PDA

View Full Version : Reinterpreting the alignment system, while sticking to the classics [PEACH]



gkathellar
2010-12-02, 02:26 PM
I have a love-hate relationship with D&D's alignment system. On the one hand, it's useful and reasonably clever - but on the other hand, it's poorly thought-out, restrictive and kind of inelegant. But the key problem seems to be that it doesn't make any sense as described. Tome of Fiends outlines this objection in more detail, but the problem is essentially this: law and chaos are totally arcane, incomprehensible terms as described in the PHB, with good and evil being only slightly better because we can project our cultural biases onto those.

The solution, I think, is to better define the terms involved in alignment, to give them greater clarity and meaning. Essential to this is avoiding cultural bias - not entirely possible, but it can certainly be minimized. Outlined below are new, clearer takes on the two axes, as well as less totally meaningless descriptions of all nine alignments.

Good-Evil Axis
Good: A good character intentionally puts his own quality of existence at risk with the express purpose of improving the quality of another's existence.

Neutral: A neutral character does not feel driven to help others, or at least not to risk themselves in doing so, but has some compunctions about hurting others.

Evil: An evil character will worsen the quality of another's existence with little to no regard for that fact, despite an awareness of their actions.

Lawful-Chaotic Axis
Lawful: A lawful character behaves regularly and according to a code of conduct, which may be philosophical, social, moral or a mix of these or other elements.

Neutral: A neutral character has a code they hold loosely, or a way they prefer to behave, but they might compromise on this point when it suits them to do so.

Chaotic: A chaotic character has no particular regard for regularity or discipline, has no particular code of conduct, and may even hold such in poor taste.

Lawful Good, "The Idealist"
A lawful good character sees morality as a defined set of right actions which improve or defend others and wrong actions which do the opposite, and seeks to live according to what is right. While a code of ethics might fetter his capacity to do good, it can serve as a bulwark in dark times, steer him away from the good intentions leading to Hell, and force him to seek better options when none are acceptable. On the other hand, it can make him rigid and inflexible, even foolish. The knight-errant with an uncompromising sense of honor and the pacifist who would rather die than harm another living creature are probably lawful good. So is the judge who can't let off a justified criminal for fear of precedent, or the hero who won't retreat from a hopeless position because he refuses darkness another inch of land while he yet lives.

Lawful Neutral, "The Fettered"
A lawful neutral character knows that their life is built on personal discipline. Wherever this discipline comes from, whatever its implications for the larger world, the lawful neutral character knows that straying from it is tantamount to betraying herself. While she may go against her wants and desires, betraying her impulses, she regards them as distractions from the person her devotion allows her to be. This can make her an unbreakable pillar of self-confidence, but it can also create a selfish, rigid, unhappy person. The judge who deals law with a unflinching sense of impartiality and the druid who devotes everything to the land can be lawful neutral. So can the pacifist who doesn't help others because her oaths of asceticism are absolute, or the priest too devoted to self-cultivation to notice the world crumbling around her.

Lawful Evil, "The Corrupt"
A lawful evil character believes it's important to live life a particular way, and is either totally unconcerned with the harm that code causes or actively enamored of it. A person of this kind truly, genuinely believes in duty and discipline. But the discipline he upholds brings harm to others, and the duty he lives by is antithetical to the continued happiness of the world. This can come down to an overarching view of how the world should be, or it can be nothing more than personal discipline, but he follows it of his own will, ignoring or refusing to admit its negative consequences for others. The knight-errant who fights a kind and just lord over a petty slight to his honor is probably lawful evil, much like the druid who persecutes others over any difference in dogma. So are the priest whose dogmatic attitude keeps subversive elements out of the church, or the hero whose nationalism drives him to merciless defense of his country.

Neutral Evil, "The Spiteful"
A neutral evil character is a genuinely nasty person, who has no compunctions about hurting others and justifies it with a code of behavior when it suits her. This is not to say she regards her code of behavior as anything less than genuine, or is simply playing at belief in it. Rather, she is perfectly willing to deviate from it when that code is inconvenient, allowing her both flexibility and something to stand by when she needs it. But both her code and her deviations from it drive her to hurt others, and this often takes the form of naked malevolence and cruelty. The priest who twists dogma to attack her enemies and the warlord who kills prisoners with no useful information could be neutral evil. So could the warrior who discards his impeccable honor to fight cruelly and savagely when absolutely needed, or the druid who ignores slights against the natural order from her close friends.

Chaotic Evil, "The Monster"
A chaotic evil character believes he is totally free. He has no moral compunctions to manipulate him, and no code to adhere to. If he hates someone, he finds a way to hurt them. If he wants something, he finds a way to take it. This doesn't make him impulsive or reckless, because he can still prioritize his goals and decide what is important to him. In his own eyes, he is truly in control of his own life. Usually, however, he is ruled by his impulses, incapable of going against his desires, and his own freedom has become a cage of sorts. He is an animal in this sense, if a cunning animal, guided only by harmful wants. A warlord who conquers and slaughters simply because he wants to, a knight-errant who terrorizes the countryside, a warrior lives to spill the blood of the mighty and a hero driven only by the opportunity for violence and glory are likely chaotic evil.

Chaotic Neutral, "The Unfettered"
A chaotic neutral character is interested in herself, for the most part. She has no particular need for a code of behavior and likely finds the idea of tying herself down in that fashion abhorrent. Her desires guide her, but those desires are not by necessity bestial and uncomplicated, and their expression can be just as complex and thoughtful as any discipline or ideals. The best way to be oneself, in her mind, is to be oneself. This attitude risks solipsistic and selfish behavior, and without mindfulness it can degenerate into impulsivity. Still, there is something to be said for knowing what you want. The mage who experiments and travels ceaselessly to satisfy his curiosity and the warrior who pushes himself to become the best of his kind may be chaotic neutral. So could the warlord who loses a clear victory to his impulses or the vigilante who worsens a local situation by not taking his actions seriously.

Chaotic Good, "The Pragmatist"
A chaotic good character thinks the right thing to do in any situation is the one that feels right, not the one dictated to you by a code or a set of beliefs. If your beliefs get in the way of doing the right thing, he says, then you shouldn't have them. He believes that morality is not so simple that you can define it in any situation, much less every situation. Because of this, he is uniquely flexible in his ability to help others. But with no guiding principles, he can fail to account for the scale of its consequences or implications. A hero who discards his own honor to defeat the forces of darkness or a vigilante that devotes his entire life to punishing the wicked could be chaotic good. So could a knight-errant who steals from the rich and gives to the poor and inadvertently drives up taxes, or a mage that ensures year after year of good harvests despite the overwhelming toll on the land.

Neutral Good, "The Benevolent"
A neutral good character believes in a set of moral values, and that while firm adherence to those values is important, so is the wherewithal to do the right thing when it's clearly outside of them. While this flexibility can come from weakness, an inability to stand without a code or hold to it entirely, it can also rise from self-awareness, a faith in the deeper meaning of a rule, or acknowledgement that something good is not necessarily perfect. Such compromise can lead to ineffectiveness, but it can also lead to the path of wisdom. The judge who gives a justified criminal a lighter sentence, or the benevolent mage who acts only rarely for fear others will come to rely on her, might be neutral good. So might the pacifist who weakens her message by killing a dictator or a vigilante holding others to a different code than herself.

True Neutral, "The Unaligned"
A true neutral character is bound by neither strong behavioral convictions nor a deep preoccupation with personal freedom, neither morally bankrupt nor driven to righteousness. They are in some ways disciplined and cruel, and in other ways self-indulgent and benevolent. In most cases, they simply have no strong beliefs regarding any of these things, but rarely they take the position that these are not fundamentally contradictory ways to live. Most shy away from extreme behaviors, doing their best to look out for themselves, helping the people they like, and occasionally impeding those they don't. Most are content not thinking about themselves or the state of the world. When they break from this mold, they don't usually stay true neutral for long, but those that do become the reluctant heroes and cautious champions of legend.

Thoughts?

hamishspence
2010-12-02, 02:51 PM
Interesting.


Good: A good character intentionally puts his own quality of existence at risk with the express purpose of improving the quality of another's existence.

Neutral: A neutral character does not feel driven to help others, or at least not to risk themselves in doing so, but has some compunctions about hurting others.

Evil: An evil character will worsen the quality of another's existence with little to no regard for that fact, despite an awareness of their actions.


If a person actively seeks to worsen the quality of life of one group- out of hatred- but at the same time risks his own quality of existence, to improve that of another group- what happens?

Is he Good? Neutral (the sum of the two)? or Evil (evil trait outweighs Good one)?

What if the "hated group" are villains in general, and the "helped group" are everyone else?

This sort of character could be both crueller than the average serial killer, yet more altruistic than the average hero-

they inflict extreme suffering, for pleasure, on those that they see (quite reasonably) as villains- robbers who murder those they rob, and various other extremely nasty people.

Yet they will gladly risk their own life to help an innocent stranger.

A lot of Evil characters might be like this- to the "hated group" (whatever it is) they behave monstrously- but they can be kind, courteous, and helpful to everyone else.

gkathellar
2010-12-02, 03:24 PM
A serial killer who only kills serial killers is still a serial killer. (Also a serial killer who only kills serial killers that kill serial killers is still a serial killer assuming he can find more than one target. Or any targets.)

But that answer is overly simplistic and your question deserves better.

Evil on this standard doesn't exclude doing nice things for some people - all it requires is that you have a tendency to place no value on the lives of others. A character who believes that any significant number of people's lives are genuinely worthless and that it doesn't matter what is done to those people, or is prone to thinking that way about people whenever provoked, is evil.

Nor does good exclude hate or killing (although it certainly doesn't propogate them). Rather, it encompasses an attitude about hate and killing and suffering in general - that while they may be necessary, they are never desirable, and their necessity should always be questioned. A good character may cause suffering, but they never want to cause suffering.

A neutral character falls in between - he can occasionally regard someone's life as worthless, but it's a rare thing and never without significant provocation. He generally places a value on people's lives, but not so much as a good character.

Hopefully this is useful.

hamishspence
2010-12-02, 03:31 PM
Evil on this standard doesn't exclude doing nice things for some people - all it requires is that you have a tendency to place no value on the lives of others. A character who believes that any significant number of people's lives are genuinely worthless and that it doesn't matter what is done to those people, or is prone to thinking that way about people whenever provoked, is evil.

Sounds about right- "no value on the lives of some others" anyway- the Evil character might have a genuine ability to value the lives of most people,

yet, for the "category of people they dehumanize" they not only don't value them- but value harming them- being willing to see them as not just worthless, but of "negative value".

It's a good place to start. A strongly Good person might say "I'm not saying do not fight- I'm saying do not hate"

or (in Star Wars) "Don't give in to hate. That leads to the dark side".

A good character, if they ever have a truly sadistic moment toward an enemy, are likely to repent it. A Neutral character might at least be wary of embracing that side of themselves. And an Evil character might embrace it wholesale.

It's not the only form of Evil, of course, but it's a possible trap for initially Good characters to fall into.

And an exceptionally Evil villain might lure the Good characters into evilness this way- by encouraging them to lose respect for the value of life of "bad guys":

"If you want to be profound
If you really gotta justify
Take a breath and look around
A lotta folks deserve to die!"
(Audrey II, in Little Shop of Horrors)

gkathellar
2010-12-03, 07:50 PM
Bump for great justice.

Arceius
2010-12-03, 10:20 PM
This my man is an excellent take on the subject. While I already knew this stuff it really is hard to explain it to people >_>. I'm pretty bad at defining things and such.

Warclam
2010-12-06, 03:29 PM
This is the best description of the alignment system I've ever seen. Bookmarked for future reference.

WhiteDrag0n
2011-08-08, 09:36 AM
This is an interesting idea, and sparked an idea of my own. It was drawn out by your phrase "Essential to this is avoiding cultural bias" This is not just "not entirely possible" I think it is down right impossible!

This is because, as human beings it is difficult for us to understand an antisocial society or a trans social society. A world that believes it is best to kill anyone you meet in order to gain their power can't exist in a real world, but in a fantasy world this is possible. A hive mind might not exist out here, but in D&D I can think of at least three races that use this setup.

So instead of trying to make the alignment system global, what if you make it hinged upon the morals and laws of a given society within the game world? Then the Good-Evil Axis might look like this: (I borrowed heavily...)

Good-Evil Axis
Good: A good character intentionally puts his own quality of existence at risk with the express purpose of upholding the morals of the society to which he belongs

Neutral: A neutral character does not feel obliged to society's morals, or at least not to his own detriment, but has some compunctions about breaking taboos

Evil: An evil character breaks social morals and commits taboos for his own benefit, despite an awareness of his actions.

Societies wouldn't be evil or good, chaotic or Lawful, they would simply be.

This does have a problem however. Before your Holy sword does it's damage the DM would have to decide if the warrior of the neighboring country is evil or good based upon the conceptions of your beliefs and society. This doesn't seem like that big a deal to me. Most monsters will retain their alignments because they come from completely alien morality systems and most societies probably had an alignment associated with them already, so you can use that as the basis for alignment based weaponry and magical items.

The more complex a society you make the more difficult this would become to manage, so I imagine this wouldn't work for some DMs...

Just a thought

gkathellar
2011-08-08, 10:55 AM
My reason to avoid such an approach is threefold:
If I wanted to play a game with fundamentally subjective morality, I wouldn't use an alignment system at all.
As you've mentioned, it makes the adjudication and usage of alignment-based effects incredibly strange and awkward. Just how do Celestials act, for starters?
I accept the existence of cultural relativism, but refuse to subscribe to it. I'll expand on this last point a little, in order to explain how I chose to set up the Good-Evil Axis.

There are some things done in the world which are culturally acceptable that are nonetheless horrifying. Every day, women are burned alive for offending their in-laws or failing to please their husbands. People are mutilated as part of custom or ritual, against their will. How do you classify that kind of thing? Just because it's culturally allowable doesn't make it right, but who are we to define good and evil for people who have never met us?

So I tried to stick with the simplest possible measurement here: if an action is undertaken with the express intent of harm, it's an evil action. If it's undertaken with the express intent of help, it's a good action. Good people risk harm in order to help, evil people have absolutely no problems with causing harm. That way, you can still pass judgment where it's needed, yet at the same time have a fairly inclusive standard of neutrality.

There's broad strains of cultural relativism in there already if the Aztecs are right and we do need to shed blood to keep the sky up, then human sacrifice could probably be objectively good, for example. But if the Aztecs are living in a standard D&D world? And they're just shedding blood for an angry pantheon when any other pantheon would take their prayers instead? Well, then maybe they're objectively evil.

hamishspence
2011-08-08, 01:36 PM
What about the concept of "unwitting evil acts" raised in the Atonement spell description in PHB?

Would they exist here- and if so, what would count as "unwittingly evil- but still evil"?

Zeofar
2011-08-08, 03:06 PM
This is a good effort at explaining the alignment system more clearly. You've succeeded in half the battle by recognizing that clear definition, rather than vague impression, is the core of a working alignment system, which earns you points from me.

The Good-Evil axis is solid, and most of my concerns would apply to the whole work, so we'll wait on that.

The Law-Chaos axis presents an issue by falling into a common trap: Law vs. Chaos revolves around whether a person follows a code of conduct. While there is much precedence for this viewpoint in official material, it just doesn't work. The most apparent failing is underlined by the Robin Hood case, of which you made passing recognition in the Chaotic Good description. Robin Hood, who is nigh-universally recognized as the avatar of Chaotic Goodness, certainly has a code of conduct and acts very reliably; this doesn't jibe with the premise that to be Chaotic, your behavior has to be pragmatic, irregular, highly changeable, or totally random. You'll find that following a code of conduct - in the general sense - is most usually a character trait, not a highly important criterion for alignment. In my mind, it is, rather, a character's or an action's reaction to the inherent value of society which defines the Law - Chaos axis. As far as I can tell, this is what most official material on Law - Chaos dances around, except when it specifically tries to play Code of Conduct.

As for the paired descriptions (besides the ones I had a strong feeling would be relevant in my reply: Lawful and Chaotic Good), I've mostly ignored them because they serve no purpose. The alignment system doesn't need to explain what each pairing means - indeed, doing so is often needlessly limiting and only occasionally helpful. It merely needs to act as a clear and simple fulcrum for judging both characters and actions, which brings me to my next point.

It, like the original system, focuses too much on characters. For numerous reasons, the alignment system has to be clearly and readily applicable to actions. The Good - Evil axis works decently in this regard, but while considering it I found myself thinking back to the character more than should be necessary. The Law - Chaos axis utterly fails here. While it will always be the axis more dependent on the character, it fails to have any meaning without broad context and cannot be applied sensibly to a specific action.

The axis descriptions feel like they're defining a type of behavior, rather than providing a way to judge characters, actions, and behavior, though less so than the original alignment descriptions. If I were you, I'd try to change that.

Overall, this is good, but it could be better. I'd recommend you refine it a bit more, at least trying to make it more generally applicable and getting it closer to the ideal of a fulcrum. I'd suggest that you consider dropping the alignment descriptions, as, while they may look nice, they don't truly serve a purpose.

gkathellar
2011-08-08, 03:50 PM
This is a good effort at explaining the alignment system more clearly. You've succeeded in half the battle by recognizing that clear definition, rather than vague impression, is the core part of a working alignment system, which earns you points from me there.

The Good-Evil axis is solid, and most of my concerns would apply to the whole work, so we'll wait on that.

Thank you. Nice of you to get the good stuff out of the way before we start bickering. :smallbiggrin:


The Law-Chaos axis presents an issue by falling into a common trap: Law vs. Chaos revolves around whether a person follows a code of conduct. While there is much precedence for this viewpoint in official material, it just doesn't work. The most apparent failing is underlined by the Robin Hood case, of which you made passing recognition in the Chaotic Good description. Robin Hood, who is nigh-universally recognized as the avatar of Chaotic Goodness, certainly has a code of conduct and acts very reliably; this doesn't jibe with the premise that to be Chaotic, your behavior has to be pragmatic, irregular, highly changeable, or totally random. You'll find that following a code of conduct - in the general sense - is most usually a character trait, not a highly important criteria for alignment. In my mind, it is, rather, a character's or an action's reaction to the inherent value of society which defines the Law - Chaos axis. As far as I can tell, this is what most official material on Law - Chaos dances around, except when it specifically tries to play Code of Conduct.

That's certainly the opinion a number of people seem to hold, and its an opinion some of the designers likewise seem to hold to but it's not one I share, mostly because it says very little about a person other than that they value society. My basic vision of the Law-Chaos axis is that it basically summarizes how you approach your desires and the values you hold. Fettered (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheFettered) and Unfettered (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheUnfettered).

As to the Robin Hood note: I wouldn't cast him as CG under any interpretation. In most of the fiction I've read, the man was extremely chivalrous and loyal to the crown, and he saw John as a usurper when the rightful kingship belonged to Richard. That's LG, NG or LN, depending on how you interpret things. I only ended up using a similar example because I was trying to use each archetypal example in several different alignments, and I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to subvert the Robin Hood myth. When I first used the word vigilante in CN's description, I was thinking of Batman.


As for the paired descriptions (besides the ones I had a strong feeling would be relevant in my reply: Lawful and Chaotic Good), I've mostly ignored them, because they serve no purpose. The alignment system doesn't need to explain what each pairing means - indeed, doing so is often needlessly limiting and only occasionally helpful. It merely needs to act as a clear and simple fulcrum for judging both characters and actions, which brings me to my next point.

I wrote them mostly to help me understand what I was ultimately getting at. I had a vision of how to rethink the axes, but only understood it once I actually figured out how they interacted. Of them, I'm most satisfied with the descriptions of Lawful Neutral, Chaotic Neutral and Chaotic Evil, which I feel give a lot of clarity to the system as a whole. (Conversely, I'm pretty sure I did the worst job with NG and NE.)


It, like the original system, focuses too much on characters. For numerous reasons, the alignment system has to be clearly and readily applicable to actions. The Good - Evil axis works decently in this regard, but while considering it I found myself thinking back to the character more than should be necessary. The Law - Chaos axis utterly fails here. While it will always be the axis more dependent on the character, it fails to have any meaning without broad context and cannot be applied sensibly to a specific action.

The axis descriptions also feel to define a type of behavior, rather than provide a way to judge characters, actions, and behavior, though less so than the original alignment descriptions. If I were you, I'd try to change that.

I absolutely disagree with your premise here. I'm not interested in the alignment system as anything other than a way to understand and explain characters. I'm not fond of changing a character's alignment so long as they behave with a degree of consistency relevant to that alignment, and so I don't care what alignment exactly a given action has unless it breaks from that internal consistency.

Even considering that alignment is a physical force in most D&D universes, I'm still chiefly interested in it as a symbolic force Mechanus is full of machines and ants because machines and ants have set behaviors they never deviate from, for example. Inevitables enforce order because they like to keep the universe properly tuned. Ad nauseum.


Overall, this is good, but it could be better. I'd recommend you refine it a bit more, at least trying to make it more generally applicable and getting it closer to the ideal of a fulcrum. I'd suggest that you consider dropping the alignment descriptions, as while they may look nice, they don't truly serve a purpose.

I'll consider what you've said with regards to the areas of the chart I'm less certain about, but for the most part I'm happy with the work I've done here. I'm certainly not removing the larger summaries: I didn't understand the full implications of my new interpretations for the axes until I wrote them, and I suspect they're of similar use to others. Still, thank you for the fairly expansive critique. I'll think about it, and certainly be open to any other comments you have.


What about the concept of "unwitting evil acts" raised in the Atonement spell description in PHB?

Would they exist here- and if so, what would count as "unwittingly evil- but still evil"?

I hate that spell and I think it should die in a fire.

That said, if I absolutely had to make a call regarding it, and I guess I do because the same wording is used in various Codes of Conduct, I would replace the word "Unwitting" with "Irresponsible." Simply put, if something bad happens because a character was genuinely out of the loop on the consequences of their actions, their actions weren't really capital-e Evil. If they were out of the loop because they were behaving bass-ackwards irresponsibly, that's a different story.

Ziegander
2011-08-08, 04:07 PM
You have some very strange ideas regarding what qualifies as Evil (and sometimes Chaotic) which, to me, appear to stem from a fundamentally poor definition of evil.

Your definition of Good is solid. However, if Evil is to be the opposite of Good, your definition of Evil should precisely oppose your definition of Good. It doesn't.

I propose the following definitions:

Good: A good character intentionally puts his own quality of existence at risk with the express purpose of improving the quality of another's existence.

Evil: An evil character intentionally puts the quality of another's existence at risk with the express purpose of improving his own quality of existence.

The important thing to remember is that Evil characters are selfish to the extreme. A Good character will set aside his wants to provide for others. A Neutral character actively pursues his wants but only as long as doing so doesn't take from others. But the Evil character is the one that lets nothing get between them and their wants.

So, a Lawful Evil character doesn't passively inflict suffering on the masses, all the while maintaining a willful ignorance. He upholds a code of ethics and intentionally exploits the codes of others in order to get what he wants.

A Neutral Evil character isn't merely someone who fights dishonorably in a desperate situation, rather he is someone who would slay children (something he normally finds ethically wrong) in order to use their lifeforce to maintain his own.

A Chaotic Evil character, while you described them well to some degree, isn't necessarily a "monster" or "ruled by base impulses." There's no reason that a Chaotic Evil character's desires are any more base than another persons. What makes him different is his willingness to abandon all ethical codes and his intentional harm of others in the pursuit of his goals (however complex they may be).

Lennik
2011-08-08, 05:53 PM
I've always tried to view the Law/Chaos axis as a philosophical conflict more than any kind of internal conflict.

Lawful characters might subscribe to the philosophy that upholding law and order is the best way to accomplish personal or widespread goals, whether those goals are good, neutral, or evil. This type of character is also the type that doesn't like to steal, cheat, lie, or otherwise act dishonorably, but where it gets hazy is whether or not a lawful character would steal, cheat, lie, and act dishonorably in order to promote the law. I'm sure these separate flavors could fit together in the same character and be blatantly contradictory in others.

Chaotic characters could have differing goals as well. Their goals could be simply to promote disorder and anarchy, overthrow a corrupt government in the name of freedom, or sometimes a chaotic character's goal could simply be to promote unlimited freedom for himself/herself.

I don't really think a code of conduct has anything to do with it. Morally-neutral characters from both sides of the Law/Chaos axis have compunctions against killing or seriously harming innocent people, and that's a personal code. A Chaotic Neutral character could have their own personal code of conduct just as easily as any Lawful Neutral character.

All in all, I see Law as being the alignment aspect that considers upholding law and order to be the best path to whatever they're trying to do whereas Chaos simply means considering personal freedom more important. A chaotic character does not have to disobey every law and preach the inherent corruption of laws any more than a lawful character necessarily believes that all freedom should be crushed.

gkathellar
2011-08-08, 07:12 PM
[whine]I wrote this 8 months ago guys! Give me a break![/complain] :smallbiggrin:


Evil: An evil character intentionally puts the quality of another's existence at risk with the express purpose of improving his own quality of existence.

-snip-

But the Evil character is the one that lets nothing get between them and their wants.

Whereas I wrote: An evil character will worsen the quality of another's existence with little to no regard for that fact, despite an awareness of their actions.

The first part is a lot less inclusive than what I wrote, since at the very least it excludes Well-Intentioned Extremists, whereas my description covers that territory and more. The second part is exactly the same as what I wrote.


So, a Lawful Evil character doesn't passively inflict suffering on the masses, all the while maintaining a willful ignorance. He upholds a code of ethics and intentionally exploits the codes of others in order to get what he wants.

Both of these could easily describe a Lawful Evil character as described, though I'll admit your example is more of the extreme, cackling tyrant, Doctor Doom sort of pulp-Evil.


A Neutral Evil character isn't merely someone who fights dishonorably in a desperate situation, rather he is someone who would slay children (something he normally finds ethically wrong) in order to use their lifeforce to maintain his own.

Emphasis mine. Since you plucked this out of my description for NE, I'll clarify: each alignment description except CE has two negative examples and two positive examples. That was one of the positive examples, although I'll admit it's a reach, and I'll clean it up to be a bit more sinister shortly.

As for your example: that's big-bucks Evil, but not particularly NE. It could very easily apply to a CE character, or an LE character who makes a habit of that sort of thing. It would only by NE in the case of a character who's putting aside their regular principles to do it. EDIT: Missed the part in parentheses. It's NE with extra gravy, as per your LE example.


A Chaotic Evil character, while you described them well to some degree, isn't necessarily a "monster" or "ruled by base impulses." There's no reason that a Chaotic Evil character's desires are any more base than another persons. What makes him different is his willingness to abandon all ethical codes and his intentional harm of others in the pursuit of his goals (however complex they may be).

That's largely what I wanted to convey, and looking over my description I do have to clean up the language a bit.


All in all, I see Law as being the alignment aspect that considers upholding law and order to be the best path to whatever they're trying to do whereas Chaos simply means considering personal freedom more important.

And as dichotomies go, this one is so totally meaningless to such a wide variety of situations that I find it useless. After all, what really makes a Chaotic Good character different than a Lawful Good character in the default interpretation?

Ziegander
2011-08-09, 12:32 AM
My point is that Evil doesn't get to have "positive" examples. It's Evil for a reason. Evil doesn't hurt people accidentally or unwittingly. Evil intentionally ruins people's lives in order to makes its own life better. That's the difference between my definition and descriptions of Evil and yours.

Your negative examples of Good revolve around the Good character still doing good things with sometimes unintended or imperfect consequences. That's fine and dandy and realistic.

Your positive examples of Evil revolve around the Evil character accidentally or unwittingly or even not at all doing evil things with sometimes completely neutral consequences. That's Evil or positive.

If you want positive examples of Evil you need the Evil characters intentionally doing fully Evil things with sometimes benign consequences. This also happens occasionally in real life and works out.

hamishspence
2011-08-09, 05:18 AM
My point is that Evil doesn't get to have "positive" examples. It's Evil for a reason. Evil doesn't hurt people accidentally or unwittingly. Evil intentionally ruins people's lives in order to makes its own life better. That's the difference between my definition and descriptions of Evil and yours.

What about those who intentionally ruin the lives of the few, in order to improve the lives of the many?

They might be revolutionaries who lynch everyone rich (whether they gained that money honestly or not) and distribute it among the poor.

Or they might be Ozymandias from Watchmen.

gkathellar
2011-08-09, 05:29 AM
My point is that Evil doesn't get to have "positive" examples.

I'm not implying the evil is a positive force by any means. They're simply there to provide examples of how you could play a character of an evil alignment who ended up being heroic or at least sympathetic, such that players can have a basis to do the same.

Sometimes, when you forget about Code of Conduct, it's fun to be the paladin's NE buddy.

Phosphate
2011-08-09, 06:24 AM
I'm not implying the evil is a positive force by any means. They're simply there to provide examples of how you could play a character of an evil alignment who ended up being heroic or at least sympathetic, such that players can have a basis to do the same.

Sometimes, when you forget about Code of Conduct, it's fun to be the paladin's NE buddy.

I would take it even one step further, myself. At times, being evil simply doesn't harm anyone, it's an immaterial part of your philosophy that would get properly contextualized only in very specific cases (i.e. when you become godlike for some reason).

You can actually play an Evil character that does literally 0 evil acts throughout his ENTIRE existence. As long as he never has the means to do what he wants to do.

hamishspence
2011-08-09, 06:28 AM
As written in FC2, such a character (if Lawful) could never get into Baator.

"It requires actually doing evil deeds- thinking unpleasant thoughts is not enough".

And there are a great many ways to "hurt" or "oppress" people, even if the person never desires to kill anybody.

"Not doing evil" generally tends to imply that, to at least a degree, the person is actively avoiding evil acts when the opportunity comes up- given how often they're likely to come up.

Phosphate
2011-08-09, 06:42 AM
Let me give you an example. Someone is strongly opposed to religion and thinks that forcing others to give up their own will actually be healthy for them, making them into more intelligent, less deluded, healthier individuals (think Qunari from Dragon Age). If he would be given a position of power, he would likely ban religion and demolish all temples, using the building blocks to make households or hospitals or whatever, therefore forcing others to give up their faiths and moral codes to follow his, therefore being a Lawful Evil tyrant. In his real state, however, said person has no way near that influence, and is enough of a realist to see that he will never have, whatever he undertakes. So he doesn't even bother being Lawful Evil, as it would be unfeasible for him.

That doesn't make him not be Lawful Evil, however.

I think that, instead of disregarding that moral codes are just as important as actions in determining alignment, even in lack of said actions, we should rather rethink the whole "Entering various hells/heavens" bit.

hamishspence
2011-08-09, 07:42 AM
. So he doesn't even bother being Lawful Evil, as it would be unfeasible for him.

That doesn't make him not be Lawful Evil, however.

Which sounds a little odd.

There are plenty of ways to be Lawful Evil in a feasible manner, on the small scale.

The decision to not do evil even when it benefits one, is still arguably a moral decision, even if laziness or fear might play a part.

Phosphate
2011-08-09, 07:46 AM
Ok, that might have been weird phrasing on my part.

EDIT: "So he doesn't even bother acting Lawful Evil"

And, it is perfectly reasonable that an individual would see a point in being evil on a large scale, but wouldn't bother on a small one. That's how most well intentioned extremists think anyway.

hamishspence
2011-08-09, 07:53 AM
Thats the thing though- wistful fantasies about a more orderly, and more tyrannical, world don't mean much if the character doesn't act on them.

Such a character would be True Neutral, maybe with mild LE tendencies at most.

Ziegander
2011-08-09, 02:02 PM
What about those who intentionally ruin the lives of the few, in order to improve the lives of the many?

That's an interesting question. If he's directly improving his own life in the process I'd call that, by D&D terms, an Evil act, and one with a positive spin (much like gkathellar seems to want). If he's ruining his own life in the process (considering himself one of the few rather than the many) then I would consider his evil to be tempered with self-sacrifice and call it a Neutral act.

The important thing is that he's actively and intentionally performing the act. One cannot accidentally be an Evil character.


I'm not implying the evil is a positive force by any means. They're simply there to provide examples of how you could play a character of an evil alignment who ended up being heroic or at least sympathetic, such that players can have a basis to do the same.

And I'm saying that, given your definition of Evil and your examples of "Evil characters" you're doing a bad job. If a character is Good they purposefully do good things. If a character is Evil they purposefully do actually evil things.

A guy who happens to oppress people because he believes so strongly in Law is LN. A guy who fights dishonorably in a desperate time can be any non-Lawful. Neither is purposefully doing Evil deeds and neither is technically performing any evil deeds. That LN guy might be well-aware that he is worsening many people's lives, but as long as he feels bad about it, by your own definition of Evil, he's not Evil. And you can't disagree, because if you did it would mean that a Good character would have to stop fighting/killing people and taking their stuff.

No, to cross over into LE the lawman would have to be intentionally oppressing people, not only because he believes in Law, but also to gain something from it personally. Such as if he taxed the common folk into oblivion so that he could skim profit off the top. That's LE. Impartially enforcing draconian laws that keep the people down is just LN (but then LN is a very harsh and unforgiving alignment). Simply fighting dishonorably will never make anyone Evil, that's just a non-Lawful act. Instead, in a desperate time, a man could give up a child he'd been watching over to the Death Eaters (or whatever) in attempts to draw their favor.

gkathellar
2011-08-09, 03:18 PM
The important thing is that he's actively and intentionally performing the act. One cannot accidentally be an Evil character.

And I'm saying that, given your definition of Evil and your examples of "Evil characters" you're doing a bad job. If a character is Good they purposefully do good things. If a character is Evil they purposefully do actually evil things.

That doesn't mean said character has to personally consider those acts evil. It just means they don't have to care about the consequences or potential for consequences which, as I've said, is territory I've already covered.


A guy who happens to oppress people because he believes so strongly in Law is LN.

A guy who has a defined code of behavior or system of beliefs that overwhelmingly drives him to worsen existence for others and doesn't care about the pain inflicted on others by his behavior at all is LE, however again, as I've described.


A guy who fights dishonorably in a desperate time can be any non-Lawful.

Dishonor has little to nothing to do with law in this model. Someone who puts aside a normally harsh set of principles to fight with the utmost viciousness and cruelty is NE, however.


Neither is purposefully doing Evil deeds and neither is technically performing any evil deeds.

You don't have to be cackling mad, shouting about how evil you are to be evil.


That LN guy might be well-aware that he is worsening many people's lives, but as long as he feels bad about it, by your own definition of Evil, he's not Evil.

In general, yes. But if his principles were of the type that constantly drove him to worsen existence for others, he would be evil as well.


And you can't disagree, because if you did it would mean that a Good character would have to stop fighting/killing people and taking their stuff.

Is he fighting/killing people and taking their stuff just for the purpose of fighting/killing people and taking their stuff? Or is he doing that as a component of say, saving the world? Because context differentiates the meaning of action.

hamishspence
2011-08-10, 03:57 AM
In general, yes. But if his principles were of the type that constantly drove him to worsen existence for others, he would be evil as well.

Indeed. "Must make the rich poorer" might be one of those principles. And "worsening their own quality of life as well" wouldn't necessarily turn evil behaviour into nonevil behaviour.

A "nihilistic evil" character might be like this- they have some self-hatred, and seek to make everybody's life worse, even their own.

They might be more interested in "tearing down the rich" than "raising up the poor".

Lalaithion
2011-09-26, 08:11 PM
I have long tired of the "Good-Evil; Chaotic-Lawful" alignment chart. I believe that the person who is evil doesn't actually believe that they are evil: They think that they are doing the right thing, and doing whatever they have to to save the world/loved one/his country.


Let me give you an example. Someone is strongly opposed to religion and thinks that forcing others to give up their own will actually be healthy for them, making them into more intelligent, less deluded, healthier individuals (think Qunari from Dragon Age). If he would be given a position of power, he would likely ban religion and demolish all temples, using the building blocks to make households or hospitals or whatever, therefore forcing others to give up their faiths and moral codes to follow his, therefore being a Lawful Evil tyrant. In his real state, however, said person has no way near that influence, and is enough of a realist to see that he will never have, whatever he undertakes. So he doesn't even bother being Lawful Evil, as it would be unfeasible for him.

Thus, I have divided my own chart of alignment

The first axis ranges from Altruistic to Egotistic.

At first glance, this seems like Altruistic would be "good." However, a true altruistic character could never be an adventurer: they would sell their gear and use it to feed the hungry, and they would use diplomacy as a means of defeating EVERY enemy. they would possibly condemn themselves to death on the streets for the sake of others.

Likewise, Egotistic seems "evil." Well, yes. They would burn towns, loot, pillage, and rape, only caring about themselves. NOT trying to do harm, just not noticing that people get hurt.

Most PC's would fall on the egotistic side of this chart. But notice that both Egotistic and Altruistic are presented as not being the best option. the true best would fall somewhere in between.

The second axis ranges from pure to corrupt.

Let me give you an example of "pure." You're all probably thinking that this is "good?" well I hope not because here comes disappointment.

Pure: Adolf Hitler.
He had ideals, he stuck by them. He was so into his ideals he waged a war. We all view it as evil, but he thought he was Purifying the human race.

Corrupt: What it says. You will accept bribes in order to do what other people want. you will give bribes to get other people to do what you want.

A demon sits on a throne of skulls, with a thousand children in his right hand. he threatens to kill the children- and if you let him, he will spare the world.

a pure person would stop him from killing the children, and then (try) to stop them from saving the world.

a corrupt person would make the sacrifice.

once again, the answer lies in the middle.

thus, here is the chart;

PURE
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
ALTRUISTIC---------------------------|-----------------------------------EGOTISTIC
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
``````````````````````````````|
CORRUPT

it is more complicated that "good evil chaos law" but a lot more real.

gkathellar
2011-09-26, 08:20 PM
Well, since you have that a whole new system worked out, maybe you should open a new thread to put it on display, rather than necro-ing one that has no relevance to it and an essentially different thesis for that purpose.

Yitzi
2011-09-26, 08:51 PM
Now that this thread is off-topic anyway and apparently discussing the OP's idea is pretty much done:

Part of the reason that the terms are so hard to define is that they have to be hard to define in order to encompass all of human (or nonhuman) behavior into only 9 categories, and do so in a way that fits somewhat with what people would think of as "good", "evil", lawful", and "chaotic."

That said, the way I would do it is as follows:
Good is someone who puts others ahead of himself. Evil is someone who puts himself ahead of others. Neutral is someone who either does both in roughly equal proportion and intensity or takes the path of inaction when there's a conflict.

Lawful is someone who has some strict code that they abide by (not necessarily human law). Chaotic is someone who does not abide by a code. Neutral is someone who has a code with a lot of "unless you really want to" clauses, or a code that only minimally restricts their actions.

morn_greycastle
2012-08-07, 09:59 PM
A bit of threadnecro, but I didn't see what I consider the classic examples of the Law-Chaos axis. The most iconic example (at least in my mind) is Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion stories. The struggle in Moorcock's stories is not a struggle of Good and Evil. His stories pit Primal Order (LAW) versus Elemental Chaos (well . . . CHAOS). It is That which wants to build order until all is brought into alignment and That which wishes to tear everything down and allow not one stone to stand on another for even a second.

Now, if there are fundamental Good (or maybe GOOD) and Evil (yep, EVIL), should there not also be LAW and CHAOS. Angel Good should at least be a little above your average character's LG/NG/CG, but it's still in the same realm. Eventually the characters should be acting on behalf of such patrons of GOOD (or at least in concert with if Them). In Epic levels, you might even be such a Patron of Good yourself.

Chaos and Law shouldn't be too different.

If there is a need for an example, just look to Vorlon and Shadow attempts to recruit the main characters (Chaos vs Order: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJLKtXxnGr4&feature=related) . . .

and Sheridan's response to both (Get the Hell out of Our Galaxy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tj4qfe9afs&feature=related)!

I realize that Capital Order and Capital Chaos are a bit beyond the typical character's "How do I solve this problem? Negotiate/Kill Everyone? Follow my "code"/Say to hell with it and um Kill Everybody?" But it is a start that, at least for me.

gkathellar
2012-08-08, 01:44 PM
If you really want to, I think you can extrapolate outward from Law and Chaos as I've presented them to Big Law and Big Chaos, it's just they won't be of the Elric variety. I think that's good, as "want to build stuff up vs. wants to break stuff" is a boringly straightforward conflict, at least to me. Under this set of interpretations, Big Law and Big Chaos are about "universal consistency vs. constant change" which, amusingly, fits with the Great Wheel cosmology pretty well.

aleucard
2013-12-13, 10:25 PM
One possible problem.

We have someone who is what is functionally a 'black knight'. His first priority is at ALL times the protection of innocents, and defines the best way to die possible as being in the defense and assistance of said group. Pretty iconic Good, doncha think?

This person, however, self-identifies as a monster. In his eyes, a monster is someone who can inflict suffering upon another with full knowledge of what they're doing with no remorse at any point whatsoever. The caveat, is that his 'target range' is other monsters that include innocents in their own target range. Any other kind of killing he finds distasteful (especially wars), but he will butcher the Freddy Kreugers of the world with a smile. He uses his inner sadist for what he views as a productive end; namely, making the world a safer place for innocent people. He just so happens to love his job.

What would you classify his alignment as? By some of the earlier posts in the thread, that second bit means he's automatically Evil. Since his driving force is Good, however, I don't buy that. The fact that he would consider even attempting to force him to choose between 2 or more groups of innocents deserving of his full measure means that anybody that attacking would be Evil is as safe from him as if he were a Paladin (even moreso in some cases, since this guy doesn't see race as important). At worst, he's Neutral.

EDIT: A good example of the kind of guy I'm thinking of would be a Rorschach translated to DnD. He couldn't give less of a **** about his methods if he tried, but there's no denying what goal he's working towards.

Bohandas
2017-09-08, 11:58 PM
I find it helpful to imagine the alignment system rotated 45 degrees so that the ordinal/mixed alignments become the cardinal alignments



Inspirational (or Creative) (CG)
|
|
Dishonorable (or Destructive) (CE) ----------- Honorable (or Protective) (LG)
|
|
Stifling (LE)

Gnarlymuppet
2017-09-09, 07:01 PM
A few folks seem to be swinging wide of the mark, some are closer. So much 'good v evil' is subject to cultural bias.

Good = Altruism : others first
Evil = Selfishness: self first

Law : aware and responsive to consequence
Chaos: ignorant and unresponsive to consequence

LG: consequences are necessary to preserve healthy communities and thereby order.

LE: fear of consequence is necessary to preserve personal power and thereby order.

CG: rebel liberator

CE: I do what i want

rferries
2017-09-10, 02:23 AM
A few folks seem to be swinging wide of the mark, some are closer. So much 'good v evil' is subject to cultural bias.

Good = Altruism : others first
Evil = Selfishness: self first

Law : aware and responsive to consequence
Chaos: ignorant and unresponsive to consequence

LG: consequences are necessary to preserve healthy communities and thereby order.

LE: fear of consequence is necessary to preserve personal power and thereby order.

CG: rebel liberator

CE: I do what i want

I like this interpretation but the phrasing seems judgemental of chaos. I'd say:

Law = Concerned with society and long-term outcomes

Chaos = Concerned with individuals and short-term outcomes

Gnarlymuppet
2017-09-10, 06:49 AM
I like this interpretation but the phrasing seems judgemental of chaos. I'd say:

Law = Concerned with society and long-term outcomes

Chaos = Concerned with individuals and short-term outcomes

I don't mean ignorant as "dumb" but more of a failure to grasp or refusal to grasp societal norms and expectations. I think you're hitting it dead on.