After all other steps toward creating a character have been completed, the player must choose an alignment for the character. In some cases (especially the paladin), the choice of alignment may be limited.
The character's alignment is a guide to his basic moral and ethical attitudes toward others, society, good, evil, and the forces of the universe in general. Use the chosen alignment as a guide to provide a clearer idea of how the character will handle moral dilemmas. Always consider alignment as a tool, not a straitjacket that restricts the character. Although alignment defines general attitudes, it certainly doesn't prevent a character from changing his beliefs, acting irrationally, or behaving out of character.
Alignment is divided into two sets of attitudes: order and chaos, and good and evil. By combining the different variations within the two sets, nine distinct alignments are created. These nine alignments serve well to define the attitudes of most of the people in the world.
Attitudes toward order and chaos are divided into three opposing beliefs. Picture these beliefs as the points of a triangle, all pulling away from each other. The three beliefs are law, chaos, and neutrality. One of these represents each character's ethos--his understanding of society and relationships.
Characters who believe in law maintain that order, organization, and society are important, indeed vital, forces of the universe. The relationships between people and governments exist naturally. Lawful philosophers maintain that this order is not created by man but is a natural law of the universe. Although man does not create orderly structures, it is his obligation to function within them, lest the fabric of everything crumble. For less philosophical types, lawfulness manifests itself in the belief that laws should be made and followed, if only to have understandable rules for society. People should not pursue personal vendettas, for example, but should present their claims to the proper authorities. Strength comes through unity of action, as can be seen in guilds, empires, and powerful churches.
Those espousing neutrality tend to take a more balanced view of things. They hold that for every force in the universe, there is an opposite force somewhere. Where there is lawfulness, there is also chaos; where there is neutrality, there is also partisanship. The same is true of good and evil, life and death. What is important is that all these forces remain in balance with each other. If one factor becomes ascendant over its opposite, the universe becomes unbalanced. If enough of these polarities go out of balance, the fabric of reality could pull itself apart. For example, if death became ascendant over life, the universe would become a barren wasteland.
Philosophers of neutrality not only presuppose the existence of opposites, but they also theorize that the universe would vanish should one opposite completely destroy the other (since nothing can exist without its opposite). Fortunately for these philosophers (and all sentient life), the universe seems to be efficient at regulating itself. Only when a powerful, unbalancing force appears (which almost never happens) need the defenders of neutrality become seriously concerned.
The believers in chaos hold that there is no preordained order or careful balance of forces in the universe. Instead they see the universe as a collection of things and events, some related to each other and others completely independent. They tend to hold that individual actions account for the differences in things and that events in one area do not alter the fabric of the universe halfway across the galaxy. Chaotic philosophers believe in the power of the individual over his own destiny and are fond of anarchistic nations. Being more pragmatic, non-philosophers recognize the function of society in protecting their individual rights. Chaotics can be hard to govern as a group, since they place their own needs and desires above those of society.
Like law and order, the second set of attitudes is also divided into three parts. These parts describe, more or less, a character's moral outlook; they are his internal guideposts to what is right or wrong.
Good characters are just that. They try to be honest, charitable, and forthright. People are not perfect, however, so few are good all the time. There are always occasional failings and weaknesses. A good person, however, worries about his errors and normally tries to correct any damage done.
Remember, however, that goodness has no absolute values. Although many things are commonly accepted as good (helping those in need, protecting the weak), different cultures impose their own interpretations on what is good and what is evil.
Those with a neutral moral stance often refrain from passing judgment on anything. They do not classify people, things, or events as good or evil; what is, is. In some cases, this is because the creature lacks the capacity to make a moral judgment (animals fall into this category). Few normal creatures do anything for good or evil reasons. They kill because they are hungry or threatened. They sleep where they find shelter. They do not worry about the moral consequences of their actions--their actions are instinctive.
Evil is the antithesis of good and appears in many ways, some overt and others quite subtle. Only a few people of evil nature actively seek to cause harm or destruction. Most simply do not recognize that what they do is destructive or disruptive. People and things that obstruct the evil character's plans are mere hindrances that must be overcome. If someone is harmed in the process... well, that's too bad. Remember that evil, like good, is interpreted differently in different societies.
Nine different alignments result from combining these two sets. Each alignment varies from all others, sometimes in broad, obvious ways, and sometimes in subtle ways. Each alignment is described in the following paragraphs.
Lawful Good: Characters of this alignment believe that an orderly, strong society with a well-organized government can work to make life better for the majority of the people. To ensure the quality of life, laws must be created and obeyed. When people respect the laws and try to help one another, society as a whole prospers. Therefore, lawful good characters strive for those things that will bring the greatest benefit to the most people and cause the least harm. An honest and hard-working serf, a kindly and wise king, or a stern but forthright minister of justice are all examples of lawful good people.
Lawful Neutral: Order and organization are of paramount importance to characters of this alignment. They believe in a strong, well-ordered government, whether that government is a tyranny or benevolent democracy. The benefits of organization and regimentation outweigh any moral questions raised by their actions. An inquisitor determined to ferret out traitors at any cost or a soldier who never questions his orders are good examples of lawful neutral behavior.
Lawful Evil: These characters believe in using society and its laws to benefit themselves. Structure and organization elevate those who deserve to rule as well as provide a clearly defined hierarchy between master and servant. To this end, lawful evil characters support laws and societies that protect their own concerns. If someone is hurt or suffers because of a law that benefits lawful evil characters, too bad. Lawful evil characters obey laws out of fear of punishment. Because they may be forced to honor an unfavorable contract or oath they have made, lawful evil characters are usually very careful about giving their word. Once given, they break their word only if they can find a way to do it legally, within the laws of the society. An iron-fisted tyrant and a devious, greedy merchant are examples of lawful evil beings.
Neutral Good: These characters believe that a balance of forces is important, but that the concerns of law and chaos do not moderate the need for good. Since the universe is vast and contains many creatures striving for different goals, a determined pursuit of good will not upset the balance; it may even maintain it. If fostering good means supporting organized society, then that is what must be done. If good can only come about through the overthrow of existing social order, so be it. Social structure itself has no innate value to them. A baron who violates the orders of his king to destroy something he sees as evil is an example of a neutral good character.
True Neutral: True neutral characters believe in the ultimate balance of forces, and they refuse to see actions as either good or evil. Since the majority of people in the world make judgments, true neutral characters are extremely rare. True neutrals do their best to avoid siding with the forces of either good or evil, law or chaos. It is their duty to see that all of these forces remain in balanced contention.
True neutral characters sometimes find themselves forced into rather peculiar alliances. To a great extent, they are compelled to side with the underdog in any given situation, sometimes even changing sides as the previous loser becomes the winner. A true neutral druid might join the local barony to put down a tribe of evil gnolls, only to drop out or switch sides when the gnolls were brought to the brink of destruction. He would seek to prevent either side from becoming too powerful. Clearly, there are very few true neutral characters in the world.
Neutral Evil: Neutral evil characters are primarily concerned with themselves and their own advancement. They have no particular objection to working with others or, for that matter, going it on their own. Their only interest is in getting ahead. If there is a quick and easy way to gain a profit, whether it be legal, questionable, or obviously illegal, they take advantage of it. Although neutral evil characters do not have the every-man-for-himself attitude of chaotic characters, they have no qualms about betraying their friends and companions for personal gain. They typically base their allegiance on power and money, which makes them quite receptive to bribes. An unscrupulous mercenary, a common thief, and a double-crossing informer who betrays people to the authorities to protect and advance himself are typical examples of neutral evil characters.
Chaotic Good: Chaotic good characters are strong individualists marked by a streak of kindness and benevolence. They believe in all the virtues of goodness and right, but they have little use for laws and regulations. They have no use for people who “try to push folk around and tell them what to do.” Their actions are guided by their own moral compass which, although good, may not always be in perfect agreement with the rest of society. A brave frontiersman forever moving on as settlers follow in his wake is an example of a chaotic good character.
Chaotic Neutral: Chaotic neutral characters believe that there is no order to anything, including their own actions. With this as a guiding principle, they tend to follow whatever whim strikes them at the moment. Good and evil are irrelevant when making a decision. Chaotic neutral characters are extremely difficult to deal with. Such characters have been known to cheerfully and for no apparent purpose gamble away everything they have on the roll of a single die. They are almost totally unreliable. In fact, the only reliable thing about them is that they cannot be relied upon! This alignment is perhaps the most difficult to play. Lunatics and madmen tend toward chaotic neutral behavior.
Chaotic Evil: These characters are the bane of all that is good and organized. Chaotic evil characters are motivated by the desire for personal gain and pleasure. They see absolutely nothing wrong with taking whatever they want by whatever means possible. Laws and governments are the tools of weaklings unable to fend for themselves. The strong have the right to take what they want, and the weak are there to be exploited. When chaotic evil characters band together, they are not motivated by a desire to cooperate, but rather to oppose powerful enemies. Such a group can be held together only by a strong leader capable of bullying his underlings into obedience. Since leadership is based on raw power, a leader is likely to be replaced at the first sign of weakness by anyone who can take his position away from him by any method. Bloodthirsty buccaneers and monsters of low Intelligence are fine examples of chaotic evil personalities.
In addition to the alignments above, some things--particularly unintelligent monsters (killer plants, etc.) and animals--never bother with moral and ethical concerns. For these creatures, alignment is simply not applicable. A dog, even a well-trained one, is neither good nor evil, lawful nor chaotic. It is simply a dog. For these creatures, alignment is always detected as neutral.
Aside from a few minimal restrictions required for some character classes, a player is free to choose whatever alignment he wants for his character. However, before rushing off and selecting an alignment, there are a few things to consider.
First, alignment is an aid to role-playing and should be used that way. Don't choose an alignment that will be hard to role play or that won't be fun. A player who chooses an unappealing alignment probably will wind up playing a different alignment anyway. In that case, he might as well have chosen the second alignment to begin with. A player who thinks that lawful good characters are boring goody-two-shoes who don't get to have any fun should play a chaotic good character instead. On the other hand, a player who thinks that properly role-playing a heroic, lawful good fighter would be an interesting challenge is encouraged to try it. No one should be afraid to stretch his imagination. Remember, selecting an alignment is a way of saying, “My character is going to act like a person who believes this.”
Second, the game revolves around cooperation among everyone in the group. The character who tries to go it i alone or gets everyone angry at him is likely to have a short career. Always consider the alignments of other characters in the group. Certain combinations, particularly lawful good and any sort of evil, are explosive. Sooner or later the group will find itself spending more time arguing than adventuring. Some of this is unavoidable (and occasionally amusing), but too much is ultimately destructive. As the players argue, they get angry. As they get angry, their characters begin fighting among themselves. As the characters fight, the players continue to get more angry. Once anger and hostility take over a game, no one has fun. And what's the point of playing a game if the players don't have fun?
Third, some people choose to play evil alignments. Although there is no specific prohibition against this, there are several reasons why it is not a good idea. First, the AD&D game is a game of heroic fantasy. What is heroic about being a villain? If an evilly aligned group plays its alignment correctly, it is as much a battle for the characters to work together as it is to take on the outside world. Neutral evil individuals would be paranoid (with some justification) that the others would betray them for profit or self-aggrandizement. Chaotic evil characters would try to get someone else to take all the risks so that they could become (or remain) strong and take over. Although lawful evil characters might have some code of conduct that governed their party, each member would look for ways to twist the rules to his own favor. A group of players who play a harmonious party of evil characters simply are not playing their alignments correctly. By its nature, evil alignments call for disharmony and squabbling, which destroys the fun.
Imagine how groups of different alignments might seek to divide a treasure trove. Suppose the adventuring party contains one character of each alignment (a virtually impossible situation, but useful for illustration). Each is then allowed to present his argument:
The lawful good character says, “Before we went on this adventure, we agreed to split the treasure equally, and that's what we're going to do. First, we'll deduct the costs of the adventure and pay for the resurrection of those who have fallen, since we're sharing all this equally. If someone can't be raised, then his share goes to his family.”
“Since we agreed to split equally, that's fine,” replies the lawful evil character thoughtfully.” But there was nothing in this deal about paying for anyone else's expenses. It's not my fault if you spent a lot on equipment! Furthermore, this deal applies only to the surviving partners; I don't remember anything about dead partners. I'm not setting aside any money to raise that klutz. He's someone else's problem.”
Flourishing a sheet of paper, the lawful neutral character breaks in. “It's a good thing for you two that I've got things together, nice and organized. I had the foresight to write down the exact terms of our agreement, and we're all going to follow them.”
The neutral good character balances the issues and decides, “I'm in favor of equal shares--that keeps everybody happy. I feel that expenses are each adventurer's own business: If someone spent too much, then he should be more careful next time. But raising fallen comrades seems like a good idea, so I say we set aside money to do that.”
After listening to the above arguments, the true neutral character decides not to say anything yet. He's not particularly concerned with any choice. If the issue can be solved without his becoming involved, great. But if it looks like one person is going to get everything, that's when he'll step in and cast his vote for a more balanced distribution.
The neutral evil character died during the adventure, so he doesn't have anything to say. However, if he could make his opinion known, he would gladly argue that the group ought to pay for raising him and set aside a share for him. The neutral evil character would also hope that the group doesn't discover the big gem he secretly pocketed during one of the encounters.
The chaotic good character objects to the whole business. “Look, it's obvious that the original agreement is messed up. I say we scrap it and reward people for what they did. I saw some of you hiding in the background when the rest of us were doing all the real fighting. I don't see why anyone should be rewarded for being a coward! As far as raising dead partners, I say that's a matter of personal choice. I don't mind chipping in for some of them, but I don't think I want everyone back in the group.”
Outraged at the totally true but tactless accusation of cowardice, the chaotic evil character snaps back, “Look, I was doing an important job, guarding the rear! Can I help it if nothing tried to sneak up behind us? Now, it seems to me that all of you are pretty beat up--and I'm not. So, I don't think there's going to be too much objection if I take all the jewelry and that wand. And I'll take anything interesting those two dead guys have. Now, you can either work with me and do what I say or get lost--permanently!”
The chaotic neutral character is also dead (after he tried to charge a gorgon), so he doesn't contribute to the argument. However, if he were alive, he would join forces with whichever side appealed to him the most at the moment. If he couldn't decide he'd flip a coin.
Clearly, widely diverse alignments in a group can make even the simplest task impossible. It is almost certain that the group in the example would come to blows before they could reach a decision. But dividing cash is not the only instance in which this group would have problems. Consider the battle in which they gained the treasure in the first place.
Upon penetrating the heart of the ruined castle, the party met its foe, a powerful gorgon commanded by a mad warrior. There, chained behind the two, was a helpless peasant kidnapped from a nearby village.
The lawful good character unhesitatingly (but not foolishly) entered the battle; it was the right thing to do. He considered it his duty to protect the villagers. Besides, he could not abandon an innocent hostage to such fiends. He was willing to fight until he won or was dragged off by his friends. He had no intention of fighting to his own death, but he would not give up until he had tried his utmost to defeat the evil creatures.
The lawful evil character also entered the battle willingly. Although he cared nothing for the peasant, he could not allow the two fiends to mock him. Still, there was no reason for him to risk all for one peasant. If forced to retreat, he could return with a stronger force, capture the criminals, and execute them publicly. If the peasant died in the meantime, their punishment would be that much more horrible.
The lawful neutral character was willing to fight, because the villains threatened public order. However, he was not willing to risk his own life. He would have preferred to come back later with reinforcements. If the peasant could be saved, that is good, because he is part of the community. If not, it would be unfortunate but unavoidable.
The neutral good character did not fight the gorgon or the warrior, but he tried to rescue the peasant. Saving the peasant was worthwhile, but there was no need to risk injury and death along the way. Thus, while the enemy was distracted in combat, he tried to slip past and free the peasant.
The true neutral character weighed the situation carefully. Although it looked like the forces working for order would have the upper hand in the battle, he knew there had been a general trend toward chaos and destruction in the region that must be combatted. He tried to help, but if the group failed, he could work to restore the balance of law and chaos elsewhere in the kingdom.
The neutral evil character cared nothing about law, order, or the poor peasant. He figured that there had to be some treasure around somewhere. After all, the villain's lair had once been a powerful temple. He could poke around for cash while the others did the real work. If the group got into real trouble and it looked like the villains would attack him, then he would fight. Unfortunately, a stray magical arrow killed him just after he found a large gem.
The chaotic good character joined the fight for several reasons. Several people in the group were his friends, and he wanted to fight at their sides. Furthermore, the poor, kidnapped peasant deserved to be rescued. Thus, the chaotic good character fought to aid his companions and save the peasant. He didn't care if the villains were killed, captured, or just driven away. Their attacks against the village didn't concern him.
The chaotic neutral character decided to charge, screaming bloodthirsty cries, straight for the gorgon. Who knows? He might have broken its nerve and thrown it off guard. He discovered that his plan was a bad one when the gorgon's breath killed him.
The chaotic evil character saw no point in risking his hide for the villagers, the peasant, or the rest of the party. In fact, he thought of several good reasons not to. If the party was weakened, he might be able to take over. If the villains won, he could probably make a deal with them and join their side. If everyone was killed, he could take everything he wanted and leave. All these sounded a lot better than getting hurt for little or no gain. So he stayed near the back of the battle, watching. If anyone asked, he could say he was watching the rear, making sure no one came to aid the enemy.
The two preceding examples of alignment are extreme situations. It's not very likely that a player will ever play in a group of alignments as varied as those given here. If such a group ever does form, players should seriously reconsider the alignments of the different members of the party! More often, the adventuring party will consist of characters with relatively compatible alignments. Even then, players who role-play their characters' alignment will discover small issues of disagreement.
Alignment is a tool, not a straitjacket. It is possible for a player to change his character's alignment after the character is created, either by action or choice. However, changing alignment is not without its penalties.
Most often the character's alignment will change because his actions are more in line with a different alignment. This can happen if the player is not paying attention to the character and his actions. The character gradually assumes a different alignment. For example, a lawful good fighter ignores the village council's plea for help because he wants to go fight evil elsewhere. This action is much closer to chaotic good, since the character is placing his desire over the need of the community. The fighter would find himself beginning to drift toward chaotic good alignment.
All people have minor failings, however, so the character does not instantly become chaotic good. Several occasions of lax behavior are required before the character's alignment changes officially. During that time, extremely lawful good activities can swing the balance back. Although the player may have a good idea of where the character's alignment lies, only the DM knows for sure.
Likewise, the character cannot wake up one morning and say, “I think I'll become lawful good today.” (Well, he can say it, but it won't have any effect.) A player can choose to change his character's alignment, but this change is accomplished by deeds, not words. Tell the DM of the intention and then try to play according to the new choice.
Finally, there are many magical effects that can change a character's alignment. Rare and cursed magical items can instantly alter a character's alignment. Powerful artifacts may slowly erode a character's determination and willpower, causing subtle shifts in behavior. Spells can compel a character to perform actions against his will. Although all of these have an effect, none are as permanent or damaging as those choices the character makes of his own free will.
Changing the way a character behaves and thinks will cost him experience points and slow his advancement. Part of a character's experience comes from learning how his own behavior affects him and the world around him. In real life, for example, a person learns that he doesn't like horror movies only by going to see a few of them. Based on that experience, he learns to avoid certain types of movies. Changing behavior means discarding things the character learned previously. Relearning things takes time. This costs the character experience.
There are other, more immediate effects of changing alignment. Certain character classes require specific alignments. A paladin who is no longer lawful good is no longer a paladin. A character may have magical items usable only to specific alignments (intelligent swords, etc.). Such items don't function (and may even prove dangerous) in the hands of a differently aligned character.
News of a character's change in behavior will certainly get around to friends and acquaintances. Although some people he never considered friendly may now warm to him, others may take exception to his new attitudes. A few may even try to help him “see the error of his ways.” The local clergy, on whom he relies for healing, may look askance on his recent behavior, denying him their special services (while at the same time sermonizing on his plight). The character who changes alignment often finds himself unpopular, depending on the attitudes of the surrounding people. People do not understand him. If the character drifts into chaotic neutral behavior in a highly lawful city, the townspeople might decide that the character is afflicted and needs close supervision, even confinement, for his own good!
Ultimately, the player is advised to pick an alignment he can play comfortably, one that fits in with those of the rest of the group, and he should stay with that alignment for the course of the character's career. There will be times when the DM, especially if he is clever, creates situations to test the character's resolve and ethics. But finding the right course of action within the character's alignment is part of the fun and challenge of role-playing.
(See also, Helm of Opposite Alignment, in the Dungeon Master Guide)