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Building Blocks 33: Alignment 2

Alignment 2: Law vs Chaos

The different alignments imply, but do not fully determine, the actions, choices, and behaviors that characters, creatures and organizations make.  These alignments are also somewhat subject to interpretation.

The Law vs Chaos axis does not necessarily relate to society’s laws and the observance of them.  The third edition D&D rules define law and chaos as follows:

Law implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability. On the downside, lawfulness can include closed-mindedness, reactionary adherence to tradition, judgmentalness, and a lack of adaptability. Those who consciously promote lawfulness say that only lawful behavior creates 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.

Chaos implies freedom, adaptability, and flexibility. On the downside, chaos can include recklessness, resentment toward legitimate authority, arbitrary actions, and irresponsibility. Those who promote chaotic behavior say that only unfettered personal freedom allows people to express themselves fully and lets society benefit from the potential that its individuals have within them.

Someone who is neutral with respect to law and chaos has a normal respect for authority and feels neither a compulsion to follow rules nor a compulsion to rebel. They are honest but can be tempted into lying or deceiving others if it suits him/her.

Lawful characters often display a strong code of honor/conduct which often imposes rules on their behavior that would otherwise not exist. They also typically have a strong sense of and desire for justice – something that can make them appear insensitive at times. Duty is also important to them even to the point of knowingly going to their death. Societies and organizations with a strong legal code and/or strict chain of command (as in hierarchy not just having a leader) would typically be considered lawful.

A lawful character may disobey a law of the land or an order from his master/lord because it contradicts a higher law (religious and honor would be common examples).  This can often lead to intense internal conflict, though not necessarily. An example of an internal conflict because of conflicting law systems would be Javert (Lawful Neutral) from the novel/musical/movie Les Miserables.  He spends most of the book pursuing the convict Jean Valjean (Neutral Good) only to have the convict save his life near the end of the book.  Faced with the dilemma of obeying the law of the land and turning in Valjean or following his own ethical code and releasing Valjean (thereby repaying the debt of saving his own life), Javert commits suicide as he is unable to reconcile 2 codes of law.  The superhero Batman (Lawful Good) is an example of a character who does not follow society’s laws but is nevertheless a lawful character as he follows his own strict code of conduct – and oddly enough is often slightly at odds with Superman (Lawful Good), primarily over their methods.  Lawful characters (especially evil ones) are not above twisting the rules to favor them or using a well-ordered system and hierarchy to exploit others.  Magneto (Lawful Evil) would be an example of this.  Lawful evil villains often consider themselves to be better than other evil characters because they have principles (such as not killing cold blood) but even these are open to loop holes (have a minion do it).

Chaotic characters often place a high value on personal freedom.  They are typically marked with impulsiveness, spontaneity and a “go with the flow” attitude.  They often clash with authority, particularly when told to do something they don’t want to do.  They view bureaucracy to be an impediment on the growth of society that restricts individuals  from aching their potential.  Being chaotic does not necessarily mean that a character is intentionally at odds with lawful societies but “anarchists” would be considered chaotic.

Chaotic characters may also be described as following their heart in making their decisions.  They go with what feels right and this often is out of alignment with organized society.

Robin Hood is an example of the chaotic (good) hero who not only defies the law and authority but at times makes a point of show boating that he does it. Captain Jack Sparrow exemplifies the chaotic (neutral) nature of using others, alliances, friendships, and pretty much everything else available to further his own goals above all others as well as their unpredictable nature.  The Joker is the paragon of the chaotic (evil) individual who only desires to throw everything into chaos to “watch the world burn.”  Typically however, such a chaotic (evil) character will pursue such actions with the expectations that out of the ashes will come forward progress and a better society (usually what normal folks would consider a twisted society).

Those who stand neutral with respect to law vs chaos will generally follow laws and orders so long as they have nothing compelling them to do otherwise.  Such individuals generally still need a reason to disobey.  It would not be erroneous to say that these characters are closer to lawful than they are chaotic.  They are not opposed to laws, its just that laws and orders are not typically the driving forces behind their decision making process.

An oversimplification of the law vs chaos axis is how a character relates to society vs individuals. A lawful character is primarily concerned with what is best for society as a whole – things like stricter laws and fewer personal freedoms.  A chaotic character is primarily concerned with what is best for individual people (often times themselves in particular).

*Some material taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alignment_(Dungeons_%26_Dragons)