I am working with someone on a campaign that involves some members of a church of a good deity who cross moral lines in the name of good. Among them is an inquisitor NPC who delights in torture and slaughter of all those he deems enemies of the church, he eventually comes after the player characters for harboring someone who he deems a heretic.

Another is a king who presents himself as good and holy, he speaks often of good deeds and morals and funds and supports churches of good deities. Of course this is a facade, he is actually very greedy and power-hungry; the clerics he associates with most are caught in cognitive dissonance and make excuses on the fly to justify his behavior and their own.

There is also possibility of a good-aligned deity who has done questionable things like support slaughtering baby goblins and killing good-aligned undead who chose to be undead. And being like Zeus in personal matters.

Basically there are "corrupted good" characters, who do good deeds and support good causes as a facade or have become extreme in their devotion. I tried looking at the World of Warcraft RPG book for guidelines since there are characters like this there, and they place their alignment objectively. The Scarlet Crusade is labeled as lawful evil despite their dedication to destroying the undead scourge due to being extremely corrupt, and pre-Scourge Arthas is chaotic good when he slaughters the inhabitants of a town who have been infected with a disease that will eventually turn them into mindless undead despite that this is one action that slowly draws him to the dark side.

However I doubt placing alignment like this in a more standard Pathfinder setting will work because of alignment detecting spells, deities who give power to clerics, paladins, and inquisitors, and alignment as a mechanic.

So basically how do I figure out alignments here? I thought of the possibility of redefining or even presenting alignment as an existing but flawed cosmic force. I also thought about replacing the inquisitor with another class who does not cast divine spells so if his deity rejects him he does not notice.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Alignment is an inconsistent mess that cannot be definitively stated on a global, Internet scale. It can only be defined within extremely limited scopes, such as one table, one setting, or even one particular game. As such, we can't tell you how your group should decide the alignment, we can only tell you our own opinions. That makes this question primarily opinion-based, and thus not a good fit for this site. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 20, 2014 at 19:20
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Fortunately, this is one table we're dealing with. This is a good example of why we require questions to be about their specific problem, not in general. If there are insufficient details about their specific problem, it's unclear, not primarily opinion-based. The question is "How do I figure out..." not "What should it be...", asking for fishing instructions, not fish to eat. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 20, 2014 at 20:48
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I think there's a valid question here in terms of the general "how does a GM go about establishing/identifying alignments of characters when their behavior differs from their listed/intended alignment." What this won't be is an argument about what alignment the example guys above are, please don't get into that (such will be deleted) - address the procedural problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Aug 20, 2014 at 21:21

8 Answers 8


First off, it's worth noting that it's time to link to the SRD:


Second - you first need to put yourself in a very specific frame of mind: In Pathfinder, Good and Evil as system terms are not relative terms. They are Absolute. They are also forces of nature. And so when you read those paragraphs stating what is 'good' and 'evil', you have to remember that they're being quite specific. This isn't a matter of navel-gazing or philosophy - it's a matter of Science.

Good/evil, at its core, involves your attitude towards life and quality of life.

Law/chaos, at its core, involves your attitude towards doing things The Right Way, and how you think of authority.

Third: Some common pitfalls in looking at alignment.

Theft is NOT an evil act. It is a chaotic act.

Law is a universal constant. There are mortal laws which are NOT Lawful. Lawful characters put universal Lawfullness first - that involves a respect for mortal authority, and obedience, but only inasmuch as it does not contradict or detract from Absolute Lawfulness. Perfect obedience to a mortal law that contradicts Absolute Law is not inherently lawful.

Fourth: The easy answer

The simplest way to answer a 'morally ambiguous character' is "Neutral." Only those dedicated to one side or the other are good/evil, lawful/chaotic. Those who flip-flop between the two sides, or are not dedicated to one or the other, are neutral - and given the normal state of most people 'not caring', I'd say that the majority of the world's pretty darn neutral.

Fifth: A more complex 'how to'.

So you have a complex character. Start making a list of their attributes, broken down as simply as you can, based on the following list of focuses:

Good/evil: How do they react to the life and quality of life for individuals? How do they react to the life and quality of life for groups? Are their inner motivations towards saving life? Towards destroying life?

Law/Chaos: What is their automatic reaction when approached by an authority figure? Do they try to obey innocuous local laws, or do they just not care? Do they want to create a neat and orderly society, or do they want to create a society where everyone does whatever they want?

List out the points (and weight them if you like) and then consider how they weigh up against each other.

Sixth: An example for the complex 'how to'.

Let's take your king there. Now, I don't really think there's enough information to actually make a decision - but I'll do what I can.

Good/evil: * He gives to good churches. NOTE: This very statement means the churches are GOOD on a universal scale - they make an active role in improving the life and quality of life of those around them. So this means the king makes an active effort to save life and improve quality of life. The 'weighted' part comes in, though, in how much he means it. Does he really try to be good, but has a lot of flaws? Then this should weight heavily. Does he do it as a cover for his true nature, so he can appear good and game the system? Then the weight is 'zero' and it gets negated.

  • He speaks about good deeds and morals. He tries to encourage goodly activity in the world. The 'weighted' part comes in when you consider why. Is it because he's trying to encourage good activity in society, so that people are better off? Then this is weighted stronger. Is it because he wants to make people think he's good, but doesn't mean what he says? then the weight is 'zero'.

  • He is power hungry. This may or may not be good/evil. What does he DO to support this power hunger? Does he kill his enemies? Or does he just scheme and twist and make all sorts of pacts and alliances? The only thing which matters to 'good' vs 'evil' is what his motivations towards the life of others is. Does he seek ridiculous levels of power because he thinks that if he doesn't, more people will get hurt and die?


  • He uses facades / he lies a lot. This is chaotic.
  • He associates with people he knows lie a lot. This is chaotic.
  • He is greedy and power hungry. This may or may not be lawful/chaotic. What does he DO to support this power hunger? Does he cheat, steal, blackmail, and scheme? Or does he do everything through loopholes and legalese?

Greed and power-hungriness aren't really a good/evil thing, nor a lawful/chaotic thing. They can exist on any side of the spectrum. So it's not a matter of whether or not he craves power - it's HOW he goes about it, and WHY.

Now, after weighting all this stuff, let's say you got:

Good/evil: 6/2: He's probably a pretty good character who makes some difficult choices in the search for the greater good.
Good/evil: 3/2: He's a neutral character who doesn't care about life one way or the other, but he sure likes looking good for the crowds.
Good/evil: 2/6: He's a loathsome but charismatic villain whose hands are stained with blood, but knows how to put on a good show and seem angelic.

Law/chaos: 5/3: He's very interested in doing things the right way, but darn it, sometimes people just need a break as long as they're generally trying to do things right. Everyone has a few foibles, right?
Law/chaos: 2/3: He's just trying to get things done - he'll do it in the law if he has to, but ... heck, everyone cheats, he's gotta cheat just to keep up, right?
Law/chaos: 2/7: Pffft. Laws are for suckers. He's the king, he doesn't have to follow the law. As long as he's popular, he can get away with whatever he wants.


The way I would look at this question is by considering the character's unforced or natural behavior to determine alignment, rather than their public persona.

Another thing you can consider, particularly when looking at the Inquisitor is the possibility that the character does not actually worship the deity they think they do. While neither is specific to Pathfinder there are similar ideas in both fiction and older D&D modules.

In the old L1 module, one of the clerics had become corrupt, and received some of his spells from an evil deity, rather than the one he ostensibly worshiped. From literature, look at C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle, where it is explicitly stated that evil deeds done in Aslan's name are actually acts glorifying the evil deity Tash, and good deeds done in Tash's name show devotion to Aslan.

The corrupt inquisitor may have changed deity without actually realizing it.

As for alignment detecting spells, the thing I would take from them is that while they do exist, that doesn't mean a church would always use them on its members. They don't bestow omniscience; someone has to actually choose to use one on a member.

I hope this helps.


As others point out, this is primarily opinion based as to "what alignment these characters are", so instead I'm going to work around a few problems that these character's alignment could cause.

A king does not have to worry too much about being found out by detect alignment spells. He can certainly afford a level 3 cleric for http://paizo.com/prd/spells/undetectableAlignment.html

In terms of the inquisitor losing his spells if he acts out of alignment with his God, remember the character can be 1 step away from the God in one direction. Thus a LG God can have inquisitors who are; NG, LN, LG. If the God can be NG or CG as well, then the character can also be N, CG or CN.

Generally, alignment shouldn't impact gameplay too much, apart from via influencing the roleplay.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just an aside - the king may be able to afford the undetectable alignment, but that in itself adds a trail/clue that the king is not what he appears. i.e. there might be an undesirable outcome to having someone hit you with that spell every day. Not to mention that the spell itself is then detectable. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Aug 27, 2014 at 6:09

Among them is an inquisitor NPC who delights in torture and slaughter of all those he deems enemies of the church, he eventually comes after the player characters for harboring someone who he deems a heretic.

In this instance, delighting in torture is an evil act. It is neither an altruistic act, nor does it respect the lives of the people whom the character chooses to torture. If he delights in slaughter, no matter who he chooses to slaughter, it is still not respecting the life of a character. A good character would attempt to take an enemy of his church back alive. An evil character would slaughter anyone who opposes their church.

This inquisitor sounds like he has an alignment of Chaotic evil, as he abuses his power in the clergy to indulge in evil acts such as torture and slaughter. He is most similar to Demons, and his deity sounds like Erythnul in Greyhawk or in the pathfinder universe, Shax. If he's an Inquisitor of a good church, He's probably using a facade and aligntment protection spells so he isn't discovered so he can continue inflicting pain and torturing his victims. ( Chaotic doesn't mean dumb, they're just as capable of deception as Lawful )

Another is a king who presents himself as good and holy, he speaks often of good deeds and morals and funds and supports churches of good deities. Of course this is a facade, he is actually very greedy and power-hungry; the clerics he associates with most are caught in cognitive dissonance and make excuses on the fly to justify his behavior and their own.

The king in this example is most likely Lawful Evil. He is willingly manipulating good clerics in order to get access to the wealth and power he desires, and he's doing so without resorting to fear, torture, or magic to do so.

They justify his actions because he is a king, he abuses his authority but acts within the bounds of the law to get what he wants. Therefore, most likely lawful evil.

There is also possibility of a good-aligned deity who has done questionable things like support slaughtering baby goblins and killing good-aligned undead who chose to be undead. And being like Zeus in personal matters.

A deity in this instance would probably be Chaotic Good. Goblins are typically considered an evil race and normally their kind are not protected by laws, babies are generally considered innocent, and if they live and grow up with their kin they would likely grow up evil as well due to their environment. This could be considered merciful. Preventing them from growing up evil by killing them to become the petitioners of said deity has been done before.

And undead are typically considered to be perversions of life, and while there are even good undead, good liches, etc, undead are typically associated with death, decay, and perversions of life. They are also unprotected under laws, therefore killing them might be considered an evil act albeit a chaotic one, however this could also be construed as freeing their souls so they will be sent to an afterlife matching their alignment. Also a grey area.

Another thing springs to mind when typing this, Deities can hardly be held accountable for their actions except by other deities, and likely the situation described would probably not come into question during the course of a game if you weren't in the very high levels. But I digress.


Rule of thumb for the Good/Evil axis in AD&D-inspired games:
Good: shares what they have
Neutral: takes what they need
Evil: takes what they want

Extreme Good: sacrifices self to save others
Extreme Evil: takes what they want; destroys what they don't

Reducing Evil is a Good act; reducing Good is an Evil act.

Are the baby goblins bound to grow up evil? Then killing them is a Good act; if they're not then it's not. Etc.

The balance of all your actions determines your alignment which is simply an indication of which cosmic powers you are most useful to and therefore most likely to aid you (with hit points, levels, and so on).


Different groups use the alignment rules differently, allowing it to define or dictate the character's actions - your mileage will vary. Here are two ideas which may help you to standardize the alignment an NPC is said to posses based on his actions.
Lets focus on the Good - Evil axis (the same ideas appliy to the Law - Chaos axis):

The bare bones of the alignment definition

(Taken from the SRD, emphasis mine)

Good Versus Evil

Good characters and creatures protect innocent life. Evil characters and creatures debase or destroy innocent life, whether for fun or profit.
Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others.

Evil implies hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master.

People who are neutral with respect to good and evil have compunctions against killing the innocent, but may lack the commitment to make sacrifices to protect or help others.

Note that this definition says nothing about being ruthless about pursuing your cause, or taking delight in destroying "non-innocent life" - so, your inquisitor may still kill and torture enemies of the church with zeal and genuine delight1 (of "purifying the land" or whatever) and still count as good aligned as long as he protects the innocents. He may even rationalize his atrocities (as we might call such actions) by saying that he is protecting the innocents by destroying the guilty - "good" doesn't necessarily implies "merciful" or "pleasant". This may blow-up in his face if/when he goes too far and inflicts his "graces" on an "innocent".
The king, on the other hand, is just putting on a facade - and "talking the talk" has nothing to do with alignment - it's all about your intentions, not how well you justify them to others.

1 This is almost implied (to a degree) by the class name and theme.

Take a look at "Major Conflict and Alignment" from the Background Generator

The Background Generator takes a more refined view of alignment - instead of 3 positions on an axis (Good, Neutral and Evil), it uses 9 steps between Good and Evil (1-3 for Good, 4-6 for Neutral, 7-9 for Evil) - so you can have a two character who both count as Good for spells etc., but one of them is extremely Good (1) and the other is a border-line Neutral (3).
These optional rules are designed to aid players in defining their character's alignment based on a "major conflict" (a defining act in their background), but you can also use them as an alignment bench-mark for your NPCs.

The rules for Major Conflict and Alignment describe a list of varying conflicts or offenses, suggests possible motivations and varying degrees of remorse or delight for the action. Each of these is assigned a number of "Conflict Points" (CP).
After selecting/randomizing from these tables, you get a final amount of CP which you distribute among the 2 alignment axises (you start from 0/0 and progress from there).
For example, "beating, assaulting, or mutilating" someone (7 CP), out of following "Religion" (2 CP) and ending up with "mixed feelings" (0 CP) ends up with a total of 9 CP, which can be distributed as 6/3 for Neutral Good (leaning to Chaotic Neutral), or 1/8 for Lawful Evil.

Although the results are somewhat flexible - they give a standardized frame for a given action-motivation-resolution, if a defining conflict totals 13 CP (torturing a child for religious motivation and enjoying it, for example) - there's no distribution which ends up as Good or Lawful.
Hope any of this helps...


I believe that ones alignment should be based on what their motivations and reasons are, more so than the acts that they commit. Of course murdering a blind orphan is bad, but if it saves the rest of the town, and they have no other inclination to do it, then it shouldn't affect their alignment, though possibly over time if such an action were to be repeated it may corrupt their alignment.

I'm playing a 9th level wizard, and playing him as a necromancer. He is nice and very outgoing, and has plans to build a city in which he will have a church for every alignment, as well as an orphanage. He is a dedicated scholar and has many ranks in every 'knowledge' skill. He has a code of conduct that he has installed for himself and follows the law everywhere he goes. But because he raises the dead, only for the purpose for helping people, such as harvesting crops, carrying goods, or whatever simple tasks are required, my GM has dictated that his alignment must be 'Neutral' or 'Evil', but not 'Good'. Many of my companions find problem with the animation of the dead, though they have no problem with resurrection, reincarnation, or any other means of utilizing a soul that has moved on, which continues to astound me and drives a rift between characters.


Rather than figure out the player's alignment, simply allow the player's actions to chart the course of inevitability. Keep a basic log of notable activities and include only significant data points which indicate or provide a reasonable demonstration of morale choice. This type of 'chart' is often referred to as an alignment graph. You may want to actually draw a coordinate axis (x,y) with law and chaos, good and evil at opposite quadrants. Then plot each point in the appropriate quadrant with strong tendencies toward any one component further away from the origin (0,0).

Over some (generally short) amount of time, you will have an accounting of the player's actual behavior. This is also an excellent method for keeping arguments over alignment (or alignment changes) with the player short and sweet. If discussion ensues, simply show the player the graph.

I used to warn players when their actions were encroaching on alignment change, particularly for those players in which such determinations were critical. This can come as an 'in-game' bit of fun (your quest has been successful thus far, but the stark, black mushrooms thick along the road since last week are an unmistakable sign....) or a direct statement 'out-of-game' to the player.

Make basic alignment charting a standard part of your player records and you'll find the burden of alignment woes much lighter.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Rewritten to better address actual question ( a task better performed the first time). \$\endgroup\$
    – Starrdaark
    Jun 30, 2017 at 10:03

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