Taken primarily from the works of Michael Moorcock. Order and Chaos are primal forces, personified into deities, and held in check only by the forces of Balance. Because if Law wins the cosmos will become unchanging; held in stasis for a meaningless eternity. If Chaos is victorious then the universe will be claimed by entropy and all will be undone.
The problem is that Law and Chaos are depicted as being “Right” and “Wrong” respectively by D&D. This is a highly simplistic; even Moorcock shows that Order is as capable of excesses of pure evil as Chaos, and Chaos can be as kind and as loving as Order. Smart characters avoid both sides and, if they get involved at all, it is on the side of balance. Furthermore two lawful societies can go to war against each other, justifying the other as chaotic over whatever pettiness they choose (vis-a-vis the Bigendians and Smallendians of Gulliver’s Travels).
The classic alignments of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons adds Good and Evil to the mix, permitting chaotic and lawful characters to work together as long as they could agree on being good or evil. However this only muddied the waters. Does a lawful-good Paladin overthrow a lawful-evil dictatorship or work with it? How do they remain a paladin in either case? Do chaotic neutral characters really do whatever the fuck they feel like without rhyme or reason? If not what actually motivates them?
While this confusion does lead roleplaying opportunities it also leads to, well, confusion and ironically, chaos.
Kevin Siembieda’s "Palladium" system did away with neutrality all together, reducing the AD&D alignments down from 9 to 7: Principled, Scrupulous, Unprincipled, Anarchist, Miscreant, Aberrant and Diabolic. These roughly map onto lawful-good, neutral-good, chaotic-good, chaotic-neutral, neutral-evil, lawful-evil and chaotic-evil respectively. Each was defined with 10 to 14 bullet points, giving a level of clarity unseen in any edition of D&D.
There's also an eighth alignment, Taoist, hidden in the Mystic China sourcebook. It's also roughly chaotic good.
Siembieda dislikes neutrality, citing that:
"An absolute, true neutral person could not make a decision, fight crime, go adventuring, kill, or take any action of any kind without leaning toward good, evil, or self-gratification."
This is patently bullshit. People are motivated daily by the survival of themselves and those closest to them without thoughts of “...Good, evil or self-gratification.” People are motivated by stability, by basic empathy or apathy, by thousands of other things which are neither good, evil or selfish. It also denies balance. Perhaps rightfully, permitting an otherwise Principled character to take a stand against the excesses of Order by siding with Chaos. Or Diabolic characters to join the Crusade of Order so that they can participate in the slaughter.
Also I like neutrality and balance. So I came up with two neutral alignments of my own. The Conformist and the Nonconformist.
The conformist respects and follows the rule of law, because without it there would be chaos. They closely follow the social mores of their homelands, irrespective of where they may be. They are distrustful of those from other societies, cultures and civilisations; believing their own ways to be far superior. They dislike change and disruption and will always seek the return to ‘normality’ as quickly as possible. Most people are conformists.
Conformists do not necessarily seek out adventure but often have it thrust upon them. Some adventure to preserve the status-quo. Some thrive under the pressures of adventure and some may return home as nonconformists, or some other alignment. Many return outwardly unchanged but wistful of their adventuring days.
- Keeps their word as much as possible.
- Doesn’t lie or cheat; they might get caught.
- Won’t kill an unarmed foe.
- Will never kill an innocent but may harm one if pushed.
- Will use torture to gain information. If it is lawful to do so.
- Won’t kill for pleasure, but will out of fear.
- Likely to help anyone who is like themselves. Reluctant to help people they see as too ‘different’.
- Works well with groups.
- Respects honor, authority and self-discipline.
- Will never break the law; they might get caught. Or turn themselves in out of guilt.
- Will never betray a friend.
Examples: Bilbo Baggins (before finding the One Ring) and Samwise Gamgee. (The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.)
The nonconformist rebels against elements of their native society; living on its fringes for whatever reason. They often feel as if their society has failed or mistreated them or they hold some belief or aspect of their lives that is either undervalued or actively repressed by society as a whole. All act the way that they do because it's how they want to behave. Their lifestyles bringing them some joy precisely because of the freedom it brings them. Many normal people are nonconformists.
Nonconformists are often pushed into adventure by their non-standard lifestyles. Indeed some societies see seeking adventure as non-conformity.
- Will try to keep their word. Has a code of ideals and tries to live up to them.
- Lies only when necessary.
- Will take advantage of an unarmed foe but will try to avoid killing them.
- Won’t harm innocents.
- Will reluctantly torture for information. Rarely enjoys it.
- Avoids killing for pleasure.
- Tries to help others less advantaged than themselves.
- Works as well with others as they do alone.
- Respects self-discipline and honor. Has little to no respect for authority.
- Won’t betray a friend.
- Only breaks the law when they feel it's necessary.
Examples: Daredevil (Marvel Comics).