Character Alignment

From CotH-Wiki
Jump to navigationJump to search

((For the sake of ease of reading, I have combined two articles and added my own notes: The Wikipedia Alignment article [1]was overly technical, but the Vortex Article[2] needed a bit more fleshing out. Full credit to both given in external links)

Alignment Basics

The character's alignment is a guide to his basic moral and ethical attitudes toward others, society, good, evil, and the forces of the universe in general. Use the chosen alignment as a guide to provide a clearer idea of how the character will handle moral dilemmas. Always consider alignment as a tool, not a straitjacket that restricts the character. Although alignment defines general attitudes, it certainly doesn't prevent a character from changing his beliefs, acting irrationally, or behaving out of character, though these should be on rare occasions and not persistent.

Alignment is divided into two sets of attitudes: law and chaos, and good and evil. By combining the different variations within the two sets, nine distinct alignments are created. These nine alignments serve well to define the attitudes of most of the people in the world.

Law and Chaos

Attitudes toward law and chaos are divided into three opposing beliefs. Picture these beliefs as the points of a triangle, all pulling away from each other. The three beliefs are law, chaos, and neutrality. One of these represents each character's ethos--his understanding of society and relationships.

Characters who believe in law maintain that order, organization, and society are important, indeed vital, forces of the universe. The relationships between people and governments exist naturally. Lawful philosophers maintain that this order is not created by man but is a natural law of the universe. Although man does not create orderly structures, it is his obligation to function within them, lest the fabric of everything crumble. For less philosophical types, lawfulness manifests itself in the belief that laws should be made and followed, if only to have understandable rules for society. People should not pursue personal vendettas, for example, but should present their claims to the proper authorities. Strength comes through unity of action, as can be seen in guilds, empires, and powerful churches.

Those espousing neutrality tend to take a more balanced view of things. They hold that for every force in the universe, there is an opposite force somewhere. Where there is lawfulness, there is also chaos; where there is neutrality, there is also partisanship. The same is true of good and evil, life and death. What is important is that all these forces remain in balance with each other. If one factor becomes ascendant over its opposite, the universe becomes unbalanced. If enough of these polarities go out of balance, the fabric of reality could pull itself apart. For example, if death became ascendant over life, the universe would become a barren wasteland.

Philosophers of neutrality not only presuppose the existence of opposites, but they also theorize that the universe would vanish should one opposite completely destroy the other (since nothing can exist without its opposite). Fortunately for these philosophers (and all sentient life), the universe seems to be efficient at regulating itself. Only when a powerful, unbalancing force appears (which almost never happens) need the defenders of neutrality become seriously concerned.

The believers in chaos hold that there is no preordained order or careful balance of forces in the universe. Instead they see the universe as a collection of things and events, some related to each other and others completely independent. They tend to hold that individual actions account for the differences in things and that events in one area do not alter the fabric of the universe halfway across the galaxy. Chaotic philosophers believe in the power of the individual over his own destiny and are fond of anarchistic nations. Being more pragmatic, non-philosophers recognize the function of society in protecting their individual rights. Chaotic characters can be hard to govern as a group, since they place their own needs and desires above those of society.

Good, Neutrality, and Evil

Like law and order, the second set of attitudes is also divided into three parts. These parts describe, more or less, a character's moral outlook; they are his internal guideposts to what is right or wrong.

Good characters are just that. They try to be honest, charitable, and forthright. People are not perfect, however, so few are good all the time. There are always occasional failings and weaknesses. A good person, however, worries about his errors and normally tries to correct any damage done.

Remember, however, that goodness has no absolute values. Although many things are commonly accepted as good (helping those in need, protecting the weak), different cultures impose their own interpretations on what is good and what is evil.

Those with a neutral moral stance often refrain from passing judgment on anything. They do not classify people, things, or events as good or evil; what is, is. In some cases, this is because the creature lacks the capacity to make a moral judgment (animals fall into this category). Few normal creatures do anything for good or evil reasons. They kill because they are hungry or threatened. They sleep where they find shelter. They do not worry about the moral consequences of their actions--their actions are instinctive.

Evil is the antithesis of good and appears in many ways, some overt and others quite subtle. Only a few people of evil nature actively seek to cause harm or destruction. Most simply do not recognize that what they do is destructive or disruptive. People and things that obstruct the evil character's plans are mere hindrances that must be overcome. If someone is harmed in the process . . . well, that's too bad. Remember that evil, like good, is interpreted differently in different societies.


Characters in roleplaying tend to adhere to the nine alignments as listed in the table below. Alignments tend to predict how a character will act in a certain situation which is not necessarily combat based. Erroneously, people may believe a character which is a pacifist is a "true neutral" character, when in reality such a character type is more Lawful Neutral. Neutral characters do not merely stay on the sidelines and do not interact or get involved in situations around them - alignments are about a character's state of mind, and their political motivations are a cue from this. But to say a character is "neutral" does not mean they never get involved in the world around them.

Early editions of Dungeons & Dragons allowed players to choose between three alignments when creating a character: lawful, implying honour and respect for society's rules, chaotic, implying the opposite, and neutral, meaning neither. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons introduced a second axis of good, neutral and evil, offering a combination of nine alignments.

The nine alignments can be represented in a grid, as follows:[3]

Lawful Good Neutral Good Chaotic Good
Lawful Neutral Neutral Chaotic Neutral
Lawful Evil Neutral Evil Chaotic Evil

Lawful Good

Lawful Good is known as the "Saintly" or "Crusader" alignment. A lawful good character typically acts with compassion, and always with honor and a sense of duty. A lawful good nation would consist of a well-organized government that works for the benefit of its citizens. Lawful good characters include righteous knights of the Light and others who follow the Paladin's Code, and will uphold the laws of their government by force if necessary.

Lawful Neutral/Beneficent Characters Will:

  1. Always keep his word.
  2. Avoid lies.
  3. May or May not kill or attack an unarmed foe.
  4. Never harm an innocent.
  5. Never torture, unless absolutely necessary reason.
  6. Never kill for pleasure.
  7. May or May not help others.
  8. Work well in a group.
  9. Respect authority, law, self-discipline and honor.
 10. Never betray a friend.
 11. Never break the law unless conditions are desperate. This means no breaking and entry, theft, torture, unprovoked assaults, etc.

Lawful Good characters, especially paladins, may sometimes find themselves faced with the dilemma of whether to obey Law or Good when the two conflict - for example, upholding a sworn oath when it would lead innocents to come to harm - or conflicts between two orders, such as between their religious law and the law of the local ruler.*[4]

N.B. There is some debate as to whether or not a Blood Knight in World of Warcraft can be Lawful Good. Considering their power is stolen from the captured Naaru M'uru, it is unlikely they fall under the lawful good alignment, as they are holding another entity against its will in order to use it to power their own ends. *[5]

Neutral Good

Neutral Good is known as the "Benefactor" alignment. A neutral good character is guided by his conscience and typically acts altruistically, without regard for or against Lawful precepts such as rules or tradition. A neutral good character may cooperate with lawful officials but does not feel beholden to them. A doctor that treats soldiers from both sides in a war would be considered Neutral Good. *[6]

Lawful Neutral/Beneficent Characters Will:

  1. Always keep his word.
  2. Avoid lies.
  3. May or May not kill or attack an unarmed foe.
  4. Never harm an innocent.
  5. Never torture, unless absolutely necessary reason.
  6. Never kill for pleasure.
  7. May or May not help others.
  8. Work well in a group.
  9. Respect authority, law, self-discipline and honor.
 10. Never betray a friend.
 11. Never break the law unless conditions are desperate. This means no breaking and entry, theft, torture, unprovoked assaults, etc. *[7]

N.B. A Lawful neutral character is the type of character which one might associate most with a pacifist nature or character, willing to do what they believe is right and benevolent without wishing to break the laws, yet unwilling to allow the innocent to suffer.

Chaotic Good

Chaotic Good is known as the "Beatific" or "Rebel" alignment. A chaotic good character favors change for the greater good, disdains bureaucratic organizations that get in the way of social improvement, and places a high value on personal freedom.

Chaotic Good/Unprincipled Characters Will:

  1. Have a high regard for life and freedom.
  2. Keep his word of honor.
  3. Lie and cheat if necessary (especially to those of anarchist and evil alignments).
  4. Will not kill an unarmed foe (but will take advantage of one).
  5. Help those in need.
  6. Not use torture unless absolutely necessary.
  7. Work with a group, especially if profitable.
  8. Never harm an innocent.
  9. Never kill for pleasure.
 10. Dislike authority.
 11. Never betray a friend. *[8]

N.B.Chaotic Good characters are not necessarily violent, but they certainly follow their own codes and rules, not one to be pushed about. They are still inherently "good" underneath, and are not merely slightly unhinged characters who exhibit manic behaviour. A good example of this type of character would be the Druids of World of Warcraft; even though Night Elves and Tauren belong on opposing sides of the Alliance and Horde, they work together without a qualm in the Cenarion Circle to attempt to fight back the threat to the Emerald Dream and to cleanse areas corrupted by the Scourge and fel influences.

Lawful Neutral

Lawful Neutral is called the "Judge" or "Disciplined" alignment. A lawful neutral character typically believes strongly in Lawful concepts such as honor, order, rules and tradition, and often follows a personal code. A Lawful Neutral society would typically enforce strict laws to maintain social order, and place a high value on traditions and historical precedent. Examples of Lawful Neutral characters include a soldier who always follows orders, a judge or enforcer that adheres mercilessly to the word of the law, a disciplined monk.

Lawful Neutral/Beneficent Characters Will:

  1. Always keep his word.
  2. Avoid lies.
  3. May or May not kill or attack an unarmed foe.
  4. Never harm an innocent.
  5. Never torture, unless absolutely necessary reason.
  6. Never kill for pleasure.
  7. May or May not help others.
  8. Work well in a group.
  9. Respect authority, law, self-discipline and honor.
 10. Never betray a friend.
 11. Never break the law unless conditions are desperate. This means no breaking and entry, theft, torture, unprovoked assaults, etc.

Characters of this alignment are neutral with regard to Good and Evil. This does not mean that Lawful Neutral characters are amoral or immoral, or do not have a moral compass; but simply that their moral considerations come a distant second to what their code, tradition or law dictates. They typically have a strong ethical code, but it is primarily guided by their system of belief, not by a commitment to Good or Evil. *[9]


Neutral alignment, also referred to as True Neutral, is called the "Undecided" or "Nature's" alignment. This alignment represents neutral on both axes, and tends not to feel strongly towards any alignment. A farmer whose only concern is to feed his family is of this alignment. Most animals, such as monkeys, lacking the capacity for moral judgement, are of this alignment.

Neutral Characters will:

  1. May or May not keep his word.
  2. May or May not lie to or cheat anyone.
  3. May or May not attack and kill an unarmed foe.
  4. May or May not Use, hurt and kill an innocent without a second thought or for pleasure.
  5. May or May not Use torture for pleasure and information.
  6. Will not kill for sheer pleasure.
  7. Unlikely to help someone only to kill or rob him.
  8. May or May not work well within a group (Depends on if the group maintains a balanced view).
  9. May or May not follow the ways of honour, authority, and self-discipline.
 10. Associate mostly with other Neutral alignments.
 11. May or May not betray friends. *[10]

N.B. Some neutral characters, rather than feeling undecided, are committed to a balance between the alignments. They may see Good, Evil, Law and Chaos as simply prejudices and dangerous extremes, and they may take what appears to be extreme measures to keep this balance - including working with either good or evil sides in order to make sure none take the upper hand. Thus, this sort of true neutral alignment can be very difficult to play for a character, and as such it is worth analysing whether or not your character is truly neutral. For example, Druids in AD&D frequently followed this True Neutral dedication to balance, and under Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules were required to be this alignment. In an example given in a D&D rulebook, a typical druid might fight against a band of marauding gnolls, only to switch sides to save the gnoll's clan from being exterminated. *[11]

Chaotic Neutral

Chaotic Neutral is called the "Anarchist" or "Free Spirit" alignment. A character of this alignment is an individualist who follows his or her own heart, shirks rules and traditions. Chaotic neutral characters believe that there is no order to anything, including their own actions. With this as a guiding principle, they tend to follow whatever whim strikes them at the moment. Good and evil are irrelevant when making a decision. Chaotic neutral characters are extremely difficult to deal with. Such characters have been known to cheerfully and for no apparent purpose gamble away everything they have on the roll of a single die. They are almost totally unreliable. In fact, the only reliable thing about them is that they cannot be relied upon!

Chaotic Neutral/Anarchist Characters Will:

  1. May keep his word.
  2. Lie and cheat if he feels it necessary.
  3. Not likely to kill an unarmed foe, but will certainly knockout, attack, or beat up an unarmed foe.
  4. Never kill an innocent (but may harm or kidnap).
  5. Not likely to help someone without some ulterior motive (even if it's only to show-off).
  6. Seldom kill for pleasure.
  7. Use torture to extract information (not likely to torture for pleasure).
  8. Does not work well in a group (this is the cocky loudmouth who is likely to do as he damn well pleases).
  9. Have little respect for self-discipline or authority.
 10. May betray a friend. *[12]

N.B. This alignment is perhaps the most difficult to play. Lunatics and madmen tend toward chaotic neutral behavior. These are the Jack Sparrows of the roleplaying world...yet again, can be very difficult to play as they are unpredictable, unreliable, untrustworthy, and tend to only be the "crazy comic relief" characters in gaming.

Lawful Evil

Lawful Evil is referred to as the "Dominator" or "Diabolic" alignment. Characters of this alignment show a combination of desirable and undesirable traits: while they typically obey their superiors and keep their word, they care nothing for the rights and freedoms of other individuals. Examples of this alignment include tyrants, devils, organized criminals, those with samurai-like aspects, and soldiers who follow the chain of command but enjoy killing for its own sake.

Lawful Evil/Aberrant Characters Will:

  1. Always keep his word of honor (he is honorable).
  2. Lie to and cheat those not worthy of his respect.
  3. May or may not kill an unarmed foe.
  4. Not kill (may harm, kidnap) an innocent, particularly a child.
  5. Never kills for pleasure.
  6. Not resort to inhumane treatment of prisoners, but torture, although distasteful, is a necessary means of extracting information.
  7. Never torture for pleasure.
  8. May or may not help someone in need.
  9. Work with others to attain his goals.
 10. Respect honor and self-discipline.
 11. Never betray a friend. *[13]

N.B. Lawful evil on the surface seems inherently right, and therefore often goes unquestioned. Whether we wish to admit it or not, the lawful evil alignments are rife in our real world, often masquerading as Lawful Good. The best example of this type is the Scarlet Crusade; fanatics who on the surface uphold the laws of Light, but in reality have gone far beyond their own code and have fallen into corruption.

Neutral Evil

Neutral Evil is called the "Malefactor" alignment. Characters of this alignment are typically selfish and have no qualms about turning on their allies-of-the-moment. They have no compunctions about harming others to get what they want, but neither will they go out of their way to cause carnage or mayhem when they see no direct benefit to it. A villain of this alignment can be more dangerous than either Lawful or Chaotic Evil characters, since he is neither bound by any sort of honor or tradition nor disorganized and pointlessly violent. *[14]

Neutral Evil/Miscreant Characters Will:

  1. Not necessarily keep his word to anyone.
  2. Lie and cheat anyone; good or evil.
  3. Most definitely attack an unarmed foe (those are the best kind).
  4. Use or harm an innocent.
  5. Use torture for extracting information and pleasure.
  6. May kill for sheer pleasure.
  7. Feels no compulsion to help without some sort of tangible reward. 8. Work with others if it will help him attain his personal goal.
  8. Kill an unarmed foe as readily as he would a potential threat or competitor.
  9. Has no deference to laws or authority, but will work within the law if he must.
 10. Will betray a friend if it serves his needs. *[15]

N.B. These are rather typical evil villains and can be found in early every comic or fantasy movie. They are the classic, stereotypical turn-coat type of character, and because they never seem to let on their motivations and have no set codes, one rarely knows if one is actually dealing with an evil character.

Chaotic Evil

Chaotic Evil is referred to as the "Destroyer" or "Demonic" alignment. Characters of this alignment tend to have little respect for rules, other peoples' lives, or anything but their own selfish desires. They typically only behave themselves out of fear of punishment. *[16]

Chaotic Evil/Diabolic Characters will:

  1. Rarely keep his word (and has no honor).
  2. Lie to and cheat anyone.
  3. Most certainly attack and kill an unarmed foe.
  4. Use, hurt and kill an innocent without a second thought or for pleasure.
  5. Use torture for pleasure and information.
  6. Kill for sheer pleasure.
  7. Likely to help someone only to kill or rob him.
  8. Not work well within a group (consistently disregarding orders to do as he pleases).
  9. Despise honor, authority, and self-discipline.
 10. Associate mostly with other evil alignments.
 11. Betray friends (after all, you can always find friends). [17]

N.B. The unfortunate issue with Chaotic Evil characters is they're nearly impossible to play due to their very natures. Tabletop GMs feel these are more suited to NPC characters than to players as this sort of alignment is very two dimensional and exists only for the purpose of controlling stories behind the scenes or as something for characters to team up against to fight.


The Wikipedia page on Character Alignment *[18] The Vortex Shadow Alignment page *[19]

Character Alignment Quiz

Handy, but should not be considered as a set-in-stone ruling of alignment. Take the quiz here.