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The Nine-Fold Path: Alignment in Dungeons & Dragons

Updated: Apr 16

This essay takes a comprehensive look at alignment in the Dungeons & Dragons game. It delves into what alignment is, what it’s for, what it means, and how it applies to characters and monsters on a personal and social level.

By R. Nelson Bailey

Dungeons & Dragons Alignment Chart



Alignment is a cornerstone of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Its concepts of player morality and ethics are integral to many aspects of the game, including character class, monster motivation, and the structure of D&D’s fantasy cosmology. However, these concepts and how they apply in the game are not always cut and dry. Many heated arguments have exploded around the game table as each side debates their own interpretation of the rules.


Since it first appeared in Dungeons & Dragons, alignment has been misunderstood, misapplied, and misrepresented. Players easily grasp the intention of Good and Evil, but often have problem understanding Law and Chaos. [1] Others find the meaning of the individual alignments murky, [2] or just don’t understand them. [3] Some claim the concept is outdated, [4] [5] simplistic, [6] [7] undefinable, [8] and not relative to “real life”. [9] Whether these criticisms have any merit is not relevant to this discussion. Highlighting them serves to show the extent of confusion about the nature of alignment. Better understanding its concepts helps to dispel many of these issues.


This article seeks to clarify alignment for Dungeon Masters and players alike. Part 1 explores the purpose and function of alignment. It details Good, Evil, Law, Chaos, and Neutrality, along with all nine individual alignments, and covers common problems and misconceptions, along with tips for players. Finally, Part 2 looks at the history of alignment, from its beginnings in fantasy literature to its adoption and evolution in the game.


This article draws upon primary sources from the Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D), the “Basic” Dungeons & Dragons, and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st and 2nd edition) games. However, the basic principles underlying alignments apply to all versions of Dungeons & Dragons, including all later versions (i.e., post-2nd edition).


A Note to the Reader: While many elements of Dungeons & Dragons reflect the “real world”, keep in mind that this is a game, not a reality simulator. Values expressed in alignments might superficially apply to many areas of life, but they do not stand as an allegory for our modern conditions. The present world is exceedingly vast and complex. Attempting to explain it through the lens of fantasy game values and motivations is simplistic and futile.




What is Alignment?

Alignment determines how a player character, non-player character, or monster should act and respond in moral and ethical situations. [10] It is the moral code that defines their underlying worldview, their role in society, and their ultimate purpose in life. [11] Alignment covers many areas of life concurrently, such as the personal, social, political, and transpersonal. Dungeons & Dragons divides this moral code into nine individual alignments. Two main axes comprise each individual alignment: the “Axis of Morality”, composed of the binary opposition of Good and Evil, and the “Axis of Ideology” of Lawful and Chaotic. [12] Both axes comprise eight alignment combinations that pivot on the ninth alignment — Neutrality, which is the abstention of the morality and ideology of the two axes.


Alignment is not a measure of temperament or a substitute for personality. [13] Alignment tells nothing of a character’s individual qualities, such as their avarice, bravery, honesty, piety, sanity, and so forth. [14] However, alignment sometimes modifies these traits. For instance, a Lawful Good character who possesses intense greed would have the worst tendencies of that trait blunted. However, alignment helps define a character’s persona to a degree in the role they adopt as adventurers and heroes. [15] It serves to tell other characters and monsters where they stand in life, both morally and ideologically.


Alignment only applies to intelligent “thinking” beings. [16] [17] This means creatures with an Intelligence score of 5 or more. Creatures with fewer Intelligence points are typically (True) Neutral in alignment, [18] [19] or, more accurately, “unaligned”. These types of creatures include “normal” animals, such as domestic cats and dogs, cattle, and even dinosaurs, along with their fantasy world “giant” versions, such as giant ants, boars, and toads. It also includes non-intelligent monsters such as oozes, slimes, golems, zombies, and so forth. [20] These creatures cannot comprehend, nor has any use for, the moral, ethical, and ideological implications of other types of alignments. These creatures exist in the moment, as the will to survive another day defines their existence. In short, they have no stake in the eternal game of alignment.


Rather than merely being a philosophical abstraction, alignment is a real thing, a “force” that permeates the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. Alignment is eternal and immutable, not relative to time or place. Each of the nine alignments emanates from a corresponding Outer Plane, such as the Nine Hells or Nirvana. [21] [22] [23] The structure of each Outer Plane takes shape from the physical manifestation of the pure alignment “force”, i.e., the alignment “stuff” or “substance”. [24] In fact, alignment as a force is even quantifiable. Characters and beings of higher levels and Hit Dice have a stronger connection to their ethos, which an alignment detection spell can quantify. [25] Unlike the Outer Planes, all others, such as the Prime Material Plane and the Inner Planes, are unaligned. [26] This suggests that alignment is not dispersed evenly amongst individuals in the multiverse.


“I believe that such notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ do not exist for the Chaos Lords.” The Knight of Swords, Michael Moorcock


Chart of the Dungeons & Dragons alignment wheel from Deities & Demigods
The alignment wheel as it corresponds to the alignments of the Outer Planes.(AD&D Deities & Demigods)

It bears noting that the strictures of alignment do not apply to the gods and other divine powers. Deities needn’t strictly adhere to the tenants of their own alignment, as their motivations are above the morality of common mortal beings. Their actions may even contradict their alignment. [27] This form of alignment “free will” also applies to some mortal beings, such as humans and demi-humans. That these beings are free to choose and can switch their alignment attests to a level of freedom from the absolute “force” of alignment.


While the gods may freely ignore the repercussions of violating alignment, mortals often pay a price when they do so. Character classes who serve deities, such as clerics and paladins, and magic-users who have received extraplanar familiars, are more harshly judged for violations of their alignment. [28] As a result, a cleric could have some or all their spells denied, or a paladin have their powers stripped. Even player characters who follow no god, must adhere to the strictures of their ethos, as the gods of their alignment watch over and aid them. [29] Characters who frivolously change their alignment by their own volition must suffer the consequences. This includes loss of powers, experience levels, and its corresponding experience points. [30]


“I don’t know about sides. I go my own way; but your way may go along with mine for a while.” Treebeard in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers


The Purpose of Alignment

Alignment is more than a role-playing device to help players navigate moral and ethical situations. It is the bedrock of many fantasy role-playing games whose foundations were built from mythology and fantasy literature. It puts the ever-important “heroic” in heroic fantasy. To function effectively, epic stories must have heroes and villains. The former strives to succeed against adversity, while the latter seeks to thwart the hero. [31] This is the ultimate purpose of alignment: it provides an easy method to determine who is a hero, who is a villain, and who has taken no side in the struggles of these two groups. Therefore, the villain’s nature is evil, [32] while, conversely, the hero is usually good. These heroic stories follow the pattern of the Epic Sagas and Chivalric Romances of mythology and folklore, such as Beowulf, Le Mort de Arthur, Amadis de Gaul, and Norse sagas. These stories, along with fairy tales, served as fuel which led authors, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Poul Anderson, and Michael Moorcock, to write modern heroic fantasy stories. [33] Their stories then helped inspire the creation of Dungeons & Dragons [34] [35] and its concept of alignment.


Tales of heroes and villains highlight the psychological underpinnings of humankind. [36] Thus, alignment represents the morality logic of the fairy tale and mythological story. Characters within these tales represent humanity’s light (Good) and shadow (Evil) aspects in varying degrees. Tolkien used this type of imagery to indicate a person or place’s moral valuation to the reader. In The Lord of the Rings, he often represents those associated with Good with brightness (e.g., elves) or by the color white (e.g., Gandalf’s transformation from Gray to White). Conversely, darkness, shadow, and the color black signify Evil (e.g., the Dark Tower, the Black Riders, and the Shadow, Sauron). [37]


“The first [Ormazd] created life, light, and truth, the second [Ahriman] death, darkness, and falsehood.” New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology on Zoroastrianism.


The opposition of Good and Evil forms an axis that governs the moral and ethical aspects of alignment. Both tenets seek to increase their influence while diminishing the other’s. The world is the battleground where these opposing principles eternally war against each other. This cosmological rivalry plays out on all planes of the multiverse, which includes the Inner, Outer, and Prime Material Planes. Both principles pivot on Neutrality — the “Cosmic Balance” of Moorcock’s multiverse — which serves to keep them in check. The game’s good-bad/light-darkness dualities are closer to Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism than any modern interpretation of morality. These universal concrete laws govern the actions of all creatures in Dungeons & Dragons — humans, elves, orcs, demons, and even the gods.


Two types of morality function concurrently. First, “Relative Morality”, comprises the cultural and religious rules of a society. Second, and most important to the concept of alignment, is “Universal Morality”, which governs the core principles of Good and Evil. Universal morality is mutually exclusive with relative morality, and the former always supersedes the latter when judging matters of alignment. If the rules of the latter contravene any dictates of the former, then that character, monster, or society has violated their alignment principles.


Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutral characters.
Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutrals characters from the D&D Basic rulebook (1980).

Relative Morality

Relative morality does not equate to, and has no bearing on, alignment. It represents the mores, values, and taboos which regulate the behavior of individuals in their society. These morals are culturally relevant and mutable, and they can be secular or religious. Each regulation carries with it a value judgment of “good”, “bad”, or “neutral”, as dictated by each society. This varies depending on such factors as age, gender, class, and social rank of an individual. [38] These rules give consent for, or prohibition against, specific actions. A few examples include a requirement to tithe, [39] associating with demi-humans, [40] or if one should burp loudly after a meal. [41] Each society possesses their own unique set of penalties for violating these rules. The game typically eschews defining these types of rules, though some exist. Instead, each Dungeon Master must decide their exact nature as they see fit for their own campaign. [42]


Example: A fighter follows a god who demands absolute bravery when battling giants. In an encounter with a raging frost giant, he flees rather than possibly perishing. Here, the character has violated the relative morality of his religion. He will probably incur the wrath of his god, depending on the degree of the violation. However, he suffers no penalties against his alignment.


“Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among men.” The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien


Universal Morality

This aspect of morality forms the bedrock of alignment, as its tenets apply to all intelligent beings. This is the “alignment force” that emanates from the Outer Planes and spreads throughout the multiverse. It is paramount to recognize the distinctive differences between universal and relative morality. The strictures of the former are ubiquitous, unchanging, and inviolate. Unlike relative morality, what is “good” for one group cannot differ from those of others. [43] These core tenets of Good, Evil, and Neutrality are explained in the subsequent sections that define the moral core of alignment. Keep in mind that these serve as guidelines rather than as a set of rigid rules. To construct such a list of inflexible strictures for the game would be as undesirable as it would be fruitless.


Example: A Lawful Good monarch implements the use of torture to extract information from captured enemies. Since torturing violates the tenets of Good, the monarch’s alignment drifts closer towards Lawful Neutral. If the leader continues to use torture semi-regularly, their alignment shifts to Lawful Neutral. If they institute torture as policy and make use of it routinely, it shifts to Lawful Evil.


Frodo: “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab [Gollum] when he had the chance!” Gandalf: “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.” Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien


Good Defined

Critics of alignment, [44] even some editions of Dungeons & Dragons, [45] insist that defining “good” and “bad” is impossible. They claim these concepts are relative to a specific time and place. Thus, one cannot create a clearly defined common moral code because of the myriad of divergent racial [46] and cultural attitudes and values found in the D&D universe. However, this argument ignores the distinction between relative and universal morality. The criticism holds true for the former, but not for the latter.


The three basic tenets which comprise universal Good morality are: the right to exist, the right of self-determination, and freedom from suffering. [47] [48] Taken as a whole, these concepts define the essential core of Good alignment in the Dungeons & Dragons game. All Good-aligned creatures must follow these tenets, otherwise they have violated their alignment. One must also avoid conflating relative with universal morality. The belief that one’s actions are “good” does not equate to Good in an alignment sense. An evil drow elf who slaughters innocents is doing “good” by the measure of his religion and society. However, his actions are far from the definition of Good, as it is really an evil act.


1. Right to Exist: Good posits that all intelligent beings have basic binding rights — “creature rights”, [49] if you will. Since each living thing exists, one must respect their existence. [50] These rights apply to all regardless of morality, ideology, creed, religion, social class, or intellectual capability. No living being surrenders its right to exist — even those who oppose Good, the followers of Evil. Specifically, this means extending mercy to all creatures, when applicable, along with not depriving them of basic needs, such as food, shelter, and property. Good types possess the qualities of empathy, benevolence, and trustworthiness. [51] They are especially concerned with protecting the weak and innocent. Ideally, Good judges others by their actions, not by their affiliation to a particular group or alignment.


While Good prefers to solve problems peacefully, this right does not equate to pacifism. Neither does it compel one to tolerate evil acts or behaviors. Good always defends itself against predations, especially from Evil. They seek to dampen or negate its harmful effects through conversion or containment, resorting to violence only when all else fails. However, there are some exceptions that mitigate or nullify this right. A Good character needn’t extend mercy to creatures who present a clear and immediate danger to others, especially those with high Hit Dice. [52] [53] Examples include red dragons, wyverns, and frost giants. This includes all Evil beings native to the Outer Planes, such as demons and devils, as they are powerful agents who oppose Good. This right also does not apply to aligned undead or mindless creatures, such as constructs. (See “Measuring Alignment” below for additional details.)


2. Right of Self-Determination: Individuals should be free to make their own decisions and live their own life. Forced servitude and slavery, along with exploitation and oppression in all forms, are undesirable. This includes unwarranted imprisonment, unjust restrictions, and laws which deprive one of shelter and sustenance. To have others unjustly impose their will on others denies them their freedom. Like the right to exist, this inalienable law applies to all, not for just a select few. For example, a Good player character cannot enslave a non-Good creature, even if that creature has enslaved others, or belongs to a known Evil race.


However, the right to freedom is somewhat “relative”. [54] The boundaries of what denotes the oppression of others often lies in a gray area. Society can strip a criminal of their freedom if the imprisonment is morally justified. Hypothetically, many compulsory acts, such as paying taxes or military conscription, could count as violations of the right of self-determination. However, such philosophical arguments go beyond what this right intends.


3. Freedom from Suffering: Good creatures should avoid inflicting undue cruelty and suffering. [55] While both are undesirable, they are not completely unavoidable as they exist as part of the natural order of things. What is important, however, is the intention of the act, as deliberate actions of this nature are Evil. One’s actions should always try to abridge cruelty and suffering, not increase it. Once again, this stricture applies to all living beings regardless of their moral leanings. For example, a Good-aligned society sentences an Evil criminal to death for their crimes. The criminal’s death should be swift and relatively painless to reduce suffering. In this way, their death does not violate this principle.


“It is against [our] principles…to use torture. Principles must never be abandoned. The end never justifies the means. Even if clinging to them means defeat, death, and remaining in ignorance.”  To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer


Evil Defined

Evil is defined by its negative relation to Good. It reflects the Augustinian idea that Evil is the absence of Good. Evil seeks to “advance [itself] over others, by whatever means are possible, and always by the foulest of means possible.” [56] The three universal tenets of Evil are the inverse of those of Good: denial of existence, oppression of others, and desire for suffering. These principles simultaneously operate on an individual and collective level (i.e., the group, be it large or small).


1. Denial of Existence: Extreme selfishness marks the character of Evil types. They care nothing of the rights or welfare of others, and even deny the existence of such “rights”. The lives of others are expendable and meaningless. Only one’s self possesses the right to exist. Their creed is: “I do not care how this affects others, so long as I get what I want.” Ideals, such as life, mercy, compassion, and charity, represent weaknesses which impede their own egocentric desires. [57] Evil always seeks to justify their heinous actions by distorting and obfuscating the truth of their nature.


2. Oppression of Others: Only those strong enough to keep their freedom are entitled to it. One is either the exploited or the exploiter, and only the latter is truly free. The enslavement, oppression, exploitation, and domination of others is part of the inherent order of the universe. [58] Lesser beings are chattel meant to serve the more powerful ones. [59]


3. Desire for Suffering: Cruelty, suffering, and immorality in all forms is desirable. [60] [61] Ruthlessness of the strong over the weak is a valid expression of the will. Thus, Evil types revel in torture, violence, desolation, treachery, and animosity. They are callous and remorseless to the suffering of others.


“Themes and conflicts of Law and Chaos, Skepticism and Faith…those contradictions that exist in us all.” Michael Moorcock


Dungeon Delve module bundle, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeoneers Guild Games


The opposing forces of Lawful and Chaotic form the second major axis of alignment. While Good and Evil concern themselves with matters of personal morality, Lawful and Chaotic focus on the transpersonal social order of aligned creatures. This axis of ideology [62] concerns itself with the organization of individuals and groups, along with personal and societal needs. Because of this, many players find these ideas more difficult to understand than the morality of Good and Evil. The ordered nature of the group (Lawful) is forever at odds with the opposing force of individual freedom (Chaotic). Unlike morality, neither Lawful or Chaotic has a judgment value attached to them. Neither are superior to the other, as they simply represent different modes of expression.


“You’ll encounter grief and woe by working for chaos. Regulation is the single frail barrier between savagery and welfare.” Emphyrio, Jack Vance


Lawful Defined

Lawful represents collective order. The strength and wisdom of the individual is minuscule compared to that of the group. Powerful civilizations rise from societies that have clearly-defined and stable frameworks. Each individual sacrifices some of their personal liberties to form a stronger union. Unchecked freedoms erode the foundations of society which then falls prey to the ravages of Chaos. Lawfuls value tradition, precedence, and loyalty over innovation, novelty, and fickleness. Structure, discipline, regimentation, and conformity are the order of the day. Lawful types obediently follow the rules and regulations set by their group. When decision-making, individuals defer to those of higher station or rank. They almost always see through any project they start to its completion. Lawful does not imply absolute selflessness of the individual, as self-interest is common to all alignments. [63] Lawfuls keep their word, when given, so long as they have the authority to do so, and does not conflict with their ethos. As an ideology, Lawful is distinctly impersonal in nature.


Hierarchies characterize lawful societies. Each individual has a well-defined class, rank, and position in their collective group. [64] Authority descends from the leaders and institutions of power (e.g., clergy, guilds, nobility, etc.) to the lower ranks of society. Individuals regard those of a higher rank with respect and reverence. Leaders in Lawful societies are merely figureheads for the group’s collective goals. Removing one does nothing to displace the society, as the leader’s authority is only temporarily lent to them. Lawful societies always have a system to transfer power to a new leader. Few Lawful individuals challenge the legitimacy of their system by speaking out against it or acting contrary to its principles, so long as the society holds true to its ethos. Lawful societies resist or react slowly to change.


“Independence of spirit naturally accompanies our independence of person. I am [their] leader…by virtue of the fact that I am older and stronger and wiser than the others.” Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny


Chaotic Defined

As the inverse and antithesis of Lawful, Chaotic values personal freedom and mutability more than hierarchies and order. The rigid rules of Lawful only stifle liberty, independence, and innovation. A person’s worth depends on their personal merit and deeds, not their station in life. Chaotic types respect direct and spontaneous action by individuals over deliberation and deference to authority and tradition.


Immediacy of thought and action characterizes Chaotic types. They prefer to take matters into their own hands, reacting first and thinking about the consequences later. They organize quickly to tackle problems, but lack the discipline for extended engagements. Unsurprisingly, their alliances only last for a short time. Because of their changing attitudes and interests, Chaotics get easily distracted, moving from one task to another.


Being independent-minded, it seems natural that Chaotic types would reject any rule, law, or taboo imposed on them. While this is true to an extent, Chaotics willingly abide by those rules which match their personal ethos. All other rules are optional, at least in their minds. Chaotics keep their word so long as it benefits their goals and interests.


Chaotic societies have little organized government and few social distinctions. The will of ordinary citizens endow their leaders with authority, never by requirement or tradition. [65] Chaotics serve others out of fear, respect, necessity, or any combination thereof. Leaders are often the strongest and/or most charismatic individuals of the group, though control only extends as far as their sphere of power. [66] A leader’s power derives from their reputation, wealth, charisma, fighting ability, and other such factors. Removing a Chaotic leader causes the group to collapse, or creates a power vacuum for another leader to step into. Once a new leader emerges, they often replace the societal rules set by the previous leader. Chaotic groups have decentralized political power with few bureaucrats to oversee the implementation of laws.


“[He] was not a man of high character. But though he had been responsible for a certain amount of death and destruction…he was not wantonly cruel.” The Tower of Zanid, L. Sprague de Camp



Neutrality asserts that all parts of the universe exist for a purpose. [67] It functions as the crux of the Good-Evil and Lawful-Chaotic binaries in the Cosmic Balance. While these opposing philosophies view the other side as an anathema, Neutrality, which incorporates aspects of all alignments, [68] balances these extremes. In this way, neither side fully dominates the other by disrupting the natural equilibrium of the universe. [69]


Self-interest motivates Neutrality. [70] The morality of Good and Evil, and the ideology of Lawful and Chaotic, is mostly irrelevant to their motivations and goals. [71] They believe in morality and ideology when it suits their personal interests, discarding anything beyond what they need. In a conflict between two opposing groups, Neutrals refrain from choosing a side. If they must, they will ally themselves with the side they believe best represents their own interests. While Good and Evil both use Neutrals to achieve their aims, neither side fully trusts these “fence sitters”. [72]


Since Neutrality sees all alignments as valid, they can act in a Good, Evil, Lawful, or Chaotic manner occasionally without violating their alignment. The addition of a moral or ideological bent (i.e., Good, Evil, Lawful, Chaotic) to their alignment modifies a Neutral’s basic nature. However, its Neutral essence always remains the same. For example, Neutral Good types see no value in joining either side of the Lawful-Chaotic conflict, but actively oppose Evil. Lawful Neutrals do the same, only with an emphasis on the Lawful-Chaotic axis.


With the exceptions of Lawful and Chaotic Neutral, Neutrals favor no single mode of organization. They adopt some order from Lawful and some independence from Chaotic, and some morality of Good and Evil, depending on their preference and situation.


Understanding Alignment Oppositions

To fully grasp the entirety of alignment, one must understand each one’s relation to the other. These relationships are usually harmonious or disharmonious. Harmonious combinations have one commonality, such as that Lawful Good and Neutral Good have the “Good” element in common. These two alignments share a unity of similar ethos and outlook on life. The binary oppositions of Good-Evil or Lawful-Chaotic exist in disharmony. Two types of oppositions exist: minor and major. When these two opposing alignments interact, friction occurs between them.


Minor oppositions possess one conflicting element. For example, Lawful Good and Lawful Evil. [73] Here, both share the common element of Lawful. Each side understands the other’s ideological mode of expression (Lawful), while they disagree on matters of morality (Good-Evil). Even pairs such as Lawful Good and Chaotic Good can have quarrels over the best method to promote Good. Occasionally, minor opposition alignments will collaborate to defeat a common threat. Thus, Lawful Good and Lawful Evil armies might ally to put down a Chaotic Neutral horde that threatens their shared borders.


Major oppositions occur when both aspects of two alignments conflict. For example, Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil. These two alignments actively repudiate each other, taking conflicting stances on both morality and ideology. Major opposition alignments view each other with contempt and mistrust. Eternally at odds, these groups never cooperate and actively work to thwart one another.


Keywords for Alignment

Words associated with each aspect of alignment give one a greater sense of their truths and ideals. This is not a list of traits which all beings of a particular alignment possess.


Good: Altruistic, beauty, beneficial, compassionate, forthright, freedom, friendly, happiness, helpful, honest, just, kind, life, prosperous, scrupulous, selfless, trustworthy, truthful, virtuous, weal.


Evil: Corrupt, cruel, deceitful, dishonest, domineering, exploitative, harmful, hateful, injurious, malefic, obscene, oppressive, pain, remorseless, selfish, spiteful, subjugation, suffering, torture, unpleasant, vicious, wicked, woe.


Neutrality: Balanced, equilibrium, indifferent, naturalistic, self-directed, self-interested, uncaring.


Lawful: Bureaucratic, collective, conformity, dependable, discipline, far-sighted, formal, hierarchal, impersonal, inflexible, methodical, obedience, order, organized, predictable, prescribed, principled, propriety, reactionary, regimented, regularity, regulation, reliable, righteous, rigid, structure, traditional, uniform.


Chaotic: Anarchic, capricious, choice, confusion, disobedient, disordered, foolhardy, freedom, glory-seeking, impulsive, independent, individual, informal, irregular, lawless, mutable, nonconformity, personal, randomness, short-sighted, spontaneous, tumultuous, unmethodical, unpredictable, unrestrained, unruly.

Dungeons & Dragons alignment wheel from the Players Handbook
The alignment wheel from the Players Handbook (1978).



Lawful Good

The goodness that descends from the heavens forms a great chain of being. All persons and creatures on this chain have a place in the order of the universe. The collective will of Good expands and preserves its principles through structure and order. Only by this way does the greatest good reach the greatest number. [74]


Societies based on Lawful Good value order, authority, and tradition. An established social hierarchy preserves and venerates these values. Without such safeguards in place, anarchy and iniquity would erode the foundations of society. Institutions, such as the clergy, guilds, military, and government, work to maintain order. All citizens must know and uphold their role in society and work for its betterment. They sacrifice some personal liberties for the common good. Governmental bureaucracies administer and enforce the laws of the land. Leaders gain power through an established method, such as by an election or hereditary right. They must be just, altruistic, virtuous, and respectful of traditions.


Lawful Good types value charity, compassion, honesty, righteousness, and obedience. They have the utmost respect for established institutions, leaders, and laws, whether their own or those of others. However, they openly resist following unjust or evil laws, and never compromise their morals. These types work well in groups and at following orders. When they give their word, they keep it unless their actions would benefit Evil.


Lawful Neutral

Much as nature and the cosmos must adhere to a set of laws, so do the earthly realms of mortals. Only through structure and order does life have meaning and purpose. [75] To live without regulation and law is to descend into barbarity. Disciplined and concerted collective resolve builds civilizations. Devaluing these qualities only invites chaos and strife. Good and Evil are recognized and accepted, [76] though too much emphasis on morality disrupts the unity of the collective. Lawful Neutrals respect all forms of tradition, conformity, and structure.


Lawful Neutral societies achieve harmony through the systematic organization of the collective. All citizens must follow laws set by society, for good or ill. Each member has a place and role in society to fill. The will of the individual sublimates to the will of the group. Citizens exist to support the system, not the opposite. Only by this means do all members of a group reap the benefits of civilization. Lawful Neutral societies have well-defined hierarchical class structures. They highly value and prioritize established institutions such as religion, commerce, military, and the ruling class. Leaders gain power through an ordered and clear method of selection. If they gain power by some other means, the people would judge the leader’s authority as illegitimate. Rulers maintain a bureaucracy of public officials who oversee the regulation of sanctioned laws.


Individuals of Lawful Neutral alignment work well in groups. They respect the decisions of their leader, and carry out any tasks ungrudgingly. Morality matters less to them than obeisance to regulation and tradition. Rarely do they disobey the laws of their own, or of any other, group. They honor their word when given to the best of their ability, unless it is to their own detriment.


Lawful Evil

Hierarchy and order are imperative to the spread of Evil. The strongest few lead the weaker masses, imposing their will on others through the force of group structure. They believe that the cooperation of the group is essential to maintain collective power. [77] Only through ruthless regimentation can society remain intact.


A Lawful Evil society maintains a veneer of civility that hides the corruption at its core. Their society demands absolute order and regulation of its citizens. The lower classes possess few or no rights. Societal rules are well-defined, and offenders are punished with cold-blooded efficiency. Bureaucracy, institutions, tradition, and laws help leaders maintain complete control over society. These tyrannical despots often abide by a different set of rules than the underclass. The established power structure tolerates corruption, violence, and depravity amongst its leaders, as long as it remains discreet and does not threaten its control. Selecting new leaders follows a predetermined process. However, they consider deceit, manipulation, and viciousness as valid methods of campaigning for the position.


Characters of this alignment respect power, authority, and brutality. They have no respect for anyone weaker than themselves or below their own station. Weakness only warrants exploitation and misery. Dissention amongst the lower ranks is never tolerated. Lawful Evil considers dishonesty and lying as a valid means to an end. They exploit laws for their own benefit, usually to take advantage of the powerless. They manipulate the intent of oaths and contracts by twisting their wording and meaning. Lawful evil characters keep their word when given. However, they do not feel obligated to keep it if it goes against their ethos or goals.


Neutral Good

That the glory and harmony of Good reign throughout the world is the primary aim of Neutral Good. How it achieves this is not as important as the goal itself. Therefore, Neutral Good does not concern itself with arguments about which ideology is best. Law and Chaos are only tools for attaining this end. [78] They never tolerate the destructive selfishness of Evil.


Neutral Good societies seek to balance the will of the collective and the individual. Both Law and Chaos serve a purpose, but neither is favored. Society tolerates the values of others as long as they do not disrupt its natural harmony. They prefer leaders who demonstrate their commitment to the advancement of Good. Neutral Good societies follow no prescribed system of rule, as each individual group has its own method of governance. However, they are egalitarian in most ways.


The primary goal of Neutral Good individuals is to protect, preserve, and promote Good. These individuals do not favor any single ideology. Neutral Good types are charitable and understanding. They respect others’ beliefs, so long as they are not evil or unbalanced.


“The Cosmic Balance requires equilibrium — something of Chaos, something of Law — so that each stabilizes the other. The difference is that Law acknowledges the authority of the Balance, while Chaos would deny it.” The Queen of Swords, Michael Moorcock


True Neutral

Good, Evil, Law, and Chaos all have their place in the natural order. Each equally has their own usefulness and purpose. Maintaining the balance of nature and the self leads to the unity of matter, mind, and spirit. Following one’s own path and minding one’s own affairs is essential to self-actualization. Worrying about others and meddling in their affairs creates problems that threaten to unbalance the whole system.


Neutral societies always pursue self-interest. Rules and regulations are few, and those that exist help maintain the balance of the group or natural order. They favor no single mode of organization or governance, as each group possesses its own unique system. These societies keep cooperation and conflict with other groups to a minimum, preferring self-sufficiency. They form alliances with other groups only when forces threaten their self-interest and harmony.


Neutral individuals are self-reliant and detached. Only their own goals matter to them. They are mostly indifferent to the morality and ideology of others, but work well independently or in groups. They keep their word so long as it is in their interest to do so.


Neutral Evil

The cosmos moves inexorably towards entropy. Nothing can resist the pull of darkness, coldness, silence, and death. In the end, Evil devours all. Goodness is a sham that succors the weak and prevents the strongest from attaining their deserved rewards. Law and Chaos are distractions from the attainment of pure Evil. To sow unadulterated evil is to acknowledge and harness its irresistible power for one’s own ends. Nothing matters but the self and its desires.


Societies based on Neutral Evil principles seek to promote the philosophy of Evil. It matters not how they achieve this goal. They advocate for neither Law nor Chaos. However, both are tools used in moderation to ensure that Evil flourishes. Its social structure follows no single pattern. However, all have weak central governments. Instead, these societies form a loose confederacy of groups, each with their own system of governance. As with all Evil types, the rights of others are irrelevant. The powerful dominate the weak, using any method that works best to control and subjugate its citizens.


Personal gain always motivates Neutral Evil characters. They willingly cooperate with others, so long as their goals align. They tolerate other points of view, because they see no gain in opposing them. Callous, domineering, and unscrupulous, these types seek any opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of others. They resort to violence or deceit in equal measure, using whichever best suits their current situation. Only power and evil deserve respect.


Chaotic Good

The gods and the universe might have some grand scheme for the world — or maybe they don’t. Either way, waiting for them to correct the wrongs of the world is folly. Mortals possess free will and must use it to promote Good. Individuals must follow their own conscience to combat injustice and evil. [79] Lawful act too slowly to help those at the mercy of Evil. Rigid order robs individuals of their independence and the freedom to accomplish this goal. Only then can Good for all flourish.


Chaotic Good societies let individuals make their own choices. Each citizen abides by their own personal rules and codes. Overwrought creeds and established institutions only constrain one’s free will. This does not mean that Chaotic Good societies possess no rules and regulations. However, they exist to promote and preserve the ideals of Good and personal liberty. Citizens select the leaders who exemplify and respect these ideals. Only the most powerful, charismatic, just, wise, and honorable individuals are chosen. Leaders derive their authority, not by laws or traditions, but by their personal relationships with their citizens and comrades. Administration and enforcement of laws are loose and somewhat arbitrary.


Individuals of Chaotic Good alignment equate liberty with goodness. To safeguard one is to safeguard the other. They value friendliness, charity, independence, and action over lengthy deliberation. However, they suffer from inconsistency, recklessness, and impulsiveness. Chaotic Good types work best in small, democratic groups. Others earn their respect through their abilities and deeds, not their station in life. They often keep their word, but have no qualms about not honoring it if the situation changes.


Chaotic Neutral

Any semblance of order in the universe is a mere illusion imposed on it by the foolish. The workings of nature are unknowable and inestimable. The placement of stars, patterns of the wind, and lives of mortals are all but random occurrences. All that matters is the absolute freedom of the self. A mortal’s spirit and self-determination are all they really own. When one embraces disorder, one no longer fears it. The morality of Good and Evil are inconsequential, [80] and Lawful is a binding chain of oppression.


Chaotic Neutral societies value independence, freedom, and spontaneity. The only rules needed are those made between the individual and their comrades, family, and their leaders. Each individual adheres to their own personal moral code. These societies possess few class distinctions. Name or tradition never bequeaths authority to their leaders. Only individuals with the greatest influence, prowess, or charisma are chosen to lead. A Chaotic Neutral chieftain must be willing to sit amongst the common folk, not lord over them. His authority stems from the respect of his people. He loses their respect if he fails to uphold the group’s ethos. Not personally leading his warriors into battle is a prime example. People in these societies have their own customs and traditions. However, they easily abandon any that lose their value or significance, replacing them with new or borrowed ones.


Chaotic Neutral individuals live in the moment. They find planning for the future and completing prolonged tasks difficult for this reason. Adaptable, impetuous, and unruly, they seek constant stimulation. Novelty and innovation fill this need. The search for new sensations easily distracts these types, making it seem that their actions are random. Chaotic Neutrals respect the personal talents, skill, bravery, and reputation of others, not those qualities dictated by tradition and authority. They resent any form of compulsory restriction on their freedom, especially from those outside their own group.


“[The berserkers] were restless. For them was nothing in life but fighting, guzzling, swilling, and swiving.” Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, Poul Anderson


Chaotic Evil

These types believe the universe has no meaning beyond the spontaneous desires of the self. Only cruelty, mayhem, and self-gratification matter. The lives and welfare of others have no value or merit. Unrestricted and impulsive selfish Evil is the ultimate expression of free will. Only those ruthless and strong enough to take what the world offers succeed. All others are weak fools waiting to be trampled under the iron heel of reality.


Discord and brutishness exemplify the Chaotic Evil society. These groups have few social distinctions, only leaders, commoners, and slaves, with the latter two often being the same thing. Leaders are usually merciless warlords or criminals, such as brigands or pirates. They control their underlings and populace through wit, guile, threat, fear, and bloodshed. However, unpredictable violence and terror are their greatest tool. Showing any form of weakness invites challenges to their authority. The lack of rules concerning the succession of rulers means that challengers constantly vie for power. Their petty rivalries commonly erupt into overt violence. This results in the near constant overthrow and replacement of all but the strongest leaders. Commoners only have those rights and privileges a leader deigns to grant them, which is few or none. Chaotic Evil leaders care nothing for the welfare of their citizens, using them to bolster their power or exploit. Periodically, a leader will offer charity to their ordinary citizens. However, this cynical gesture serves only to curry their favor.


Honor and duty mean nothing to Chaotic Evil individuals. [81] They scorn any rules and prohibitions that hamper their freedom. They live to indulge their own desires, preferably at the expense of others. Lying, cheating, and stealing are tools to achieve this end. They bully anyone weaker than themselves, and those who resist become a target for their brutality. A powerful leader can keep them grudgingly obedient. Once outside of the leader’s sphere of power, however, they do as they please. Chaotic Evil-types rarely keep their word. When they do, it is out of self-interest or whim.


Alignment in Action

While it is impossible to make a list of “do’s & don’ts” for alignment, we can look at a specific scenario to see how adventurers of different alignments would act in a moral situation. In this scenario, a party of adventurers traveling through the countryside encounters a group of orcs escorting a half-dozen human captives back to their lair.


  • A party composed mostly of Good-aligned characters would immediately note that nothing good can come of orcs with captives. The evil humanoids probably captured the humans in a raid, thus violating their Right of Self-Determination. The orcs may have or will abuse them, thus violating the Freedom From Suffering clause. Since they are Good, the party must take action to thwart Evil. If they are certain the orcs raided a village, they could attack them to free the captives. Alternatively, they could try to bargain with the orcs for their freedom. If outnumbered by the orcs, the party could seek assistance elsewhere, or inform any local authorities of the situation. The party need not act immediately if pressed for time, or if they lack the power to do so. However, ignoring the plight of the captives counts as a violation of their alignment. Ignoring too many situations like this one could cause their alignment to shift towards Neutral.


  • A mostly Neutral party has a few options with this scenario depending on their goals. They could attack the orcs or ignore them. If they free the captives, they could let them go, seek a reward for their effort, or make the captives work for them until they repay the debt.


  • An Evil party could attack the orcs, attempt to join up with them, or ignore them. They could even bargain with them to purchase the captives. If the Evil characters gain possession of the captives, they could slaughter them, seek a reward for their release, or enslave them.


Measuring Alignment

The intensity of alignment emanations by creatures of the same ethos are not always equal. Powerful beings exude a measurably stronger amount of Good, Evil, Law, or Chaos (depending on their alignment) than lesser creatures. [82] For example, a detect evil spell notes the “degree of evil” which flows from an Evil creature or object. [83] However, only characters of 8th-level or higher actually emanate evil that is detectable. [84] Undead, extraplanar beings, and monsters of higher Hit Dice (approximately five or greater) do as well. These types of creatures strongly embody their alignment, acting as exemplary agents of their ethos and actively working towards its advancement and preservation. Thus, higher-level characters rarely deviate from their alignment. The three types of monsters listed above never deviate, and never have another alignment than what the rulebooks list (see “Monster Alignment” below).


Dungeons & Dragons first edition Dungeons Masters Guide and Players Handbook bookcovers
The first edition Dungeons Masters Guide and Players Handbook.


Chaotic Fallacies: A common misconception about Chaotics is that they are unstable, insane, or commit random acts just for the sake of doing so. Alignment is not a measure of one’s mental health, so most are not insane. Chaotics are independent, freedom-loving, and capricious. Many of their motivations and actions might seem random, but they are not altogether irrational. Playing a Chaotic character like a cackling madman who does and says frivolous things is a gross oversimplification of their alignment.


Lawful Fallacies: Lawful types like order and regulation. However, this does not equate to all Lawfuls being mindless rule-followers or uptight, fussy neat freaks. Of course, there will be some who fall into these categories. However, most are not that extreme. Keep in mind that alignment is not the same as temperament. Stereotyping an entire alignment group as having identical personality traits is not accurate. Furthermore, it quickly devolves into tedious cliché when overused.


These types strongly favor keeping oaths. However, Lawfuls must not always strictly adhere to their word when given. They have agency and free will to act otherwise. Their alignment does not compel them to honor oaths in all cases. They needn’t keep their word when it compromises their values, endangers themselves or others, or if they do not have the authority to do so.


Good Fallacies: A false notion about Good-aligned characters or monsters is that they never strike the first blow in a fight. Nothing in the rulebooks even hints at this notion. Good absolutely will strike the first blow in a fight when they deem it necessary and have no other recourse.


While Good values honesty and forthrightness, their alignment does not require them to be truthful in all cases. Lying is sometimes acceptable when not doing so threatens the welfare of the individual or others. For Good, lying must be a selfless act, not one that serves to enrich themselves at the expense of others.


Similarly, the rules say nothing about Good-aligned clerics and paladins being prohibited from swearing, drinking alcohol, or staying celibate. Of course, a Dungeon Master can enact these rules in their game, if they so desire.


“I’m Just Playing My Alignment”: You might have heard this once or twice around the game table. An exasperated player usually utters this expression after his fellow players question his character’s actions. Most often, the expression utterer’s character has committed some reckless act without conferring with the other players. Maybe his paladin attacked a hill giant in the middle of parleying for vital information; his thief stole from the party; or, his barbarian punched out the town watch. Dungeons & Dragons is a game of cooperation; players must work together to overcome adversity. The player saying this expression usually has done a poor job of playing their character. Blaming one’s alignment for a character’s actions is lazy and disingenuous. Alignment does not compel anyone to act rashly or stupidly.


“The Most…”: Sometimes you hear players say superlatives like, “Nothing is as evil as Chaotic Evil”, or, “Lawful Good is the most good.” While this might sound convincing, it is just flat-out wrong. Each alignment has its own mode of expression which distinguishes each one (e.g., Good or Chaotic). However, no alignment is superior to another, and none are more “good”, “evil”, “lawful”, or “chaotic” than any other.


Consequences: The Dungeon Master must always keep in mind that player character actions always affect their alignment. It is the DMs job to note every time these violations occur, along with their frequency and magnitude. When multiple alignment violations tip the balance, the character’s alignment will change. As noted previously, alignment changes can impact a character’s class. Clerics and paladins might anger their gods, causing a loss of powers. Naturally, the players will justify their actions, arguing that they were playing their alignment correctly. The DM must be clear about what was a violation after it occurs. However, never discourage the player from taking the action beforehand.


Infighting: The alignment system might give one the impression that allied alignments always get along. This is especially true with Good types. However, this is not at all accurate. Persons of the same alignment can have serious disagreements and disputes about needs, attitudes, or agendas. Sometimes, this stems from mistrust and miscommunication. Other times, each group seeks to pursue their own priorities, which does not align with the other’s. Rarely do two groups, even those of the same alignment, ever not disagree about something. The difference here is that Good-aligned types rarely come to blows. Their infighting is markedly less violent than with Evil types.


Irrationality: Alignment does not demand that a character or monster endanger themselves for its sake. All but the stupidest beings seek to preserve their own lives. Those who find themselves in an environment or situation where their alignment is a liability can suppress acting on its principles. For example, it would be suicidal for a Lawful Good character in a drow city to help the weak and abused souls they encounter there. Likewise, a Chaotic character in a Lawful city would (probably) be wise enough to curb their unruly instincts lest they end up in the city’s dungeons.


Justifying the Ends: One sticky issue in Dungeons & Dragons concerns the eternal conflict between opposing alignments. Is it the duty of each alignment (Good-Evil, Law-Chaos) to eliminate the other side with no quarter? Specifically, does this mean that one’s actions are always justifiable if it is part of the Cosmic Struggle? Some examples include the slaying of non-combatants (e.g., the young, the old, the infirm, etc.), depriving someone of food and shelter to protect others, torturing to get vital information, or killing another to save their soul. While not an issue for Evil types (after all, that is everything they stand for), this is a problem for Good-aligned characters and, sometimes, Neutrals. Can Good ever be justified in committing genocide to thwart Evil? Every group that behaves this way believes they are morally justified. They might even say that these actions are the essence of Good. If killing a hobgoblin youth means one less future agent of Evil who can inflict pain and suffering on others, so much the better.


The first problem with this mode of thinking is the belief in the extermination of opposite alignments. While they have conflict, the complete destruction of the other is not an alignment’s ultimate goal. Second, one of the chief maxims of Good is recognizing another’s right to exist. These actions clearly violate that tenet. The principles of Good require more work to uphold than Evil does. The easy road is to butcher every hobgoblin — even non-combatants — so they cannot menace others. However, Good cannot do this without compromising its values and goodness. They must be ever vigilant to prevent the depredations of Evil. To battle evil in the world, Good must offer mercy to those who deserve it, convert non-Goods to their cause, and work to impede the spread of Evil. The keyword here is “impede”, which suggests there are alternatives to wholesale slaughter. Anything else simply causes Good to repudiate their own principles and become the Evil which they oppose. The ends never justify the means.

Leadership: In Dungeons & Dragons, Charisma is the measure of a character’s leadership abilities. Alignment has nothing to do with it. Being Lawful alignment does not mean that one is innately a better leader than Chaotic, and vice versa. The only difference is how each alignment approaches leadership.

Monster Alignment: Pre-3rd edition versions of Dungeons & Dragons do not address whether monsters can change their alignment. The game is clear humans and demi-human characters can be of any alignment. But what about other monsters? Can orcs be non-Lawful Evil? What about Evil unicorns? The rulebooks are silent on this matter; they say nothing either way. While there are examples of creatures with other alignments in the rulebooks, these are rare. [85] Ultimately, it is up to the Dungeon Master to decide whether to have monsters of non-standard alignments in their own campaign. A few things you should keep in mind about this issue, however. First, these types of monsters should be the exception. It would not be a stretch for a few Chaotic Neutral or True Neutral trolls to exist. However, a Chaotic Good troll would be a tremendously rare encounter. Second, extraplanar creatures and undead must always have the same alignment as listed in the rulebooks. [86] Finally, since higher Hit Dice creatures are paragons of their alignment (e.g., dragons, nagas, shedim). As such, they should never deviate from their listed alignment (see “Measuring Alignment” above).


Player Bias: Players often confuse their own personal sense of morality and cultural biases with alignment. This causes problems in the game. Different people have different ideas of what is “good” and “evil”. This misunderstanding can lead to confusion and in-game arguments. Players must recognize that, while a fantasy world reflects many aspects of the real world, they are not the same thing. A character must follow their alignment as defined by the game, not by their own personal definition. When in doubt, the DM is the final arbiter of all things concerning alignment.


Player Alignment: A good portion of Dungeons & Dragons players — more than half, in my estimation — usually assign the same alignment to all their characters. This favored alignment is often the one which closest resembles their own personal morals and ethics. There is nothing wrong with a player having a preferred alignment. However, problems arise when they play a less familiar alignment. Players may opt to borrow a character, play a henchman, have their character’s alignment magically altered, or they may just want to experiment with a different alignment. In these cases, the player often ends up playing the new character the same as before. Instead of adopting a character role, the player just plays themself. For example, a player whose personal morals most resemble Lawful Good plays a Chaotic Good character. That player then ends up playing it as Lawful Good (e.g., very respectful of laws, builds group consensus before acting, delivers criminals to the authorities, etc.). The problem here is that playing this way causes all alignments to feel the same, as they no longer have solid demarcations that differentiate each one. Players should beware when they unconsciously do this. They should always try to understand the alignment of their character and play it accordingly.


Poison: In Dungeons & Dragons, character classes can use poisons without it being considered an explicitly evil act. However, the game prohibits paladins, along with Non-Evil clerics, cavaliers, and bards, from using poison. [87] For all other classes, the Dungeon Master must decide who can use them. While not expressly evil, the use of poison has a strong moral component. Most view poison as a distasteful and cruel way of slaying another living being. In most cases, it is distinctly not a Good act.


Relative Alignment: Remember, alignment in Dungeons & Dragons is not culturally or morally relevant. Good, Evil, Lawful, and Chaotic all have defined meanings in the game. The Dungeon Master and players must know the difference between what is relative or universal concerning alignment.


Willful Ignorance: Sometimes Good-aligned characters willingly ignore the bad actions of fellow party members who are non-Good. Usually, this is because it benefits themselves or the party. The character might step out of the room while the others torture a captive for information, or kill them. This action does nothing to absolve the Good-characters from complicity in the non-Good action. The Dungeon Master should consider this a violation of their alignment.


Below lists the likely alignment of many characters in fiction and popular culture. I have placed them in the alignment scheme which best fits their overall character. Please note that Dungeons & Dragons’ alignment scheme does not always perfectly fit complex characters such as those found in fiction. One can always make a case for some other alignment.


Lawful Good: Aragorn (Lord of the Rings), Caramon Majere (Dragonlance Chronicles), Carson Napier (Burrough’s Venus series), Corum Jhaelen Irsei (Moorcock’s Corum series), Eddard Stark (Game of Thrones), Edward Bond (Kuttner’s The Dark World), Holger Carlson (Anderson’s Three Hearts & Three Lions), James Bond (007 series), John Carter (Barsoom), Jon Snow (GoT), the Lone Ranger, Superman (DC Comics), Tenser (Greyhawk), Thorin Oakenshield (LotR).


Neutral Good: Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit), Bruenor Battlehammer (Forgotten Realms), Captain Kirk (Star Trek), Corwin (Zelazny’s Amber series), Fafhrd (Lieber’s Lankhmar series), Frodo Baggins (LotR), Gandalf the Gray (LotR), Harold Shea (de Camp’s Harold Shea series), Indiana Jones, Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars), Tanis Half-Elven (Dragonlance), Tyrion Lannister (GoT).


Chaotic Good: Batman (DC Comics), Boromir (LotR), Brock Sampson (The Venture Brothers), Daenerys Targaryen (with Neutral tendencies) (GoT), Drizzt Do’Urden (Forgotten Realms), Elminster (Forgotten Realms), Elrond (LotR), Dorian Hawkmoon (Moorcock’s Hawkmoon series), Kothar (Carter’s Kothar series), Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), Skafloc (Anderson’s The Broken Sword), Wulfgar (Forgotten Realms).


Lawful Neutral: Aunty Enmity (Mad Max), The Faceless Man (Vance’s Anome), Judge Dredd (Judge Dredd), Spock (Star Trek), Stannis Baratheon (GoT), Varys (GoT), lawyers, bankers, mercenaries.


Neutral: Bigby (Greyhawk), Cudgel the Clever (Vance’s Dying Earth series), Dr. Thaddeus Venture (The Venture Brothers), Elric of Melniboné (Moorcock’s Elric series), Gray Mouser (Lankhmar), Han Solo (with Good tendencies) (Star Wars), Jaime Lannister (GoT), Lando Calrissian (Star Wars), Max Rockatansky (with Good tendencies) (Mad Max), Moonglum (Elric), Mordenkainen (Greyhawk), Ningauble of the Seven Eyes (Lankhmar), Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (with Evil tendencies) (GoT), Sheelba of the Eyeless Face (Lankhmar), Tasslehoff Burrfoot (Dragonlance), Tom Bombadil (LotR).


Chaotic Neutral: Ariya Stark (GoT), Conan (Howard’s Conan series), Esau Cairn (Howard’s Almuric), Rick (Rick & Morty).


Lawful Evil: Darth Vader (Star Wars), Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars), Eric of Amber (Amber), John Ominor (Saberhagen’s Empire of the East series), Kitiara (Dragonlance), Saruman the White (LotR), Theleb K’aarna (Elric), Tywin Lannister (GoT), organized criminals (e.g., the Mafia).


Neutral Evil: Cersei Lannister (GoT), Cthulhu (Lovecraft), Gollum (LotR), Iucounu the Laughing Magician (Dying Earth), Ramsey Bolton (GoT), Sauron (LotR), serial killers.


Chaotic Evil: Barney (Barney & Friends), Ganelon (The Dark World), Joffrey Lannister (GoT), Joker (DC Comics), Khal Drogo (GoT), Kurgan (Highlander), Lord Humongous (Mad Max), The Monarch (The Venture Brothers), Raistlin Majere (Dragonlance), Smaug (The Hobbit), Yrkoon (Elric), criminal gangs.


Dungeon Delve module, Labyrinth of the Dwellers, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeoneers Guild Games



Anderson’s Entropy

Alignment in Dungeons & Dragons originates from heroic fantasy fiction. The author, Poul Anderson, initially created the concept. [88] Anderson was primarily known as a science fiction writer, authoring classic books such as Tau Zero, The Queen of Air and Darkness, The High Crusade, and the Dominic Flandry series. More importantly, he also wrote a handful of fantasy books that had a profound and lasting impact on D&D.


The concept of alignment first appeared in Anderson’s 1961 fantasy novel, Three Hearts and Three Lions. The story concerns one Holger Carlsen, a Danish resistance fighter in World War II. Carlsen is drawn into the realm of the ‘Middle World’ — a fantastic land based on Carolingian and Medieval European myths and tales. [89] Here, Holger is really a renowned paladin who must battle against the forces of Chaos. [90] In this world, civilization struggles against evil humans and the non-human creatures of Faerie.


Anderson also used similar themes in two other novels. In the 1970 novel, Operation Chaos, the forces of Law use magical powers to overcome Chaos in a modern-like parallel world. Anderson explains these magical forces in terms of modern science. Here, Law stands for civilization and modernity, while the proponents of Chaos are the literal servants of Satan bent on the destruction of society. Chaos and Law also appear, to a lesser extent, in Anderson’s A Midsummer Tempest (1974). The roles of the two opposing forces are reversed here, as the protagonist, Prince Rupert, assisted by the beings of Faerie, battles against the oppressive forces of Law in the English Civil War.


Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions and Operation Chaos paperback covers, alignment in Dungeons & Dragons
Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions and Operation Chaos.

Undoubtedly, Anderson equated Law with goodness, [91] and Chaos with evil. [92] Immanence lies at the heart of Chaos and the pagan Faerie world, the opposite of Christianity’s transcendence. [93] Law and Chaos battle each other for supremacy of the world. In Three Hearts and Three Lions, the civilized lands of Christianity contest with sorcerous pagan and naturalistic forces [94]; in Operation Chaos, utilitarian and rational science opposes satanic supernatural forces. A few opt to take no side in the struggle, preferring to remain neutral. [95] (Despite these books’ themes, Anderson was a self-professed agnostic, not a Christian. [96])


Beyond the morality of good and evil, for Anderson, Law and Chaos represent the philosophical struggle of life over entropy. [97] The goodness of Law signifies the flourishing of life against stagnation and death. [98] Conversely, Chaos stands for “creative order”, i.e., the disorder that consumes the old and builds the new. [99] The high entropy creation of Chaos always devolves into total randomness which creates an oppressive static nothingness when left unchecked.


“The cosmos is growing ever more stagnate and disordered as its entropy expands towards the maximum. Static orderliness and random chaos are two sides of the same entropic coin, twin faces of Death”. Against Time’s Arrow, Sandra Miesel


Moorcock’s Cosmic Balance

Michael Moorcock took Anderson’s idea of Law and Chaos and applied it to his own works. A prolific writer and editor, Moorcock helped reshape heroic fantasy as part of the 1960s New Wave of science-fiction writers. Law and Chaos feature prominently in his seminal Elric of Melniboné series. A sickly albino anti-hero with a soul-eating rune-sword, Stormbringer, Elric alternatingly works for and battles against the Lords of Chaos. Moorcock expanded the idea of alignment by including neutrality, defined its principles, and created gods who advocate for Law, Chaos, or Neutrality. The philosophy of alignment also appeared in many of Moorcock’s other novels in the Eternal Champion series, including The Fire Clown, Phoenix in Obsidian, and the books of the Corum series. His very successful books, especially the Elric series, popularized the concepts of Law and Chaos amongst fans of fantasy.


Law and Chaos, which are central to Moorcock’s multiverse, came from Three Hearts and Three Lions [100]. It built on Anderson’s foundations by adding elements from John Milton [101] and Zoroastrianism. [102] Studying politics at the time of its development, Moorcock was interested in the themes and conflicts that lies between “Skepticism and Faith”. [103] These two philosophies represent “ways of interpreting and defining experience”. Law equates to reason, [104] while Chaos equates to romance [105] and creativity. [106] Both contradictions are present in all intelligent beings. [107] Law and Chaos are opposing forces in an eternal conflict of ideologies. Each seeks to gain dominance over the inhabitants of different worlds of the multiverse. [108] When either side gains the upper hand, the Cosmic Balance that keeps the equilibrium of the multiverse in check shifts and distorts. [109] Paradoxically, both lead to entropy when one dominates. Too much of either is harmful. [110] Left unchecked by the opposite force, Law becomes “rigid orthodoxy and social sterility”, [111] while Chaos becomes “undisciplined and destructive creativity”. [112]


“Ultimately, Chaos brings a more profound stagnation than anything it despises in Law. It must forever seek more and more sensation, more and more empty marvels, until there is nothing left and it has forgotten what true invention is.” The Queen of Swords, Michael Moorcock


Chaos is the free expenditure of creative energy, being both highly excessive and individual. It represents “everlasting disruption and anarchy”. [113] With Chaos, anything that one can imagine can be created. [114] Its representatives are illogical deceivers and arbitrary creators of impulsive beauty. [115] The Lords of Chaos (sometimes called “Entropy”), such as Arioch, Elric’s demon master, are deities who personify Chaos. They dwell on the plane of pure Chaos, Limbo (sometimes referred to as “Hell”).


The central ethos of Law is value-driven utilitarianism. Without its life-giving structure, nothing in the physical universe can exist. [116] The upholders of Law believe in the inherent freedom for mortals of the multiverse. [117] The immortal representatives of this ethos, the Lords of Law, seek to protect all that is good in the world. [118]


Neutrality stands for equilibrium between Law and Chaos. [119] This “Cosmic Balance” takes no sides in their eternal conflicts. [120] Equal parts of Law and Chaos comprise Neutrality. [121] While Law respects the authority of the Balance, Chaos does not. [122] Its leaders, the Grey Lords, reside over Neutrality and the Cosmic balance. [123] These gods sometimes align themselves with the cause of Law or Chaos when it suits their purpose. [124] As the series progresses, Elric tires of being a mere pawn in the struggles of Law and Chaos. He turns to the philosophy of Neutrality to escape the never-ending cycle of conflict between these two forces.


“Some stand apart, believing that a balance between the two is the proper state of things.” “While the Gods Laugh”, Michael Moorcock


Moorcock has denied that his Law and Chaos system is analogous to good and evil. [125] He believes such notions are “simplistic”. [126] Instead, each person contains within them the paradox and contradiction of both Law and Chaos. [127] The constant push and pull of these two forces drive personal and universal experiences, for good or bad. However, Moorcock never shies away from depicting both sides in terms of morality. He typically depicts the servants of Chaos as bestial and cruel. He frequently describes Arioch [128] [129] and Chaos [130] itself as “evil”. Conversely, he says that Law and its Lords are “good”, [131] and the assist mortals in need. [132] Even Moorcock could not escape the attraction of good and evil morality in fantasy fiction.


Michael Moorcock's Strombringer, Elric, A. Merritt's Dwellers in the Mirage paperback covers, alignment in Dungeons & Dragons
Michael Moorcock's Strombringer (an Elric novel) and A. Merritt's Dwellers in the Mirage.

The Inspiration for Alignment

As far as one can tell, Poul Anderson never spoke about what inspired the creation of Law and Chaos. Holger Carlsen’s resistance against Nazis in Three Hearts and Three Lions is a telling clue. That this closely parallels his battle against the forces of Faerie is probably not unintentional. Anderson views both as titanic struggles against satanic despotism that seeks to crush civilization. Both pit the unyielding forces of good against evil. At first glance, one might divine the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien here. Tolkien also believed that all aspects of life were part of the “cosmic conflict between the forces of good and evil.” [133] This theme permeates his works, like The Lord of the Rings.  Anderson was familiar with and an admirer of the Professor’s works. [134] [135] However, while both used many of the same sources in their works, [136] Tolkien did not influence Anderson’s creation of Law and Chaos. Specifically, Three Hearts was in print prior to the publication of The Lord of the Rings. [137]


Another source for alignment’s inspiration may have been the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Anderson certainly knew about Lovecraft’s stories of eldritch evils and the Great Old Ones. [138] Lovecraft’s stories contain many references to chaos. One example is Nyarlathotep, also called the “crawling chaos.” [139] This entity serves as the “soul and messenger” [140] of Azathoth, the primal chaos at the center of the universe, i.e., “the void of Chaos”. [141] Lovecraft uses chaos much like the Greco-Roman mythological notion of a primordial, unorganized mass at the dawn of creation. The Great Old Ones are “amoral, merciless, and indifferent” [142] to the concerns of humanity and its civilizations. Lovecraft unambiguously tells us they are malevolent and evil.


A. Merritt was another author who incorporated the concept of chaos into his novel, Dwellers in the Mirage (1932). Merritt was one of the most significant fantasy writers of the 1920s and 30s. His works, notably The Moon Pool (1919), influenced the works of Lovecraft. [143] The former novel features an intelligent god-like being called Khalk’ru, or the “kraken”. Merritt uses scientific terms to rationalize this monstrous evil. Representing Chaos, it is an enemy of life and goodness, as shown with this quote:


“What I had told him of the ritual of Khalk’ru was nothing but the second law of thermo-dynamics expressed in terms of anthropomorphism. Life was an intrusion upon Chaos, using that word to describe the unformed, primal state of the universe. An invasion. An accident. In time all energy would be changed to static heat, impotent to give birth to any life whatsoever. The dead universes would float lifelessly in the illimitable void. The void was eternal, life was not. Therefore, the void would absorb it. Suns, worlds, gods, men, and things animate, would return to the void. Go back to Chaos. Back to Nothingness. Back to Khalk’ru.” [144]


Much like Azathoth, Khalk’ru lives in a void of formless matter, a primordial chaos. This also echoes Anderson’s idea that life (Law) strives against disorder and death (Chaos). These two opposite polarities, Law and Chaos, battle each other in an eternal struggle. Humankind can take the side in this struggle. They can serve the principles of Law (order and civilization) or Chaos (disorder and selfishness).


While the concept of chaos dates back to the ancient Greeks, modern authors like Lovecraft and Merritt may have borrowed the idea from another source. They, along with other authors, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and Henry Kuttner, consulted the works of Madame Helena Blavatsky for inspiration. [145] [146] A 19th century occultist and the founder of theosophy, Blavatsky’s primary works were Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888). From these works, “weird tale” writers heavily borrowed names (e.g., Dzyan), places (e.g., Lemuria), and key concepts (e.g., cosmology, ancient races). She devotes considerable space in her books explaining the mystical tenets of Chaos and its place in theosophy. Blavatsky views Chaos as the infinite, formless primordial well out of which all matter is created. Her works also contain many references to Law, be they spiritual, karmic, or philosophical laws that impose order on matter.


Despite these obvious connections, nothing concrete exists showing that Blavatsky’s ideas were the distant progenitor of alignment. It may have been that Lovecraft or Merritt influenced Anderson’s use of chaos which then inspired alignment in Dungeons & Dragons. However, the links that lead back to her works are strongly compelling enough to make a case for it.



The concept of alignment did not appear fully formed in Dungeons & Dragons. Instead, it developed and expanded as the game grew in its early years. This period happened from the publication of the Chainmail (1972) game to the appearance of the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (1979).


The Three-Alignment System

Alignment first appeared in the proto-Dungeons & Dragons miniatures war-game, Chainmail, created by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perrin. [147] The inclusion of playing fantasy armies here was more of an afterthought than a deliberate attempt to create a new game. In the “Fantasy Supplement” section, the book provided rules for war-gaming with fantasy armies like those found in the works of “J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and other fantasy writers”. [148] The work never explains how alignment functioned in the game. It divided creatures into three groups who represent a specific ethos: Law, Neutral, and Chaos. [149] The reader is told that, “It is impossible to draw a distinct line between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ fantastic figures. Three categories are listed below as a general guide for the wargamer designing orders of battle involving fantastic creatures.[150] This ambiguous statement seems to suggest that one cannot easily categorize the moral bent of fantasy characters and creatures. While Chainmail never uses the word “alignment” to describe its Law-Neutrality-Chaos system, it hints at certain aspects of morality found in later editions. For instance, it describes dragons as “extremely evil” [151], and that the protection from evil spell keeps out “all evil fantastic creatures/men”. [152]


The original Dungeons & Dragons game, first published in 1974, carried over the three-alignment system from Chainmail. As with its predecessor, this box set with three booklets divides characters and monsters into three alignment categories. The book says that it is “necessary to determine what stance the character will take – Law, Neutrality, or Chaos”, then lists monsters by these divisions. [153] The OD&D booklets give players no guidance on what the three alignments mean in terms of the game. It does not explain the difference between Law and Chaos apart from a brief explanation of the behavior of Chaotic characters. [154] One rationale may have been that the authors believed players would be familiar with these concepts from Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series of books. Thus, any explanation would be self-evident to the reader.


One might assume that Law and Chaos in early Dungeons & Dragons refers to something other than good and evil, much as Moorcock insisted. The OD&D books frequently equate Law and Chaos with Good and Evil, respectively, using these terms interchangeably. For example, it mentions Evil high priests (so called, “anti-clerics”); [155] [156] [157] [158] spells that function against evil opponents; [159] [160] explicitly evil gods; [161] [162] and text that overtly refers to Chaotic monsters as Evil or behaving that way. [163] [164] [165] [166] [167] Additionally, both the Holmes (1977) [168] and the Moldvay [169] “Basic” D&D (1980) rulebooks describe Law as “good” and Chaos as “evil”. Gygax gave further credence to this point by stating that he always considered chaos and evil in OD&D as nearly synonymous. [170] Just as Anderson equated Law and Chaos in terms of the good-evil morality, so did D&D from its earliest inception.


Dungeons & Dragons, Chainmail, Men & Magic, and Greyhawk book covers alignment
Early Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks - Chainmail, Men & Magic, and Greyhawk.

The Five-Alignment System

It quickly became clear that morality was integral to the game and wholly unrelated to the concepts of Law-Chaos. The three alignments of Law, Chaos, and Neutrality did not accurately encompass the totality of alignment. Good and Evil were split from Lawful and Chaotic to form the five-alignment system. [171] Appearing in 1976, Gary Gygax detailed how the system functions and defined the meaning of all aspects of alignment (i.e., Good, Evil, Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutrality) and how they relate to one another. [172] Combining these elements resulted in the five alignments of Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Evil, and (True) Neutrality. While not officially implemented, the Gygax makes it abundantly clear that OD&D really has five alignments, instead of three. [173] This system was present in the game’s latter days. For example, Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976) includes many references to the five-alignment system. It describes creatures as “lawful (and good)”, [174] “chaotic and evil”, [175] and “lawful and evil”,[176] to cite a few examples. Once officially introduced, the updated alignment system showed up in subsequent published works, such as the Holmes-edited Dungeons & Dragons rulebook [177] and the first-edition AD&D Monster Manual (1977).


The term “five-alignment system” is somewhat a misnomer as Gygax’s original outline contains all the variations present in the penultimate “nine-alignment system”. [178] This work notes that some creatures, such as bronze and white dragons, fall closer to Neutral in their respective Good-Evil moral bent than others. Occasionally, individuals can be fully devoted to Chaotic (or Lawful) without the presence of Good or Evil. These creatures fall in the midpoints that lie between the Lawful-Chaotic or Good-Evil axes. In later terms, these yet-to-be named alignments comprise the “Neutral alignments” of Neutral Good, Neutral Evil, Lawful Neutral, and Chaotic Neutral.


Gary Gygax, monster alignment chart, “The Meaning of Law and Chas in Dungeons & Dragons and their Relationships to Good and Evil”, The Strategic Review.
Gygax's monster alignment chart from the “The Meaning of Law and Chas in Dungeons & Dragons and their Relationships to Good and Evil” in The Strategic Review.

The Nine-Alignment System

The game preserved the five-alignment system as it transitioned to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 1977. While we know this updated game for its use of the nine-alignment system, it did not start out that way. The first AD&D rulebook, the Monster Manual, uses the older system. This work did not include creatures of Neutral Good, Neutral Evil, Lawful Neutral, or Chaotic Neutral alignment. Instead, it contains references that only contextually fit with the incomplete five-alignment system, as noted above. Some examples include cloud giants who have “Neutral (Good or Evil)” alignments, [179] and lists the su-monster as “Chaotic”. [180]


Sometime between the release of the Monster Manual in 1977 and the publication of the Players Handbook in 1978, a leap of insight allowed Gygax to connect all the pieces of alignment together. The nine-alignment system — which is still used to this day — first appeared in the latter work. Just as important, the rulebooks corrected past errors by detailing and explaining each individual alignment. Alignment had debuted in full in Dungeons & Dragons.


Works Referenced

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Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook, Revised Second Edition, TSR, 1995.

Anderson, Poul, “Awakening the Elves” in Meditations on Middle-Earth, St. Martin’s Press, 2001.

Anderson, Poul, “Fantasy in the Age of Science” in Fantasy, Tor, 1981.

Anderson, Poul, Operation Otherworld, SFBC, 1999.

Anderson, Poul, The Broken Sword, Ballantine, 1971.

Anderson, Poul, Three Hearts and Three Lions, Doubleday & Company, 1961.

Arneson, Dave & Kask, Tim (Editor), Dungeons & Dragons, Supplement II: Blackmoor, TSR

Games, 1975.

Carter, Lin “The Magic of Atlantis”, introduction to Poseidonis, Ballantine Books, 1973.

Curry, Patrick, Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity, Floris Books, 1997.

de Camp, L. Sprague, H.P. Lovecraft: A Biography, Barnes & Noble, 1996.

DesJardins, Robert B., “Alignment Theory: Defining Those Notorious Double Adjectives”,

Polyhedron, Issue 27, December 1986.

Fannon, Sean Patrick, The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer’s Bible, Second Edition, Obsidian

Studios, 1999.

Grubb, Jeff, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes, TSR, 1987.

Guirand, Felix (Editor), New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, Hamlyn Publishing Group,


Gygax, Gary & Arneson, Dave, Dungeons & Dragons, Three Volume Set, Tactical Studies

Rules, 1974. Includes “Volume I: Men & Magic”, “Volume II: Monsters & Treasure”, and

“Volume III: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.”

Gygax, Gary & Arneson, Dave; Homes, J. Eric (Editor), Dungeons & Dragons, TSR, 1977.

Gygax, Gary & Arneson, Dave; Moldvay, Tom (editor), Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rulebook,

TSR, 1981.

Gygax, Gary & Blume, Brian, Dungeons & Dragons, Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, TSR

Games, 1976.

Gygax, Gary & Kuntz, Rob, Dungeons & Dragons, Supplement I: Greyhawk, TSR Games, 1976.

Gygax, Gary & Perren, Jeff, Chainmail, Second Edition, Guidon Games, 1972.

Gygax, Gary, “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll: D&D Relationships, The Parts and the Whole”,

Dragon, Issue 14, May 1978.

Gygax, Gary, “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll: Evil: Law vs. Chaos”, Dragon, Issue 28, August 1979.

Gygax, Gary, “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll: Good Isn’t Stupid, Paladins & Rangers, and Female

Dwarves do Have Beards!”, Dragon, Issue 38, June 1980.

Gygax, Gary, “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll: Playing on the Other Planes of Existence”, Dragon,

Issue 32, December 1979.

Gygax, Gary, “The Meaning of Law and Chas in Dungeons & Dragons and their Relationships

to Good and Evil”, The Strategic Review, Vol. 2, No. 1, February 1976.

Gygax, Gary, “To Forge a Fantasy World: Greyhawk’s Creation”, 2000.

Gygax, Gary, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide, TSR, 1979.

Gygax, Gary, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, TSR, 1977.

Gygax, Gary, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual II, TSR, 1983.

Gygax, Gary, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Oriental Adventures, TSR, 1985.

Gygax, Gary, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook, TSR, 1978.

Gygax, Gary, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Unearthed Arcana, TSR, 1985.

Holmes, J. Eric, “Basic D&D Points of View…”, Dragon, Issue 52, August 1981.

Joshi, S.T., & Schultz, David E., An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, Hippocampus Press, 2001.

Kuntz, Robert & Ward, James, Dungeons & Dragons, Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-gods &

Heroes, TSR Games, 1976.

Lovecraft, H.P., At the Mountains of Madness, Arkham House, 1964.

Merritt, A., Dwellers in the Mirage, Paperback Library, 1960.

Miesel, Sandra, “Afterward: An Invitation to Elfland” in Fantasy in, Poul Anderson, Tor, 1981.

Miesel, Sandra, Against Time’s Arrow: The High Crusade of Poul Anderson, Borgo Press, 1978.

Moorcock, Michael, Corum: The Coming Chaos, Eternal Champion, Volume 7, White Wolf,


Moorcock, Michael, Elric: Stealer of Souls, Ballantine, 2008.

Moorcock, Michael, Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress, Ballantine, 2008.

Moorcock, Michael, Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn, Ballantine, 2008.

Moorcock, Michael, The Eternal Champion, Eternal Champion, Volume 1, White Wolf, 1994.

Moorcock, Michael, The Road Between the Worlds, Eternal, Champion Volume 6, White Wolf,


Price, Robert M., “The Khut-N’hah Mythos”, introduction to The Book of Iod, Chaosium, 1995.

Suttie, Paul, “For King and Country: An Alignment System Based on Cause and Effect”,

Dragon, Issue 101, September 1985.

Von Franz, Marie-Louise, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Revised Edition, Shambala, 1995.

Ward, James M. & Kuntz, Robert J., Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Deities & Demigods,

TSR, 1980.


[1] Gary Gygax, “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll: Evil: Law vs. Chaos” (Dragon, Issue 28, Aug. 1979), p. 11.

[2] J. Eric Holmes, “Basic D&D Points of View…” (Dragon, Issue 52, Aug. 1981), p. 16.

[3] Sean Patrick Fannon, The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer’s Bible, Second Edition (Obsidian Studios, 1999), p. 210.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Paul Suttie, “For King and Country: An Alignment System Based on Cause and Effect” (Dragon, Issue 101, Sept. 1985), p. 21.

[6] Fannon, The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer’s Bible, p. 210.

[7] Suttie, “For King and Country”, p. 18.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Gary Gygax, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (TSR, 1979), p. 23.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 24.

[13] Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide, Revised Second Edition (TSR, 1995), p. 36.

[14] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 23.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 23. The game never defines exactly what constitutes a “thinking” creature. However, very few monsters of an Intelligence of less than 5 are something other than (True) Neutral. However, there are exceptions, though these are uncommon. The “normal” animal examples all are creatures typically thought of as cunningly evil, thus, have a moral tendency towards Evil. These are the giant octopus, giant rat, dire wolf, and wolverine.

[18] Gary Gygax, “The Meaning of Law and Chaos in Dungeons & Dragons and Their Relationships to Good and Evil”, The Strategic Review, Vol. 2, No. 1, p. 3. Strictly Neutral alignment is also known as “True Neutral”.

[19] Gary Gygax, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Oriental Adventures (TSR, 1985), p. 29.

[20] There are some examples of “unintelligent” monstrous creatures with a non-True Neutral alignment, nearly all of whom fall on the side of Evil. Examples include the doombat, death dog, forlarren, giant strider, gryph, mantari, manes demon, and lemure devil. A few outliers, such as the blindheim, eye killer, and gorbel are Chaotic in nature.

[21] James M. Ward & Robert J. Kuntz, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Deities & Demigods (TSR, 1980), p. 114.

[22] Gary Gygax, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (TSR, 1978), p. 120. This work notes that the deities who inhabit the Outer Planes are the source of alignment. However, the wording was altered in Deities & Demi-Gods that alignment emanates from the plane itself, rather than the deities.

[23] Ibid., p. 120, The PHB states that Positive Material Plane is the source of Good, and Negative Material Plane is Evil. This concept was later dropped and revised in later published books.

[24] Jeff Grubb. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Manual of the Planes (TSR, 1987), p. 80.

[25] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, pp. 41 & 60.

[26] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 24.

[27] Ward & Kuntz, Deities & Demigods, p. 6.

[28] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 24.

[29] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 25.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Michael Moorcock, Elric: Stealer of Souls (Ballantine, 2008), pp. 6-7.

[32] Fannon, The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer’s Bible, p. 77.

[33] Moorcock, Elric: Stealer of Souls, pp. 6-7.

[34] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 224.

[35] “To Forge a Fantasy World: Greyhawk’s Creation”. Gygax acknowledges that the fairy stories of the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang served as sources of inspiration.

[36] Von Franz, Marie-Louise, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Revised Edition (Shambala, 1995), p. 12.

[37] Patrick Curry, Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity (Floris Books, 1997), p. 42.

[38] Gary Gygax, “Good Isn’t Stupid, Paladins & Rangers, and Female Dwarves do Have Beards!” (Dragon, Issue 38, June 1980), p. 22.

[39] Gygax, Players Handbook, p. 24.

[40] Ward & Kuntz, Deities & Demigods, p. 22.

[41] Gygax, “Good Isn’t Stupid”, p. 23.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Gygax, “Good Isn’t Stupid”, p. 22.

[44] Suttie, “For King and Country”, p. 18.

[45] Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook, Revised Second Edition (TSR, 1995), pp. 65.

[46] In this context, “race” means a group from a differing species or ethnicity.

[47] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 23. The DMG states that, “Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom, and prospect of happiness.” If these three concepts sound familiar to you, it’s because they are nearly identical to the iconic “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” statement found in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence of the United States (1776).

[48] Ibid. The DMG notes that, “Cruelty and suffering are undesirable.”

[49] Ibid.

[50] Gygax, Arneson, & Moldvay, D&D Basic Rulebook, p. B11.

[51] Players Handbook, Second Edition, p. 65.

[52] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 60.

[53] Gygax, “Good Isn’t Stupid”, p. 22.

[54] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 23.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Gygax, “Law vs. Chaos”, p. 10.

[57] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 23.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Gygax, “Law vs. Chaos”, p. 10.

[60] Gary Gygax, “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll: D&D Relationships, The Parts and the Whole” (Dragon, Issue 14, May 1978), p. 10.

[61] Gygax, “Law vs. Chaos”, p. 10.

[62] Gary Gygax, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Unearthed Arcana (TSR, 1985), p. 40. The game calls the Law/Chaos axis “ethics”. Since the terms “ethics” and “morality” are often used interchangeably, and not entirely accurate, “ideology” is a better descriptor for social organization.

[63] Gygax, “The Meaning of Law and Chaos”, pp. 5.

[64] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 24.

[65] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 24.

[66] Gygax, “Law vs. Chaos”, p. 10.

[67] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 23.

[68] Grubb, Manual of the Planes, p. 114.

[69] Ibid.

[70] In this case, “self-interest” is concern with one’s own well-being and affairs, and not a synonym for “selfishness”.

[71] Grubb, Manual of the Planes, p. 115.

[72] Gygax, “Law vs. Chaos”, p. 10.

[73] Harmonious and disharmonious can exist simultaneously in the same pair of alignments.

[74] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 23.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Gygax, Oriental Adventures, p. 29.

[77] Gygax, “Law vs. Chaos”, p. 10.

[78] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 24.

[79] Gygax, Oriental Adventures, p. 29.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 60.

[83] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 40.

[84] Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 60.

[85] Specific mentions include: banshees originate from evil elves; the Greyhawk Adventures book mentions Neutral-leaning halflings and Lawful Good-leaning stone giants; the ondonti are Lawful Good orcs from the Forgotten Realms; FOR2 Drow of the Underdark notes that 15% of drow are of another alignment than Evil; the drow goddess of Good, Eilistraee, worshipped by non-Evil dark elves; and the Complete Book of Humanoids details monsters of other alignments as player characters.

[86] They could have a different alignment is it was changed by magical means, such as donning a helm of opposite alignment.

[87] Gygax, Unearthed Arcana, p. 13.

[88] Anderson never used the word “alignment” to describe these principles.

[89] Poul Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions (Doubleday & Company, 1961), p. 25.

[90] The D&D paladin comes directly from this book.

[91] Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions, p. 34.

[92] Poul Anderson, Operation Otherworld (SFBC, 1999), p. 207.

[93] Poul Anderson, “Fantasy in the Age of Science” in Fantasy (Tor, 1981), p. 332.

[94] Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions, p. 34.

[95] Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions, p. 63.

[96] Sandra Miesel, Against Time’s Arrow: The High Crusade of Poul Anderson (Borgo Press, 1978), p. 11.

[97] Miesel, Against Time’s Arrow, p. 4.

[98] Miesel, Against Time’s Arrow, p. 7.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Michael Moorcock, The Eternal Champion, Eternal Champion, Volume 1 (White Wolf, 1994), p. vi.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Michael Moorcock, Elric: Stealer of Souls (Ballantine, 2008), p. 444.

[103] Michael Moorcock, The Road Between the Worlds, Eternal, Champion Volume 6 (White Wolf, 1996), p. vi.

[104] Moorcock, Elric: Stealer of Souls, p. 68.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Moorcock, The Eternal Champion, p. vi.

[107] Moorcock, The Road Between the Worlds, p. vi.

[108] Moorcock, Elric: Stealer of Souls, p. 68.

[109] Moorcock, The Eternal Champion, p. viii.

[110] Michael Moorcock, Corum: The Coming Chaos, Eternal Champion, Volume 7 (White Wolf, 1997), p. 191.

[111] Moorcock, The Eternal Champion, p. vii.

[112] Ibid.

[113] Moorcock, Elric: Stealer of Souls, p. 68.

[114] Ibid.

[115] Moorcock, Corum: The Coming Chaos, p. 122.

[116] Moorcock, Elric: Stealer of Souls, p. 68.

[117] Moorcock, Corum: The Coming Chaos, p. 193.

[118] Moorcock, Corum: The Coming Chaos, p. 192.

[119] Moorcock, Corum: The Coming Chaos, p. 345.

[120] Moorcock, Elric: Stealer of Souls, p. 68.

[121] Moorcock, Corum: The Coming Chaos, p. 226.

[122] Ibid.

[123] Michael Moorcock, Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn (Ballantine, 2008). P. 66.

[124] Ibid.

[125] Moorcock, The Eternal Champion, p. vi.

[126] Ibid.

[127] Moorcock, The Road Between the Worlds, p. vi.

[128] Moorcock, Elric: Stealer of Souls, p. 55.

[129] Moorcock, Corum: The Coming Chaos, p. 136.

[130] Michael Moorcock, Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress (Ballantine, 2008), p. 88.

[131] Moorcock, Corum: The Coming Chaos, p. 397.

[132] Moorcock, Corum: The Coming Chaos, p. 192.

[133] Bradley J. Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth (ISI Books, 2002), p. 45.

[134] Anderson, “Fantasy in the Age of Science”, p. 273.

[135] Poul Anderson, “Awakening the Elves” in Meditations on Middle-Earth (St. Martin's Press, 2001), p. 22.

[136] Anderson, “Awakening the Elves, p. 29.

[137] Three Hearts and Three Lions first appeared in serialized form in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, starting with the September 1953 issue.

[138] Anderson, “Fantasy in the Age of Science”, p. 275.

[139] H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness (Arkham House, 1964), p. 308.

[140] Ibid.

[141] Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness, p. 293.

[142] L. Sprague de Camp, H.P. Lovecraft: A Biography (Barnes & Noble, 1996), p. 333.

[143] S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (Hippocampus Press, 2001), p. 167.

[144] A. Merritt, Dwellers in the Mirage (Paperback Library, 1960), p. 35.

[145] Lin Carter, “The Magic of Atlantis”, introduction to Poseidonis (Ballantine Books, 1973), pp. 3-5.

[146] Robert M. Price, “The Khut-N’hah Mythos”, introduction to The Book of Iod (Chaosium, 1995), pp. vii-ix.

[147] The term “alignment” comes D&Ds wargaming roots. Who is allied with whom in the “orders of battle”.

[148] Gary Gygax & Jeff Perren, Chainmail, Second Edition, (Guidon Games, 1972), p. 25.

[149] Gygax & Perren, Chainmail, p. 35.

[150] Ibid.

[151] Gygax & Perren, Chainmail, p. 32.

[152] Gygax & Perren, Chainmail, p. 29.

[153] Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson. Dungeons & Dragons, Volume I: Men & Magic (Tactical Studies Rules, 1974), p. 9.

[154] Gary Gygax & Rob Kuntz. Dungeons & Dragons, Supplement I: Greyhawk (TSR Games, 1976), pp. 6-7.

[155] Gygax & Arneson, Volume I: Men & Magic, p. 15.

[156] Dave Arneson & Tim Kask (Editor), Dungeons & Dragons, Supplement II: Blackmoor (TSR Games, 1975), p. 24.

[157] Gygax & Arneson, Volume I: Men & Magic, p. 58.

[158] Gygax & Arneson, Volume I: Men & Magic, p. 34.

[159] Gygax & Arneson, Volume I: Men & Magic, p. 23.

[160] Gygax & Arneson, Volume I: Men & Magic, p. 24.

[161] Arneson & Kask, Supplement II: Blackmoor, p. 21.

[162] Robert Kuntz & James Ward. Dungeons & Dragons, Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes (TSR Games, 1976). Numerous references throughout.

[163] Gygax & Kuntz. Supplement I: Greyhawk, p. 34.

[164] Gygax & Kuntz. Supplement I: Greyhawk, p. 35.

[165] Gygax & Kuntz. Supplement I: Greyhawk, pp. 35-36.

[166] Gygax & Kuntz. Supplement I: Greyhawk, p. 38.

[167] Gygax & Kuntz. Supplement I: Greyhawk, pp. 6-7.

[168] Gygax, Gary & Arneson, Dave; Homes, J. Eric (Editor), Dungeons & Dragons (TSR, 1977), p. 8

[169] Gygax, Gary & Arneson, Dave; Moldvay, Tom (editor), Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rulebook (TSR, 1981), p. B11.

[170] Gary Gygax, “The Meaning of Law and Chaos”, p. 3.

[171] The term, “five-alignment system”, is of recent origin and was never used in the original D&D or AD&D books, or by Gygax.

[172] Gygax, “The Meaning of Law and Chaos”, pp. 3-5.

[173] As detailed in The Strategic Review article, “The Meaning of Law and Chaos in Dungeons & Dragons and Their Relationships to Good and Evil”.

[174] Gary Gygax & Brian Blume, Dungeons & Dragons, Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (TSR Games, 1976), p. 38.

[175] Gygax & Blume, Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, p. 24.

[176] Gygax & Blume, Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, p. 39.

[177] Gygax, Arneson, Homes, Dungeons & Dragons, p. 8

[178] Gygax, “The Meaning of Law and Chaos”, p. 4.

[179] Gary Gygax, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (TSR, 1977), p. 44.

[180] Gary Gygax, Monster Manual, p. 93.


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