There is little more confusing in the D&D universe than the concept of alignment. This said, I would also venture to surmise there are fewer articles written about alignment than any other subject in D&D.
There is little more confusing in the D&D universe than the concept of alignment. This said, I would also venture to surmise there are fewer articles written about alignment than any other subject in D&D. The Players' Handbook reads, "A character's or creature's general moral and personal attitudes are represented by its alignment. . ." (page 87).
It goes on to say, "Alignment is a tool for developing your character's identity." (page 144). The Dungeon Master's Guide seems more concerned about changing alignment: "A character can have a change of heart. Alignments aren't commitments, except in specific cases (such as for paladins and clerics)." Accepting the subject of alignment is at best very complicated, it might be worthwhile to examine a different perspective on the whole thing.
In my twenty-five years of D&D I've come to realize a better understanding of alignment and its affects on the game adds a definite dimension to the game a roll of the dice cannot provide. Most of the time, players tend to view alignment as purely a surface identification. They tend to either meta-game, playing only themselves, or fall into poor theatrics, which include cliches, alter egos, or maniacs, just for the purpose of entertainment. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these motivations; however, I'd like to present an alternative way of viewing the possibilities of alignment. "Real life" examples are an excellent way to examine how it can be used best within game play.
Basically, alignment is the moral and ethical fabric in which your character is cloaked. It's the foundation and framework to support and house religion, codes of behavior, and rules of one character's engagement within its world. Essentially, alignment is your character and vice versa. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons this subject is tiptoed around so much could be it honestly "hits too close to home" for nearly all of us! How close? How close do you want it to be? And how honestly and deeply do you want to delve?
I cannot think of a better way to explore alignment than to cite both historical and contemporary examples of various real and fictitious characters in our human experience. However, it is an unavoidably sensitive subject; and for obvious reasons of diplomacy and sensitivity I cannot fully name many personalities. See? It is tricky. I'll throw in some examples of what I would expect from characters of each alignment in my gaming experience.
- King Arthur - knights, chivalry, loyalty, and round tables
- Wyatt Earp - the badge versus the bad guys
- Batman - the caped crusader himself
- Ghandi - peaceful, lawful protest for change
- Sherlock Holmes - except for the opium part, that is, it's elementary
In my games, the lawful good character won't break into the shop, even if the stolen goods are in there.
- Captain Kirk - What Prime Directive?
- George Washington - nothing lawful about revolution, until you win it
- Conan - whatever it takes
- Lone Ranger - same, but he wears white
- Zorro - undisciplined but structured in a way
You're a nice, likeable guy who will make his own rules if necessary to obtain an outcome for the overall good.
- Zeus - a bolt here, a bolt there, but had the Romans' best at heart
- Sir Lancelot - love before loyalty
- Robin Hood - to heck with the upper class
- Spiderman - pretty improbable feats and tangled webs
- Harry Callaghan - You feel lucky, punk?
As a chaotic good character, you'll definitely make waves and drive the others batty with your pet peeves and methods. However, remember, you may not plan well or consider consequences.
- Mr. Spock - perfectly logical, Captain
- Merlin - science has its own law
- Nostradamus - it's gonna happen anyway
- Soviet Russia - a law unto its own, whether it worked or not
- The IRS - It's not personal, but you have to pay us
In a Scorpio game you'll split the treasure evenly every time, no matter who you are.
- The animal kingdom - purely reactionary, or we like to think so
- Napoleon Bonaparte - he was a bit of everything combined, so a lot of it cancelled out
- Alexander the Great - where Napoleon learned it all
This is one of the hardest alignments to play accurately. You either combine everything or leave it all out. It's tough to even imagine being this unbiased.
- Henry VIII-didn't believe much, and made up his own lines as he went
- Al Capone - wasn't really evil, just really greedy
- Andrew Carnegie - the buck was everything, forget who did the work
You'll be the first character to leave the game since you won't have a whole lot of interest in your fellow players.
- Lucifer - allowed to torment man through whole history of the Church tradition
- Darth Vader - the dark side is just that
- Ebeneezer Scrooge - took just as much advantage as he could
- Klingons - all about honor, but a really twisted kind
- The Sheriff of Nottingham - loyal to the wrongful king
Your character has already planned how to end up on top. Law and order aren't always about good, and the appearance of order can camouflage evil intent.
- Charles Manson - complete criminal depravity, without rhyme or reason
- Caligula - one of the reasons Rome fell
- Blackbeard - -supposedly loved to torture for the sake of it
- Vlad the Impaler (the real Dracula) - impaled for the sake of it (for the stake of it?)
- Bonnie and Clyde - came to the point where they just didn't care and it wasn't about the money any more.
A chaotic evil alignment probably will be killed by his fellow players. There is little sense and virtually no entertainment value to this disordered a character, since a true chaotic evil creature will not join a group to begin with.
- Adolf Hitler - implemented his own "law" and justified chaos for it
- Numerous current dictators - predictably unpredictable
This is the most dangerous of the evil alignments, because with no emotional attachments, there is nothing to lose; hence, there are no limits. I've never seen a player pull this one off. Your humanity would get in the way.
To sum this up, alignment is all about choosing and playing by certain guidelines. When you choose an alignment, play it carefully. Remember the details, such as how a character would react or decide in any particular set of circumstances or confrontations. Don't be surprised if, in playing a character different from your perception of yourself, you discover things aren't quite as you assumed. Gotcha!