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The Beard Speaks: Revising Good and Evil

Ever since D&D released the first Alignment Grid and its attendant explanations, there has been debate about exactly what each alignment does and does not cover.  Sure, it’s got Good and Evil, Law and Chaos… but what do those terms really mean? Is a Chaotic Neutral character a Lunatic or are they just quixotic?  Is there any real difference between Neutral Evil and Chaotic Evil?  How about a Chaotic Neutral character who burns down an entire town?  Is that Evil or just Chaotic?  Is a Chaotic Good character really a freedom fighter or do they just hate the Man but give to charity, you know?  Or the big one… Does a Paladin have to support Slavery if it’s the law?  What about rape?  What about Genocide?  Is invading another nation full of the faithful of another religion and slaughtering them or enslaving them really the act of a Lawful Good person?  Certainly, the Knights Hospitaller, Knights Templar, and especially the Knights Teutonic, the quintessential real world “Paladins” would say yes.  Is Jihad the act of a Good person… or just a faithful one?  These are questions that plague gamers and religious philosophers alike.

 

Of course, this is a poor venue to talk about the reality of such acts, so let me restrict myself to gaming and talk about the Alignment Grid… or rather the Traditional Alignment Grid.  For those not familiar with it, it presents 9 philosophies in a 3×3 grid defined by two axes; the ethical Law vs Chaos axis (x) and the moral Good vs Evil axis (y), with Neutral being the middle ground between each pair.  This creates the alignments, from left to right and top to bottom: “Lawful Good”, “Neutral Good”, Chaotic Good”, “Lawful Neutral”, “True Neutral”, “Chaotic Neutral”, “Lawful Evil”, “Neutral Evil”, and “Chaotic Evil.”  Various editions of D&D (and it’s clones and derivative systems) have expanded or modified this matrix, most notably by adding in lesser intermediary alignments such as “Lawful Lawful Good” and “Good Lawful Good” as if alignments were winds, or by eliminating half the grid as 4th edition did, transforming it into a straight line continuum of “Lawful Good”, “Good”, “Neutral”, “Evil”, and “Chaotic Evil” in a ridiculous attempt to overly simplify everything.

 

Like many things designed for gaming in the early days, it’s a drastically oversimplified system that has many, many flaws.  It’s primary flaws are ones of origin and opposition.  In Origin, it assumes a stance that LG is the epitome of all moral-ethical systems and that everything else must be compared to that ideal.  This means that Chaos is defined in terms related to Law and Evil is defined in terms related to Good.  The later is fine, since Evil never defines itself as such… but Chaos actually gives rise to Law, not the other way round.  As math demonstrates, put enough Chaos into a system and you get Order.  In Opposition, it says that all 9 are supposedly balanced, but fails to accurately describe anything besides LG and LE in concrete / comprehensible terms… because it has no clear idea of what the opposites of Goodness or Lawfulness might be and so it simply guesses.

 

For purposes of the Rules, this is, to an extent, fine, but it leaves players often confused as to what their limitations are and leaves GMs confused as to what exact motivations should be driving / limiting the PCs and NPCs alike.

Now, many many articles (both serious and satirical) have been written about the subject of Alignment, so I know I’m not the first.  In fact, I’ve drawn inspiration of the years from dozens of them, not the least being TVTropes.com’s amusing “Lawful Stupid”, “Chaotic Stupid” and “Stupid Evil” pages, not to mention the litteral tons of meme-grids that feature everything from Spongebob characters to fantasy authors to Earth Nations to various incarnations of Batman.  That said, I think there is still room for improvement, and not by expanding the grid to 5×5 as some, like Do A Spot Check’s to the right, which is nice, but adds even more terms with vaguely defined meaning and does nothing to define the terms we already have.  Even Pathfinder is saddled, thanks to the OGL, with a system they can’t redefine and so we constantly have Paladins acting like morons or kill joys because the rules say so (as opposed to because their god says so, which would be fine).

Like I said, attempts have been made to make the whole system make sense, usually by replacing some of the terms, or changing up an axis, and they’ve all met with limited success, mostly because they weren’t, as the Game of Thrones one on the left demonstrates, compatible with the original system, no matter how well they may describe character outlook / motivation / ideology.

 

To that end, I propose the following, called the BRACI Grid.  BRACI stands for Balanced, Responsible, Authoritarian, Collectivist, Individualist. Like the Traditional Grid, the BRACI Grid has two axes and can be mapped over the Traditional Grid to replace or clarify definitions if you like.  However, the BRACI Grid uses truly opposed ideologies and has (although this part is optional) a built in gradient scale which defines the limits of an individual’s dedication to their chosen Alignment.  The BRACI system assumes that Neutral / Balanced is the default state and that the vast majority of all people fall into this camp or the lowest grades of the 9 Alignments, Moderate.

 

Replacing / Redefining the Law-Chaos Axis, I introduce Collectivism (C) standing in for Law, and Individualism (I) standing in for Chaos.  Collectivism values the individual only in as far as they are components of the larger society.  What is “good” for the society must be placed above that which is “good” for those who comprise that society and deviation from societal norms is seldom rewarded.  Individualism, in contrast, values the society only for its ability to protect and nurture the Self.  Individualists see Society as a collection of individuals and will only tolerate a society that places the rights and privileges of the individual at the center of its ideology.

 

For the Good-Evil Axis, I introduce Responsibility (R) standing in for Good and Authority (A) standing in for Evil.  Responsibles [Update: Responsibility is short for Personal Responsibility, not just responsibility in general] view the role of the Self and the State to be one of doing what must be done, of caring for people and making sure that the maximum number of people are allowed to live long, relatively happy lives.  It views Authority with suspicion, preferring to use feedback, honor, and pride to keep both governors and governed on task.  Responsibility is a tool that only grows stronger the more it is employed.  It makes everyone stronger.  Authoritarians view the role of the State and the Self to be ones of determinism, of what is and is not allowed.  Authority is Power, over the self and over others, and Authority must be used or it is wasted.  Authority is a tool for control.  Its strength is greatest when all obey.

 

So, what does this mean?  Let’s look at the 4 corners, the extremes, first.

 

Chaotic Good / Responsible Individualism: A Responsible Individualist thinks for and of herself but acts for everyone to the limits of her ability and desire to do so.  The RI Persona does not allow society to dictate any aspect of her life, but she is always conscious of how others can be affected by her choices. This is a Libertarian ideal (at least in theory if not in practice.)

 

Lawful Good / Responsible Collectivism: A Responsible Collectivist follows the mores and rules of society, subsuming her own desires and goals for the good of society as a whole.  The RC Persona acknowledges that sacrifices must be made for the good of all, and knowing that to demand sacrifices of others is wrong, sacrifices herself instead.  This is both a Socialist and a Buddhist ideal.

 

Chaotic Evil / Authoritarian Individualism: An Authoritarian Individualist places himself at the pinnacle of wants and needs, assuming to himself the position of absolute decision maker.  No one else’s wants or needs are considered.  The AI Persona allows no one to have power over them, save those who can offer something that they want or need, be it shelter, sustenance, or even guidance.  While it is easy to define this as a Psychopath’s Ideal (and it is), it is also the Survivalist Ideal, valued by many hunter-gatherer tribes and others who place personal strength higher than compassion or obedience.

 

Lawful Evil / Authoritarian Collectivism: An Authoritarian Collectivist obeys the laws, written or unwritten, to the exclusion of such minor concerns as emotionality, compassion, or mercy.  All must serve the state.  The AC Persona obeys, out of fear or desire to serve or lack of imagination.  This is a Fascist Ideal and is the easiest to view as purely evil, but one must remember that, by and large, it is also the Corporate and Military Ideal, where obedience to rules and superiors is placed above personal desire.

 

Those are the extremes, but what about the middle grounds, the Neutrals?  In the Traditional Grid, Neutrality is seen as the lack of something… but it shouldn’t be.  Rather, it is the default.  The only lack is the lack of a strong conviction or pull towards one of the extremes.  The word Neutral implies not taking sides, so perhaps a better term would be Balanced (B) , which is why we use it.

 

Neutral Good / Balanced Responsibility: A Responsibly Balanced person is someone who tries to balance the needs of the self against the needs of the community… a Liberal Democrat in the traditional sense (as opposed to the political parties of the same name).

 

Neutral Evil / Balanced Authoritarianism: A Balanced Authoritarian is someone who seeks to find advantage in all things, obeying social rules and laws only as far as needed… a typical gangster.  If they have a code, it will be a personal or clique code of conduct.  This is the Criminal Ideal.

 

Chaotic Neutral / Balanced Individualism: A Balanced Individualist is a complete individualist.  They eschew such concepts as Responsibility or Authority.  They claim no authority over others and no responsibility to or for them.  This is a Pure Anarchist, a thrill seeker, artist, or iconoclast.

 

Lawful Neutral / Balanced Collectivism: A Balanced Collectivist is someone who conforms to society because it is expected, someone who views it as their duty to be like others and not stand out too much.  This is a Communist, usually reinforced with Buddhist thought.

 

True Neutral / Objectively Balanced: A Balanced Objectivist is one of those who actively embrace Authority and Responsibility, Individuality and Community, rather than rejecting any of them.  They strive to maintain a balanced approach, trying not to be doctrinaire in authority, trying not to be consumed by responsibility, trying to balance the wants and needs of everyone against their own ability to provide.  By this light, almost everyone is TN, but it’s no longer a bad thing.  It’s just the way it is.  It’s about getting by.  By and large, these people tend to be Conservatives and Centrists.

GRADIENTS: Within each Alignment there are three levels of ideological dedication, defining the strength of conviction as well as the types of transgressions such individuals are prone to.  At the first Degree, Moderate, are those who believe in their chosen Alignment, but are flexible in its application.  They might get angry when challenged, but typically violence only comes when they are pushed too far.  At the second Degree, Fanatic, are those who become angered at the existence of anyone who holds views counter to their own.  They usually tolerate those who are within one step, and might be persuaded to deal with those who are within two steps, but anyone farther away than that is subject to the full weight of their hatred, scorn, and rage.  At the third and final Degree, Enlightened, are those who are both dedicated to their alignment completely and secure enough in its ideology that the disagreement of others does not matter to them.  Enlightened individuals are often called Saints, Holy Men, or Wise… but they are, in many ways, even more dedicated to their chosen alignment than the Fanatics.  They simply do not care (in most cases) what “Unbelievers” think.

 

Alignment Gradients and Behaviour: What this means, by and large, is that Moderates will often break from their chosen alignment in minor ways. Hypocrisy this might be, but by and large it’s more a matter of expedience and or weakness, such as a Priest of the God of Purity and Chastity visiting a brothel.  He knows he does wrong, but does not absolve himself of it.  Instead he strives to be better, knowing he will fail from time to time.  Fanatics, however, are far more likely to go to extremes, often violently, aggressively, and without consideration.  They are far more likely to be hypocrites on a grand scale, espousing one view and discarding it whenever it becomes inconvenient, such as a Priest of a God of Forgiveness and Inclusion burning heretics and sinners at the stake, then justifying it because “God Wills It!”.  At the extreme levels of dedication, The Enlightened will seldom, if ever, violate the tenets of their belief code, although there will, of course be variation and not all of them are in any way religious.  A Priest of the God of Forgiveness at this level will strive always to forgive those who transgress and feel genuine sorrow when he is unable to find it within himself to do so.

[UPDATE: A Moderately Balanced individual is just generally unbiased towards any side.  An Objectively Balanced individual can see the validity of each side’s arguments and apply each as need for the situation.  An Absolutely Balanced individual refuses to take sides, being completely disinterested in the debate.]

Note: I use the example of Priests simply because most people, especially in pre-industrial settings, tend to base their Alignment choice on an acceptance or rejection of the dominant religious or philosophical thinking of their area.  This is true even when the individual is not of that religion.  I’m Jewish, raised Orthodox Jewish, but in the United States of America, it is impossible to avoid Christianity.  Thus, much of my internal ethical and moral code is drawn from Christian thinkers, no matter how galling it might be to admit it.  Judaism is not, at its core, a particularly forgiving faith, while Christianity (at least as written) strives to be, and I find that I do try to forgive those who wrong me because I think that is admirable.  However, Judaism has no concept of Sin, preferring Transgression (the first is an act against the laws of god, punished by god, while the second is also an act against the laws of god, but punished by man).  We do not, per se, have a concept of Hell and do not believe in Damnation or Salvation.  But because I have been surrounded by the concepts of Sin, Damnation, Salvation, Redemption, etc, my philosophies have been shaped not just by the absence of those concepts but by an active rejection of them.  Compare this to Conversion in that Judaism has long understood and rejected proselytization, considering it a major no no, making my dislike of something as fundamentally Christian as Missionaries intrinsic to my native religion and not based upon a personal rejection of that particular idea.

Am I saying, in this, that the old, Traditional Grid, is useless?  Not at all.  By and large, I do think the ideals of Lawful Goodness are encompassed by Responsible Collectivism, the ideals of Lawful Evil are at home within the larger confines of Authoritarian Collectivism, the cruelty and depravity of Chaotic Evil fit right in with the more extreme and selfish sects of Authoritarian Individualism, and the freedom fighters and renegades of Chaotic Good will find they belong with the others in Responsible Individualism.  And of course, the lunatics of Chaotic Neutral will find their rightful home somewhere in the mix.  What I am saying is that by using the BRACI Grid either as a replacement or an overlay for the Traditional Grid, you’ll find that the alignments are a lot more sensical, a lot more broad and flexible, and that you understand them better.

Finally, yes, there is a considerable overlap between the BRACI Grid and a Political Chart, such as the Asplund Chart featured to the left.  There is a reason for this.  Political ideology, like religious identity, are both philosophical systems that are largely described in binary terms.  I’ve tried to be as apolitical as feasible, avoiding terms like left and right and progressive and conservative as much as possible, striving instead to describe the struggle between personal responsibility and state control in the simplest terms while contrasting it with the place and role of the individual in larger society… which, at the heart of it, is what social philosophy (the study of morals and ethics) is all about.

Update and Addendum: It has been pointed out to me that many will see “Responsible” and think that this must mean that “Authoritarian”s must therefore be Irresponsible.  This is not the case.  The English Language lacks an antonym for Authoritarian, and Irresponsible is not the opposite of Responsible, it is the lack of responsibility.   A Responsible person feels a sense of responsibility for others, while an Authoritarian feels a sense of obedience to others.  Perhaps Obedient might be a better choice than Authoritarian.  Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

About the author

Jesse Grant

PJ likes to claim he's a mad genius. We'll agree to the "mad" part. He is a novelist, game designer, and a decent cook. He's a fan of RPGs (traditional and video) as well as board, card, video, and mind games. Trained from an early age, he has mastered the GMing Arts, having attained at least the rank of "Half Gygax". Also, he can be bribed with teriyaki jerky or Lion bars.

8 Comments

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    • It doesn’t alter any game mechanics that rely on alignment, but it does relabel and clarify what alignment does and doesn’t do to a character. I’m thinking of making this standard alignment for all of my Pathfinder games to streamline and simplify. With this, I’d actually allow characters who fall on the “evil” axis, since it’s more a philosophical thing than “my character is EVIL, so I’m going to be a total asshat to everyone!”

      • Absolutely. Those were, by and large, my purpose in creating the Braci Grid. It cleans up definitions and allows the players more options when making their characters.

  • Rasamune, you use it the same way you use the Traditional Alignment Grid, just using the new terms in place of the old. Look, no one is really ever going to admit “I’m Evil” and most people wouldn’t know if they’re lawful or not, so in game, the language wouldn’t change. But what the BRACI Grid is useful for is a) your players can actually use all 9 alignments, because, while sure, CE characters do fit into the AI section, an AI individual could still be “Good” or at least think they are good. It gives your players 9 alignment options, each with a much stronger descriptive than the essentially meaningless Lawful Good.

    Lawful Good, Neutral Good, and Chaotic Good are essentially meaningless terms, and all but indistinguishable in play from each other. The other three “PC” alignments, LN and TN are boring and unplayable, while anyone who plays CN is going to be a pain in the butt jerk. And then you have the players who insist on playing Evil. LE is okay, CE is scary, and NE might as well not exist because anyone who plays it either ends up playing LE or CE.

    Take for instance an Elfin Warrior. Adding LG to her doesn’t give any more information. Same with NG and CG. A CN EW is going to be a nutter, while a LN EW is going to be a bore or a stick in the mud. But now take the Braci Grid, and again imagine eight identical Elf Warriors with the same build. The Authoritarian Collectivist is a Drill Sergeant, the Responsible Individualist is a Revel, the Responsible Collectivist is a Militia Woman, the Authoritarian Individualist is a Mercenary, the Balanced Authoritarian is a Commisar, the Balanced Responsibility is a Peacekeeper, the Balanced Individuality is a Wandering Swordsman and Thrill Seeker.

    Sure, you could make those builds with any system of alignment or none at all, but alignment is largely just a descriptive tool. The old system fails in that regard, because the terms have no real weight, and since there’s no gradients, you can’t express the differences between a LG Saint who never steps out of line and is dedicated and willing to sacrifice for the cause and a LG Paladin who is a Genocidal mad man who burns witches and cuts off the hands of thieves.

    So, in short, the way you use the Braci Grid is however you like, but it’s mostly just a tool to allow a greater character creation framework. It asks a question about your character and your answer makes you think and the place, and you have 27 viable answers, each that say a great deal about your character.

  • Hey man, I looked for beard alignment chart (not in the sense of your specific post, more as in something to do with beards in a d&d sense), but I came across this explained detail about stuff related to d&d. I’m pretty new to it, but I started reading some stuff dealing with d&d. Congratulations on this explanation, I’ll have to read it thorougly to understand it better now.

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