Monday, 29 November 2021

Alignment Post (Non-Alignment Pact)

I'm making a chassis to run old school modules, but hoping to spin it out in interesting directions... this week  month I'm looking at alignment and also jotting down some notes about so-called "demi"-humans  giving up the extended footnotes about dwarfs and elves because there is no time in my life to do anything any more... which is an exaggeration and I apologise.

Previous posts in this series:

That was in the past. Now: let us tackle alignment, aware that this is a path well-trod, but one we will attempt to follow with fresh legs and open eyes.

But first...

While I was writing this I became aware of recent posts on alignment at FORTRESS OF DUST and VDONUT VALLEY which more or less align (ha!) with some of what I'm hoping to achieve.

One Axis 

In the beginning there was but one axis for alignment, a straight line with law at one end, chaos at the other and neutrality in the middle.

Let's leave good and evil out of it.


  • Law is a universal principle with its origin in the divine.
  • It reflects the imposition of will on chaos in order to create order.
  • Humanity is a manifestation of the divine will.
  • It values the following principles:
    • Tradition (whatever that might mean)
    • Stability (even at the expense of reward)
    • The past (it is usually reactionary).
    • Structure and hierarchy. 
    • Honesty
    • Religion (worship of the divine following a defined set of parameters)
    • The good of the collective trumps the good of the individual, but collective well-being is always secondary to the pursuit of the Law.  
  • It opposes the following:
    • Modernity (whatever that might mean)
    • Risk (except in the pursuit of the ideals above)
    • Duplicity (including irony)
    • The wilderness (that is to say, nature not brought to heel)

Law is culturally relative and might manifest in multiple ways, leading to violent conflict between "lawful" groups i.e. sects within a church, neighbouring city states, rival guilds etc.

The class which most epitomises law is the cleric (though there may be chaotic clerics). 

"Arcane" magic is not generally lawful (though there may be divine magic-users).

Roleplaying a Lawful Character:

Lawful PCs must not...
  • Lie... nor may they allow untruths to be uttered in their presence (that is to say, they will call out lying comrades, even to the detriment of their well-being and that of their party).
  • ...knowingly enter the service of chaotic individuals
  • ...use chaotic magic or chaotic magical items
They must:
  • aligned to a lawful order (church, temple, knightly order etc.)
  • in accordance with the principles of Law.
They gain the following advantages
  • Support from their lawful order (including alms, education, healing etc.)
  • They can "speak" the lawful alignment "language" (see below)


  • Chaos is the underlying truth of reality: nebulous, unstable and unknowable.
  • It rejects subservience to a divine will and embraces the imposition of individual consciousness on reality: do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
  • Chaotics value whatever they choose (and may change preference on a whim) but broadly:
    • Rejection of tradition
    • Revel in chaos over stability
    • The individual trumps all, all relationships are transitory and (ultimately emptying?)  
    • Change is the only constant
  • Chaos hates:
    • Inertia
    • Doctrine
    • Rules

The class which most epitomises chaos is the magic user (though there may be chaotic clerics). 

"Divine" magic is not generally chaotic, but worshippers of eldritch entities or  demons might be rewarded with magic that looks a lot like divine magic.

(NB. I'm thinking particularly of glass-cannon priests/"white" mages in the former and cult leader/ warlock archetype in the latter).


Neutral or even lawful characters may become chaotic throughexposure to magic

Roleplaying a Chaotic Character:

Chaotic can do whatever they wish, but they are unable to utilise "lawful" magic, and lawful characters will not knowingly enter their service.

They gain the following advantages:
  • They can "speak" the chaotic alignment "language" (see below)
  • They can recognise other chaotics.
A chaotic individual is not bereft of emotional attachment, nor will they necessarily act "dishonourably": rather, it should be understood that they attach themselves to no higher ideal than what pleases them. A chaotic individual might put themselves in harm's way to defend someone they have come to care for, yet later they might let that same person die if they feel their affections wane.


  • Law and Chaos represent the two most extreme views, and are uncommon demographically (though exert a much broader influence, and are more likely to be encountered by adventurers).
  • Nearly everyone else is neutral... but this can mean a variety of different things....
  • ....with most people better described as unaligned...
  • ...and others being True Neutrals or Philosophical Neutrals

The Unaligned

The great mass of common folk (and their temporal masters), the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish in the sea haven't really picked a side in the supposed "cosmic struggle". for them, the struggle is mundane: the day-to-day battle to put food in mouths and take care of those in one's immediate vicinity.

To accomplish this, of course, one must make overtures to prevailing wisdom and social convention: humans fear God(s) and their priests seem to know the best way to keep them happy... but humans also recognise that their priests (like them) are corrupt... or at least capable of being corrupted. So they make promises and keep most of them but are able to justify those that they break one way or another, and who knows what will happen to them when they die.  

Ultimately the unaligned embrace the notion that often we are powerless: caught between the whims of the divine and the tumult of chaos, what hope is there? yet many embrace the notion that they make their own luck, and toil away regardless. For this reason adventurers of any class best epitomise the neutrally aligned.

Philosophical or True Neutrals 

While the  position of neutrality can appear to be an absence of philosophy or, at best, a very pragmatic one. But what if this but... decades and decades of contemplating the cosmic struggle?

It is probably an over-wrought trope: the guardians of the cosmic balance. "Neither light/law/good/blue nor dark/chaos/evil/orange should prevail over the other, lest blah blah blah" Indeed, the Cosmic Balance in Michael Moorcock's fiction  

Alignment Languages

...let's bring these back, but without the notion of an OP "catch-all communication device" (thank you VDoughnut!). Alignment languages should be limited and also thematic. But what do they look/ sound like?


An intelligent creature aligned to law can identify another intelligent creature aligned to law within a minute of observing their speech, even if they do not understand their native language. Once their mutual alignment is established, they may communicate notions of cooperation, protection, oaths and promises. Other lawful characters are able to discern the content of this conversation, but those not of lawful alignment will only witness a series of grunts and hand gestures.


An intelligent creature aligned to chaos can identify another intelligent creature aligned to chaos by observing their movements for a few seconds. Once their mutual alignment is established, they may communicate the equivalent of two-word phrases to one another, even if they do not comprehend one another's native tongues. They will appear to exchanging non-sequiturs, and the exchange will be unintelligible to all observers (including other chaotics).

Over time this grows into a private language based on a shared understanding of one another's habits and behaviour patterns. Chaotic individuals who have travelled together for a year are able to conduct sophisticated conversations while appearing to be talking about absolutely nothing. 


There are no neutral alignment "languages". 



Alignment via Fortress of Dust/ Ash Zealot:

Alignment by VDonut Valley:

Initial concept:

Hit Points, Hit Dice, Death and Dismemberment etc. 


  1. When we were young we thought we were Chaotic Good. Now we are old, we find that we're Lawful Neutral.

    After we're old, we're Neutral (evil) with Unrateable Intelligence. Just as God intended.

    1. I always considered myself beyond good and evil, which is where my similarity with Margaret Thatcher begins and ends (at least according to The Pop Group)