Alignment in Dungeons and Dragons Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Alignment in Dungeons and Dragons

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In role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) or Baldur's Gate, alignment is a way of categorising your character's philosophy of life. D&D alignments measure where a character falls on the spectrum from Good to Evil and Lawful to Chaotic1. Lawful characters believe in the value of order and social structure, whereas chaotic characters are strong individualists who tend to distrust authority and dislike being ordered around. Those who are neutral between law and chaos may be indifferent to social structure, or may believe that it's best to maintain a balance between total order and regulation and total chaos and anarchy. There are nine possible alignments: any of Good, Neutral and Evil combined with any of Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic.

Lawful GoodNeutral GoodChaotic Good
Lawful NeutralTrue NeutralChaotic Neutral
Lawful EvilNeutral EvilChaotic Evil

In some computer games, alignment is more or less a fixed part of the description of your character, but in others it can change with your character's actions. For example, in Neverwinter Nights your alignment is measured on a scale of 1-100 on the good-evil and lawful-chaotic axes. Good and evil acts give you points towards the appropriate alignment, and so do lawful and chaotic acts although they are rarer. When your numeric alignment crosses a boundary, you will change from one of the nine alignment descriptions to another. For example, a good act could convert you from True Neutral to Neutral Good.

D&D has two dimensions of alignment, but many games have only one. This is generally good versus evil, although it may be called 'Lawful' versus 'Chaotic' - perhaps some people are reluctant to play a character who is called evil. There exists at least one MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) on which your alignment is simply a function of what you kill. Killing good monsters draws you towards evil, and killing evil monsters draws you towards good. ADOM and Nethack both have one-dimensional alignments and call the extreme alignments 'Lawful' and 'Chaotic', but in ADOM (and to some extent in NetHack) it's pretty clear that 'Lawful' equates to good and 'Chaotic' to evil.

Determining Your D&D Alignment

Here are the nine D&D alignments and what they mean:

  • Lawful Good (Crusader) - Loyal, hard-working members of the community, or truthful and honourable fighters against evil who hate to see bad go unpunished. They believe that having an ordered society is the best way to further the common good. Example: King Arthur.
  • Neutral Good (Benefactor) - They believe that a balance somewhere between total order and total chaos is best, and would generally concentrate on doing the morally right thing without worrying about whether it was good or bad for 'society'. Example: Mother Theresa.
  • Chaotic Good (Rebel) - Strong believers in freedom who like to make their own way and hate people who bully other people and try to push them around. They will often have a strong moral code which may not agree with the law. Example: Robin Hood.
  • Lawful Neutral (Judge) - They are disciplined and believe that adhering to and enforcing laws and traditions is the most important thing. They will not generally go out of their way to help others but will intervene to stop crime. Example: Asimovian robots.
  • True Neutral (Undecided or Balanced) - This can mean either of two things, depending on whether the character is actively or passively neutral. Active neutrals (the Balanced type) are very rare. They are philosophically committed to maintaining the Balance, and will tend to join every fight on the losing side. Passive neutrals (the Undecided type) are somewhere in the middle on both the Good-Evil and Law-Chaos axes. The passive neutral alignment can also apply to creatures with no moral sense such as animals. Example: Zen masters (Balanced), animals (Undecided).
  • Chaotic Neutral (Free Spirit) - A strange and very rare alignment. Chaotic neutral characters are very unpredictable individualists, being governed by whatever they feel like doing at the moment. Example: Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes).
  • Lawful Evil (Dominator) - They respect the law, but have no concern for others, and tend to exploit the law to rise to power. Often they will engage in merciless, organised, planned killing. Example: Adolf Hitler.
  • Neutral Evil (Malefactor) - A purely selfish type, with no concern for other people or the law, but without as much lust for killing as Chaotic Evil characters. Example: Case (from Neuromancer by William Gibson).
  • Chaotic Evil (Destroyer) - The most dangerous characters of all, they will rove around killing and destroying for the sheer joy of it. Example: orcs.

If all that was too long and confusing, D&D Adventures has a short explanation of each alignment in terms of 'I'll kill you because...' If you are playing a pacifist character, or just trying to determine your real-life alignment as an ordinary person who has never killed anyone, you might prefer the descriptions below in terms of 'I'll heal you because...'

  • Lawful Good - society is better off when people help each other.
  • Neutral Good - you need it.
  • Chaotic Good - I want to get back at the uncaring society that left you to die.
  • Lawful Neutral - the law obliges me to.
  • True Neutral - you'd do the same for me (for the Undecided true neutrals, by analogy with them killing in self-defence at the website above) or you are the underdog (for the Balanced true neutrals who join every fight on the losing side).
  • Chaotic Neutral - I feel like it.
  • Lawful Evil - you are vital to my conquest of the world.
  • Neutral Evil - there's a nice reward for it.
  • Chaotic Evil - I want to torture you more before you die.

Alternatively, a number of alignment tests are available online.

1All references to D&D in this article refer to the current version (3.5). Classic D&D had only one dimension of alignment, from Lawful to Chaotic.

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