For some reason, alignment is one of the hardest concepts for players and DMs to come to terms with. So, to make things easier, I’ve put down what I believe to be a rather simple guide to alignments.

Good Vs Evil

  • Good alignments are selfless, willing to help others even if it means harm to oneself.
  • Evil alignments are selfish, willing to harm others if it will help themselves.
  • Neutral alignments are generally willing to help others, but will try to break even or get something in return for their help

Lawful Vs Chaotic

  • Lawful alignments see society as needing order and structure. They view laws and rulers as necessary for the maintenance of civilization
  • Chaotic alignments prefer a society without laws or structure, where every person is free to make their own rules
  • Neutral alignments feel that some rules are OK, but also understand that governments can abuse their power, and don’t mind breaking laws if they think they can get away with it.
LawfulNeutralChaotic
GoodSociety should be made to help the peopleEverybody should just help everybody else outOverthrowing tyranny is the best way to help people
NeutralThe Rule of Law is what separates us from the animalsEvery day is different, and you gotta take life one day at a timeWe must remain free. For good or evil, it is important that we have that choice
EvilLaws should be used for the benefit one selfYou gotta watch out for yourself, because nobody else willThe world is your playground, and the people your toys. Use them as you see fit.

Example: How the alignments would help the poor

Lawful Good
A new tax should be instituted that benefits the poor
Neutral Good
I give to the poor because it’s the right thing to do.
Chaotic Good
I steal from the rich to give money to the poor.
Lawful Neutral
I give to the poor because it gives me a nice tax write off.
True Neutral
I offer the poor work as laborers so they can earn their own money
Chaotic Neutral
Everybody should be able to decide if and when they want to give money to the poor
Lawful Evil
I set up a charity to help the poor, and pay myself a hefty salary from the money it brings in. All tax free, of course
Neutral Evil
If the poor can’t take care of themselves, I could always use more slaves
Chaotic Evil
I started a soup kitchen, then poisoned the food. Problem solved.

So, what do you do with this info?

The simple answer is, not a whole lot. Alignments are a generalized description of how a character acts. It’s not very important in the current edition. In fact, it’s so unimportant that the spells, Detect Good and Evil, Dispel Good and Evil, and Protection from Evil and Good, don’t even use it to determine what they effect. Likewise, there are no penalties for acting out of your alignment anymore.

As a player, it’s a generalized idea for how your character will act in some situations, and what their overall motivation for adventuring could be. The important thing to remember is that this is subject to change, and an evil character can become good, just as a good character can fall.

As a DM, it’s useful for finding the right monsters to fit an encounter, and gauge how an NPC with very little background info would react in various situations.

The Exception to the Rule

The only times that alignments are actually important, would be if you travel to the Outer Planes. On the Great Wheel, thoughts have weight, and the planes are beliefs made real. The dead take things a little more seriously, and petitioners trying to either merge with the plan or move up the ladder work to become the literal embodiment of their alignment. Likewise, alignments can determine your position on the great wheel, with everything from cities to whole planar levels being shifted from one plane to another if their alignments shifts too much.

Now, this won’t necessarily effect those only visiting for a short adventure too much, but if you choose to run an entire campaign in the Outer Planes, then you can expect your character’s alignment to be a little more important than it is when your just killing orcs in the Realms.

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