Alignment is a quick way to characterize an individual’s personality, morality, and predilections. It encompasses two axes: good-evil and law-chaos. Each axis works as a spectrum, with a neutral option in the middle, and the two axes can be combined in any form, resulting in nine alignment combinations.
Good Versus Evil
The good-evil axis describes a character’s sense of morality. A good alignment implies altruism, desire to help the innocent, and respect for the life and dignity of sentient beings. An evil alignment implies selfishness, willingness to harm and oppress others for fun or profit, and lack of compassion. Neutral characters might see themselves as outside the moral spectrum or simply lack the commitment to make personal sacrifices to help others.
Law Versus Chaos
The law-chaos axis describes a character’s flexibility and adherence to rules. A lawful alignment implies keeping one’s word, respecting authority and tradition, following laws or a personal code, and judging those who fail to do the same. A chaotic alignment implies desire for freedom, making one’s own decisions, and distrust of authority. Neutral characters fall between these extremes, with no inherent compulsion to obey or rebel. Note that lawful does not necessarily mean obeying the laws of a given society—a lawful character may have a strong personal sense of honor at odds with his society or might adhere to the practices of his native planet instead of those of a planet he’s currently visiting.
The Nine Alignments
These descriptions are just suggestions, and different characters may act more or less in accordance with their alignments. While player characters can be of any alignment, it’s usually easiest to have everyone in a party be good or neutral, as mixing good and evil characters can create unwanted conflict and frustration.
You act as a good person is expected by society to act. You’re honorable and compassionate, you keep your word, and you fight injustice in a disciplined fashion. You believe that rules and structure are necessary for a healthy society, but only if they help people do the right thing. Other alignments may see you as simplistic and as valuing ideological purity over progress.
You believe in doing the right thing and helping others, but you don’t bother enforcing an ideology. You have little time for self-righteousness from either law-keepers or rebels, and you don’t care if others think of you as inconsistent or detached as long as you’re working toward the greater good.
You follow your conscience and make up your own mind. You resent anyone’s attempt to limit you, and you know that sometimes you have to break the rules to do what is right. While you generally have good intentions, people can sometimes find you difficult to work with and unpredictable.
You follow a code, and don’t willingly break it, whether that’s societal law or a personal ethos. You feel that order and organization are the only things holding society together, and while you believe in authority, you don’t confuse it with morality—the system may hurt as well as help, but it’s better than no system at all. Others may resent your inflexibility, but at least you’re dependable.
You may hold an aloof philosophical commitment to balance and neutrality, but more likely you simply don’t hold any particular inclinations toward other alignments. You likely prefer good to evil, but don’t go out of your way to uphold it. You act in your own self-interest and may be keenly aware that the universe considers mortal beliefs to be irrelevant. Nonsentient creatures are always considered neutral, as they lack the self- awareness to make informed choices and simply act on instinct or programming.
You follow your whims and don’t worry about the consequences. You resent attempts to control you, and you act in your own self-interest. You’re not committed to spreading anarchy—that would require too much conviction—and your actions aren’t random, but merely unconstrained. You don’t enjoy hurting others, but you don’t worry overmuch about protecting them. You believe in living for the moment and reinventing yourself as necessary.
You believe that a civilization supported by laws, hierarchies, and social contracts is inherently preferable to chaos. At the same time, you believe in using those rules to get what you want, regardless of whom it hurts. While you’re always thinking about how to get ahead, you’re willing to serve and rise through the ranks if necessary. You keep your word and obey the letter of the law, and you care about tradition, loyalty, and order—but not freedom, dignity, or life. While you may cite the greater good, ultimately your actions are meant to benefit only you.
You’re the embodiment of amoral self-interest. You do whatever you feel like without remorse, and have neither a fondness for order nor a need to create conflict. You lack empathy and may harm others just for the fun of it. Though you’re capable of long-term planning and working in a group, you turn on allies instantly if it is to your benefit.
You adore conflict and destruction, as it gives you the chance to show your strength. You follow your greed, hatred, and lust without restraint, making you brutal and unpredictable. You don’t really understand loyalty and would rather be feared than loved. You have an instinctive desire to smash anything that tries to restrain you.
|Good||Lawful Good||Neutral Good||Chaotic Good|
|Neutral||Lawful Neutral||Neutral||Chaotic Neutral|
|Evil||Lawful Evil||Neutral Evil||Chaotic Evil|
How to Use Alignment
Alignment is a descriptive tool meant to help describe a given character’s personality, rather than a straitjacket determining what someone can or can’t do. A good character can still do evil, and an evil character can do good. In some cases, a GM may decide that an action is drastic enough to result in a shift of alignment (see Changing Alignment below). More often, though, it simply reflects the fact that alignment is not absolute—no mortal character is perfectly good or evil, lawful or chaotic. Differing cultural practices and belief systems, combined with the fact that even people (or gods!) who share similar values rarely see eye to eye on everything, mean that an alignment can encompass a wide range of contradictory beliefs and actions. A character might be generally kind, generous, and law abiding, yet hold some belief or prejudice that other characters find abhorrent. Another character might decide that killing one innocent in order to save many is a sad but acceptable course of action. Whether these characters could be considered lawful good is left up to you and your gaming group—and as with all rules, the GM is the ultimate arbiter of what it means to be a given alignment.
In addition to its use for individual characters, alignment is also listed in stat blocks for creatures and races. The listed alignment doesn’t represent something hard-coded into a creature’s genes, but rather the most common alignment found in the species or society. With the exception of outsiders like angels or devils who are literally physical manifestations of certain alignments or ideologies, individuals of any species can be of any alignment, and under the right circumstances, an individual creature from a race normally described with one alignment may buck the trend and turn out to be quite different.
Alignment, like the moral philosophies it attempts to represent, is messy, uncertain, and culturally relative, but the ultimate goal of the game is to have fun. If you don’t enjoy the interactions facilitated by the alignment system, feel free to ignore it altogether.
While certain forms of magic may operate differently depending on a character’s alignment, and gods rarely grants spells to worshipers whose alignments oppose their own, alignment is primarily a storytelling aid rather than a rule. If a GM feels a player’s actions aren’t reflecting his character’s chosen alignment, she should let him know—and if the divergence is extreme enough, she may allow or require the player to change his character’s alignment accordingly. Likewise, if a player wants to alter his character’s alignment to reflect shifts in his character, he should talk with his GM about making that change (though frequent changes likely represent a chaotic alignment).
Occasionally the rules dealing with alignment refer to “steps”— this means the number of alignment shifts between two alignments (as they appear on the Alignment diagram above). Note that diagonally adjacent alignments are separated by two “steps”; a lawful neutral character is one step away from a lawful good alignment and three steps from chaotic evil.