Beyond Good and Evil (Morality, Part One)

You’ve seen the prompt before: You find a $20 bill lying on the ground and no one else is around. What do you do? Do you 1) try to find the owner or 2) pocket the money for yourself? Morality extends far past this one scenario, of course, but the law of ethics that you govern yourself upon when there is no consequence to be had is a key element in one’s identity. And that is what we are going to be talking about today: moral alignment.

If the term sounds vaguely familiar, I touched on this topic in my post about literary foils a few months back. Hold on to your dice, my dudes, because it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of it all.

Merriam-Webster defines morality as “the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.” We could get super philosophical with this, but then we’d be here all day. For the purposes of swift character creation (as well as getting to the actual game of DnD before you finish all your snacks) morality is typically broken up into two categories: Good vs. Evil, and Lawful vs. Chaotic. Keep in mind this shouldn’t be a firm pigeonhole for your character, but rather a jumping-off point to start determining what kind of person they are. For reference, please see the chart I made here or below: Moral Alignment Chart

Good vs. Evil

This one is as simple as it sounds. When you imagine your character, do you see them kind and lovely, surrounded by kind woodland creatures a la Snow White? Or do you imagine someone with a Cheshire Cat grin with no respect for life? In reality, morality is a spectrum, and most people do not sit at either end of these polar opposites, but again, moral alignment is just a starting point. As you play your character and get to know them, you’ll be able to figure out where exactly their morals lie. A key component to think about is what drives them to take certain actions? What inspires them to make sacrifices? Do they have compassion? For who, for what?

Good: compassion for the innocent, self-sacrificing, altruistic
Evil: destruction of innocent life for personal gain, oppressive

Lawful vs. Chaotic

This one takes a little more context and world-building to fully utilize, but it really makes the “good and evil” tropes much more interesting. Both tropes can be judgmental of the others’ lifestyles, and since this isn’t as black and white as “good or evil” it leads to much more room for debate.

Lawful: honest, respect for authority and hierarchy, honor placed on traditions, un-adaptable
Chaotic: self-governing, personal freedom, reckless, non-conforming, flexible

An additional element that I should mention is the possibility to be Neutral. Often times, being good/evil or following the law is a conscious choice, but there is also the concept of being neutral, or not being compelled to choose either way. Many people fall smack in the middle of the spectrum, where they can’t be bothered to go out of their way to be kind, but would also not purposefully set out to cause harm. Not necessarily apathetic, though that can be possible, but certainly no real convictions. This is where we start developing gray areas, which makes morality particularly exciting.

In my next post, we’ll be going more in-depth on how to combine these elements for a solid moral foundation. Until then, players, let the good dice roll! ⚀⚁⚂

[Editor’s note: Stay tuned for Part 2 on Monday.]