D&D General Alignment: the problem is Chaos

I'm stripping alignment out of my "fantasy heartbreaker"™. But I intend to include some possibilities for tables who want to have some version of alignment:
  • Good vs Evil - celestial forces of good versus all the manifold powers of evil
  • Law vs Chaos in a modified Poulsenian sense of society/order/natural law versus supernatural/magick/the cruel whimsy of capricious outsiders
  • Law vs Chaos in the Moorcockian sense) with Balance betwixt
  • Yes, the nine-alignment grid


If I were to come up with a summary of the broad alignments for a nine-alignment grid, this is roughly what I would go with. (Note that there's no intention for this to be philosophically coherent or map well onto our own societies.)

The four cosmic forces are broadly defined by what they prioritise above other considerations.

- Good is concerned about Welfare. A good-aligned creature wants to preserve and expand its own well-being and the well-being of other creatures around it. A good-aligned creature will make sacrifices of its own well-being - even its very life - if it feels that will on balance bring greater improvements to the well-being of others. A good-aligned creature will value order and freedom to some greater or lesser extent based on how they enable it to preserve and expand welfare: while a lawful-good being believes order more reliably paves the way to greater welfare and a chaotic-good creature believes freedom does. To a good-aligned being, power is merely a defence or an instrument. You can see how this overarching goal might lead good-aligned folk to disagree (especially when some are lawful-good and others chaotic-good), but only rarely to the point of coming to blows; bitter conflict between such folk is almost always to the detriment of cosmic welfare.

- Evil is concerned about Power. An evil-aligned creature wants power over other beings, to do as it will, and to deny others from having any power over it. Such a being tolerates more powerful beings only insofar as it either serves its purposes or it is unable to surpass or destroy them, and tolerates limits to its power to some lesser or greater extent insofar as they serve as a safeguard against losing power or insofar as they can be leveraged to wield greater power. An evil-aligned bring values order and freedom to some greater or lesser extent based on how they enable it to gain and maintain power, prevent and deny others from doing so, and destroy the power of others who have it: a lawful-evil being has a higher tolerance for others with power and for limits to its power, seeing order as a better "force multiplier" for power than not, while a chaotic-evil being takes its whims to be the only cosmic "order" (as such) worth anything. Evil beings don't care about the welfare of others except on an instrumental basis, and will sacrifice their own welfare to advance their power or to deny power to others. You can see how this overarching goal innately engenders conflict between evil-aligned beings and between evil beings and beings of all other alignments.

- Law is concerned about Order. A lawful-aligned creature wants a place for everything, and everything in its place. It is not enough to have a strong personal code that satisfies your desire to have a place in this world: the rest of the world - nay, the whole cosmos! - must also be in its proper place. I would say that lawful beings are mostly agnostic about hierarchy, as such, while others will either see it as an instrument to be used, modified, or discarded at need as it serves the putting of all things in their proper place or will have a conception of Order that innately includes some kind of hierarchy. Lawful-evil beings desire order for the sake of gaining and maintaining power, and lawful-good beings desire order in order to maximise well-being. Lawful-aligned beings don't care about freedom, except when it can be used as a "force multiplier", as it were, in the creation of more order.

- Chaos is concerned about Freedom. A chaotic-aligned being wants to chart its own path, and mostly sees rules, statutes, and systems as an imposition on that path. Such a being need not be indisciplined or behaving at random; say rather that it sees itself as its own master, who decides for itself its own place in the cosmos, and rejects the idea that anything else is entitled to any say as to what that place ought to be. A chaotic being will sacrifice welfare - its own or that of others - in the service of freedom, and tends to view power as a defence or instrument; something to be wielded to protect or advance its freedom, and only cares about the power of others when they use that power to impose upon its freedom. A chaotic-good being sees freedom as the ideal means of securing and preserving well-being for all, while a chaotic-evil being sees a lack of structure or orderliness as the key to maximising its own power. Chaotic-aligned beings don't care for order except to the extent that the limits it imposes on freedom in some respects provides a greater amount of freedom in others.

- A neutral being, then, is one who balances priorities, or perhaps lacks them. A neutral-good character has no particular preference for either order or freedom when it comes to serving welfare; likewise a neutral-evil character values neither order or freedom over the other for the purpose of seizing power and preventing others from having it. (The overall description of Law and Chaos basically described lawful-neutral and chaotic-neutral beings.) A neutral being cares about its welfare and that of others, but not enough to try to organise the cosmos around maximising it, and it cares about power, order, and freedom insofar as they help it to get through life, with no particular desire to pursue any at the expense of the others and no particular care for how other creatures value such things. You might say a "true" neutral being is one who could align to a cosmic force, but doesn't, while an unaligned being is one who can't align to a cosmic force.
 
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NotAYakk

Legend
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?)
Good point.

Distinguishing Lawful from Lawful Stupid and Neutral at the same time is tricky.
And same for Chaotic from Chaotic Stupid and Neutral.
 

My house rule is spells and powers with aligment key can hurt enemies with same aligment but a different or opposite allegiance (religion, tribe, family, lineage, fatherland, brotherhood), for example an orc shaman vs a drow cleric. And I allow character with opposite aligment-allegiance, for example a religious or revolutionary zealot would be evil aligment with good allegiance, and a sheriff who breaks the rules to fight criminals, as Eddie Murphy in Berbery Hills Cop or the cops from the TV-Show "the shield" would be chaotic aligment with law-allegiance. And all groups need a group of rules to work together, even children playing sport. Here my version of chaotic aligment means "only obeying the rules linked with your allegiance". Then a secret brotherhood of ninjas could be "caothic" but disciplined and hard-training as the D&D monk. The criminal groups also have got their own rules. Other idea is a "chaotic" character can be totally "legal behavior" but he is too atunned with Nature or primal forces.

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If the character is good aligment, then this has to obey the Natural Law.

Cicero said:
marcus-tullius-cicero-1084548.jpg
 

I thank Law and Chaos just need to be renamed.

Tradition vs Innovation
Institution vs Individualism
Conformity vs Creation
Obedience vs Self-Direction
Cathedral vs Bazaar (Eric S. Raymond)
Consensus vs Dissention
Scripted vs Freeform

Because really, Law has little to do with obeying laws or following codes of conduct.

It also has little to do with words like "safety", "stability", and even perhaps "good". A chaotic person believes that a chaotic society is safe and stable, where a lawful society is not. A good society is one where citizens have a lot of delf-determination, a bad society is the opposite.

For notes about replacing alignments with universals, check out "Real" Alignments?.
 

kigmatzomat

Adventurer
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.

If you throw out the word "democracy", this is a lot of civilizations. I mean, you could keep it and this referred to the Greeks. Face it the Greeks most common enemy were other Greeks. They only united against external threats, even then usually a few cities would flip for the invaders.

Look at the Diadochi following Alexander's death. There was a huge empire that died with Alexander. They fractured immediately because the dominant personality was gone.

For much of history, Kings and even Emperors lacked armies that were not personally loyal. Most of feudal Europe could have fit in this model. From the decline of Western European Rome in the 700s until the Hundred Years Wars in the 1300s, standing armies didn't exist, it was all personal vassalage. This is why the death of a powerful King rarely left an empire; it wasn't a political system as much as it was a cult of personality.

Rome was pretty innovative in having a professional "national" army but many roman emperors spent much of their energy preventing generals from getting too popular for fear of being supplanted. (E.g. Justinian sidelining Belisarius)

If you look at the various mountain & highland-dwelling peoples, they flipped sides on a regular basis. From Armenia to Carpathia, the mountain peoples see each valley or mountain as a separate domain, beholden to themselves. What's the old joke about the Scots fighting the English only when not fighting their mortal enemies, the Scots?

My knowledge is sketchier of eastern cultures but I believe various Mongol hordes were set up along clan lines, with the Khan being whoever manages to get most of the clans to back them. Even then, as I understand it, a Khan's authority becomes less "law" and more "preference" the farther away from the Khan you get.

And now I am in love with the idea of mongol elves living in yurts, dressed in colorful silks with those tube kites for banners. They shun permanent cities but will happily have giant clan-moots in winter with thousands of elves waiting for the snow to thaw and don't bat an eye if a given group of elves settles down in one place for a decade or so to work on some project.
 
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Somebody after watching "V of Vendetta" in the cinemas might to believe anarchy is cool, but in the real life the lack of authority may means children suffering school bulling by their classmates, and this is only a soft example. You can't guess the missery of living in a "failed state" in the real life. Have you seen "Walking Dead"? A "chaotic group" in the D&D standards couldn't survive a serious crisis as a zombie apocalypse, or raids by warlords. In Star Wars, the rebel alliance was a true army to face the galactic empire. And even in Warhammer 40.000 the chaos and the dark eldars need a lot of hierarchy, coordination, discipline to create those space shipt for interestellar travel.

Let's imagine a tree in the forest, and let's remember how the plants use the sun rays for the photosintesis. And all those living cells working like pieces of a perfect machine. That is very complex. Is it order or chaos?

And what is honor? The Christian martyrs killed in the Roman circus. They were criminals and traitors in the eye of the pagans, but saints for the Church.

And that Michael Moorc**k's conflict between Law vs Chaos is really stupid when you forget something really important, the ethical values of the Natural Law, the respect for the human dignity, for example. I hate that stupid manicheism about a cosmic balance between good and evil. Then in the name of this balance your family has to be eaten by zombies because the halfings living in the valley of the little pony are too happy. The true harmony can't allow the injustice.
 

Somebody after watching "V of Vendetta" in the cinemas might to believe anarchy is cool, but in the real life the lack of authority may means children suffering school bulling by their classmates, and this is only a soft example. You can't guess the missery of living in a "failed state" in the real life. Have you seen "Walking Dead"? A "chaotic group" in the D&D standards couldn't survive a serious crisis as a zombie apocalypse, or raids by warlords. In Star Wars, the rebel alliance was a true army to face the galactic empire. And even in Warhammer 40.000 the chaos and the dark eldars need a lot of hierarchy, coordination, discipline to create those space shipt for interestellar travel.

Let's imagine a tree in the forest, and let's remember how the plants use the sun rays for the photosintesis. And all those living cells working like pieces of a perfect machine. That is very complex. Is it order or chaos?

And what is honor? The Christian martyrs killed in the Roman circus. They were criminals and traitors in the eye of the pagans, but saints for the Church.

And that Michael Moorc**k's conflict between Law vs Chaos is really stupid when you forget something really important, the ethical values of the Natural Law, the respect for the human dignity, for example. I hate that stupid manicheism about a cosmic balance between good and evil. Then in the name of this balance your family has to be eaten by zombies because the halfings living in the valley of the little pony are too happy. The true harmony can't allow the injustice.
honestly why would order or chaos cares about one family it is more deeply impersonal forces trying to rule reality.

also not even in real life does it matter how many crimes go with ever seeing finality? you are free in real life to do anything regardless of how horrible and nothing in the universe would stop you.
natural law does not work as fundamentally nature has no morality whatsoever.

your problem is there is no large-scale good which has never been the point of an order verse chaos war.
 

The problem with alignment is that we want a conflict where neither side is clearly in the right (which the Good/Evil dichotomy fails at doing), and yet we want one where it doesn't rely on vagaries and subtleties and the like. The problem is, there is no such thing. A simple conflict will always (ultimately) fall on one side or the other being mostly right and the other being mostly wrong, because there are too few things for them to be right (or wrong) about. That's what simplicity is. But when you make it complex and subtle, you immediately invite the problem of contradiction and conflicts of incommensurable values, of people picking it apart and showing how it's akshully total nonsense.

Alignment cannot be what people want it to be. We either must accept that the alignment polarities (however many there are) must be somewhat alien and obscure and possibly not-perfectly-consistent, or accept that the conflict will be reducible to Officially Hero Team and Officially Villain Team (or, IMO worse, Officially Villain Team and Officially Worse Villain Team, but I'm not really the audience for black-and-vantablack morality stories.) There are no other options.

It's why Magic: the Gathering works the way it does. It explicitly accepts that each color has two different internal philosophies. Philosophies which could in fact be at war with one another sometimes, or which could choose divergent allies. E.g. Selesnya is Green/White (orderly gardeners and cultivators, harmonizing civilization and nature through their sermons) and Gruul is Green/Red (chaotic hordes originally intended to protect the wild, but with the wild taken away, they became the wild.) That Green can be both unchecked destructive savagery and carefully-cultivated devotion and nurturing is a strength. White can be both the color of horrific, vicious fascism, and also the color of noble do-gooders and heroic sacrifices. Etc.
 

Cicero said:
Cicero was a very witty guy, but a massive fantasist, and ignored the fact that by the same "natural law", slavery should be rejected. Except he didn't entirely ignore it - he actually acknowledges slavery is "unnatural" and to be opposed - but only if applied to Romans. For others it is "natural" and fine.

Your entire argument for "natural law" is nuked from orbit because of that. He is the guy who really originates the idea (as I understand it), and his views were downright evil.

You say:
And that Michael Moorc**k's conflict between Law vs Chaos is really stupid when you forget something really important, the ethical values of the Natural Law, the respect for the human dignity, for example.
Cicero had zero respect for human dignity.

Absolutely none.

He defended Rome's massive slavery (which was wildly aberrant even at the time), and whilst he sometimes made witty little quips about how he wasn't sure the right people were slaves, he was very clear that there should be slaves, and masters.

He also avoided criticising Roman genocides and massacres. He criticised a lot of things, but consistently ignored that stuff, even as Romans of his era boasted about it. For example, Caesar genocided maybe 1/3rd of the Gauls, and enslaved about another 1/3rd. Did Cicero take him to task? Absolutely, but not for that! No Cicero didn't give two shakes of a lamb's tail - indeed he defended the war in Gaul! Something some other Romans criticised because the Gauls were Roman allies and what was happening horrified them. In fact he was a huge fan of Caesar's book on the Gallic Wars, calling "splendid" and described as basically stripped-down and muscular.

What's my point? Natural law is a lovely idea that clearly false, or rather, if it's not false, is easily overridden by tradition and advantage. So your argument just doesn't work. Cicero abandoned the most basic principles of right and wrong because it was advantageous to his nation.
 

I respect you didn't like Cicero, but I have seen too many falacies ad hominen to matter now. Hippocrates is the father of medicine but now he could not open a clinic with his rudimentary knowledge. The really important fact is if you accept we have to obey some rules of coexistence, or something is totally wrong, it doesn't matter when or where, for example the hate against the mutants with superpowers, then practically you are accepting absolute moral values.

The characters from "Games of Thrones", the vitrumite society from Robert Kickman's "Invincible" or Garth Ennis "The Boys" are good examples about what happens with people "without Christian mercy".

If, for example, the intolerance and hate against the mutants with superpowers is wrong, always and everywhere, then you are accepting there is some universal, inmutable and eternal moral rule about hate against all the mutants are wrong.
 

The characters from "Games of Thrones", the vitrumite society from Robert Kickman's "Invincible" or Garth Ennis "The Boys" are good examples about what happens with people "without Christian mercy".
Or, y'know, the Romans are. They're far better examples than ludicrous fantasy examples. The Romans did NOT "obey some rules of coexistence". They obeyed absolutely no rules of coexistence. They indulged in genocide, in the total destruction of other cultures (which they revelled in and celebrated), mass enslavement, enslavement and brutalization even of their own citizens. It doesn't matter if we like Cicero or not, they Romans have absolutely nothing positive to tell us about "coexistance". All they can say is that they were profoundly incapable of it.

Their entire society was founded on a refusal to coexist. They got bullied by some allegedly-Celtic (but more like Geats or something) tribes back in like 400 BC (I forget exactly when), and since they reshaped their entire society into a machine for bullying other societies. And people hold them up as some shining example of civilization!

There was a period when there was hope for them, after they'd calmed down a bit, I admit, but Caesar managed to push them back into their genocidal ways.

Or what about the Spartans? You don't get much more "lacking in basic decency" than them, they lacked it towards the Helots, they lacked towards other Greeks, they even lacked it towards their own citizens.
 

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