Alignment and Morality part 1 – Why Dr. X. Ample isn’t Evil All Through

Well, this is a first – a post I promised you was coming is actually here. The Alignment Rant. This was going to include my thoughts on Neitzscheism but I got carried away and had to split this into two parts. This one’s just going to be about alignment.

Most of you know about the famous Dungeons and Dragons Alignment Grid. Even the clam-examiners probably know it; in fact, the ones most likely not to have heard of it are the people like my neices and cousins who spend their time glued to the TV and likely never heard of D&D in their tiny little lives. However, in case I am wrong, and because every blog entry of this sort ought to show what its subject is, then you can see the table and a full explanation here. Go on, I can wait. I want everyone to be absolutely on the same page here*.

Now, this is, of course, a very simplified view of morality. D&D as a game system is made to be adapted and built upon by its players, none of its rules are written in stone – if your game decides the gelatinous cube is a dumb monster as is and rewrites it so that it can change its shape, extend suckers, drag people in and, you know, travel faster than walking pace, then a) not only are Wizards of the Coast** not going to know, but b) why would they care? What does it matter to them if you use the basic D&D gameset to make a new game involving My Little Pony?

But I’m getting distracted. My point is that the rules say that a character of a certain alignment can’t be a certain character class. Hypothetical Woman plays a paladin, so she must be Lawful Good. But wait a second, does that still count if the god she serves is Duum, God of Eternal Destruction? or Kray-Zi, Goddess of Chaos? or just Sniggar, God or Mischief? Also, if memory serves me right, most people who claim to hear the voice of a god or claim to be doing God’s work aren’t very lawful. Or often all that good, really. In some cases, downright shocking.***

Real people are not robots. There is no button in their heads to be pressed to determine their alignment throughout their whole lives. The morality of real people is determined by a number of factors, including but most certainly not limited to, upbringing, social interaction, political and social situation, family size, date, and class.

A demonstration for you. Dr. X. Ample was born Alexander Ample in a quiet suburb in Milton Keynes in July 2024, the only child of a pair of wealthy scientists, a biologist and a chemist. He was well-schooled, especially in the sciences, and proved to have a remarkable talent for physics and chemistry. By the time he was thirteen, he was already well ahead of his class and being plagued by teachers who wouldn’t allow him to move up more than the two years he was already ahead, and his parents – loving, but both very busy and absorbed in their work – refused to homeschool him. He got incredibly frustrated and at fifteen, the school exploded in mysterious circumstances, although no-one could ever prove it was him. At seventeen, he went to college, where he had a slightly better time despite the fact that he was at BA level and was taking physics, chemistry and computer science at A level. He spent most of his time completely out of his head on drugs of his own devising, and still managed distinction in everything, passing into Oxford university the following year noticeably manic, but still by far the best chemist in his year – or the one above him, come to that. While he was at university, he didn’t sample his concoctions anymore, but they seemed to be continuing to affect his brain, making him more angry, more irrational, more prone to incredible flights of fancy.

And then there was a fire in his home town, killing both his parents. Alexander, now calling himself Xander, blamed the fire services for not dousing the fire quickly enough, and the paramedics for not saving his parents’ lives. On top of the resistance he had had throughout his school life, this was only adding to the resentment to authority he was to cultivate throughout the rest of his life. He now had someone to encourage him, too – his lab assistant and fellow student, Jen-Erika Sydekik, had always been something of an anarchist and greatly admired Xander’s increasingly gargantuan ideas for taking over from the current status quo and establishing one that would work.
Eventually, both of them graduated. And then disappeared without trace for some time, eventually reappearing as a national threat…

OK, so by D&D standards, Dr. X. Ample is obviously chaotic evil. What, really? He’s fuelled by what’s essentially an extended drug flashback, an arguably justified hatred of authority, grief for his parents’ passing and constant goading from his closest friend (alright, and lover, for the purposes of this post). Does this make him evil? How could he be expected to react? He’s still a highly intelligent and strong-willed person, so why should he be expected to curl up into a ball and whimper until the pressure goes away? Yes, chaotic I will accept. But if Dr. X. Ample went through his life – this same one I just described – and was a perfectly nice, pleasant person at the end of it, wouldn’t you be waiting for the safety valve to snap? I know I would.

Incidentally, there’s one thing about the Lawful Good thing that the paladins get – a lot of players of paladins seem to focus on the Lawful and not so much on the Good. That’s when you get something called Lawful Stupid. However, as I said, it is actually possible to play a paladin who isn’t good – who votes that Darth Vader is a paladin? *hand up* I also had a chaotic good paladin in a LARP game once who was sent to join the Company to help with her anger management issues. She got turned into a smear on the pavement in the first session because, well, I thought ‘berserk’ would be a fun flaw and there was this demon who was six times more powerful than me… Yeah.

Anyway, more on the morality schtick tomorrow. I hope this made sense. I tried to be more concise than i normally am…

* – Yes, I am aware that I use a lot of Wikipedia links. This is because often it saves me linking about three more different sites on the same subject. I’m aware that the information may not be reliable, but if I think that is the case then I will find additional material. Wikipedia is pretty on the ball as far as alignment is concerned, though.

** – The current co-producers of D&D.

*** – I had some misgivings about including Bin Laden there. But since he did claim that he was acting in the name if Islam, it really only proves my point, and I can only apologize if I offended anyone – but not for trying to make a point.

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