Alignment reflects how a character relates to the concepts of good and evil, law and chaos. It can affect how certain NPCs react within the game, and will occasionally determine whether an item can be used or not (some items have alignments of their own, and will not allow a conflict with their user). The main purpose of alignment, however, is to act as a guideline for consistent roleplaying, though it is not set in stone. The alignment of a character can change to match the style in which they are played, if deviation is consistent and serious. All of the nine alignments listed are viable choices for adventurers, though the "evil" variants are more often the domain of villains and monsters.
A PC's alignment is a tool for developing its personality. It is more guideline than restriction. Each alignment represents a broad range of personality types and personal philosophies, so two characters of the same alignment can still be quite different from each other. In addition, occasional deviations are permissible, as few people are completely consistent in their behavior.
Actions taken while playing may alter alignment. The details depend on the module (for example, the original campaign provides no ways to shift along the law/chaos alignment axis), although the default scripts do call for a shift towards evil for killing commoners (generally, townfolk). This is of particular concern to those playing one of the alignment-restricted classes, such as paladin, druid, monk, barbarian, bard, and several prestige classes.
The nine alignments
Alignment has two dimensions, each with three categories. The moral dimension reflects how a character relates to good and evil, consisting of the categories "good", "neutral", and "evil". The ethical dimension reflects how a character relates to law and chaos, consisting of the categories "lawful", "neutral", and "chaotic". Combining these dimensions yields the nine alignments.
|chaotic good||neutral good||lawful good|
|chaotic neutral||true neutral||lawful neutral|
|chaotic evil||neutral evil||lawful evil|
Characters with an alignment that is partially neutral are generally more dedicated to the non-neutral aspect of their alignment; those with a "corner alignment" often face dilemmas in which their moral and ethical stances are at odds with each other. For example, if a character is ordered to kill an innocent, the lawful neutral response is to obey, the neutral good is to refuse, and the lawful good is to evaluate which has priority in the situation: law or good?
Every character has a rating, from 0 to 100, in each of the two dimensions of alignment. The ratings that correspond to each category are indicated in the above table. Actions that affect alignment cause these ratings to shift by a specific amount. When one of the ratings crosses a boundary into a new category, two things happen. First, the character's alignment changes to the new category. Second, the rating in question is set to the middle of the new category's range. For example, if a lawful evil character with a moral rating of 30 receives a 1 point shift towards good, the character's alignment will change to lawful-neutral and the character's moral rating will become 50.
PCs who manage to reach "purity" within their alignment are rewarded with an alignment title. For this purpose, "purity" means ratings of 0, 50, or 100 in each dimension, as indicated in the table below. (Ratings are listed for the law-chaos axis, then the good-evil axis.)
Since PCs begin in the middle of their alignment's rating range, only the true neutral alignment title is obtainable without an alignment shift. On the other hand, the true neutral alignment title is the hardest to maintain, as any alignment shift will strip the title from the PC. (For comparison, a shift towards good will not strip a neutral good PC's alignment title since the good rating cannot go above 100.)
Alignment titles are mere honorifics; they are listed on the character sheet but have no effect on gameplay.
The moral dimension
The moral dimension of alignment reflects a character's position with respect to pre-defined, absolute concepts of "good" and "evil".
- "Good" implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others and to protect innocent life. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of self.
- "Evil" implies hurting, oppressing, and killing innocents. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient or profitable. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master.
- "Moral neutrality" can represent several different positions.
- A neutral character might have compunctions against killing the innocent but lack the commitment to make sacrifices to protect or help others. These characters can be committed to some by personal relationships, but they are not committed to others outside these relationships.
- A neutral character might have chosen to actively maintain a balance between the powers of good and evil. These characters do not wish to see the world dominated by evil, nor do they believe that complete eradication of evil is desirable.
- A neutral creature might lack the capacity for moral decision making. Animals and creatures of similar intelligence fall under this category. Even deadly vipers and tigers that eat people are neutral because they lack the capacity for morally right or wrong behavior.
The ethical dimension
The ethical dimension of alignment reflects a character's position with respect to pre-defined concepts of "law" and "chaos". These concepts tend to be different from what most people would infer from their names.
- "Law" implies duty, honor, honesty, trustworthiness, tradition, obedience to authority, and reliability. On the downside this can lead to close-mindedness and an inability to adapt. Those who consciously promote lawfulness see lawful behavior creating a society in which people can depend on each other and make the right decisions in full confidence that others will act as they should. Correct means will lead to desirable ends.
- "Law" does not intrinsically mean legal behavior; "lawful" and "law-abiding" are distinct concepts. ("Lawful" implies "law-abiding" only after a character accepts the authority of those who made the laws.)
- "Law" embraces hierarchy and emphasizes responsibility to the group/society.
- "Chaos" implies individuality, freedom, flexibility, adaptability, and openness to new ideas. On the downside, this can lead to recklessness, resentment toward authority, arbitrary actions, and irresponsibility. Those who promote chaotic behavior see personal freedom allowing people to express themselves fully and letting society benefit from the potential that its individuals have within them. The ends justify the means.
- "Chaos" does not intrinsically mean random actions, nor does it intrinsically mean breaking rules for the sake of breaking rules.
- "Chaos" rejects hierarchy, instead promoting either egalitarianism or anarchy combined with innovation and individualism.
- "Ethical neutrality" can represent several different positions.
- A neutral character might have a normal respect for authority, but feels neither a compulsion to obey nor a compulsion to rebel; might be honest, but can be tempted into lying or deceiving others; might appreciate tradition, but does not outright reject new ideas.
- A neutral character might have espoused neutrality as superior to law or chaos, regarding each as an extreme with its own blind spots and drawbacks.
- A neutral creature might lack the capacity for ethical decision making. Animals and creatures of similar intelligence fall under this category. Dogs may be obedient and cats free-spirited, but they do not have the ethical capacity to be truly lawful or chaotic.