A Question on Alignment

One of the players in my home campaign, who is also doing some editing/proofreading work on the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, came up with a conceptual question regarding alignment which I thought might be of interest.

Given a system where evil is defined as the belief that the powerful should be in charge, and good is defined as the belief that the strong and wealthy should help the weak and the poor, what happens in a situation where a powerful person is in charge, and wants to help the weak and the poor? Isn’t that a contradiction?

It’s certainly a fair question, and a distinction that many people have trouble with. In the example given, the question is not whether or not the considerate man is strong. It is whether he is put in charge because he is powerful.

In an evil society, the powerful are in charge because they are powerful, and for no other reason. They achieve their position of authority on the basis of their power. In a lawful evil society, that power is defined and mechanisms are in place so that everyone knows his place in the hierarchy. In that sense “power” can also encompass the power to “game the system” (Hell is full of lawyers after all…). In a chaotic evil society, the power of any given individual is more directly expressed and measured, so that one is dominated by another on the sheer basis of brute force (and this can apply to groups as well as individuals).

In the good society, on the other hand, power is not necessarily eschewed, but can still be pursued. The object of that power, however, is quite different. In a good society, power is the means to the end of helping the weak; the more powerful one is, the better one is able to protect those who need protecting. The richer one is, the more one is able to aid the poor. And so forth. The lawful good society will do so collectively, and have institutions dedicated to the defense of the weak and the aid of the poor. A chaotic good society will no less value the welfare of the weaker and poorer, but will leave it to the conscious and means of the individual to decide how best to express those desires.


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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

4 thoughts on “A Question on Alignment

  1. Power just amplifies the good or evil natures of a character.

    A good character would use his or her power as more or less a stewardship. While an evil character would abuse his power at almost every opportunity.

  2. To me this is not an exclusionary definition of good and evil, it is quite possible for a good man to become powerful, just as it is possible for an evil man to sincerely desire to provide assistance to the weak and needy. I started to give examples, but the comment soon became so long that I just posted it over at Alesmiter.

  3. So Republicans are CG economically and LG socially, and Democrats are the other way around?

    I once summed up my take on alignment, morality and politics as follows: Neutral people are bound to be moral and helpful, but only to people they know and trust; Good people are bound to be moral and helpful to everyone except Evil people; Evil people are potentially selfish at all time, are moral and helpful only when in their immediate self-interest, and bound by no morality.

  4. Evil is not about the strong being in power at all and this is why you and your friend are having problems here.

    Evil is about the _self_ verses good which is about _others_. People who are selfish are, by definition, evil. They will sacrfifice others to achieve their own ends. They will utilise cruelty to achieve their goals. They have no honour, no sense of fair play and are greedy for wealth and/or power (often the same thing).

    The strong being in power is fine. If the strong use their power to protect the weak, we would all agree, they are good. That's actually the ideal scenario. Weak leaders are no good to anyone.

    So you see your friend is confused. The nature of ultimate evil is in how power is /expressed/ to the detriment of everyone else.

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