Hey there adventurinos, I’m back once again, determined to take that little area labeled “alignment,” turn it upside-down, and shake it violently, scrounge around on the floor for weird new flavors, and keep doing it until someone important gets nervous and quietly removes any mention of alignment from the next edition of the Handbook for fear of me ruining it further.
Last time I wrote about Lawful Petty, which one could easily look at and think "Dan, this alignment already exists, and it is clearly called-"
Aha, I would then say, let me stop you. The problem is that I am a very silly person, one might even say dense, and after decades of scanning those nine reliable alignments I find they no longer speak to recognizable natures. So I, as if possessed by a fiend, keep writing up these scumbag alignments to better reflect the rot in the world we know. Necessary? Hell no. Fun? Yeah, maybe kinda!
At the very least, I want to use common human behavior in roleplaying more, not because I want to bum anyone out, but because it's interesting and silly.
This go-round I focus on characters who fight for all that is just and true! Plus… trust issues! Unable to find satisfaction in a purely lawful or chaotic faith, they cobble something together from both! It seems like a good idea to them, but you the player know that your character’s merits and flaws are intertwined as well. You might even want to reclassify all those paladins you loved to hate as Toxic Good. I mean you'll probably leave them Lawful Good because I am potentially trolling you, or maybe you'll be like, "This is Lawful Neutral, DAN!" Maybe you'll even say, "All you're doing is ruining a perfectly good system so it can be creepier!" And to that last point of view I say: maybe.
How To Slip Under
Yes, that subtitle is a Britney reference.
Unlike that reference, which I explained out of panic, regardless of the explanation making it less funny, I am operating from the belief that you, my dear reader, have seen the classic alignment charts and the many memes it has spawned (usually, regardless of context, with Dr. House in the middle). So allow me to provide a map for where these nobly intentioned but rather disturbed characters land on such a chart…
They think they’re Lawful or Neutral Good. They’re in denial about the Chaos stuck to their boot.
They borrow things from Lawful Good boons like enthusiasm, core values, deities, rituals, and even outward appearances. They think they're squeaky clean and pure of butt. But they tend to avoid organizations (except maybe pyramid schemes... which I now want to create in a fantasy setting from the ground up for fun). They’re a little too drunk on their own idiosyncrasies for most well-oiled machines to tolerate them for long. There’s always an odd extra spoke on their cog, extra orange in their clockwork.
The short version is that they're holier than thou, but in bad need of therapy.
They borrow from Chaotic Good some nice resume glitter such as flexibility, self-reliance, and independence. But they’re usually haughtier, more proud, or more into solving the problems of others than your typical Chaotic Good character. Their father never should have left them alone in that mithril mine for a week to teach them a lesson (the lesson: Poppa had a pub crawl to get to). There’s a rift inside them, tugging them back and forth between their view of purity and the fractured path that leads there.
You know, the taste of those lips and they’re on a ride*.
But they are secretive, hiding things like worry and obsession. Their basement is full of empty bottles and their childhood blankie. What you end up with is someone constantly veering into Chaotic Neutral, almost Evil at times, but they don't know it. They slide into it like a carriage pulled by a horse that ate a full wheel of cheese. Always they are focused on Good, just in case their boss does a performance review.
They apologize often (who doesn’t love constant apologies?) and mean it. They deeply regret having to backhand their allies for disrespecting the morning prayer by breathing. This is going to seem downright nasty, so make sure you're calling it out as your character's choice, not yours. Though well put together, associating with these jerks for more than maybe a day should cause friends and associates to look behind them and see a wake of unnecessary destruction.
Which, and I don’t necessarily say this with pride, is relatable in a fun sort of way. Except now instead of messing up on accident because I am distracted by my anxiety, I'm having my character choose to mess up in an eerily similar way. Boy oh boy, that doesn't sound flattering at all. Did I mention I usually play D&D to include a parody of human behavior, not to be real? ANYWAY...
Sour Secondary Security
Yes, this can be a frustrating character to be around. But one of the most delightful things about this alignment is that if gives a player (like me) something to keep their minds busy. Maybe everyone really, really thinks you're straight up good. Just good!
You’ll spend the whole campaign jotting down notes, and sure, some of it will be elfy names and dragony locations. But sometimes your party-mates will congratulate you on your note-taking and what you’ll be doing is plotting in secret. Keep it on the low-down that you just wrote down that you’re giving their names to the local temple for background checks.
For instance, look at that dwarf indented a couple paragraphs back. That fella is supposed to be banging out a holy weapon to save his kin. But you can tell he's thinking about how he's also going to manipulate a golden chariot away from his cousin because he thinks he deserves it. It's fun to have him be good most of the time, but it's even more fun to reveal his unusually intense plot to get that chariot and creep everyone out. We get it, dude. You like chariots. You killed an archfiend so we guess you can just have it. Stop asking.
So why play this character? Silly catharsis. Toxic Good folks have trust issues like we all do, but they're heightened to storyteller level drama. They don’t deviate from a party's overall goal, but they don’t think collaboration is ever completely safe either. So they quietly construct one or more safety nets with the idea that others will thank them later.
Sound harmless? It should be. But note my use of “quietly” and “thank them later.” If you jump out of a plane and your parachute fails, you’ll of course be relieved to use a backup parachute. But imagine it’s a backup parachute you have to frantically locate because nobody told you it would be there, when you open it you notice it’s not up to code and makes you spin until you’re nauseous, and written on the underside of the parachute it reads, in huge letters “BUNGIE JUMPING IS SAFER.” That’s the kind of extra help you can expect from a Toxic Good character. You’re sucked into their bent subquests whether you like it or not.
Here’s another example: Your party has plans to root out a foul nest of goblins wreaking havoc on a local town. Your party agrees the best course of action is to booby trap their cave’s most exposed exit, then cave-in their secret exit. But that can’t possibly be enough, so you also send a written message to what you believe is a goblin willing to sell out his own people, trying to find a possible third exit. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? The goblins know you’re coming? You had to check for a mysterious third exit that you had no evidence existed but might anyway, right?
Toxic Trait Table
Time to poison your well of virtue! There’s lots of ways your character could have gotten this massively convoluted morality, but you might be stuck. So here’s some prewritten ways you can screw them up, just a 6-sided roll away! Watch that dice spin round and round, do you feel me now**?
- Damage Diary: In your youth someone in a position of authority kept a book of demerits, and when you ended up in it you couldn’t stop thinking about it. You now make notes in your own diary whenever someone makes a moral misstep, no matter how minor. They cannot be trusted now. Ever.
- Holy Sabotage: You attribute a catastrophic accident in your past to a virtuous deity you still worship. You continue to sow seeds of disruption wherever things seem “too good,” just to fight the evil of complacency.
- Vengeful Princess: So many people think people of your culture and gender, race, monetary status, or general background need “saving” that you have come to think everyone but you is misguided by it. Every time someone does something nice for you, you become immediately suspicious, and obsessively track them looking for signs of evil intent.
- Manners Officer: The only thing holding this vile world together is formality. Perhaps you were raised poor and envied those with a lofty education, but you have learned to not be overtly disruptive and you have good intentions, you are downright cruel in the way you track others being rude. And, if that character ever does seem to leave themselves open to it, you remind them no matter the timing.
- Wholesome Horror: You saw a tyrant fall in an incredibly brutal fashion, and you are now obsessed with making a disturbing example with every death. You don’t pick fights and you are very kind and generous when not in combat, but you do know a lot of ideas on how nice gods want unusually bloody ritualistic sacrifices. It won’t be long before friends guess at your reasoning, which you keep fiercely private, but you’re just going that extra step that you know will drive other evil away. Probably.
- Underworld Mensch: Raised in a den of evil that you eventually escaped, you are focused on nothing but pure good these days. Trouble is, some of those evil people were really nice to you, and you’re now a terrible judge of character. Most of the time it’s just awkward, but as a part of your commitment to purity you’re always trying to do favors for your friends. And that includes using contacts in the underworld. Ask your DM to agree on a language you know for a more evil race that helped raise you, and that you regularly stay in touch with for what will turn out to be unreliable favors you’ll have to roll a d10 for to scale how well they’ll turn out. 10, great! 1, your friend’s new shoes will have a note asking for a favor in return, and an errant toe, left in them.
Thus ends another divergence into unnecessarily complex D&D! I love weird stuff like this, and I hope you do too. Let me know how this trouble-maker fits in if you commit it to pencil and paper!
*Another Britney reference.
**A backup Britney reference.
Dan Telfer is the Dungeons Humorist aka Comedy Archmage for D&D Beyond (a fun way they are letting him say "writer"), dungeon master for the Nerd Poker podcast, a stand-up comedian, a TV writer who also helped win some Emmys over at Comedy Central, and a former editor of MAD Magazine and The Onion. He can be found riding his bike around Los Angeles from gig to gig to gaming store, though the best way to find out what he's up to is to follow him on Twitter via @dantelfer.