D&D General The Problem with Evil or what if we don't use alignments?

Oofta

Legend
Without alignment my character won't know what monsters he can justify killing without consequence....


...kidding...kind of....
Well ... it is kind of baked into a lot of games, movies, fiction of all sorts that it's okay to kill the bad guys. Whether those bad guys are zombies, aliens intent on eating us, or crazed cultists, it basically comes down to "you're a good guy, go kill those bad guys".

In my games there are a few monsters that PCs can assume are evil, but it's not like there's a hunting season on them. It's that the [insert monster here] has been killing off the peaceful villagers or are spearheading an invading army, or such-and-such gang is committing evil acts and must be stopped.

Some people want moral quandaries and for everything to be based on moral relativity. I don't. I want simple escapism and adventure-movie logic with the moral complexity of Die Hard movies most of the time. That way when I do throw moral dilemmas in they stand out because they're rare.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Dessert Nomad

Adventurer
But what does that info at a glance actually mean? What does "lawful evil" really mean? There have been veritable essays on what each alignment actually means over the decades--which means that in order to understand an alignment, you have to carefully read through paragraphs of text and then hope you remember it all. And then you have to hope that your definition matches up with another person's definition of the same alignment.

I'd add a bit more: And you have to carefully remember which paragraphs of text are for which edition, since the definitions of alignment (especially the L/C axis) have changed a lot over time. And then you have to see which definition the person you're talking to says they're using, and figure out how their interpretations of that edition line up with yours and with the essays people have written.

And like you said, you have to worry about things like Gygax's 'says it's medieval but it's really more colonial' version of LG that slaughters prisoners who convert so they can't go bad later and murders orc children because 'nits make lice'. Or like I mentioned upthread, the dilemma of what a LG person in a Rome-like society does when a Spartacus-like character goes against the laws and traditions of the society to lead a slave revolt.

It seems to me like using alignment actually causes more confusion than the other way around, especially on the L/C side.
 

Oofta

Legend
But what does that info at a glance actually mean? What does "lawful evil" really mean? There have been veritable essays on what each alignment actually means over the decades--which means that in order to understand an alignment, you have to carefully read through paragraphs of text and then hope you remember it all.

And then you have to hope that your definition matches up with another person's definition of the same alignment. As we saw with Gygax, he thought it was perfectly Lawful Good for a paladin to murder orc kids. Or take devils. It's often assumed that they make contracts, but those contracts are so filled with legalize, poorly-worded phrasing, misdirection, and loopholes that I wouldn't count them as lawful evil. To paraphrase the deva from OOTS, using chaotic means to achieve lawful goals seems pretty neutral to me.
Lawful means following orders, having a set of rules, respecting a hierarchy, giving respect to certain individuals because of their title and status. Chaotic means basing decisions on what you think best serves your goals, respecting (or fearing) individuals because of the power that they wield and not being beholden to external rules (although obviously you are aware that actions may have consequences).

I don't care what Gygax said 50 years ago, he had some strange ideas. But again ... I find alignment as useful or more useful than TIBF. Most people I've discussed this with in person either find it useful or don't care because everyone knows the difference between the standard depictions of Superman and The Joker.

If you don't find alignment useful, ignore it.
 

So being evil also means dumber and/or less competent at fighting, in addition to chaotic meaning acting dumber and less competent? This whole thing of 'the more chaotic and/or evil they are, the fewer tactics they use' doesn't appear to be supported by game text on alignments at all. I just don't see support for the idea that alignment means less competence the further enemies are from "LG" anywhere.
Real life social movements often fizzle-out or fracture into squabbling subgroups without the presence of strong leadership. It doesn't mean these people are stupid; it means they're invested enough in what they personally believe is the right thing that they won't compromise for something that doesn't match their own vision.

Honestly I'd suggest reading about various real life political ideologies, social movements, and Sociological theory to better understand how real people can think and behave in ways that can sometimes seem alien to others. Part of the fun of making D&D PCs for me personally is to take some of those points of view and map them to an alignment so I can roleplay a character with a different perspective than my own, be it a CG character with anarchist leanings, a more authoritarian LE character, or a true Neutral contrarian.
 
Last edited:

Or take devils. It's often assumed that they make contracts, but those contracts are so filled with legalize, poorly-worded phrasing, misdirection, and loopholes that I wouldn't count them as lawful evil.
Why not? The Hells is a meritocracy that rewards competency. If one fails to fully understand a legal document that's on them. Successfully understanding such a document shows greater competency and promise for advancement.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Lawful means following orders, having a set of rules, respecting a hierarchy, giving respect to certain individuals because of their title and status. Chaotic means basing decisions on what you think best serves your goals, respecting (or fearing) individuals because of the power that they wield and not being beholden to external rules (although obviously you are aware that actions may have consequences).

I don't care what Gygax said 50 years ago, he had some strange ideas. But again ... I find alignment as useful or more useful than TIBF. Most people I've discussed this with in person either find it useful or don't care because everyone knows the difference between the standard depictions of Superman and The Joker.

If you don't find alignment useful, ignore it.
I do ignore alignment.

The problem that I see is that, each individual player or table may find alignment very useful, but it's so depending on that individual's or table's belief that it's very hard for it to be consistent across the board. Like, would a Lawful person respect a high-ranking individual who is incompetent? (Or who isn't evil, good, or neutral enough.) Wanting to remove that individual from power and put a better-suited person in their place is at least a bit chaotic, especially if there aren't any hard and fast laws for expelling someone from office. And a Chaotic person can have great respect for someone just because of their title and status, even if there's no actual power in that title. They just might decide that the highest-ranked member of the Pastry Chef Guild is more worthy of respect than the Queen, because the Master Pastry Chef is really, really good at their job and clearly earned that title through hard work, while the Queen just had to be born to the right family.

And that doesn't even take into consideration people who play Lawful Awful or Chaotic Stupid or Neutral Boring.

Basically, while yes, I'm sure that you find alignment useful, I just don't think it's as useful as people think it is. I think people come in with a lot of their own decisions as to how individuals or societies work and only afterwards take alignment into consideration. (Seriously, how many people really play elven societies as Chaotic Good?)
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Why not? The Hells is a meritocracy that rewards competency. If one fails to fully understand a legal document that's on them. Successfully understanding such a document shows greater competency and promise for advancement.
Yeah, I just wouldn't consider it by-to-books Lawful. Or rather, it's Lawful in a way that's so twisted (appropriately, for a devil) that it's not really Lawful anymore.
 

Dessert Nomad

Adventurer
Real life social movements often fizzle-out or fracture into squabbling subgroups without the presence of strong leadership. It doesn't mean these people are stupid; it means they're invested enough in what they personally believe is the right thing that they won't compromise for something that doesn't match their own vision.

Exactly how often do real life military squads or platoons, or the equivalent units in less organized forces, break down into squabbling between their units in the middle of a 30-second long deadly fight? That's what 'chaotic creatures don't coordinate and cooperate during combat' actually translates to in real life, not large-scale social movements fracturing into subgroups over longer-than-a-minute times and without the threat of guns directly firing at them.

I'm also confused by the implicit statement that, since this appears to be your characterization of Chaotic demons, it wouldn't apply to devils. Are you really saying that you'd expect devils "without the presence of strong leadership" to avoid fracturing into squabbling subgroups, even though that happens all the time in published works? If it's not a difference between devils and demons based on their alignment, what does it have to do with this specific conversation?

Honestly I'd suggest reading about various real life political ideologies, social movements, and Sociological theory to better understand how real people can think and behave in ways that can sometimes seem alien to others. Part of the fun of making D&D PCs for me personally is to take some of those points of view and map them to an alignment so I can roleplay a character with a different perspective than my own, be it a CG character with anarchist leanings, a more authoritarian LE character, or a true Neutral contrarian.

I'd also suggest reading about real-life political ideologies and what happens when small groups of them are involved in combat situations, because real people don't behave like you're saying. I mean, even the 'so over the top it would be unbelievable in a game' Chaotic Evil nation of Nazi Germany fielded military units that used excellent tactics all the way from small unit to operational level.
 

How do you play a devil and demon differently, and how does the "L" or "C" factor into that? All of the differences I can think of are spelled out in other text (including text from other editions and other forms of the game, like CRPGs), not just from the two-letter code.
I go by the 4e approach. Devils want power and want to be the ones on top. Demons want to watch the world burn, either to enjoy the fire or because they are creatures of flame and want to make the world theirs and uninhabitable for its current occupants. The succubus was moved in 4e from demon to devil because they are about control and corruption. A stereotypical demon would be a Maw Beast - a walking hungry thing.
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
How on earth am I not interested in exploring moral complexities in the above hypothetical?
The DM says this is evil and this isn't. Don't like it there's the door.
I don't know where anyone could have come to the conclusion you weren't interested in exploring moral complexities or that the alignment rules as written and as frequently enforced stifle that exploration.

It is truly a mystery for the ages.

For my part, I just love how people can argue for pages and pages-- for years and years-- over alignment's value to the game when the arguments themselves are evidence that its most fundemental premises are self-contradictory.
 

Exactly how often do real life military squads or platoons, or the equivalent units in less organized forces, break down into squabbling between their units in the middle of a 30-second long deadly fight? That's what 'chaotic creatures don't coordinate and cooperate during combat' actually translates to in real life, not large-scale social movements fracturing into subgroups over longer-than-a-minute times and without the threat of guns directly firing at them.

I'm also confused by the implicit statement that, since this appears to be your characterization of Chaotic demons, it wouldn't apply to devils. Are you really saying that you'd expect devils "without the presence of strong leadership" to avoid fracturing into squabbling subgroups, even though that happens all the time in published works? If it's not a difference between devils and demons based on their alignment, what does it have to do with this specific conversation?



I'd also suggest reading about real-life political ideologies and what happens when small groups of them are involved in combat situations, because real people don't behave like you're saying. I mean, even the 'so over the top it would be unbelievable in a game' Chaotic Evil nation of Nazi Germany fielded military units that used excellent tactics all the way from small unit to operational level.
Have you never heard about a bad or obnoxious commander getting killed "accidentally" by a lost bullet from his own company/unit? It did happen, does happen and will continue to happen. This why the military investigate any officer's death when it is possible. Because such things happen in real life combat. Is it so hard to believe that demons, the epitome of chaos and evil can do it?

And as was so often said:" Evil feeds upon itself."
 

Oofta

Legend
I do ignore alignment.

The problem that I see is that, each individual player or table may find alignment very useful, but it's so depending on that individual's or table's belief that it's very hard for it to be consistent across the board. Like, would a Lawful person respect a high-ranking individual who is incompetent? (Or who isn't evil, good, or neutral enough.) Wanting to remove that individual from power and put a better-suited person in their place is at least a bit chaotic, especially if there aren't any hard and fast laws for expelling someone from office. And a Chaotic person can have great respect for someone just because of their title and status, even if there's no actual power in that title. They just might decide that the highest-ranked member of the Pastry Chef Guild is more worthy of respect than the Queen, because the Master Pastry Chef is really, really good at their job and clearly earned that title through hard work, while the Queen just had to be born to the right family.

And that doesn't even take into consideration people who play Lawful Awful or Chaotic Stupid or Neutral Boring.

Basically, while yes, I'm sure that you find alignment useful, I just don't think it's as useful as people think it is. I think people come in with a lot of their own decisions as to how individuals or societies work and only afterwards take alignment into consideration. (Seriously, how many people really play elven societies as Chaotic Good?)

I give a brief overview of how I view alignment in my session 0. Beyond that? I don't care if anyone follows a specific alignment or not. It's a guide for me as a DM, the players never know the alignments of NPCs or monsters. It's useful when I run a character. It's not a straightjacket, there is no penalty for not following your alignment (which we always ignored). Other than my broad no evil rule, I make no restrictions or judgements, I don't know or care what my PC's alignments are.

Therefore outside of a broad "don't do evil stuff, don't be a dick", it doesn't matter what individuals think of alignment. If someone does something I would consider evil I'll warn the player. Which is the issue I have with people saying we should get rid of it. There is no "wrong" way to run a specific alignment, I would just hope that people who do use it are reasonably consistent with in it's application. Despite what haters claim I find that most people are in the same ballpark in their interpretation of alignment.

As far as elves, I view them as a communal democracy. They may have kings and queens, but they only seem permanent from a human short-term perspective. I would peg a lot of depictions of elves as NG or even just straight up neutral.
 

Dessert Nomad

Adventurer
Have you never heard about a bad or obnoxious commander getting killed "accidentally" by a lost bullet from his own company/unit? It did happen, does happen and will continue to happen. This why the military investigate any officer's death when it is possible. Because such things happen in real life combat. Is it so hard to believe that demons, the epitome of chaos and evil can do it?

And as was so often said:" Evil feeds upon itself."

As I keep repeating and you keep overlooking, we were not talking about 'what will demons do' but 'what will demons do differently than devils that you can determine from the fact that they are Chaotic while devils are Lawful'. Are you asserting that devils, in contrast to demons, will not frag one of their leaders if they think they can get away with it? If devils also do it, then it fails to demonstrate an alignment difference. If you claim that devils don't do it, you're heavily at odds with the lore - a quick check on the Wiki entries for Zariel, Orcus, and Asmodeus show their subordinates constantly scheming to overthrow them.

As was so often said "Evil feeds upon itself" - but the difference in alignment between devils and demons is the law/chaos side, not good/evil.
 
Last edited:

hopeless

Adventurer
I picture elves as more Neutral with somewhat good tendencies however that does mean there are some evil tendencies too and I'm not talking drow here!
 

As I keep repeating and keep overlooking, we were not talking about 'what will demons do' but 'what will demons do differently than devils that you can determine from the fact that they are Chaotic while devils are Lawful'. Are you asserting that devils, in contrast to demons, will not frag one of their leaders if they think they can get away with it? If devils also do it, then it fails to demonstrate an alignment difference. If you claim that devils don't do it, you're heavily at odds with the lore - a quick check on the Wiki entries for Zariel, Orcus, and Asmodeus show their subordinates constantly scheming to overthrow them.

As was so often said "Evil feeds upon itself" - but the difference in alignment between devils and demons is the law/chaos side, not good/evil.
And did you forget my first answer to you? I have shown you when and why, and you replied that no military units would do such tactical blunders. I show they did and still do and yet, you bring back the same argument about law vs chaos that I have shown you... So just read again the previous post and keep in my the other. You will have all the answers you need to prove that this part of the alignment works. And if this one does, then the other aspects do too!😁
 


Faolyn

(she/her)
Interesting list, thanks for sharing.

Assuming the 2024 revision removes alignment (which seems likely), going to be interesting to see how some of those change. For example, will artifacts that expect evil wielders be perfectly cool for pious paladins to use? Or will they now look for specific BIFT descriptors? Or will DMs just get to choose whether a PC is "evil" enough?
I think those artifacts would work extra hard in corrupting good people, probably by inflicting unpleasant Flaws on them.
 

As I keep repeating and you keep overlooking, we were not talking about 'what will demons do' but 'what will demons do differently than devils that you can determine from the fact that they are Chaotic while devils are Lawful'. Are you asserting that devils, in contrast to demons, will not frag one of their leaders if they think they can get away with it? If devils also do it, then it fails to demonstrate an alignment difference. If you claim that devils don't do it, you're heavily at odds with the lore - a quick check on the Wiki entries for Zariel, Orcus, and Asmodeus show their subordinates constantly scheming to overthrow them.

As was so often said "Evil feeds upon itself" - but the difference in alignment between devils and demons is the law/chaos side, not good/evil.
Devils will do it on occasion if they think it will be of benefit to themselves and that they can get away with it. This is because their Lawfulness is tainted by Evil (unlike the modrons), though a devil that tries to work their way up the hierarchy based on treachery alone will likely find themselves overwhelmed when it comes to actually being able to meet soul quotas, lead troops in the Blood War, and other duties. All devils ultimately answer to Asmodeus and are subservient to him, so they can't just bully other devils into submission like a demon would; they have to be able to do their jobs or be demoted.

Meanwhile, demons frequently fight amongst one another unless forced by a more powerful demon to cooperate under threat of destruction, and even then there are lots of demon lords and would-be demon lords warring against one another. If Demogorgon, Graz'zt, Orcus, Yeenoghu, Baphomet, Zuggtmoy, Juiblex, Fraz-Urb'luu, Kostchtchie, Malcanthet, Dagon, Pazuzu, Oublivae, Ugudenk, and the many other demon lords actually worked together they'd probably be able to defeat the devils and the Nine Hells relatively quickly with the sheer size of the Abyss' hordes. The thing is that they'll never work together (or if some did, it won't be long), because each is too covetous of being the greatest of demon kind to compromise. It'd be more likely for an outsider to learn the true names of a large number of demon lords and force them to work together than for them to do it on their own.

There are those among the archdevils who wish to take Asmodeus' place, but they're still willing to play their role in the system while Asmodeus is at the top because it is through the system that they gain and maintain the power that Asmodeus sees fit to grant. Meanwhile, the demon lords would be loath to fall in line under Demogorgon or any other leader both because they do not personally benefit from the authority and power of a leader the way that all devils in existence benefit from Asmodeus and because it would be against their nature to suppress their individual desires and serve.
 
Last edited:


Devils will do it on occasion if they think it will be of benefit to themselves and that they can get away with it. This is because their Lawfulness is tainted by Evil (unlike the modrons), though a devil that tries to work their way up the hierarchy based on treachery alone will likely find themselves overwhelmed when it comes to actually being able to meet soul quotas, lead troops in the Blood War, and other duties. All devils ultimately answer to Asmodeus and are subservient to him, so they can't just bully other devils into submission like a demon would; they have to be able to do their jobs or be demoted.

Meanwhile, demons frequently fight amongst one another unless forced by a more powerful demon to cooperate under threat of destruction, and even then there are lots of demon lords and would-be demon lords warring against one another. If Demogorgon, Graz'zt, Orcus, Yeenoghu, Baphomet, Zuggtmoy, Juiblex, Fraz-Urb'luu, Kostchtchie, Malcanthet, Dagon, Pazuzu, Oublivae, Ugudenk, and the many other demon lords actually worked together they'd probably be able to defeat the devils and the Nine Hells relatively quickly with the sheer size of the Abyss' hordes. The thing is that they'll never work together (or if some did, it won't be long), because each is too covetous of being the greatest of demon kind to compromise. It'd be more likely for an outsider to learn the true names of a large number of demon lords and force them to work together than for them to do it on their own.

There are those among the archdevils who wish to take Asmodeus' place, but they're still willing to play their role in the system while Asmodeus is at the top because it is through the system that they gain and maintain the power that Asmodeus sees fit to grant. Meanwhile, the demon lords would be loath to fall in line under Demogorgon or any other leader both because they do not personally benefit from the authority and power of a leader the way that all devils in existence benefit from Asmodeus and because it would be against their nature to suppress their individual desires and serve.
Excellent analysis. Same stance as I have but much more detailed. And, though we do not know each other, we have the same understanding. Impressive for something that is supposed to be so vague that no one can agree on anything on it...

In all the tables I have been on or simply coached; most of the times, alignments are relatively straight forward and most disagreements were minor squabbles. I find it strange that those that are pro alignment agree about the generalities but not those against it... I guess it is simply a matter of preferences.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top