Once during a D&D session some time ago, I got myself into an interesting situation which came to define my character. I play a girl by the name of Severa Winddriver who is a human monk (essentially a kung-fu fighter who lives a life of isolation and piety). During a heated argument, she ended up punching in the face and knocking out one of her fellow adventurers who was getting on her nerves. Afterwards, Severa was asked by her party why she, who had lived in a holy monastery all her life and held herself to a strict code of justice, would do such a seemingly evil act. She replied, “I’m lawful good, not lawful nice.”
In previous posts, I’ve gone over different elements of building characters such as class (read more in last week’s post), but another important aspect of any adventurer is their alignment. Alignment is what determines a PC’s behavior and personality as well as their moral/ethical standing. According to Wizards of the Coast, there are two axis that determine alignment.
The moral axis has three positions: good, neutral and evil. Good characters generally care about the welfare of others. Neutral people generally care about their own welfare. Evil people generally seek to harm the others’ welfare. The ethical axis has three positions as well: lawful, neutral, and chaotic. Lawful people generally follow the social rules as they understand them. Neutral people follow those rules find convenient or obviously necessary. And chaotic people seek to upset the social order and either institute change, or simply create anarchy. (Wizards of the Coast).
Choosing one from each of these two axis creates nine different choices for alignment: Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, True Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil. If that explanation is too wordy for you, maybe this chart will help.
Disputes over alignments, however, arise when players who see each category as a cut-and-dry archetype that can only be played one way argue over what is keeping to a PC’s alignment or deviating from it. For instance, Severa who I mentioned earlier is Lawful Good which “acts as a good person is expected or required to act…She tells the truth, keeps her word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice,” (Wizards of the Coast). In other words,many players, like those in my group, consider a character who is Lawful Good to be the perfect goody two-shoes who never strays outside of the confines of the law. Such a one dimensional character would be pretty boring to play, but many players believe they must adhere to such archetypes if they play certain alignments.
If you are a D&D player confused about alignments, I may have found just the thing to help! A youtuber named GuildMasterDan has done a series of videos on his channel called Alignments Done Right which had a unique perspective on the alignment system and, I felt, did a far better job of explaining how each alignment should behave. Instead of Lawful or Chaotic and Good or Evil (which lend themselves to certain stereotypes), he referred to the alignment axis as Principled or Unprincipled and Selfless or Selfish (Alignments Done Right). Essentially, a Principled character holds fast to their values and beliefs while an Unprincipled character merely goes with the flow or doesn’t know what they stand for. Selfless characters put value on helping others over themselves while Selfish only care about themselves with little consideration for others. When described like that, none of the alignments are inherently good or bad; they just put value on different things.
For his segment on Lawful Good/Principled Selfless alignment, GuildMasterDan’s example of a Lawful Good/Principled Selfless character was none other than the caped crusader, Batman (Alignments Done Right).
While Batman is far from a light-hearted or friendly character, he follows a strict code he never deviates from (he doesn’t kill or use guns) and he will always fight to protect others even at risk of his own health. Batman may work outside of the law in order to uphold justice and may be far from a shining role model like Superman (another example GuildMasterDan used), but he is still a perfect example of the Lawful Good/Principled Selfless alignment (Alignments Done Right). Looking back at Severa, she would fit comfortably into Principled Selfless. She has a code she adheres to loyally therefore being Principled, and she tries to be virtuous by defending the weak whenever possible therefore being Selfless. However, she is not required to be friendly or even polite to others because of her alignment which, like Batman, explains how she could do something more aggressive like KO’ing a teammate when frustrated. She’s Lawful Good, not Lawful Nice.
You can check out GuildMasterDan’s video on the Lawful Good alignment below. His whole Alignments Done Right series is one I highly recommend to any D&D player (or anyone curious about where well-known characters like Darth Vader or Deadpool would fall on the alignment chart) so be sure to check it out!