Alignment: What is it? What does it mean? Why is it important?
Alignment is slightly different in every campaign you will ever encounter. So the below is the preface that was given to our players when starting out.
This is not a statement about Alignment in D&D but an explanation of what Alignment means and how it works in our campaign alone. That said, if you like it, you’re welcome to use it! Give us a shout if you do =]
If you are wondering “What is my alignment?”, instead ask yourself, “What does my character believe?”
In this world, Chaos and Law are opposing primordial forces.
Law is order; things that are man made, constructs like societal expectation and what is legal fall under the bounds of law and if your character believes that there should be Law, there should be order, the wilderness should be tamed and made productive; that there is a goodliness inherent within the act of creation, taking what is raw, uncut and natural and turning it into something bound and of use, then there’s a good chance your character is Lawful.
Chaos is ultimately Nature; The wilderness is unbound by man made restrictions and to live within it is to have a certain degree of purity. Those who are separate from society and most often act under no laws are Chaotic in nature. If your character’s beliefs lie in the realms of nature, that shaping the land and binding it for your needs is to somehow make it lesser, they are most likely on the side of chaos.
Like most belief systems, it is possible for people on both sides of this eternal war to work together towards greater goals as at the personal level, there is rarely a need for direct conflict. Most often conflict from this divide comes where chaos or law are trying to take ground from one another (a city attempting to expand into native barbarian lands, for example).
In this, there is no Neutrality, nor can there ever be. At present, in this world, Chaos is beginning to take over and much of the world’s Lawful foundations are crumbling.
Good and evil are unbound by sides within the primordial war. Good and evil are moral and ethical standpoints. Regardless of your beliefs towards chaos and law, evil is evil and good is good. Both sides of the chaos and law dispute would perceive the murder of an innocent child as evil, for example.
When thinking about alignment, it is imperative that you understand your alignment is descriptive, not prescriptive. If during a game, you think “Oh, I won’t do that because my alignment is lawful good”, you are perhaps misunderstanding how this works.
“Does my character believe it is wrong to torture someone who is completely at their mercy?”
“Does my character believe it is wrong to lie even if no one would ever know?”
“Does my character believe it is wrong to break an oath, even if there would be no negative repercussions to doing so?”
“Do my character’s beliefs go out the window as soon as they become inconvenient?”
If the answers to those questions (minus the last one) are “Yes”, there’s a good chance that when you’re making decisions in the game based on their beliefs, you’re playing a character who is good. If the answers to some or all of those (except the last one) is “No”, then again, the likelihood is that you’re playing a character with an Evil alignment.
In this case, neutrality is possible, to a degree but in what sense?
As such, it is possible for your alignment to change. If as the game progresses you make it clear that you are making decisions which are regularly evil and yet your alignment declares you to be good, you can expect it to be updated.