I was having a conversation with one of the other editors, and he said something silly about doing away with alignment. “It’s kind of pointless,” he said, “and it unnecessarily restricts players.” Naturally, I responded by demonstrating Chaotic Evil and decapitated the infidel.
After I cleaned up all of the viscera (maybe not all of it), I decided that there might be a few of you who don’t really understand why alignment is significant to roleplaying. Keep in mind that this is a roleplaying game, and your alignment has a definite influence on your characters’ decision-making processes. This particular view on the world, how people should be, and what makes for a right decision can determine what sort of profession your character would choose (adventurer), what kind of spells your character would select, and how your character would handle interacting with the other characters. But what does this whole alignment thing mean, anyway? Does being a Lawful Good character mean I have to love fuzzy bunny rabbits, rainbows and crap Girl Scout cookies? The answer to this question is absolutely not, and it’s at this point that I’ll give a frank explanation of the alignment system with a few visual aids.
This is a painting of the Archangel Michael. As far as the three major monotheistic Western religions are concerned, this cat is the one guy all three religions can agree upon in terms of who is most righteously standing at the side of the Almighty Supreme Being. In other words, he is firmly entrenched on the side of Good. He’s also very much about following the orders of The Lord, despite some of his best buddies turning traitor and offering him up a chance to be a leader in the revolution. For a more in-depth look at this most badass of angels, I will point you here.
Given that I’m an obvious fan of comic books, how come I didn’t include a superhero icon as the epitome of Lawful Good? Largely because the best comic superheroes really don’t fall into that category, but enough of that. Here’s an explanation of Lawful Good, pre-digested to aid your infant tummies.
Lawful Good is the point at which a person firmly believes in the rule of Law, and as long as the LG character recognizes the authority of the person in charge, everything is hunky-dory. This does not mean the character in question is as super-friendly as Barney the Dinosaur. Frankly, no character is quite as good at being a sanctimonious prick as an LG character. Being an LG character simply means that, as a general rule, you’re going to do right by strangers, not give them the shaft, and try to make the world a better place for everyone while upholding and supporting the laws of your nation, church, community, society, etc. However, when it comes time to smiting evil (even if it’s just neutral with evil tendencies), there is little quarter given, unless there is a possibility of redeeming someone who is evil.
SURPRISE! Yes, Superman is Neutral Good, despite all of his paladin-like qualities. Yeah, he’s all about truth and justice (he did rescind his American citizenship), but he doesn’t have the same kind of trust in the establishment that would be required of an LG character. Once upon a time, Supes might have had unswerving faith in the Red, White and Blue, but once the government runs counter to his own sense of morality, he has no problem with exposing the ugly truth, shutting down corrupt officials, or doing whatever else fits into his moral framework. His personal sense of morality is really what’s important here, because despite the fact that it might have been legal to kill Lex Luthor on certain occasions (back when he was bald and wearing purple and green bad guy clothes), he wouldn’t kill the guy.
Like it or not, Batman is Chaotic. While he knows how to manipulate certain laws, uses his incomparable wealth as his super power, and works with a cop, Batman is chaotic. His personal sense of right and wrong not only supersedes the local notions of law and order, but Bruce Wayne’s personal neuroses (bordering on psychosis) automatically assume that laws, governments that enforce them, and society in general is absolutely corrupt. Hence, while it isn’t his personal mission to dismantle government or society, he is focusing on employing his own personal sense of justice and righteousness to the city of Gotham, even in his billionaire (used to be millionaire, but honestly, do you think a mere millionaire could afford all those wonderful toys?) playboy guise because Bruce Wayne publicly gives to charities and worthy causes because the government can’t or won’t.
I thought about using Spock for this one (the science officer, not the child psychologist), but everybody’s favorite Vulcan actually has a moral code that competes with his devotion to Starfleet. Judge Dredd, on the other hand, understands that in order to combat the scum of Mega-City One, extreme measures must be taken. Yeah, one could potentially argue that Dredd has resigned from the Judge Corps a few times on points of principle, but the fact remains that this guy will not flinch at doing things that most of our ‘good’ type heroes would find morally reprehensible. In a more realistic setting, a Lawful Neutral person would be the ultimate ideal of a Confucian bureaucrat. He has no remorse, compassion, or sense of petty tyranny when it comes to his job. In other words, if you have the appropriate paperwork, you get what you’re looking for, but if you don’t, it wouldn’t matter if there were 10,000 starving children hanging in the balance. Nick Fury was also a candidate for Lawful Neutral.
Yes, I used Punisher (an anti-hero) as an example of True Neutral. Why? Because Frank Castle could potentially find himself on either end of a fight. He’d square off with the super good guys (like Captain America) just as quickly as he would punch Doctor Doom in the mouth. He might help the cops, he might be the reason why the local police force are showing up with the National Guard as backup. Another reason why GMs might not like having a TN character in their campaigns is because it really isn’t a stretch when it comes to role playing. Most people are generally neutral because we don’t always obey laws when obedience is inconvenient, and the average person has the capacity for good or evil behavior, depending on the situation. You need an example? Ok, when was the last time you jaywalked? A lawful person would generally go right to the crosswalk, regardless of whether or not they could reasonably judge the flow of traffic. How many of us have cheated on a spouse/significant other, lied to a grandparent, or stolen from their place of employment? Odds are that most of us have done one of these things or another, and while you might think of yourself as ‘Good’ despite doing any one (or all) of these things, the fact that you know you’ll probably do any one (or all) of these things again screams Neutral. This is usually what I mean when I tell people that my alignment is really ‘Apathetic Indifferent.’
I will admit that I’d considered Wolverine for this alignment choice, but then I heard one of the voices in the parliament in my head say: “Remember, remember the Fifth of November,” and I had to go with V. I don’t think this one is much of a stretch, nor does it really require a lot of explanation. These are the complete freedom nuts. For them, there is no law but the law of the jungle. No other animal really focuses on right or wrong so much as a human. V believed (like Batman) that governments are inherently corrupt, but where V begins and Batman ends is that V has no interest in security for the little people. V doesn’t really care about crime, unless that crime is committed by the government. This doesn’t mean a CN character can’t live within a lawful society, however, he will believe that said lawful society places unnatural controls on people. It also doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily completely self-interested, but he isn’t terribly concerned about the human condition.
Caveat: this is an intellectual exercise. While I am openly discussing different types of morality, I am not advocating that anyone personally subscribes to said morality. The upshot of this is most people might be neutral when it comes to Good vs. Evil, even if they’ll vote Good 95% of the time in public, but some people are very much concerned about the way roleplaying games give an honest look at the possibility of evil within a personality, society, religion or culture. To those people: IT’S JUST A GAME! Nobody gets this riled up over Chess, and people play it in prison! I’ve never heard of anyone playing D&D (Pathfinder, Warhammer 40K, Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, In Nomine, etc.) in the big house. Maybe if they did a little gaming, they would be a little easier to rehabilitate. Anyway, I’m not advocating evil, just explaining what it means to a character.
Destro does a really good job of demonstrating what it means to be Lawful Evil. This guy will use every dirty, underhanded trick in the book to get what he wants, but he’ll do it in a way that’s completely legit. In the case of G.I. Joe (not the stupid live action movies), you wonder why it is that a sharp-ass pimp like Destro is forever putting up with a buffoon like Cobra Commander or a blowhard like Serpentor. The truth is, Destro knows that someone has to be in charge, and whoever that is, is also the guy who’s going to get his ass overthrown when the next would-be tyrant comes along. On the other hand, being the number 2 guy is a little bit better because while you have to take a bunch of crap from the idiot in charge, you can make sure that crap rolls all the way downhill. Destro recognizes that someone has to be an administrator in any kind of empire, evil or otherwise, and in an evil empire, it’s almost expected that you’ll be on the take, depraved, or something else that would get you kicked out of government service in a more neutral or good-aligned society.
Anyone doing a discussion of evil without referencing Lex Luthor is an idiot. I think I have more respect for Lex Luthor than any other comic book character in existence because he’s just a regular guy. Yes, he’s scary smart (I think his INT score would be in the 20s), but aside from that, he’s got nothing going for him. Yet he takes on the Man of Steel, and he’s been doing it for decades. Yes, some of his early world domination schemes were pretty similar to an episode of Pinky and the Brain, but he makes no bones about taking advantage of Superman’s vow to never take a human life. He kidnaps Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Ma Kent, Pa Kent (after he was retconned back to life), the City of Kandor, and anyone else he can get his hands on. He’s threatened the existence of Metropolis and/or the world a bunch of times, and he still manages to be elected President of the United States while running Lexcorp, a company that actually rivals Wayne Enterprises. Thing is, Lex is pretty confident that he should be running the show, and he doesn’t care how he manages to do that. He places little to no value on human life (unless the individual is important to him, but even then, he’d sell that person down the river if it advanced his own cause), will sacrifice any number of people for his own well-being, and he derives amusement from the misery of other people.
I know a lot of people would characterize the Joker as batshit crazy. Again, he’s a pretty clever guy, but he doesn’t have any specialized training, he isn’t particularly strong, and he doesn’t exactly have a lot of money. Yet he pits himself against a well-trained, personally regimented, intelligent guy who has DEEP pockets for all kinds of gadgets. Of course, Joker doesn’t really care about money, does he? He seems to be most interested in chaos and demonstrating that morality flies out the window when the chips are down. But he isn’t crazy. He’s actually more sane than most because he really does understand that people can be awful creatures, worse than any other animal on the planet (except maybe a honey badger or killer bees). So he’s divested himself of any semblance of morality or interest in society. His big goal seems to be to get Batman to break like Harvey Dent. So much so, that he’s willing to sacrifice his own life just to make sure Batman is damned. If you don’t believe me, read “The Killing Joke.”
The Practical Example
Situation: A coinpurse lies abandoned in the street. A character (maybe yours) discovers the coinpurse, and here are the actions which follow, based upon alignment.
LG: Sterling picks up the coinpurse and diligently searches for clues to identify the owner. If his ability to discern ownership is found lacking, he will ask reliable people about the coinpurse to further determine ownership of the item. If the owner is identified, Sterling will then travel (even to a ridiculous degree and at his own expense) to the owner to deliver the coinpurse, along with a stern lecture on securing his possessions in the future. However, if the owner can’t be found, he will then at least tithe the contents of the purse to his church.
NG: Stainless picks up the coinpurse and looks for clues to identify the owner. If the owner can’t be found after a reasonable search, then he will either tithe to his church or give to a worthwhile charity, even if it isn’t associated with his church. If, however, the owner can be found, then Stainless will travel to find the owner (only to a reasonable degree) and returns the coinpurse, which might be a bit lighter because of travel expenses, but that would be part of the account explained to the owner.
CG: Rainblossom picks up the coinpurse and attempts to identify the owner. If the owner can’t be found, then it must be because the universe wants her to spread her bounty to other people, so joy might be multiplied. Instead of tithing to a church or giving to a charity, she hands out the coins to people who seem deserving and in need. If she can find the owner, she will drop the coinpurse off with the owner whenever she might travel that way, and given that the universe gave her the purse and its contents, the owner shouldn’t have a problem with feeding hungry children (stinking hippie).
LN: Pyotr picks up the coinpurse and attempts to identify the owner, unless local salvage laws include the “Finders keepers/Losers weepers” condition, at which point he will declare the extra revenue (minus any he would tithe to his church, provided there is a deduction in the tax code for charitable donations), and promptly spend the money on whatever he sees fit. If, however, the owner can be identified and local salvage laws do not allow him to retain the coinpurse, then Pyotr will travel the maximum distance required by law to return it to its original owner, deducting all travel expenses from the contents of the purse for the entirety of the round trip, with a negotiable fee for returning the aforementioned coinpurse. If the owner refuses to pay the fee and/or the funds in the coinpurse are insufficient to cover travel expenses and the owner refuses to compensate Pyotr for the difference, then Pyotr will sue him in small claims court for refusing to pay for services rendered. While this might mean the owner of the purse might go to debtor’s prison and his family might starve, Pyotr was acting within his legal rights.
TN: Jackmerius Tacktheratrix picks up the coinpurse and looks around to see if the owner noticed that he’d dropped his coinpurse. If he did, then Jackmerius might give it back without any fuss. If not, then Jackmerius might provide an offering to his god(dess) for his good fortune, then reward himself with hookers and beer.
CN: D’Variusness King picks up the coinpurse, and he might say “hey” if he recognizes the owner of the coinpurse and he happens to be around. However, because currency is just another means of control, he decides that helping the owner perpetuate the myth that currency is actually valuable isn’t such a good idea, chucks some of the cash into the street to distract other people from his recent windfall, and proceeds to spend the rest of the cash on hookers and beer.
LE: Synyster picks up the coinpurse, eagerly searching for the owner of the item, fakes an injury while retrieving it and kicks a young boy in the face while “spasming in pain.” Upon discovery of the owner, Synyster will use all of the proceeds in the coin purse, maintain a record of all expenses, hire a debt collection brute squad to accompany him to the owner’s house, demand an outrageous sum on top of requiring the owner to pay for all expenses (including the brute squad), sue the owner to the point that he has to sell himself and his family into indentured servitude, whereupon Synyster will purchase the owner’s 15 year-old nubile daughter as his personal “servant.” If he can’t locate the owner, then he will proceed to use the funds to bribe a local official (or superior, if he’s in government).
NE: Scorpius dashes to the coinpurse to pick it up, possibly elbowing a few old ladies out of his way (if he’s lucky), and determines whether or not any of his enemies might own the coinpurse. If the identity of the owner is discovered, Scorpius then insinuates himself into the owner’s life, all the while making certain tragedy befalls the owner at every turn and offering a reminder that all of his life’s woes can be traced to the loss of that coinpurse until such time as the owner kills his entire family (even the guinea pig), when Scorpius reveals that he was behind it all, thus convincing the owner to either blindly attack him or just kill himself. If the owner of the coinpurse cannot be determined, Scorpius will likely purchase a donkey for his entertainment.
CE: Chuck brutally murders anyone who might witness him picking up the coinpurse, uses the proceeds to begin amassing power, hires a wizard to scry (if he isn’t one) for the owner of the purse, uses the momentum from this minor windfall to conquer all of the lands around him, so the owner of the purse is now living in the Kingdom of Chuck, whereupon he travels to the owner’s house in a palanquin carried by halfling children to thank the owner for allowing his carelessness be just the thing needed to build his dark empire. (By ‘thank’ I mean having the owner’s entire family savaged by ogres while he is staked to an anthill and covered in honey.)
No, normal people don’t really question their own alignment, but when you’re developing a character, it’s important to understand what really motivates this person and figure out whether he or she is honest, duplicitous, altruistic or selfish. Alignments go a long way to helping with that.
N.B.: We fully support our authors. That said, this is meant to be comedic (we think; Gonzo may not be humanoid). Feel free to comment, but do us the courtesy of not getting too angsty about why Gonzo is wrong. It should be patently obvious that morality does not boil down to what a medium length blog post has to say about the subject. We here at the Emporium advocate maintaining a classy lifestyle, with the minimum of criminality required and only a soupçon of insouciance to go with your XX beers. Stay thirsty, and reasonable, my friends.