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How do you represent creatures from the missing alignments? For example:

  • Personified forces of nature (chaotic neutral), aka Greek mythology, which, while dangerous, are not necessarily evil?

  • The honorable lawful evil villains, who offer their opponent a fair chance in a duel?

  • Moral dilemmas where there is no obvious good and evil choice?

  • Possibilities for intrigue and conflict when a lawful neutral inquisitor-type character has to cooperate with a chaotic good one, to defeat a great evil.

What about the structure of the Planescape universe? The endless war of the Tanar'ri and Baatezu?

Is there something in the system that provides some roleplaying initiatives in exchange for the possibilities denied by the change in the alignment system?

What are the implications on the dynamics of roleplaying of the new alignment versus the older systems?

The "old" system (AD&D 1st to 3.X)

Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good
Lawful Neutral, Neutral Chaotic, Neutral
Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, Chaotic Evil

The "new" system (AD&D 4th)

Lawful Good, Good, Unaligned, Evil, Chaotic Evil

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@BrianBallsun-Stanton I've edited out most of the edition brinksmanship from the question. I think it's worth answering if the community can do so calmly, if for no other reason than that this seems to be a common misconception. – AceCalhoon Jun 20 '12 at 19:00
Reopened. I'll lock this question down at the first hint of bad-subjectivity. Remember Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and don't forget to cite your sources if you're talking about actual moral and ethical philosophies. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jun 20 '12 at 19:40

I think the key issue here is that you're thinking of it as "the old system with alignments removed" rather than "the old system simplified." Character archetypes haven't gone away, there's just more variety within each alignment.

Your examples are pretty easy:

  • Personified forces of nature (chaotic neutral), aka Greek mythology, which, while dangerous, are not necessarily evil?

    Neither particularly good, nor particularly evil? Sounds unaligned to me.

  • The honorable lawful evil villains, who offer their opponent a fair chance in a duel?

    A villain, not driven by Chaos for the sake of chaos? Probably evil, although perhaps drifting into unaligned (that Lawful Evil/Lawful Neutral border has always been a soft one).

  • What about the structure of the Planescape universe?

    If you wanted to port these over whole-cloth, you'd need to separate character-sheet alignment from planar alignment. Characters from a Chaotic Good Planescape plane would have a character-sheet alignment of good, but would have personalities different from characters from a Neutral Good Planescape plane.

  • The endless war of the Tanar'ri and Baatezu?

    Two groups of people locked in a conflict of ideals. One beholden to the principle of Law, the other Chaos. Both evil. From an alignment perspective they'd be evil and chaotic evil.


The long-and-short of it is that the mechanics of roleplaying in D&D have been simplified and softened. The guidance to the DM is to award experience for good roleplaying, but "good roleplaying" is no longer as well defined.

Some of the results of this are:

  • Players who create a character, and then assign an alignment to it will have more freedom to create deeper, more nuanced characters, because they have more room to add interesting contradictions within each alignment.

  • Players who pick an alignment, and then create a character around it will be more homogeneous, because there are fewer starting points to work from.

  • The DM has fewer "sticks" with which to punish players for loose roleplaying. There was an article not long ago that talked about how power had slowly been shifting from the DM to the players in recent editions of D&D, and this is likely part of that. (If someone can psychically deduce what article I'm thinking of, I'd love to link it here).


Moral dilemmas where there is no obvious good and evil choice?

I'm not quite sure how the alignment system impacts this. This seems to be the sort of thing that's always been squarely in the DM's court as a writer. Certainly, the good alignment is enough to get players into plenty of conundrums on its own.

Possibilities for intrigue and conflict when a lawful neutral inquisitor-type character has to cooperate with a chaotic good one, to defeat a great evil.

Those possibilities still exist, the ball is just further in the players' court. The inquisitor might be lawful good or even unaligned, while the other character is simply good, but well-characterized characters will still find reasons to butt heads.

Of course, it still takes good roleplayers to make sure this sort of conflict doesn't go sour!

Both of your examples have been implemented time and again by DMs in systems outside of D&D. The alignment system, while interesting, has proven to be non-vital to the process of roleplaying.

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To answer your questions, we need to look at how D&D 4th edition is defining alignment. It is defined as the moral stance of the character. I believe it is fair use to quote this short excerpt.

Good: Freedom and kindness.

Lawful Good: Civilization and order.

Evil: Tyranny and hatred.

Chaotic Evil: Entropy and destruction.

Unaligned: Having no alignment; not taking a stand.

Each of these has a detailed explanation in the 4th edition Players Handbook.

In addition the players handbook goes on to explain the distinction between alignments and a character's personality.

Reading about Lawful Good we see that the Players Handbox has two parts to the alignment, one that authority is good because it effectively prevents harm to life and promotes the quality of life.

Absence one of those two ideals then the character has another alignment. If he believes in authority but not in the sanctity of life then he would be considered evil. He may not be a tyrannical control freak, that is a personality trait. By 4e's definition he is evil because the character is willing defend authority regardless of the consequences on individual lives. The degree in which he does so is dependent on the individual characters personality. If he doing things out of consideration for his own benefit then he is unaligned.

It seems to me that in 4e, Lawful Good, and Chaotic Evil are extreme moral positions. That Good, Unaligned, and Evil are the categories most people fell into.

Personified forces of nature (chaotic neutral), aka Greek mythology, which, while dangerous, are not necessarily evil?

Unaligned, while they are not operating like a character they are doing things for their own benefit in accordance to their nature.

The honorable lawful evil villains, who offer their opponent a fair chance in a duel?

In 4e such a character would be evil.

Moral dilemmas where there is no obvious good and evil choice?

This has nothing to do with alignment as alignments are description of an aspect of a character.

Possibilities for intrigue and conflict when a lawful neutral inquisitor-type character has to cooperate with a chaotic good one, to defeat a great evil.

A inquisitor type committed to his moral code without regard to the sanctity of life would be considered evil under 4e definitions. There is nothing that would really prevent him from working with a good alignment character if their goals align. But there would be potential conflicts.

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None whatsoever.

First, let's debunk the moral and ethical philosophies by the law-chaos axis in 3rd ed.

Taking from the inestimable Frank and K's Book of Fiends:

Let's get this out in the open: Law and Chaos do not have any meaning under the standard D&D rules.

We are aware that especially if you've been playing this game for a long time, you personally probably have an understanding of what you think Law and Chaos are supposed to mean. You possibly even believe that the rest of your group thinks that Law and Chaos mean the same thing you do. But you're probably wrong. The nature of Law and Chaos is the source of more arguments among D&D players (veteran and novice alike) than any other facet of the game. More than attacks of opportunities, more than weapon sizing, more even than spell effect inheritance. And the reason is because the "definition" of Law and Chaos in the Player's Handbook is written so confusingly that the terms are not even mutually exclusive. Look it up, this is a written document, so it's perfectly acceptable for you to stop reading at this time, flip open the Player's Handbook, and start reading the alignment descriptions. The Tome of Fiends will still be here when you get back. … There you go! Now that we're all on the same page (page 104), the reason why you've gotten into so many arguments with people as to whether their character was Lawful or Chaotic is because absolutely every action that any character ever takes could logically be argued to be both. A character who is honorable, adaptable, trustworthy, flexible, reliable, and loves freedom is a basically stand-up fellow, and meets the check marks for being "ultimate Law" and "ultimate Chaos". There aren't any contradictory adjectives there. While Law and Chaos are supposed to be opposed forces, there's nothing antithetical about the descriptions in the book.

From a philosophical standpoint they are completely correct. Law and chaos are not exclusive. Which means that any framing of what law is and what chaos is is a function of the social contract and social construction of the rules of the group you're playing with.

Therefore, the ideals of "Lawful Evil" and "Lawful Good" are a function of the media you've been exposed to and your group's wrangling over philosophy. Those labels are not inherently supported by the alignment system save as a superficial gloss.

Therefore, can we say anything good about the alignments of 4e? Not really. They exist, Chaotic good has been folded into good, as it's awfully hard to operationalize chaotics behaving consistently save as "not lawful." And chaotic evil has been differentiated from evil because the irrational destructiveness of chaotic evil.

Still, there are no firm philosophical groundings there.

Therefore: how a group chooses to frame their roleplay, and the artificial constraints they place on their actions, is a function of their social contract, not a function of the roleplaying choices presented in the rules.

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The example "ultimate law and ultimate chaos at the same time" character kind of bugs me. Most of those adjectives are ambiguous, and a few of them are contradictory when taken to alignment-defining extremes. – AceCalhoon Jun 22 '12 at 14:21

At least in an early Iron Age mentality (at least as far as we can reconstruct one from Homer, or the Greek Myths) Law and Chaos can be contrasted doubly as Society/Hierarchy:Individuality and as Civilisation:Non-Urban cultures. Some of the best examples of Chaos aren't necessarily bad. Medea killing her kiddies is "good," she's erasing the dishonour Jason has done to her, and her father (and is paying for the dishonour she did to her father). But it places the individual above society. Correspondingly Odysseus is constantly confronted with the overturning of the moral order, he does it himself with the deceit at Troy. He faces it in Circe's abnormal ordering of the world. And on his return home, his own home is disordered. (There's probably three great archetypes of social "chaos" in its good, neutral and evil forms).

The Law-Chaos axis of alignment never dealt with these tropes particularly well; it wasn't well written up, and the few synchronicities between Western myth about urbanity/rural hinterlands only come through in forced Barbarian alignments (etc.).

There's a lot of good storytelling terrain to work over here, "They do things differently in the village / wastes" but it isn't developed well by Law-Chaos; and is just as readily told within LG-G-U-E-CE.

The Book of Fiends is right about the futility of the L-C axis, but (from last time I scanned it) wrong about the ability to develop solid grounded story from the underlying concepts.

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Note that the Law-Chaos axis wasn't well written up because the D&D manuals were not considered the primary sources for their definition; readers were assumed to be well familiar with Moorcock. – SevenSidedDie Jun 21 '12 at 0:05

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