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Alignment (role-playing games)
In Dungeons & Dragons and some similar role-playing games, alignment refers to the moral and ethical perspective of the player characters, non-player characters, monsters, and societies in the game. Not all role-playing games have such a system.
Dungeons & Dragons
The canonical system derived from Dungeons & Dragons creates a two-dimensional grid, one of which measures a "moral" continuum between good and evil, and the other "ethical" between law and chaos. Those characters that fall on one of the extremes are "good" or "evil", "lawful" or "chaotic"; in addition, there is a middle ground of "neutrality" on both axes, describing characters that are indifferent, balanced or conflicted about good or evil, law or chaos. By combining the two axes, any given character has one of nine possible alignments:
The first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons suggested that Lawful Good was the "best" alignment and Chaotic Evil the "worst". Later editions moved away from this perspective, but continue to discourage player characters of the three evil alignments.
Certain character classes are restricted in the sorts of alignment they can take. A paladin traditionally must be of Lawful Good alignment; thieves are seldom lawful in alignment. Clerics and other priests must typically uphold the alignments favoured by their deities. Druids must be wholly or partially neutral in their allegiances. These restrictions have been somewhat relaxed in the third edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game, although a Dungeon Master may penalize a player character who acts in marked variance from his declared alignment or may shift the character's alignment to match his actual behaviour.
The Dungeons & Dragons alignment system is largely derived from the cosmology imagined by science fiction writer Michael Moorcock. This is especially evident in the original Dungeons & Dragons game, in which "lawful", "neutral" and "chaotic" were the only three alignments available, with "lawful" including characteristics ascribed to "good" and "chaotic" those ascribed to "evil". The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game revised the alignment system into the biaxial system that is currently used.
Dungeon Masters often allow characters to be of an alignment falling between one of the traditional nine alignments; for instance, a character could be neutral good / lawful good, meaning that he is primarily neutral good but has lawful tendencies. Indeed, this system was supported canonically in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition, particularly in alignments of the Outer Planes as depicted in the Manual of the Planes; for example, neutral good / lawful good is the alignment of the plane of Bytopia. These Dungeon Masters treat alignment as a two-dimensional plane rather than a grid, allowing for an essentially limitless range of alignments.
Good vs. Evil
Good characters and creatures protect innocent life. Evil characters and creatures debase or destroy innocent life, whether for fun or profit.
"Good" implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others.
"Evil" implies a lack of concern for others, and in extreme cases hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is necessary or convenient to their goals. Others are actively malicious, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master.
People who are neutral with respect to good and evil have compunctions against killing the innocent but lack the commitment to make sacrifices to protect or help others. Neutral people are generally committed to others by personal relationships rather than by a general sense of moral obligation.
Being good or evil can be a conscious choice, particularly in the case of people or entities that recognize the objective existence of alignment in the default Dungeons & Dragons cosmology. For most people, though, being good or evil is an attitude that one recognizes but does not choose. Being neutral on the good/evil axis usually represents a lack of commitment one way or the other, but for some (particularly druids) it represents a positive commitment to a balanced view. While acknowledging that good and evil are objective states, not just opinions, these people maintain that a balance between the two is the proper place, if not for all people than at least for themselves.
Animals, other non-sentient creatures, and other creatures incapable of moral action are neutral rather than good or evil. Even man-eating carnivores and animals trained to kill are neutral because they lack the capacity to distinguish between morally right or wrong behavior.
Law vs. Chaos
Lawful characters tell the truth, keep their word, respect authority, honor tradition, and judge those who fall short of their duties.
Chaotic characters follow their consciences, resent being told what to do, favor new ideas over dogma, and do what they promise if they feel like it.
"Law" implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability. On the downside, lawfulness can include close-mindedness, reactionary adherence to tradition, judgmentality, and a lack of adaptability. Those who consciously promote lawfulness say that only lawful behavior creates a society in which people can depend on each other and make the right decisions in full confidence that others will act as they should.
"Chaos" implies freedom, adaptability, and flexibility. On the downside, chaos can include recklessness, resentment toward legitimate authority, arbitrary actions, and irresponsibility. Those who promote chaotic behavior say that only unfettered personal freedom allows people to express themselves fully and lets society benefit from the potential that its individuals have within them.
Someone who is neutral with respect to law and chaos has a normal respect for authority and feels neither a compulsion to obey nor a compulsion to rebel. She is honest but can be tempted into lying or deceiving others.
Devotion to law or chaos may be a conscious choice, but more often it is a personality trait that is recognized rather than being chosen. Neutrality on the law/chaos axis is usually simply a middle state, a state of not feeling compelled toward one side or the other. Some few such neutrals, however, espouse neutrality as superior to law or chaos, regarding each as an extreme with its own blind spots and drawbacks.
Animals and other creatures incapable of ethical action are neutral. Dogs may be obedient and cats free-spirited, but they do not have the ethical capacity to be truly lawful or chaotic.
The law versus chaos axis has generated some controversy and confusion. Different books, and even different parts in the same book, have interpreted law and chaos to mean different things. Among its different interpretations are a person's feelings on government and laws, a person's sense of honor, how orderly and logical a person's mind works, how flexible a person's mind is, whether a person prefers cities or countryside, and even how orderly a person likes to keep his or her house.
There are nine separate alignment pigeonholes into which characters can fall:
A lawful good character upholds society and its laws, believing that these laws are created to work for the good and prosperity of all. He is both honest and benevolent. He will work within the established system to change it for the better, and strives to bring order to goodness that other good-aligned characters might pool their resources to better the world. A lawful good character combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good combines honor and compassion.
A neutral good character will obey the law, or break it when he sees a need to serve a greater good by it, but he is not bound strongly to a social system or order. For a neutral good character, the need to help others and reduce their suffering takes precedence over all else.
Neutral desires good without bias for or against order.
A chaotic good character acts as his conscience directs him with little regard for what others expect of him. He is kind and benevolent, a strong individualist hostile to the claims of rules, regulations, and social order. He hates it when people try to intimidate others and tell them what to do. He will actively work to bring down unjust rulers and organizations and to liberate the oppressed. He finds lawful societies distasteful and will avoid them, often living as a nomad or hermit.
Chaotic good combines a good heart with a free spirit.
A lawful neutral character acts as law, tradition, or a personal code directs him. Order and organization are paramount to him. He may believe in personal order and live by a code or standard, or he may believe in order for all and favor a strong, organized government.
Lawful neutral combines reliability and honor, without zealousness.
A neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or order vs. chaos. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil — after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way.
Neutral is without prejudice or compulsion.
This is the most common alignment, being both the average alignment of most sentient creatures and the default alignment of most animals and other creatures of very low intelligence.
Some neutral characters commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They are of the true neutral alignment as described in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
A true neutral character sees good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. He advocates the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run.
Some true neutral characters actively support balance in the world, and seek to avoid having any one side, law or chaos, good or evil, become too powerful over them or anyone else, and will work against whichever side is the most powerful. They tend to side with the underdog in any situation, and are often opportunistic in their actions.
True neutral is committed to the avoidance of extremes, and is non-judgemental.
Druidic True Neutral
In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, all druids were true neutral. The true neutral alignment is central to the philosophy of neutral druids:
Because a druid's main charges — plants, animals, and the health of the planetary ecology — essentially lack alignment or ethos, druids feel free to use almost any means necessary to protect them.
The druidic order works to maintain the natural balance among the alignments. However, druids do realize that most individuals' actions — including their own — will not prove significant to the cosmic balance. The druid sees the friction between alignments as the driving force in the world.
When faced with a tough decision, a druid usually stands behind the solution that best serves nature in the long run.
A chaotic neutral character follows his whims. He is an individualist first and last. He values his own liberty but doesn't strive to protect others' freedom. He avoids authority, resents restrictions, and challenges traditions. A chaotic neutral character does not intentionally disrupt organizations as part of a campaign of anarchy. To do so, he would have to be motivated either by good (and a desire to liberate others) or evil (and a desire to make others suffer). A chaotic neutral character may be unpredictable, but his behavior is not totally random. He is not as likely to jump off a bridge as to cross it.
Chaotic neutral represents true freedom from both society's restrictions and a do-gooder's zeal.
A lawful evil character methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He is loath to break promises, and is therefore very cautious about giving his word unless a bargain is clearly in his favour.
This reluctance comes partly from his nature and partly because he depends on order to protect himself from those who oppose him on moral grounds. Some lawful evil villains have particular taboos, such as not killing in cold blood (but having underlings do it) or not letting children come to harm (if it can be helped). They feel these personal morals put them above unprincipled villains.
Many lawful evil characters use society and its laws for selfish advantages, exploiting the letter of the law over its spirit whenever it best suits their interests.
Some lawful evil people and creatures commit themselves to evil with a zeal like that of a crusader committed to good. Beyond being willing to hurt others for their own ends, they take pleasure in spreading evil as an end unto itself. They may also see doing evil as part of a duty to an evil deity or master.
Lawful evil represents methodical, intentional, and frequent success at all costs.
A neutral evil character does whatever he can get away with. He is out for himself, pure and simple. He sheds no tears for those he kills, whether for profit, sport, or convenience. He has no love of order and holds no illusion that following laws, traditions, or codes would make him any better or more noble. On the other hand, he doesn't have the restless nature or love of conflict that a chaotic evil villain has.
Some neutral evil villains hold up evil as an ideal, committing evil for its own sake. Most often, such villains are devoted to evil deities or secret societies.
Neutral evil represents pure pragmatism without honor and without variation.
A chaotic evil character does whatever his greed, hatred, and lust for destruction drive him to do. If he is simply out for whatever he can get, he is ruthless and brutal. If he is committed to the spread of evil and chaos, he is even worse. Thankfully, his plans are haphazard, and any groups he joins or forms are poorly organized. Typically, chaotic evil people can be made to work together only by force, and their leader lasts only as long as he can thwart attempts to topple or assassinate him.
These characters will commit any act to further their own ends. Chaotic evil is sometimes called "demonic" because demons are the epitome of chaotic evil.
Chaotic evil represents survival of the fittest, and deserved respect for the powerful.
Other game systems
Many gaming systems, including most non-US systems, eschew this concept of alignment, though a few (especially those games directly derived from D&D, such as a number of MUDs) use similar or identical systems. Palladium, for example, uses a system where alignments are "Good", "Selfish", or "Evil", each subdivided into several more descriptive subcategories. Some games use other systems for determining character morality. For example, the characters in White Wolf's Storyteller games have "Nature" and "Demeanor" characteristics that describe how the character really is and how they behave superfically. Furthermore, characters in White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade have a "Humanity" trait ranging from 0 to 10, with the average person having a Humanity score of 7. Also, DC Heroes from Mayfair Games (now known as MEGS, Mayfair's Exponential Gaming System ) used the characteristic "Motivation" to describe a character's ethical behavior. They were selected from a list divided into "Heroic" (Upholding the Good, Responsibility of Power, Seeking Justice, Thrill of Adventure, and Unwanted Power) and "Villainous" (Mercenary, Thrill Seeker, Psychopath, Power Lust, and Nihilist). In the MEGS licensed game Blood of Heroes by Pulsar Games , a set of "Anti-Heroic" variations on some of the Heroic and Villainous motivations were presented, allowing characters to exist in moral and ethical gray areas.
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