Ethics and Morality

There are many factors which inform a character's personality. Two of these are alignment and allegiances. Your alignment determines your moral and ethical tendencies. Your allegiances are the institutions, ideals, or individuals to which you feel loyalty or camaraderie.

Two characters of vastly different alignments—a lawful good and a chaotic evil character for instance—can both be patriots of the same nation. They will likely go about showing their allegiance in very different ways. The lawful good character will pay taxes and obey laws. The chaotic evil character might riot or lynch those he sees as holding his country back. Both might serve in the military but certainly in different capacities.

Outside of this framework of role-playing, there are several game mechanics which rely on allegiances and alignments. When resisting mind control or other forms of manipulation it can be important to know where your character's allegiances lie. When using a holy weapon it is necessary to separate good from evil. When attempting to persuade an NPC, the nearness of your alignments and overlap of allegiances can be vital.


Alignment


A character's general moral and personal attitudes are represented by his alignment: lawful good, neutral good, chaotic good, lawful neutral, neutral, chaotic neutral, lawful evil, neutral evil, or chaotic evil.

Alignment isn't meant to hobble or define your character, but to help in developing his or her identity. Each alignment represents a variety of personality types or personal philosophies: two characters of the same alignment can be very different.

It's important to remember that there are very few people who are fully consistent in their alignment. Good people can do bad things, and bad people can do good things. For example, a ruthless crime boss who's chaotic evil might be kind and gentle with his grandchildren. A chivalrous soldier who is lawful good might have the racial prejudices prevalent in his culture. These deviations from the baseline of a character's alignment are what make him not only realistic but interesting.

Morality: Good vs. Evil


While it seems overly simplistic, good characters are those who protect innocent life. Evil characters, on the other hand, are those who debase or destroy innocent life.

Good implies charity, fairness, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of others. Good characters will make personal sacrifices to help others. Often moral excellence, virtuousness, and piety are associated with being good, however, it is possible that one could be pious toward an evil deity.

Evil implies hurting, oppressing, or killing others, particularly for personal gain. Some evil characters have no compassion for others and harm them without qualms if doing so is convenient. Others actively pursue evil, delighting in wickedness, killing or hurting for sport or out of duty to some evil master. If good is moral, evil is immoral.

Those who are neutral with respect to good and evil aren't comfortable with the wanton murder of innocents, but the lack the conviction to make sacrifices to help others. Neutral people are typically committed to others only by personal relationships.

Being good or evil might be a conscious choice, but for most characters, it's an attitude that is recognized, not chosen. Being "neutral" on the good/evil axis generally represents a lack of conviction toward one side or the other. Sometimes, however, it represents an enlightened philosophical commitment to a balanced view, and that a balance between the two is the proper place for at least themselves.

Ethics: Law vs. Chaos


Lawful characters respect authority, tell the truth, honor tradition, and keep their word. On the negative side, they can be stuffy, close-minded, judgmental, and inflexible. They commonly believe—even if they don't articulate it—that such behavior forms a society in which people can depend on one another and make the right decisions in full confidence that others will act as they should.

Chaotic characters follow their hearts, hold freedom as a sacred virtue, exercise their liberties, resent being told what to do, favor new ideas over old, and embrace change. They can also be taciturn, recklessness, rebellious, untrustworthy, and irresponsibility. They often believe—and can sometimes express—that only unhindered personal freedom allows people to express themselves fully and allows society to flourish through the potential that its individual members have within them.

A character who is neutral with respect to law and chaos has a healthy respect for authority but doesn't feel a compulsion to obey nor a compulsion to rebel. She is typically honest but might lie if the need arises.

Deference to law or chaos can be a conscious choice, but typically it's an ingrained personality trait—recognized, not chosen. Neutrality on the lawful/chaotic axis is usually a centrist state, being compelled toward neither side. A few neutrals, however, feel that neutrality is a superior ethical stance to law or chaos, regarding each as dangerous extremes.

No Alignment


Beasts and similar creatures are generally incapable of moral action or making ethical choices and have no alignment. A man-eating shark or venomous serpent has no concern for good or evil and lacks the human capacity for morality. A horse may be obedient and a squirrel wild, but they don't usually have the moral capacity to be truly lawful or chaotic.

However, in a fantasy setting, the GM can determine that the noble leader of a wolf pack is good or the ravaging tiger in the jungle is evil. A loyal and dutiful hound might be lawful or a mischievous chimpanzee could be chaotic.

Myths and fables are filled with animals who are both benevolent and malevolent, regal or deranged. This should be the exception, however, and not the rule.

The Nine Alignments


There are nine distinct alignments that include all possible combinations of the good/evil axis with the lawful/chaotic axis. Each is described below and depicts a typical character of that alignment. This is only a baseline, and individuals will vary from this norm.

The first six alignments—lawful good through chaotic neutral—are the standard alignments for player characters. The last three—lawful evil through chaotic evil—are typically meant for monsters and villains.

Lawful Good, “The Champion”: Lawful good combines honor and compassion. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight it relentlessly. He helps those in need, tells the truth, keeps his word, and speaks out against injustice. He hates to see the guilty go unpunished. A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected to.

A lawful good character often has good relationships with the authorities and may be either registered as a legitimate agent or unofficial representative of a local, national, or even planetary government.

Neutral Good, “The Protector”: Neutral good means doing what is good without bias for or against order. A neutral good character does what's best, regardless of consequence. She is devoted to helping others. She works with presidents and kings but does not feel beholden to either.

A neutral good character might work with authorities, but will also work in secret or even against her own organization when she feels she must.

Chaotic Good, “The Vigilante”: Chaotic good combines a good heart with a free spirit. A chaotic good character acts as his conscience directs him with little regard for what others expect of him. He makes his own way, but he’s kind and benevolent. He believes in goodness and right but has little use for laws and regulations. He hates it when people try to intimidate others and tell them what to do. He follows his own moral compass, which, although good, may not agree with that of society.

A chaotic good character is usually regarded as any other criminal by authorities—at least officially. He may have some contacts on the police force, but few who would admit it, and fewer still he isn't blackmailing.

Lawful Neutral, “The Arbiter”: Lawful neutral means you are reliable and honorable without being a zealot. A lawful neutral character acts as law, tradition, or a personal code directs her. Order and organization are paramount to her. She may believe in personal order and live by a code or standard, or she may believe in order for all and favor a strong, organized government.

A lawful good character will usually be a registered agent of some governing body. Even if not, she'll work on behalf of such an organization.

Neutral, “The Spectator”: Neutral (sometimes called "True Neutral") means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. A neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character tends to think of good as better than evil—after all, he'd rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he’s not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way.

Some neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run.

Chaotic Neutral, “The Anarchist”: Chaotic neutral represents true freedom from both society’s restrictions and a do-gooder’s zeal. A chaotic neutral character follows her whims. She is an individualist first and last. She values her own liberty but doesn’t strive to protect others’ freedom. She resents authority, shuns restrictions, and challenges traditions. A chaotic neutral character doesn't typically intentionally disrupt organizations. That would mean she was either motivated by good ("a desire to liberate others") or evil ("a desire to make others suffer"). A chaotic neutral character may be unpredictable, but her behavior is rarely completely random. She is not as likely to jump off a bridge as to cross it, as that wouldn't be an alignment, but a mental illness.

Lawful Evil, “The Tyrant”: Lawful evil represents meticulous, intentional, diabolical, and frequently successful evil. A lawful evil villain methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He condemns others not according to their actions, but according to race, religion, nationality, or social status. He is loath to break laws and staunch about keeping his word at least somewhat because he depends on order to protect himself from those who oppose him. Some lawful evil villains have particular taboos, such as not letting children come to harm or not killing enemies before offering them the chance to join them. They feel that such compunctions put them above actual villains.

Some lawful evil characters commit themselves to evil with zeal—much like a crusader committed to good. Not only are they willing to hurt others for their own ends, they take pleasure in spreading wickedness as an end unto itself. They may also do evil as a duty to their vile masters.

Neutral Evil, “The Evildoer”: Neutral evil represents pure evil without honor and without variation. A neutral evil villain does whatever she can get away with. She is out for herself, pure and simple. She sheds no tears for those she kills, whether for necessity, profit, or fun. She has no love of order and holds no illusion that following rules, traditions, or codes could make her any better of a person. On the other hand, she doesn’t have the restless nature or love of conflict that a chaotic evil villain has.

Some neutral evil villains elevate evil as an ideal, committing atrocious acts for their own sake. Most often, such villains are devoted to the forces of darkness.

Chaotic Evil, “The Annihilator”: Chaotic evil represents the wild desires to destroy. The chief targets of chaotic evil are life and order. A chaotic evil character does whatever his greed, rage, and lust drive him to do. He is angry, vicious, belligerent, and unpredictable. If he's just out for whatever he can get, he's ruthless and brutal. If he's committed to the spread of evil and chaos, he's even worse. Thankfully, he's spontaneous and can quickly shift interest. Any groups he joins or forms are poorly organized—otherwise he'd destroy them. Typically, chaotic evil characters only work together under duress, and their leader lasts only as long as he can dodge mutinies and assassination attempts—particularly in larger groups.

Changing Alignments


There are times when it is appropriate for a character's alignment to change. Generally, this is a shift to an adjacent alignment, such as lawful good to neutral good or chaotic neutral to chaotic evil. Such shifts indicate a major change in the fundamental beliefs of the character, generally the result of a life-changing event.

A change of alignment can be undertaken at any time a player wishes with a few restrictions:

  • A character cannot change alignments to avoid the effects of a power or similar effect. For example, a character cannot become good in order to set foot on a magical island where "only the pure may stride". Likewise, a character cannot become neutral to avoid the effects of a smiting power. There may be occasions when the GM presents a situation where a character may choose to suffer an effect or change alignments, but these are atypical.

For Example…


As a scholar of the arcane you've long studied the practical magics. One evening, in a forgotten wing of a forbidden library, you uncover an unsightly tome. You lift the cover and find yourself faced with notions so vile and corrupting the GM gives you a choice—change your alignment to evil or permanently lose 1d6 points of Charisma.


Finding such a tome should never be random, but perhaps the "reward" of a character's search for power.

  • If a character changes alignment he loses all powers and special abilities dependent on his previous alignment. Returning to his previous alignment does not restore lost powers or abilities. Instead, the character must undergo a quest, make some great sacrifice, or find some other way to make recompense as determined by the GM.
  • If an effect forces a character's alignment to change, the player cannot change it back until the cause is somehow negated. This might be a psionic attack or a cursed magical relic.

Variants


In an attempt to portray a realistic world, some creatures are described with blended alignments. These "tendencies" exist between the nine standard alignments and branch from a neutral aspect—neutral good with either lawful or chaotic tendencies, lawful neutral with either good or evil tendencies, chaotic neutral with either good or evil tendencies, neutral evil with either lawful or chaotic tendencies, neutral good or evil with true neutral tendencies, or true neutral with tendencies toward good, evil, law, or chaos. Any alignment could have neutral tendencies.

Blended alignments have no effect in game mechanics—a neutral evil character with chaotic tendencies is still a neutral evil character when determining the effects of items, powers, or ability checks. Their key use is in determining the leanings of NPCs in social situations. A faerie of Annwn might be chaotic good, but his respect for the natural world and lack of concern for the fate of humanity could be defined as neutral tendencies.

Alignments and Creatures


Creatures are assigned alignments in their descriptions. This statistic is usually a reflection of that creatures general cultural attitudes. However, sentient beings are free-willed and may be of any alignment. An ogre is listed with an alignment of chaotic evil because ogre culture is diabolic—the strong rule the weak, and wickedness is seen as a virtue. But there can be lawful good ogres, provided a decent explanation is given as to why such an ogre came to be.

If a creature is by its nature confined to a specific alignment—such as a celestial or fiend—it will be made clear in that creature's description.


Allegiances


An allegiance is a loyalty to a group, individual, or belief which a character holds dear. He's not required to have allegiances, but they add both depth and realism to characters and stories.

A character can have up to three allegiances, listed in order from most important to least important. These allegiances are indications of what he values in life and may encompass people, organizations, causes, or ideals. They aren't set in stone and can change as your character goes through life. It should be noted that, just because he fits in with a particular category of people, your character does not have to have that category as an allegiance. He might be a valued member of a team or organization but is not required to list that team or organization in his allegiances.

There are mechanical benefits to having an allegiance, though this is mostly a means of developing a personality for story and role-playing. The mechanical benefits are detained in some feats and talents, as well as social mechanics.

Pledging Allegiance


An allegiance can take the form of loyalty to a person, to an organization, to a belief system, to a nation, or to an ethical or moral philosophy. In general, a character can discard or gain an allegiance at any time.

Allegiances include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Belief System: This is usually a particular faith or religion, but can also be a specific philosophy, political party, movement, or notion. With so many varieties of beliefs, players should be as specific as possible (a Southern Baptist and a Roman Catholic are both Christian, but will believe differently about issues). It is possible to have more than one belief system, though they should be conducive. Belief systems include Shintoism, Islam, Christianity (Protestant or Catholic), Buddhism, Agnosticism, Capitalism, and Conservationism. They also involve Republicans, Democrats, and Anarchists.
  • Cause: A cause is something you work to achieve or help others achieve. While many causes can work readily alongside others toward specific goals, this isn't always the case. A character with the cause "stop crime at any cost" might work with another who has the cause "criminals should face justice in a court of law" when trying to stop a gang of thieves, but they might find themselves on opposing sides when the gang's leader is released because of a botched trial. There are many causes, including treat the poor with dignity, the ethical treatment of animals, rid your city of crime, stop a specific criminal organization, protect the environment, and eradicate an alien threat.
  • City or Nation: This may or may not be the city or nation that the hero currently resides in. It may be where the individual was born, or where the hero resides after emigrating to a new home. It may even be a land your character admires but has never been to. Cities include New York, Paris, and Sioux Falls. Nations include the United States, Egypt, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
  • Individual or Group: This includes a leader or superior, a team, a family, a friend, or a unit within a larger organization (such as members of a squad or platoon, or individuals whose safety your character is responsible for).
  • Organization: This may be a school, a branch of the armed forces, an agency, a company, a fraternity, a secret society, a gathering of like-minded individuals, or an otherwise established authority. Organizations include the US Marines, Oxford University, and the CIA.

Allegiances and Influence


An allegiance can create an empathic bond with others of the same allegiance or cause conflict between characters with opposing allegiances when those allegiances are clear, as determined by the GM.

You may gain advantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks when dealing with someone of the same allegiance—as long as you've had some interaction with the other character to discover the connections and bring the bonus into play. When an NPC with allegiance to New York sees that your character hearts the same city on her t-shirt, she gains advantage on her Charisma (Persuasion) check.

Conversely, you may suffer disadvantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks when dealing with someone with an opposing allegiance if it is obvious. For example, a character with an allegiance of Republican might take disadvantage on his Charisma (Persuasion) checks made to influence an NPC with an allegiance of Democrat.

You can use a Charisma (Deception) check to emulate an allegiance that you don't have.

Allegiances and Understanding


Having an allegiance implies having sufficient understanding to make a moral or ethical choice. As a result, a character cannot have more allegiances than its Intelligence or Wisdom modifier (whichever is lower) with a minimum of one. Creatures with an Intelligence or Wisdom score lower than 3 can only have an individual or group as an allegiance. Outside of very unusual circumstances, a wild animal will have its family unit (pack, herd, etc.) listed in its allegiances. Domesticated animals will have their owner or caregiver as an allegiance.

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