This blog series is adapted from a section of an online workshop I conducted for Writers & Books in March 2020.
What is Character Alignment?
Character alignment is one of the character metrics in the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Stop rolling your eyes, hear me out.
First, a quick rundown of D&D. In the game, you create a character, and then the Dungeon Master creates a scenario for a player’s character to run through. Some of the steps in creating a Dungeons and Dragon character can help craft literary sci-fi and fantasy characters. For example, “character alignment” helps determine how a character might act as they navigate the Dungeon Master’s narrative. Assigning this same metric to a literary character can help assess their actions withing a story’s narrative.
Two facets combine to make a character’s alignment: how the character interacts with authority and society, and the character’s morality. As far as societal interaction, the character can either be lawful, chaotic, or neutral. For virtue, characters can be good, evil, or neutral. These two facets combine to make nine alignments: lawful good, lawful neutral, lawful evil, chaotic good, chaotic neutral, chaotic evil, neutral good, neutral evil, and true neutral.
There are a ton of charts online dividing characters from popular movies, T.V. shows, and books up into their character alignments. This one features the characters from Game of Thrones, which gives you an idea of what type of characters fall into which category. Here’s a Doctor Who meme along these same lines:
Throughout this blog series, I plan to explore what these alignments mean to literary character creation and development. I’m going to discuss traits linked to them, but, more importantly, I’m going to explain how each of these character alignments might act in a given situation. That’s the most critical aspect of this type of classification, it helps you figure out how a character will adventure.
So, here’s the situation I’m going to discuss, alongside the nine alignments: a character is in a market and encounters a thief who has stolen from them in a previous incident. The thief doesn’t see the character yet, so they have time to react. How will they act? – Each alignment approaches this situation in a very different way.
Next week, I’ll tackle the first alignment, Lawful Good.