This is Faith in Play #44: An Alignment Grid, for July 2021.
I thought I had finished discussing alignment, as it appears in Original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™. I had explained why it was the True Religion of characters in the game world, and described Goodness as beneficence, Wickedness or Evil as selfishness, Law as being essentially about Order in society, with Chaos being about liberty and Individualism. I described four distinct forms of Neutral in Believing Balance, and explained why part-neutral characters tended to be Zealots. Then when Balancing on the Corner explained the give-and-take of the corner alignments, I thought I was finished.
But periodically I see these grids that are supposed to illustrate alignment with one simple example in each. The two most recent were how you close a bread bag and how you sign your e-mails. I am always disappointed; I frequently want to argue and correct.
Instead, I am offering my own grid. This grid will be constructed of famous people, real and fictional, plus philosophies which usually are connected to politics, economics, or religion, and sometimes organizations which hold to those beliefs. I am also justifying each choice.
King Arthur, as portrayed in Camelot: The man believes in justice, and that it is the duty of the strong to protect the weak. It is ultimately his commitment to the law he is sworn to uphold and his love for his possibly errant wife that is his downfall, as he cannot find mercy without overriding justice.
Christianity, in the New Testament model: The fundamental teaching is one of living our lives for others. There is a balancing act between obeying authorities and defending the rights of individuals, but always with a view to helping people.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, also known as Mother Teresa: She abandoned her own middle class life to bring assistance to the impoverished in another part of the world, leaving Europe and working to deliver food, medical care, clothing, and housing to India.
Robin Hood, in the traditional stories: He lives in a time of oppression, when the powerful rulers are overtaxing the conquered peasants while living in great ostentation, and he takes the ill-gotten gains of the nobility and distributes it as widely as he can to the impoverished, trying to establish some kind of balance while opposing the will of the lawful authorities.
Marxism, the philosphy: Karl Marx believed that people were fundamentally good and would, if freed from oppressive economic pressures, work as hard as they could and take only what they needed to survive, sharing with others in greater need. They would not need anyone to tell them to do this, because it was natural for man to work hard and to share with others in need.
Feudalism, as a political system: One person ultimately owns everything, and you borrow it from him and so are obligated to keep his rules if you want to continue your use thereof. Because he cannot monitor everyone, he usually lends very large quantities of his property to a few people, who in turn lend it to others in exchange for obligations, creating a hierarchy. The rules are absolute; everything depends on the decisions of the ruler.
Taoism, the Chinese philosophical framework: Its insistence on balancing the yin and the yang is one of the great examples of neutrality in application.
Libertarianism, the political position: The Libertarian Party ultimately stands for one thing, the freedom of individuals.
The American Civil Liberties Union or A.C.L.U.: This organization defends the Bill of Rights and individuals whose rights are being impinged by unjust acts of government.
Darth Vader between his fall and his redemption: Vader unswervingly serves his master, and defends the structure of the Empire. In doing so, he secures and advances his own position. It is of no consequence if he must end the lives of others in the process, as long as the Empire is secured.
Capitalism, the philosphy in its pure form: Adam Smith put forth the belief that everyone always acted in his own selfish interests, and that everyone should do so, because this would ensure the best possible outcome for the world generally. Those who appeared to be acting beneficently were actually acting selfishly in the belief that a reward awaited them in an afterlife.
Darwinism, as a social philosophy: Based as it is on survival of the fittest, the philosophy that the strong will continue into the future while the weak perish, and that this is right and good, is the ultimate in self-interest.
The Marquis de Sade in his formal philosophy: He asserted that whatever was, was right, and that men had the right to exert power over women because men were physically stronger.
Atilla the Hun, in the popular imagination: He attacks others to increase his own wealth by pillaging, sharing with others to the degree that their assistance advances his own benefits.
So that’s the defense; here is the grid.
St. Teresa of Calcutta
American Civil Liberties Union
Marquis de Sade
Atilla the Hun
And for reference, here are the individual articles in the series, in their original sequence; in a sense, they together make a single long article on the subject of alignment, of which this article is an appendix:
- #6: True Religion, expressing the idea that a character’s alignment is ultimately what he genuinely believes, and why that should control his actions.
- #10: Goodness, connects the “good” alignment to beneficence as its core value.
- #14: Wickedness, reduces the essence of this “evil” alignment to selfishness.
- #18: Order, explains that the central concept of “law” is maintaining the structures of society, putting the preservation of the social order above that of the individuals.
- #22: Individualism, ties “chaos” to individual liberty.
- #27: Believing Balance, presents four distinct approaches to what the game calls “neutral.”
- #32: Zealots, discusses why a part-neutral alignment means an emphasis on the non-neutral aspect.
- #37: Balancing on the Corner, completes the series with a look at what it means to be devoted to both a moral and an ethical value.