Perhaps one of the most difficult things for new (and even accomplished) players to understand is D&D's alignment system. This may be especially difficult if you have do not have a thorough D&D background. The following treatise on alignment in D&D has been adapted for Avlis from one written by Michael Lloyd Morris for his campaign setting called Dusk, but it is applicable to any D&D world:
One of the more misunderstood aspects of the D&D game system is the presence of the alignment system. Designed to be a very simplistic method of sketching out a character's moral and ethical beliefs, alignment can run much deeper than that, and to be useable in Avlis it has to be.
Alignment, for the purposes of Avlis if not D&D in general, is the character's moral and ethical outlook. The word "outlook" is the key of the sentence, for what a character believes and how he behaves can be two different aspects entirely. The character's innermost beliefs and urges are his alignment, once everything else about the character has been boiled away.
For a beginning role-player dealing with this alone can be a challenge, since declaring alignment is like saying, "I'm going to play a character that will do this because he believes this." Although somewhat one-dimensional, it is important that this first step be mastered before attempting to play a character who has multiple views - some of which will may seem to conflict on the surface.
Alignment is also important to the DM, since at a glance it can give him some very sketchy ideals on how to approach the character and what to expect of him. In a way alignment is more important to the DM than the player, for with his cast of hundreds of roles the less he has to learn about any particular NPC to play him well the better.
Still, alignment is seen by master role-players as a straight-jacket to be left behind with the other training wheels of life. But casting away alignment is not so simple: many magic spells and items have their results at least partially based on alignment. To cast away the alignment system cripples or eliminates these items, and with it a large part of the D&D game.
Remember, however, that alignment states tendencies and beliefs that the character may hold. Not all of what the character does may coincide with this, but the greater average will. To illustrate this point the nine basic alignments are discussed once again with broader interpretations than those of the Player's Handbook.
Ethics: Law vs. Chaos
The ethical component of the character's alignment is where he stands between law and chaos. Lawful characters view the world as essentially ordered, or at least a place where order must be established and maintained. Chaotic characters see no such order, and usually disdain its establishment unless necessary. A character who is neutral in this regard has no remarkable views either way, or they may be mixed. He may see no order in the universe other than what is established by sentient creatures, but may see that imposed order as necessary.
Morals: Good vs. Evil
The definitions of what is "good" and "evil" change wildly between societies, and for the purposes of alignment play these definitions must be broad-based as well. As a rule, "good" is the concern for the welfare of other sentient creatures. "Evil" is the inverse, a lack of concern for the welfare of others. A character who is morally neutral would not take active participation to further the welfare of others or to hinder it. There are no absolutes here, and within the context of an individual character his beliefs come into play since they are likely to be less universal.
As an example, in traditional "Western philosophy" suicide is wrong. Most Christian sects go so far as to state that it is a damnable act. A character with these believes would, in his mind at least, be committing an evil act by committing or assisting in a suicide. On the contrary, in Medieval Japanese society, suicide was morally righteous to the point of being the ultimate, final means of atonement for failure or an evil act. A character with these beliefs could commit or assist in a suicide without endangering his alignment standing.
It is important to stick to the more universal precepts of the first paragraph for the general determination of what is good and what is evil, especially between societies. They may be less exacting, but they give the DM more flexibility in his judgments and choices.
Often disdained as the paladin's goody-two-shoes alignment, Lawful Good is a far more subtle alignment than that, for very few characters who happen to be Lawful Good actually stick to anything approaching the Paladin Code in stringency.
A lawful good character holds strongly to the principle that the good of the society can only be maintained via order. The exact specifications of what is "good" may vary wildly for this purpose, but on the whole "good" implies concern for the safety and comforts of others, and that all persons have a right to safety and comfort. The character may build up other definitions in their own moral code, but this is essentially the heart of the matter. Lawful Good, unlike the other Good alignments, also holds that it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice what is "good" for a few persons in order to preserve order, which is "good" for society in general.
On a personal level Lawful Good characters have a tendency to at least strive for an ordered lifestyle. Many, if not most of them, have an "everything has a time and place" attitude. Most tend to organize their behaviors to suit the group, although they are reluctant to do so at a personal loss unless something worthwhile can be obtained with the sacrifice.
A Lawful Good alignment does not rule out chaotic behaviors, particularly impulsiveness. Impatience is another fault that some Lawful Good characters are guilty of. On the other side of the coin, hedonistic behavior is not often observed in Lawful Good characters, unless in one or two activities.
While Lawful Good characters believe that order is the best way, they don't necessarily maintain it. A character with a particularly poor willpower may allow his life to get quite out of shape. And also remember that the character will maintain order from his point of view. A Lawful Good merchant's shop may look like an explosion in a mattress factory, with nobody other than the character able to find anything. But the apparent chaos is deceiving most of the time, ask him where something is and he'll usually be able to find it much faster than appearances would seem to dictate.
Lawful Good societies tend to avoid overdoing laws. The laws of the society are usually well coded, but one individual, or sometimes a council, has the right to overrule the law to achieve something "good" (or at least perceived as such). Lawful Good justices are more concerned with the spirit of the law and the intent of its author in achieving a worthy purpose. If the law does not achieve this most Lawful Good characters will dispose of it, although some more reluctantly than others.
In the afterlife Lawful Good people can expect to spend eternity in one of the follow three locations:
It is the belief of most Neutral Good aligned characters that morality must be maintained beyond all other virtues. As long as someone is not harming others then he is doing nothing wrong. Neutral Good characters also perceive both too many laws and too few of them to be a threat to the common good. Too many laws and any freedom will be unjustly restricted and too few and it will not be protected. Hence, a balance must be struck.
Neutral Good characters strive to act to the benefit of as many persons as they can, and if that includes themselves that is an added bonus. If they cannot personally benefit from a good act they will still probably perform the act. They will not intentionally harm anyone who is not a known enemy, and such dealings are usually short and to the point. Neutral Good characters are perhaps the least tolerant of whatever they perceive as being "wrong" of the three major good alignments.
Individuals of this alignment can be quite interesting. Not overly concerned with establishing order in their lives, they may have the appearance of being chaotic, yet unlike chaotic characters they rarely rebel against a just authority simply because it is overbearing. Although it varies greatly from individual to individual, Neutral Good characters do not usually rock the boat. A Neutral Good leader is rare, for the individuals of this alignment often lack the sense of duty or the sense of individualism it requires to take on such a task.
As is mentioned previously, there is a balance between the lawful and chaotic sides of a Neutral Good character, although it should be noted that the vast majority of those characters do not consciously maintain this balance in their lives. It is this lack of a conscious awareness of the balance that may explain why there are so few Neutral Good characters when compared to Lawful or Chaotic Good ones: they simply fall to one of the two waysides.
An entire society made up of Neutral Good characters is rare; such societies are usually quite small. Government is achieved through a few leaders and a few, broad edicts that everyone is happy with. The happiness of the greater part of society is the only real concern; any laws that would affect something else are usually not to be found.
Upon death a Neutral Good person will travel to one of the following outer planes.
The Chaotic Good mindset is a paradox of the desire for individuality and a benevolent concern for others. Chaotic Good characters are almost always strong minded and each tends to possess a unique moral compass about what exactly is right and what is wrong. These characters have a tendency to pass moral judgments based on their beliefs, and to hell with what anyone else thinks. Despite this individualism, the definition of good, for most Chaotic Good characters, doesn't hurt anyone else.
Chaotic Good characters tend to be popular among players since it is mistakenly viewed as the only good alignment with room to slip up once in a while. That isn't true, for all good alignments can waver quite a bit. Chaotic Good characters, consciously or not, resist authority because they have a tendency to equate law with evil. They have the universal precept that every man should be left to his own to make up his own mind. In this aspect Chaotic Good characters can be very anarchistic, since they have a trust that people are capable of governing their own behavior.
There is a lot of variety in Chaotic Good behavior. Some are hedonistic, others have a paladin-like piety, but lack the follow through of the members of that class, most are restless however and some are meticulous. Just as it is a mistake to believe Lawful Good characters to be devious of chaotic streaks, so too is it a mistake to believe Chaotic Good characters to be incapable of order. Indeed, often the characters of this alignment have to follow orders, even when they don't want to, but they can be quite capricious in their dealings with authorities they do not like. On the other hand, they can be quite methodical in order to get what they want. Still, the chaotic mindset is there. Chaotic Good characters who fall into a routine will break it occasionally for no apparent reason to anyone but themselves.
Chaotic Good societies tend to be widespread and lacking of any real central authority. These societies rarely have a set of laws set in stone, just a series of precedents and understandings. "Rule" per se, is often deferred to one person at a time. Large Chaotic Good societies will enact more laws, but they will still be very broad based. Often these societies are republics with a democratic (or at least semi-democratic) leadership elected from time to time. But no matter what the intentions of any proposed law in such a society, it will always have opposition from those who feel that too much government is wrong, or even evil in nature. Enacting any new law in such a society is often a long and laborious process (If all this sounds familiar, the United States is an example of a Chaotic Good society and government).
A creature that is Chaotic Good will eventually find themselves in one of these places
In a sense, Lawful Neutral characters can be the most dangerous of all the character types, especially in large numbers simply because, for the most part, they are easily controlled. Lawful Neutral characters place order above all other concerns. To them the presence of a natural order is the way things must be, and any moral issue stemming from the use of order is completely irrelevant to them.
Lawful Neutral characters look for patterns in everything. They cannot accept the world as being chaotic, and they therefore devise systems to explain away anything chaotic in their lives. It is chaos that they fear more than anything else, a Lawful Neutral would endure a thousand tyrannies before living in an anarchistic situation.
The characters of this alignment tend to always follow rather than lead. Leaders in Lawful Neutral societies are almost always Lawful Good or Lawful Evil, for rarely does a character gain a position of preeminence without gaining some moral baggage along the way. Even when Lawful Neutrals do lead, they follow whatever laws and any precedent that preceded them. Lawful Neutrals are notoriously lacking in initiative, but to say they must have no willpower or individuality would be a mistake. Although they will fit in quietly and nicely when the powers that be follow the letter of the law, they can be a very painful hindrance to those who would try to follow the spirit of the law (Lawful Good) or twist it to their own ends (Lawful Evil). Order for its own sake - Lawful Neutral characters will stubbornly defend this principle to the bitter end. Just as there are few Neutral Good characters, so too are there few Lawful Neutrals. Most of these characters fall to the waysides of Good and Evil before holding their alignment long.
Lawful Neutral societies are almost always large, and always come with large cumbersome (and despite all efforts, usually comically ineffective) bureaucracies. Everyone in such a society is assigned a place in life. The goal of a Lawful Neutral society is to achieve perfect harmony, where everybody has a job, a place to live, and through the benevolence of a well run government everyone is happy (communism is an example of a Lawful Neutral governing system). Unfortunately, the willingness of these societies to follow orders and laws proves to be their undoing, as inevitably a few evil persons become entrenched at the upper echelons of government and are virtually invulnerable from removal or attack.
The following outer planes are home to Lawful Neutral souls.
True Neutral is at once the rarest and the most common alignment in the multiverse. Neutral characters are either incapable of making moral and ethical decisions or refrain from them actively. "Actively" is the key phrase here. A character that is incapable of moral and ethical decisions would have intelligence and wisdom scores of no higher than 6. Very few player characters qualify on that account, therefore the vast majority of PC Neutrals actively refrain from moral and ethical judgments. Within this context there are two reasons a character may not actively pursue ethical and moral thinking. The first, and most storied in the AD&D tradition, is the druidical "preservation of the balance" mentality. However, this view, for obvious reasons, is uncannily rare.
The second and most common example is the character that simply doesn't care. Neutrals of this type aren't concerned for the welfare of anybody (except themselves), but they aren't willing to advance themselves at any cost like Neutral Evil characters. They are comparatively lazy and lacking in drive in this respect, still there are certainly other reasons. The character may see advancement beyond reasonable comfort through reasonable risk as pointless. Not surprisingly, these Neutrals have a bleak view on life. As for the ethical (law vs. chaos) leanings of these characters, they may follow orders if it serves them, disobey if it doesn't, act on the occasional whim but otherwise keep to a reasonably predictable life.
True Neutrals are all about reason, and perhaps that's why they are so few. Everybody seems to get behind some banner or cause, Neutrals couldn't care less about such trivial matters. Often they have one fascination in their lives which they are preoccupied with, and everything else doesn't matter to them. In the case of druids, this is the "preservation of the balance."
True Neutral societies are very rare, but when they do occur they tend to be primitive. The concerns of simple survival dominate the daily lives of such people, and for them further complications aren't worth the effort to create. In a way, Neutrals are the most peaceful of societies, but they are also the most infuriating because of the nearly universal lack of a drive the members of this alignment possess.
All who are of a truly balanced disposition congregate in The Outlands.
Perhaps the most misunderstood of the nine alignments, many people believe that all chaotic neutral characters are insane. While it is true that none of them are very predictable, insanity is not the province of the members of this alignment alone. Indeed all characters of all alignments are capable of insane and compulsive behaviors, but Chaotic Neutrals are not only the most inclined to this type of behavior, they are also the most famous for it.
Chaotic Neutral characters have little to no discipline. That is perhaps the only statement that can be made about this alignment that applies to all the personalities contained within its context. As a rule the only thing that concerns a Chaotic Neutral character is themselves. They seek to do what pleases them only, and don't really care if that pleasure includes anyone else. Chaotic Neutrals can also be surprisingly snug and unambitious. This lack of personal greed separates this group from Chaotic Evil characters, who are often very concerned with getting ahead. Chaotic Neutrals are also unconcerned with philanthropy in the least. They will help someone that it pleases them to, or someone who will pay them.
Chaotic Neutrals do not consider morality in their judgments, and about the only thing they stop to consider is whether or not they have a remote chance of success. The odds aren't usually considered, but even Chaotic Neutrals will not attempt the obviously impossible unless desperate (then watch out, anything could happen). Chaotic Neutrals aren't suicidal, neither do they shy away from trusting sheer luck, and hence the alignment has reputation for brash behavior.
Chaotic Neutral societies are anarchies. Everyone does pretty much what he wants, and therefore Chaotic Neutral societies are either very small, or do not last long at all. The only real example of such a situation is the Mad Max movies and others in the post-apocalypse genre. The very lack of authority invites its institution, usually by force of arms. It is also necessary to remind all that Chaotic Neutrals aren't insane, or crazy by definition of alignment. Chaotic Neutral characters as individuals may not take high risks, especially intelligent ones. However, they have a tendency to take odd approaches to objectives. Chaotic Neutral characters also thread intricate plots, but unlike lawful characters these plans are flexible and can change as whim and situation demand.
Individuals of a Chaotic nature will travel to one of these places.
Niccolo Machievelli's The Prince is perhaps the definitive example of the Lawful Evil mentality. Often players and DM's mistakenly think this alignment is the "kindly, gentler" evil. It is anything but. Lawful evil characters are dangerous alone, and the danger increases with the size of the groups they inevitably form.
"The end justifies the means" is the creed of this alignment. Lawful Evil characters may actually have admirable goals, but the means that they are willing to take are, more often than not, deplorable. Lawful Evil characters are often better versed in the letter of the law than the best paladins, and they stand ready to twist every phrase to suit their goals. It is necessary to remember that exactly what is and is not evil will vary from society to society. However, evil always includes the complete and utter disregard for anything that stands in the way of the character's desires. An Evil character will hurt anybody or anything to get what he wants, be it wealth or pleasure (sometimes from the inflicting of the pain).
Lawful Evil characters believe that to further their own ends they must impose order onto others and dispose of by any means anything that threatens them or the order they impose. They may have the welfare of society superficially in mind, but their personal welfare always precedes that or anything else. Lawful Evil characters are meticulous, and they are also often very cruel in their aims. Despite all of this, Lawful Evil characters aren't completely incapable of love or other like emotions, although it is viewed as weakness. Weakness is dangerous in Lawful Evil societies, for if one shows weakness he will be disposed of in order to strengthen the group.
Lawful Evil societies are usually in the shadow of another group, and in that function they excel at undermining that authority in order to establish their own. On rare occasion Lawful Evil groups come into control of an area, and in that situation they are often chaotic seeming as they go about changing laws on whims to suit their goals. However, those goals are meticulously chosen and the roads to these objectives are well mapped out. A Lawful Evil group is ruled by the politically strongest individual. Politicking plays a large role in Lawful Evil groups, as a brash murderous attempt to the throne will be met by the backlash of the entire group without mercy. An example of an underground Lawful Evil society is the Mafia.
Lawful Evil people will find themselves sent to one of these outer planes.
Neutral Evil characters are perhaps the most simple of all the alignments to run or play. They are concerned only with themselves and what pleases themselves. Not overly concerned with the ethical concerns of Law and Chaos, they act in accordance to what best suits them and all other concerns are left alone. Neutral Evil characters have a tendency to be more isolated than other alignments. Unable to be trusted, they in turn give no trust to anyone. They always have a double cross ready, but will usually only use one to betray someone who has betrayed them. It is not that they have any moral compulsions about betrayal, Neutral Evil characters recognize that the less you betray others the less likely you will be betrayed. When Neutral Evil characters do betray, they usually kill the betrayed to reduce complications down the road.
Unlike Lawful Evil characters, who view others as tools to be used or Chaotic Evil characters, who see others as persons to bully into submission, Neutral Evil characters view other persons as "complications." Whether or not that person is a desirable complication (or at least tolerable) determines the length of the relationship between the two. The relative power of the characters often determines what the Neutral Evil character will do. Neutral Evil characters can be controlled (somewhat) via the threat of retribution, but they will do what they can get away with. If that is anything then may the gods have mercy on anyone in their path that they take a disliking to.
Neutral Evil societies are usually dominated by a dictator strong enough to keep the underlings in line. When the ruler loses strength he usually loses his life. Neutral Evil societies are rarely long lasting or very large since the members of that alignment rarely cooperate and tend to disperse in order to take advantage of those more foolish than themselves.
Neutral Evil types will spend their afterlife in one of these locations.
Chaotic Evil characters will do anything that will have a pleasing result to them. They are interested in maximum gain for minimum risk. They often do not care to undergo the very treatment they inflict, but they have no interest or belief in the principle of "treat others as you expect to be treated." Chaotic Evil characters rarely plan very far in advance, preferring to handle situations on a day by day basis.
The combination of unpredictability and utter disregard for anyone else makes Chaotic Evil characters the most dangerous type of foe the PCs are likely to face. Chaotic Evil characters often develop sadistic and macabre personalities. They are often spiteful and see everyone as being just as reprehensible as themselves. Chaotic Evil societies are often crude and loose bully associations, where any one individual can jump to the top instantly by defeating the leader and any other challengers. As a result, the leader is rarely in place for long, and if he has been he has weakened the whole group such that no two (or even three) others can threaten him. This is done by murder of anyone who poses a challenge to rule.
Upon death a Chaotic Evil person will travel to on of these outer planes.