This is the seventh post in our series on the metaethics and moral standing of the lawful-chaotic alignment axis in Pathfinder. To start with the series’ introductory post, click here.
I’m beginning to feel like I have my methodological interpretation of the lawful-chaotic axis fairly well in hand, along with the justification for it. Yes, it certainly remains revisionist, and it’s certainly far from uncontroversial, going as it does against many of the calcified ideas built up over the years about lawful and chaotic characters. Nevertheless, it strikes me as eminently workable, while avoiding a good deal of the baggage people have about these alignments. Most importantly (for me anyway), I feel like it does a good job of keeping open questions about the moral standing of creatures regardless of their place on the lawful-chaotic spectrum.
The upshot of that, of course, is that even though there might be some substantive issues about a creature’s morality which take their lawful-chaotic standing into account, all alignments remain possible, and there’s nothing stopping any good creature from being lawful or chaotic, any evil creature from being chaotic or lawful, or anything else along those lines.
Nothing, that is, except for the alignment restrictions on classes – as per the rules of Pathfinder, monks must be lawful, barbarians must be either chaotic or neutral, druids must be neutral, paladins must be lawful, etc. And while these official rules-as-written restrictions played an important part in shaping my methodological interpretation of the lawful-chaotic axis…they just aren’t tremendously interesting in terms of applying it after the fact, since there remains so little conceptual wiggle room.
On the other hand, in hindsight, it seems to me that thinking of lawful and chaotic alignments in this way suggests that some alignments might be much more common or plausible for some classes than others, even when there is no formal alignment restriction.
For example, if we do think of lawful creatures as those who apply internal discipline and focus in order to exert power and chaotic creatures as those who exert power by “unleashing” themselves somehow…then it seems likely we’ll find wizards to be much more often lawful than chaotic (since wizards practice magic through careful study and knowledge) and sorcerers to be much more often chaotic than lawful (since sorcerers practice magic by tapping into and releasing latent arcane energy within themselves).
At first glance, this observation might look like a real problem for my view: in the spirit of my “open question” requirement and not wanting to limit the possible combination of original and interesting characters beyond what is strictly prohibited by the rules, I (and hopefully most others) would not want to endorse an interpretation of the alignment system which prohibited, say, lawful sorcerers and chaotic wizards.
That being said, I don’t think that my view actually does imply any such prohibition – at most, it suggests that certain non-restricted class/alignment combinations are more likely or more common than others, but not that any are actually prohibited. So there can still be chaotic wizards and lawful sorcerers, etc., so long as we can tell interesting and plausible stories about how their abilities accord with their methodological alignments.
Of course, many classes are not going to have any obvious favouring towards lawful or chaotic at all – for instance, fighters (to my mind) make just as much sense whether they’re focused and studied soldiers or intuitive, wild-eyed warriors who fight from the gut. It’s entirely possible that most classes might even fall into this kind of category: just as likely to be lawful or chaotic as to be good or evil (at least with regard to the general population of adventurers/creatures with class levels).
With that all out of the way, I thought I’d spend the rest of this post presenting a few ideas I’ve had about how to interpret both lawful and chaotic versions of various classes which do strike me as favouring either lawful or chaotic alignments. Hopefully, some of this might inspire a future character (of these classes or others), or might perhaps lend some new perspective to an existing character.
Sorcerers and Wizards
After all of the above, I feel like I’ve covered what chaotic sorcerers and lawful wizards would look like, i.e., exactly what you would imagine. But what about a lawful sorcerer? I see this as someone whose bloodline magic lies rather dormant, but who can, through intense focus and sheer force of will/strength of character (as demonstrated through that high Charisma score), access that latent magic and shape it as he pleases. A chaotic wizard, on the other hand, might be a highly intelligent mage who obsessively studies magic and just can’t help herself – when she gets to casting, she just geeks out like crazy (ever met someone who just can’t stop talking about, say, the American Civil War once someone absentmindedly mentions Robert E. Lee or maybe just pulls out a US $5 bill?), with no regard for how much the people around her might actually care about magic. It’s not quite out of control…but nor can she really help herself, either…
Oracles and Clerics
In many ways, it should come as no surprise that oracles’ and clerics’ alignment tendencies more or less reflect those of sorcerers and wizards (especially when it comes to oracles). The only real hiccup here comes with the alignment restriction of clerics, who must be within one alignment step of their deity’s alignment. This poses little problem for clerics of lawful and neutral gods – these are probably still going to tend more toward the lawful side of things, due to the dedication and commitment normally required to be a cleric. For clerics of chaotic deities, though, the story is not so simple. I imagine that these priests exalt in a kind of Dionysian delight in the worship of their gods (sometimes a violent delight, sometimes whimsical, and so on), in contrast with the rather more Apollonian worshipers of lawful gods. While devotion of this kind might be unfamiliar to many modern western players, it’s by no means incoherent…so there’s no real problem with chaotic clerics after all.
Rogues are often portrayed as the very image of chaotic characters, from CG freedom-fighting Robin Hood-types to CE sadistic assassins who love nothing more than the idea of plunging a whole nation into internecine warfare through ruthless murder. And yet, on a methodological account of the lawful-chaotic axis, it makes more sense (if anything) to see them as lawful – the acrobatics, lockpicking, stealth, spycraft, and precision sneak attacks that are the very bread and butter of rogues everywhere seem like exactly the sort of thing that come from long hours of practice and careful focus, making them lawful on my view. This might actually be the most obvious of this type of objection to the methodological approach – I freely admit that if a view of alignment doesn’t allow for chaotic rogues, then it is obviously false, by reductio. Luckily, I don’t think that I am committed to saying anything like this, or really anything stronger than that rogues can be and often are lawful (which actually speaks well of the methodological view). In the case of chaotic rogues, we need only appeal to Pathfinder’s own (albeit little-known and rather hidden away) list of random starting ages for different races and classes. This listing breaks classes up into “Intuitive,” “Self-Taught,” and “Trained,” and then places rogues in the “Intuitive” category, right alongside such straightforwardly chaotic (on my view) classes as barbarians, oracles, and sorcerers. This suggests that, at least as far as Paizo are concerned, rogues are not necessarily highly disciplined or forged by careful training; rather, their abilities are often the result of some combination of natural talent, affinity, and intuition, coupled with the easy athleticism of youth. In this way, it makes as much sense to think of rogues as methodologically chaotic as methodologically lawful.
Now, we could go on doing this for every class and archetype, but 1) for many classes, the interpretation should be fairly obvious based on what we’ve already gone through, and 2) that would get pretty boring and tedious. That said, I’m very excited to see how the rest of you view this application of the lawful-chaotic axis, and whether you think there are some important possible cases or objections I’ve overlooked, especially as it pertains to other classes. And, of course, it’s always fun to think about what kind of unanticipated in-game consequences revisionist interpretations like this might have on PCs, NPCs, and other game elements.