D&D General Alignment: the problem is Chaos

AdmundfortGeographer

Getting lost in fantasy maps
Part of the problem is that in OD&D, we had Law and Chaos, which basically meant Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil. For some reason, we understand how to disentangle Law from Good (authoritarian regimes as Lawful Evil), but separating Chaos from Evil is harder. I think the reason is that, in real life, there aren't any "real" Chaotic societies (I'll explain below).
I think this is a bit of an over simplification. Maybe this was the fault in presentation in early D&D, as the inspiration was Paul Andsrson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions from 1961 where Law was the side of human civilization and Chaos was nature and the inscrutable faerie.

I know growing up as a kid reading BECMI I always assumed Law equated = good and Chaos equated evil. (I always kind of brushed right past elves’ association with chaos). Much much later I learned the inspiration was Three Hearts and Three Lions and civilization vs. nature. And that makes SOOO much more sense.

I used to favor what AD&D presented, the 9 alignment grid, because of the addition of evil vs good, but now I vastly prefer the storytelling potential of BECMI/3 Hearts 3 Lions’s cosmic duality of civilization vs. nature/faerie.

You can start muse what other assumed experiences the creators of the game have of future customers that customers just are not coming to the game with and end up missing out on the context!
 

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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I know growing up as a kid reading BECMI I always assumed Law equated = good and Chaos equated evil. (I always kind of brushed right past elves’ association with chaos). Much much later I learned the inspiration was Three Hearts and Three Lions and civilization vs. nature. And that makes SOOO much more sense.

I used to favor what AD&D presented, the 9 alignment grid, because of the addition of evil vs good, but now I vastly prefer the storytelling potential of BECMI/3 Hearts 3 Lions’s cosmic duality of civilization vs. nature/faerie.

Elric was also an influence too though. And while the later Elric had L-C clearly different than G-E (like Anderson), the earliest Elric books certainly read to me like L was closer to G and C closer to E, matching with most of the OD&D books and the Moldvay B/X.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
I think this is a bit of an over simplification. Maybe this was the fault in presentation in early D&D, as the inspiration was Paul Andsrson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions from 1961 where Law was the side of human civilization and Chaos was nature and the inscrutable faerie.

I know growing up as a kid reading BECMI I always assumed Law equated = good and Chaos equated evil. (I always kind of brushed right past elves’ association with chaos). Much much later I learned the inspiration was Three Hearts and Three Lions and civilization vs. nature. And that makes SOOO much more sense.

I used to favor what AD&D presented, the 9 alignment grid, because of the addition of evil vs good, but now I vastly prefer the storytelling potential of BECMI/3 Hearts 3 Lions’s cosmic duality of civilization vs. nature/faerie.

You can start muse what other assumed experiences the creators of the game have of future customers that customers just are not coming to the game with and end up missing out on the context!
As these comments suggest, I think a lot of people are giving the original Law-Chaos axis a positive reassessment. That's not the scope of the original post, but that's fine and it's an interesting result.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
Elric was also an influence too though. And while the later Elric had L-C clearly different than G-E (like Anderson), the earliest Elric books certainly read to me like L was closer to G and C closer to E, matching with most of the OD&D books and the Moldvay B/X.
And don't forget "Doc" Smith's Lensmen! The war between Civilization and Boskone was an epic Law-Chaos fight on some Prime Material Plane.
 





I apologize to the OP for this digression of mine.

But I would posit that the problem is not the existence or framing of Chaos as a conflict, but, rather, it's Good.

The existence of Good as an Alignment fundamentally invalidates a lot of actual moral and philosophic complexities in the 5e D&D mythos and cosmology. What is Good? Let's ask Neutral Good, which some would regard as the purest manifestation of Goodness.
I agree.

By framing the cosmos with a Law/Chaos axis in mind, the question of what is Good? can be sidestepped, or avoided entirely. Given how much thought and energy has been devoted to wrestling with this question, that's probably a good (small "g") thing.
 

I agree.

By framing the cosmos with a Law/Chaos axis in mind, the question of what is Good? can be sidestepped, or avoided entirely. Given how much thought and energy has been devoted to wrestling with this question, that's probably a good (small "g") thing.
would it not make the question of good super important as now no one knows what the answer is?
 



UniformProcess

Villager
Perhaps contemplate the word "arbitrary" as an equivalent in this context?
All chaos has hidden order for those of such conditional states of being that makes it impossible for them to grasp "it".

What do you think my alignment is? ;P hurrdurr
 

nevin

Hero
ETA: Great, thoughtful stuff on this thread. Exactly what I hoped for. Thanks.

No, the world does not need another alignment thread, but I want to drill down on a specific point. I apologize in advance.

Compared to past editions, 5e alignment definitions are a lot less clear, almost to the point of being flavor text. So I can understand those who see no use for them. I think alignment can be very useful for worldbuilding and NPC design, but that requires useful, believable definitions. I wouldn't say even past editions have been great at this. So here's a shot at clear, understandable alignment definitions that I think most people might buy as plausible, but I'll settle for useable in-game. I'm certainly NOT proposing this as the "right way to do alignment". I do hope it provides some help in thinking through the issue.

My base assumptions are that alignment should be 1) intuitive (i.e. believable), and 2) Good/Evil and Law/Chaos are in opposition. I think Good/Evil works but Law/Chaos as usually framed does not. Chaos is the problem.

Most people seem to agree that Good is a Golder Rule type philosophy (do unto others...). I frame this as agency: a Good person acknowledges the agency of others and an Evil person does not. If someone believes something different than me, I might find them misguided, but they still have that right to belief. This definition satisfies both my assumptions.

But an intuitive definition for Law usually is "obeys the law" or "respects the law". These seem intuitive, but their opposites do not unless we want insane Chaotic characters, which some past editions encouraged. "Disrespects the law" is almost OK for Chaos, but what does that mean in practice? I still think you end up with "LOL I'll do want I want" as a justifiable interpretation.

Part of the problem is that in OD&D, we had Law and Chaos, which basically meant Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil. For some reason, we understand how to disentangle Law from Good (authoritarian regimes as Lawful Evil), but separating Chaos from Evil is harder. I think the reason is that, in real life, there aren't any "real" Chaotic societies (I'll explain below). But since the 1st Edition of the Monster Manual, elves have been canonically Chaotic Good. That's a rather important group of demi-humans to not fully understand their default alignment!

So to get a useable definition of Chaos, we also need to refine Law as a subtle reworking of the "respect" concept. I propose the following:

A Lawful person accepts the legitimacy of law that is external to themselves; a Chaotic person does not.

This definition is close to respect, but slightly different. It says that one can recognize the legitimacy of a body coming together to determine their laws, whether or not you agree with the outcome. For example, I'm sure we can all think of countries whose laws we do not admire. But do you then think those countries and their laws are illegitimate? I imagine there could be a few of these, but in general, we let sovereign countries be sovereign and run their internal affairs. In other words, we follow the Rule of Law as it's known in political science. So a Lawful person follows their own country's laws, even if some of them seem unjust. That same Lawful person would express disapproval of another country's laws by not traveling there or by biting their tongue.

By the way, it's a Neutral Good person who would more loudly complain and protest about unjust laws, because by not being Lawful they are more comfortable saying some laws are illegitimate.

So what does it mean for a Chaotic person to not view "external" laws as legitimate? Simple--only their own internal laws are legitimate, their "code". A Chaotic Good person understands that others have their own codes and they are legitimate for them. A Chaotic Neutral person values their code above all, and is not concerned whether or not it infringes on the agency of others. Note that this definition allows the Chaotic Neutral to not be a lunatic! They could even fit into a Lawful society, never respecting it but discretely carrying out their code whenever possible. Finally, I think this definition gets us very close to the tradition definition of Chaotic Evil: a person who respects neither agency nor the legitimacy of any law. In all these cases, I don't think any of these Chaos alignments correspond to any real human society. Our definition of "society" presupposes a minimum level of Law.

I came to this definition precisely to answer the elf Chaotic Good question: what sort of society could this be? I decided that elves are mostly bound together by heritage and a deep abiding for one another, but following any cause is always a matter of individual persuasion that can be withdrawn at will. Thus, elves need leaders good at individual persuasion, which comes down to raw charisma and magnetism. Essentially, this makes elfish society a "charismatic democracy", where elves rally around causes they believe in, following leaders charismatic enough to hold the cause's believers together. This is very different from any human society I've even of, with the possible exception of very small groups bound by some affinity; communes and cults come to mind.

I think these definitions get close to the intentions of many historical iterations of alignment in D&D, but are less ambiguous and therefore more able to be put into practice in a game setting.
One you've conflated good with law. you can be good and disagree with a law. A CG person will ignore laws that they think are unjust.
this get's displayed in our society in things like Juries refusing to find a defendant guilty even though the evidence is overwhelming., because they don't think the crime should be a crime. Not respecting the law is far different than actively breaking it.

I do agree that most 1st world societies are very lawful and ordered and people tend to equate law with good, till the laws get out of control which they envitably do.


not respecting law and doing things that hurt other people are not the same thing. In fact Elven societies are more like the Old Celtic societies. Leaders were elected, Warriors could refuse to follow leaders they didn't trust or like.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
One you've conflated good with law. you can be good and disagree with a law. A CG person will ignore laws that they think are unjust.

If that is CG, then what is NG?

For the names to be meaningful to me it feels like C and L should chafe against each other while the N on that axis can focus on the G-E axis (or ignore that too if they're double N).*

*Unless the world has that balance thing going on in which case N hyper-worries about the rest of that axis.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
If that is CG, then what is NG?

For the names to be meaningful to me it feels like C and L should chafe against each other while the N on that axis can focus on the G-E axis (or ignore that too if they're double N).*

*Unless the world has that balance thing going on in which case N hyper-worries about the rest of that axis.
Your best friend has murdered an innocent person. They did it for what they thought was a good reason.

Lawful Good: you turn your best friend in. The rules/system and its integrity are more important than your friend's freedom. He broke the law, he should deal with it.

Systems and Rules are more important than Personal Relationships.

Chaotic Good: you protect your best friend against the law. The punishment for the act doesn't make things better, and your friend is your friend and a good person.

Personal Relationships are more important than Systems and Rules.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Your best friend has murdered an innocent person. They did it for what they thought was a good reason.

Lawful: you turn your best friend in. The rules/system and its integrity are more important than your friend's freedom. He broke the law, he should deal with it.

Chaos: you protect your best friend against the law. The punishment for the act doesn't make things better, and your friend is your friend and a good person.

Why doesn't the NG person also not turn the best friend in?

Surely a CG person would also do it. But why isn't Chaos even more than just ignoring the law when needed - and that there is an intrinsic value in not following rules/system. (A la Moorcock and Anderson that seem to have inspired that axis in D&D; or maybe Ellison's Harlequin).
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Why doesn't the NG person also not turn the best friend in?

Surely a CG person would also do it. But why isn't Chaos even more than just ignoring the law when needed - and that there is an intrinsic value in not following rules/system. (A la Moorcock and Anderson that seem to have inspired that axis in D&D; or maybe Ellison's Harlequin).
The NG would consider the law and obeying it to have some value, and would consider directly opposing the law to be a possible problem.

The people enforcing the law are also trying to do good, and them attacking your friend is understandable.

The CG would consider the law unimportant noise, and consider directly opposing it to be a good thing -- those rigid rules corrupt people trying to do good and fool them into doing harm. People attacking their friend because their friend broke the law are doing a bad thing; your friend won't be killing innocents later and meant no harm when they did it.

The LG would consider someone opposing the law due to a personal connection a sign that the personal connection corrupted them and made them bad.

Lawful considers rules and systems trump personal relationships. In extreme, personal relationships corrupt.
Chaos considers personal relationships trump rules and systems. In extreme, rules and systems corrupt.

These are both reasonable positions, unlike the "Chaos means any rules anywhere must be opposed and dismantled!", which reads more like oppositional defiant disorder. And it also defines Chaos as anti-Law.

If you do the same for Law, we have "Chaos means doing whatever you want" and anti-Chaos is "Law means you can't do anything". Which is, honestly, equally ridiculous.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
The NG would consider the law and obeying it to have some value, and would consider directly opposing the law to be a possible problem.

The people enforcing the law are also trying to do good, and them attacking your friend is understandable.

The CG would consider the law unimportant noise, and consider directly opposing it to be a good thing -- those rigid rules corrupt people trying to do good and fool them into doing harm. People attacking their friend because their friend broke the law are doing a bad thing; your friend won't be killing innocents later and meant no harm when they did it.

The LG would consider someone opposing the law due to a personal connection a sign that the personal connection corrupted them and made them bad.

Lawful considers rules and systems trump personal relationships. In extreme, personal relationships corrupt.
Chaos considers personal relationships trump rules and systems. In extreme, rules and systems corrupt.


These are both reasonable positions, unlike the "Chaos means any rules anywhere must be opposed and dismantled!", which reads more like oppositional defiant disorder. And it also defines Chaos as anti-Law.

If you do the same for Law, we have "Chaos means doing whatever you want" and anti-Chaos is "Law means you can't do anything". Which is, honestly, equally ridiculous.
I particularly like the parts I bolded. Thank you for the clarification!

The part I put in red gives me pause though. It feels like a lawfulness that says "all laws must be followed no matter what" is as ridiculous/pathological as a chaos that says "all laws must be disobeyed". So, is there some nuance allowed by LG? Do we need to chop off the hand of the starving neighbor who took the bread to feed their family? (Is it lawful-stupid? Or does it get to avoid the old-time D&D clichés like you're allowing chaotic to do?)
 

CreamCloud0

Adventurer
In my perspective law vs chaos has always boiled down to ‘do I value following a consistent and stable set of rules/tenants/values that may occasionally not coincide with what I personally want to be worth more to me than my total personal freedom to make whatever choices i want to for better or worse’
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

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