D&D Alignments

Hi everyone, recently, I got in an interesting discussion with one of my D&D groups about alignments. The conversation started with us assigning alignments to our personas in the group, apparently I am Neutral Good :).

This then led to some analysis of what exactly each alignment meant, and trying to assign it to characters. There are a ton of pictures online of various characters and people assigned alignments, here is one I think does a great job.

D&D alignments GOT

Alignments are a staple of the D&D system; however, alignment is also often very vague and left to interpretation.  How do you define what is good and what is bad? Can someone do both good and bad things?  Should players be penalized for doing things out of alignment?

A few examples of alignment discussions I have had pop up over the years.

  • One player, my father, insisted that the use of poison was always an Evil act. He is a bit of a this is wrong that is right D&D player, and so this flat always Evil perception works for him. Another player, my mother, in the same discussion, insisted that the use of poison itself was not Evil. If used, for example to kill a tyrant while avoiding a war, a player would save a ton of people, and free a nation, seemingly a good act.
  • The players have just finished slaying an warren of orc warriors; however, all the noncombatants have surrendered. One player insist on slaying them all, stating they are Evil and so must be killed. Another states they are defenseless, pose no threat, and wants to free them. Both have relevant points, is one Good while the other Evil?

There is no correct answer with alignments in D&D; however, over my years of playing, I have come up with a few thoughts and guidelines I personally use in my game.

The first is to try to vaguely establish what each alignment “stands” for. Evil doesn’t always have to be a psychopath slaying everyone in sight, just as Lawful doesn’t necessarily mean following every law.

This pie graph does an interesting job showing some of the alignments in comparison.

D&D alignments

I personally do not think you need to define each alignment, but rather discuss with players the difference between Lawful and Chaotic alignments, and Good and Evil. I define Lawful as a tendency towards tradition, law, and order, someone who has a code and sticks to it. Neutral will have more wiggle room, veering off from the tradition and order from time to time. While Chaotic characters pay less attention to tradition and order, they may follow laws, but if a law impedes them they may also break it.

Good is personal sacrifice for the betterment of another being or society. In the example I gave above, freeing the surrendered orcs is certainly a good act, as the character is risking danger in the future, to give a fellow creature a chance at life. Neutral characters may sacrifice for close friends and family; however, they may not go to extreme lengths to help others. An Evil character is concerned with their own personal power and gain, and potentially the power and gain of close friends. They will eliminate barriers to their goals without second thought.

I do not think actions out of alignment is something that should be penalized. I like to pose difficult moral decisions and moments to characters, as I think these decisions are great chances to define a character and foster character development. Since I am trying to encourage character development, it makes sense that player’s may potentially shift and change alignment as the game goes on. Maybe the naive optimist becomes bitter and angry after several party members are repeatedly slain, this creates an interesting story and a memorable character.

With this noted, I do not think alignment shifts should be sudden, instead, it should be a gradual shift. You don’t want to have players having the Anakin Skywalker problem, switching rapidly from Good to Evil seemingly out of no where. A sliding scale with alignment I think is the best way to accomplish this.

sliding scale

In this method, players don’t only decide on a basic alignment, but they think of their place on this chart. Are they potentially more Good then Chaotic, or vice versa. Could the Lawful Good Paladin emphasize tradition and order, but when push comes to shove they choose to save people over following rules, if so they would be closer to Neutral on the Law vs Chaos scale.

With this scale method, as players do actions I feel stand out, I keep tally, after about 3 tally marks one way or the other, I will tell my players they have shifted along the scale on position. There are some exceptions for particularly noteworthy actions. On this graph, a player can be within three lines of the ends and still count as those alignments. This is a great way to track character development, while also providing feedback to players on their gameplay, before forcing a alignment switch.

While this does leave potential for players to do things that seem out of alignment, merely for a quick reward, say stealing when they are Lawful, I haven’t had this problem. D&D is about establishing a social contract for a fun game, so my players and I have an understanding that actions shouldn’t be thought of only in immediate mechanical benefits, but rather for the overall story arc. Discussions with them during and after the game assures this is the continued spirit of the game. the_hobbit_1977_alignment_chart_by_phenenas-d5z9k3e

With alignments, there will never be a perfect answer or method, the above image is a great example. I love the use of The Hobbit Cartoon stuff; however, I think the placement is off.

Personally I think Bilbo is Neutral Good, as he is continually trying to help people and even risks the dwarve’s wrath to stop a battle. Gandalf should be Chaotic Good, as he is stirring up the whole quest, pops around quite a bit, and his actions at times seem erratic, while always for the betterment of everyone. Thorin should be True Neutral, as he really doesn’t care about anyone other then the dwarves. The eagles I would argue are True Neutral, while Gollum is clearly Chaotic Evil.

One important thing to note, one persons Lawful Good can look very different from someone else also playing Lawful Good. This isn’t a problem, there are many forms of the same alignment.

As with all things D&D, the real key to doing alignment right, as a DM, or a player, is to know your group. Some groups love moral problems, others prefer to make black and white rulings on what is within alignment. Know the audience you are playing with, and play accordingly.

As one last piece of parting advice, I think Chaotic Neutral is an extremely difficult alignment to play. I find many players gravitate towards it early in their careers, as it seems like a free pass to do what ever you want; however, I often find this means they just jump between Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil acts, without ever really being Neutral. I would warn off new players from this alignment. Some structure and rules can create an easier sounding board for roleplaying, so often a good or lawful alignment can provide that structure.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed my thoughts on alignment. I would love to hear some of your thoughts in the comments below. Have you run into problems with alignment? Have any of your sessions contained moments where players debate morals and what is Evil? What do you think of my guidelines and methods?


The Temple of Elemental Evil: Session 2

Hi everyone! I am back! This Friday my group had it’s follow up session to our first session of The Temple of Elemental Evil. For those of you who have been following along, you may remember that Noble was captured by the Death’s Head Cult, and being held prisoner.

The party, un-intimidated, came up with a heroic plan to rescue their party member. We last stopped with them within site of the ruined moathouse they suspected Noble was being held in.

Before starting the full session, I took Noble’s player aside, and roleplayed an interrogation session between him and the leader of the moathouse, Lareth the Beautiful, a handsome, Elf, male. The naked prisoner was pretty worried this would go poorly for him, he was right.

I channeled some inspiration from inquisitor Glotka from The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. Lareth, binding Noble in a chair and had an orc servant pin Noble’s hand to a table. The evil Elf then began to brandish a sharpened butcher’s knife, and stated he would ask a question, if the answer rung untrue, then he would chop downwards.

While attempting to be coy, Noble did eventually give up some information 90% of which was untrue; however, this was only after losing all the fingers on his left hand. Thrown into a jail cell, we rejoined the rest of the group.

inquisitor Glotka

Art of Glotka

The party, after a great deal of discussion, decided Starfall would scout out the ruins while in animal form. The rest of the party, dressed as cultists, from robes they had found and bought, would approach the moathouse when she returned, hopefully using their disguise to sneak right in.

Taking the form of a snake, the Druid slithered forward. Approaching the main entrance, she decided to try to swim across the moat, rather then going across the bridge. This involved moving through a rather boggy area of ground. Failing a Stealth check, she was unfortunately spotted by a Giant Frog, who thought it had found a nice snack.

Moving forward, the canny Druid dodged the first attack, and fled as fast as possible into the moat. Unfortunately, the Giant Frog was just at home in the water, and leaped forward, biting into the tiny snake, removing its two hitpoints.

At this point, Starfall transformed back into her regular self. Alerting the 4 Bullywug guards and other 5 Giant Frogs, all of which had been lurking in nearby pools, well hidden.


Using her second, and last transformation for the day, Starfall turned into a reef shark and attempted to dart away down the stream that was connected to the moat. The Bullywugs threw two salvos of spears, during one of which I rolled 3 natural 20s to hit!

Luckily for the Druid, her darting swim as a reef shark had put her far enough away to flee the pursuing amphibians, which quickly became bored and returned to their pond.

Rejoining her party, they pretended to capture her and tied her up, so as to hopefully still sneak into the ruins.

Unfortunately for Noble, this failed attempt of reconnaissance caused him to undergo a second round of questioning. With his second hand under threat, he quickly caved, describing his party members in depth. Lareth, then devised a dastardly plan, which he hoped would spell doom for the band of adventurers.

Meanwhile, the party, unaware that Noble had sold them out, walked up to the ruins. The uninformed Bullywugs  graciously allowed the party to enter the ruins, bowing and scraping before the beings they perceived to be members of the Death’s Head Cult.

Entering the ruins, Aldo charmed a Bandit guard to take him to where the prisoner was being held. The Bandit, eyes glazed over, agreed, and led the party down into the lower level of the ruins. There, he walked them down a long hallway, dead ending into the torture room/ jailhouse where Noble was being held.

Seeing his friends having arrived, Noble quickly yelled, “Run you fools!!!”

fly you fools

The party was unable to react fast enough, and a secret door in the room slid open to the sound of clapping. Lareth the Beautiful smirked stating, “Bravo, kind of you to all deliver yourselves here.” A pack of 6 ghouls trailed out from behind him, while in the hall way several doorways could be heard opening.

Panicking, the Aldo cut loose Starfall, who was still bound after their disguise, he then darted out of the room, attempting to flee.

Starfall, creating a Flaming Blade, sliced through Noble’s prison grate freeing him. The cleric,  lacking all his gear, shot a beam of light at the closest Ghoul, who quickly dodged it.  Aman, charged forward, striking a Ghoul, and was shocked that it was not felled by his mighty 10 damage. It was at this time that the party began to worry.

The Ghouls, reacting before Milbee, charge forward striking at Aman and Milbee. The heavily armored fight ignored the blows raining down on him; however, the lightly armored Wizard was not so lucky, getting struck twice, and succumbing to the Ghoul’s venom, becoming paralyzed!

Aldo, alone in the hallway, saw to his horror that a dozen Zombies were swarming down the long hallway, while a massive Ettin was arriving from the far end. The creatures swarmed the bard, knocking him out. The rest of the party quickly surrendered at the suggest from Lareth.

Moved to separate individual room, each party member was given a unique sadistic offer from Lareth. Most of the offers involved slaying a fellow party member, and using their blood in a ritual sacrifice, in return for being freed and becoming servants of Lareth’s. Noble’s offer involved forsaking his deity, and becoming a Cleric of Evil with Lareth.

All the offers were written down separately to each player, heightening the tension. The players then were to write their replies back to me. This was quite a delicious moment and I was very interested to see which way the players went.

Both Starfall and Noble declined. Aldo, agreed to slay Starfall and the NPC Trim. Aman, agreed to slay Milbee, while Milbee, in a dark turn, vowed to slay all the members of his party. Milbee had apparently snapped. His backstory had always been, unknown to the party, that he at one point was an evil wizard, charmed to forget his past life. Apparently the stressful capture had broken the charm’s hold on him.

Amused, Lareth gave Aldo, Milbee, and Aman all their gear back. Starfall, Noble, and Trim all died without much trouble. Milbee’s character did an interesting job of trying to change his tone and body language to reflect his Evil persona.

Aman and Milbee then began to face off in a hallway. Nearly slain in one blow, Milbee summoned a Grease patch, causing the heavily armored fighter to fall to the ground, and allowing Milbee to slip back. Milbee summoned several Mirror Images and then fired half a dozen shots over the course of several failed Dexterity saves on Aman’s part, with the shots bouncing off the fighter’s armored hide. The fighter then managed to get up and charge, knocking Mirror Images away. At the last second the Wizard cast invisibility escaping!

At one point, Aldo came upon the showdown and shrugged, continuing on his way, granting Milbee Bardic Inspiration on a whim. The Bard, clearly feeling guilty, had collected all his slain party member’s fingers, hoping to Reincarnate them later, once he became powerful enough.

With the participants dead, or attempting to flee, Lareth gather Aman, Milbee, and Aldo to his chamber room. The evil Cleric then congratulated the Bard on a mission well done. He then asked the Wizard what happened, unable to give an good response (or roll over a 10 on Persuasion) Milbee was killed. Aman; however, talked his way out of death.

It is here the campaign ended, with the majority of the party dead, and the rest clearly having started down a dark path. My players and I then had a discussion of where we wanted to go in future sessions. I gave them the option to A) Make Evil characters to fight alongside Aldo and Aman as part of the Death’s Head Cult, B) Make new Good characters, which would arrive in Hommlet after the party’s failure, and inevitably have to face Aman and Aldo, OR C) Start an entirely new campaign/adventure. The group chose C and I am quite excited as we all discussed it and The Curse of Strahd was chosen as our next campaign!


As readers may remember, I really wanted to play this particular adventure, and am pumped to get the chance now, though I am disappointed we never really got to delve into the Temple of Elemental Evil, perhaps some time in the future. Now if you will excuse me, I have some gothic horror to read and some creepy music to find!