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Author Topic: On the nature of alignments  (Read 1162 times)


On the nature of alignments
« on: July 13, 2006, 08:59:49 am »
Many articles and opinions have been written about alignment in D&D.  So why one more?  Apart from the stock "why not" answer, there is a slight twist I want to add that may not have been covered elsewhere.  This may not only help understand the characteristics of each alignment choice better, but also help in character creation to define the character's personality in more detail.


Ok... so what's the twist?  Well, I think that most people operate under the concept that there are nine basic alignments.  A more sophisticated look at alignment considers looking at the law/chaos axis and good/evil axis separately, and that the basic alignments are regions on a chart composed of the two axes.  Where a minor fallcy creeps in even here, however, is that there is an underlying assumption that each axis is weighted equally.

In terms of understanding characters and their philosophies, in addition to figuring out where they lie on each axis and deriving the general alignment from it, it is important to determine which axis is more important to the character's personality.  In this respect, each alignment can be represented two ways, with the first category being a modifier to the second -- essentially, the second part is the more core philosophy, and the first part is the means to that end.  For example, a "Lawful Neutral" is someone who is predominantly Neutral between Good and Evil, and decides that Lawful is the best way to ensure this balance; a "Neutral Lawful" is someone who believes in Lawful philosophy over all else, and chooses Neutrality between Good and Evil to ensure a fair and unbiased application of the law.  (Of course, a "Neutral Neutral" doesn't tell you which Neutral is more important, but that's the fault of the game designers for overloading the term.)

The differences can be subtle, but important.  In addition to defining a character concept more cleanly (i.e., why they believe what they believe), it shows which direction the character is more likely to show flexibility in terms of philosophy.  The "Lawful Neutral" would be more easily influenced toward the Chaotic than toward either Good or Evil, if he/she feels that the restrictions of an ordered society, etc., hinders keeping a balance of good and evil; the "Neutral Lawful", on the other hand, would not be likely to budge from Lawful behavior, but could be convinced that taking a stance toward either Good or Evil would help ensure the proper application of the Lawful philosophy.

Of course, it is important to have clearly defined characteristics for each axis so that generic terms like "Lawful", "Chaotic", "Good", and "Evil" have better context.


Lawful charatcers believe in the rule of law and are likely to be well steeped in tradition (though a highly legalistic society may have such an evolving set of laws that tradition is minimized or ignored).  They believe firmly in honor and duty, and expect others they deal with (friends and enemies alike) to abide my the same set of rules.  Society (and individuals) should be ordered and governed by principles than can be set down and followed no matter what.

Chaotic characters think that laws, rules, and regulations are too restrictive.  Each individual should choose his or her own path based on the current situation and the dictates of their own conscience.  Tradition is something that can be learned from, but it should never constrain someone from doing what they think is best.  They are likely to simply ignore or undermine legal structures, depending on how restrictive they are toward the character's goals and philosophies.

Neutral characters, of course, seek a balance of the two.  On one side, things are too restrictive, on the other, too anarchistic.  This person is more likely to believe that laws, rules, etc., are all well and good, but that there are times they need to be set aside.  The phrase "situational ethics" comes to mind with Neutrals on this axis.


I don't know if anything is more misunderstood in D&D than the distinction of "Good" and "Evil".  Specifically on the latter, I think most people envision "Evil" characters/NPCs are those who go around spitting small children on the ends of spears and then roasting them over fires built on their parents' homes.  As a hobby.  I think "Evil" in game terms is just a tad more subtle than that.

Good characters are essentially altruistic.  The needs of society in general outweigh their own needs or desires, and helping out those in distress is simply the right thing to do.  Rewards may be taken, as long as they are given freely and are not an undue burden on the giver.  The helpless must never be harmed, or allowed to come to harm through avoidable inaction.

Evil characters basically concerned about themselves, and themselves alone.  The rest of the world can burn, as long as they get the power, wealth, knowledge, etc. that they desire for themselves.  While the "Evil" category contains true sociopaths, this masks the more typical evil -- those who are quite willing to use, abuse, and discard anyone or anything that gets in their way.  The rest of the time, they have little to no use for people at all.  Putting themselves at any risk had best be counterbalanced by a disproportionate reward.

Neutral characters, being by definition in between the two extremes, can basically be defined as rugged individualists.  They are mostly concerned about themselves, but have some level of social responsibility.  Generally, they feel that people are responsible for themselves, so they expect to be rewarded for helping someone out, and don't expect to place themselves at high risk for doing so (unless the anticipated reward matches the risk).  Acting in such a way as to intentionally hurt innocents is pretty much off-limits, unless a very compelling reason exists.  Inaction that causes harm to innocents is acceptable, especially if the price of action is risky.


Going back to the original example... a "Lawful Neutral" believes primarily in himself or herself, and has some ambivalence about society as a whole.  This person believes that he or she can make their way best in a predictable, ordered system that ensures relatively fair dealing, and therefore, reasonable compensation for any services rendered.

The "Neutral Lawful" on the other hand, is convinced that a rigid code of conduct or legal system is the best thing for himself or herself, and probably society in general, too.  The consequences of following the laws are irrelevant -- they are there for a good reason, and if people get hurt in the process, it is regrettably unavoidable and a necessary cost -- unbiased application of the system is required regardless of result.

The "Chaotic Good" character differs from the "Good Chaotic" character -- the former believes that "Good" is best achieved by freedom from rules, regulations, and laws.  The latter is a generally an anarchist (who can either "opt out" of a rigid society or rail against it) who feels that helping people out will show them that laws and rules aren't necessary as long as good will exists.


More so than anything else, this is intended to help flesh out the character design concept.  As a secondary goal, it should hopefully help characters play their chosen alignments better -- not only staying within alignment, but knowing how to "lean" away from it one way, but not the other.

When creating a character, make sure to define not only where they stand on each axis, but which one is most important to that character.  Then ask yourself the questions of:

Why does the character feels that way?
How much more important is that aspect vs. the other?
How does the secondary aspect follow from belief in the first?
How likely would the character be to change his/her mind on the secondary aspect?
The following users thanked this post: jrizz, eltalstroneves, Link092


Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2006, 08:54:54 am »
Wow. This one gets the Stephen Thumbs-Up.

I think this would be a good addition to the Character Submission forum. Stickied. Forever.


Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #2 on: July 16, 2006, 09:14:10 am »
I like this alignment guide, good work Faldred.

gilshem ironstone

Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2006, 08:23:48 am »
I just read this and it is some great food for thought.  Alignment has always been the most difficult aspect of Role-Play for me, so I look forward to mulling over these ideas.


Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2007, 04:59:36 pm »
So for a class that demands a alignment like the paladin. can the player put the lean more on the good then the lawful (good lawful) or more on the lawful then good (lawful good)?


Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2007, 06:22:08 pm »
jrizz - 2/27/2007  7:59 PM

So for a class that demands a alignment like the paladin. can the player put the lean more on the good then the lawful (good lawful) or more on the lawful then good (lawful good)?

No reason why that can't be true... of course a Paladin has to be very careful about "leaning" away in either direction, because its alignment restrictions are absolute.

The only class I can think of that should really be tied down tighter is Druid -- I have to think that the Neutral part must be dominant regardless of which of the four alignments (not including TN) they choose.

Cenden Hoqoun

Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2007, 11:15:31 pm »
oh that is a good question faldred.and for a paladin i think every one agres about the leaninga away from iether, but what if a paladin where to be so lawfull it wasnt good?


Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #7 on: July 18, 2007, 11:14:27 am »
Quote from: Cenden Hoqoun
but what if a paladin where to be so lawfull it wasnt good?

Well, (s)he wouldn't be a Paladin for much longer, most likely.  :D

Seriously, though, if dedication to "Law" becomes that severe, you are looking at an alignment shift to "Neutral Lawful", using the above article's conventions.  That is, devotion to rule of law, tradition, order, what have you, takes precedence over issues of good and evil.

Cenden Hoqoun

Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #8 on: July 18, 2007, 12:00:13 pm »
thats what i what happens to a paladin when they lose there alignment?as ive necer played a paladin i dont know.


Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #9 on: July 18, 2007, 12:04:30 pm »
No more paladin levels for them! Muahahahaha.

Roleplay wise? Hmm. No idea ;)

Cenden Hoqoun

Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #10 on: July 18, 2007, 12:42:51 pm »
yeah i knew about the paladin levels but yrah what about roleplay wise?would there god not like them anymore? (sorry i forgot the correct term)and why should a paladin have to be lawfull good, arent they supposed to be likea religous fighter?not a keeper of laws?


Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #11 on: July 18, 2007, 01:40:26 pm »
Too broad. If that were the case, a CG thief devout to the god of thieves could be termed a paladin...or a NE Fighter of a dark elf god, for that matter. But they aren't. One is a rogue, however charming and good in alignment, the other is evil even though he technically fits the 'religious champion' label. You'd be better off simply leaving it at 'champion.'

A paladin is in service to a god yes, but he is to be in all ways a man of virtue, holding back the tides of evil with the bright light of righteousness and so on as the stereotypical altruistic knight in shining armor holding tradition and so forth while protecting the helpless. Some paladins can be closely associated with the laws themselves, or the enforcers of them - if that's what their deity is about, and the laws themselves are good ones, and they hold always the purpose of laws being created to serve and protect the people above just scribbles of parchment.

As the stereotypical paladin is always in service to a Lawful god or serving as the unyielding knight to a neutral god, losing alignment means falling from grace, losing sight of something that was key to his faith and the divine grace gifted on him - to break the oath that bound them, deviate from the code of their calling. To say the god "doesn't like him anymore" is not quite true, though mortals couldn't guess the feelings of gods anyway, but you might look at it more as the father looking at his wayward son. From the eyes of the ex-paladin it may very well look that way - deserted by the god he has fought for for so long. It's not like he can look at his own alignment. The god is still there, though - it is the paladin who has turned his face away in drifting from the moral/ethical stance that he so zealously stood with before. He has laid down the sword granted by his deity, purposely or no. For most, it will still be there if they ever find their way back and work their way into their deity's graces again, though it would be one of those "your god will know when it is time" things.

When you broaden it from "LG" to "religious fighter in general" it gets confusing, because then everyone clambers to have all religions have paladins, when the class (here, anyway) has some inherent benefits and restrictions that simply don't make sense for most gods. Even Lucindite paladins make little sense here, as far as I am concerned. Necromancy is a school of magic and they protect the Weave - turn undead seems less important than other things they do not have. And because of crazy sorc charisma, only wizards can multiclass freely with paladins, when they would welcome all. Rather than paladins, Lucinda should have spellswords and call it a day, letting them be her religious-fighters-we-would-name-something-else :) Because yes, there are religious fighters... but not all religious fighters are paladins, and most religions are not suited for the latter.

Don't get me wrong, there are different ways and different gods one can play a LG paladin with, and paladins of different deities SHOULD be different in abilities. I like things that deviate from the norm, and wish we could code up some different stuff for them. I usually play neutral or CG, but that doesn't make Paladins of Shadon or Xeen anything more than a joke. :P

On the other hand! I can definitely see someone of Shadon's church starting up an order of cleric/rogue types they called 'Paladins' simply to make fun of and smear real ones. "*looks dubiously* I said I needed a paladin..." "Here I am, baby! Have a drink!" They wouldn't mechanically take the class, though. ;)


Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #12 on: July 18, 2007, 01:57:51 pm »
According to the base rules, a Paladin who loses favor with their deity becomes a "fighter without bonus feats", losing all class features in the process.  From a roleplay standpoint, it may be possible to leave Paladinhood and still retain any earned benefits, if the reason for leaving the class was "OK" with the deity, i.e., becoming a Cleric, Monk, or certain prestige classes.

The general exception to the "lose all abilities" rule is if the character then becomes a class that has rules for "fallen Paladins", e.g., Blackguard.  In those cases, Paladin levels are "traded in" for equivalent features in the new class.

As for the alignment issue, this dates all the way back to AD&D 1st edition, when the 9-category alignment grid was introduced.  Paladins are the prototypical "knight in shining armor", symbolizing truth, justice, goodness, and the like, and as such have an absolute LG alignment requirement.  Variant rules from Unearthed Arcana allow for Paladins of Honor (LG), Freedom (CG), Tyranny (LE), and Slaughter (CE).

Alternatively, the Divine Champion prestige class allows for Paladin-like abilities for characters of any base class and alignment, as long as they are in tune with the deity of choice.

Okay... pen and paper rules aside, NWN and Layonara work differently.  In NWN, you can freely multiclass Paladin with any other classes, and you do not lose any gained abilities if you change alignment or otherwise perform acts that would strip your Paladin's abilities.  This can lead to otherwise nonsensical builds like Paladin/Bard or Paladin/Assassin.  The only restriction the engine places on you is that you may not level up as a Paladin if your current alignment is not Lawful Good.

In Layonara, the roleplaying restrictions go a little further.  Multiclassing into or out of Paladin is generally a one-way street, and must be done by a successful character development quest (CDQ)*.  Paladins must not only be LG, they must specifically worship one of the five deities who have Paladins: Aeridin, Lucinda, Rofirein, Toran, or Vorax.  Divine Champion is only allowed for Toran or Vorax.  Blackguards are not allowed, and are renamed Unholy Champion (CE only, which explains why they are not allowed).

If you lose Paladinhood in Layonara because of a falling out with your deity (alignement change or otherwise), you are generally expected to NOT use any of your Paladin abilities that require active use (Lay On Hands, spellcasting, Smite Evil, etc.)

*Exception: certain Paladins of Lucina may freely multiclass as certain specialist Wizard


Re: On the nature of alignments
« Reply #13 on: July 19, 2007, 09:46:06 am »
hmmm paladins of evil gods......must think on this


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    Re: On the nature of alignments
    « Reply #14 on: January 08, 2008, 05:16:01 pm »
    A couple thoughts from long term roleplaying.
    I can see why it would be hard in a NWN based compaign for a DM to "take a pencil and strike through all paladin abilities" to rewrite a character into a basic fighter and resolve all issues with using paladin abilities after losing them. About the only way that could be done is if a DM, GM, or WM used a module like "+Pretty Good Char Creator" to create a fighter character of the same level with the same name, move over all inventory and journals, and  delete the old paladin character replacing it with the fighter.
    In most basic games, losing paladin abilities has far ranging effects on a character. Even if the character did not intend to lose paladinhood, it is usually difficult on the verge of impossible to regain such a status. A paladin is the most trusted and beloved of a god's servants, beyond even what is expected of the clergy. Such a trust is difficult to earn in the first place. How can such a trust be recovered if it is once betrayed? In most games I have joined or hosted, if such a person ever successfully regains paladinhood, there is a loss of levels as well.
    Likewise, if ever a paladin falls so far as to become a "blackguard" by whatever name you call it or changes deities except by decision of the deities involved (note that good deities would never agree to give one of their paladins to evil or neutral deities), the paladin does not "transfer levels to the new class." They start over at level one except for the standard fighting abilities they have alrteady accrued. What evil god would trust any ex-paladin enough to grant powers equal to the former powers from the outset? Especially since evil gods are used to dealing with traitors and betrayal. An evil god might promise such powers as an inducement to betray. Once the betrayal occurred, however, all promises would be off. Just how trustworthy do you think evil gods are?
    Although evil gods might have something similar in some ways to paladins, I find it hard to picture gods that revel in pain and misery granting any healing power or turning of undead. They would be more likely to grant the power to lay on hands to cause pain and the ability to summon or control undead. Before you argue that any god would want to preserve worshipers, try to think from the evil god's perspective. Which is the truer worshiper: the one that seeks self-preservation or the one that offers his/her body as a sacrifice in pain and blood? Instead of paladins nobly striding forth to smite enemies of the faith, they would be more likely to empower those that use betrayal or, better, trick the enemies of their faith into betraying their own principles.
    If a group of paladins could be convinced that they approached a remote monastery that served Calthos while the good monks within were convinced that servants of Calthos approached disguised as paladins of virtue, then someone attacked with range weapons from each direction before any words could be exchanged... Even if the battle ended quickly with those on both sides realizing their error, there would be some battle, some casualties, some paladins and clerics that had erred and needed to atone, if they ever could atone... Such would be the role of true servants of such gods, not the charge into righteous combat with flags waving in staunch support of the god expected of paladins.