Understanding Alignments

Something that I find to be the most commonly misunderstood attribute in Dungeons and Dragons is alignment. Too often do I listen to podcasts, watch youtube videos, and just see in person the misuse of alignment, heck I misuse them all the time, and it just drives me crazy. So I decided to get myself a little bit of knowledge and started to read up on alignments. Honestly, I am shocked at what I have read and am starting to question if I have even been playing more than one alignment over the years.

The High-Level Overview

Alignment, in D&D as well as many other games and genres, is used to guide the player in how the character should act. They are just guides, and I believe the rules can be bent in certain cases for story flavor or plot hooks. Even though they are just guides, they are important and should not be bent often, especially if your group is playing for a crowd. The reason for this is it breaks suspension of disbelief for those at the table and those observing. Once your character has established a alignment, it should be a catastrophic event for the character to shift, that is like changing someone’s core being.

So enough about that, and more about what alignments are available for play. The most common alignments you will probably run into in game are Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, and Lawful Evil. Let us break what I just wrote down a little. What I mean by this is that these are the most common alignments people play, whether their character sheet says it or not. This is because these are some of the easiest for most people to relate to.

Now you may have noticed the double descriptor noun, “Lawful Evil”, this is because alignments are a two part word. The first part is called the ethical axis and the second part is called the moral axis. The ethical axis options are Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. For moral axis, we have Good, Neutral, Evil. If we were to plot these axis, we would see this.


The Nitty-Gritty

Each of the options for each axis represents the following ideals

Ethical Axis

  • Lawful: The character believes that having an ordered society is most important and that upholding those laws are just as important

  • Neutral: The neutral character would find that balance in order and freedom are most important, “If laws are unjust then they should be rewritten” kind of thought.

  • Chaotic: These characters believe more in freedom and individualism, they have their own personal rules that tend to be fluid. If the law works for them, then “Awesome” and if not then “Who cares?”

Moral Axis

  • Good: Good characters are mostly altruistic. They are more for the betterment of everyone else at their own personal sacrifice. There are varying degrees of good, of course, but the general idea is the character will put others before his or her self.

  • Neutral: These characters are mostly of the mindset of the common phrase “One for all and all for one.” They are about working together to better everyone’s situation.

  • Evil: Evil characters are focused on self-gain usually at the expense of others.

Now, using the “Ethic Moral” description we have 9 combinations that we can use. Most of the time you will see these laid out in a 3x3 grid like such.

Lawful Good (LG)

Lawful good is the Knight in shining armor trope. These Characters are bound to Law and Rules, and they are very resilient to break or bend these tenants. They are self-sacrificing and will do all that they can within the law to achieve their goals. I see these characters more loosely played then the true form of Lawful Good. I actually have a LG co-worker, someone who is so “by the book” and unyielding to these rules that it becomes a fault. There can even be conflict within the character here when they are shown laws that are not morally  good

Neutral Good (NG)

These characters, are not bound by order but try to strike a balance between order and freedom while guided by strong morals of good. They would readily rework law to fit good morals. A great example of Neutral Good is Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Chaotic Good (CG)

This is the standard vigilante trope. Chaotic Good characters desire freedom outside the law will work outside the law to help bring a greater good.

Lawful Neutral (LN)

Let me preface the moral neutrals with a statement that the ethical and moral neutrals are difficult concepts and can be very fickle to describe. That being said, Lawful Neutral, at times, can be contradictory. These characters are law abiding citizens and seek to do good for the tribe expecting the tribe will do good back. They are not bound to a moral good or bad but live in a state of gray as they are just following laws and trying to do the best with what they have. An example of a LN character would be a politician that follows the steps of the laws to raise taxes, for all people (rich or poor) to help benefit the city as a whole. There are razor thin distinctions between LN and LG, and the biggest differentiator is the idea of “fairness”. It is that age old question, is it fair to raise the taxes on the rich and not the poor because the rich have a cost of living margin OR is it fair to increase taxes for everyone? A LG character would do what they could to protect the financial week and a LN might lean more toward taxing at the same increase for everyone.

True Neutral (N)

I am in strong belief that true neutral is the hardest alignment to play. As I see it, there is a couple ways your character could think, “I need to keep the Balance” or the “Meh, I don’t care” mindset. This alignment can be played by many different types of characters, but it takes not only a very skilled player to stay true to the alignment, but it also takes an understanding table to help make the game play work. Out of the two mindsets I listed, I think the “just don’t care” mindset is easier to play, but it can also be very bland. A character that is just fine with whatever happens feels more like a copout to me. But a player truly invested in the idea that the world must maintain a balance, that right there is some deep Roleplay and can get you some very interesting play at the table. The balance mindset is very much a classic Druid mindset. This would be a character that would not attempt to save a town from a wild fire, but she would rise up to fight an evil that is threatening to destroy good.

Chaotic Neutral (CN)

A Chaotic Neutral character is the free spirit type of character. They do their thing while trying to stay in line between good and evil. These are characters that are more interested in freedom while maintaining a balance in the world. CN characters, in my opinion, are the “Wild Cards” they will do what they want when they want, these can be very fun and very difficult characters to play with.

Lawful Evil (LE)

Ah, the evil morals, after reading up on these I was actually quite surprised how simple these were. Lawful Evil is evil with order, and can tend to be the most successful evil, think Nazis. These are fantastic villains and can also be great PC’s in a good campaign. LE characters in a good campaign tend to be secretive and manipulative, think cloak and dagger like things. Characters could go a full successful campaign (start to end) without knowing there is a Lawful Evil person in their midst. These characters could be sticking with the party for protection all the while building a following through their impressive deeds, just to subjugate the masses.

Neutral Evil (NE)

NE characters tend to be the most dangerous of all the evil alignments. These are characters that are able to dabble in Order and Chaos, which oddly enough, makes them more volatile than a chaotic character. They are the villains that will twist law and order to impose their will on others while enjoying freedoms outside the confines of the laws. Think of someone like a mob boss. They have a structured crime network that works because it has order. The boss however operates outside of that order and rules with violent actions.  These are the types of bad guys expect their generals to speak their mind but are quick to kill their generals for misspeaking or making mistakes, think Stalin-esk.

Chaotic Evil (CE)

These are the evil loonatics. The classic and most well know example for this alignment would be the Joker from the Batman comics. These characters do things because they feel like it, and what they feel like doing are things that are not usually in the best interest of anyone but themselves.

That is where I am going to leave it for this week. As always, thank you so much for stopping in and reading. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing topics like these. Check back in next week to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates and to let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about. Also, go check out Roll with Advantage! It is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that releases every Monday at 5 pm Eastern Time. We play, laugh, and have a good time playing a game we all love. Thank you for reading.

― The DM