Website Enhancement – Using Alignments to Add Character to D&D Cities

Website Enhancement - Using Alignments to Add Character to D&D Cities

A web enhancement for d12 Monthly, Issue 23 (Cities & Towns).

Sometimes articles get cut from the final issue for a number of reasons, so I have decided to include them as bonus web content. Enjoy! 

Alignments in Dungeons & Dragons cause a lot of consternation and there is a lot of disagreements on how to use them, with some companies jettisoning them altogether.

And I do tend to agree that the nine point alignment system used in AD&D, and all editions since, when used on a personal level, isn’t the best.

It’s the D&D equivalent of horoscopes – trying to group everyone into 12 star signs.

However, there are areas where these alignments can be useful.

I have covered this previously in an article in d12 Monthly, my D&D zine, in issue 5, but I wanted to focus this idea on cities in particular, as I feel it could be a very useful tool for adding substance and character to your cities.

In this context, alignments – the nine alignments from AD&D to be more specific – can be used to understand a city’s (or other settlement’s) general outlook.

This can then inform you on how they handle crime, what possible laws may be on the books, how well they are enforced, as well as how the citizenry views adventurers and other travellers, what religions are dominant, and many more social and economic traits of a particular city.

The Nine Alignments

First up, let’s look at the nine alignments as they apply to individuals, as per the 5e PHB (I find these to be a succinct and accurate description of each alignment).

Lawful Good creatures can be counted on to do the right thing as expected by society.

Neutral Good folk do the best they can do to help others according to their needs.

Chaotic Good creatures act as their conscience directs, with little regard for what others expect.

Lawful Neutral individuals act in accordance with the law, tradition, or personal codes.

Neutral is the alignment of those who prefer to steer clear of moral questions and don’t take sides, doing what is best at the time.

Chaotic Neutral creatures follow their whims, holding their personal freedom above all else.

Lawful Evil creatures methodically take what they want, within the limits of a code of tradition, loyalty, or order.

Neutral Evil is the alignment of those who do whatever they can get away with, without compassion or qualms.

Chaotic Evil creatures act with arbitrary violence, spurred by their greed, hatred, or bloodlust.

Now that we have an understanding of the alignments as they apply to individuals, let’s have a look as each alignment as they would apply to a city.

Aligned Cities

Using the descriptions of each of these alignments, I am going to look at what a mediaeval fantasy city would be like based on each of them. 

Lawful Good

In a city aligned with Lawful Good, laws are strictly enforced to maintain order and protect the well-being of its citizens. The city’s leaders are just and fair, ensuring that justice is served. However, they can be overzealous and follow the letter of the law at the expense of the common good at times. 

The laws emphasise personal and communal responsibility, with a focus on public welfare, charity, and upholding moral values.

Citizens are encouraged to participate in community initiatives and support each other; and many do just that. The city may also have strict regulations on trade, quality standards for goods, and laws protecting the vulnerable. 

Neutral Good

In Neutral Good cities laws exist to maintain order and protect individual freedoms. 

The leaders prioritise the common good, and aim to balance the needs of the community with personal liberties. Citizens are encouraged to act compassionately and support one another, while the laws emphasise fairness and equality. 

The city is more likely to encourage and promote social welfare programs and provide opportunities for education, and cultural exchange. 

Chaotic Good

In a Chaotic Good-aligned city, laws would be more relaxed and flexible, allowing citizens a greater degree of personal freedom.

The city’s leaders would emphasise individual rights, creativity, and the pursuit of personal happiness. The laws focus on protecting civil liberties and promoting social justice. 

The citizens are encouraged to express themselves freely and contribute to social causes, often organising grassroots initiatives and campaigns they believe in. 

Lawful Neutral

In a city aligned with Lawful Neutral, laws are paramount and strictly enforced to maintain order and stability. The city’s leaders prioritise upholding the law above all else, ensuring that regulations are followed without exception. 

The laws often favour tradition and established hierarchies, and citizens are expected to adhere to their roles and obligations. The city may have a complex legal system and a strong bureaucracy to administer and enforce laws. 

True Neutral

With a True Neutral aligned city, the laws are designed to maintain a delicate balance between conflicting interests. The leaders seek harmony and neutrality, prioritising compromise and peaceful coexistence. 

The laws may focus on mediation and conflict resolution, aiming to address the needs of all citizens. The city promotes diversity, tolerance, and cultural exchange, allowing for a wide range of beliefs and practices within reasonable limits. 

Chaotic Neutral

In a Chaotic Neutral city, laws are minimal or loosely enforced, allowing citizens a great deal of personal freedom. The leaders prioritise individual liberty and resist excessive authority. The laws focus on preventing harm to others rather than imposing rigid regulations.

The citizens embrace personal expression, innovation, and individualism. The city may be known for its vibrant arts, diverse subcultures, and a laissez-faire approach to trade and commerce.

Lawful Evil

In a city aligned with Lawful Evil, laws exist primarily to consolidate power and control the population for the benefit of the current leaders. These leaders enforce strict regulations to maintain their authority and further their own interests. 

The laws may be oppressive, favouring the ruling class while suppressing dissent.

The citizens may live under constant surveillance and face severe punishments for disobedience. Corruption and exploitation may be prevalent, with laws protecting the elite and limiting the freedoms of the common people. 

Neutral Evil

In a city aligned with Neutral Evil, the laws serve the interests of those in power and perpetuate an environment of self-interest and opportunism. The leaders prioritise personal gain and control over the well-being of the citizens. 

The laws may be arbitrary and inconsistently enforced, benefiting the ruling class while disregarding the needs of the vulnerable. The citizens may be driven by self-preservation and personal gain, leading to a society marked by competition and distrust.

Chaotic Evil

In a mediaeval fantasy city aligned with Chaotic Evil, the city would be a hotbed of lawlessness, corruption, and cruelty. The laws, if they exist, are merely tools for those in power to exert control and manipulate the population. The city’s leaders are ruthless and self-serving, seeking personal gain at the expense of the citizens’ well-being.

Laws are arbitrary and inconsistently enforced, favouring the ruling class and perpetuating a sense of fear and oppression among the population. The leaders may engage in acts of tyranny, using their authority to exploit and subjugate the citizens for their own amusement or gain. 

Citizens live in constant fear, distrust, and suspicion of one another. Self-interest and survival become paramount, leading to a society characterised by backstabbing, betrayal, and opportunism.

An Example City

To illustrate this, I want to present an example city that is aligned with Chaotic Evil. 

I chose this alignment as, out of any of them, this one seems the most illogical and counter-intuitive. On the surface, a city that is both chaotic and evil would seem to quickly tear itself apart. 

And, during our own history, I am sure this has indeed happened. 

But I want to showcase how a Chaotic Evil city might not only survive, but thrive. 

The City of Embermire, City of Gloom

The city is ruled over by Lord Zul the Bloodthirsty, a ruthless and power-hungry warlock with an insatiable thirst for dominance and suffering. He rules with an iron fist, instilling fear and enforcing his will through his powerful magic and a legion of loyal enforcers. 

Lord Zul rules with five main tenets, from which other laws and rules are applied. 

Power Through Chaos

The city thrives on chaos, revelling in anarchy and discord. The more chaos and suffering, the stronger the city becomes. We will see how Lord Zul uses this chaos to hold onto power (see below). 

No Mercy

Acts of mercy or compassion are seen as signs of weakness and are either forbidden, or discouraged. 

The inhabitants are encouraged to inflict pain and torment upon others to prove their strength.

Survival of the Fittest

The strong dominate the weak. The city operates on a predatory hierarchy where those who possess power and cunning rise to the top, while the weak are exploited or eliminated. 

Absolute Loyalty

Unwavering loyalty to Lord Zul is expected from every inhabitant. Disloyalty or disobedience is met with swift and brutal punishment. 

Everyday Life

With those tenets defined, let’s see how this would play out in everyday life for the citizens of Embermire.

Social Structure

Embermire’s social structure is marked by a brutal and cutthroat environment, where power and personal gain are the driving forces. 

The ruling elite, comprising Lord Zul’s inner circle, hold positions of authority and wield significant influence. They constantly scheme and vie for more power, utilising treachery and manipulation to maintain their status. 

Lord Zul uses this chaos and in-fighting to keep his subjects too focused on their own safety and status so they will have no time, energy, or resources to challenge him. 

Daily Life 

Inhabitants of Embermire are constantly on guard, wary of betrayals and acts of violence from their fellow citizens. Survival is a daily struggle, and many resort to acts of deceit, theft, and violence to gain an advantage. 

Street gangs and criminal syndicates thrive, preying on the weak and engaging in illicit activities under the tacit approval of Lord Zul’s regime.

Fear and oppression permeate daily life, as citizens navigate through the city’s twisted streets and dark alleyways. 

The inhabitants live in a state of perpetual unease, fearing retribution from both their peers and Lord Zul’s enforcers. Entertainment often revolves around blood sport and gladiatorial battles, providing a cruel spectacle for the masses, and reflecting the state of society. 

Religion is often steeped in dark cults and occult practices, as the worship of malevolent deities aligns with the city’s chaotic and evil nature. Temples dedicated to these dark forces openly offer twisted rituals and sacrifices, providing a semblance of divine guidance for the depraved inhabitants.

Life in Embermire is a harsh existence, defined by constant treachery, violence, and a ceaseless pursuit of power. The city’s inhabitants must navigate a morally bankrupt society, where only the cruellest and most cunning can hope to thrive.

Chaotic City?

The concept of a city thriving solely on chaos and suffering can be contradictory to traditional notions of societal growth and stability. 

However, the following elements help explain how such a city functions and appears to grow stronger: 

Exploitation and Control

Lord Zul possesses a keen ability to exploit the chaos and discord for his own benefit. He manipulates the various factions and power struggles within the city to consolidate his own power and maintain control.

He often acts as puppet master, inciting conflicts and ensuring that the chaos is channelled in a way that strengthens his grip on the city.

Power Accumulation

While a citizen’s movements out of the city are tightly controlled, the city attracts individuals who are drawn to chaos, power, and anarchy.

It becomes a magnet for those seeking to fulfil their darkest desires or indulge in their most twisted ambitions (as long as they obey the will of Lord Zul). 

These individuals bring their skills, resources, and magical abilities to the city, contributing to its overall strength and reinforcing its reputation as a hub of malevolence.

External Threats

The city’s reputation for chaos and cruelty deter most external forces from launching direct attacks against it, or attempts to control it (although that doesn’t stop some good-aligned clandestine groups from trying).

The chaotic nature of the city make it difficult for opposing forces to infiltrate or conquer, further solidifying its apparent strength.

As well as manipulating his own citizens, Lord Zul manipulates neighbouring regions, inciting conflicts or sowing seeds of discord to keep potential threats at bay. 

Survival of the Fittest

In such a city, survival becomes a constant struggle, and only the strongest and most cunning individuals manage to thrive. 

The constant state of chaos and competition creates a Darwinian environment where those with the ability to adapt, manipulate, and exploit others rise to positions of power.

This process, while brutal, strengthens the city’s ruling class and ensures that only the most ruthless survive, creating a semblance of growth and stability from within. 

It’s important to note that while the city may be growing stronger, it does so at the expense of its inhabitants’ well-being and moral decay. And this may only last for so long. 

Embermire would be an interesting city to place in your campaign.

A city with a powerful and manipulative autocratic ruler who encourages chaos and malice to stave off any real threat to their rule. 

Over to You

What do you think of Embermire? Do you have a similar city in your campaign world? Let me know in the comments below. 


While You’re Here…

Since 2021 I have been publishing d12 Monthly, a monthly zine, which has a ton of articles for any edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

Printed copies are available in my store. The PDF is available on DriveThruRPG and you can get both, plus support my work, via my Patreon.

I will also be releasing some more products in the near future.

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or my contact page any time.

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