Entry 15a: Alignment and Personality (Another mini-series, YAY!)

WARNING:  I’m talking about alignment.  I’ve decided to make it a multiparter because it was getting long, so if it seems like I haven’t presented any conclusions yet that’s why.

Alright!  Time to talk about one of the most argued about aspects of gaming: the alignment chart.  Now, this isn’t a situation where I argue about what alignment fictional characters are in the hopes of convincing you that contrary to a lot of alignment charts Malcolm Reynolds is Lawful Good (with good being the more important of the two) and Darth Vader is Chaotic Evil (With the emphasis being on evil).  Instead, the purpose of this entry is to talk about the actual purpose of alignment and how relevant it actually is to a character’s personality.

Alignment systems exist in multiple RPGs, but the most prominent is Dungeons and Dragons’ chart of Lawful-Chaotic/Good-Evil.  Because that’s well known, and easy to describe, it’s the one I’m going to reference the most even though I don’t actually think it’s the best.  So, let’s talk a little bit about traits that embody each of the alignments on this scale:

Lawful:  Loyalty, discipline, and respect for rules, systems, and agreements.
Chaotic:  Adaptability, independence, respect for freedom and individuality.
Evil:  Selfishness, malice, ruthlessness.
Good:  Generosity, kindness, mercy.

So now that this is established, you may find yourself noticing that these are some very broad traits and there are very few cases where you’ll find a well written character that does not have behaviors associated with opposing alignments.  This is because the human mind is complex, and a personality cannot be distilled into a few traits summarized by two letters on their character sheet.  Some players really seem to feel that their character’s entire personality should be defined by their alignment (“I am good aligned, and it’s a serious issue if I make a decision that is neutral, evil, or even questionable”) when in reality it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.  There’s an exception in the Paladin, whose class makes it so that he IS defined by his alignment, but even then the character should be whole rather than easily summed up by two words.

One great example of alignment being represented well in fiction is the webcomic “Order of the Stick.”  In case you’ve somehow found my blog and don’t know what OoTS is, it’s a (amazing) webcomic based around Dungeons and Dragons where the characters are at least vaguely aware that they’re controlled by the d20 system.  The group’s leader, Roy, is a Lawful Good aligned fighter and at one point the group runs into a Paladin named Miko who is also Lawful Good aligned.  Their personalities and attitudes are so different that if you threw the two of them into any situation their reaction would probably be completely different.

So, what am I saying all of that to get around to?  Well, the summary is going to come around to “Alignment isn’t as big a deal as most people think it is” but in the next few parts of this little series I’m going to explore…

*What alignment should and shouldn’t restrict, gameplay-wise.
*What decisions should be considered big enough to force a character to change alignment (I’ll include some discussion of Paladin’s and their reduced alignment wiggle room).
*A discussion of fictional characters and what I consider their alignment to be, complete with explanation.

I just figured I needed to lay some groundwork for how I defined each of the alignments so that you could see this from my perspective.  As with all alignment debates, this is going to be heavily opinionated, so please keep that in mind.

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