D&D Alignment – What is Alignment?
I think this is the last big character creation piece that I haven’t touched on. I’ve previously done series of articles on the Classes, Backgrounds, and how to develop an interesting backstory. But I’ve only touched on the various alignments in passing. Some of that is because the alignment system can be somewhat controversial and can be used as a reason to be a jerk while playing. What I’m hoping to do with this series of articles is go through and show how you can use alignment in your game to inform your characters decisions.
So, let’s start, what is alignment?
Alignment is the moral touchstone for your character that has been laid out in Dungeons and Dragons and used some in other role playing systems to give you a better idea how to play your character. There are two axis for alignment, from good to evil and from lawful to chaotic, with neutral between both pairs, so you end up with nine different alignments.
When you create your character, you select one of these nine different alignments for your character. You can use that alignment as a filter to make the decisions for your character. And it’s possible during the game that your alignment will change, but that will be up to you and possibly your Dungeon Master if that happens. In most cases, going up from Neutral to Good or Evil to Neutral will be informed more by your Dungeon Master, but if you have a character that falls from Good to Neutral that’s something that can come from either direction.
How do you pick an alignment?
I personally think that it ties into what you want to do for your backstory a lot. The story you will create will help inform if you are a law abiding character or a character who is out to cause trouble. Your class can also determine some of that as well, though there are both Paladin and Cleric sub classes that allow you to play a fallen or evil version of both classes. However, normally both will align with Good or at least Neutral and generally both will lean more lawful while someone like a Rogue would be more chaotic.
If you don’t have an idea for a backstory, the Dungeons and Dragons backgrounds can help you pick out your alignment as some of the items that you roll, personality traits, flaws, bonds, and ideals will help inform that decision and give suggestions base off of which one you pick from the list or randomly roll.
But what does alignment really mean?
This is where alignment is controversial. Some people use it as a crutch for their character to be a jerk. Something like a Chaotic Neutral Rogue stealing from party members would be an example of this. It might annoy everyone at the table, but if they can’t roll a high enough perception to catch her as she stealth’s and steals, there’s nothing that the players can do. Or the dumb Barbarian who gets bored as a Chaotic Neutral character and randomly picks fights, and then in the presence of the king decides to pick a fight. Players at time will say something along the lines of “It’s what my character would do because I’m chaotic neutral.” But really it’s more about wanting to play that jerk character and have the spotlight. The same can be the case for the Lawful Good Paladin who won’t go into the tavern because they don’t drink, who will stab anyone if they do anything wrong, but then will also refuse to go along with any plan that might be a little bit morally grey. Or it would be the true neutral druid, so neutral on both the lawful and chaotic scale as well as the good and evil scale, who then refuses to get involved in anything and won’t latch onto they are neutral and just at peace with the world.
But that’s the extreme. When alignment works well, you use it to inform some decisions and a touchstone for your character in the long run. That means that your Chaotic Neutral rogue might not steal from the party, though borrowing something from someone they don’t like and forgetting to return it, that’s a possibility. Or a Paladin might look the other way when the rogue does steal a bunch of money, and even take a share that they then donate to the church. But those are all fairly specific examples still, I think more generally, alignment is what you use when you aren’t sure which of two options or more that your character would take. Instead of agonizing over a long time, if you can’t come to a fast decision, you look at see which options aligns most closely with your alignment. Using it that way, you can have a fully developed character, as even in real life, some people might be lawful good when it comes to one area and chaotic neutral in another area of their life. So don’t let your alignment stop you from playing like you want.
So what’s coming next in this series on alignment?
We’re going to go through the nine different spots on the alignment matrix. I’m going to do an article on each one of those so you can get a better idea of what they mean and how you can use them in your role playing.
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