Always Chaotic Evil

Posted: 20 June 2012 in GM Advice
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I had a conversation about alignments yesterday, and in particular the problem of “monster” races, and how such-and-such race is “always chaotic evil.”  I agreed that this was a problem, that things would be different in my games, that it shouldn’t be reasonable that a Lawful Good Paladin slaughters an entire village of sentient (if ugly) creatures without a twinge of guilt.

Now, in my system of alignment, “evil” isn’t evil, per se.  It could be argued that none of the traditional labels are particularly good fitsBut then we actually started talking about specific races, what the differences are between goblins, hobgoblins, and orc; what their cultures were like.  I started saying things like, “goblins are scavengers; they’re frenetic and lazy and they take things rather than build them.”  “Hobgoblins are militaristic and expansionist, more like an army than a society; they constantly seek to expand and subjugate other nations.” “Orcs are a brutal, tribal people who function on a ‘might makes right’ basis.”  So even if “evil” just means “willing to actively hurt others to achieve your goals,” aren’t all of these — goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs — simply evil creatures?  What would a good goblin look like?

As with my concept of alignment generally, I think the answer is a complicated one full of nuance.  I think that these societies that I’ve outlined are evil, and I think that being in that environment will tend individual members towards a matching alignment — after all, my notion of alignment is essentially short hand for characters’ values, and people derive at least some of their values from their society.  But just like I can envision a Lawful Good villain doing terrible things because “it’s for the best,” I can see a Good goblin who’s no less inclined to go raid a neighboring settlement.  In a way, both come down to rationalization, and if either one thinks too hard on it they might find themselves conflicted, wracked with guilt, or even choosing to change their alignment.  An Evil goblin raids a neighbor because he can, because he wants what they have, and he doesn’t care if (or possibly looks forward to) others get hurt in the process.  A Good goblin raids a neighbor because he has too, because they have things that his community needs, and he would rather (or possibly acts to ensure) nobody gets hurt in the process.  Both of them are raiding their neighbors and potentially having violent confrontations, but they have different reasons and different attitudes.

In the end, the point is that societies have an identity and alignment that is composed of but also more than the identity and alignment of their individual members.  Could there be a whole tribe of Lawful Good goblins who respect tradition and honor and don’t like hurting others?  Sure, but they’ll probably still raid their neighbors, because they’re frenetic and lazy.

  1. […] feel like I’ve been talking about alignment a lot lately. Maybe it’s just […]

  2. While I do think this is a step in the right direction, the idea that a whole species has a single society and/or a single set of defining traits still rubs me the wrong way. I know it’s a way of making the GM’s job easier, but it still bothers me.

    • I suppose I should clarify that it’s a single set of defining personality traits that bothers me. Physical traits are what make them a different species.

      • Jack says:

        There’s a deeper conversation here about what is and is not appropriate for defining various races; I think it deserves a full post on it’s own.

        • I concur. I think part of it is that Pathfinder lumps different species(different physical traits), and different society (different ideology and common personality traits) together into race. The more familiar I become with roleplaying, the less I like that. Society has more implications for fluff than crunch, so I think a GM could probably rework it if he wanted to.

          • Jack says:

            Very much, yes. Obviously if you had, say, cannibal hobbits, it might be fair to say that they tend towards Neutral Evil rather than True Neutral or Neutral Good. But I think there are reactions in the other direction, too, how physical traits (and inherent mental traits) can influence the sorts of society that a race develops.

            • True. Another element is what societies they have contact with. When one society has contact with another they tend to either react favorably and pick up some of their beliefs and traits or react negatively and specifically reject certain beliefs or traits, instead moving towards towards the opposite extreme. Or some combination of the two.

  3. […] of posts on here right now discussing Race in D&D. On the one hand we have a discussion of Race As Class, and more recently I tried to address the issue of races that are Always Chaotic Evil. Both of […]

  4. […] are a couple posts I read today about alignment, and since alignment is something I care about quite a bit, I wanted to toss my two cents […]

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