Tilting on the Axis of Alignment in D&D 5E
Some would argue alignment no longer has a place in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. No matter where you lie on alignment it has been and will be, for the foreseeable future, a part of D&D. We had better get used to it because it’s here to stay. Alignment is a moral reference point we as players use to guide our actions and make sure we are sticking to the concept we have laid out. As important as the Traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws are, the core concepts of law vs. chaos, good vs. evil and all of the gray area leaves room to play there within.
D&D alignment is widely debated
“Alignment doesn’t have to mean “good” or “evil.” Instead, it can be just two opposing sides, both of which are right, both of which are wrong, and both of which are meaningful in their own way.” –Marquis Hartis, GM, freelance editor/consultant for RPG books, and on YouTube at Stereotypical Marquis
When playing a character it is vital to have a sense of how they might feel or take action based on a given situation. A character’s alignment is a tangible point of reference when making decisions. Whether it’s the wry skulking rogue with a taste for the streets and something to prove, or the elderly devout priest used to tending to the faithful and healing the infirm, all characters have a given alignment. It is a choice of the player and as such something that some thought should be given to, both when creating ones character and playing them.
Is alignment the first thing you decide about a character? Likely not. Then where does it fit in? Alignment is about who the character is, what he or she believes in and how they behave. Alignment touches on the character’s background, race, and class, and can be seen when following certain D&D tropes like the lawful good paladin, the neutral good or true neutral ranger and the chaotic neutral rogue, just to name a few. There’s nothing wrong with embracing these tropes. Leaning into nostalgic archetypes breathes life into classic characters, bringing them back to life for another shot at the gaming table for everyone to enjoy. The hobby of D&D has been around for decades, the tropes are traditional for a reason. “Lawful good doesn’t mean lawful nice” playing against type with a firm concept or trying something out of your comfort zone can push your standard D&D character to the next level.
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Law vs. chaosRespect for the ordinance of the judicial lawmaker, adhesion to laws, guidelines and regulations, commitment to bureaucracy and the institutions set in place to govern over peoples and to protect the interests of the realm over which they preside, sovereignty, faith in rulers and the pledge to uphold traditions are all practices of the way of law. Above all law is a collective perceived value in order.
It is not only the clerk, the constable and the hangman who toe the path of law. Many folk have an interest in preserving the way of things and keeping order, those whose life is comfortable and without war and famine would seek to see that continue. Tradesmen wish to be free to do business, and farmers seek a steady season and to pay only fair taxes. For the people of so-called civilized cultures the rule of law is widely accepted; those who answer to none and live by alternative means risk reprisal.
“Chaos is a flood of spikes, biting a lover’s neck, embers eager to ravish, an animal denied night.” –Marquis Hartis, GM and freelance editor/consultant for RPG books, and on YouTube at Stereotypical Marquis
Constant pursuit without constraint, drive for what is to come and respect for what has been, acceptance of the natural ebb and flow from the spark of life to the brink of death and back again. Chaos is instinctive action and the abandonment of consequence and inhibition.
It is not only the exile, the heretic and the heathen with chaotic souls. There are many for whom chaos is the way of their living. Without constant change they would cease to be effective. Vanguards are one step ahead of the crowd; they set the trends and lead the movements that others follow. Artists bring new works into the world from a place of inspiration. Gypsies beguile and mesmerize the senses with exotic eccentricities. People who lead a chaotic life move and shape the world around them.
Good vs. evil
Champions of the weak, folks who give of themselves for the well-being of others and who would ask nothing in return. Good characters, offer a helping hand to someone in a time of need, are inclusive and able to forgive other peoples transgressions. Those who are not prideful and believe in the power of coming together and aiding one another to rise up are good.
Selfish bigots are hard and calloused without empathy, vile toxic creatures who construct malicious relationships. Evil characters care for themselves above all and their acquisition of wealth and power, believe in segregation and undue dominance. Those who are self absorbed and would tear down others confidence and livelihood to hold them underfoot are Evil.
Neutral characters impartially act of their own accordance and aim to stay out of others affairs and disputes when possible. Their actions are based on more than a single belief. To be a neutral party is to be guided by empathy, tolerance and acceptance of differences.
Of law and chaos, neutrality is the understanding that both are an essential part of life. Certain laws and traditions have importance to a neutral character, however free will and expression is core in their values.
Balance is the cause of neutrality in the war of good and evil. For any side to claim complete supremacy over the other would be the undoing of all things. There can be no light without darkness. Individuals are torn within themselves, two wolves evil and good, in constant contention with one another. It is said that the victor is the one who is fed the most. Driven by no external influence the neutral character keeps the wolves at bay and acts as he or she sees fit.
Shift in alignment
Alignment is not stagnant. Some of the most interesting and memorable characters are ones who undergo a dynamic shift in their way of being. A character may begin a campaign a youthful lawful good fighter out to make a difference in the world and make a bit of coin while upholding the king’s law. After years of combat she has had to do terrible things to ensure the welfare of her men. Her outlook on life is no longer as black and white as it once was. She sees that sticking to the rules does not benefit everyone and that she has put under her fair share of innocents who stood in the way of the rule of law. She might no longer claim allegiance but still seeks to help the less fortunate by any means. Her alignment now left closer to neutral good.
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