Saturday, December 15, 2012

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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