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Tuesday, February 2, 2016


I think that there are some major misconceptions about what AD&D alignments are and how they are expressed. D&D was a war game in the beginning, and the alignments were Law, Chaos, and Neutrality. In battlefield terms, Law were us, the good guys, Chaos were THEM, the enemy, and Neutral were non-combatants. OSR invented a lot of mythology about Law vs Chaos and it's all rather shallow, flies in the face of the human behavior in the real world, and doe not interest me. In brief, humans are hard-wired to connect the dots and impose order over everything they perceive. Humanity longs for order and stability to the extent of tuning out and repressing information that makes them feel uncomfortable (Cognitive dissonance).

Having said that, and the fact that we live in a rigid social order, in an extremely Lawful society. As late as 200-300 years ago, there were people, who lived OUTSIDE society, and their mindset was not Lawful, you'd would type them as Chaotic, but here is the cruxt of it, their culture is largely extinct and you would not know what they were like. Some of it was readily predictable - meet a stranger, kill them, bury the body, take their loot. If you did this to a passing stranger, nobody will ever known. Creepy woodsmen now knows as Economic Serial Killers. Another side - War in Crimea, 1840's, Officer sends his scout to get re-enforcements. In the heat of the battle to his horror he sees the Scout and his men helping out on his flank. It's all over now - they are encircled and doomed. "We saw your boys in trouble and decided to help them!" Yells the Scout when he sees the flabbergasted commander. Historic example of Chaotic Good behavior.

So, here are some character stereotypes displaying real world examples of the nine alignments:

LAWFUL GOOD - Paladin or a Crusader or a Knight Errant, who believes in the system.

LAWFUL NEUTRAL - Samurai Warrior, a Military Professional. These people abdicate from moral judgement and stick to a professional code of ethics when they realize that the system they uphold is corrupt. Alternative is to evolve into Chaotic Good.

LAWFUL EVIL - Weak-side - a member of the gang, a mass movement, or another crowd exercising its will over the others. Strong side - a socially successful sociopath manipulating the system to his or her advantage.

CHAOTIC GOOD - A champion knight living according to Chivalry. Lone Ranger, Davey Crocket, other frontiersmen and vigilantes, who will bend the rules and look the other way for the common good.

CHAOTIC EVIL - A Champion with the biggest fists looking out for number one. A bully. An egotist.

CHAOTIC NEUTRAL - A person dealing with psychosis in out world trying to live a normal life. In fantasy world - a shaman or a witch, who lives partly in the invisible world and has to keep the invisible shadows at bay, lest they swallow her.

NEUTRAL GOOD - An activist or a rebel fighter, who will give up his or her life for the common struggle and greater good. A hero, a fanatic, an individual wholly absorbed by the struggle.

NEUTRAL EVIL - Snowball in Hell, a Blood in a cell full of Crips, a Cop in Prison. Same as Chaotic Evil, but physical survival is an issue in the real world and the person is overwhelmed and sinks morally to stay alive. Any kind of behavior is excused by the necessity, powerlessness, and the need to stay alive. Gold-diggers and prostitutes feathering their nests will fall into this category.

TRUE NEUTRAL - A Monk, an Olympic champion in training, a dedicated artist, anyone so consumed with what they are doing, that they are not part of the world in which the players are adventuring. There is a common interpretation  of this alignment - that of Cosmic Balance, and Neutrality and Non-Involvement, but that is typically a position of weakness, of someone, who accepts a bad situation and escape into objectivity to avoid taking a stand and dealing with it. Druids are True Neutrals, as a animals, that's because Druids are too absorbed with the maintenance of their garden and the surrounding nature, the sheer business and amount of work that is required to truly live off the land, that their devotions do not leave them any time to be involved with the world of adventurers.

GOOD vs EVIL. Good is about Altruism and Empathy, which in real world come with age and experience. Good is about love, which means putting The Other above Self. Good can sacrifice itself so that its progeny can live on and thereby it defeats the evil, which can't see past itself and sees its death as the ultimate end, whereas Good dies in the struggle and is reborn. It takes strength and willpower and costs popularity to do good and not go along with the others. Evil grows out of weakness, which often masquarades as preservation of self.


  1. The alignment system! This is another of those very subjective rulings which make each table, and perhaps each player, unique. In the past, I disliked its usage, but once it was removed from the system in later editions, I could finally see the terrible things that happen without it. You get clerics which preform acts that defies the wishes of their deities, players committing hideous acts and since nobody was there to witness the act, they get away with it.

    I keep my alignment judging loose, I do track it, but only enforce an alignment change in the most extreme cases, sometimes it costs the players levels, sometimes it doesn't, it just depends on the situation. It does help keep the game fun when they are there. Alignments are secret, I'll even create alignment tests to see who is paying attention. Little moral dilemmas which force the players to have a conversation before committing to an action which is clearly a lose-lose scenario. The alignment is our best tool to figuring out our action, and since later editions removed it, I'm not sure how they arrive at their decisions anymore.

  2. I am not sure how and why Gygax came up with the nine point alignment system. I can see that it sets up conflict in the game - Law vs Chaos, Good vs Evil. My purpose in this inquiry was to see if the AD&D alignments are reflected in the real world. I took Gygax's descriptions of the Alignments as personality types and saw if it manifested anywhere in the real life. These descriptions if what I found. Mind you, there is no unified theory that would account each of these personality types in the real world. Still, I think that the alignments have been misused as Personality Types for players and for NPC's, and there is one reflection of it in the real world.

    The fun part about the AD&D Alignments is that these are secret parts of the characters' identity that they are loath to discuss in the fantasy, much like sexuality and orientation in our real world. This is taken axiomatically by gamers, and nobody sees the satire of it. There is a real world cpnterpart to Alignment, but it is so specific and obscure, as to make it irrelevant to the game. In combat, only about 15% of the soldiers do 75% of all the killing (and violence). These individuals are much more highly motivated than your typical D&D player ). The reason that they are motivated to fight and kill is because of their values. Mind, that it is more complex, there is peer pressure, and radicalization, and the rage and other things, but one of the biggest factors is that their values were violated. Now, these are not values that we think of, when we talk about values, not Mom, Dad, God, and Apple Pie. Freedom might mean the right to drive that hot rod. Conflicts of values or lack thereof are the single biggest predictor if the couple will stay together or split. The values in this case are ideas about how to save and spend money, ideas about rasiing kids, personal hygiene. Small stuff nobody thinks about. When it comes to motivation to fight, the values are too similarly emotional, specific and obscure to each individual - things like the property rights and the role of the authorities, what women can and can not do in a society, how they can and can not talk, Willingness to go to war to get a small farm at the end of it, and not having land. Poverty, not having anything expressed as the fight for a better tomorrow. There are people, potentially, who will take up arms (literally) over global warming. Slavery, became a similar symbol, a code word to encompass one way of life against the other. Not quite the same as the Alignments, but here it is.

    I think it interesting that all of the writing done to describe NPC's going back to gygax, writers been going over the physical descriptors, the shape of their noses and protruding teeth, but nobody thought to explain the NPC's potential behavior and motivation. The original edition of Twilight 2000 has a pretty good system for fleshing out the NPC's personality and motivation.

    There are alternatives and addition to Gygaxian Alignment system. Carl Gustav Jung, for instance, invented the axis of Introversion vs Extraversion, but also the axis of Thinking vs Feeling and the axis of Sensing versus Intuitive individuals (Sensing people tend to experience the world via their five senses like Dorian Gray and the Intuitive individual, who tend to be attracted to the romantic and mystical). So, Jung has a 3D system that can describe 8 type of individuals (27, if you introduce Neutrality, where neither trait is stromgly manifested. Karen Horney is another person, whose theoretical work may be of interest to DM's fleshing out NPC's. She posited that there are three kinds of people - People who move towards others (joining them), people who move against the others (in conflict with them) and those, who move away from the others (those who seek to be by themselves).

  3. I have always just used it as a tool. These aren't real people, they are characters. I can be grumpy, but Hogard the Dwarf is ALWAYS grumpy, I can be snarky, but Jungan the Thief is ALWAYS snarky. As a tool the Alignment system allows us to quickly identify a huge group of people. An entire nation can be identified as Lawful Neutral, within the nation there are individuals who are different, but this gives us an easy formula to work with. We'll add quarks and personality to them and make them unique but, personally, I find Gygax's 9 point system to be the best guide to do lots of things very quickly. For NPCs, I always keep to the Alignment system, and only allow myself to alter half of it, A Dwarf is listed as LG, I will allow him to be CG or LN or some other combination. I don't enforce this on PCs but for myself I find that it works really quick and I don't even have to think about it.

  4. Alignments are useful and I still use them. NPC's might not be real people, but at some level our mind treats them as real and reacts to fantasy events as if they happened in the real world. As they say, the Imagined is Real in terms of its consequences, socially and psychologically. I run a deeper and a more realistic game for adults and some of my key NPC's merit a more realistic personality to really engage my players.