This is Faith in Play #10: Goodness, for September 2018.
Back in May I introduced the notion that in the original Dungeons & Dragons game, alignment was the True Religion of the game, what the characters ultimately fundamentally believed. I did not at that time delve into what those religions were, but promised to return to the question in future articles. This is the first of those, second in the alignment miniseries, dealing with the alignment aspect everyone always mentions first: what does it mean to be Good, and what does a “Good” person believe?
First, let us be clear that “good”, in game terms, does not mean “obeying the rules” or something like that. It is not a religion of laws, but a religion of attitude. It is defined as the belief in promoting the greatest benefit for the greatest number. The word beneficence is perhaps the best synonym for it. Javan’s Feast was an example of good in action: how do I help these poor people who are struggling to survive? Good King Wenceslas, in initiating the practices of the Feast of Stephen (the day after Christmas, known in England as “Boxing Day” because Christians box up their spare and leftover food and deliver it to the poor), demonstrated the acts of a good-aligned person in giving one poor man food in the depths of winter. A “good” person (or character) will break the law, if doing so will make the lives of others better. If indeed Robin Hood robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, his actions were criminal—but decidedly good, which is why his story is so revered.
Good has a good reputation. Most people, even most “evil” people, want to be perceived as “good”. It is characteristically compassionate, caring for the needs of others, in a sense putting others before self. Good people are generally against torture, will probably not perform it themselves, and will only tolerate it if it seems absolutely necesssary to rescue someone else or somehow beneficial to the one being tortured. They are generally against unjustified killing—to put a sentient creature to death, there must be some evidence that the creature is guilty of some heinous evil and unlikely to be rehabilitated. Killing orcs just because, hey, they’re orcs, is questionable. Killing orcs because there is clear evidence that these orcs have committed felonious crimes against nearby human or similar settlements that need to be defended is certainly acceptable.
On the other hand, good people can be misled or misinformed, in essence wrong. They can genuinely believe that certain actions promote the welfare of the greatest number of people which in fact do not. At that point the question becomes whether they should have known better—is it that the orcs they killed were not involved in the attacks on the human settlements, but the characters had good reason to believe they were, or is it that orcs attacked the human settlements so humans are attacking random orc settlements? Understanding good can be tricky, because people often do what we might think bad things for good reasons. Many slavers genuinely believed that they were taking primitive sub-human creatures out of the poverty of their homeland into a better life as domesticated animals. Indeed, most domesticated animals live longer than their wild counterparts, and are healthier and more comfortable along the way; why might it not be so for humans? We abhor such practices—but our characters’ perception of the best possible benefit for the greatest number might well be something we would not perceive as “good” because of our own background.
There is a degree to which “good” is definitive of Christian love. The game version probably does not need to be held to quite that standard of self-sacrifice and servanthood, but a saint who lives so would definitely be a clear example of the “good” alignment. I hope that your own alignment is “good”, whatever alignment you prefer for your characters.