Alignments

The D&D game has three alignments: Law, Neutrality, and Chaos. What the alignments mean to players and how they should play their characters invariably causes all sorts of confusion, so this page exists to clarify things.

First and foremost, this rule should be drilled into every D&D player’s head: alignment doesn’t have anything to do with what your character believes or how your character acts. At all.

Alignment came into the D&D game from its precursor, the wargame Chainmail. It represents two opposing sides (or factions) in a great conflict. In a wargame, “Law” represents the side of the “good guys” and Chaos represents the side of the “bad guys”, while Neutrality is the alignment of units or creatures that might fight for either side.

In a role-playing game like D&D, alignment works best when this line-of-conflict factionalism is preserved. Law means “good guys” and Chaos means “bad guys”. In The Lord of the Rings, Law is the alignment of the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth, and Chaos is the alignment of the Enemy and the Shadow. In Star Wars, Law is the alignment of the Rebel Alliance or the Republic, and Chaos is the alignment of the Empire or the Yuuzhan Vong. It’s as simple as that.

Thus, and this is an important point, what really matters is what side a character is on in the grand scheme of things. How a character behaves on a day-to-day basis does not determine his alignment: which groups he is trying to benefit in the long run with his actions does. Even if a character is occasionally selfish or dishonest or violent, he would still be Lawful if he fights for the side of civilization and humanity against monsters and eldritch horrors. And likewise, even the most honorable and upstanding knight, a warrior who would never dare to attack his enemies unannounced or fight them while wounded and at an unfair disadvantage, is still Chaotic if he willingly and knowingly acts in the interests of monsters and super-villains.

Lawful characters are on the side of the “good guys”, even if they are not precisely good themselves. Chaotic characters are on the side of the “bad guys”, even if they’re not all that bad. Neutral characters are not on any side except their own. That’s all there is to alignment, and adding anything more to it is a needless complication.

Alignments

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