Alignment (role-playing games)

In some role-playing games, alignment is a categorisation of the moral and ethical perspective of the player characters, non-player characters, monsters, and societies in the game.

Not all role-playing games have such a system, and some narrativist role-players consider such a restriction on their characters' outlook on life to be overly constraining. However, some regard a concept of alignment to be essential to role-playing, since they regard role-playing as an exploration of the themes of good and evil.[1]

Dungeons & Dragons

Original Dungeons & Dragons

The original Dungeons & Dragons game created a three alignment system of Law, Neutrality and Chaos.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, this became a two-dimensional grid, one axis of which measures a "moral" continuum between good and evil, and the other "ethical" between law and chaos, with a middle ground of "neutrality" on both axes for those who are indifferent, committed to balance, or lacking the capacity to judge. This system was retained more or less unchanged through the game's second and third editions[2] and, after having been simplified in the fourth edition, was restored in the current (fifth) edition. Any given character has one of 9 possible alignments, each corresponding to a combination of one variable from one axis with another from the other axis:

Lawful Good Neutral Good Chaotic Good
Lawful Neutral Neutral Neutral
True Neutral
Chaotic Neutral
Lawful Evil Neutral Evil Chaotic Evil

Neutral in this scheme can be one of two versions: Neutral/Neutral, referring to characters who have no interest in (or no ability to care about) the choice, or "True Neutral," referring to characters who not only actively remain neutral but believe it is necessary to enforce the balance of the world on others and would act in any required fashion to bring about that balance.

Conflicts/dilemmas and resolutions

A character who is nonneutral on both axes (i.e., neutral on neither) may face a dilemma when the two aspects of his/her alignment impose conflicting demands; this scenario is most common for Lawful Good characters in that neither of their sub-alignments condones deviation from its demands. For example, a Lawful Good character in the situation of Antigone as depicted by Sophocles would either be unable to decide whether to bury her brother Polynices' body in violation of Theban law or feel forced to both bury the body and accept the death penalty prescribed for doing so; Antigone chooses the latter path and even imposes the penalty on herself by committing suicide. By contrast, although a Neutral Good character is more than willing to cooperate with the demands of the law and its officials when doing so serves Good ends, s/he does not feel intrinsically beholden to them. In the event that doing the right thing requires the bending or breaking of rules, a Neutral Good character does not suffer the same inner conflict as would a Lawful Good character.

In AD&D-modeled games in which character descriptions and rules are specific enough, such dilemmas may be resolved by reference to which axis is more important to the character's nature and/or which axis holds the more extreme value for character alignment. Where alignment axes are expressed as continua rather than as mere discrete items in an ordered series, the calculation is one of importance times extremity, equivalent to the "force times distance" or "weight times distance" calculation of which way a physical balance will tip. A game's nomenclature may reflect this distinction by distinguishing between, e.g., "Lawful Good" and "Good Lawful," with the predominant description coming either first (parsing these examples as "Lawful, Good" or "Good, Lawful," respectively) or second (parsing them respectively as "Lawful subtype of Good type" and "Good subtype of Lawful type"). In such games, the number of possible alignments increases from 9 to 13 by splitting each of the alignment grid's four corners into two variants.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition

In the 4th edition of the game, the alignment system[3] was simplified, reducing the number of alignments to five; however, this simplification was abandoned in the fifth edition.

World of Darkness

Characters in White Wolf's old World of Darkness games have "Nature" and "Demeanour" characteristics that describe how the characters really are and how they behave superficially. The Nature and Demeanour are freeform, allowing players to create new types.

Additionally, in White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade and derivatives (such as Ghouls: Fatal Addiction), vampire and human characters may have a "Humanity" trait ranging from 0 to 10. The higher levels are the compassionate and humane while the lower levels are psychopathic (further enhanced by the predatory nature of the vampire psyche). The average living, non-magic human has a Humanity score of about 7 or 8. Other Paths (moral philosophies) were created for vampire types. The "path" mechanic was sharply criticized for providing an "out" for gamers to avoid having to pay in-game penalties for actions which would exact them from a character on the humanity path. Kindred of the East provided a system for "dharmas" which superficially resembled path mechanics, but was meant to represent the characters mastery of an occult philosophy rather than to gauge its moral state.

However, with the recent re-imagining of the World of Darkness setting, this has changed. In the new editions of the White Wolf games (new World of Darkness, Vampire: The Requiem, Mage: The Awakening, etc.), all characters have a morality trait ranked from 0 to 10, though what it is called varies from game to game, and what sorts of behaviour will raise or lower it depend on the character type as well (though in Vampire: The Requiem it is still Humanity and is still affected by the same behaviours). In addition to this, all characters now have a Virtue and a Vice based upon the traditional seven of each, which represents their major (though not only) vice and virtue. This is intended to illustrate that even the very good are never perfect, although characters with a score closer to 10 will be much more capable of avoiding evil behaviour while characters of lower moral tone will begin to care less about and get off more on simply being wicked.

A vampire with a Humanity of close to 10 respects and admires the gentler aspects of mankind, seeking to rise above himself and bring a more compassionate and life-affirming tone to vampire society. A vampire with a very low Humanity (between 2 and 4) will be unmoved by the deaths of innocents, possibly including those of small children, whereas a vampire with a Humanity of 0 is a frenzied, inhuman monster (a wight) who must be killed for the good of the vampire community. Similarly, a mage with a score (called Wisdom) close to 10 avoids using magic whenever it is not necessary, and only indulges in its usage in order to better and enrich others and rarely himself. A mage with a low Wisdom seeks power for its own sake, disregarding the needs and the well-being of others; a mage with a score of 0 is considered an abomination, and may be someone who magically binds others (robbing them of their free will), or a soul-eater.

Additionally, unlike Dungeons & Dragons in which every character is subject to at least a cursory moral classification, not all World of Darkness characters are subject to morality: some beings, such as very old and very powerful Spirits (like the Idigam), or entities from the Abyss (like the Acamoth) are beyond manifest conception and thus are outside any measure of useful definition.

Unlike the majority of other Role Playing Games, the World of Darkness "alignment" system is meant not to reflect philosophical convictions about 'right' and 'wrong', which are left entirely up to the creator of the character, but rather, they represent the generalities of the character's state of mind. Believing in or adhering to a certain set of abstract moralisms is not considered to be as strong a motivating factor as the concrete conditions of what a character's personality may bring them to do. While philosophical moralism may play a strong role in a character's thought, lifestyle, and development, these may be violated with only minor to moderate repercussions, depending on the situation, while striking out against a character's basic temperament carries strong psychological consequences, and the behaviour of comprehensively changing a character's disposition takes a great deal of time and diligence. This system was designed specifically by White Wolf in order to avoid having characters pigeonholed as stereotypical heroes and villains who are often driven by beliefs so strong they seem to be psychic imperatives. It was created with the goal in mind of enforcing the moral and ethical 'grey area' within which the World of Darkness setting as a whole resides, and generating focus around the struggle of each character throughout the Chronicle (WoD Campaign) to syncretise their personality with their beliefs and the situations which test them.

d20 Modern

d20 Modern uses "allegiance", an ordered list of groups and ideals the character is aligned with, ranked in approximate order of increasing priority. Characters' allegiances determine a 'rule of thumb' for their reactions to situations, in that they will generally favor the interests or outlook of their highest allegiance, or their next where the first does not apply, etc. This generally allows for snap-decisions on moral or ethical questions, in keeping with the rapid pace of gameplay.

DC Heroes

DC Heroes from Mayfair Games (now known as MEGS, Mayfair Exponential Game System) used the characteristic "Motivation" to describe a character's ethical behavior. They were selected from a list divided into "heroic" (upholding the good, responsibility of power, seeking justice, thrill of adventure, and unwanted power) and "villainous" (mercenary, thrill seeker, psychopath, power lust, and nihilist). In the MEGS licensed game Blood of Heroes by Pulsar Games, a set of "anti-heroic" variations on some of the heroic and villainous motivations were presented, allowing characters to exist in moral and ethical gray areas.

To enforce the motivations, players are awarded or deducted character points, which have various uses, depending on their actions. For instance, good characters are awarded points for good and heroic behaviour while evil behaviour can cost them.


GURPS uses "mental disadvantages" to model the personality of character ("good" and "evil" personality traits are disadvantages because they limit or impose behaviour). Mental disadvantages include ordinary personality traits ("honest", "curious", "shy", "bad temper"), phobias ("scotophobia", "triskaidekaphobia"), mental illnesses ("delusions", "hallucinations", "manic depression"), and various self- or externally imposed behaviours ("vow", "code of honor", "addiction"). Characters gain extra points by taking disadvantages, allowing them to buy more advantages and skills. However, only the extremes of behavior are defined as strong disadvantages, while normal predilections and preferences are referred to as "quirks". Also, if a personality trait or physical trait would normally be defined as a "disadvantage" is created for a character in a game of GURPS where it would actually be an advantage, it's termed an advantage instead—and costs points.


Palladium uses a system where alignments are described in detailed terms with alignments describing how a character acts in a certain situation; whether they will lie, how much force they will use against innocents, how they view the law, and so on. The alignments are organized into three broad categories: Good, Selfish, and Evil. The seven core alignments are Principled (Good), Scrupulous (Good), Unprincipled (Selfish), Anarchist (Selfish), Aberrant (Evil), Miscreant (Evil), and Diabolic (Evil). An eighth alignment, Taoist, was introduced in Mystic China, but has not seen wide use.

Each category contains answers to a set of questions on moral behaviors. For example, given the question "Would you keep a wallet full of cash you found?", most selfish or evil alignments would keep it, while most good alignments would seek to return the wallet to its owner. The categories are not organized into a pattern like Dungeons & Dragons. The system specifically does not include any sort of "neutral" alignment on the grounds that a neutral point of view is antithetical to the sort of active role heroes and villains should play in a story.

Shin Megami Tensei series

Shin Megami Tensei, Shin Megami Tensei II, Shin Megami Tensei: Nine and Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine uses a system where the player's alignments may shift towards Law, Neutral or Chaos. A player's alignment affects demon use in the game. Demons are creatures in the world of Megami Tensei that the players battle or befriend. These demons are based on mythological creatures or deities from different regions and religions. A player's alignment also affects what quests they may take or the amount of money needed to pay for certain quests or items. In Catherine, it will alter the ending received.

Players may shift toward any alignment by answering certain questions on the storyline quests called acts or by donating money to the alignments' respective Churches: the Messaian Church (Law) or the Gaian Church (Chaos).

Star Wars

The alignments of the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Roleplaying Game are limited to Light Side and Dark Side, though there are variations within these.

In the older West End Games game, behavior is controlled with Force points which indicate one use of it per point. When using The Force for evil deeds will give the character a Dark Side point which can accumulate and put the character at risk of being turned to the Dark Side and player loses control of it. By contrast, self-serving deeds with the force simply permanently costs the player the point while heroic deeds allow the player to regain the point. In addition, using the Force for a heroic deed at a dramatically appropriate moment, such as Luke Skywalker firing his proton torpedoes in the Death Star's exhaust port in the Battle of Yavin, will allow the player to earn an extra force point.

Unknown Armies

Characters in Unknown Armies have "passions," specific stimuli that bring out certain behavior and reflect the character's deepest personality traits. Every character has one "fear passion" that gives the character a bonus chance to escape a specific kind of frightening stimulus, one "rage passion" that helps the character lash out against a particular frustrating stimulus, and one "noble passion" that provides a bonus to selfless behavior for the sake of some greater cause. Passions are invented freeform during character creation, but each fear passion is tied to one of the five types of psychological stress in UA: Violence, Helplessness, Isolation, Self, or the Unnatural.

Warhammer FRP

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay originally used a linear five placing system: Law - Good - Neutral - Evil - Chaos. In changes of alignment (for whatever reason) a character moved one place along to the next position - so for example a neutral character could move to good or evil but not to chaotic.

In practice the system was used to regulate reactions between characters of different alignments.

In the newer edition, the concept of alignment (as well as, apparently, the presence of 'Law' as the antithesis of Chaos) has been discarded, with the emphasis more on the personalities and unique natures of characters, rather than a linear alignment system.

Alternate methods

Some games have used other methods to encourage certain behaviors. For instance, superhero games like Marvel Super-Heroes and DC Heroes each have points that players could earn with heroic behaviour or lose with inappropriate actions. Given that these points could be used to improve their characters, or affect dice roll results in their favor, the players have an incentive to have their characters behave heroically and morally to earn them. The Star Wars RPG by West End Games uses the rules governing the use of The Force for the same purpose.


  1. Cook, Monte; Bruce, R. Cordell; Paul, Bender (2002). Book of Vile Darkness (1. printing ed.). Renton, Wash.: Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 9780786926503.
  2. "The Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Game System License". Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  3. "4th Edition Excerpts: Alignment". 2008-06-02. Archived from the original on June 2, 2008. Retrieved 2015-06-12.

External links

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