Alignment – A Primer on Role-Playing in Pathfinder

A fairly popular and common diversion for many people distracting themselves online is the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. While the test itself is actually incredibly unscientific, it is an interesting pop-culture insight into how people view themselves and their own personalities. While Pathfinder doesn’t offer such a robust characterization metric, a common guideline that people use to determine the personality of their character is their Alignment.


Now, it’s important to note here that, like the Myers-Briggs Test, your alignment does not define who your character is as a person. It may offer insight into his/her actions in certain situations, but your character is not going to be defined solely by the two letters that define your goodness and lawfulness. It is up to the player to decide how the character is to be played and a lot of factors will shape that definition of their personality. The important point is that your alignment can help you understand your character better.

The alignment system in Pathfinder, like it was in DnD, is defined by two decisions. How Lawful are you on a scale of Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic? How Good are you on a scale of Good, Neutral, and Evil. Your answer to these two questions determines your character’s alignment. For example, Robin Hood would probably be defined as Chaotic Good. Mephistopheles, of the Faustian Bargain, is a Lawful Evil being. As we can see, a Good being is not necessarily Lawful, an Evil being is not necessarily Chaotic. Rather, it is the mix of these decisions that allow players to hone their character. So what are some of the finer distinctions?

When considering between Lawful and Chaotic, you are mostly considering the balance between obeying and rebelling. Being Lawful means you will respect authority, keep to the truth, uphold values such as honor and tradition, and follow a rigid code and set of rules. As such, Mephistopheles, while making a bargain for someone’s soul, is still a Lawful being because he follows the terms of the bargain. He does not break it or go back on his word. Lawful people will keep their promises and hold true to their word. The Chaotic counterpart is more free-range. Being Chaotic means that you follow your whims or conscience, that you favor new and different things over tradition and rigidity, that you go with the flow and break rules, promises and objects when you deem it necessary. Chaotic people will tend to resent authority and choose rather to be free from all the shackles and rules of society. Neutrality on this spectrum can mean many things. The character could be apathetic towards the issue, choosing to be a pragmatist and following the rules or breaking them as necessary. Indeed, many people would probably admit to this mode of thought in their daily life, occasionally breaking speed limits and jay-walking but following larger laws and traditions. On the other hand, Neutrality can also be a choice, the character truly believing neutrality to be the superior option, refusing to take sides.

When debating Good and Evil, it is in your best interest to ignore the biblical implications of the decision. Rather, the debate is better served as one between Protection and Sadism. While an incomplete analogy, first understanding Good vs Evil as Protection vs Sadism is a strong foundation to work off. A being of Good is often an altruistic and benevolent one. The Good aligned will do whatever they can to protect the innocent, help the needy, and sacrifice themselves for the betterment of man. Note that being Good does not necessitate being Lawful. Robin Hood is Chaotic Good because he chooses to live free in the woods and run afoul of the law in order to spread the wealth of the rich to the needy poor. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Evil. Beings of Evil are oppressive and sadistic. They choose to hurt, maim and kill if even slightly more convenient and will do so without any qualms. They may choose to hurt and kill for no reason at all if they find it entertaining, or if they are ordered to by a master or deity they serve. The Evil aligned will do what they can to better their own lives, sacrificing whoever gets in their way. Central to this axis is also a Neutral being. Those who are Neutral are more likely to get along with their Good-aligned compatriots than they are with the Evil ones, mostly because the harming of innocents has no value to the Neutral. Neutral beings do not lack compassion, unlike those who are Evil, but they do not have the urge to make sacrifices for strangers. They are bound by relationships and personal connections rather than grand ideals or overwhelming greed.

When you make your two decisions, you are left with nine possibilities. While it would take far too long to describe each variation, I will discuss a few important distinctions. The Paladin Class is required to be Lawful Good. Their entire purpose is to strive to demolish the evil in the world and follow the strict guidelines of their order. They will uphold the law and protect the innocent. They will remain true to their word because if they ever break their alignment, they will lose all of their powers.

Second, a character that is Neutral for both Good vs Evil and Law vs Chaos is called True Neutral and is denoted by N, instead of the usual two letter system. A True Neutral character is actually one of the hardest to truly understand because they can often seem to lack conviction. And often, players will play an apathetic, indifferent character or one that is whimsical and free spirited. It is important to know that whimsical and free-spirited, or random unpredictable characters are better suited for Chaotic Neutral rather than True Neutral. Additionally, neither alignment will tolerate the harming of those who have surrendered, which is an act that is deemed Evil. Rather, a True Neutral character should be understood as one that is balanced and pragmatic. These characters can choose the middle ground because they feel it is the best, because act of neutrality is not one of indifference, but one of careful consideration.

Finally, it is important to note that Evil characters are not allowed in Pathfinder Society and neither is Player vs Player combat. These policies are designed to ensure that players cannot attempt to kill each other given that death in Pathfinder Society is more or less permanent.

Hopefully, you will have gained some insight in how your character would function in the world of Pathfinder. While alignments are great ways to start learning how your character would play, they do not define the character itself. It is up to you, as a player, to flesh out your character and bring out their personality.




Note. Some of the alignments have a “Stupid” Variant. Examples include Lawful Stupid instead of Lawful Good and Chaotic Stupid or Stupid Evil instead of Chaotic Evil. Often, the distinguishing factor in these cases is a thoughtless adherence to a stereotype of the actual alignment that makes the character 1-dimensional and flavorless. Don’t be Stupid. Chaotic Neutral, on the other hand, is often abused by players to do whatever the hell they want in campaigns where Evil is banned. Don’t be that player.