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Redefining the Nine Alignments in Dungeons & Dragons

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Gygax perceived Neutral Good as the alignment for the most heroic of characters, because he believed that characters who choose the extreme ends of the spectrum had it wrong due to their extremist viewpoints.

Below are the redefined nine alignments, preceded by their original definitions AD&D. It’s interesting to note that Gygax perceived Neutral Good (now dubbed Balanced Altruism) as the alignment for the most heroic of characters, because he believed that characters who choose the extreme ends of the spectrum (which would be Lawful Good or Chaotic Evil) had it wrong due to their extremist viewpoints.

Lawful Good

In AD&D: “Characters of this alignment believe that an orderly, strong society with a well-organized government can work to make life better for the majority of the people. To ensure the quality of life, laws must be created and obeyed. When people respect the laws and try to help one another, society as a whole prospers. Therefore, lawful good characters strive for those things that will bring the greatest benefit to the most people and cause the least harm. An honest and hard-working serf, a kindly and wise king, or a stern but forthright minister of justice are all examples of lawful good people.”

Redefined as Faithful Altruism: “Guardians” are stalwart altruists who believe there are universal, immutable ethical laws that transcend culture, and selflessly strive to protect the innocent against oppression, regardless of the consequences. Evil transpires whenever these ethical laws are broken out of selfishness and greed. The common people respect Guardians for their great resolve and devotion to justice. They genuinely believe that it is possible to act selflessly, and argue against egoists that selfless acts are just that—selfless—committed without premeditation of personal gain. The integrity of their ethical system hinges upon the fact that they refuse to sacrifice innocent lives for any seemingly superior cause. A steadfast paladin who dedicates her life to obeying the dictates of her faith in order to protect her kingdom is a good example of the Guardian ethos.

Chaotic Good

In AD&D: “Chaotic good characters are strong individualists marked by a streak of kindness and benevolence. They believe in all the virtues of goodness and right, but they have little use for laws and regulations. They have no use for people who “try to push folk around and tell them what to do.” Their actions are guided by their own moral compass which, although good, may not always be in perfect agreement with the rest of society. A brave frontiersman forever moving on as settlers follow in his wake is an example of a chaotic good character.”

Refined as Brave Altruism: “Champions” oppose absolutism and have no qualms upsetting the status quo to free the innocent from oppression and exploitation. They have great respect for diversity, tolerate differing ethical viewpoints, and strive to generate the most good for the most people. Striving for any other goal is selfishness, which leads to evil. A daring diplomat who opposes a corrupt bourgeois to alleviate the suffering of impoverished masses is a good example of the Champion ethos.

Neutral Good

In AD&D: “These characters believe that a balance of forces is important, but that the concerns of law and chaos do not moderate the need for good. Since the universe is vast and contains many creatures striving for different goals, a determined pursuit of good will not upset the balance; it may even maintain it. If fostering good means supporting organized society, then that is what must be done. If good can only come about through the overthrow of existing social order, so be it. Social structure itself has no innate value to them. A baron who violates the orders of his king to destroy something he sees as evil is an example of a neutral good character.”

Redefined as Balanced Altruism: “Benefactors” are not committed to moral absolutism and don’t believe that the actions of individuals can be justified by cultural difference. Instead, they believe a balance of both viewpoints is necessary to maintain moral fitness in society. Evil arises when blind devotion to a cause or wanton selfishness overrules reason and temperance. These Heroes are not opposed committing lesser “crimes,” such as lying, cheating or stealing, in order to accomplish what they perceive as a greater good, but they may also uphold certain imperatives as inalienable. A kindly lord who helps prisoners escape an unfair execution in the gallows is an example of the Benefactor ethos.

Lawful Neutral

In AD&D: “Order and organization are of paramount importance to characters of this alignment. They believe in a strong, well-ordered government, whether that government is a tyranny or benevolent democracy. The benefits of organization and regimentation outweigh any moral questions raised by their actions. An inquisitor determined to ferret out traitors at any cost or a soldier who never questions his orders are good examples of lawful neutral behavior.”

Redefined as Faithful Skepticism: “Judicators” are neither selfless nor egoistical in their disposition. To the Judicator, what is ethical is what is lawful, and so ethical judgments are inseparable from culture and society. Judicators are committed to justice neither out of a concern for the welfare of others, nor out of a desire to gain by being lawful. The law itself, Judicators argue, forms the basis of morality because the law ensures order in society, and without order society ceases to exist. Judicators are loyal subjects of the kingdom, indifferent to the irrelevant ideologies of outsiders. A Judicator shaman, for example, abiding by the laws of a vengeful Mother Nature, would not hesitate to cleanse a countryside rife with corruption, even if doing so means killing a few innocent civilians in the process. In the same way, repressive governments can trust Judicator spies and inquisitors to root out heretics for their cause without their conscientious objection to the task.

True Neutral

In AD&D: “True neutral characters believe in the ultimate balance of forces, and they refuse to see actions as either good or evil. Since the majority of people in the world make judgments, true neutral characters are extremely rare. True neutrals do their best to avoid siding with the forces of either good or evil, law or chaos. It is their duty to see that all of these forces remain in balanced contention. True neutral characters sometimes find themselves forced into rather peculiar alliances. To a great extent, they are compelled to side with the underdog in any given situation, sometimes even changing sides as the previous loser becomes the winner. A true neutral druid might join the local barony to put down a tribe of evil gnolls, only to drop out or switch sides when the gnolls were brought to the brink of destruction. He would seek to prevent either side from becoming too powerful. Clearly, there are very few true neutral characters in the world.”

Redefined as Balanced Skepticism: “Arbitrators” believe that the concept of good and evil only has meaning within the boundaries of culture. Without cultural difference, they argue, ideological sameness will lead to stagnation and tyranny. The only fundamental ethical law they uphold is the law of noninterference with the practices of other cultures. Arbitrators believe that the only evil is ethnocentrism, because when one culture dominates another, precious knowledge, customs, and life is bound to be lost in the ensuing struggle. A reclusive, hermetic order of powerful druids who keep vigil over an unstable region may refrain from interfering in the affairs of nations, until, for example, one nation threatens to upset the balance, crusading against its enemies because of perceived ideological dominance.

Chaotic Neutral

In AD&D: “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! This alignment is perhaps the most difficult to play. Lunatics and madmen tend toward chaotic neutral behavior.”

Redefined as Brave Skepticism: “Radicals” abhor the concept of morality. These nihilists are neither altruists nor egoists. What one believes is a good or evil action, the Radical argues, always depends on the circumstances of one’s culture, and the laws of one’s society. Ethical judgments, then, are entirely subjective, and therefore utterly meaningless. In the same way, morality as a whole is an irrational concept without a basis in reality. These characters tend to be wildly individualistic. Radicals don’t believe in a duty to help others, or derive pleasure from gaining power; instead, their motivations are often far more complex. A Radical wizard, for example, may have no interest in anything other learning for learning’s sake, shunning both prestige and the camaraderie of other wizards.

Neutral Evil

In AD&D: “Neutral evil characters are primarily concerned with themselves and their own advancement. They have no particular objection to working with others or, for that matter, going it on their own. Their only interest is in getting ahead. If there is a quick and easy way to gain a profit, whether it be legal, questionable, or obviously illegal, they take advantage of it. Although neutral evil characters do not have the every-man-for-himself attitude of chaotic characters, they have no qualms about betraying their friends and companions for personal gain. They typically base their allegiance on power and money, which makes them quite receptive to bribes. An unscrupulous mercenary, a common thief, and a double-crossing informer who betrays people to the authorities to protect and advance himself are typical examples of neutral evil characters.”

Redefined as Balanced Egoism: “Esurients” believe the highest good is the pursuit of personal happiness. Laws that stand in the way of this goal are evil. An Esurient does not necessarily consider herself to be an egoist; instead, she redefines altruism to mean cooperation between self-interested individuals with unique personal ambitions. The Esurient is respectful of cultural differences insofar as these differences do not interfere with her pursuit of happiness. For this reason, the Esurient shares the belief with the Arbitrator that nonintervention is a virtue. Moreover, the Esurient rejects the notion that human beings have a moral obligation to care for their fellows, though in those cases where helping others will help the Esurient in the long-term, she obliges. For this reason, the Esurient tends to maintain an alliance only as long as the alliance serves her interest. Esurient buccaneers, for example, might be amicable partners in their search for treasure, and even exceptional entrepreneurs because of their ambitions, but once they find the object of their desires, the pursuit of personal happiness may stand in the way of their friendship and lead to betrayal. This is because the Esurient’s personal ties are always tenuous at best.

Lawful Evil

In AD&D: “These characters believe in using society and its laws to benefit themselves. Structure and organization elevate those who deserve to rule as well as provide a clearly defined hierarchy between master and servant. To this end, lawful evil characters support laws and societies that protect their own concerns. If someone is hurt or suffers because of a law that benefits lawful evil characters, too bad. Lawful evil characters obey laws out of fear of punishment. Because they may be forced to honor an unfavorable contract or oath they have made, lawful evil characters are usually very careful about giving their word. Once given, they break their word only if they can find a way to do it legally, within the laws of the society. An iron-fisted tyrant and a devious, greedy merchant are examples of lawful evil beings.”

Redefined as Faithful Egoism: “Masterminds” are cunning Egoists who believe that altruism is groundless. According to the Mastermind, people always act out of self-interest, even when they are ostensibly helping others. The Mastermind, therefore, has no qualms about embracing Egoism to its fullest extent. Like the Guardian, the Mastermind is law-abiding and honorable, even though she motivated by self-interest inwardly. The Mastermind may feign selflessness to move herself into a position of power, but ultimately she believes that laws exist to improve the welfare of the most ambitious among citizens. Masterminds are unique in that their ideal world is not filled with Masterminds; instead, it would more greatly benefit them if everyone else were selfless in their actions. Evil, for the Mastermind, is nothing less than the burden of altruism, because she perceives self-sacrifice as a devaluing the human condition. A Mastermind blackguard, for example, does not care if the laws of her land cause great suffering to her people if the perceived benefit to her is greater than her people’s suffering.

Chaotic Evil

In AD&D: “These characters are the bane of all that is good and organized. Chaotic evil characters are motivated by the desire for personal gain and pleasure. They see absolutely nothing wrong with taking whatever they want by whatever means possible. Laws and governments are the tools of weaklings unable to fend for themselves. The strong have the right to take what they want, and the weak are there to be exploited. When chaotic evil characters band together, they are not motivated by a desire to cooperate, but rather to oppose powerful enemies. Such a group can be held together only by a strong leader capable of bullying his underlings into obedience. Since leadership is based on raw power, a leader is likely to be replaced at the first sign of weakness by anyone who can take his position away from him by any method. Bloodthirsty buccaneers and monsters of low Intelligence are fine examples of chaotic evil personalities.”

Redefined as Brave Egoism: “Megalomaniacs” are ruthless hedonists who reject altruism as amoral and have no tolerance for duty of any kind except the limitless glorification of the self. The Megalomaniac will do whatever is necessary to benefit herself, disregarding the welfare of others while meticulously assessing the consequences of her actions in cost-benefit analysis to maximize her personal gain. Criminal action is no barrier to ambition; if breaking a law is more beneficial than obeying it, then let the law be broken, especially if the negative consequences are negligible. The Mastermind cares about friends and family only insofar as her relationship with them helps her get ahead, become more powerful, or overcome one more obstacle in her endless struggle to conquer her own need.

There you have it. And so now we can return to the original question: is Chase chaotic good?


Rethinking Good & Evil

On Ethics in Role-Playing Games


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