Alignment Part 3: Some Examples!

Part 1

Part 2

From the comments the other day:

I’m baffled.
Baffled by living in a world where people can’t figure out what words like ‘good’ and ‘chaotic’ mean and act like it is some obscure mystery.

You know, this is interesting, because in the first part of my explanation, I pretty much state that a major reason that Alignment doesn’t work is because people don’t understand what “good” and “chaotic” mean. The relativist approach means that someone can be playing as a demon whose very existence is a blasphemy upon creation and the laws of nature, but because the player wants the demon to be a “nice guy” or within the confines of his demonic culture he is an upstanding citizen, the player is able to declare for Lawful or Neutral Good, and then the rest of the group wonders why Alignment doesn’t matter at their table.

People DON’T understand the Law/Chaos spectrum any more than they understand the Good/Evil spectrum. For instance, many people think of Chaotic Good as the either the guy who does some good but is inherently selfish or someone who tries to do good but breaks laws while doing so. A lot of people would give Robin Hood as an example of Chaotic Good, but they’d be wrong, and here’s why:

While Robin Hood lived in the wilds and opposed King John and the Sheriff, he was not doing so from an angle meant to upset Nature’s law and/or the will of the heavens. On the contrary, he understood the natural and divinely bestowed rights of Man and fought against a power that was usurping them. Additionally, the power he opposed (John and the Sheriff) are portrayed as being in opposition to the rightful rule of King Richard – in this sense, Robin has positioned himself as an agent of the legitimate and rightful law that is respectful of the rights of man, acting on behalf of Richard, the true authority. Though certain trickster elements are incorporated, the classic portrayal of Robin Hood throughout many iterations in the 19th and 20th century* would be Lawful Good.

So, what would be Chaotic Good? One of the most remarkable literary examples in fantasy would be Tom Bombadil. He is good and beneficent, but he is outside the realm of Nature and Nature’s law. He is unaffected by the magic of the Maiar; in fact, he is so far outside of the scope of the strugle that Middle Earth is going through, it’s acknowledged by the characters in the book that it would be irresponsible to rely on him – though he’s unaffected by the Ring’s power and evil, he’d probably forget about it!

Melkor would be Chaotic Evil, because his modus operandi was the corruption of creation; everything related to him is described in terms of perversion and marring the true and good intentions of benevolent creators. As an agent of perversion, the more he took on a fixed, absolute, corporeal form with which to rule over his Earthly domain, the weaker he became.

Sauron, as a created being within nature (one of the fallen Maiar) adheres to the laws of creation set forth by the Gods (it’s one of the reasons why he is so vulnerable), and though he wields great power and is able to use that power to corrupt the minds of his foes and cast a shadow over the land, he is still within the sphere of Law. Yes, the struggle in Middle Earth during the 3rd Age is between Lawful Good and Lawful Evil, with Lawful Neutral free people and Neutral Good elder races throwing in with LG against Lawful Evil.

Okay, let’s break away from Lord of the Rings for a minute.

I think that one of the best examples of a True Neutral character might be Garrett from the Thief games.

“But he steals things!” you say; “He’s a law-breaker!” you say; “He may save the world, but he’s probably a bad guy! He’s Chaotic Neutral at best!” you say.

All right, those things are all true, but you need to look at the bigger picture.

While Garrett is a Thief who steals things and breaks the law, he is not a wholly evil person. Assuming that Expert is the canonical way in which Garrett completes the missions, it’s clear that he has a code, part of which is to avoid killing at all costs. There is, if my memory serves, only one mission in which Garrett is allowed to kill his fellow man, and that’s because of an oversight in updating the goals for a mission that did not originally feature human opponents (the magi in the Gold version of The Lost City).

In Thief’s cosmology, there is a conflict between Law, as embodied by the Hammers, and Chaos, as embodied by the Pagans and Fae.** The Hammers aren’t the nicest dudes, in part because from a thief’s perspective, they crack down and crack down hard on criminality; while the current crop of Hammers may seem unnecessarily cruel, their order and the God they serve ultimately fall into the schema of Lawful Good. The Fae who are worshiped by the Pagans are inimical to human life (as it is currently being lived), and the Woodsy Lord is intent on pushing man back into a primeval state. His domain is the Maw of Chaos, so it’s right there in the name.

Someone pointed out in the comments on the previous post that Planes can shift in the relationship to alignment as their leaders change, and we see something of that in Thief 2 with Victoria. Constantine is the sworn foe of the Builder and stands against everything they represent; he is Chaotic Evil in Thief’s cosmology. Victoria, on the other hand, is more pragmatic; I’d place her as Chaotic Neutral – while acting as Constantine’s second, she will have his back, but on her own, her primary concern is not a victory of Evil over Good but preserving Chaos against an encroaching order of Law. Even Garrett notices that the nature of the Maw has changed subtly under her. Neutral Good characters like Lt. Mosley are aiming to find some sort of middle ground between the “Chaos” of the pagans and fae and the Law of the Mechanists.

So Garrett’s place in the “prophecies” is as a balancing agent; when the pendulum swings towards Chaos in Thief: the Dark Project, he ends up finding himself allied with Law via the Hammerites who aid him in sealing the Maw of Chaos. In Thief 2: The Metal Age, the pendulum has swung back the other way, too far in the favor of Law, so he becomes an ally of Chaos to fight against the Mechanist takeover of the city. He is not in those positions because he is a nice guy or a bad guy, but because it is his destiny to act as an agent of balance in the greater cosmic struggle around him.


*:Earliest incarnations of Robin Hood which do not incorporate much of the now established lore would be closer to Neutral Good or Lawful Neutral, depending on the telling; before the notion that Robin Hood was stealing money from nobles and returning it to the unjustly taxed, most folks were happy with a Robin who was stealing from nobles because fuck the nobility; with nobles as pieces of a framework of divinely ordained Law, such a Robin would be slightly more chaotic, since he was acting against the natural order of things (divinely righted stripped of their rightful treasures) – when the definition of the order which Robin was opposing changed, along with his reasons for opposing it, the character became Lawful Good.

**:Note that Nature in Thief’s cosmology is depicted as chaos/chaotic as opposed to the mechanical order believed to be set upon the universe by the Master Builder.


9 responses to “Alignment Part 3: Some Examples!

  1. Here’s what every game which has an alignment system needs to have:

    1. A definition to what the alignment system is, and definitions as what’s expected for each category in said system. For example, some players might see “chaotic” as being more or less selfish or evil, while others might see it as an expression of absolute freedom without the constraints of “order” or “law.”

    2. In-game mechanics to express, simulate, or enforcement this alignment system. It sounds like D&D 5e lacks this approach. Whereas in DCC RPG if a Lawful character starts acting Chaotic his Luck score can be penalized.

    3. A caveat telling players not to seriously try to use the alignment system to explain real-world behaviors. 🙂

  2. I am reaching way back into my memory, but I seem to recall the original descriptions of “Detect Evil”, “Protection From Evil” and items that had bonuses against evil creatures specifically ignored player character races. “Evil” and “Good” were characteristics of certain monster types, undead and ogres and such. I think there was a place on character sheets for alignment, but I don’t recall it having much effect on the game. But then, I don’t recall anyone playing an evil character, either. Clerics and Paladins were good, everyone else was neutral.

    • Interestingly, the original Detect Evil and Protection from Evil were from the 1 axis system. It was assumed that Evil was self-apparent enough that you didn’t actually need to specifically point out that something other than a Human NPC was evil.

  3. I agree with your description of the Thief setting and, in fact, I have used it a few times when thinking about the alignment system (besides, I once thought about making a Thief D&D conversion.) All the enemies Garret fights are corruptions of their Law-Chaos alignments. And by corruption, I mean moral corruption (which is measured by the Good-Evil alignment.) In the first game, Chaos is tainted by Evil and hints of revenge (against the Hammers,) In the second game Karras has gone mad, and his goal is to create a paradise like the Mechanus Plane in D&D, but to achieve that he has to commit global genocide. Some people might argue that his madness would make him a “Chaotic” character, but the point is that his struggle is against the forces of Nature and Life itself (which is Chaotic, civilization being Law since it was created and imposed by the Builder.)

    In the third game, the corruption is of Balance. It’s when the Keepers become corrupted and one of their own wants to become immortality and is willing to skin children alive to achieve it. That ex-Keeper is not interested in the Law vs. Chaos struggle or balance and has no ideology or belief system that we know of. She is Neutral Evil. Garret, on the other hand, is Neutral and probably an egotist, but not Evil and certainly not “Chaotic.”

    I should add that I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Thief game works so well with D&D, there are hints here and there (besides the obvious fact that the protagonist has almost all the skills of a D&D Thief) that the guys who designed it were D&D fans. Even the swords and arrows do 1-6 damage.

    • Thief is so good.
      Morrowind-era Elder Scrolls may be the one video game setting I like more than Thief, but Thief is much easier to incorporate into a satisfying tabletop experience. Health in Expert jibes with him being a mid-level d4 thief.

  4. Great example of Robin Hood; he’s exactly the sort we had in mind when we picked Chaotic Good back in the day.

    I’m becoming convinced to stick with the one-axis system, now that I understand it. Law/Chaos maps well to the background of the world, but Good/Evil is more personal and hazy and more likely to be a personality marker for the player. If that’s all it is, let the player express it through play rather than writing it on a sheet.

    • Thanks! Someone did make a pretty good case for Garrett being Neutral Evil – it sucks to get robbed.
      Classic Robin Hood gets around it because he is operating under the assumption that taxation is theft, and private wealth is being returned to its rightful owners (the poor and working classes).

  5. Pingback: SENSOR SWEEP: Offended Patrons, In-game Relationships, Jaded Industry Insiders, and All-knowing Prophecy –

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