Last Updated on October 30, 2023
The alignment system has been a part of Dungeons and Dragons for the better part of half a century. The 3×3 grid has infiltrated popular culture of all kinds from memes to quizzes.
Once you see the 9 alignments below, odds are you’ll recognize them.
What Are the 9 Alignments in D&D
Put simply, the alignment system is a way for DnD to categorize the morality of characters, NPCs, monsters, and even races and societies. They are traditionally broken down into nine categories:
- Lawful Good – Promotes positive social and ethical values.
- Lawful Neutral – Followers of rules, laws and codes of conduct
- Lawful Evil – Structure and rules for their own ends
- Neutral Good – Seek to further ethical morals regardless of laws
- True Neutral – Unbound by laws or morals in their outlook
- Neutral Evil – Seeking personal gain and willing to make sacrifices
- Chaotic Good – Anti-authoritarians looking to promote their vision of good
- Chaotic Neutral – Highly value personal freedoms above all
- Chaotic Evil – Opposed to social hierarchy and communal good
And lastly, beyond the 9 is a category for those with no alignment:
Unaligned – This is essentially the absence of capacity to make judgments. A creature incapable of a conscious moral choice. It falls outside the 9 alignments but is worth noting.
The Basic Rules PDF from Wizards.com has some thoughts on alignment to players building their characters as well.
If you’re confused by alignment or simply questioning its role in your game this guide will explain not only how DnD’s alignment system works but how you can use it to make your characters, NPCs, and monsters better.
The 2 Axis System
DnD 5e uses a 2-axis alignment system. Each alignment is either Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic as well as being either Good, Neutral, or Evil.
This produces the following chart, which you may find familiar.
2 Axis Alignment Chart:
Lawful and Chaotic Axis
- Believe in order, hierarchy, and the bonds of society.
- Personal morality can be too changeable and one needs to follow a higher authority.
- Lawful characters are honorable and reliable.
- Believe in freedom, independent thought, and adaptability.
- Someone who believes that what is just depends on the situation and that moral decisions will be different every time is Chaotic.
- Chaotic characters are flexible and follow their hearts.
- Lie between the poles, choosing neutrality over both Law and Chaos as their guiding principle.
- Try to choose the best option rather than rely on a world view.
- May not know or understand the concepts of Lawful or Chaotic if they are in unfamiliar environments.
Good and Evil Axis
- Generally believe in the sanctity of life, the right of other people to exist
- Dislike cruelty and oppression.
- Feel the desire or obligation to help those in need.
- Can be difficult to define because few people, if any, see themselves as evil.
- Generally, Evil characters believe in their personal goals and are willing to sacrifice others to achieve them.
- Have no qualms about the negative impacts of the actions they take.
- Believe that moral terms like good and evil only pretend to be objective.
- They might believe in the sanctity of life, but not so much as to endanger themselves.
- Tend to see themselves as outside the concerns of others.
Unaligned creatures might consist of some lower animal forms, plant life, or any creature without the capacity for rational judgment and thought. They again fall outside this axis system.
D&D Alignment Behaviors, Gods, Characters, and Cultural Examples
Below is a brief summary of what a person of each alignment believes in and how they might behave.
We will try to use famous D&D characters and deities, as well as popular cultural examples to help you understand the concept and apply them to your D&D Characters.
It’s good to remember that these descriptions are not rules you have to follow, only general descriptions to give you a sense of what it means to be Lawful Good or Neutral Evil.
Someone who is Lawful Good believes in discipline and their obligation to do the right thing. For them, the right thing includes the laws and traditions of their society.
Lawful Good people might consider those who are Neutral or Chaotic good as having their heart in the right place, even if they don’t agree with their methods.
They see Evil people as extremely dangerous.
Examples of Lawful Good Characters in D&D and Pop Culture:
Bahamut, Dragon God of Good (D&D): Bahamut is typically depicted as a Platinum Dragon. Bahamut is always characterized as Lawful Good, and fiercely opposed to evil of any kind. He is the brother of Tiamat, the evil dragon queen.
Tyr, God of Justice (D&D): Tyr is typically characterized as brave, noble and protective. He is Lawful Good and willing to fight for his commitment to justice.
Superman (DC Comics): He fights for Truth, Justice and the American Way. The iconic lawful good character. His principles are so strong they are often used against him.
Someone who is Neutral Good believes in doing good for its own sake, regardless of what anyone else says on the matter. Such a person is difficult to motivate by authority; they will go against the laws of society if that is what is right.
Neutral Good characters consider those who are Lawful Good to be too rigid and those who are Chaotic Good too wild.
They see Evil people as dangerous and in particular those who are Chaotic Evil as reckless forces of destruction.
Examples of Neutral Good Characters in D&D and Pop Culture:
Ehlonna, Goddess of Woodlands (D&D): Ehlonna is a preserver of nature, and always shown as a Good aligned deity. Her neutral tendencies are along the lines of nature’s lack of concern with laws or chaos.
Spider-Man (Marvel Comics): ““With great power comes great responsibility,” would suggest Peter Parker is concerned with doing the right thing as opposed to simply following a law.
Someone who is Chaotic Good believes in doing what is right according to their own beliefs and values.
They believe in their own sense of right and wrong and will follow that regardless of what society or the law thinks of them.
Chaotic Good people see those who are Lawful Good as uptight, and consider even those who are Neutral Good as a little too restrained.
They consider the Evil alignments as dangerous and the Lawful, True, and Chaotic Neutral alignments as boring.
Examples of Chaotic Good Characters in D&D and Pop Culture:
Selune, Goddess of the Moon (D&D): Selune is described as having changing nature like the cycles of the moon. For that reason she’s considered Chaotic. She is always compassionate and protective however, and is always in opposition to Shar, her twin sister and the Mistress of the Night.
Robin Hood: Iconically chaotic good. Rob from the rich and give to the poor, he actively fights the law. His intentions are good and his methods clearly chaotic.
Someone who is Lawful Neutral believes in order and discipline. Such a person might consider following laws, tradition, or their personal code as the best way to act honorably and morally.
They might value order above morality, and consider it much more important to follow their code or the law than to be concerned about what “the right thing” is.
Lawful Neutral people consider True Neutral people to ignore the importance of order and Chaotic Neutral as unreliable or even dishonorable.
They see those who are Good aligned as pursuing impractical ideals and those who are Evil as being dangerously determined.
In particular, they consider those who are Lawful Evil as being an inevitable part of society.
Examples of Lawful Neutral Characters in D&D and Pop Culture:
Azuth, God of Wizards (D&D): Azuth is an older, wizard-y looking kind of guy, he was described as consumed with adding to his magical powers. He worshiped Mystra, the Goddess of Magic, which is the reason for his Lawful character.
Stormtroopers (Star Wars): If we consider that Stormtroopers see themselves as just doing their job, they clearly fit the Lawful Neutral alignment. If they perceive the actions of the Empire as necessary, that would allow them to keep a sense of neutrality.
Judge Dredd (Comics): “I am the Law” Dredd is only concerned with upholding what he knows to be justice. This quote from his creator John Wagner explains:
“It sums up the facelessness of justice − justice has no soul. So it isn’t necessary for readers to see Dredd’s face, and I don’t want you to.”
Someone who is True Neutral might believe in pragmatism and sensible decision-making above all else.
A True Neutral person doesn’t have strong feelings about honor and justice.
A True Neutral person would probably save a child from drowning but decide not to get involved if they saw someone being robbed.
True Neutral people consider those who are Lawful Neutral as too bound up in the way things ought to be and Chaotic Neutral people as too relaxed.
They consider the Good alignments as impractical and the Evil alignments as dangerous, especially the Chaotic Evil alignment.
Examples of True Neutral Characters in D&D and Pop Culture:
Silvanus, God of Wild Nature (D&D): Silvanus was sometimes considered literally wild, and unpredictable, so you might think of him as Chaotic. However, his True Neutral designation in the source material is because he is characterized as being like Nature itself. Nature can be beautiful, or terrible, but it is never calculated to be either, it just is.
Mordenkainen (D&D): Mordenkainen was a wizard character made by Gary Gygax. He eventually developed to become an extremely powerful Archmage that seeks to maintain cosmic balance. This is the ultimate version of True Neutral in D&D.
Doctor Manhattan (The Watchmen): Dr Manhattan is depicted as very aloof and rooted in pure logic. More of an observer than participant in humanity. He will help others, but is capable of any means to justify his ends.
Someone who is Chaotic Neutral believes in doing what they want. This person makes decisions according to what suits them best and hates being told what to do.
Someone who is Chaotic Neutral will make the decision to slay a dragon because it will get them something they want (money, adventure, reputation, etc.), and not because the dragon is terrorizing the nearby village.
Chaotic Neutral people see those who are Lawful Neutral as unnecessarily shackled to society and those who are True Neutral as afraid to be Chaotic.
They consider the Good alignments to be bold if a little strange, and the Evil alignments as having ambitious goals but unreasonable methods.
In particular, they see Lawful Good people as oppressive and self-righteous forces.
Examples of Chaotic Neutral Characters in D&D and Pop Culture:
Leira, Goddess of Deception (D&D): Chaotic Neutral is a fairly rare combination, and Leira gets it for her constant habit of lying, obscuring, and distorting. She is not particularly destructive or helpful, just hard to fathom and impossible to predict.
Han Solo (Star Wars): In the original trilogy Han starts off as an unpredictable, lovable rogue that is pursuing self interests. While he eventually arcs towards good, and even lawful at times, he remains an excellent example of a Chaotic neutral character.
Someone who is Lawful Evil believes in getting whatever they can out of society. Such a person believes in order and will work within the laws as best they can to get what they want.
A Lawful Evil nobleman will plant rumors and manipulate others in order to gain power and wealth but will refrain from going against their personal sense of honor or flagrantly breaking the law.
Lawful Evil people see Neutral Evil people as unprincipled and unreliable, while those who are Chaotic Evil are simply untrustworthy and gauche.
They consider the Neutral alignments as ordinary and the Good alignments as hypocritical.
They consider the Lawful Good alignment to be particularly easy to manipulate.
Examples of Lawful Evil Characters in D&D and Pop Culture:
Tiamat, Dragon Goddess of Evil (D&D): The iconic Dragon queen Tiamat is Bahamut’s (see Lawful Good above)sister. They are constantly in struggle. She lives in Avernus, the first of the Nine Hells. She is similar to Devils, in the sense she is evil and self-serving, but also follows a strict lawful code. You can think of devils and contracts for souls for an example of this lawful designation.
Darth Vader (Star Wars): The most obvious example of a Lawful Evil character and the most straightforward example of this alignment — Darth Vader does evil things in service to an evil law. In his view the Empire is a source of order and stability.
Someone who is Neutral Evil believes in getting what they deserve. They do not care much about either laws or life and consider both to be either obstacles or tools to use in pursuit of their goals.
A Neutral Evil crime lord would find nothing contradictory about the necessity of killing rivals for trespassing on their territory and the importance of donating money to charity for tax purposes.
Neutral Evil people see those who are Lawful Evil as politer versions of themselves with more scruples, and the Chaotic Evil alignment as impractical wildcards.
They consider those who are Neutral as pragmatic but unmotivated.
They consider the Good alignment to be slaves to morality, and in particular, find those who are Chaotic Good to be weak and lack discipline.
Examples of Neutral Evil Characters in D&D and Pop Culture:
Vecna, God of Evil Secrets (D&D): Vecna is one of the most powerful Archmages in D&D, and undead lich, consumed with immortality. He finally achieved godhood and is known as one of the primary villains of the D&D world. You may also remember his name being used in Stranger Things.
Shar, Goddess of Darkness and Loss (D&D): Another twin, Shar is Selune’s twin sister. She represents darkness, loss and suffering. Shar certainly reflects an evil nature, and I would say her neutrality is based on her lack of interest in either laws or chaos.
Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars): In the original trilogy you can argue the Emperor is a Netural Evil character. Certainly, he depicts evil in his complete lack of concern for any lives in his pursuit of power.
He also didn’t have either a strict lawful code, or unpredictable nature, but rather a neutral ambivalence on what it took to get what he wanted.
Someone who is Chaotic Evil believes that the satisfaction of his desires is more important than anything else.
A Chaotic Evil person enjoys cruelty for its own sake and revels in destruction.
A Chaotic Evil villain might believe that they alone are truly free from the rules of society and morality, and consider random acts of terror as a hobby.
Chaotic Evil people consider both the Lawful and Neutral Evil alignments to lack the strength of character to be who they truly are.
They see those people who are Neutral to be boring.
They consider the Good alignment to be weak, and in particular, see Lawful Good people as opportunities to prove their belief in evil is correct.
Examples of Chaotic Evil Characters in D&D and Pop Culture:
Lolth, Drow Goddess of Spiders (D&D): Lolth is a Goddess worshiped by many Drow (dark elves), and is depicted as cruel and thoroughly evil. She was prone to chaotic violence and destruction.
Lolth also reveled in her Drow followers fighting each other, another testament to the chaos in her nature.
The Joker (DC Comics): The iconic villain is obsessed with chaos and the destruction of a society he feels is deserving of it. He is so jaded and hateful toward law, order, and any concept of morality that he wants everyone to become like him. He wants violence and disorder.
Unaligned entities are those without the capacity to make moral judgments. They have no particular beliefs, only acting on instinct as they were designed to do.
Most animals, plants, fungi, and other creatures are unaligned.
In DnD 5e alignment has almost no mechanical function. While you may wish to homebrew magical swords that respond to alignment, many of the explicit references to Good or Evil do not actually interact with the alignment system.
For example, the spell Protection from Evil and Good actually protects its subjects from certain creature types (aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead).
While these creatures certainly have alignments (fiends are Lawful Evil for example), not all of them are Evil or Good. Elementals and fey are neutral for instance.
If you wish to create a Chaotic Good elemental or a True Neutral fiend, these spells will have the exact same effect.
Controversy Around The Alignment System
The alignment system is controversial for a number of reasons.
First and foremost is the simple fact that there are many modalities of morality it simply cannot cover.
The alignment system simply does not have a single correct answer for every shade of gray on the moral spectrum.
The alignment system has also come under fire for the way it forces certain creatures to tend toward specific alignments.
This isn’t about celestials and fiends, but rather about the playable races in DnD.
Are Drow and Orcs really created to be Evil with a capital E? What about free will? DnD is, after all, a game about being able to make whatever decisions you want.
There is controversy around calling entire races savage and Evil. Just as there are people who understand that generalizations are necessary.
A classic example is Drizzt Do’Urden. He is iconic because he disavowed the Drow’s evil nature.
Because the alignment system is imperfect, and because it has little mechanical impact, alignment has fallen out of favor in recent years.
In Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, a recent sourcebook, the stat blocks of various monsters and creatures did not include their alignment, not even to say unaligned.
And this tweet by Jeremy Crawford, the principal rules designer of DnD, states that suggestions for alignment for player characters (including those based on race) will no longer appear in future DnD sourcebooks.
These changes do beg the question: Does alignment even matter?
While it cannot be denied that alignment cannot cover every perspective on morality with two simple axes, alignment is still a useful tool for DnD.
It is not the only tool, but it is reliable and widely discussed which are both valuable traits in something complex.
In the following sections, I will demonstrate how alignment can provide a useful guide despite its failings for players and DMs navigating the complex world of character decisions.
How to Use Alignments: Player Characters
Alignment provides a general guide to how your character should act, as well as providing a way to consider how you want your character to act.
The character creation process is fundamentally a creative process. As a player, you have full control over what your character wants, thinks, feels, needs, and believes in.
That can be a lot to consider.
Once you understand the nine alignments your character can be, you can pick which one best fits how you want to play and how you want your character to behave.
Once you have a rough idea of your character concept and you’ve picked an alignment, you can use that alignment to guide your decisions in-game.
A person’s alignment can also change as time goes on. In DnD, you can use this change to create compelling story moments with your fellow players.
When out of alignment decisions pile up and your DM determines an alignment has changed from True Neutral to Neutral Good it can be a cathartic moment for everyone at the table.
However you decide to play, the important thing is talking with the rest of your group to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
At the end of the day, DnD is a storytelling game.
Character growth and development is rooted in change, and assessing what needs to change and in what direction can be a lot of work. For players, alignment makes that a lot easier.
How to Use Alignments: DMs
For DMs, alignment is not only a guide to how NPCs and other characters should act and behave, but it provides a way to understand the motivations and role of certain kinds of creatures in the DnD universe.
For example, while a Lawful Evil person isn’t obligated to always honor his word and keep his oaths, Lawful Evil fiends are.
Being essentially Lawful means that fiends can be particularly predictable, and that allows the DM to create challenges around outsmarting or manipulating a fiend.
While some monsters may not have an essential nature they still have a generic alignment. In such cases, that alignment can be used to design a culture rather than an individual.
What would a society of elementals look like? Their True Neutral alignment can help provide an answer to such a question, pointing to an aloof society that values not getting involved in other being’s problems.
As is hopefully clear, DnD’s alignment system is not a system of hard rules for how everyone ought to behave.
It is instead a guide that you can use to help determine how you want characters, NPCs, and even whole societies and cultures to behave.
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Growing up I spent most of my time reading, so when I first started playing RPGs in middle school and got a copy of DnD 3.5’s rules I loved their collaborative take on storytelling. These days I like to use RPGs to develop my creative problem-solving skills as well.