Who created the alignment system? Was it Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson (D&D)? Or David A. Hargrave (Arduin)? Or perhaps Michael Moorcock and Paul Anderson? Where did it come from? In what publication is it first written (in detail)?

According to the wiki the first edition D&D (1974) had three alignments: L, N, C. But soon after Anduin (1977) included all nine. However, AD&D (1977) also included all nine alignments. The wiki claims this was taken from Anduin but no evidence or citation is offered. Another wiki article writes that "Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax credited the inspiration for the alignment system to the fantasy stories of Michael Moorcock,[3] and Poul Anderson." But again little detail is given.

Any further information on this would be appreciated. The bibliographic information of the earliest known D&D publication (or related) discussing this at length would be appreciated. And a citation of any publication of any kind whatsoever prior to D&D discussing the alignment system would be appreciated as much if not more so.

Thank you!


2 Answers 2


The concept of the Law-Chaos as appearing in fantasy worlds dichotomy originated with Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, although the underpinnings are much older[1]. Law was what humanity and civilization represented - the imposition of an order on savage, unpredictable wilds - while Chaos was what most non-human things thrived upon: the strange, the weird, the random, and above all, the magical.

Michael Moorcock adapted this, although the interpretation of it grew as his universe expanded. In his earlier works Chaos was essentially antagonistic, even to Elric, who drew his power from it; Law were basically the good guys, albeit ambiguously so (imagine living in a village in France in 1944: Nazis are Chaos, definitely bad guys, but the Allies are Law, and your well-being is for them somewhat secondary to fighting their enemies). Over time, the idea of Balance emerged as an alternative to either side, and although in D&D terms it is 'neutral', in Moorcock's writings it basically became the "good" side and emphasis was put on the reflective similarities of Law and Chaos, at which point they're both basically "evil" (at least once Elric fights a demon and is surprised to learn that it is a demon of Law, not Chaos), but this development didn't occur until well after the D&D system was established.

In the first edition of D&D, Andersonian terms used, but were essentially stand-ins for Good and Evil. PCs were supposed to be Lawful, so Chaotic monsters were the ones you were supposed to fight and Lawful monsters the ones to be friendly with. Supplement I: Greyhawk had an implicit separation of good from evil, presumably to encourage Chaotic PCs in order to make the newly-introduced Paladin class seem to have more restrictions, but this wasn't made explicit until 2nd edition D&D. When AD&D was first released, D&D went back to the simple Lawful-Neutral-Chaos model and, for the first time, good and evil were fully fleshed out as principles and possible player character alignments.

Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber series also makes use of a Law vs Chaos dichotomy, although it is introduced too late to have a defining influence on D&D, it reflects the characteristics of the two as they appear in AD&D: there are numerous good and bad characters on both sides of the Amber/Courts of Chaos conflict.

With each new product or edition the definitions of the alignments evolved slightly, but it always remained complex and confusing or unsuitable for many people, leaving a lot of variant interpretations and house rules (I, for one, am not satisfied with any printed description of Lawful Evil - that should be where a killer with a sense of honor is found, but the rules never support that interpretation). In the end the philosophical differences between law and chaos were discarded, so that Lawful Good meant "exceptionally good" and Chaotic Evil "exceptional evil"; many people already played as if that were the case.

[1] They can be traced to ancient Greek philosophy, with positive concepts like logos and kosmos (order and reason) opposed to negative ones aporia and khaos (confusion and chaos). Nietzsche, with other German scholars of the 19th century, identified these two modes as Apollonian and Dionysian, the idea being that human nature was a merger of civilized Apollonian tendencies with the wild, animalistic Dionysian ones. Some also read similar ideas into the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Interestingly, the Egyptians had a concept of order but two concepts of chaos; one, represented by the god Seth, is the kind of chaos found in markets and nature, that which sometimes causes some destruction but is also the source of creativity and new growth, and the other represented by the serpent Apep, is the violent, primordial chaos that only destroys. What makes this arrangement interesting is that Seth was the protector of order (in the form of Ra) against Apep.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You are mistaken about the following: but this wasn't made explicit until 2nd edition D&D ... That was made explicit in AD&D 1e, with the two axis alignment system being formalized, which was originally an article in Strategic Review before AD&D 1e was published. (I otherwise enjoy this answer). Not sure where you found that implicit separation of good and evil in Greyhawk, as it's not in there. I think you are remembering the 1e AD&D alignment change. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2017 at 13:15

A quick Google search found A History of Alignment in D&D Part 1, attributed to Gygax in 1976. A Grognardia blog post on the OD&D planes says the article originated in The Strategic Review issue 6. The Wikipedia entry on the Dragon magazine says that The Strategic Review stopped publication in 1976. Wikipedia's Arduin entry dates Arduin to 1977, so D&D was certainly the first of the two by this evidence.

Gygax credits Moorcock and Anderson as influences in several places. Moorcock's fiction never uses the word alignment, as far as I know, and doesn't discuss neutrality, only Law and Chaos (the Chaosium Moorcock-inspired games added the idea of Balance). The Moorcock alignment system is actually closest to the Moldvay Basic D&D Alignment system.

I also found another Grognardia blogpost, Anderson on Alignemnts, which refers to Anderson's work from 1953. The author certainly thinks Anderson nailed it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, Moorcock does directly write of the Cosmic Balance, and in a number of places, most notably the Elric and Hawkmoon expressions of the Eternal Champion works, although there are elements in Corum's as well. It is more that beings tend to one end of the scale or the other while the universe seeks balance - in a manner of speaking. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 14, 2012 at 2:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Runeslinger The universe, Nature, seeks balance, and the True Neutral (druid-y variant) seeks to help it achieve and maintain balance. Yeah, that Cosmic Balance is where I see the genesis of the kind of neutrality exemplified by the D&D druid. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 14, 2012 at 3:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I agree~ \$\endgroup\$ Dec 14, 2012 at 4:29

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