When I started playing D&D in grade school back last century, the D&D Player’s Handbook was carved on stone tablets. Okay, I am exaggerating, but I was around for the first and subsequent editions in the early 1980s. For some reason, alignments were a big deal. In 5e, I recognize that the restrictions on alignments have been loosened. I mean, you can play an evil Paladin now if you really want to!
However, in another game that I have played in for 9 years and counting, I play a lawful good cleric, who strays away from her alignment and her faith, and my character had to atone for it. My cleric’s fall from grace brought another interesting element to the story.
In this article, I would like to discuss character alignments in the D&D 5e gaming system, monsters and alignments, and the advantages and disadvantages of playing characters with opposing alignments.
Defining Character Alignments
The word alignment is tossed around a lot of tables in the RPG community, so let’s define it. What is the definition of alignment? According to the D&D Player’s Handbook, “Alignment is a combination of two factors: one identifies morality (good, evil, or neutral), and the other describes attitudes toward society and order (lawful, chaotic, or neutral). Thus, nine distinct alignments define the possible combinations.”
Also, creatures who do not have rational thought are classified in the D&D Player’s Handbook as unaligned. (The Gelatinous Cube comes to mind first. Don’t ask me why.)
The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent: The Nine Character Alignments
Let’s start with the good alignments because it’s probably good karma. Here they are, paraphrased from the D&D Monster Manual, the D&D Player’s Handbook, and my own RPG experiences:
- Lawful Good (LG): these characters and creatures are rule followers for good causes. They never break rules. Think of the traditional Paladin as an example. Many Clerics are also Lawful Good. I have played a Lawful Good character (the one that fell from grace). Gold and Silver Dragons are also Lawful Good.
- Neutral Good (NG): Characters and creatures who are Neutral Good have the best intentions and actions and do the best they can to help others but keep self-preservation in mind. Frodo from Lord of the Rings (LOTR) has been considered as having a Neutral Good alignment. Most of the characters I play now are neutral good, because lawful good hasn’t worked out so well. (See above.)
- Chaotic Good (CG): Good intentions, but inconsistent and unpredictable. (Squirrels come to mind with this alignment.) They are on their own timetable and have their own moral code. Djinni, Elves, and Faerie Dragons are examples of Chaotic Good.
Let’s continue with the bad. Admittedly, I wrote an article recently about the best evil classes, and it felt a little strange because I’ve always played characters with good alignments. Perhaps the critics portraying RPG as demonic worship and evil in the 1980s and 1990s is etched in my head. Anyhow, here are the evil alignments:
- Lawful Evil (LE): Although evil in morals, beings with this alignment value logic, order, structure, and traditions. (Think of the mirror opposite of Lawful Good.) Blue and Green Dragons are Lawful Evil; Devils, Dracoliches, and Vampires are also Lawful Evil.
- Neutral Evil (NE): The term sociopath comes to my mind when playing someone with a Neutral Evil Alignment. These beings do whatever they want at their whims without consideration for any consequences. Drow, Flameskulls, Goblins, and Yuan-Ti are considered as Neutral Evil. (I’ve encountered Yuan-Ti and they are nasty!)
- Chaotic Evil (CE): These are the psychopaths of the RPG world. In my opinion, they are the most frightening because these creatures are full of hate and seek out to hurt others. Think of Shadow Dragons, Smaug (Red Dragon) from LOTR, and Demons.
And finally, the Neutral alignments, indifferent, meh. The self-centered and not caring-so-much. The self is more important than others.
- Lawful Neutral (LN): Beings with this alignment are motivated by rules, structure, and tradition. Monks and Wizards tend to be Lawful Neutral. Azers and Spectators are Lawful Neutral.
- Neutral (N): These are the creatures who are indifferent, do not take sides, and do not get involved. (Switzerland comes to mind with this alignment.) Druids, Stone Giants, and Humans are known to be Neutral.
- Chaotic Neutral (CN): Creatures, NPCs, and PCs who are Chaotic Neutral generally do not give a hoot. They value their autonomy more than any moral code. Classes such as bards, barbarians, and rogues have a reputation to be Chaotic Neutral. Cloakers and Cyclops are Chaotic Neutral.
Monsters and Alignments
My findings with going through the D&D Monster Manual are that there are not a lot of monsters with neutral alignments. If the monster is not inherently good or evil, they are generally lumped in as Neutral or unaligned. I guess it makes sense for more monsters to be evil, because if they don’t really care, then there may not be a reason for many encounters.
I also purposely did not include character classes in the evil alignment categories, because in 5e, almost any class can be any alignment. Admittedly, it’s still hard for my 1st edition RPG paradigm to envision an evil Paladin or a Lawful Good rogue. Of course, the default is always, always the Dungeon Master.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Character Alignments in a Party
So, in this made-up scenario, let’s pretend that the DM allows PCs to play any alignment they wish, without restriction. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of having vastly different alignments in a party.
- No one can say the adventure wouldn’t be interesting. Imagine the dialogue, the drama, and the role-playing!
- Players can have more freedom to do things in the game that they wouldn’t do otherwise. (Although I recommend that DMs set firm boundaries, or the campaign could go downhill fast.)
- PCs with evil alignments may take more risks because morals would not necessarily hold them back.
- PCs with evil alignments may be able to negotiate or charm monsters in an encounter so the party would not have to fight them. Warlocks who are evil can make pacts with evil deities and increase the party’s chance for survival. (I don’t think that would work with Chaotic Evil monsters, though.)
- Allowing evil PCs in a campaign may bring a lot of negative drama (literally!) to the game. Players could use this as a reason to harass others.
- Character clashes would happen if there was a Lawful Good Paladin or Cleric and an Evil Barbarian or Rogue. The DM would have to ensure that all the players are enjoying the game.
- There may be division rather than teamwork in a party, and that could be problematic.
- There may be some unpleasant behavior from the evil characters. Again, the DM would have to set firm guidelines.
- The storyline might be difficult to navigate if alignments are too different, because who is ultimately the enemy?
In this article I have defined the 10 alignments, including the unaligned, in the D&D 5e universe, briefly discussed monsters and alignment, and covered some of the advantages and disadvantages of playing good, evil, and neutral characters in the same party. These advantages and disadvantages are not exhaustive by any means, especially since current editions of D&D are evolving into a more narrative scope and are less rigid in rules since the 1st edition (trip over a wire and end up with a Total Party Kill (TPK)). What are your thoughts concerning alignments as a Player Character? As a DM?