Check your alignment!

There is a concept in Dungeons and Dragons – along with some other old pen-and-paper roleplaying games – called “alignment”. For anyone unfamiliar, this is a matrix with Law and Chaos on one axis (with Neutral as the midpoint) and Good and Evil on the other axis (again, with Neutral as the midpoint). It’s a flawed system, with presumptive definitions, but it has its utility.

The main straw arguments against its utility are essentially from overly narrowed classifications. “What about unjust laws? A lawful good person would be stuck!” Um, no. Please reference Yeshua of Nazareth about the Sabbath day. And not all people with the same classification would behave in exactly the same way, either. These are extremely rough and broad categories, with fuzzy edges.

A better argument against it is the categories themselves.

Few dispute the dichotomy of Law (or Order) vs. Chaos, with Neutrality being a balance between them. Good and Evil, however… that’s a different story. There’s a lot of (absolutely valid) contention that Good is contextually defined. Part of this, I believe, is a conflation of Good and Law. The USAian slavery and jim crow laws are frequently mentioned in this context, as is Nazi Germany.

This apparent contradiction disappears when Good is simply defined as selflessness. Our depictions of Good – and I’d welcome corrections here – are ultimately selfless. They are helping others, or at least attempting to do so. Obviously, from my point of view, intent counts.

The largeness and vagueness of the categories is important, too. Lancelot – the archetypical Lawful Good paladin – has an affair. Does this selfish act suddenly make him Evil? No. Does it shift him around in our matrix? Yes. Does intent matter? Absolutely.

I think this categorization – like many other models of behavior, personality, or society – has its flaws and lossy bits. But it also consists of a really quick and useful shorthand for getting the ballpark measure of a person – or at least where *that person* thinks they are.

This is, if nothing else, a good way to point out the fallibility of any sort of categorization. It doesn’t matter if that categorization is of gender, politics, religion, race, sexual preference, whatever. It’s all fallible in the same way that the concept of “alignment” is fallible. Yet they’re all useful in their place and time.

Unsophisticated players will sometimes say things like “Oh, I can’t do that, it’s against my character’s alignment.” Nobody – nobody – is 100% perfect. Sometimes we confuse the model with reality. The concept of alignment can help remind us of that.

You can, of course, test your alignment online.

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