So, I kind of got rambly about alignments. I went wide of what I was trying to say so here is the second try. Beyond all my advice about how alignments should be used in a game, here is a super simple primer on what the different alignments mean. Before you read further, remember that all of this is my opinion, that fun aces rules, and that all of this is suggestions for how to have a better time role-playing.
Without further a”whoos” here goes–
Alignments are sliding scales of human nature. The four distinct ends of those scales are Good, Evil, Chaotic, and Lawful. In between, all four are Neutral areas. Typically, people fall somewhere between the two different ends of any one of the scales. It’s like a graph (or Bartle’s Taxonomy).
Here is what they mean:
- Good: one who cares for others and wants what’s best for the group.
- Evil: one who cares for themselves and wants what’s best for themselves.
- Chaotic: one who acts actively against governing bodies and promotes personal control.
- Lawful: one who acts actively for governing bodies and promotes representative control.
- Neutral: one who does not feel strongly, consistently, about doing what is in one’s or other’s best interest.
So, in simpler terms, being Chaotic doesn’t mean being CrAzY! It means that your character doesn’t really listen to kings or pay their taxes (unless it serves them to). Do you play an elf that lives in the woods and has animal friends? What do you wanna bet that in person they really would have trouble dealing with a home owner’s association? It means they don’t like laws and don’t really see a reason to uphold them. Your character could have mental disorders (but unless you know a lot about them please don’t). If your character is Chaotic, however, it is more likely that they just don’t like paperwork or always break the law just a little as a stiff middle finger to the authorities.
Lawful is the same way but in the other direction. Being lawful means more broadly that your character puts trust in governing bodies. They want to have a king (or be the king) and they believe that laws are good. Being lawful doesn’t mean that you don’t or can’t break laws, it means that they have a set of laws your character holds themselves to. Think about an evil necromancer that has their own dark kingdom. They imprison the heroes for no reason and plan to execute them. A Lawful character would believe that the situation is an injustice (or goes against their code of law) and would fight for their freedom one way or another. On the other hand, if they broke their own code and went to jail, they may stay put as a way to redeem themselves even if they don’t legally have to.
Good and Evil are a little harder to mull over. Everyone believes (almost all the time) that what they do is good. At least for themselves. Good and Evil in this case deal more in intrinsic versus extrinsic goals. Good characters need to help others to feel good. Evil characters need to help themselves to feel good. Players can perform both with the same character and not break character. What about the evil world conquering wizard that saves puppies on weekends? Or the Boy Scout Paladin that decides not to call the city guard to jail a thief? Good and Evil are abstract but they encompass the general direction that the character lies in. It’s horseshoes, not rocket surgery.
Neutral is a beast of a different Monster Manual, though. Neutral characters likely fall somewhere in between. That’s why so many lovable rogues or swashbucklers are Neutral. They don’t go out of their way to hurt others but they like getting things for themselves as well. Just because they don’t always follow every little rule doesn’t mean they shot arrows into melee combat willy-nilly. True Neutrals are more likely to be your Joe Everydude. They don’t have strong ties in any direction and break laws when it’s more convenient for themselves.
Speed limit 25? Who would really pull you over for going 28? Come on. The starving family needs food? That mega supermarket won’t miss a loaf of bread (I’ll pay them back when I can). That’s what we are looking at.
When adventuring, it is much simpler for everyone to agree that saving the world (or another common goal) is a good thing to do and Good players are likely to agree no matter the personal costs. Neutral and Evil players may require a little more prodding. Want that Lawful Neutral Cleric to leave the abby and give you heals? Maybe you should offer them a reward for helping out, possibly make them think they can make bishop if they delve just a little. Need a necromancer to lend you a (skeletal) hand? What if they get any powerful enchanted items you find along the way? A little bribery can go a long way.
That’s really what all this is to say, though. Alignments really only change the WHY of your character. The HOW is likely the same no matter what their alignment if the party is working together. Both create the WHO of your character. Play them the way you think they would react and have a good time doing it (and hopefully everyone at the table will too). Trying to force characterization because you just happened to pick Chaotic Neutral isn’t really role-playing. Creating a narrative about why your character believes what they do and then acting on it–that’s role-playing.
I hope that helps. Feel free to comment thoughts you have below. Thanks for reading! Also, here is more on Bartle as well: