Open Thread (verging on article): Making Alignment systems

(by chris the cynic)

[Something went wrong so this didn’t go up when scheduled, oops.]


So, basically, make an alignment system.  Or describe one you like and how you like it.  Remember that the idea is not to fully describe anything, but rather to create a model that approximates the desired thing well enough to be useful in some fashion.

For those familiar with alignment systems, go, do this thing, for those who want a bit more detail, read on.

Dungeons and Dragons, which the above chart is taken from, says that alignment describes ethos.  Ethos is an ancient Greek word and it’s a very important one.  It’s one of Aristotle three modes of argument; it’s what gives us words like ethical and ethics.  It means “character”.  Not character in a play, or character in an RPG, but who a person IS.

An alignment system is supposed to describe that ethos in a way that is simultaneously simple and complex enough to be useful.  If it’s too simple then it won’t really describe, if it’s too complex it might describe stunningly but it won’t be terribly useful as any kind of shorthand.

Generally, to create an alignment system you need two things:

  1. Axes (the plural of axis, not ax/axe)
  2. An understanding of how they relate to each other

So first Axes

The two most obvious are probably the ones that DnD uses.  Let us start there.
Good vs. Evil is a very old system of thought, though what constitutes good and evil is subject to variation and change.

Lawful gives us our first wrinkle in things.  One might construct a Lawful axis as going from completely following the law always, to completely disregarding the law.  That would go from Lawful to Neutral.  DnD instead extends it passed Neutral to completely hostile to the very idea of law and order (Chaotic) thus equal and opposite of Lawful.

Point being, if you’re making something up, you get to choose the poles of the spectrum.  And by no means feel constrained by DnD’s choices.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight introduced an alignment system for American politicians that had one axis be conservative-moderate-liberal and the other as populist vs technocrat.

I’ve seen a nice role playing game that had selfless vs selfish as its only axis.

means vs. ends works fine

big picture vs. little picture

individual rights vs. good of the group

diversity vs conformity

individuality vs conformity (yes, I did just have two axes with the same pole)

In Star Wars Jedi are guided by the Force to do the right things while Sith contort the force to their whims, so:
submission to (the force) vs. domination of (the force)

protect the powerless vs. please the powerful

Luddite vs. Borg

silly vs. serious


How they relate

I’m not sure if the diagram above was my introduction to DnD alignment, there’s some evidence it was, but I could have sworn that there was less internal curves and grey space and more showing of the axes. Regardless, my introduction was a circle, not a square, and I always liked that because the descriptions given didn’t allow one to be pure X without completely disregarding the adjacent positions.

Totally committed to lawfulness means you obey the law, be it good or evil, so to become more Good you must become less Lawful.  To become more Evil you must also become less Lawful.

The way that DnD’s two axes relate is that they share a common center, are at right angles, and it’s impossible to get more than a certain distance (say 100%) from that center.  So Chaotic Evil isn’t 100% Chaotic and 100% Evil because (by Pythagoras, blessings be upon his name) that would be about 141.42% away from neutral, impossible.  In fact it’s (again, Pythagoras) about 70.71% Chaotic and an equal percent Evil.

But it’s possible for two axes to be completely independent of each other, in which case they’d form a square.

Or it’s possible for them to be dependent in a non-Pythagorean way.

Imagine that we added, “Commitment” to the DnD circle.  If you’re 0% committed to your position it doesn’t matter what the position is, so at 0% commitment the alignment circle disappears into a point.  If you’re 100% committed then you’ve got the full DnD circle.  If you’re 50% committed you’ve got the circle but half as big.  What we have is an inverted cone.

But, like with lawful, we can extend this beyond indifference.  You could be negative 100% committed to a position in which case your ethos is anything but that.  Rather than being described by one point on the chart where you are, you freely roam all over the chart except for one part of it.

This is silly, but the point was to be able to say that now we’ve got an alignment system that is two cones that meet at the tip, a weird shape indeed.

If instead of “commitment” I’d said to add “ends vs. means”, well, that doesn’t interact with the DnD system at all. It’s perpendicular and increasing it (in either direction) from neutral doesn’t change the DnD alignment at all.  Regardless of where you stand on ends v.s means you still have the full DnD circle.  Instead of a cone you have an alignment cylinder.

The point here is that sometimes things interact, sometimes they don’t.  If they do, there are various ways they can interact.

Once you work out your axes and work out how they (do or don’t) interact you’ve got a fully formed alignment system.

Mind you if it’s the populist vs technocrat / submission to the force vs. domination of the force hexagon, I may look at you somewhat funny.  (And I want a good explanation for why these two axes create a hexagon; show your work.)

But regardless, please do share in the comments.


46 thoughts on “Open Thread (verging on article): Making Alignment systems

  1. Coleslaw January 30, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Is it okay to post of an alignment system I know of that is not mine? Back when I was attending educational conferences I learned of an alignment system used by school guidance counselors to help understand how students relate to one another. The X axis was the favorability axis, whether a student was liked by other students. The Y axis was the impact axis, how much the other students noticed the student. So the upper right quadrant would be the popular students, who were both liked and noticed. The upper left were the unpopular students, noticed but widely disliked. The there were the students in the lower right that were not widely known, but generally liked. If you asked someone, say, what ze thought of Joe X, ze might say, “I don’t know him”, but when reminded, “He sits behind you in math class”, the answer for the lower right students would be “Oh, yeah, he’s nice.” On the other hand, if Joe fell in the lower left quadrant, the answer might be, “Oh, him? He’s not someone I want to get to know.”

    Unfortunately, this system leaves out a lot. It needs a z axis perpendicular to both, with a moral dimension. As it stands, both a student who is widely bullied and the unpopular bully that nobody likes but everyone is scared to confront fall in that upper left quadrant. Similarly, a popular student can be popular due to genuine interest in others and good character, or because ze knows how to manipulate others without being obvious like the left quadrant bully.

    But if you were to write something set in high school or a large workplace, I think even the 2 axis model could be of some use.

  2. froborr January 30, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I think it would be interesting to run a campaign using the Big Five personality model as an alignment system. Or any other real-world personality typing (Myers-Briggs does not count as real-world).

  3. froborr January 30, 2014 at 10:53 am

    More thoughts:

    I recently read a Star Wars/Star Trek crossover fanfiction (which despite that being an inherently terrible idea, actually worked fairly well up until it randomly brought in a half-dozen other science fiction franchises for what amounted to cameos right in the last few chapters) in which Luddite vs. Borg (or, more accurately, Vong/Sith vs. Federation/Borg) was a major philosophical distinction between the assorted factions in play.

    Also I recently rewatched the Season 5 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and realized why one particular shot of Hell on Earth has always bothered me more than the others: it’s not just that the creatures shown look like Xenomorphs, it’s that they’re pale Xenomorphs in skintight black jumpsuits–they’re what Xenomorphs would look like if assimilated by the Borg. I may never sleep again.

    Finally, another thought on an interesting alignment system, though I would not recommend using it for a game: William Moulton Marston’s alignment system as described in his psychological research, which I only know about thanks to Phil Sandifer’s excellent book on Wonder Woman, A Golden Thread. The axes are basically submission/domination and coercive/consensual. Marston was a weird dude. The excerpts I’ve read on what coercive submission looks like were particularly WTF.

  4. christhecynic January 30, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Is it okay to post of an alignment system I know of that is not mine?

    Totally. Or your own modification of someone else’s, or any variation on that.

  5. christhecynic January 30, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Ok, so a lot of this was worked out in this thread at Ana Mardoll’s (starting with this post)but I’ve wanted to augment the DnD system for ages. Specifically I’ve always wanted an axis that would:
    A) Interact with the Lawful-Chaotic and Good-Evil Axes the way they relate to each other.
    B) Be important enough to be included.

    Instead of an alignment circle you’d have an alignment sphere.

    I did throw out the idea of Tradition vs. Novelty because it does relate in the right way and, “I don’t care if it’s good/evil/lawful/chaotic it’s what we’ve always done,” is totally a position not accounted for yet believable as a guiding star and whatnot, but I have doubts if, “I don’t care if it’s good/evil/lawful/chaotic as long as it’s new,” is really a tenable position. Then again, Chaotic doesn’t seem like it would work and yet it traditionally has.

    But moreover Tradition vs Novelty doesn’t seem like the most interesting axis.

    That’s not the thing, the thing is this:

    I endued up creating a cube to go alongside the alignment circle (which I want to be a sphere.)

    1 Individual vs. Group
    2 Ends vs Means
    3 Local vs. Universal.

    Individual = Focus on my own actions
    Group = Focus on what the group as a whole is doing

    Ends = Focus on the eventual outcome
    Means = Focus on the actions being done in the here and now

    Local = Focus on the small scale, the people in front of you
    Universal = focus on the grand scale, the city/country/world/galaxy/universe/multiverse/whatever

    Using neutral good as an example, here’s what the new things look like (remember that this is the absolute poles of positions, not any of the spectrum in between)

    Individual, means, local:
    What I do is good when I do it with respect to those I can personally see and hear.
    (Ignore the end result, the rest of my group, and the grand scale.)

    Individual, ends, local:
    What I do is good in the end with respect to those I can personally see and hear.
    (Never mind how I got there, and ignore the grand scale..)

    Group, means, local:
    What we do is good when we do it with respect to those we can personally see and hear.
    (Never mind me personally, how things end up, or the grand scheme of things.)

    Group, ends, local:
    What we do is good in the end with respect to those I can personally see and hear.
    (Never mind how we got there, and ignore the grand scale.)

    Individual, means, universal:
    What I do is good when I do it with respect to the grand scale.
    (Ignore the end result, the rest of my group, and those I can personally see and hear.)

    Individual, ends, universal:
    What I do is good in the end with respect to the grand scale.
    (Never mind how I got there, and ignore those I can personally see and hear.)

    Group, means, universal:
    What we do is good when we do it with respect to the grand scale.
    (Never mind me personally, how things end up, or those we can personally see and hear.)

    Group, ends, universal:
    What we do is good in the end with respect to the grand scale.
    (Never mind how we got there, and ignore those we can personally see and hear.)

    The point is that all of this divides up how one can go about whatever your standard lawful/chaotic good/evil alignment is.

    If you’re working for an anarchist who plans to overthrow all order in the world but doing it by running a front organization that happens to be an orphanage then you may be chaotic neutral but your actions had better be lawful good because if you stray too far from the law the front organization gets shut down by the law, and if you stray too far from good people who care about orphans are going to start taking an interest, which can also screw up everything.

    BUT, and this is the important part, if orders come down, “The front isn’t working so well, and we think you could be of more use in our blow things up department,” then you’ll drop those lawful good actions in a heartbeat and start being the bomb throwing anarchist that you probably wanted to be all of the time you had to do lawful good things to further the cause of chaotic neutral.

    To someone on the outside it looks like a sudden and major alignment shift, but in fact nothing has changed about alignment.

    You’re working toward chaos, but willing to take orders in the service of the greater chaos, you’re focused on the ends which is why you’re willing to do things that bolster the lawfulness (orphanage aside, the anarchist you work for has an organization with rules and stuff) in the here and now, You’re group-ends-universal chaotic neutral.

    The fact that your part in the grander scheme of things changed from preforming actions that were lawful good to ones that were chaotic evil (unless the bombs are thrown in some way as to be neutral or good) is simply a way for you to change the way in which you let that alignment out.

  6. Lonespark January 31, 2014 at 5:30 am

    Hrrmmm. The Marston thing sounds interesting. Might have to look that up.

  7. christhecynic January 31, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Re: the school system:

    Unfortunately, this system leaves out a lot. It needs a z axis perpendicular to both, with a moral dimension. As it stands, both a student who is widely bullied and the unpopular bully that nobody likes but everyone is scared to confront fall in that upper left quadrant.

    It seems to me that you’d want a power axis (the bully is powerful, the victim is powerless) beyond the proposed moral axis.

    Someone who is morally identical to a bully, and falls into the upper left quadrant might not have the power to make anyone miserable.

  8. christhecynic February 2, 2014 at 8:43 am

    So, having finally watched a version of “Les Misérables” it’s the perfect illustration of the D&D alignments of Good and Lawful. Jean Valjean spends much of the story as Good. Javert spends all of the story as Lawful. 100% committed unquestioning Lawful.

    When Javert lets Good slip into his actions and worldview, but doesn’t give up being 100% Lawful in his internal moral compas he becomes a contradiction: these two things cannot coexist. He can’t stay 100% Lawful and also side with Good. This contradiction can only be solved by giving up 100% Lawful, giving up Good, or giving up himself. Hence suicide.

  9. froborr February 3, 2014 at 9:22 am

    You’ve also got the Thenardiers (and even moreso in the book) as good examples of Chaotic Evil.

  10. lonespark42 February 3, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Hmmmm. Yes. I guess.

    I think those examples demonstrate that it’s difficult to be significantly Lawful Good, etc. Unless Valjean is Neutral Good and Javert is Lawful Neutral? But I feel like the other axis becomes kind of irrelevant. I would say on balance Valjean is Chaotic Good, but how can you decide that before the end of a narrative? Or is alignment more descriptive than prescriptive?

    I do think Lawful and Chaotic make sense to relate a character to the means at their disposal, whether magical or not. And Good and Evil, traditionally, but I feel like that’s too relative? I guess that’s a reflection of my preferred understanding of ethics and magic. It seems weird to have a polytheistic universe with that kind of black-and-white morality.

  11. lonespark42 February 3, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Also now I’m looking for some kind of reflection of one’s opinion on the innate goodness of people, or at least the mutability of their character. Clearly views on that might lead to liberal or conservative or lawful or chaotic behavior… I think you kind of need it to depict Inspector Just World Fallacy.

  12. lonespark42 February 3, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Also, I am thinking we could have open threads discussing pairs of characters who represent opposite ends of spectra, or what similar people could be under varied circumstances, etc. Like pragmatic vs. idealistic, valuing individuals over groups, etc. I guess it doesn’t have to be pairs, but it’s most often two or three characters, who are epic when they fight, or work together or have relationships…

  13. froborr February 3, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Lonespark: Yeah, I’d say Javert is Lawful Neutral and Valjean is Neutral Good. For a literary example of Lawful Good, my go-to example is Vimes in the Discworld version of Les Mis, Night Watch.

  14. christhecynic February 3, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Javert is Lawful Neutral; that’s his problem: he’s so focused on the Lawful that he paid no attention to the good or evil aspect. He just assumed that good and lawful coincided. When Valjean’s mercy forced him to realize that Good and Lawful are not the same thing he had an existential crisis.

    You can’t be completely Lawful and be any degree of Good. Completely Lawfulness demands neutrality on good vs. evil because the only judgment you’re allowed to make is, “Is it legal?”

    He solves the existential crisis by ending his existence. The only other options for him would be:
    1 Well I’ll be mostly Lawful, but occasionally I’ll have to break with that for the cause of Good.
    2 I’ll sacrifice the idea that I’m a good person, which has driven me all my life, but maintain my 100% devotion to the law.

    Valjean is neutral good. (Once he does devote himself to good post priest.) His attitude toward the law isn’t for or against. He follows the law when it suits his needs or goals, he disobeys the law when it suits his needs or goals. There’s no devotion to or hostility toward the law there. (Which is interesting considering what the law did to him.)

  15. christhecynic February 3, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Also, for what it’s worth, in D&D Good is defined by caring about others and trying to make things better for them, Evil is defined by total self interest and seeing others as a means to an end.

    Altruism vs. Ayn Rand, more or less.

  16. Lonespark February 3, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Ah, that makes more sense… I still don’t get a good sense of chaotic evil. Like Thenardier/Jondrette/etc… How can you have a gang and be chaotic evil? If the being in it only for yourself part is the Evil part…but of course it’s not Lawful…but has a certain order…

    (Which reminds me that my college Pagan club was called The Order of Chaos/The Chaotic Order)

  17. kristycat February 3, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    Ahh, the Javert example – NOW I see why the alignment chart is a circle! It makes sense – he couldn’t slide towards LG without losing some of the Lawful.

    (Personally, while I like the D&D alignment system just fine, I don’t really see the appeal of alignments outside of the little corner of NG-CG-CN. Or Chaotic Smart, defined as the opposite of the Chaotic Stupid alignment that pops up all too often.)

    To completely switch systems for a moment – I always liked the system that White Wolf uses, of the “best” and “worst” of a character, combined with a Morality stat of some kind. (As written, the Morality stat is deeply, deeply flawed imo, so I’m going to discuss it briefly and then toss it out the window and say what I think would be a better system!)

    The early form of this was in OWOD Changeling, where each character had 2 different personality/morality settings: Seelie and Unseelie. (Ideally you’d choose one court and stick to it, but you could switch, and some people cycled through daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly.) How you behave when you’re “good” versus when you’re “bad.” They could be very similar, just a dark-mirror version of each other, but due to the fairy-tale setting they could be completely incompatible – my friend’s character, for instance, was a perfect courtly gentleman at dusk and dawn, and a violent, cynical asshole the rest of the time.

    The next version was in NWOD, called Virtue and Vice, and these were based off of the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Heavenly Virtues. The Virtue was the best part of your character – who zie aspired to be and considered “moral.” The Vice was the worst part – the particular sin zie was most tempted by and most often hir downfall.

    Example! My character Moonshadow was a rebel mage in a dystopian society. Her Virtue was Hope – she truly believed her side could win, and saw returning hope to a populace that had become so used to being oppressed that they no longer really noticed it to be essential to the cause. She got angry and upset at times, but never lost the essential belief that they could make it all work out somehow. HOWEVER. Before she got her magic, she was a shallow party girl coasting through life on good looks and Daddy’s money – everything came easy to her, and a part of her still expects it always will. Her Vice is Sloth – it’s very tempting sometimes to just sit back, wave her hand, and just go “ehh, it’ll work itself out. We deserve a break!” Both aspects are part of her character, and she reaffirms her sense of self whenever she acts according to either – but one helps her become who she wants to be, and the other tempts her into something she’s trying hard NOT to be.

    BUT WAIT IT GETS BETTER! Because with the new God-Machine rules for NWOD (I guess it’s… sorta like D&D 3.5? Not a new edition per se, just a patch on the old one), you can CHOOSE YOUR OWN Virtue and Vice out of a universe of limitless possibilities, based on what YOUR CHARACTER considers their best and worst qualities. Which… really gives you a strong feel for who they are, because it tells you what they consider moral vs. immoral (which, for a supernatural being, could seem very weird to humans!)

    Example: my demon, Mrs. Never, used to be an angel of death. She Fell when she first felt empathy, and refused to kill someone who didn’t want to die. Her Virtue might be Empathetic or Merciful, because it is very important to her to view other sentient beings as people and not obstacles, and the desire to understand others is at the core of her being. However, she also spent a very long time destroying people, things, and ideas at the God-Machine’s whim, and that’s hard to walk away from. In a pinch, her Vice of Violence beckons as the easiest and most efficient way to solve her problems – that’s the dark side of her soul that tempts her. However, a demon who wants to reconcile with the God-Machine may completely reverse that. They may have Mercy as a Vice, feeling that it’s a weakness that corrupts their original programming, and Ruthlessness as a Virtue – if they ignore pleas in order to kill or hurt someone who’s in their way, they may feel proud that they managed to live up to their own moral code despite the temptation to falter. (Or a character in this system may have a completely unrelated set of Virtues and Vices. Someone who loves to make people smile but sometimes goes too far may have the Virtue Clown and the Vice Callous. Someone who takes pride in their own intellect may have the Virtue Logical but the Vice Isolated. Or whatever combinations you can come up with!)

    And then the Morality system comes into play.

    At its base form, the Morality system is a fairly arbitrary set of “sins” – every time you commit one, you chance moving further down the Morality scale and becoming a less moral character. If you ever hit zero (i.e. the point where literally nothing really seems “bad” to you anymore), you are no longer a playable character and the ST takes your sheet away to play you as an antagonist. At high morality, you balk at telling little white lies; at low morality, anything short of mass murder is on the table. Most characters are somewhere in the mid-range.

    It’s already kinda flawed, in that the sins line up with a widely-accepted moral code, but one that doesn’t take into account individual beliefs. (For example: accidental killing is higher on the list than deliberate killing, but to my demon, it’s worse to kill on accident or in self-defense than it is to deliberately murder. You should only kill those you’ve CHOSEN to kill. “They were trying to kill me” isn’t a good enough reason.) (Note: she only applies this to herself. Cuz, y’know… she’s a fucking demon. If she can’t put someone down without killing them, she is doing something WRONG.) But in certain games, it gets worse. Changeling, for example, links Morality with Clarity – essentially, sanity. So something that makes you less moral can also make you less sane, and vice versa. I’m sure I don’t have to explain to this crowd how very problematic that is. (*blinks* note to self: in upcoming online Changeling game, decouple Morality and Clarity – run them as 2 different stats. Some actions may require a roll on both, but they shouldn’t always be linked.)

    So what *I* would like to see, instead, would be players working out their own Morality chart, based on what their character finds virtuous or sinful. When you act in ways that align with your Virtue (or that your character otherwise finds moral), you move up the chart. When you act in ways that align with your Vice (or that your character finds immoral), you move down it. (If you take an action that aligns with both simultaneously, you stay where you are and feel both satisfied and vaguely guilty.)

    The practical effect would be that by glancing at a character’s Virtue, Vice, and Morality, you would be able to tell immediately whether this character is moral BY HIR OWN LIGHTS, and also what that morality means. A highly moral character who considers Ruthlessness a virtue (*cough*alsoJavert*cough*) is possibly someone you should avoid. But someone whose Virtue is Ruthlessness but their Morality is very low – this is someone who feels like they OUGHT to be harsh, but can’t quite bring themselves to do it. Which conveys a LOT of information about the character right there.

    …wow that is a wall o’text. Sorry. I think I’m done now.

  18. christhecynic February 4, 2014 at 6:47 am

    I liked the entire wall of text.

    Dead computer revived (hence internet), but I don’t know for how long, so I’m trying to get things out as much as possible, hence wall of text.

    Chaotic I’ve always had a problem with, not because I don’t think it’s a legitimate pole for the axis, but because it’s just hard to get in that mindset.

    Good is caring about others and trying to make things better for them. Altruism, basically.

    Evil is basically a combination of Ayn Rand and Nietzsche. Total self interest, those weaker than you are tools to be used (not people with rights) those stronger than you are those you are forced to pay heed to (because they could smash you) UNTIL YOU BECOME STRONGER THAN THEM at which point they’re tools to be used.

    (This goes with my observation that those who say that they’re “beyond good and evil” basically universally turn out to be evil, by the way.)

    Lawful, is placing the question, “Is it legal?” above all else.

    Ok, got those.

    Lawful Good is a compromise between Lawful and Good, there should be Laws, and the laws should generally be followed (but not necessarily all the time or to the letter because goodness should inform one’s judgement of the law) AND those laws should seek to promote Good.

    Lawful Evil is about using the laws to promote your self interest and keep those you see as below you in their place (but not necessarily following them all the time or to the letter because one’s own self interest should inform one’s judgement of the aw) AND that the laws shouldn’t just be things that you can use to promote your self interest or keep those you see as below you in their place but also that they should be written with those uses in mind.

    Simple compromises.

    I even get the Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil

    Chaotic Good is the anarchist who believes in making life better for all through the breaking down of what they consider the confining, arbitrary and perhaps even evil rules of society.

    Chaotic Evil is the anarchist who believes in making life better for themselves through the breaking down of what they consider the confining, stifling, and perhaps even slave morality rules of society.

    But Chaotic Neutral is anarchy without a cause. The original official description of it states that it views absolute freedom as necessary and whether the individual exercising that freedom is using it for good or evil is of no concern. It goes on to state other things but that’s the key bit.

    I have a hard time with that. Absolute freedom, meaning tearing down all the laws and institutions that might constrict people’s ability to say, “No, I’m not gonna, I’m gonna have a sandwich,” is a hard position for me to really understand because if someone is free to do anything that includes enslaving other people in which case those people aren’t free to do anything.


    In the original form, which is the one I have most access to, these were presented as worldviews. Hence how Chaotic beings can be part of groups. No anarchist is going to overthrow the government on their own, so anarchists who are serious about anarchy on a large scale for the world need to form into groups with rules and hierarchies even though that’s exactly what they’re fighting against. But they’re doing it as a means to an end. Theoretically when order is overthrown the anarchist group with its rules and hierarchy is disbanded.

    Neutral was also presented as a worldview which made it very different than what people normally think of neutral as. Neutral was work, hard fucking work, for balance. If Good was prevailing they fight for Evil, if Evil is prevailing they fight for Good, if Order becomes too great they fight for Chaos, if Chaos becomes too great they fight for Order. Neutral was the idea that the natural state was one of total balance between the extremes and that was what was right, if things became unbalanced you worked to re-balance.

    That’s why my augmented set adds Individual vs. Group, Ends vs Means, and Local vs. Universal.

    If you’re Chaotic Neutral (Means because it makes the example easier) on an individual level then you are, at best, an unpredictable and unreliable member of the group. (You don’t recognize the groups rules or leadership, whether you follow an order depends on your whims.) Quite possibly you’re just not cut out to be in a group.

    If you’re Chaotic Neutral on a group level then you have no such problems. You can take orders, recognize rules and leadership, follow hierarchy, and so forth because you’re concerned not about your own actions but about the group’s actions.

    Similar things play out with Ends vs. Means. If you’re means then the actions (yours or the group’s, depending) had better be Chaotic Neutral NOW, if you’re Ends then the actions had better lead to Chaotic Neutral things.

    And the Local vs. Universal is just the scale you judge things on. Just because something is [specific alignment] on the local scale doesn’t mean it is [specific alignment] on the grand scale and vice versa.

    A more concrete example of the same action being different alignments at different scales:

    Imagine Chaotic Neutral old you is in a city that on the verge of collapse, which is at odds with the only other city in the region, which is not about to collapse.

    At a city scale (whether you’re looking at it the individual or group level, whether you’re focused on means or ends) the Chaotic Neutral thing to do would be to work toward making the city collapse. Then on the city scale, order has fallen and anarchy has been achieved. Woo!

    But on a regional scale if the city you are in collapses then the other city is unopposed, it will be able to absorb first the lawless borderlands between the two cities’ territories then the nearest parts of your city’s territories, and so forth. Maybe your city itself, if it’s got strong walls and the lawless inhabitants band together to preserve its lawlessness, can stay Chaotic but –by removing the only hindrance to other city’s power– you’ve made it so the region will fall under the domination of the other city with its law and order.

    Which means that if you’re looking at things on a regional scale you’ve got to try to prevent the collapse of law and order in your city until neighboring city is also ready to collapse because if you just leave a power vacuum and a Lawful entity ready to fill that vacuum, you’re actually working against Chaos.

    But again, Chaotic Neutral is a hard one for me to wrap my head around. Anarchy is seldom a cause in itself. It’s like the libertarian who doesn’t give a damn who gets screwed INCLUDING THEMSELVES because they’re so invested in the ideal.

    Of course if one is Chaotic Neutral in any variation of, “That is how the world should be,” then even though they don’t believe in laws against slavery, if chaos is ever achieved they’re going to be attacking the slavers because slavery inhibits total freedom. Even though they don’t believe in laws against gangs or organized crime or whatnot, they’re going to be attacking those things because they have rules and order and thus inhibit pure freedom.

    So, if Chaotic Neutral is your ideal for other people (as opposed to a guide to your own actions) you’re basically saying, “I believe in a world where you can do anything, but if you do certain things (ones that constrict the freedom of others) I will come after you with a vengeance.”

    Part of the reason it is hard for me to get is that it’s ultimately self defeating. If people can do anything, no rules, then some of them are going to make rules. (It’s not like there was a rule against that or anything.)

  19. Brin February 4, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Chris: Neutral was also presented as a worldview which made it very different than what people normally think of neutral as. Neutral was work, hard fucking work, for balance.

    While that isn’t the interpretation of neutral I ran into most recently, it is one of the more popular ones and one of the ones that springs to mind (and I expect many other people’s).

    (The most recent encounter was a D&D morality quiz giving me True-Neutral-edging-towards-Good for saying I would act out of pure self-interest, bearing in mind that I am possessed of a conscience that needs to be taken into account when deciding what is in my best interest. Guilt is painful and should be avoided; altruistic warm-fuzzies are pleasant and worth obtaining. (Which is, after all, the whole point of having a conscience: forcing what’s-best-for-yourself to line up with what’s-best-for-the-group* through the addition of carrots and sticks to things that might not otherwise have them.))

    *Mostly. Death, for instance, is still worse than guilt, so it can’t convince me to die for the group.

  20. kristycat February 4, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    (I’m going to leave this debate between a shoulder angel and a shoulder devil right here:

    Hmm. Well, the time that I played CN and really enjoyed it, it was my character Dala, so I’m gonna talk about her a bit.

    For context: her society was a Lawful Evil society (that pretended to be Lawful Good) – I don’t know if all my GMs/STs just really like running dystopian games, or if they just know how much I like playing them, but either way, keep ’em coming. She absolutely hated it, for personal as well as philosophical reasons. The only other example of “lawful” she really saw was the group’s cleric – she was, y’know, on the same side and all, but she was also a prissy, stuck-up, judgmental version of LG. So Dala just did not have a good opinion of Law in general. She believed in personal freedom, in taking risks and leaving things to chance sometimes, and in following no one’s code but your own. She disliked the concept of authority, because it meant letting someone else control your actions, and what makes that person a better person to decide than you? She wanted to tear down the oppressive theocracy, both for her own reasons of vengeance and also because she thought it was a stifling, harmful influence on the lives of everyone in the empire. She sought personal freedom in her own life and to a lesser extent wanted to extend that to others, and believed that small bursts of extreme chaos were good, necessary, and sometimes joyful, and every now and again set out to touch off one of those small bursts. To an extent she cared about other people – all else being equal, she’d rather help herself AND others than just help herself, and she mostly tried not to hurt people who didn’t deserve it – but she wasn’t really altruistic and she WAS very self-centered. She was closer to CG than CE, but Good wasn’t really a motivating factor for her – just, y’know, a nice bonus if it happened to come up.

    Individual vs. Group – mostly group, I suppose. She could and did work within her group, and found it much more effective than just going it alone. Even then, though, she wasn’t a very good follower. She would go along with the group leader as long as he was someone she personally respected and what he said to do made sense to her. If he wasn’t or it didn’t, she would either flat-out refuse to go along with it, or just sit back and quietly wait for him to shoot himself in the foot. (And then she became the leader herself and it wasn’t a problem anymore.)

    Ends vs. Means – definitely more of an Ends girl (though Chaotic Means can be very fun on the short-term, incorrectly applied they can end with you dead or in jail, and that’s not very chaotic at ALL.) At the beginning of the game, she was an infiltrator and a double agent, which is pretty much the example of Lawful (structured, controlled) means to a Chaotic end.

    Local vs. Universal – both, really. I suppose Universal is weighted slightly more, though.

    But I also think it’s important to realize that alignments are fluid, and that character growth is a Thing. So… while she was very Individually Chaotic at the beginning, the longer she adventured with her group and saw the benefits of doing so, and the more her personal loyalty to group members grew, the more she moved towards the Group side of the axis. The influence of a certain PC and a certain NPC had her rethink her attitudes towards helping people, which eventually saw her shift into CG.

    And when a local nobleman who ALSO believed in allowing people personal freedoms decided to rebel, break away, and declare himself a king, and recruited the PCs to work for him, it caused her to rethink her interpretation of Chaos. The king had laws, but they were laws designed to protect individual rights and freedoms, not take them away. He actively opposed the LE empire. (And he was understanding about “creative” interpretation of orders, i.e.: “So your Majesty, remember those goblins that were threatening that town that you told us to get rid of? Welllll… instead of killing them, we kinda took care of an Underdark problem for them, and long story short, they’re now allies of the kingdom. We’re currently working with them to create tunnels into and out of the town so that if the Empire’s armies break through the defenses we can evacuate the civilians – that’s ok, right?”)

    So after the Empire fell and the game ended and the party more or less retired from adventuring, I like to think that she shifted to more of an Individual understanding of Chaos, as I think she did revel in the freedom to just do whatever she wanted, and without an enemy to fight that necessitated banding together, I think she’d enjoy that. She’d also shift more towards local than global, as she’s starting to recognize that small, localized bouts of chaos are safer when they happen within an orderly system, and since she no longer has a LE empire to undermine, she might lean more towards chaotic means rather than ends. (In fact, she had a potential romantic interest introduced near the end of the game who literally used chaotic means to further lawful ends.) So she definitely softened and came back to a more small-scale dedication to Chaos rather than the large-scale she’d been on before, and the question of “is this good for other people?” became more prominent.

    So – tl;dr version – in my experience CN is best understood within a larger context. A big-picture CN person in a fairly liberal society might seem kinda immature, rebelling just for the sake of rebellion, while a small-picture CN person might be an utter free spirit or might just be a jerk. In an oppressive society, though, CN makes a lot more sense (to me), especially on the big-picture side, if you feel that the orderly/oppressive systems need to come crashing down and you’re willing to fight for that even if it means some folks might get hurt during the upheaval.

  21. lonespark42 February 4, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    The practical effect would be that by glancing at a character’s Virtue, Vice, and Morality, you would be able to tell immediately whether this character is moral BY HIR OWN LIGHTS, and also what that morality means. A highly moral character who considers Ruthlessness a virtue (*cough*alsoJavert*cough*) is possibly someone you should avoid. But someone whose Virtue is Ruthlessness but their Morality is very low – this is someone who feels like they OUGHT to be harsh, but can’t quite bring themselves to do it. Which conveys a LOT of information about the character right there.

    I love this. Not a roleplayer person myself, but I do like coming up with characters and stories…

    Also it makes me think of Sisko trying to use Eddington’s ideals and ideas of his personal place in the narrative against him. If you want to destroy someone, getting them to (significantly) compromise their values in pursuit of their goals is a good way. But if you just want to get them to do something, offering them a way to meet your needs while keeping their idea of their own character intact is good.

  22. froborr February 4, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    One way I like to look at it is that each of the four directions on the alignment chart correspond to a different motivation:

    Evil characters are motivated by desire for power
    Good characters are motivated by altruism
    Lawful characters are motivated by desire for order
    Chaotic characters are motivated by desire for freedom

    (I’m making my usual power/freedom distinction here: Freedom is the ability to do what you want, power is the ability to make other people and things do what you want.)

    So a Chaotic Good character wants to maximize everyone’s freedom, while a Chaotic Evil character wants to have all the freedom and all the power. A Chaotic Neutral character, then, would be someone who just wants their own freedom, but isn’t concerned about either controlling or benefiting others. It is probably the most self-centered (not quite the same as selfish) alignment.

  23. christhecynic February 4, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    So a Chaotic Good character wants to maximize everyone’s freedom

    The problem I see with that is that, assuming the character is not extremely dull, the Chaotic Good character you’ve described wants to put in place laws. The only way to maximize everyone’s freedom is to impose an order whereby people are limited from taking action to limit the freedom of others.

    Which means that our hypothetical chaotic neutral character is in favor of LAW and ORDER and all of the the things represented by the opposite side of the Lawful-Chaotic axis.

    I mean, take the extreme case: slavery, the total lack of freedom. (Well, how much freedom was lacked depends on the type of slavery, but hopefully we can all agree that slaves are not free.)

    The Chaotic Good character you’re describing would be all for outlawing that. That a pro law and order stance. There should be a law, and the law should be followed, and when not followed it should be enforced in totality.

    This can somewhat be hand-waved in that you can’t be Chaotic Good without giving up some (about 30%) of your chaotic-ness, but we’d see the same thing left and right. Everywhere someone impinges on someone else’s freedom (and there are a lot of places) the Chaotic Good character with the motivations you describe would be motivated to create a new order, or modify an existing one, to create a system by which freedom was maximized.

    Because that’s what it takes to maximize everyone’s freedom.

    Which is different from maximizing freedom in general.

    Total freedom is possible but unstable because one of the things people are free to do is to take away the freedom of others by trick or by force. (By persuasion is a more complicated issue because another of the things people are free to do is to give up their freedom.)

  24. froborr February 4, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Hmm… my usual go-to example character for Chaotic Good is the Doctor, which I think answers your conundrum. He’s content to knock down bad order and move on, leaving it to others to actually create the new, hopefully less-repressive society.

    Anyway, of course being a Chaotic character involves some self-contradiction! Consistency is the bugbear of Lawful minds, after all.

  25. christhecynic February 4, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    I wouldn’t disagree with the Doctor as Chaotic Good, indeed not being Neutral Good has been known to, say, throw the entire Earth into a century of hell. (See not bothering to pick up the pieces when he shut down Satellite Five.)

    But it seems to me that his altruism is what drives his desire for freedom for others, which is a non sequitur in your system because your system separates altruism from freedom entirely. They’re on different axes. They don’t even correlate.

    Of course there’s also the distinction of freedom from and freedom to, which may come into play. A Chaotic Neutral character, using your system of motivations wants freedom to anything, and only wants freedom from restrictions on freedom to. (I mean presumably they’d rather not be punched in the face, but that’s not part of their alignment.)

    I’m not sure how that plays into things, if at all.

  26. christhecynic February 4, 2014 at 3:20 pm


    Actually, can you describe all the points of alignment in your interpretation of the system? (I’m particularly interested in how you see Lawful Good playing out.)

  27. froborr February 4, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    Hmm, okay.

    A Lawful Good character desires order for the sake of others, that is a benevolent order that is good for all. (This may or may not involve any freedom for others; it is possible for a Lawful Good character to fight for a nice liberal society where the law exists to maintain freedom for all, but they could also fight for a more restrictive society if they believed it was in everyone’s best interests.)
    A Lawful Neutral character desires order for its own sake, whether it benefits others or not.
    A Lawful Evil character desires order as a means to acquire and maintain power.

    A Neutral Good character desires for everyone to get what they want and be happy and at peace, which depending on circumstances could mean more or less order.
    A True Neutral character could be any of several things–somebody who hovers ambivalently between all the poles, someone who desires nothing, or someone who desires and believes in balance between all four poles.
    A Neutral Evil character wants power, and will sometimes use or create order to acquire it, and at other times will exploit or create chaos.

    The Chaotic Good character wants to maximize everyone’s freedom because they are both altruistic and want freedom, yes. The two axes are independent, but both function as motivators. The Neutral Good, character, by contrast, is willing to sacrifice the freedom of others as long as they get their own, and the Chaotic Evil character will preferentially sacrifice the freedom of others because they like having power *and* freedom.

  28. christhecynic February 5, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Ok, so, if I’m reading right, you’re saying:

    Lawful good is like the dictator who imposes zir order on the people for the people’s own good.
    (A colonialist trying to uplift the savage natives maybe.)

    Lawful neutral is someone who favors order for order’s sake.

    Lawful evil is someone who uses order to get ahead in life. So it’s like the peasant who institutes democracy because ze could never be King but ze can rabble rouse like you wouldn’t believe and are a shoe in for President.

    Neutral Good is the unattainable desire of all (desired/good) things to all people BUT is willing to sacrifice (some of) the good things of others (notably freedom) in favor of their own.

    True Neutral can mean so many things it’s undefined.

    Neutral Evil is power at any cost. And any time anything is “At any cost” you know it has to be evil.

    Chaotic Good is about maximizing freedom. So anti-slavery, pro free speech, wants a secular government because otherwise the most powerful religious sect can restrict the freedom of all others, so on, so forth. Fred Clark, basically.

    Chaotic Neutral is I got/am getting MY freedom, who gives a damn about anyone else?

    Chaotic Evil is I got/am getting MY freedom, and do give a damn about others because I want power over them.

    That’s… different, but interesting.

  29. christhecynic February 5, 2014 at 9:31 am

    The kind of democracy where people are elected to public office I mean (for lawful evil) not the kind where we are the Borg and all decisions are made by consensus.

  30. christhecynic February 5, 2014 at 9:38 am

    The Borg would be the antithesis of evil in this formulation because in the Borg no one has power. All are equal (until the queen is retroactively introduced) they’d be either pure lawful (bringing order for order’s sake) or lawful good (because they believe those assimilated are brought closer to perfection and fulfillment and whatnot, and so could be argued to be motivated by the desire to create a benevolent order that is good for all.)

  31. christhecynic February 5, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Anyone think that maybe there should be a consent axis?

    (quadruple post, clearly I am horrible.)

  32. Lonespark February 5, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Yeah, the consent axis thing seems important. Or the fact that yeah, conquering people to make a utopian empire or whatever is an orderly end, but there’s going to be frakload of chaos on the way there. And if it’s a good end there’s going to be violence and suffering and breaking of holy precepts and whatnot.

  33. Lonespark February 5, 2014 at 9:53 am

    This does make me think that an important aspect of lawful characters is when and how they think laws should be changed. Plus if they interact with cultures outside the one they’re from, how does that work? They’re not going to break the laws where they are, but if those laws conflict with other rules that are important to them…

    (The only RP I have ever done a tiny bit is Planescape, where usually everyone or mostly everyone is away from the familiar.)

  34. kristycat February 5, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I think that “consent” is a part of “power,” actually. Having power over someone more or less precisely means that you can do things to them and/or make them do things, whether or not they consent.

    So I would argue that the Borg ARE Lawful Evil, because whether they think being assimilated would be in someone’s best interest or not, they’re still seeking the POWER to enforce their order on others whether they like it or not and oh goodness we’ve just wandered into the territory of intent vs. action hoo boy.

  35. christhecynic February 5, 2014 at 10:41 am

    First off, note that I don’t actually agree with froborr’s interpretation of the alignments. Second, froborr interpreted them corresponding to “motivation” so I think that when looking at froborr’s model we are pretty firmly in the intent side of intent vs. actions.

    You’re right about power and consent being wrapped together.

    The original canonical rules (the two axis system was introduced in AD&D, first edition) talk about power when describing evil, but not as a thing to be sought, instead as a thing to be used. (Either the evil assume themselves to be powerful or they assume themselves undeserving, I’m guessing the first is more common.)

    When I talk about it being like Nietzsche it’s because their view of “Good” could have been stolen right from his “Beyond Good and Evil” (which itself was cribbed from Callicles’ words in Plato’s Gorgias.) AD&D Evil is the belief that the powerful should have dominance over those lacking such power. It’s not enough to be able to force people to do what you want, you have to use that ability.

    Things that stand in the way of exercising power are unnatural and bad. (Unions, for example, would be hated because they allow the not-powerful workers to place restrictions on what the more powerful boss can do.)

    There is some more to it, the rationale is essentially one from nature so you also get the idea that those who wouldn’t survive without help shouldn’t survive (they’re considered to be culled) and such. But the basic thing is: Some people (like me) are more powerful than others, they should be allowed to use that power damn it! So called “good” is fucking everything up by holding back the fittest most powerful specimens and propping up the less fit less powerful ones.

    Regardless, I too would class the Borg as Lawful Evil. Though a note might be tacked on that they are a kind of Lawful Evil not even envisioned when the alignment was first penned.

    As a group they are internally lawful (strongly so) and they are externally evil. They are individually directionless. What they are externally when it comes to lawful or chaotic depends on how you look at things. We’re talking a galactic scale, after all. Things get complicated. Still, lawful is the most reasonable classification.

    So Lawful Evil.

    I see alignment as a combination of action and intent. Say you’re neutral good. You try to do good (intent) but sometimes you fail (action) and then, if you’re really neutral good, you try (intent) to fix your failure and make right whatever you did wrong (also action.) Of course that could fail too, and if every attempt to make amends fails then consider that you may be cursed or something.

    Also, Kristy, if it weren’t for something you said I wouldn’t have made this open thread. This is the most active open thread we’ve had since talking gender in Harry Potter. Thank you.

    Thank you very much.

  36. christhecynic February 5, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Random note that just came to mind:

    If the original Neutral Evil was the idea that the powerful should dominate (rather than, say, help) the less powerful, then it didn’t offer much for the individual who knew themselves to be lacking in power but still wanted to use others.

    Lawful Evil, then, becomes a way for such not-powerful evil individuals to rise. By using a system of law and order (be the system itself good or bad) to rise above what their individual power would allow, they can surpass what Neutral Evil would see as their station in life.

    Lawful Evil then becomes a way to social climb.

    This is not the philosophy of Lawful Evil, but it is a possible way for the evil to strive toward powerfulness that the general philosophy of evil claims they don’t deserve.

  37. froborr February 5, 2014 at 11:34 am

    That’s basically what power is–the ability to ignore consent. Thus, yes, I would class the Borg as Lawful Evil.

    A benign dictator would be Lawful Good, yes. A human is incapable of being a benign dictator, of course, but there are some gods who are Lawful Good benign dictators. Equally, however, somebody who seeks a structured rule of law with an elected council and a strong constitution could be Lawful Good.

    A better word than “motivation” for my construction might be “pursuit.” You can pursue power for different reasons (including the desire to do good), but it’s still pursuit of power and therefore will lead you to Evil.

    I should note also that the alignment system bears little resemblance to real-world morality, but I don’t think it’s supposed to. It’s supposed to be a moral system that works in a world where murdering the babies of sentient life forms is something “good” characters do (baby dragons have stats, the game is implicitly encouraging their use as enemies). Any alignment system necessarily implies that morality is something that applies to people rather than actions–that, in other words, a character can be said to have a moral status prior to actually doing anything. In other words, it inherently assumes that moral concepts have ontological force as opposed to being social constructs, and as such any alignment system will always lead to absurdities such as the Lawful Good Borg or (my favorite example) the Demon Who Gives to Charity.

    (Brief explanation: Demons are always Lawful Evil. There are absolutely no exceptions, because in some sense demons are MADE of Lawful Evil. Yet they are sentient beings, and therefore presumably a demon *could* use its demonic powers solely to provide valuable social services at reasonable fees scaled to the client’s ability to pay, and then (since demons need no sustenance) donate all of that money to worthy charities. And it would STILL be Lawful Evil, because demons are definitionally Lawful Evil.)

  38. christhecynic February 5, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    This is why I was wondering if separating consent from power would be a good idea:

    That’s basically what power is–the ability to ignore consent.

    Yes. But here’s the thing, every alignment ignores the consent of someone.

    When you stop the dragon from burning down the orphanage (which it’s doing because it thinks human children make such delightful sounds as they die) you don’t get its consent first. (Though by all means ask it to stop.) It’s not going to give it. It doesn’t want to be stopped, it doesn’t consent to be stopped. If you stop it, or even try to stop it, you’re ignoring its consent.

    But that’s a very different kind of ignoring of consent than if you brainwash all of the orphans into being fine upstanding citizens because you know their lives will have more happy and less sad if they never run afoul of the law.

    Similarly in all cases (worthy of being a player character) people pursue power, the question is whether it’s as tool (I can use my power to heal the injured) or an end (I can use healing the injured to become popular, use the popularity to stage a coup, set myself as absolute ruler, and then I will have ALL THE POWER.)

    The person who says, “I will be a level zero know-nothing with the strength of a flea, the smarts of a rock, and the fighting skill of road kill,” isn’t going to do much of note. If they try to save someone they’ll probably end up killing them (they lack the knowledge.) If they try to fight the good fight they’ll lose. If they try to lift the wagon of the poor trapped person they’ll fail. If they try to solve the puzzle… they won’t.

    To be someone whose story is worth playing, or worth telling, one must court power.

  39. Lonespark February 5, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    This thread is awesome and I would be all for another open thread next week or whatever about moral/ethical/legal(?) systems more generally.

    Also also (related) I wanted to have a discussion about whether different people’s belief systems require the divine to be morally good. I think that should be able to carry over to people whose morality and general worldview don’t involve anything divine or supernatural, but I’m not sure exactly how to word it. Do you believe in a moral universe, or an overall goodness in humanity, or at least behave as though that’s the case… maybe?

  40. Lonespark February 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Any alignment system necessarily implies that morality is something that applies to people rather than actions–that, in other words, a character can be said to have a moral status prior to actually doing anything.

    Yeah, but the whole point is to guide actions, right? If you don’t at least attempt to act according to your alignment there’s no point in having one. But if there are communities defined as all having one alignment, that is a huge pile of bigoted crap. The leader could have the power to enforce their morality, but…

  41. kristycat February 5, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    *nodnod* and if your ACTIONS don’t match your stated/intended alignment, your alignment WILL shift eventually. (Which, depending on what system you’re playing and how lenient your GM/ST is, could be as simple as “ok, erase that LG, your character is now LN” orrrr could involve emotional turmoil, spiritual repercussions, quests to repent, or even loss of class abilities.)

    Which is good from a roleplaying sense – you want to at least ATTEMPT to play the character as you’ve described hir – but also means that Always Alignments are full of shit, in my book. Either Devils have no free will and cannot choose their actions (in which case their alignment would be effectively Neutral, like animals – the Lawful Evil would be reserved for whoever controls them), or they DO have free will, and at least theoretically COULD choose to take actions that more closely align with, say, Neutral Good. And guess what? If you take Neutral Good actions for a long enough time, you become Neutral Good!

    Now, I’ll buy that Devil society is overwhelmingly LE, that Devils are rewarded for being LE and discouraged from anything else, or even that there’s something psychological about Devils that makes them more inclined to be LE – I get that, it’s fantasy, whatever. So, y’know, the vast majority of Devils are LE to the point that non-LE Devils are vanishingly rare to the point of being a myth. Fine. But it has to at least be a POSSIBILITY! If Devils CAN choose their own courses of action, then they COULD change their alignment if they so chose!

    …yes, I am getting very emotional about the freedom of a fictional race to choose which fictional, limited, flawed descriptor of morality they adhere to. THIS IS IMPORTANT!

  42. christhecynic February 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    At least some AD&D books (no idea which edition) introduce the idea of probability distribution with pictures of a bell curves and everything. The point being that saying a race is Chaotic Evil does not mean, “Every single member of the race is chaotic evil.” The curve has tails and there are outliers and free will and whatnot.

    Also from the very introduction Alignment was described as an over simplified shorthand because the point isn’t to say, “This is a Taraxacum erythrospermum,” but rather, “This is a flower of some form,” because you want to distinguish it from trees.

    Also, from the introduction, the terms could be used both prescriptively and descriptively. Neutral Evil is a philosophy, which appears to be drawn from real world philosophers no less, and if you’re a follower of that philosophy then Neutral Evil tells you how to act. On the other hand Neutral Evil is also a way to describe people who behave in a manner that is in accordance with the philosophy of Neutral Evil whether they follow that philosophy or not.

    So it can be used to tell people how to act, “You’re Neutral Evil for fuck’s sake, it’s a basic tenet of our belief system that those too weak to survive on their own deserve to perish. STOP GIVING HANDOUTS TO THE PIGEONS!” (Intentionally silly) But it can also be used to describe how people have acted, “Well he’s always tried to control those less powerful than him and the only thing he ever shows respect for is someone who can kick his ass, he’s clearly Neutral Evil.”

    So [alignment] [alignment] means different things depending on context. Either it means the actions themselves, or the belief system most commonly used to justify actions of that nature. But there’s no reason that someone who is Neutral Evil in their actions needs to believe in the philosophy of Neutral Evil, it’s just that their actions will be in the same category as those of a true believer.

  43. kristycat February 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Hmm… which prompts the question, to what extent can your actions be said to reflect your true beliefs? If I SAY I believe in giving to those less fortunate, but always walk past homeless people with signs even when I could afford to spare a buck, couldn’t you arguably claim that my stated belief is not my true belief?

    Except that often, behavior is prompted by habits as much as it is by choice – maybe I truly DO believe that I should give to the homeless, but due to societal conditioning or a parent who felt differently or having been a greedy asshole in the past (which I’m trying to change), I’ve kind of trained myself to not notice people begging – I want to, but it takes an effort of will and maybe I’m just not always paying attention…


  44. christhecynic February 5, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    There’s also a question of capability. Maybe you are [alignment] but you positively suck at it.

    You’re a demon who really truly is Lawful Evil but you’re so bad at it that when you apply effort things keep on turning out Chaotic Good. It’s gotten to the point that your overlord is looking at you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortably like execution is on the way and a band of Chaotic Good adventurers have invited you to join their party.

  45. froborr February 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Well, that’s the fun thing about beliefs. They don’t actually drive action, at least not directly. What they do is influence how you feel about things, which is what actually determines your action. (Why yes, there ARE neo-Stoic elements in my ethos, why do you ask?) A human mind is basically a tiny little skiff of reason in the middle of a vast sea of emotion, carried here and there by the currents and winds. Beliefs let you tack a little (mostly because most of us have an emotional need to feel self-consistent, which creates a current in the direction of the belief) but not much.

  46. christhecynic February 5, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Alignment shift based on failing at desired alignment:

    Megamind: No matter how hard I tried, I was always the odd man out, the last one picked, the screw-up, the black sheep, the bad boy. Was this my destiny? Wait! Maybe it was. Being bad is the one thing I’m good at. Then it hit me: if I was the bad boy, then I was going to be the baddest boy of them all!

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