Character alignment is a system of two axes that come together to categorize the basic ethico-moral perspectives various people, creatures, and groups. The horizontal axis of this system is based on the target's ethical perspective (lawful versus chaotic) and the vertical axis is based on the target's moral compulsions (good versus evil). This system originated in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game and has since been adopted as a staple for most fantasy- or medieval-style role-playing communities.
The nine alignments can be represented in a grid, as follows:
|Lawful Good||Neutral Good||Chaotic Good|
|Lawful Neutral||True Neutral||Chaotic Neutral|
|Lawful Evil||Neutral Evil||Chaotic Evil|
The precepts of law and chaos which form the foundation of the ethical axis predate those of good and evil in the world's history. A common misunderstanding of this axis is that it refers to literal written law; however, a lawful alignment does not necessarily mean that a character obeys a region's laws, nor does a chaotic alignment necessarily mean that a character disobeys a region's laws. In addition, it is important to remember that determination of a unit's ethical alignment depends not on what that unit claims to believe, but rather what alignment that unit's behaviors exhibit. Broken down, the three core ethical positions can be defined as follows:
- Law (or a Lawful alignment) indicates an individual or group's philosophical understanding that everything in the world should or does follow a set order, and that obeying rules, regulations, or other understood norms is the natural way of life. Usually, those who are lawful try to be honest, follow rules, and have respect for living things. They are usually known for staying true to their promises (or for reliably breaking them), and generally try obey laws as long as they do not conflict with moral alignment. As a general rule, if a choice must be made to benefit either an entire group or a single individual, this character will most likely choose the group. Sacrificing the few (whether that be a few people, a few luxuries, a few freedoms, etc) for the greater good of the many is a key behavior to a lawful character. Lawful behavior often goes very well with a character aligned as good.
- Overall, law implies that a character or group has honor, trustworthiness, obedience, and reliability, but on the downside it can also include closed-mindedness, blind tradition, judgment, and inflexibility or a lack of adaptability. Conscious advocates of lawfulness claim that lawful behavior is the only way to create a happy, coexistence society where those within can be trusted to make the right decisions.
- Chaos (or a Chaotic alignment) is the opposite of the lawful alignment. It highlights the philosophical belief that life is random and that the forces of chance and luck are the determining factors of the universe. All events are accidental and there is no grand plan for the world that determines fate or what is right; nothing can truly be predicted. For those of this alignment, laws are made to be broken so long as they can be gotten away with, and loyalty to things like honesty or promise is only so deep as which currently provides the most usefulness or practicality to the situation. For a chaotic creature, the individual is the most important thing in the world. Selfishness is advantageous, whether it be taking more than a share of bread or stepping on others to climb up a ladder to success. Chaotics typically act on sudden impulse, desire, and whim, and flourish with creativity. These characters can rarely be trusted and have behavior which is difficult to predict, in contrast with the lawful character who is reliably one way or the other. These characters often believe in the power of luck. Chaotic behavior often goes very well with a character aligned as evil.
- Overall, chaos implies that a character or group has adaptability, flexibility, variation, creativity, freedom, and open-mindedness, but on the downside it can also encourage resentment of authority, irresponsibility, recklessness, and arbitrary decisions or actions. Advocates of chaotic behavior say that raw personal liberation is the only route to full, free expression, which in turn allows society to benefit from the unhindered potential that all individuals hold within.
- Neutrality (or a Neutral alignment) is the philosophical belief that the world is split (often but not always evenly) between lawful and chaotic forces. To these characters, to much of either of these forces upsets the balance of the world. This does not necessarily mean that a neutral character would be preaching about universal balance, but rather would find error in any force that aligned too far to either extreme. For a character who is ethically neutral, the individual is important, but there is also merit to supporting the group; it's important and beneficial for the two to work symbiotically. Often a neutral creature is most interested in survival. He believes in his own intuitions and skills before he believes in luck, but is not opposed to having a little faith. The golden rule about how to treat others rings strongly with neutrality and will join a group most often if to do so is in his own best interest, but generally lacks much enthusiasm when it comes to contributing to the effort unless there is a foreseeable benefit to that effort. Neutral behavior can go with good or evil, or neither, depending on the circumstances of its execution.
- Overall, neutrality implies that a character or group has a normal respect for authority but does not feel strong obligations to rules nor does he have a burning urge to rebel against normalcy. They are generally honest, but can be tempted into lies or deception with the right motivation.
The conflict between the forces of good and evil is a popular theme in fantasy fiction. Protagonists of stories or games are often aligned as good, while antagonists are often aligned as evil, but it is not unheard of for perspective to change and for evil characters to be painted in sympathetic or admirable light. A common misunderstanding of this axis is that all heroes are necessarily good and all villains are necessarily evil. Broken down, the three core moral positions can be defined as follows:
- Good implies that a character or group acts out of altruism, respect for life (though personal interpretation of what life is can be flexible), and concern for the dignity of sentience. Such characters can usually be relied on to make personal sacrifice of some kind in the interest of helping others even when to do so leaves them at a personal loss. Paladins, altruistic heroes, and holy creatures such as angels (or in our case, icyene) are usually expected to fit into this alignment.
- Evil implies that a character or group acts in the interest of harming, subjugating, destroying, or killing other beings and things. Some evil creatures have a complete lack of sympathy or humanity and kill without thought or regret simply if to do so somehow improves their personal situation. Others, however, take an active interest in acts that fall into this alignment, killing for the sake of entertainment or out of subservience to a master who commands such acts, be that master an actual individual or the ideals of a transcendent being. Dastardly villains and violent criminals are most reliably considered evil, and the same goes for naturally evil creatures such as demons and most forms of undead.
- Neutral implies that a character or group acts on a line between the two extremes of this axis; such an individual generally has impulses against the slaughter of innocent, but at the same time can rarely be expected to sacrifice personal status or benefit purely for the greater good. Such a character would most likely avoid causing death to respectable sentient beings, but might also hunt down and kill an enemy if to do so would mean protecting himself or a known individual of relevance (like a loved one or the last living person to hear the location of a valuable treasure). Animals are most often considered neutral even when they attack innocent bystanders because their impulses are based not on intelligent morality but on natural survival instinct.
Any individual or group, be it person, creature, deity, organization, religion, or otherwise, can have one of the nine alignments. It is safe to say that such a unit can only have one alignment at any given time, and that alignments only change either over time or after a critical perspective-changing event. It would most likely inaccurate to claim that a character "is sometimes lawful neutral and other times is chaotic good," as alignments describe a unit's core personal ethico-moral makeup, and not that unit's current or temporary compulsions.
- Lawful good can best be established as the "saintly" or the "crusading" alignment. A character who aligns best as lawful good can be relied on to act with compassion and with honor; he has a sense of duty. A nation that aligns best as lawful good most likely consists of a well-organized system working steadily for the benefit of the nation's citizens. This alignment usually includes righteous knights and paladins, and most altruistic characters who have reverence for a hard day's work to benefit the greater good.
- These characters, especially paladins, may come across situations where the courses of law and good diverge and they have to pick which of the conflicting loyalties to which he most wants to be true. For example, a lawful good character could be presented with a scenario wherein he is expected to uphold a sworn oath, but to do so would lead innocent victims to harm. Or, instead, such a character could meet conflict between two orders of his alignment, such as inconsistencies in religious law and the law of local governing forces.
- Batman, Dick Tracy, and Indiana Jones are all characters who fall into the lawful good alignment. The White Knights are a RuneScape group that falls into the lawful good category.
- Neutral good characters can best be described as "benefactors." Such a character is guided by conscience and an innate altruism, but he acts without regard for (or against) lawful entanglements like governmental or religious rules and tradition. These characters are perfectly happy to cooperate with lawful individuals or officials, but rarely if ever feel indebted or under obligation to such figures. In the event that doing what this character thinks is right requires him to bend or even break established rules, he would not experience the same inner conflict that plagues a character aligned as lawful good.
- Zorro and Spider-Man are both pop-culture icons who fall into the neutral good alignment. The Temple Knights are a RuneScape group who fall into the neutral good category, though they have tendencies towards lawfulness.
- Chaotic good characters can best be described as "rebels" or "cynics." Such a character favors change to the benefit of a greater good and usually harbors resentment for bureaucratic organizations that hinder such social improvement. He places high value on personal freedom not only for himself, but often for all others. These characters reliably intend to do the right thing, although it's very common that such a character's methods are disorganized and out of line with the rest of society. Such characters may create conflict in a cooperative team if they feel they are being subjugated or pushed around and often consider extensive planning or pretense pointless and frivolous next to the alternative, improvisation.
- Robin Hood, Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica), and Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly) are all pop-culture icons who fall into the chaotic good alignment. Ozan is a RuneScape NPC who falls into the chaotic good category.
- Lawful neutral characters can best be described as "judges" or as "disciplined" characters. Such a character typically believes devoutly in concepts such as honor, order, rules, and tradition, in addition to usually having some sort of personal code or standard by which to live. A lawful neutral society could be expected to enforce strict laws in the interest of maintaining a set social order and place high value on tradition and historical precedent. Examples of such characters could include a ruthlessly obedient soldier, an enforcer who adheres seamlessly to the word of the law, and a disciplined monk.
- These characters are not compelled by the morality of good or evil. This doesn't suggest that they are amoral or immoral, but rather that their moral compasses take a far backseat to what their respective guiding codes dictate when making decisions or performing actions. These individuals generally have strong ethical codes, but that code is defined more thoroughly by their guiding belief systems and not by compulsions for or against good or evil.
- James Bond and Odysseus (The Odyssey) are both pop-culture icons who fall into the lawful neutral alignment. The Void Knights are a RuneScape group that falls into the lawful neutral category.
- Truly neutral characters can best be described as "undecided" or "nature's" characters. Such a character is positioned neutrally on both axes and tends not to feel strongly towards any alignment. For example, a farmer whose primary and life-dictating responsibility is to feed his family could be aligned as true neutral. In addition, most animals who lack enough intellectual capacity to have moral judgment are aligned as true neutral. Many rogue-type characters who elect to play all sides of every coin on complete whim could be aligned as true neutral.
- Some neutral characters, however, are not undecided in their compulsions but rather feel a commitment to a balance between all the axes. Such characters may see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices or harmful, detrimental extremes. Druids frequently follow this dedication to balance. A typical character who is decidedly neutral might fight against a band of pillaging goblins only to switch sides in the fight later on so as to save the clan from extinction.
- Lara Croft (Tomb Raiders), Lucy Westenra (Dracula), and Han Solo (in early Star Wars) are all pop-culture icons who fall into the true neutral alignment. Juna is a RuneScape NPC who falls into the true neutral category.
- Chaotic neutral characters can best be described as "anarchists" or "free spirits." Such a character is usually individualistic, follows his own heart, and generally gives no mind to expected rules or traditions. These characters, like chaotic good, promote the ideals of freedom, but their own personal freedoms come as a primary concern. Morality comes as a second priority to the need these characters feel to be free, and usually the only reliable thing about a chaotic neutral character is how completely unreliable they are. These characters are free-spirited and take no express pleasure in the unnecessary suffering of other beings. If a chaotic neutral were to join a team, it would be purely because that team's goals coincide with his or her own momentary goals. Such a character almost always resents taking direct orders and can be fiercely selfish in personal pursuits. He does not have to be an aimless wanderer; he may have a specific goal, but the methods he takes to achieve said goal are often erratic, unorthodox, and difficult to predict.
- A subdivision of this alignment is "strongly chaotic neutral." This specification refers to a character who behaves so chaotically that, to most onlookers, he appears unreservedly psychotic. Individuals of this type may regularly change appearance and attitude purely for the sake of change, and may intentionally cause disruption to organized groups purely for the sake of causing disruption to some kind of lawful institution.
- Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Al Swearengen (Deadwood) are both pop-culture icons who fall into the chaotic neutral alignment. The Mysterious Old Man is a RuneScape NPC who falls into the chaotic neutral category.
- Lawful evil characters can be best described as "dominators" or "diabolic" characters. Such an individual usually see well-ordered systems or organizations as easier to exploit and usually exhibit a combination of both desirable and undesirable traits; while they usually obey their superiors and can be trusted to keep their promises, they have no respect for the rights or freedoms of other individuals and have no qualms with finding loopholes to twist rules into working in their own favors. Examples of lawful evil characters include tyrants, devils, mercenary types with no discrimination between targets but follow a strict code, and loyal soldiers who enjoy being ordered to inflict suffering or death.
- Like the paladins of the lawful good alignment, lawful evil characters can sometimes run into conflict between their commitments to law and to evil when they encounter conflict between the two. However, the arising issues in such dilemmas are centric to the juxtaposition of "Will I get caught?" versus "What can I gain from this?"
- Boba Fett (Star Wars) and Magneto (X-Men) are both pop-culture icons who fall into the lawful evil alignment. Surok Magis is a RuneScape NPC who falls into the lawful evil category.
- Neutral evil characters can be best described as "malefactors." Such characters are typically selfish and lack any qualms ethically or morally about turning on their current allies. They usually make allies primarily to further their own goals. A neutral evil character has no developed reluctance to harm others to accomplish goals, but neither will he make extra effort to cause carnage or disorder when there is no foreseeable benefit to doing so. He typically abides by laws only so long as it fits his convenience. A villain of this alignment can often be more dangerous than either of his lawful or chaotic similars because he is neither bound by some sort of code nor is he disorganized and senselessly violent.
- Examples of individuals from this alignment include assassins with little regard for formal law without needlessly killing, a henchmen who plots against his superior, or a mercenary who switches sides for a better offer.
- Mystique (X-Men) and Sawyer (Lost) are both pop-culture icons who fall into the neutral evil category. Lucien the Mahjarrat was a RuneScape NPC who fell into the neutral evil category.
- Chaotic evil characters can best be described as "destroyers" or "demonic" characters. Such individuals tend to lack respect for rules, the lives of the sentient, of anything that does not directly relate to their own desires, which are typically selfish or cruel. They highly prioritize personal freedom, but have no regard whatsoever for that of others. They are often useless when expected to work with groups, resent being given orders, and often can only be subjugated into behaving out of an acute fear of punishment.
- Not all chaotic evil characters must constantly perform cruel or sadistic acts just for the sake of doing so, and they also do not have to constantly disobey order purely to cause chaos. However, these characters do enjoy the suffering of others and generally consider things like honor and discipline to be signs of weakness that is to be exploited. Serial killers and monsters of limited intelligence are typically aligned as chaotic evil.
- Carl Denham (King Kong) and Riddick (Pitch Black) are pop-culture icons who fall into the chaotic evil category. Solus Dellagar is a RuneScape NPC who falls into the chaotic evil category.
In addition to the basic nine alignments, there are also "tendency" alignments that apply to characters who fall somewhere in the neutral axes but lean or blend more often in one direction or the other. This brings the total possible alignment combinations up to seventeen. The alignment categories made possibly with the inclusion of tendencies are...
- Neutral Good with lawful tendencies
- Neutral Good with chaotic tendencies
- Lawful Neutral with good tendencies
- Lawful Neutral with evil tendencies
- Chaotic Neutral with good tendencies
- Chaotic Neutral with evil tendencies
- Neutral Evil with lawful tendencies
- Neutral Evil with chaotic tendencies
In some specific situations, there are even True Neutral units with tendencies towards one of the four core poles of the two axes, but these are rarely included, as a tendency in any direction away from a truly neutral alignment is no longer truely neutral.