The big question?

                   The big question?

More than anything else, since starting this series, I’ve learnt that alignment is highly subjective, and comments on the blog have confirmed that this is a highly contentious subject.  I really wanted to show exactly how much peoples opinions can differ though, and realised that there is a very easy way to show this.

I’m an active member of several RPG facebook groups, and have had a lot of great discussions regarding alignment on them over the past few weeks.  There are three groups in particular that have been quite vocal about their opinions, and I wanted to take advantage of that by asking a simple question – what alignment do you think a given character is?

It’s worth noting here that I didn’t want to influence the outcome in any way, and so didn’t vote, or comment directly on the subject other that clarify a question, or to raise an unrelated point.

I emphasised that I really wanted each persons own opinion, and came up with 4 characters whose alignment, if they were a D&D or Pathfinder character, I thought would be particularly ambiguous.  I tried to to make things a little more specific if the character changed alignment during their development, as I wanted to try and create a standard that everyone could work from.

Even this proved a little difficult.


First up we looked at Jack Bauer, from 24.  I love the series, and really appreciate seeing the characters reactions to being placed in difficult and stressful situations.  Jack in particular is a great study, and he is unarguably working towards the common good, and puts his life on the line to protect those in danger, and yet is willing to kill anyone who gets in his way.  Further, you repeatedly see him commit acts of violence, such as executing a friend, or torturing a target to get information.  The community response here was very interesting.

On one hand, you had several people arguing that torture was an inherently evil act, and that action automatically put him into an evil alignment.  On the other hand, it was argued that although he was committing evil acts, his alignment remained good, as he clearly showed remorse over having to do what he thought was necessary.  Somewhere in the middle there was another argument suggesting that he could no longer be good, as he had committed too many evil acts.

Community result:  

  Total number of votes:  44     Vote winner:  Chaotic Good (24 votes)     Second place:  True Neutral (6 votes)


Next we looked at the case for Ygritte, from Game of Thrones.  She’s an interesting character, seen as both a strong, free woman, who is respected amongst the wildlings with whom she lives, and also as someone who holds strongly to her own ideals, and who respects Mance, the leader of the wildling tribes.  There were some interesting discussions here, based primarily on how alignment should be viewed.

It was argued that alignment can be seen from either a social, or an absolute perspective.  In terms of the absolute, it meant that an evil act is evil, no matter who is committing it.  The social argument says that a persons morals (alignment) differs depending on their background, and that therefore acts that could be evil in one society are good in another.  If you’re not familiar with this argument, it’s actually easy to put into context.

Think of the Aztecs.  They are well known for human sacrifice as part of their religious rituals, and when viewed from an outside source (Cortez, for example), it is seen as barbaric, and evil.  In their own view though, the Aztecs thought that they were doing good; those that were sacrificed seem to have often gone willingly, and some that Cortez freed seem to have demanded to be allowed to be sacrificed. Some stories indicate that the Aztecs did this in the belief that without this ritual taking place, the sun would fail to rise the next day, and so all of the peoples of the world would perish.  One action, which when seen from two different cultures has very different meaning, either great evil, or great sacrifice.

In the case for Ygritte, the community was very vocal, and each group came to the same conclusion.  She works for the betterment of the wildlings, because she values freedom above all else.  Interestingly, we see her murder innocent families during the story, but despite this many people still saw her as essentially good.

Community result:  

  Total number of votes:  81     Vote winner:  Chaotic Neutral (52 votes)     Second place:  Chaotic Good (13 votes)


When I planned this series of questions, Anakin Skywalker was one character that I felt would be reasonably simple for the community to reach a consensus on, and that we would see a very clear majority.  As it happens, it was closer than I thought, although this may have been partly due to a mistake on my part.

You see, when asking the original question, I asked what alignment he would be during the period covered by Episode 2, and moving through to the point in Episode 3 where he goes batty.  I completely forgot that the Clone Wars series existed, and happened entirely within the period I specified, which complicated things a bit.

There were some quite heated arguments regarding how Anakin’s alignment could be viewed.  Some voted for good, others for neutral or evil.  Some saw his actions as being lawful, given his loyalty to the Emperor, but others saw him as chaotic, ignoring the laws and tenets of both society and the Jedi Order.  Some saw him as a villain in the making, whereas others saw him as a powerful hero, leading the Jedi cause against the evil Galactic Republic.  Consequently, the vote was a lot closer than I expected.

Community result:  

  Total number of votes:  82     Vote winner:  Chaotic Neutral (25 votes)     Second place:  Chaotic Good (19 votes)


It’s worth noting here that different communities reached different conclusions as well.  Whereas 2 of the communities concluded that Anakin was chaotic neutral, the third decided conclusively that his alignment was either neutral good (10/26 votes) or chaotic good (18/26 votes), which I found very interesting, as this community had been the first to note the existence of the character within the Clone Wars, and was quite vocal about the characters portrayal throughout that series.

Finally we looked at Walter White, from Breaking Bad.  I openly admitted that I had little knowledge of the character, having not watched the series.  Of course, I know the story by now, even without having had the chance to watch it, so I had to ask the communities for their opinions on how his alignment changed through the series.  This altered the question slightly, but I don’t think it changed the final outcome.

Community result:  

Total number of votes:  96     Vote winner:  Neutral Evil (60 votes)     Second place:  Chaotic Neutral (15 votes)

The decisive factor in peoples decision to vote him neutral evil was evidently his statement in the final episode, where he ‘comes clean’, and says that he did everything because he enjoyed it.  What little I know of the show suggests that this could simply be showing how his character has progressed, and how much more corrupt he has become, but as I already said, my opinion doesn’t count for a lot hear – Breaking Bad is one of those many, many series that has been suggested that I watch.  It’s on a long list, but I know I’ll get there, sooner or later.  (If there is a particular series you think that I should watch, let me know – there’s a lot of great programmes out there, and I’m sure that I’ve missed a lot of them).

I was intending for this to be the final part on alignment, but I found the results of these votes to be interesting enough to be worthy of note in their own right.  I really wanted to show how differently individuals can see the same character (and their actions), and I don’t feel that anyone differing from the majority votes above is necessarily wrong.  Additionally, I believe that they are simply looking at different aspects of the character that I haven’t, and sincerely hope that you don’t feel that someone is immediately ‘wrong’ for not seeing things the same way you do.

I promise that the next article will be the last in this series, and I’ll be looking at differing ways of looking at certain gaming actions, as well as alternative alignment rules.  Let me know what you think of the results of the vote, and I’ll hope to see you here again next week!


P.S.  In case you’re interested, the facebook pages I used for the purposes of the votes were ‘Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition’, ‘Pathfinder RPG’, and ‘Pathfinder Society’.  Look them up if you’re interested in those games, I’ve found some great ideas being discussed on each one.

The final votes, in case you’re interested in seeing how much variation there was, are as follows:

Jack Bauer (44 votes)

Chaotic Good – 24; True Neutral – 6; Neutral Good – 5; Chaotic Evil – 5; Neutral Evil – 2; Lawful Evil – 1; Chaotic Neutral – 1.

Ygritte (81 votes)

Chaotic Neutral – 52; Chaotic Good – 13; Neutral Good – 4; Neutral Evil – 3; Lawful Neutral – 3; True Neutral – 3;             Lawful Evil – 2; Lawful Good – 1.

Anakin Skywalker (82 votes)

Chaotic Neutral – 25; Chaotic Good – 19; Neutral Good – 15; Lawful Neutral – 9; True Neutral – 6; Neutral Evil – 4; Lawful Good – 2; Lawful Evil – 2.

Walter White (96 votes)

Neutral Evil – 60; Chaotic Neutral – 15; Chaotic Good – 6; Lawful Evil – 6; Chaotic Evil – 4; Lawful Neutral – 2; True Neutral – 2;  Neutral Good – 1.

Feel free to discuss these results; there’s some very interesting things here, like Walter White getting 6 votes for both chaotic good, and lawful evil.

And boy, do we love to argue!

And boy, do we love to argue!

Having spent the past few weeks looking at each alignment in turn, I wanted to look back over the subject.  I’m aware that I’ve alternately disparaged the most common way a given alignment is viewed, or looked at how a stereotype is often played, and occasionally noted another way of looking at things.  I’d like now to look at alignment in a more positive light.

The way alignment should be seen, to my mind, is as a guideline to your characters morals.  Not as a hammer, for another or player to force your character to do (or not to do) something.  Not to punish a player for making a bad decision.  And certainly never as an excuse for your character to do something unpleasant to another character.

Instead, when creating your character, you should probably start by working out what your characters goals and aspirations are, and then look at how your character wants to achieve those goals.  This is the time to choose your characters alignment, not before.  This way, your alignment reflects your ambitions, instead of the other way around.  Now build a personality for your character, using all of the information you have created as a base.  Don’t play your alignment, and don’t brand your characters alignment onto their forehead.  Play the personality, not the alignment.

A side note: avoid at all costs the ‘dark and brooding silent type’.  I don’t care who you are, or what you say your intentions are, this has been done to death, and it just makes sure that you don’t interact with your group.   I know players who will tell anyone that they are roleplayers, and yet despite this claim every single character I’ve seen them play is the same.  They don’t speak unless spoken to, they refuse to contribute to the group outside of combat unless forced to, and inevitably fail to do any roleplaying at all.  Many other people have covered this subject, so I’ll say no more right now.

By personality I mean just that.  It can be different to your own, or can just as easily match yours, though I’d avoid doing this too often.  Be creative too; I had an interesting response to my first alignment article, when someone described to me a paladin they used to play.  They weren’t playing your typical paladin.  Instead, when meeting this fine fellow, which would typically happen in a bar, you’d be encountering the most foul-mouthed drunkard you’ve ever smelt.  Oh, he’d be fine and upstanding, upholding all of the paladins code to the letter, but nowhere in that code does it forbid a paladin from drinking, and, oh boy, this guy apparently likes a drink.  Add that to the way he talks (sailors should pay for lessons from this guy), and he’s offensive enough to start a bar brawl while trying to stop one.

That's Mr Personality to you...

That’s Mr Personality to you…

Stories like this are what I’m talking about.  You can just as easily play against a stereotype as play one.  How about a physically weak fighter, who prefers to think his way through a combat encounter instead of just smashing things?  Or a cleric who devotes himself to his religion so that he doesn’t have the time to do all of the nasty things he thinks about to other people? For that matter, perhaps someone will one day play a ranger that actually enjoys the company of other people?

Alignment can be used in many other ways too.  In D&D and Pathfinder it is not only a very subjective way of looking at a characters morals, but it is also intrinsically tied to mechanics in the rule system itself.  Paladins are of course the go-to example, but druids, rogues, barbarians and monks all have alignment restrictions.  A lot of spells use alignment as a basis, such as detection or ‘protection from’ spells, and many different magical items are linked with certain alignments, which is part of why it’s important to get at characters (PC or NPC) alignment correct.

It’s sometimes very useful to allow players to make assumptions about creatures with well known alignments too.  Given that they are encountered even at level one, every single player that sees an orc or goblin will instantly reach for their weapons when one of these races are encountered.  Throw in a non-evil orc once in a while to throw them off-balance.  Similarly, you can just as easily toss in an evil halfling, the effect will be the same.

If it seems to you that most of this post has been skirting around the edges of alignment, instead of talking about it directly, you’re on the money.  Although experience tells me that alignment is right up there in causes for RPG arguments, I’d much prefer to see it in the background, helping the game along, rather than being so tied in to the game mechanically.  Next week I’ll be looking at a few ways to do this; feel free to suggest your own, it might be something I haven’t considered.

Since I started this series of alignment related articles, I’ve seen a huge increase in alignment related comments within facebook communities, and no less than 6 other people have since written about the same subject in their own blogs, often covering many of the same arguments.  I’m very happy to have been part of the discussion on this subject, but next week will probably see the final article in this series.  I’ll hope to see you then!



EDIT – One of the readers of this blog has been kind enough to share a link to a bit of work he’s done relating the Pathfinder domains, and the alignments they are most connected to.  It’s not directly connected to this article, but I thought that it was interesting enough to be worth sharing –


Over the last few weeks I’ve seen a few requests for a dedicated Gun Monk archetype.  During the first conversation I read through, several concerns were raised, and consensus was nowhere in sight by the time the tread petered off.  I could see which way it was going about halfway through the conversation, and suggested that I could build a new archetype without falling into the pitfalls that people had raised.  Fast forward a few weeks, and I saw a couple more requests, and finally got around to putting pen to paper (so to speak).  What follows here is the result the result of that, and I hope you like it!

Goal – to create a firearms-orientated monk archetype, that is reasonably balanced when compared to other archetypes that are available.  I hope to end up with an archetype that will allow players to have fun with guns, and that DM’s will feel is something that they would allow at their table.  I have no intention of creating a gun-wielding monstrosity that is over-powered, just to satisfy the urges of those who feel that I have limited the potential of this archetype in any way, and will instead concentrate on balancing the character mechanically, while trying to keep as close to the concept of a Grammaton Cleric at all times.

Inspiration – Whenever I hear Gun Monk I think of several examples from films.  Equilibrium, Matrix, Bulletproof Monk, and Wanted all come straight into my head (in that order), along with specific scenes from Tomb Raider and Kick-Ass.  Matrix and Wanted are probably the best known films from this list, but if you’re reading this article and you haven’t watched Equilibrium, you should probably stop reading and watch that film first.


Go ahead, watch it!

        Go ahead, watch it.  Take your time.

I could wax lyrical about the concepts that Equilibrium goes into, but I’m going to concentrate purely on the gun kata style that you get to see in action at several points during the film.  The first time I saw this, it blew me away.  I mean, Matrix was (and is) awesome, but Equilibrium has gun-based martial arts.  To me, that’s cool!

Vice-Counsel DuPont, a character within the film, describes gun kata:

“Through analysis of thousands of recorded gunfights, the [Grammaton] Cleric has determined that the geometric distribution of antagonists in any gun battle is a statistically-predictable element. The Gun Kata treats the gun as a total weapon, each fluid position representing a maximum kill zone, inflicting maximum damage on the maximum number of opponents, while keeping the defender clear of the statistically-traditional trajectories of return fire. By the rote mastery of this art, your firing efficiency will rise by no less than 120%. The difference of a 63% increased lethal proficiency makes the master of the Gun Katas an adversary not to be taken lightly.”

This is what I’m trying to replicate here.  I imagine a 15th level gun monk being able to duplicate everything that the films protaganist can do, which gives us a little room to manoeuvre.

Without further ado –

The Gun Monk

Weapon and Armour Proficiencies

Monks are proficient with the brass knuckles,cestus, club, crossbow (light or heavy), dagger, firearms, handaxe, javelin, kama, nunchaku, quarterstaff, sai, shortspear, short sword, shuriken, siangham, sling, spear and temple sword.

Gun Kata

At 1st level, a gun monk must choose either one-handed or two-handed firearms.  The category of firearms chosen may be used when attacking with flurry of blows.  When flurrying with a firearm, a gun monk may not fire the firearm, but instead uses the weapon itself to strike at foes.  This deals damage as if the gun monk were to to use their own unarmed attacks.

At 8th level, a gun monk can use the other category of firearms when attacking with a flurry of blows.

This replaces stunning fist.

Look Mummy, no bullets!

              Look Mummy, no bullets!

Firearm Gift

At 1st level, a gun monk is gifted by their temple with a firearm (either a pistol or a musket). This weapon is focus of the gun monks skills. This weapon cannot be sold. They also gains the Gunsmithing feat.

This firearm is treated in all other respects as if it were the same firearm that a 1st level gunslinger begins play with.

This replaces the bonus feat normally gained at 1st level.

Way of the Gun Master

The gun monk gains weapon focus with a firearm of their choice at 2nd level.  At 10th level a gun monk may choose to either gain greater weapon focus with the same weapon, or may instead gain weapon focus with another firearm of their choice.

At 6th level, a gun monk gains weapon specialisation with a firearm of their choice.  At 14th level a gun monk may choose to either gain greater weapon specialisation with the same weapon, or may instead gain weapon specialisation with another firearm of their choice.

This replaces the bonus feats normally gained at 2nd, 6th, 10th, and 14th levels.


At 5th level, a gun monk gains grit as per a gunslinger of their monk level minus 4.  They also gain access to most deeds as if they were a gunslinger of their level minus 4.  The gun monk does not gain access to the Dead Shot deed.

This replaces ki pool and slow fall.


At 6th level a gun monk flurrying with a firearm may fire that weapon once during the flurry.  The target can only be a maxmum of 10′ away, but otherwise obeys the normal rules for attacking with a firearm.  This replaces one of the attacks granted from the flurry of blows, and the character may choose which attack it replaces.

At 12th level, a gun monk flurrying with a firearm may fire one additional time, assuming that the gun monk still has a loaded weapon capable of firing that turn.  At 18th level the gun monk may fire for a third time, assuming that they still have shots available to make.

This replaces purity of body, wholeness of body, and abundant step

Hasty Hands

At 15th level, a gun monk gains the quick draw feat.  If the gun monk already has the quick draw feat, they instead gain the ability to reload a firearm while flurrying with that weapon.  This costs 1 grit point, and the reload action replaces an attack.  If the gun monk is wielding two firearms, the gun monk may instead expend 3 grit points to reload both firearms simultaneously, while still only a single attack.

This replaces quivering palm and tongue of sun and moon.

Wow, that was a lot!  Looking back at it, I feel that this does achieve the goals I’ve outlined above.  The riskier abilities are obviously quickshot and hasty hands, but I felt that they were needed to achieve the concept of a Grammaton Cleric.  My other concern was granting nearly complete access to the gunslingers deeds, which is something that I would accept could probably be curtailed further.

We’re left with a very martial monk, with less of the spiritual focus.  It doesn’t feel like either the weapon adept or zen archer archetypes, which was another thing I was keen to avoid, as I don’t think I could justify allowing the use of this archetype at my table if most of the abilities are easily replicated by other options.

My only regret is that to in order to capture the feel of a Grammaton Cleric I’ve had to strip out a lot of class features, leaving the build feeling more like a gunslinger/monk hybrid class.  I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but it does go further than I’d intended.

This has been a longer post than usual, but I hope that I haven’t disappointed too many folks with this archetype/hybrid class.  I don’t expect to hear that everyone is happy, but I’ll just end by saying that if a player wanted to bring this to my table, I’d be happy to allow if it fits within my campaign setting.  Let me know what you think!


The most evil...

The most evil…

The last (traditional) D&D alignment is, of course, chaotic evil.  Following last weeks post, several people commented that they felt that chaotic evil was the most malevolent of alignments, and that it was ‘the most evil’ of the choices available.  I disagree, but I’ve stated my view on this already.

Chaotic evil was always offered up as the greatest threat, diametrically opposed to lawful good (not always the most good, but hey, that’s how it is most frequently seen), right from the start.  Chaotic evil characters are unpredictable and spiteful, loving to rip anything apart if it gets in their way.  They are as great a threat to their allies as they are to their enemies, and should probably be handled a little like plutonium (i.e. from a long way away, preferably by someone else).  Perhaps most importantly, they won’t see anything wrong with their actions, giving them little reason to change their ways.

There’s also a reasonable question to ask about their sanity; after all, several of the traits could fit the profile of a criminal psychopath.  Depending on the sort of character you’re dealing with, they could be obviously chaotic evil (The Joker), or more subtle (Norman Bates).  In each case, the character is less than sane, though of course there will be many others whose sanity wouldn’t come into question, as much as you might wish you could.

Our popular fiction is absolutely crammed full of examples of chaotic evil characters – Jason Voohees, Loki, Hannibal Lecter, General Grievous, Gregor Clegane, just take your pick.  Although you can certainly argue (as I’m sure some will) that I’ve gotten the alignment wrong in some of these cases, to me these are all good examples of chaotic evil characters.

This does mean though, that as much as most people won’t want to see a chaotic evil PC sitting at your table, they make from great bad guys, willing to throw everything into their goals, with complete disregard for anyone or anything getting in their way.  From bestial orcs and degenerate ogres, through to the eldest red dragons and most powerful demon lords,  it seems that they permeate the world around your players, and are always on hand to threaten the status quo.  I’m quite happy with this, partly because I like running ‘world at war’ campaigns, so it’s a handy tool to help my players identify who the antagonist of the story is.

I do like to mix things up though.  I’ve often thrown tribes of traditionally evil races into my campaign, and had them turn out to be friendly, or at least neutral.  For my last group it was goblins – their home town had recently been attacked by a goblinoid force, and was badly damaged, with considerable loss of life.  The goblins had been forcibly drafted from local goblin villages for the mission though, and the tribes were extremely fearful of retaliation from imperial forces, and so decided to to negotiate a peace treaty before and reprisals occurred.  They eventually became a valuable part of the community, with some goblins filling in roles left empty by the recent attacks, such as the weaponsmith, and another opened a general goods store.  One even went so far as to try and open his own restaurant (don’t ask what meat was on the menu though!)

That kinda wraps things up on the individual alignments, but I’ve still got a few things I want to look at before moving on.  In the mean time, I’ll put out a bonus post in the next few days – I’ve promised a few folks a gun-monk archetype, so I need to make good on that promise!


After playing for a D&D for a few years, I realised a surprising thing.  Up to this point, I’d always looked at the alignment table and seen lawful good as the ‘most good’, and chaotic evil as the ‘most evil’.  However, it struck me that although I could still envisage the paladin as being the paragon of all that is good, the ‘most evil guy’ status probably belonged to those that were actually neutral evil (please note that I was only 12 or 13 at this point, so to me this was a revelation!).  Given that the alignment diagrams in the editions available at the time showed which alignments were diametrically opposed, this struck me as being a strange way of looking at things, but the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became.

This won’t exactly be a revelation to anyone reading this article.  We know that lawful evil guys do evil things within the rules, and that chaotic evil guys do evil while breaking things, but these neutral evil guys do evil just for the sake of doing evil.  Of course, ‘evil’, by and large, means doing selfish acts, without caring what the consequences of those actions bring about for those about them.

Now don’t get me wrong – any single character (or person) will do selfish acts during their life.  The vast majority of our actions will be selfish.  But I don’t really think that in our fantasy game that evil equals selfish; I think evil means evil.  For instance, let’s take a local brigand.  Let’s call him Robin.  Robin will be living in fear of the law, and knows that, in all likelihood, if he is caught he will be imprisoned at best, and could well be executed.  In his day job, Robin takes every opportunity to tax (rob) anyone he can, in the hopes of amassing enough wealth to start a new life as a lord in another land.  The trouble is that for some reason no-one wants to just give this wealth to him, so Robin takes this wealth from their cold lifeless bodies.

Now to me, this isn’t selfish; this is evil.  Argue this any which way you want, but the act of killing another person in order to take something from them is something I will always see as an evil act (I’ll come back to this point in a couple of weeks).

Someone called for the BBEG?

Someone asked for a BBEG?

We do have several examples of neutral evil characters that we could easily replace Robin with.  The Witch-King of Angmar immediately springs to mind, as does Galactus, from Marvel.  Artemis Entreri, at least in his earlier appearances, is another, as is Cersei Lannister, and also Richard B. Riddick.  I’m sure you can easily think of more examples without needing to Google them.

I have recently had discussions regarding two characters popularly thought of as neutral evil though, and definitely disagree with the general consensus.  The first is the xenomorph from Alien and its sequels.  Now, I’ll confess that I only have the films to work from, having not read any of the books or graphic novels, but this creature strikes me more an animal than an intelligent, thinking creature.  As much as I dislike them (and justly fear them), I don’t think that a hornet, for example, can be seen as inherently evil, and thus I argue the xenomorph is simply neutral.

Lord Voldemort is the second.  To be completely honest here, he was my original choice of a neutral evil example. but a friend pointed out that this is seeming only true in his original incarnation, and that the Voldemort you encounter in the various Harry Potter books is much more chaotic.  Presumably losing your body can have that effect on someone.

Now, anyone that has played at my table knows that I don’t allow neutral evil characters under any guise.  I’ve tried it a few times, both as individuals hiding their alignment within an otherwise goodly party, and as part of an all-evil party.  In both cases I found that having evil elements within the party made for complications that I would rather not have to deal with.  In the cases whereby an individual player had an evil character, either that character caused the death of a party member by their actions, or they deliberately killed another character.  The excuse in each case is that ‘this is what my character would do.  When I was younger, and less experienced I made the mistake of going with it, and I found that no matter what, the group dynamic changed as soon as the character died, and this led to bad blood between players.  I no longer accept this excuse in any form – if you want to be a dick, do so on another table, I don’t want you at mine.

The reason I don’t normally allow all-evil groups is different.  Even in that (extremely) rare event where you have a group of good friends that will let each other do nasty things, and then not care about it out of game, I find these games to be very short-lived, as they tend to implode, either due to the characters killing each other, or due to players using their characters to play out their own fantasies, escalating and competing with each other to see who can commit the greatest atrocity,  My games tend to have adult themes, and are a bit dark and nasty, but I don’t ever want to go that far again.  I don’t enjoy it, and rule 0 applies – everyone must have fun, or it’s no longer a game that you want to play.


greater goodI often hear players saying something to the effect of “the ends justify the means”.  Frequently, this means a player wants their goodly character to torture a creature in order to extract information, or to set fire to an annoying innkeepers livelihood.  To a lawful evil character though, the ends truly do justify the means.

Let me begin by saying that of all the alignments, lawful evil seems to be the most misunderstood.  After all, in some editions of D&D goblins have been labelled as lawful evil.  In Pathfinder, kobolds are lawful evil, as are mites, hobgoblins, sahuagin, and duergar.  Let’s face it – none of these races really strike you as being good neighbours.  Nonetheless, a fair-sized portion of any human settlement probably fit this alignment more than any other, given that although they are generally law-abiding, they are also willing to do pretty much anything to improve their own miserable lives, even at the cost of others.  It could easily be said that the only reason they are law-abiding in the first place is for fear of being caught and punished.  So how does this work?

Think of the real world, if it helps.  All around us are people who, unlike most of the other alignments we use, are easily labelled as lawful evil.  For the most part, they tow the line, and may even help keep the peace.  They will have loved ones, as well as people and causes that they care about.  The main difference is that is they see a way of bettering their situation, they will take it.  We encounter this every day – we see pickpockets, burglars, car thieves, looters and the like.  Con men and some drug dealers will fit the bill.  I’d even argue that some people that as a society we would label murderers are lawful evil.

I’ll pause for a moment so that you can get the feeling that I’m an idiot out of your system.  Give me a moment and I’ll try to explain.

Imagine that someone has just assaulted your sister/mother/daughter/girlfriend, and done some things to them that are better left unsaid.  Most goodly characters will want to seek justice, and assuming that they’re successful you’d expect the perpetrator to be imprisoned and/or damaged. A lawful evil person would likely do the same thing, except that if they thought they could get away with it, they’d probably kill the offender.  So too could some neutral characters, but our lawful evil guy is more likely to give it a go.  They’ll probably be telling themselves that it’s for the greater good too; after all, this way the offender can’t do it again.  Hey presto, they’re a murderer.

Now let’s look at a fantasy/sci-fi scenario.  Assume that your character has somehow gained some foreknowledge that a particular person has the power to destroy a chunk of the world that they’re living in, even accidentally.  Now, let’s pretend that this person has no knowledge that they have this power, and more, that they’re a really nice guy, giving money to charity and helping anyone who’s in need.  Now, your goodly or neutral characters would probably approach this charitable chap, and either shield him in one way or another, or maybe help him control his ability.  Your evil guys though, well, they’re probably just going to imprison or kill this unfortunate, again thinking of the greater good.  After all, he can’t hurt anyone if he’s 6 feet under, right?

The face of a loving father...

         The face of a loving father…

As a fictional example, I offer you Noah Bennet, a character from the popular series ‘Heroes’.  He’s presented in many different ways, from a kidnapper and murderer, to a family man desperate to protect his daughter from the many threats in his world.  To those people with powers, he’s a threat.  If you possess weak powers and are unlikely to be a killer, he’ll kidnap and then tag you.  If you are slightly more powerful, and possessed of a suitable disposition, he’ll kidnap you and then attempt to recruit you.  If you are unrecruitable, but too powerful to leave at large, he’ll either imprison or kill you.  And all this is in the name of the greater good – his primary motive at all times is to protect his family, and in particular his daughter.

I love the juxtaposition the character represents.  He’s shown to be both a terrible menace to a doting father.  He see’s his ends as completely justifying his means, all the time doing what he sees as good.  To me, Noah Bennet is the perfect example of a lawful evil character.  A quick check on Google reveals many other suggestions of lawful evil characters in popular fiction, from Darth Vader and his Emperor, to Doctor Doom, passing by Tywin Lannister en-route.  Even some versions of Batman fit the bill.  But to me, Noah Bennett will always be a lasting example of how a lawful evil character should be portrayed; a defender of the greater good, doing whatever it takes whilst looking after those they care about.

I hope that this acts as food for thought when you next think about killing those hapless kobolds.  After all, perhaps they’re just trying to protect their families?


And so we come to the most traditionally entropic of alignments – chaotic neutral.  Often described by players (mine, anyway) as being ‘a bit mad’, and frequently as ‘not caring about anyone else’.  I hear this about almost every single character of this alignment, so much so that in my mind at least, the stereotype actually is the norm.  So what, exactly, does a chaotic neutral character look like?

I wonder...

                           I wonder…

There is a method to their madness, of course.  Given that a chaotic neutral character apparently cares very little about good or evil, and dislikes the idea of anything that would contain or restrict them, they can seem to be the most truly chaotic characters you’ll ever come across.  A chaotic character, by definition, is opposed to order or structure.  They can be very spontaneous, going off in random directions at the drop of a hat, because, well, just because.  You probably won’t expect to see one dressed in a suit, welcoming you into see your family lawyer – although maybe you should, just because you wouldn’t?

Of course, with this carefree attitude I can also understand why they might be selfish too.  If you’re given to doing these apparently random acts, you won’t want to spend too much time thinking about the consequences.  A Jack Sparrow character might find it incredibly funny to sneak into an orc leaders lair, steal his solid gold statue, and leave nothing more than a badly drawn note with a smiley face and directions to the town that recently tried to imprison said character.  Never mind that a few hundred innocent people might die, the important thing about the deed is that the sheriff without a sense of humour is punished appropriately.

Thinking about it, they probably wouldn’t want be seen as part of any real organisation, because by its very definition an organisation of any sort imposes a level of structure upon its members.  Even a clown’s guild has rules, after all.  So why would a character like this want to party up with a bunch of stiffs, losers, or homicidal maniacs to try and save (or damn) the world?

The answer I normally get when asking this of my players is wealth and/or power.  These are great motivators for almost any character, and certainly work.  Revenge, often at any cost, is another common, but good theme.  But we should also remember that these characters would also make great explorers.  A chaotic neutral character doesn’t seem the sort to just settle down in the ‘burbs, and seeing what ever is over the next hill is a great motivator.  Be it a monster, a new town, or even just another breathtaking vista, it’ll be something new to experience and hopefully enjoy.

Fiction does provide us with a few characters we can use as good examples of chaotic neutral alignments.  For me, Jack Sparrow is perhaps the best known, and possibly just the best example, full stop.  If a player wants to spend their time amusing the rest of the table with their antics, without dominating the table, I’ll welcome them every time.  Bronn from Game of Thrones is a great example too.  Intensely loyal to whoever can pay him the most, he refuses even to help his friends if he can’t see how he’ll benefit.  Also, consider Deadpool, a great Marvel character, an mercenary known for wise-cracking and inventive ways of killing even the most indestructible super-heroes, plus other stuff.  I know that assassins are supposedly evil, at least on their default settings, but at least think about it before threatening to kill me because I interpret things differently.

I’ve previously argued with myself (something I’m prone to doing, you try working 12 hours shifts in the dead of night in the middle of *#@!!*-nowhere, in the middle of *£$%!* winter, and see if you start doing it too) about banning chaotic neutral characters.  This wasn’t due to disliking the concept of the alignment, but instead simply because chaotic neutral characters were almost all the same whenever I saw them at my table.  I’ve banned evil characters from campaigns in the past, partly because they don’t fit the story, and partly because they can be destructive to the party mechanics, and every single time I do I end up with one of these stereotypical chaotic neutral characters that appeal to players who want the freedom to occasionally do nasty things without other players telling them that their character of x-alignment wouldn’t do that.  I talked myself out of it, but I do cringe every single time this stereotype appears again.  Please, share any interesting chaotic neutral characters you’ve played in the comments section below – I’d love to use this page as something my players can use for inspiration, if for no other reason than I hate seeing the same character again and again!

You know, like these guys...

You know, like these guys…

True neutral alignments have always bored fascinated me.  How can you be so completely neutral in a world of gods and powers?  How can you really have no leanings towards either good or evil, or law or chaos?  I guess I can understand a country choosing to declare their neutrality (otherwise known as “please don’t hurt us, we’ll let you do whatever you want”, sometimes also referred to as surrendering), but an individual doing the same I have trouble understanding most of the time.

Of course, that’s just one side of the coin; apparently there is this whole different true neutral ethos that we’re lead to believe means that you support the ‘balance’.  Okay, on a cerebral level I can understand this, if you have godlike power and the ability to use it, but how does your average guy on the ground reach this stage or ethical understanding?

For me there are only a couple of character concepts that can really embrace the true neutral alignment (I expect some of you will try and throw several more examples at me now).  The first would be a druid, or similar character concept, devoting their lives to protecting the lands under their care.  Similarly I can see a monk living in their temple in the middle of nowhere, or other such reclusive character type.  In this case, the character cares only about their immediate locale, either the land around them or their fellow hermits trying to ignore the rest of the world.  In neither case would they be passive bystanders if anything threatened their charge; if anything, they would aggressively defend their charge against any and all comers.  This is very different to how I see neutral characters often being portrayed, as very passive “I don’t care” types.  Treebeard from the Lord of the Rings initially appears this way of course, but we all know how that turned out.

Never upset an Ent

Never upset an Ent

The other character I can see in this role is the balancer; the very powerful individual that can truly see the big picture, and tries to make sure that neither side gains dominance.  It’s a little like being a monopoly commission; you see a large company dominating a market, actively buying up any threats, so you take action, either support the smaller concerns that are doing well, or you force that larger company to change their practices, or possibly even break up into smaller companies.  Greyhawk is the home to the best example of this type of character for me – Mordenkainen.

A founder and leader of the Circle (formerly Citadel) of Eight (or Five, depending on when you’re talking about), he was a creation of Gary Gygax that became the most powerful wizard on Oerth after TSR took over the world of Greyhawk.  Mordenkainen was noted for trying to maintain the balance between the forces acting on the world, and tried to ensure that neither good, evil, law, or chaos ever got the upper hand.  In the literature available, Mordenkainen does some pretty ‘good’ things, but similarly he has also been known to be pretty unpleasant at others.  A more recent, and better known ‘balancer’ would be Severus Snape (from H.K. Rowlings Harry Potter series, in case you’ve been living under a rock).  Although he may not be thinking in quite the same way, his actions seem to support this view.

Dr Manhattan from the Watchmen is certainly neutral too; although thinking about his case I’ve realised there is a third type of true neutral character.  Dr Manhattan has literally transcended human morals by the end of his story, and seems to have trouble even understanding what the fuss is all about.  This is definitely a niche example, but I’ll take it.


I’ll admit that I have a hard time thinking of other great examples of truly neutral characters, at least those that I think a large number might recognise.  There are plenty of examples of neutral groups or types though.  The Ferengi from Star Trek are certainly a neutral-based race, though with evil tendencies.  You can perhaps argue that most robotic entities should be neutral too; even the machines that created the Matrix fall under this heading for me, given that they are not actively being evil, they just want to live, and logic dictates that unless mankind is removed the machines will always be under threat.

Of course, the humans will always think of the machines as being evil, but are they?  Look at it this way – are we as humans evil, for wanting to destroy the HIV virus, to see it forever gone from this world?  That’s how the machines supposedly see us in that world, and although they use humans as a power source, we use the HIV virus for other things to benefit us too.

I hope that gives food for thought, and look forward, as ever, to your comments.  Well, most of them, anyway; the thoughtful, appreciative, completely irrelevant message from GreatLakesBiodiesel did absolutely nothing for me.



The Jedi, to me, represent how I see the lawful neutral team.  I could of course point to the police (in theory, at least), or to the CIA (again, in theory), but hey, we’re playing fantasy games here.  Now, not all of the Jedi are lawful, or neutral, for that matter, but on the whole I feel that this alignment serves the majority of them.

I understand that this isn’t going to the most popular of my suggestions, so I’ll defend it before I carry on.  The Jedi are apparently supposed to help to protect the weak and innocent.  Despite this, we do encounter multiple occasions whereby doing a good deed is deemed to be less important than obeying their own rules.  In addition, their position of being strictly neutral when dealing with interplanetary disputes is very well known.  After all, it would hurt their ambassadorial status, wouldn’t it?

Some lawful neutral personages, for your perusal – Jean-Luc Picard, Dr. Manhattan, Eddard Stark, Phil Coulson

I quite like playing lawful neutral characters.  Certainly there is potential for them to be very stereotypical, not unlike the lawful stupid paladins we’ve all met, but there can be a lot of depth to the character.  For example, these characters commonly try to work within the laws and order of their own society, but could equally just be following another own strict moral code, perhaps that of a god or philosophy.  This can put them at odds with the local society, causing some friction.

Another facet of law is that lawful characters show a respect for traditions, and could maybe evolve in this direction, maybe by following in the footsteps of their father, and their father, and their father, etc.  They also work towards helping their local community, and so may have some interest in governance.  My last character was actually working towards this goal, and was retired to become a town councillor.  It was a refreshing change of pace to play a character like this, because with this goal in mind you always had to consider how your actions would look.  A number of times I had to stop other members of the party trying to burn down buildings in order to kill bad guys; something that would certainly have succeeded, but it looks really bad when the guys hired to defend the town burn it to the ground instead.

It does create some interesting friction between the characters in the party though.  Say someone did stop you burning down a building, leaving the only alternative as going into the dark gloomy building inhabited by grimlock assassins, and stopping them the hard way (while being exhorted to ‘take them alive!’)  That’s all well and good, but if someone gets seriously hurt, or killed, who do you blame?  Be prepared to take some stick if you choose this path, that’s all I guess I’m saying.

Now, I did intend to post this up last Thursday, but due to still being on holiday, entirely without internet access that didn’t come with people staring at me, and more importantly, trying my level best not to use the contents of my stomach to redecorate the inside of the caravan we were staying in, I took the better part of valour and slept.  Lots.

Back to normal now (well, almost), so back on track; I’m going to try and look at the other neutral alignments on Thursday in an effort to catch up with myself.  See you then!


TV3's Mastermind

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hall in a popular caravan site.  There’s music playing, entertainers boring the punters, punters ignoring the ‘entertainers’, and black-shirted staff trying to convince me to spend more money on their over-priced drinks.  I’m definitely attracting some odd looks.  I’m not dressed up for a night out; I’m sitting by myself, typing on my laptop, in the only well-lit area in the room.  Come to think of it, this may not be the best place to be writing this article, but it’s the only place within 5 miles with a reasonable (and accessible) internet connection, so I’m kind of stuck with it.  So, with overly-loud, badly mixed, pop music being drilled into my skull, I’ll have to make the most of it – apologies to everyone if any of the lyrics subliminally make it into the final edit!

I’ll cover 2 alignments here.  Both neutral good and chaotic good both strike me as the most common alignments for adventuring types.  Neither feels inclined to follow the letter of the law, meaning that they have a lot more freedom than our lawful friends, but they still have the basic ‘good’ tendencies to go out and do heroic things for their fellow man (or woman, elf, etc., you get my meaning)  This means that players selecting either alignment for their characters don’t have to worry too much about their actions, or the consequences of those actions, at least in terms of how those actions relate to their character.  In short, they can be seen as a little lazy.

Of course, that isn’t really true, is it?  Here’s how the Pathfinder Core Rules defines these alignments:

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

*come on the cheeky girls, come on the cheeky boys* Gah!

“Someone who is neutral with respect to law and chaos has some respect for authority and feels neither a compulsion to obey nor a compulsion to rebel. She is generally honest, but can be tempted into lying or deceiving others”

“Chaos implies freedom, adaptability, and flexibility. On the downside, chaos can include recklessness, resentment toward legitimate authority, arbitrary actions, and irresponsibility. Those who promote chaotic behaviour say that only unfettered personal freedom allows people to express themselves fully and lets society benefit from the potential that its individuals have within them.”

c440n            johnmac

Examples of neutral good fictional characters: Neo, Buffy Summers, Qui-Gon Jinn, Gandalf the White, Batman

Examples of chaotic good fictional characters: John McClane, V, Iron Man, Indiana Jones, James T. Kirk

I feel that I should explain some of these choices.  As far I’m aware, Qui-Gon is seen as a bit of a rebel to the rest of the Jedi order, and is known to break the rules if his intuition tells him that they are wrong.  Batman I’ve seen argued as any of the three goodly alignments, but to me he can’t be chaotic, given that he has a lot of respect for the law, but has himself moved beyond the law in order to accomplish what the justice system cannot.  John McClane for me is a great example of a chaotic good character, even if he is a cop; he’s described as a bit of a loose cannon, and his propensity for breaking things is pretty well known.  And there’s no way that Kirk can be anything but chaotic either.

I’m aware that some of these choices will be controversial, but these are my opinions, feel free to share your own in the comments below; I certainly won’t belittle your own suggestions.

*Don’t stop, never give up* I hate this music.  I there was a decent rock club in the area I’d be laughing (and almost certainly drinking, moshing, and generally not writing as I intended), but as it is I just have a headache now.

Our neutral good guys and our chaotic good gals have a lot in common, and probably make very good friends.  They bend, break or ignore the rules they don’t like, and would work together towards a common goal.  Other than that what else can be said of them?  They can both be a little rebellious, with the chaotic characters perhaps having a greater tendency to break stuff.  Despite this, they continue to work to the common good, trying to better things for their society.

Because of their many similarities they do tend to blur a bit though, so how exactly do they differ?  Well, the chaotic guys are perhaps a little too freeform than their neutral comrades, who prefer a little more structure to their lives.  Certainly our neutral good allies are less likely to run into an orcish village and start burning everything in sight, without a least considering the alternatives.  They also get on better with their lawful brethren, even if they do feel that they’re a bit too conservative.

Overall, I do feel that although there is a lot of difference in how the goodly characters accomplish their goals, even if they often seem to be played in a similar fashion on the table.  I’d really like to see more definition within the rules, so that newer players especially can more easily understand what those differences are.

On a final note, can I just say that I love seeing all of the alignment related discussions that have recently started again on the various facebook pages and other websites.  It’s great to know that people are talking about the topic, as it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an open talk, with people feeling free to voice their opinions.  Please carry on, and if you disagree with someone’s views feel free to tell them, but please do it in a nice way; there have been a small number of people that seem to think that their opinion is the only opinion that matters.

As always, I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions.  I’ll be discussing the next alignment later this week.


P.S.  Thanks to the lovely staff here closing up a half hour early, I didn’t actually manage to finish at the time I intended.  This has left me slightly aggrieved, as I’ve had to subject my self to the mind-numbing, brain-cell rotting, pre-mixed 90’s pop trash again on a second successive evening.  I can feel my brain complaining loudly as it tries to force its way out past my eardrums.  I think it’s been worthwhile, but I’m really hoping to find somewhere with better music before tackling lawful neutral later this week.