why a society of chaotic evil individuals would be bad, I worry about you.
Lastly for chaotic evil, this is the alignment that creates most murder hobo scenarios. If you are curious about what a murder hobo is then read this article and how to deal with it.
Alignment in D&D is a bit confusing. There are general guidelines to go by but even those are grey. You can have different variations of any alignment and too much of any alignment can be a disaster.
This is why if you find out that someone or something is a certain alignment do not profile them. They are more than just 2 words. They are individuals who can be as diverse as any 1 person’s political opinions or personality. Pick what metaphor helps you visualize it.
I hope that I have helped you understand alignment a little bit more. Do not judge a book by its cover, and don’t let alignment be a cloud on your judgment of an individual.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!