Saturday, February 11, 2012

Find Your Characters on the D&D Character Alignment

Full disclosure, I've never played Dungeons & Dragons.  I have, however, seen that awesome episode of Freaks and Geeks and that awesome episode of Community (if you don't know what I'm talking about, go watch both those shows front to back right exactly now; this post isn't that important).  But I do know about the Dungeons & Dragons character alignment, mostly due to Chris Hardwick talking about it on The Nerdist podcast.  Hardwick kept talking about his favorite alignment, which was "chaotic good."  So I googled away, to see what this meant.  Basically, it's a way of creating characters for Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games.  Soon enough I became obsessed with plotting the characters in my novel on the alignment grid.
Let me be clear, I just used this as a basic tool to get a better sense of my characters' traits and personalities.  Ideally, the characters you create are deep and complex and might do things outside of their alignment because people do weird thing sometimes. 

Sooo, let's take a look at the grid.

Yes, I know it is the most boring JPG in the history of JPGs.

Let's break it down.

Lawful Good: A lawful good character is all about honor and following a code of justice that works to the benefit of the people.  A noble knight would be lawful good.  When the law conflicts with the lawful good guy's sense of rightness,  angst shall ensue.

Examples: Sir Lancelot, Apollo Adama from Battlestar Galactica, almost every character from The West Wing, Riley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (before he went rogue).

Neutral Good: I think sometimes it's tricky to the tell the difference between a lawful good character and a neutral good.  Neutral good characters just want to do the right thing all around.  They'll follow the law,  but they don't have too much trouble side-stepping it when it goes against their sense of morality.

Examples: Buffy Summers, Luke Skywalker, Spider Man, Captain Kirk

Chaotic Good: Ah, the fun heroes!  These are the do-gooding rebels.  They do what they think is right with no regard for what the law might be.  Screw the law.  Reckless but gold-hearted.  All about personal freedom.  The lovable rogue!

Examples: Captain Mal from Firefly, Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, Harry Potter*, the Weasley twins, Ferris Beuller, The Doctor from Doctor Who (a madman in a box)

*I would say Harry Potter is chaotic good more than neutral good because the kid really has no regard for rules at all.  Who's got time for school rules when you're trying to save the world?

Lawful Neutral: Characters who follow the law without regard for the question of good vs. evil as a means of keeping society organized and peaceful.  My chaotic good heart has trouble differentiating lawful neutral from lawful evil.

Examples: Captain Picard, most lawyers on lawyer shows,  Cornelius Fudge

True Neutral: Characters motivated completely by self-interest rather than any regard for good or evil.  Or characters following a belief in a 'balance' between good and evil and therefore not committed to either.  Kind of a weird and interesting alignment.

Examples: Han Solo (in the beginning),  Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica, the Observers from Fringe 

Chaotic Neutral: Anarchic characters who might do any crazy thing at any time.  They might be with the bad guys or they might be with the good guys depending on their whims at any given moment.

Example: Captain Jack Sparrow, Spike* from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bugs Bunny, Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation
*Definitely chaotic and often evil, but he works with Buffy to save the world from Angelus because he happens to like dog racing, Machester United, and Happy Meals with legs.

Lawful Evil: Order at all costs!  Characters who rule through fear.  And isn't it easier if you just oppress everybody?  Or types who enjoy following orders to do terrible things a little too much.   Tyrants and minions.  Obey or die!

Example: Darth Vader (obvi), Dolores Umbridge, Big Brother, Admiral Cain from Battlestar Galactica, and, well, Nazis.

Neutral Evil: Not madly evil for evil's sake but not into any oppressive codes.  Evil for their own ends.  They'll do anything to achieve their purpose.

Example: Lord Voldemort, Glory from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, George Costanza (yep)

Chaotic Evil: Evil madmen!  Violence and destruction for no reason at all.  They might destroy themselves if it looks like fun.

Examples: The Joker (especially in The Dark Knight), Angelus from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alex from A Clockwork Orange, and possibly Nicholas Cage if we don't keep an eye on him.

So obviously this is the sort of thing that geek types could argue about all the livelong day (and the types who would are probably lawful neutral).  Is Spike chaotic neutral or chaotic evil?  Is Lord Sauron lawful evil or neutral evil?  I don't know!  It's just a tool, people!  But it's a fun way to play with character dynamics.

Take every cop movie ever.  There's often a chaotic good type of cop (Riggs) partnered up with a lawful good cop (Murtaugh).  Can these two opposites find a way to work together? Spoilers: Yes.

I'm no expert.  I'm finishing the first draft of a first novel, but I had a lot of fun deciding whereabouts my characters fell on the alignment.  My main character is very chaotic good, but her love interest is somewhere between lawful good and neutral good, and he's forced to work with a guy who's lawful evil.

And it doesn't just have to apply to epic fantasy/sci-fi.  You can find these dynamics anywhere, especially if there's a system or social structure the characters are working under; a courtroom, a high school, or any workplace at all.  Dwight Schrute?  Lawful evil! 

For a seemingly endless and in-depth analysis of the character alignment go to this TV Tropes page.

If ever anyone wants to debate the alignment of Buffy characters, tweet me @spoonflipper.  It would be a joy.

No comments:

Post a Comment