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Ability scores and alignment

Lukas Sjöström

Society of Unity scholar
Validated User
Inspired by a few different threads on the subject of alignment (especially the ever-present discussing of what Law and Chaos really mean), I've been thinking a bit about how ability scores impact the expression of an alignment. Some has been inspired by this article, while other stuff has been brewing for a while as a reaction to people who describe certain alignments in a way that seems to make them incompatible with high Intelligence or Wisdom.

In any case, Intelligence, as discussed in the article posted, corresponds to the philosophical and intellectual aspects of one's alignment. A person with low Intelligence will mostly treat their alignment as a matter of personal inclination -- they might be kind or cruel, compliant or rebellious, but they don't really give it any thought. When prioritising between different actions, they are likely to prefer things that give immediate short-term effects that suit their alignment, rather than actions that might have less obvious long-term consequences that are beneficial.

As Intelligence increases, characters start adding more rationalisations to their alignment. Principles become articulated rather than implied: a good character might appeal to something similar to the golden rule (such things exist in many cultures), an evil character might point to the fact that their way of doing things is far more pragmatic and convenient, a lawful character will give justifications for why its important to follow rules and obey superiors, while a chaotic character will point to how blind obedience will cause disaster. A neutral character will listen to the previously mentioned ideas and make a synthesis out of them, explaining why a compromise is sometimes necessary.

Characters of high Intelligence are likely to have clearly developed personal philosophies -- perhaps originally articulated by someone else, perhaps constructed on their own. They will also tend to weigh their decisions differently: short-term benefits are weighed against long-term costs. Especially for creatures of inhuman intellect, this might result in actions that seem strange to the observerer but are likely to, ultimately, favour the cause of Good, Evil, Chaos, or Law.

If Intelligence describes the character's philosophical and intellectual approach to alignment, Wisdom covers the practical application of the alignment. Low Wisdom means that the alignment is likely to be a cause of problems for the character. A good character will be naïve, far too trusting towards people and likely to turn their back on those who haven't given much cause to be believed. An evil character will be petty and ultimately self-destructive. They will act selfishly even when it would be unwise to do so, and will fail to understand when other people aren't as selfish as they are. A lawful character is rigid and dull, completely flabbergasted by things that are outside their narrow world-view. A chaotic character is an utter disaster, disorganised and messy. A neutral character is indecisive, sometimes even ridiculously so.

Higher Wisdom means that the character is making their alignment work for them. While the flaws form a low Wisdom score might still be present in someone with a higher score, they are balanced by certain advantages. A good character can easily empathise with others, while an evil character is good at seeking out personal advantages and rooting out weakness. A lawful character has commendable self-discipline, making them great at carrying out unpleasant but necessary tasks, while a chaotic character will be intuitive and unconventional, great at thinking outside the box and not taking things for granted. A neutral character's Wisdom is seen in their ability to consider things from different perspectives, not being bound to one interpretation.

Charisma, finally, affects how one's alignment is perceived by others. With a low Charisma, a good character is an insufferable goody two-shoes, an evil character is a despicable brute, a lawful character is a hidebound dullard, a chaotic character is an impolite jackass, and a neutral character is a wishy-washy nonentity. High Charisma, however, makes all those characteristics seem admirable. A charismatic good character is, of course, just a really nice person to be around. Why wouldn't anyone like them? Charismatic evil people can convince you that it's really all about them, that you should only be thinking about them since that's what they seem to be doing. Lawful characters are admirable paragons, lighthouses of unwavering conviction in dark seas of moral uncertainty. Chaotic characters are just so cool, the ultimate rebels. Neutral characters seem to have it all figured out -- they're so reasonable!
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