Sunday, July 10, 2011

Applying D&D Alignment to Historical Figures

Example being the best teacher, I decided to set forth a list of historical figures that seemed to fit neatly into D&D alignment categories.

As a lover of history and having some small education beyond high school in the subject, I certainly realize that popular conceptions of good and evil figures of history are largely subjective and not always historically sound.

I also realize that in real life, people are individuals and there is probably no such thing as a stratified code of alignments. Does good exist? I think it does. Does evil exist? I believe it to be so. But quantifying and defining them is not always so easy as one might wish.

 Good and evil are often in the eyes of the people as they judge history--which, as we have always heard, is written by the victors.

Nonetheless, this is a blog about role playing games and not philosophical questions and so we are mainly interested in the use of alignment in the game.

To this end, I submit these examples of some of the major alignments. Subcategories may be dealt with in a second post on the subject. I have avoided any modern historical figures so as to steer much as possible...from any religious, moral or political disagreements in the community.

So here we go. Let's start with extreme good and work our way down (or up, if you prefer) the spectrum...


Your personal opinion on the actual roots and causes of the US war Between the States notwithstanding, John Brown is, to my thinking, a good example of this alignment.  The Chaotic good character knows what he feels is ultimate good or truth---he also realizes that human laws are weak substitutes for this Ultimate Good, being made by corrupt officials influenced by power and money or people too afraid to act up in defense of righteousness. Thus while he does not especially go out of his way to break said laws, nor will he be constrained by them from doing his Moral Duty. The use of violence and arbitrary personal justice is perfectly acceptable in pursuance of that Duty...after all, the guilty deserve to be punished, other zealots need encouragement, and the undecided need to be shown an example. Chaos in and of itself is not  necessarily evil--it can be used to destroy corrupt or noneffective social orders. Guided by righteousness it is a powerful tool for good and only when society bases its laws upon this Ultimate good...which the fearful say is only misguided idealism and maybe even delusion...should those laws be obeyed.


Martin Luther caused quite a stir in his day. His tracts and pamphlets led to some very bloody peasant revolts and uprisings. Luther, however, condemned these revolts and always remained committed to upholding the ideal of civil and social law and obedience to rulers. He sought only to reform the ecclesiastical institutions of the Catholic Church. He appealed for help from earthly princes to protect him from the edicts of the Church. The Lawful Good character is just as motivated by ideas of good and righteousness as the Chaotic Good, but he is not radical, at least not with respect to obedience to Laws. Fighting for the Ultimate Good is noble action, but it must be governed by a body of agreed upon laws or even the divine order of an Emperor. No individual has the right to play Judge, jury and Executioner--once you choose to do so, the lawful good character will condemn your actions, even if you shared a Common cause or moral belief.


I am certain that many will disagree with my choice of William the Conqueror as an example of Neutral. It was difficult for me to think of a Neutral Alignment example from any period of history! Neutrality as noted here, however, is simply with regard to moral philosophy or ethical codes. The Harrying of the North was a rather ruthless campaign that can only be termed butchery and certainly evil from the viewpoint of the Saxons. And yet there was a real unification of England and many reforms that took place under his reign--William does seem to have tried to build up the Kingdom he ruled over in it's buildings and its laws.  I think in the end he was actuated not by any morally good or evil ethos but by a naked pragmatism that allowed him to use whatever means were at his disposal--"good" or "evil"--to pursue an end that, unlike those of truly evil alignments, was not strictly about himself. The truly Neutral character is not guided by selfishness or selflessness...he chooses a course based on certain personal objectives or tasks he wishes to accomplish and uses the means at his disposal. He is not out to harm others but nor does he owe them anything unless he decides he does for his own reasons. Yet this does not mean he has no cause or life's mission. William represents a grander scale of mission perhaps, but a more lowly Neutral character might have something he wishes to do that is just as important to him and like William, he will do whatever it takes to accomplish that end.


To be determined. Who do you suggest?


The Emperor who allegedly fiddled while Rome burned...indeed, Nero is believed by many to have been the true culprit in the great conflagration which conveniently expanded  his palatial holdings. From killing close family members to torturing people for simple amusement to the most debauched of personal behavior, I was hard pressed to think of a better example of Chaotic Evil. Caligula was probably worse, but he is less famous than this man which the Apocalypse of St John may refer to in code as the "AntiChrist". A Chaotic Evil character is solely concerned with his own power, pleasure, aggrandizement, and will. Nothing and no one else matters unless he deems them to matter from his own personal prejudice or his merest whims.  He may indeed serve a deity or a cause which he believes will further advance these desires but Chaos is to him the truest philosophy, the one based upon naked power and those who are able to hold it. Ultimate Good does not exist, or, if it does, the Chaotic Evil character is indifferent to it.  Lawful notions are simply weak sentimentality at best or a means of control of the sheep by  clever elitists at worst and in any event they only protect people too weak to protect themselves. Thus they are useless!

These few examples are perhaps flawed but hopefully they can serve as  templates for alignment in D&D.

I am most interested in hearing comments on these proposed alignment models and other proposals that you may have in mind.


  1. With the bloodshed and warfare that raged on for over a century after his death. Martin Luther is an interesting case of Lawful Good intentions opening a Pandora's Box of trouble. Who's to say that doing the right thing will always have objectively "good" outcomes?

  2. sirlarkins, very true, very true. My studies of history and my life experiences have made me something of a cynic. Luther seems to have been fanatically sincere. But he was certainly useful to those who wished to see papal authority limited so that their own authority could not be as easily challenged. Since the papists had oceanfront property in the intellectual sphere, something was needed to change conceptions of religion, eh? I am a mere serf, however, so the grander patterns of history aside, I am merely depicting Luther's personal code of conduct. Thanks for the comments, I respect your opinion.

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  4. I always thought of Hitler and even moreso the Nazi order (sic!) to be prime examples of Lawful Evil. First there is a world view with the simple structure of "might makes right" that was integrated in all of society and second the prime excuse of humans that did the worst atrocities in WWII: "I only followed orders."

  5. I would not argue that point at all rorshach, I think your designation is an apt one, and I avoided Hitler for one simply because I was determined not to get into the 20th century so as to avoid political or religious contentions. Also, he is a default template for evil and i kind of wanted to challenge myself in thinking of someone else. But your comment is certainly in order and welcome, thanks.

  6. Joseph Stalin would be another prime candidate for lawful evil, but if you want to go back further, King Henry the 8th would fit. Purely for the fact that he had a few wives executed since they did not give him a son, that or Bloody Mary. As for neutral evil I'd say the historical highway man "Dick Turprin". Chaotic neutral would be King Louie the XVI due to his whimsical antics and over all lazy careless governing of his people.