D&D General Alignment: the problem is Chaos

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Exactly! Chaotic Good seems completely bonkers, and I don't think large groups of humans can pull it off. Yet one of the most important demi-human groups have been canonically Chaotic Good since 1e. I think that's interesting, and I came to this definition precisely to explain the behavior of elves. The result is weird, and I like that.
I would posit they were written down as falling undrer "Chaotic Good" because Gygax lost whatever thoughts he had about the more Elric inspired Law-Neutral-Chaos, and didn't think through the expansion with anywhere the depth of the philosophers or even the writers of 4e.

Part of the problem feels like there is an extreme difference between tendencies of people and the extraplanar extremes of the far realms, the demons, and entropy. And trying to use the same word without modifier for both seem like it might be sub-optimal.

Stolen from another post...

LAWFUL - Following ones guiding code and working against CHAOS is the most important thing ("extraplanar lawful beings")

Lawful -Tries to always follow their guiding principals, but may have other over-riding concerns ("lawful")

lawful - Likely follows the rules unless they're standing in the way, but doesn't angst over it ("lawful tendencies")

chaotic - Chafes against the rules but doesn't go out of their way to break them just for the sake of doing so (unless they're annoying) or trying to sow randomness ("chaotic tendencies")

Chaotic - Flouts the rules and doesn't follow a personal code. ("chaotic")

CHAOTIC - Overthrowing the order - both local and universal - is the most important thing. ("extraplanar chaotic beings")

Even then, would Chaotic have the factions of the Far Realms, Demons, and Ultimate Entropy as competing interests? Should any of the extraplanars (except maybe CHAOTIC EVIL) be allowed only one all-caps descriptor?
 
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Aging Bard

Canaith
The problem is that both Law and Chaos are just too broad-brush.

Many of the characters I play will care little for conforming to social standards or following civilised codes, and will happily go against established rules or laws to accomplish their goals. But they'll also have a strong moral code of their own, being very loyal to their friends and allies, not giving their word lightly or frivolously, and never even considering betraying a trust or confidence.

To call such a character 'neutral' seems a disservice - it suggests a disinterest in considerations of morality, which would not represent the character's attitude at all. And yet, different aspects of their outlook would fall most easily into either the "Chaotic" or "Lawful" realm.
I'd call this person Chaotic Good or Chaotic Neutral depending upon how much agency they grant to others. The smaller that circle, the less Good they are. They have a code outside of social standards, which is basically what I'm calling Chaos.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
It feels like it makes

I would posit they were written down as falling undrer "Chaotic Good" because Gygax lost whatever thoughts he had about the more Elric inspired Law-Neutral-Chaos, and didn't think through the expansion with anywhere the depth of the philosophers or even the writers of 4e.

Part of the problem feels like there is an extreme difference between tendencies of people and the extraplanar extremes of the far realms, the demons, and entropy. And trying to use the same word without modifier for both seem like it might be sub-optimal.

Stolen from another post...

LAWFUL - Following ones guiding code and working against CHAOS is the most important thing ("extraplanar lawful beings")

Lawful -Tries to always follow their guiding principals, but may have other over-riding concerns ("lawful")

lawful - Likely follows the rules unless they're standing in the way, but doesn't angst over it ("lawful tendencies")

chaotic - Chafes against the rules but doesn't go out of their way to break them just for the sake of doing so (unless they're annoying) or trying to sow randomness ("chaotic tendencies")

Chaotic - Flouts the rules and doesn't follow a personal code. ("chaotic")

CHAOTIC - Overthrowing the order - both local and universal - is the most important thing. ("extraplanar chaotic beings")

Even then, would Chaotic have the factions of the Far Realms, Demons, and Ultimate Entropy as competing interests?
Yup, a lot that's valid here. I'm less interested in what came before than hammering down some useful and interesting definitions we can use today.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I'd call this person Chaotic Good or Chaotic Neutral depending upon how much agency they grant to others. The smaller that circle, the less Good they are. They have a code outside of social standards, which is basically what I'm calling Chaos.
The 1e book were good (in many cases) about allowing the descriptor of "tendencies". By using Chaos for the wishy washy do there own thing, are you stealing the title from the true champions of disorder who actively seek to thwart law and order?

"Repent, Harlequin!" said the Ticktockman.
"Get stuffed."
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Yup, a lot that's valid here. I'm less interested in what came before than hammering down some useful and interesting definitions we can use today.
The differentiation as given there wasn't copied from a published source, it's one I posted in another recent thread as being something I thought as useful if one is keeping both alignments for characters and extraplanars.

It allows for discriminating for things yours doesn't. And I think they are things that should be discriminated between.

Is it that bad that the elves as a society are only "chaotic" and not "CHAOTIC"? ;-)
 

Sithlord

Adventurer
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.
My view on law is this. And it should be called order but it doesn’t flow off the tongue easily. First, men don’t make laws, they make regulations. Law comes from nature. But that’s me. In general I tell players lawful means you have principles. Chaotic means you don’t care about the principles you care about the consequences. A neutral person will use principles and drop them when the the consequences don’t seem to be working.
But if that’s too complex for people i tell them lawful means you do what is best for the group and chaotics are individualists, which I don’t quite like
 

Can't people hold layers to this. The chaotic PC or bad guy isn't chaotic all the time. He has a tendency to lean that way more often than the lawful PC. The chaotic person might be angrier about taxes and the law that says you have to walk your pee bucket all the way to the river and the law that says you can't hunt boar on the King's land. The lawful person might just be upset about taxes, and all the rest they are comfortable with.
It's almost like it is taken too literal. ;)
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Or perhaps even more as Conformist vs. Non-Conformist. But as I noted elsewhere, I consider both true Evil and Chaotic stances as very rare in human experience. Mere non-conformity is not really Chaos to me. Chaos is weirder.
I feel that true Lawful stances are very rare. It would mean a kind of conformity that is lethal and oblivious to the reality of a situation.

In the polarity between Law and Chaos, I view their respective populations to hug close to the center, with outliers at either extreme being quite weird, and even difficult to imagine.
 

payn

Legend
Folks get caught up in the generality of a national alignment with individual alignment. America is a very lawful nation, but I'd consider most Americans I've met as Neutral Good based on the below quote.
All of this is very reasonable. I prefer Neutral to mean "indifferent to" rather than middle ground. So a Neutral Good character is not kinda-Lawful or kinda-Chaotic, but rather cares much more about Good. They are the ones who will protest injustice before the Lawful Goods, because they care more about being Good. But again, your view seems fine.
While there may not be many chaotic governments or organizations, I do think there are chaotic people around.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Folks get caught up in the generality of a national alignment with individual alignment. America is a very lawful nation, but I'd consider most Americans I've met as Neutral Good based on the below quote.

While there may not be many chaotic governments or organizations, I do think there are chaotic people around.
Yeah, even the concept of "fighting for freedom" inherently involves aspects of both Law and Chaos, and comes across as somewhat Neutral.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
The differentiation as given there wasn't copied from a published source, it's one I posted in another recent thread as being something I thought as useful if one is keeping both alignments for characters and extraplanars.

It allows for discriminating for things yours doesn't. And I think they are things that should be discriminated between.

Is it that bad that the elves as a society are only "chaotic" and not "CHAOTIC"? ;-)
Yes, I understood your source. I think what you are calling LAWFUL and CHAOTIC are pretty close to Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil, but not exactly. What's missing is the cosmic enmity between the two that your example is capturing. It's fine if you want to play that up in your setting, but I don't think it's essential (though it's a cool dynamic). Frankly, I don't think your quoted source entails my definition of Chaos at all, but that's fine. To be specific, I'd be happy to play in a campaign using your quoted source's alignment system and I'd know what to do and I'd have fun.
 

guachi

Adventurer
I agree that trying to define a CG society in a way that actually functions is hard. CG elves are just really weird. Maybe it's a continuum of how much order and structure there is in society and an individual.

As an example from my favorite D&D world, Mystara (D&D only had L/N/C but I think it's a good example): The Dwarf gazetteer had standardized city block map plans in the book and all the major cities had maps laid out according to this plan. If the DM wanted, he could photocopy these and make a map of any city in Dwarf-land.

On the other hand, the thought of doing this for Elf-land would be rejected out of hand by elves. Roads are where people wander, not pre-determined. Houses are built where the trees grow, not where you deliberately place stone.
 



Aging Bard

Canaith
I agree that trying to define a CG society in a way that actually functions is hard. CG elves are just really weird. Maybe it's a continuum of how much order and structure there is in society and an individual.

As an example from my favorite D&D world, Mystara (D&D only had L/N/C but I think it's a good example): The Dwarf gazetteer had standardized city block map plans in the book and all the major cities had maps laid out according to this plan. If the DM wanted, he could photocopy these and make a map of any city in Dwarf-land.

On the other hand, the thought of doing this for Elf-land would be rejected out of hand by elves. Roads are where people wander, not pre-determined. Houses are built where the trees grow, not where you deliberately place stone.
Boy is this a great post--thanks!
 

Sithlord

Adventurer
I agree that trying to define a CG society in a way that actually functions is hard. CG elves are just really weird. Maybe it's a continuum of how much order and structure there is in society and an individual.

As an example from my favorite D&D world, Mystara (D&D only had L/N/C but I think it's a good example): The Dwarf gazetteer had standardized city block map plans in the book and all the major cities had maps laid out according to this plan. If the DM wanted, he could photocopy these and make a map of any city in Dwarf-land.

On the other hand, the thought of doing this for Elf-land would be rejected out of hand by elves. Roads are where people wander, not pre-determined. Houses are built where the trees grow, not where you deliberately place stone.
I really kind of disagree. To me a Jeffersonian or libertarian philosophy would be chaotic a good. Not that I have ever seen one in my lifetime.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
I feel that true Lawful stances are very rare. It would mean a kind of conformity that is lethal and oblivious to the reality of a situation.

In the polarity between Law and Chaos, I view their respective populations to hug close to the center, with outliers at either extreme being quite weird, and even difficult to imagine.
Very glad you posted this, thank you. As long as we don't view alignment as cartoonishly intense (Dudley Do-Right, anyone?), I think the average walking around person is Lawful Good. They obey most laws, and they grant their fellow agency (or certainly don't interfere with it). I happen to disagree with interpreting lack of intensity as Neutral, but that's a choice.
 


Aging Bard

Canaith
As much as I think paladins should be lawful good I do like oaths or a code of conduct to clarify what is expected by them because alignment is a big box containing many different philosophies.
I totally get this for modern play. For an old like me, you have paladins and anti-paladins, and fighters and cavaliers can fill in the spaces in between.
 

I'm really glad you posted this! Because this is what I'm trying to decouple from Evil. I think Evil wants to be the problem. I think Chaos ultimately wants to avoid being told what to do.

Causing trouble isn't always evil. From a good old fashioned hippy freak out to a protest movement about real societal ills, Chaos (capital C) is happy to stir the pot. Of course Chaos intersects with Good and Evil which gives different flavours of Chaos which leads to different types of pot stirring; something your hard core Chaotic (hello slaads) is happy to see.

Now out here in the real world I don't think alignment serves any purpose. (I don't think it serves much purpose in a game world either.) So please don't take what I'm saying as some sort of personal manifesto. I'm just mucking about with the concept.

Also: I'm on board with all of what Cadence said in their post #9 above.
 

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