A Discussion on Alignment

Dungeons and Dragons Hero Cover

If you’re new to Dungeons and Dragons or roleplay games in general, you may be wondering…what exactly is alignment? I wrote about alignment in a snippet in my character creation guide, but I wanted to delve deeper and elaborate on alignment. This is going to be a long ride, so buckle up! Here’s what we’re going to talk about:

  • The Struggle Between Good and Evil
  • The Paths of Law and Chaos
  • The Way of Neutrality
  • Lawful Good: the upstanding bringers of justice
  • Neutral Good: helping others with flexibility
  • Chaotic Good: doing whatever it takes for the greater good
  • Lawful Evil: order is a ladder to the top
  • Neutral Evil: living by a code that serves only themselves
  • Chaotic Evil: a mad dog chasing their twisted desires
  • Lawful Neutral: order is a necessity but zealotry is not
  • True Neutral: balance must be maintained in all things
  • Alignment Isn’t and Shouldn’t Be Rigid

The Struggle Between Good and Evil

dungeons and dragons monk symbol

The very first axis in terms of alignment is the spectrum of good and evil. In Dungeons and Dragons, there are powers that work for the forces of both good and evil, but how are good and evil defined in this world? Put simply, a good aligned character is someone who enjoys helping others (the weak, the poor, and the innocent), bringing justice (or even vengeance) upon evil-doers, and bringing goodness into the world even at the cost of their own life.

On the other end of this scale, a person aligned to evil seeks to advance themselves at the cost of others, has no sympathy for the needy or the innocent, and sees those of good alignment as self-righteous and a nuisance. These alignments clash naturally due to these differences and conflicts of interest. Parties that are comprised of player characters with alignments on both ends of the spectrum will tend to have a hard time in the beginning and may even attack one another as a result.

It is not typical for an adventuring party to have an evil alignment due to the nature of being a hero. However, if you are playing in an evil campaign, then evil aligned player characters are more common….obviously. It’s important to discuss with your Dungeon Master and Fellow players what kind of campaign you are playing, and what alignment you feel you should play as.

The Paths of Law and Chaos

The second axis in the graph of alignment is Law versus Chaos. When we’re talking about law and chaos in Dungeons and Dragons, we’re talking about one’s disposition towards societal law and order versus personal freedom.

A lawful character will have total faith in the laws put forth by society and will abide by them at all times. No matter what, they will obey law and do all they can to uphold and promote the order of the land. A chaotic character, however, will value their freedom and the freedom of others above law and order. These characters recognize that societal laws are fallible, and restrict freedom of choice. Chaotic characters will often break the law as a result, and will always promote freedom of choice. But how do we illustrate that?

For instance, there is a commoner who was caught stealing food because he is too poor to feed his family. The guards are in pursuit of this commoner to arrest him, charge him as a thief, and punish him accordingly. Your character is walking down an alley when he notices the commoner running away from the guards who are calling out “Stop! Thief!” If your character is lawful, he would most likely attempt to aid the authorities and possibly apprehend the commoner to turn him in. However, if your character is chaotic in nature, he would more likely help the commoner escape the authorities in some way.

When thinking on what alignment you wish to play, you want to think about your characters disposition toward societal laws and standards, as well as imagine how they would react in situations like this. I’ve only covered the extremes on both axis’. There is another path…

The Way of Neutrality

In both axis’ of alignment, there are extremes and there is the middle road. In the axis of good versus evil, neutral characters tend to try and advance themselves without harming others. They have moments that seem selfish, but they do not place themselves above other people. These characters tend to do what seems best in the moment and they avoid questions of morality. These characters aren’t prone to self-sacrifice however, and if their lives are in real danger, they may flee or even switch sides momentarily.

Neutral in the scheme of law versus chaos is again, a middle road. These characters do believe that there should be laws, however they value their own personal code of conduct over the laws of society. They believe in their own personal freedom, but chaotic characters would view these neutral folks as conformist. Characters neutral in both axis’ do not hold or promote any views that are extreme on either side.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about each of the nine possible alignments in the game.

Lawful Good: the upstanding bringers of justice

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The noble knight, the unwavering paladin, the champion of law, and all that is right. A lawful good character is someone who has total respect for the laws of the land. They abide by the laws put forth by society, and seek to bring goodness wherever they walk. These PC’s are loyal to the vows they’ve taken and to whom those vows are sworn. Characters of this alignment help the needy whenever they can and will always defend the innocent and the weak.

They will put aside personal needs and preferences for the sake of duty, law, and order. These characters are honest to a fault, even being truthful with enemies. They see that integrity is all-important, especially in the face of evil. However, this can leave them vulnerable in some situations. Lawful good characters actively seek out evil to bring it to justice, and in some cases result to outright annihilation.

As you play a lawful good character, it’s good to keep in mind that you are bound by law and by any oaths you make. Also, you are to repay any injustice you come across with personal retribution or you at least notify the proper authorities of incursions. Your character will be forthright if possible, and they will seek to do good wherever they go. You will act honorably, and show respect for authority figures.

Neutral Good: helping others with flexibility

The redeemer, the clever hero, the good Samaritan. Characters of this alignment believe in an organized society ruled by a governing body, but does not feel beholden by the law of the land. They put their energy into helping others as much as they can, sometimes breaking the law to do so. Of course, they will try to abide by the law as much as possible, but are bound more by their own personal code. These characters are truthful for the most part. However, they have no qualms with deceiving those of an evil persuasion. They will strive to be the best person they can be, typically forming their own code of conduct that has conformities with the laws of society.

Some things to keep in mind when roleplaying as neutral good: You will aid and protect the innocent whenever possible and have a tendency to lie to evil-doers  to gain the upper hand and bring them to justice. You will have respect for the law, but you will not always feel that you must abide by it.

Chaotic Good: doing whatever it takes for the greater good

The avenger, the maverick, the “robin hood” of the realms. Robin Hood is a very fine example of the chaotic good alignment. Characters within this alignment value freedom of choice within the realms of good. They will help the innocent, and avenge acts of evil. These characters will avoid telling lies, but are the most likely to do so of all the good alignments. They will also promote free will, rather than law and order. Also, they will work to uphold the good along with people’s freedom.

Here’s a few things to remember when playing this alignment. You will break the law, if it leads to good and will most certainly lie to gain the upper hand on evil-doers. You will seek vengeance against atrocities. Your character will aid people as often as possible and will act upon your freedom, rather than be constricted by the laws of the land. You will honor those who uphold good and freedom.

Lawful Evil: order is a ladder to the top

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The tyrant, the corrupt councilman, the ruthless arbiter. Those of the lawful evil persuasion are characters who believe in two primary things: law with a governing body, and that they must be at the top. As far as evil-doers go, they can be honorable. They are almost always truthful and obey the laws set down by society.

The only law they tend to break is that of murder, unless of course murder is legal. When they kill, they do so to elevate themselves in some fashion. These characters care not for the innocent or the weak and will often use and discard them as they see fit. Their ultimate goal is to gain as much power as possible for themselves and their allies.

Playing as an evil character, you’ll have to keep some things in mind. You will follow the laws of the land and use them to gain a position of power. You will never help the weak or innocent. Often, you will harm the innocent to promote order and your own power. Even though you are evil, you are bound by the oaths you take.

Neutral Evil: following a code that serves themselves

The great betrayer, the merciless one, the manipulator. Characters of the neutral evil alignment believe in having a governing body and some law, but do not want to have a position in law-making. These characters simply want power, and they will use the law to benefit them when it suits them, and break the law when it suits them. They will often kill, steal, lie, cheat, and betray those closest to them to gain more power and prestige.

They will often use whatever means necessary to achieve ultimate power over everyone, including their “peers.” I put peers in quote because characters such as these tend to believe themselves above everyone, and won’t hesitate to turn on those they call allies. Even friends and family are fair game, so long as their deaths have something to be gained from.

Here’s some things to consider when playing this alignment. You are willing to be a backstabber and  will never aid the weak. You will respect those who are strong and powerful, maybe even envy them. Your character will be merciless to your foes. You will lie often for self-advancement and self-preservation.

Chaotic Evil: a mad dog, chasing their twisted desires

The unchained demise, the joker, the true agent of chaos. These characters are possibly the purest form of evil out there. They will pursue personal pleasure in all of its aspects. Characters of this alignment will also commit evil acts whenever possible to plant seeds of chaos and discord. They view the law as a hindrance to their own pleasure and often go against any and all forms of order.

Killing and lying is the norm for these characters whenever it is convenient for them, as it is usually considered sport. As a result, they will betray almost any oaths they take as they consider these promises a constriction to their freedom.

When playing this character, you need to keep in mind that you are the grand trickster. You are beholden to no one except yourself and will lie and kill frequently for fun. You’re likely to try and manipulate others to promote chaos.

Lawful Neutral: order is a necessity but zealotry is not

The fair judge, the balanced scale, the ordered conventionalist. Lawful neutral characters are fairly close to those of lawful good with just a few differences. They are similar in that these characters will not lie, they will not harm the innocent, and they have respect and total compliance with the laws of society. These characters are also obligated to uphold any oaths they take. However, these characters are more concerned with maintaining the law, rather than doing good. They will typically not go out of their way to help the needy, unless of course it advances law and order.

So thusly, while playing as this character you must retain that you are the embodiment of the law. You will not actively seek out and punish evil-doers. You’re obligated to help others only to pursue law and order. You will likely remain balanced in questions of morality. You’re not a liar or a betrayer, and will promote the laws of society.

Chaotic Neutral: FREEEEEEEEEEEEDDOOOOOOOOOM!dungeons and dragons wizard symbol

The puckish rogue, the dashing debonair, the crazed warrior. Chaotic neutral is one of my personal favorite alignments. These characters don’t have much respect for anyone’s authority, save their own. They will lie in order to preserve their freedom. Personal pleasure is something they constantly pursue. They will remain true to their companions, unless their lives are in danger. These characters may help the innocent to advance their freedom, but will certainly not harm the innocent.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind. First, you are a free person, so screw anyone who tries to hinder your freedom. Help others when it helps you be free. You will lie to keep your freedom intact and you will break the law often. You’re inclined to act in a way that gives you pleasure without harming any innocents.

True Neutral: balance must be maintained

The unbiased, the naturally conventional, the just advancer. Characters of this alignment are the definition of the middle road. They work to advance themselves without harming the innocent. They believe that some law is necessary, but don’t feel beholden to it all the time. These characters will aid anyone who helps them, and harm those who bring them harm. They will never hold or promote an extreme viewpoint. True neutral characters try not to lie, but may tell some inevitably. They will not betray people, unless it’s out of self-preservation.

As a true neutral character, you must be as balanced as possible. You will elevate yourself without putting others down and remain true to your words, for the most part. You will have your own code you abide by that may conform to some common laws in society. Your character will show respect to those who respect you. Lastly, you will repay any kindness given with kindness, and any wrong done to you with retribution.

Alignment Isn’t and Shouldn’t Be Rigid

Now that we’ve broken down every single alignment, it’s time to bring up my last and possibly most important point. Your alignment can CHANGE. That’s right, you don’t have to remain bound to any alignment you start with. A good character can turn evil, a lawful character can turn chaotic. It all just depends on the narrative and how you want your character to evolve. If you’re not really liking how your current character is being played due to alignment, talk to your dungeon master. Just know that if you’re in a party that has a prominent alignment on one side of the spectrum and you want to be on the other side of that spectrum, there may be consequences to the actions of your character.

For instance, if you started off with a good character and you wanted to turn evil, you risk having your character falling under attack from the party. Of course, if you are committing evil against your will and the party senses this, they may find a way to free your character or even sway him/her back to the side of good. This is just one example of how alignment can be a fluid, changing thing. I encourage you to use your imagination in the evolution of your character’s alignment. Just be sure to include your dungeon master in your grand scheme so you both can find a way to work it into the story.

Phew….that was a long one! Thanks for sticking it through with me all! I hope this helped give you a more in-depth look at what it means to roleplay alignment. If you think I missed anything, please feel free to leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more tips, tricks and articles! Happy roleplaying!!!

Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)

I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!