Law vs Chaos – Thoughts on Alignment

Law vs Chaos – Thoughts on Alignment

Alignment in D&D and similar FRPs is an oft-maligned subject.

For the Swords & Sorcery-styled World of Weirth campaign I am looking for some over-arching tensions to drive the plots and dramas of the setting.

I do not like the “Alignment as personality profile” school, nor do I want to get into the issues of “Objective” Good and Evil.

A while back I read Three Hearts and Three Lions, an Appendix N book that is part of the source material for the concept of Alignment in D&D.

This passage, in particular, strakes me as very good starting place:

” ‘Hum, hum, ‘tis vurra strange talk, though in truth—why, this makes me think ye maun be o’ the Chaos forces yerselves.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Holger respectfully. ‘I’m ignorant of your affairs here. Could you explain?’
He let the dwarf growl on for a long time without learning much. Hugi wasn’t very bright, and a backwoodsman as well. Holger got the idea that a perpetual struggle went on between primeval forces of Law and Chaos.

No, not forces exactly. Modes of existence? A terrestrial reflection of the spiritual conflict between heaven and hell? In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos. A few nonhuman beings also stood for Law. Ranged against them was almost the whole Middle World, which seemed to include realms like Faerie, Trollheim, and the Giants—an actual creation of Chaos. Wars among men, such as the long-drawn struggle between the Saracens and the Holy Empire, aided Chaos;
under Law all men would live in peace and order and that liberty which only Law could give meaning.
But this was so alien to the Middle Worlders that, they were forever working to prevent it and to extend their own shadowy dominion.”

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions, P. 31

Not much in the way of mechanics, but it creates an aesthetic. Law is the “mode of existence” that emphasises peace, order and liberty, while Chaos is the “shadowy” opposite.

Law/Order – Chaos/Entropy

Defining the qualities of Law and Chaos, based on the quote above, I’ve come up with the following:

Qualities of Law Qualities of Chaos
Structured Disorganized
Disciplined Whimsical
Orderly Capricious
Creative Destructive
Unified Independent
Steadfast Malleable

These descriptors, then, provide a framework for oppositional forces:

Civilization vs Wilderness

Cooperation vs The Law of the Jungle


Thus the alignment of a character (or culture, society or even a nation) can be quantified by the level of adherence to the descriptive qualities.

Mechanical/In-Game Effects of Alignment

Much like Ability Scores, I feel that the Alignment characteristic of a character should have meaning. One’s stance on the issues should not only have an effect on role-play, but on other aspects of the game. There should be mechanical descriptions for how alignment has an effect on the world (and vice versa), also for spellcasting, use of magic items, interactions with supernatural entities and the Reaction Table.

The Alignment Stat

Alignment will be categorized as a continuum from Complete Law on the left and Utter Chaos on the right, with numerical scores of +6 to -6.  A score of 0 indicates Neutrality, though not of the indifferent sort, rather fully engaged in keeping either side from becoming too powerful. A state of desire toward balance.

Humans and other mortal creatures would occupy the central area of the continuum, being able to have a wide leeway of disposition toward Law or Chaos.

The immortal creatures, and the Titans in particular, would have even stronger dispositions for Law and Order, but little or no  inclination for balance.

Further up the pyramid of power, the gods themselves would be strongly Lawful or Chaotic, and there are definitely gods that seek to maintain the balance between the great forces.

At the top we have the Elder Gods, depicted as the personification of Chaos, which Appendix N tell us dwell in the Outer Darkness, perhaps even beyond our space-time. To maintain a balanced continuum this implies the existence of Elder Gods that personify the concept of Law (as Moorcock does in the Elric cycle), dwelling in a “place” called the Inner Light.

World of Weirth Alignment Continuum

As you can see by the arrangement of possible scores, the magnitude of Lawful-ness or Chaotic-ness of a being increases as it becomes more powerful. The behavior of some immortals and many gods will be inscrutable to mortals, as they cannot conceive of the scope of their stance on Law and Chaos. Likewise the extremes possible to the Elder Gods is beyond the conception of mortals and immortals, even some of the gods.

The very far ends of the continuum represent a kind of fixed-state orderliness for Law and a completely formless void for Chaos, utterly incomprehensible to any but the greatest of the Elder Gods.

The Mechanics of Alignment

As mentioned above, the position upon the continuum of alignment should have an in-game effect on things like spellcasting, use of magic items, interactions with supernatural entities and the Reaction Table. I’ll add Sanity checks to this list.

Note: L2 breaks the patterns a bit by being somewhat self-righteous of their discipline and need for order.

Alignment Score

SAN Check

Die Mod

Spell Failure

Die Mod


Die Mod

Fate Point Mod

Per Level


-1 +2 +2 -1




+1 -1/2












0 -2 -2 +1/2






C3 +2 0 -4 +1 1/2

Reaction tables

Rows = Party A Alignment

Columns = Party B Alignment

Mundane vs Mundane Encounters

L3 L2 L1 0 C1 C2 C3
L3 0 0 +1 +1 -1 -2 -3
L2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5
L1 -1 -1 0 0 0 -1 -2
0 -2 -1 0 0 0 -1 -2
C1 -3 -2 -1 0 0 -1 -2
C2 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 -1
C3 -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1

Mechanical Alignment Changes

Being Corrupted and Failing Sanity Checks moves your PC one-half step toward Chaos on the Continuum.
During each adventure session the GM will assign a rating to determine if a PC’s alignment is shifting due to their behavior.

Alignment Languages

Alignment languages are not precisely languages at all. Rather they are sets of customs and traditions, or cultural markers, that people of a similar stance will recognize. These could be words, quotations, aphorisms, body language or gestures:

  • Tipping your hat to a stranger
  • Knuckling your forehead to a superior
  • Saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes
  • Spitting in someone’s direction
  • Using formal or elaborate greetings/honorifics
  • Failing to use formal or elaborate honorifics
  • Making religious/arcane symbols or gestures
  • How or what color of hat/sash/scarf, dagger, etc is worn
  • Patterns or amounts of jewelry, tattoos, decorations, accessories

Note: this post was updated, after much discussion and analysis, with some adjusted modifiers

5 thoughts on “Law vs Chaos – Thoughts on Alignment

  1. Very much in line with my thoughts on the topic. I don’t have a mechanical system like you lay out, but do something similar in a more intuitive (arbitrary perhaps) way. This is fantastic and I think it will be getting added into my home campaign either whole cloth or in part. Well done!

  2. I love the metrics you are generating for this!
    I think there is a bias of the golden mean presenting itself, though. Maintaining balance is itself a lawful act, not a neutral one. Harmony is law. Coupled with respecting rhythms, you get music. Other descriptors for Law would include restorative and collaborative. Perhaps the distance from 0 represents the relative will one spends towards the respective end. Only animals or automatons would exist at 0 while chthonic gods would burn with a destructive hatred unfathomable to mortals. And divine lawful entities would illumine with harmony and celestial music perhaps unknowable to mortals. The upper limit of the lawful mortal is the sage while the chthonic limit is some cannibal warlock. The Moorcock (Elric) model is really not a good one.

  3. Hello, what an amazing finding! What you wrote here is very close to the RPG I wrote and to the development Gygax had in his mind for the alignment! I am happy not to be alone for this idea! I really hope you could visit my blog and read some posts on Morality (both as an RPG concept and in my game).
    Thanks and best

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