Alignment,  Elements of the Game

The Problem of Good and Evil

Goblins discussing evil and free will.
Do goblins dream of moral freedom?

One thing that has bothered me in role playing games is the concept of alignment.  Alignment is a game’s way to talk about the moral/ethical tendencies of characters. One component of a character’s alignment is good and evil.   In many games, players choose an alignment for their character as part of the character creation process. Often there are no game mechanics based upon these alignment, so they only serve to help flesh out the character.

Who says what good and evil are?

Dungeon and Dragons and Pathfinder use similar systems for alignment Alignment is defined along two axes (insert axe joke here).  These are good vs. evil, and lawful vs. chaotic.  The D&D 5e Standard Reference Docuemnt (SRD) glosses over the difference between good and evil by saying that beings created by good gods have free will to make moral choices, while evil beings are the slaves of their gods. Here’s what the Pathfinder SRD has to say on the subject:

Good characters and creatures protect innocent life. Evil characters and creatures debase or destroy innocent life, whether for fun or profit.

Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others.

Evil implies hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master.

People who are neutral with respect to good and evil have compunctions against killing the innocent, but may lack the commitment to make sacrifices to protect or help others.

Source PRPG Core Rulebook pg. 166

Law and chaos

I’ll address lawful vs. chaotic  first, as I think it’s the easy one.  This dimension of the characters alignment expresses their proclivity for following or breaking the laws of society.  I think that one’s pretty straight forward.  Your solider or paladin is bound by the laws of society, and therefore is lawful.   Your ranger and druid, lone wolves and hermits respectively, who prize their own autonomy over the obligations of society.  I can wrap my head around that.  I can judge a characters actions based on how well the obey laws and social norms.  Things become complicated when they encounter a foreign system of laws, but that’s good drama.

A closer look at morality

A good vs. evil alignment system serves to grease the skids of an adventures, and pave over moral ambiguity, although it doesn’t do it on its own. I’m not really sure how to use this to evaluate a characters actions, because there is no clear definition of what good and evil are. There is a pantheon gods.  Their assignment to these categories seems arbitrary.  There are often neutral gods of order. Maybe they define what good and evil are?  If so, who cares about their opinion?   How does the GM evaluate the goodness of evilness of a players actions, or provide situations that challenge the character’s morality?

I’ll be continuing to explore these issues and then proposing a solution as this series continues.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.