Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking more about alignment.
So a few weeks ago, I sat down and dissected a big alignment article by renowned RPG legend, Sean K Reynolds. I gave my opinions and promised to go into depth about how I think alignment should be viewed. I mentioned that one of the largest problems that our alignment system has is that we have based it off of the “real” world, which typically has one to three dominate faiths making the rules and destroying any opposition that doesn’t agree with it. In Pathfinder, that doesn’t really work. We can’t have strictly codified “rules” for what alignment means because we have hundreds, if not an infinite number, of deities that each promote its own idea of what it means to belong to a specific alignment.
So we’re going to be looking at constructing a very vague, very basic definition of each alignment for a roleplaying game so various deities and political bodies can then take that definition and determine what it means to be Lawful Good, Chaotic Neutral, or Neutral Evil in their religion, kingdom, or community. Let’s dive in and see what we can come up with!
Good & Evil
Let’s start with a quick analysis of Good and Evil. Since most Roleplaying Games use the Christianic view of Good and Evil for alignment, the best place to start when looking to define what makes Good “good” and what makes Evil “evil” starts with the most basic, Christian source on the topic: the Seven Heavenly Virtues and the Seven Deadly Sins.
- Envy — Covetous.
- Gluttony — Over-Indulgence.
- Greed — Want what is unneeded.
- Lust — Want what is not owned.
- Pride — Value self over everything else.
- Sloth — Doesn’t utilize skills and gifts as needed by others.
- Wrath — Self-Destructive and Hatefully Violent.
- Charity — Willing to self-sacrifice.
- Chastity — Mental and physical purity.
- Diligence — Uphold convictions at all times.
- Humility — Selfless and respectful.
- Kindness — Unselfish compassion and friendship.
- Patience — Is merciful and forgiving.
- Temperance — Practices self-control.
First, note that I keep the definitions extremely short and somewhat vague. Ultimately, if you want to allow for a diverse cast of deities (like what you see in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game), you need to keep these definitions united, yet vague in order to allow those definitions to work.
So, when looking at Good vs. Evil, what is the theme? Honestly, its valuing others vs. valuing one’s self. Evil ultimately believes that it is better in some way than everyone or everything else. Devils, for example, believe that they ought to rule everything else, so they embody pride. Both Daemons and Demons, on the other hand, are self-destructive and hatefully violent towards others. Demons often have a little bit of gluttony going on while demons are envious of the living. Good, on the other hand, believes in the importance of others over one’s self. This is why you see all of the celestial races working together while the fiendish races rarely form allegiances; the Good races are willing to put aside their differences while each of the Evil races believes that it is above the others.
In this manner, it is easy to see how and why Good and Evil oppose one another; their values are exact opposites of one another.
Law & Chaos
Once we’ve finished with Good and Evil, we’re left with Law and Chaos. This axis of alignment is considerably harder to pin down than Good and Evil because, unlike the former, Law and Chaos aren’t established by religion. Compared to Good and Evil, Law and Chaos are extremely loaded terms. They represent the collective vs. the individual, the government vs. the man, civilization vs. the untamed wild, and order vs. discord. That is a VERY broad arch of things to cover, and it isn’t easy to do without a clear background to draw from.
Or is there? As Sean K Reynolds pointed out in his Five Moons RPG alignment blog, the Law vs. Chaos axis of alignment was influenced by Elric of Melniborne, in which “Chaos” refers to unhuman (or immortal) things. In Three Hearts and Three Lions, from which Elric’s use of “Chaos” was inspired, the “Forces of Chaos” are fey and similar spirits while the “Forces of Law” are that of men. So in this case, we see ‘wild, untamed things’ as being chaotic while the rule of kings and queens is “Lawful.” To borrow the words of Chris Bekofske:
The Law and Chaos divide is about order against entropy, about the rigorous order (dogma) instilled by Christendom (and Judaism and Islam, Holger assumes) against the looser morals and unfettered freedom of the wild pagans, backed by the Faerie lords and their fading magic.
So in this sense, Chaos and Law oppose each other in the sense that Chaos came first and now seeks Law’s decline to return things as they were.
In order to come up with a list of Chaotic and Lawful values, I spent a good number of hours studying various bits of legal terminology (the things I do for my readers …). In the end, I think I have a pretty good list of “values” for Chaos and Law,
although I only have six for each and I would have preferred seven. (Thanks to Darrel and Jesuncolo for their suggestion for a seventh value.)
- Edicts — Governed by self.
- Equality — All individuals are the same.
- Freedom — Acts individually.
- Martial Distribution — One gets what one takes.
- Retribution — Consequences are extoled by the wronged.
- Self-Serving — Self before others.
- Change — Values new ideas and progress. (Suggested by Jesuncolo & Darrel Van Zant)
- Authority — Governed by rules.
- Harmony — Acts as a group.
- Hierarchy — All individuals have social standing.
- Justice — Consequences are fair and with due reason.
- Non-Aggression — Does not instigate aggression.
- Proper Distribution — One gets what one deserves.
- Tradition — Values customs and divine authority. (Suggested by Jesuncolo & Darrel Van Zant)
If Good and Evil are about selfishness vs. selflessness, than Law and Chaos are about individuality vs. collectiveness, sort of like an East vs. West mentality. If you don’t understand this reference, it plays off of the idea that America (and parts of Europe) are much more centered on the individual and one’s personal choices and freedom more so than countries like Japan, which is much more heavily invested in their society as a collective.
So this system manages to hit all of the alignments fair well, except Neutrality. What does it mean to be Neutral? Well, much of Neutrality is a blending of ideals. It is an alignment of exception and grays. For example, I might be Neutral if I act individually (Chaotic) within the parameters of the law (Lawful). Thinking back to the old Monster Manuals where humans had a bestiary entry, most humans were listed as being Neutral. Why? I think that in the long run, it is easier to be Chaotic than Lawful and easier to be Evil than Good, but based off of real life, I think it should always be easiest to be Neutral, to not take a strong stance regarding morality or ethics. In this way, being Neutral isn’t about “cosmic balance,” its about moderation and indecisiveness. At least, that’s how I’ve always viewed Neutrality.
Ideas Have Alignments
The last note that I want to end on is the concept that ideas have alignments. Specifically, governments and religions have alignments, and the alignments of these things are SEPARATE from their practitioners’ alignments.
Let me use an example. I was raised Roman Catholic and went to church every Sunday. As an adult, I still hold many Catholic beliefs, but I find myself not going to church and constantly disagreeing with many of the church’s hierarchal doings. Sometimes I’ll say stuff like, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” But in Pathfinder terms, what I’m really saying is “I’m not Lawful.”
I believe whole-heartedly in the Good aspects of Catholicism, but the mundane humanity of it, the legal preceding’s, the rules and regulations that don’t directly involve my relationship with God, I find all of that stuff silly. I would classify myself as one of those “fringe cases” of someone who is part of a religion, but is one step away from that religion’s alignment.
Societies and Religions should be similar in a campaign setting. They should have core edicts and believes based upon the values listed in this article and it becomes the interaction between the people (and their alignments) and the government / society / religion (and their alignments) that form the basic intermixtures of conflict in your campaign setting.
Whew! This article was REALLY long! What did you think of my method for determining what it means to be a member of each alignment? Does vagueness work for you, or do you prefer something densely codified? Let me know in the comments and leave your own stories about alignment below. In the meantime, I’ll see you next week with another new article. Take care!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune anarchist, and will always remember, remember, the 5th of November, the Gunpowder Treason and plot. And he sees no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.
I don’t want to start a religious debate, but I think you’re not a “fringe case”. Here in Italy, plenty of people call themselves catholic while disagreeing with some tenets of catholicism. Many even don’t go to church except for christmas and still say they are catholic.
Anyway, nice article.
I would add in the Lawful part “Values tradition”, while for the Chaotic “Values change”
Thanks for the multicultural perspective. In America (or at least where I’m from), I’m what more regular worshipers would call a “Christmas and Easter Catholic” for the reasons I noted above. From my understanding, us Americans tend to be more admant about the tenants of our religions than elsewhere in the world.
Also, I’ve taken your (and Darrel’s) suggestion and added change/tradition to my Chaos/Law spectrum.
I really like this explanation of alignment and agree with just about everything in it (I don’t say everything, because I’m sure there’s something I will disagree with). Now, if only this could be turned into a more forgiving system than the absolute system that exists currently. I personally think there should be some sort of X/Y graph to represent alignment instead of just 9 blocks because it would more accurately show the degrees of alignment for characters.
An additional, simplified way to look at law vs. chaos in practice is to ask where on the spectrum of self-control a person (or idea) falls. Self-control represents not only adherence to internal principles, but also how readily the person responds to external authority without direct coercion.
I do like your 7-point scales however. It would be relatively easy to prepare a simple questionnaire for players, asking them to rate their characters as more or less leaning toward each of the options (e.g. equality vs. harmony). If the final score is 5, 6, or 7 toward one direction (law/chaos, good/evil) then they are of that alignment; if a score is only 3 or 4, then they are neutral on that axis.