Alignment Talk

If anybody is interested in continuing the talk on alignments that started in this thread, then please continue the discussion here … :slight_smile:

It all started when the discussion questioned if a thief was “evil” or not … some argued for the possibility of a thief being just chaotic, I disagreed, and said that theft (what a thief does) is by its very nature, an evil act, thereby making the thief “evil”.

This can get very theological, and requires an open-mind and honest debate for those interested. And its very nature can cause friction if posts are not carefully managed; so I ask any comments to be considered in such a way.

By request, this debate has had its own thread started … If anybody wants to take it further, I will contribute as I can.


I’ll generally distinguish the law-chaos axis from the good-evil axis in terms of speech vs. actions.

eg. Hitler – that was fast – was chaotic rather than evil because (as far as i’m aware) he never actually killed anyone; he made a lot of speeches, did a lot of manipulating, and broke a lot of agreements that he himself had made.

Of course from a Nazi perspective he was by definition good. But from an international perspective, at least, the accrual of the ills that were traceable to him gradually added up to evil.

caveat: yes I’m aware they were all *ssh*l*s

Example. I’d regard picking a lock as a chaotic act. It just doesn’t rank up there in harmfulness to be considered evil, as long as the lock wasn’t busted in the process. If the lock was busted i might give a pip of evil as long as the character isn’t already evil.

And that’s important it seems: Don’t give alignment-change points to a character that is simply doing their business (so to speak) … unless their motives are particularly egregious.

Ultimately, it seems to me, it comes down to how much time and effort does the designer put into coding up conversations. For example in the Nwn2 OC docks district I once tried to infiltrate the bad faction with a good character. But i quickly found out that the scripts don’t account for such intent.


this is why i dont assign alignment points, as a builder i can’t know the player rp intentions/rationale for the choice.


but perhaps an even better argument could be made for (other games) granting victory points: Your Total Score is …

i mean what’s the point, really

On the other hand, imagine a mod, call it “Julius Caesar”. Alignment counts for everything. Your influence with the senate, influence with your legions, etc.

The OC and MotB use the concept/practice of Influence. I’d bet that a careful analysis would show that it’s related to Alignment (not technically, but just in that actions taken by the PC that are in tune with or contrary to a Companion’s alignment would/should tend to change Influence accordingly).

i’ll state that the fundamental issue is either (a) let player chose character’s aln at creation and forego any changes, or (b) account for every conceivable intention/rationale in dialogs and offer them to a player explicitly.

Note that campaigns like SoZ (iirc) typically offer three generic choices: first a vaguely lawful/good choice, second a vaguely neutral choice, and thirdly a vaguely chaotic/evil choice. The fact that they all lead to the same NPC response is well, humbug :\


Let’s go back to the issue of theft. Theft is social concept. I thought of at least a dozen acts that would constitute ‘theft’ under most forms of law but that would in turn be problematic to classify as categorically evil.

I’ll do the throw-away first, Robin Hood. In the usual telling, it’s the authorities who are causing the people to suffer. Theft is just one of the many ways the hero and his merry men strike back. WotC recognized this issue in changing the class title from “thief” to “rogue”. They made the class about specific skills and abilities. They left how those abilities got used and evaluated in-game to the writers and module designers. The PC can pick a lock to liberate a captive from confinement or a pile of gold from a tax collector. Until you reach the point of the plot where motive is revealed, neither can be categorically defined as either good or evil.

Keep in mind that unlike the real world, in the standard dnd world alignment is a detectable thing. That means the effects of a given action would also logically be able to be deduced: eg a character picks a lock and now doesnt detect quite as strongly good anymore.

The standard gameworld “knows” whether a given action is good/evil/lawful/chaotic. And that’s true even if actions are nominally the same, such as picking locks for different purposes. The DM knows, because they can directly ask the player their rationale. The module builder can’t do that.


I only have a quick comment to make at this point, and that is I think we are having a problem “nailing this issue” because we are trying to use a real-life definition within a fantasy game. And, to be frank, the “problem of evil” is not even properly/fully answered in real-life, let alone for us to be able to employ within a fantasy game. (Not without potentially causing some serious injustice or harming the definition of the word at any rate.)

E.g. We can all imagine the various character classes and how they might play. But, when it comes to morality, how can anyone understand it or comment on it without first fully having a definitive stand point on which to comment.

Therefore, while we may be able to employ various systems to accommodate an alignment system within a game, it is impossible to nail such a system down without there being as many systems as there are faiths/beliefs about such in the real world. After all, how is it even possible to make a judgement or game call about an action in a game without an understanding of such in the first place?

Therefore, in conclusion (at this stage), I think any system used for alignment must be based upon what we already know and understand in the real-world … but this then raises the question of what it is people really believe?

(OK, this is where it will get a little theological.) Personally, I believe there is a God who gave us the laws we have today, from which we are able to judge the actions of others. However, because of sin, we are unable to judge as well as we may hope for. However, that is no reason to try to justify away what has been clearly stated as sinful/evil. To do so is just another manifestation of sin/evil.

So, I would say that at this point in time, to even begin to start to define a system that can be put to any practical usage in the fantasy world, we need to be clear in our own minds (as builders) exactly what does or does not constitute an evil act … and this takes far more thought than at a glance. My example of why a “thief” is committing an “evil” act and not a “chaotic” one is one example. And I would add to this that (to use KevL’s example) Hitler can also be clearly seen to be an “evil” person, due to his “beliefs”.

However, it can get even more complicated than this when we are also told than every man is a sinner, and arguably “evil”, if we have any belief in our current system of faith in the Western world with respect to what we read in the Bible, which is the definitive guide to what “evil” is.

And a point to make here is, if you do not hold to any truth that the Bible tells us, then by what authority can anybody hold a position to state they can define what “evil” actually is?

i.e. It should be possible to determine an act of “evil” irrespective of how or why a player may try to justify their actions, if a “good law” is clearly stated. As I state in my example in the other post, actions can still be considered “evil” even if a person tries to justify them as something else, if they have broken that “good law”.

Over to you guys!

EDIT: In my own campaign, for practical play, I have determined that a rogue who likes to pick locks is a “chaotic” act, but to thereafter take the contents of what the lock was protecting is “evil”. Therefore, the rogue becomes useful in an environment where they pick locks of an evil enemy, and where the contents thereafter are the spoils of war. It is as close as I can get to my own understanding of good/evil/chaotic/lawful in a gaming environment where the true meaning of evil cannot be fully manifested/dealt with as we know in the real world.

1 Like

i don’t think it ever will be nailed down

the medium used to transmit such data is utterly amoral and further binary. So, just like the content of all these posts, what comes across is consciously, subconsciously, and unconsciously invoked, filtered, and presented. Ditto w/ any NwN alignment system …

The Bible, or more generally, Christianity, is the default western mythos of good & evil. But there are parts of the Bible that are decidedly ethnocentric. There are other parts of the Bible that are mind-blowing in their universality (eg, Proverbs).

But overall i don’t believe it’s necessary to have a clear logical/discursive conception of right and wrong etc etc to design or implement a system. I watched a video of two wolves at the side of a road in the country the other day; one of them was about to cross when a truck was coming … the other wolf grabbed the first wolf’s tail in its teeth and literally pulled it back out of the way. There are other such “moral” incidents that’ve been video’d,

In your wolf example, I am not sure the actions of the wolf can be considered “morally” determined, in the sense we are trying to define. I love the idea that this could be possible, but I simply do not think the world is designed that way. I think it is more likely a learned response, with a degree of intelligence to implement a nurturing response.

However, I am NOT averse to hoping such actions in the animal world are a sign of something greater, except with the caveat that the Bible tells us that only man was built in God’s image, as a moral being. Therefore, the same source that defines evil for me, also defines its limitations too.

So, if one was to design a system that “copied” amoral actions (but interpreted them as some kind of morality), then you would end up with your “binary” and “lifeless” moral concept that could be used in games, BUT, for the sake of not wanting to abuse language, it should NOT be called good or evil. Simply because, the terms good and evil carry far more weight than some people may give it when using such terms in a game.

Again, I am not saying do not use these terms, but I am saying that people need to know what they mean by them if trying to incorporate such within a game.


i’m suggesting it’s a … (wait for it ) necessary evil.

agreed. I’d replace “know” with “intuit” however  :|

ps. The argument between “know God’s will” and “intuit God’s will” raged in the middle ages.

Very droll. :slight_smile:

But, I think this is the way it is handled in the game … although, I do think it harms peoples understanding of what these terms are in real life. i.e. I worry when people try to justify “evil” acts as merely “chaotic”, as if that relieves them of the responsibility.

I would even accept it more so, if a player called it what it was … i.e. They are playing a thief who wants to steal stuff, so that PC is “evil”. At least they are then recognising the act for what it is, and can now “safely” play the role in a game without it somehow twisting their understanding about such moral standings in the real world.

Interesting. I am aware of the difference between “knowing God’s revealed will” and “not knowing His hidden will”, but I have not heard this argument before.

I was putting it in my own terms, i don’t think they used the word “intuit”. And i don’t know the specifics, but heard there was a fairly long-lasting kurfufle between scholars (almost by definition religious in the middle ages) who, uh, felt that God’s will should be a matter of the heart and passion, and those who, uh believed it was, or at least could be, a matter of logical/philosophical knowledge.

1 Like

“Heart and passion” sounds like one of the cults (possibly Gnostics … or another group name that currently escapes me), which would have been discussed and rejected by one of the theological meetings (which also evade me at the moment), as the Bible is clear about it being a faith of “spirit and truth” and not one the emotions, but with sound doctrines. However, the bible is quite logical, and so without knowing the two groups in mind, I would not like to suggest anything more at this point. Suffice to say, you can learn a lot about what was eventually concluded from the catechism (FAQ):

no no, not the Gnostics; they were put to bed long before this.

I think this dude started it in the 12th century:

the American Revival period turned that on its head, and it seems to me that today’s common, uh, modality is of receiving God’s will through faith and passion.

the Gnostics were in my opinion occultist [censored] who merely latched onto and usurped a ride on Christ’s (proverbial) coattails …

Are gnostics anything like gnomes? Maybe “gnome sticks”, that famous gnome-on-a-stick orcish delicacy?


ok, you asked for it  :p

I did pause before suggesting the “Gnostics”, as it was not clear from your initial description if it was pointing to their “dualism”. However, the lack of mentioning of their “secret knowledge” is what gave me some doubt. Thanks for clarifying the group you mean … and I suppose I should not be surprised (having checked your link) that the source of the heresy you confirm came from a Catholic philosophy.

Although, just to be clear for this conversation: Not a literal “proverb”, but in the sense of an “idiom”. :slight_smile: I would rather make that clear, just in case somebody misunderstood.

However, I think this entire thread/conversation does highlight the importance of language, and how we use it … and that is always a concern to me. For if somebody hears one thing and understands it to mean something else to the speaker, then problems can arise.

While this is not always a problem, and can even make for a moment of mild amusement, there are other times when it is of the utmost importance! And, let’s be frank, if the language being used is talking about matters of good and evil, which, as we know, stems from a real-life perspective of a matter of faith, then its importance is paramount!

Logically speaking, whether somebody is a believer or not, if any conversation is talking about a matter of life and death, then anybody of sound mind should sit up and listen. And, as everybody who is reading this is alive (and knows they will die one day), then it behoves them to give serious thought about anything that pertains to an afterlife, which, as we have been discussing, includes matters of what “good” and “evil” are, and our own relationship to them.

Confusion of terms compounds misunderstanding, and will only serve to lead people into erroneous thinking, which ultimately will (at best) lead them astray while they are alive, or at worst (from a believers understanding), lead them to Hell in death.

The problems that the erroneous use of language (due to a sinful nature) are what give us the sects and heresies in the first place … and, so now we can see why (logically) that the only way a man can be “saved” from such errors (sins and evils) is by the grace of God, who is outside of such errors and bestows His grace upon those He chooses. i.e. A man cannot escape their sinful (evil) nature without outside salvation (God). The ones God saves are known as the “Elect”: However, no man knows who God’s elect are, and so Christians still “Preach the Word”, because it is by hearing the Word of God that people are “saved”. Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

That all said, and not to understate its importance, I now turn back to the matter of the use of language in D&D with respect to alignment in gaming terms. The bottom line being, and in my opinion, players of the game take a lot of what they “play” and “learn” in their role-playing to heart. After all, that is part of the attraction: to live out a persona that embodies the hero inside them! I can speak from experience when I say that playing D&D for me, opened up a lot of my thinking about life in general … including aspects of alignment and religion. Maybe, as a DM, it required greater thought to “implement” than a player simply “playing” it, but, nevertheless, it made me think … and not always in the right way.

However, thankfully, there were those around me, who, by the grace of God, helped me to discern and appreciate language and its use there of, to the point when I was able to appreciate when something was not “right”. And here is the point: I do sometimes think that players today lack any moral teaching, and only pick up any idea of “morality” from games that have an “alignment” system, including D&D. And if that system uses poor language or descriptions to reinforce an amoral idea of morality (as absurd as that sounds), which basically “subjectifies” peoples ideas of morality, then we are only serving to lead people astray.

Therefore, I strongly believe, a builder has a moral sense of duty to ensure their world minimises any confusion of what is and is not meant by the terms “good” and “evil”, so that it reinforces what we should already know in the real world with respect to “absolutes”. I am not saying we cannot have a morally difficult situation, or even a morally ambiguous situation, but am saying that a player should be reinforced in those areas that are already “absolute”. E.g. Even if a “rogue” does steal, the player should have all consciousness that the action would certainly be perceived as “evil” in the real world, no matter what language they may use (or borrow from D&D) to try to justify a known evil action such as theft. i.e. I hope said players would not be encouraged (in real life) to argue that theft can be “ok” simply because they believe they are not “evil”, but simply a little “chaotic”. That (in real life) is a slippery path to … fill in the blank.

Even a shade of grey is made from black and white!

Thanks Lance, the thrust of the issue for a builder being when and how to apply alignment concepts in-game. I’m currently replaying the OC and, as usual, my PC has gone from 85% good to 100% within the first few hours of play and for largely trivial reasons. So by tiny shifts, my chaotic ranger is now just as good as the lawful NPC paladin. Given the differences in both general outlook and game play options this doesn’t seem reasonable. In a similar vein, the idea that a common pick pocket would become 100% evil by the same process and thereby become the moral equivalent of a serial killer is equally problematic.

I’ve come to the conclusion that most game situations should not result in an alignment shift. Those that do should offer the player a motivated choice.


personally i’d be happy if programmers would comment their code better …

But since design is considered an artform, I’d say it’s not uncommon for words and language (and situations) to be deliberately twisted to achieve an aesthetic effect.

And, in my mind, yes that could include granting Good-pts for an evil act. or vice versa ofc

whether a player keeps playing, or somebody’s mother finds out and screams blue rage is far outside my ethos (think: personal responsibility in the extreme – which, granted, is not for everyone)


I certainly agree that any “alignment shift” appears to send a wrong message at times, but as a gaming aspect, if handled carefully, it can still be effective … I say cautiously. Although, if not handled carefully, then not at all. :slight_smile:

Again, a similar answer to above … with the addition that if said designers are employing alignment shifts, then I would add that they should make sense … or at least be well reasoned in the game being played, and at not in conflict with general understanding. :slight_smile:

1 Like