Towns - With and Without Pity : Communities and Their Alignments

by Robin D. Laws (Dragon #295)

Let's take a closer look at these power centers and how they affect communities, with an eye toward adding texture and excitement to our towns and cities. They serve as a veritable gold mine of plot hooks.

A power center is a person, group, or creature who exercises complete or partial control over a community. A kindly, white-bearded town mayor can be a power center, as can a ferocious demon who dwells in a well and demands that a flotilla of virgins be annually sacrificed to his dark masters. Larger communities often have multiple power centers - the citizens of a single city could at the same time enjoy the wise leadership of the mayor and suffer the depredations of the demon. When power centers espouse clashing alignments, they fight for supremacy. These struggles might take place behind the scenes, as subtle political maneuverings, or they might spill out into the streets, as bloody clashes explode between contending factions.

First Impressions

Alert PCs can guess the alignments of a community's power centers lust by walking around and getting acquainted with the people. DMs who prefer to gloss over this sort of thing can allow PCs to learn about the power centers of a town through Gather Information checks. Obtaining more specific information is harder, and the information sought affects the DC of the skill check.

DCInformation Sought
DC 10General mood only; you can tell if people are friendly or not, but that's it.
DC 10Name of most obvious power center (usually the legal ruler)
DC 18Names of all power centers
DC 20Names of all power centers and their relative strength
DC 25Names of all power centers, with an explanation of which ones are allied and which are opposed

One Power To Rule Them All

Smaller communities tend to have one power center. However, this doesn't have to mean that their political situations are boring or static.

Degrees of Authority

Not every power center has the same degree of control over its community, even when no rivals threaten its position. To determine the extent of a power center's influence, consult the following chart. Higher results allow for more dramatic story possibilities. Always remember, though, that you should never use a random roll when you already have a desired result in mind.

1d10Degree of Authority

Assured: An assured power center exercises confident authority over a community. People can't imagine that the government's composition will change in the foreseeable future, and most are pleased with that fact. Because their support for the government (or governing official) is steady, officials don't have to keep close tabs on the populace. No one can remember the last time she had to lift a finger against internal dissenters or outside troublemakers. If the common folk thought that something threatened the established power center, they'd rise up to aid their current rulers.

Middling: Most power centers enjoy middling authority. The common folk don't question the power center's right to rule but won't much care if a similar ruler takes his place. They make the same mild complaints that people everywhere make against governments of all kinds: taxes are too high, life isn't what it used to be in the good old days, and children don't respect their elders any more. People might enjoy complaining or poking fun at their social betters, but they'd never dream of challenging them.

Tense: If a power center's authority is tense, the people are restive, and the government is occasionally forced to take active measures to clamp down on dissent. Officials, thugs, or law enforcement officers constantly roam the streets ready to harass, threaten, arrest or even assault apparent troublemakers. When strangers are about, citizens are afraid to make even the mildest complaint against the power center. They know that the power center has built a network of informers and busybodies ready to report the slightest hint of disloyalty. Among others they trust, they'll condemn the power center, but they won't organize against it. People believe that any attempt at rebellion would be swiftly stamped out. (Chaotic powers can still launch crackdowns against a populace, but they'll be haphazardly applied. As opposed to lawful powers, who actually go to the trouble of identifying their real enemies, chaotic types lash out against anyone unlucky enough to attract their attention.)

Shaky: A power center with shaky authority is unpopular and openly flouted. It might have already tried to crack down on dissidents, but the people no longer fear it or its supporters. The power center clings to power only because no single rival has yet gathered the resources to topple it. Maybe its opponents are divided, or perhaps there's no better candidate or group to take its place. At best, a small band of loyalists, who think they're better off supporting the current power center than taking its place, have circled around it.

PCs new to a community can determine the local power's degree of authority by going out and rubbing elbows with shopkeepers, bartenders, and passersby. This is a Gather Information check with a DC of 15. An exception occurs in the case of tense authority, which requires a DC of 20. If the PC gets a result lower than that, the people, afraid the PC is an informant, profess their loyalty to the power center. The PC might, at the DM's discretion, be allowed a Sense Motive check to determine why the Gather Information check didn't work.

Prevailing Alignments

When a community has a single power center, the prevailing alignment among the locals is usually the same as the power center's. Although this is not always the case.

Assured: Power centers with assured authority almost always share the same alignment as the people they govern.

Middling: If a power center's authority is middling, there is a 50% chance that the general alignment of the people is the same as his. Otherwise, roll on the following chart to see how it differs.

1d6Community Alignment Differs By ...
1-21 step on Good vs. Evil axis
3-51 step on Law and Chaos axis
61 step on both axes

Use of the alignment axes is explained in the Using the Alignment Axes below.

Tense: If a power center's authority is tense, its people always follow a different alignment.

1d6Community Alignment Differs By...
1-21 step on Good vs. Evil axis
3-42 steps on Good vs. Evil axis
52 steps on Good vs. Evil axis, 1 step on Law and Chaos axis
62 steps on both axes

Consequently, you'll usually have an evil power cracking down on a good populace, or a good power keeping an evil citizenry under control. An example of the first case would be the classic evil usurper who's gotten rid of the rightful lord. In the second instance, you might see an intrepid paladin cleaning up a town inhabited by notorious bandits.

Shaky: A power center whose grasp on authority is shaky might be unpopular because its alignment differs from that of the population. This is true 60% of the time, in which case you use the chart below.

1d6Community Alignment Differs By ...
11 step on Good vs. Evil axis
21 step on Law and Chaos axis
31 step on both axes
42 steps on Good vs. Evil axis
52 steps on Good vs. Evil axis, 1 step on Law and Chaos axis
62 steps on both axes

The other 40% of the time, the community's alignment is the same as the power center's. The power center shares the community's goals, but it has been inept in realizing them. The good people of a small village might be dissatisfied by their headman's failure to negotiate favorable grazing rights with their neighbors. An encampment of depraved raiders might be ashamed at their khan's recent defeat in combat, even though he's just as dedicated a destroyer and pillager as they.

Powers In Conflict

Larger communities are run by multiple powers. As noted in the Alternative Power Center Alignment Chart sidebar, you might find it dramatically appropriate to use the alternate chart to determine their respective alignments.

After choosing the community's alignments, figure out who the competing power centers are. These can include guild leaders, merchants, land owners, hereditary rulers, appointed or elected officials, crime bosses, church officials, oracles, philosophers, and even monsters. The various alignment results will suggest types of factions: Evil individuals are more likely to be crime bosses than philosophers.

Relative Strengths

Next, determine the relative strength of each power center. Roll 2d10 for each power center. (Make it 1d10 if you want them less evenly matched.) After noting the result for each, grab a calculator and total all of the results. Then go back to the result for each power center and figure out what percentage of the total it represents.

Let's say you're working out the power centers for the large city of Rethen-Dhul. Large cities get three power centers. Using the alternate alignment chart, you get these results: neutral good, lawful neutral, and lawful evil.

You decide that the neutral good character will be the hereditary ruler, Princess Araine. The lawful neutral power is Hharandro, the Chief Justice, to whom the laws of Rethen-Dhul grant considerable independent authority. Finally, we have the lawful evil senator Cleander, who is also a wealthy landowner.

You roll 2d10 for each, with the following results: Araine, 16; Hharandro, 12; and Cleander, 14. That adds up to 42, of which Ariane gets 38%; Hharandro, 29%; and Cleander, 33%.

Thus we see that Araine is roughly the most powerful of the three, but that Cleander and Hharandro are both close behind. Politics in Rethen-Dhul is precariously balanced; any two of the powers can team up to block any action by the third.

Relative strengths can and should change over time, especially when the PCs get involved. You might decide that the outcome of an adventure will change the power balance by a certain amount. You also decide who gets the lost power: One leader might gain it at another's expense by acting against him. If each leader's failures or successes are independent of his rival's power, they gain or lose in equal measure.

For example, the PCs become involved in a plot to recover stolen gems from one of Cleander's paramours. You decide in advance that if they can expose the theft to the citizens of Rethen-Dhul, Cleander's power share will drop to 28%. Since this is a failure of Cleander's, not a success by one of the other two leaders, each of them gets an equal share of the power Cleander loses.

In a sustained political game, the party might even create its own faction, building its power over time.

Prevailing Alignments

To find the prevailing alignment of a community with several power centers, determine whether each faction's power is popular or coerced. Popular leaders draw their power from the enthusiastic support of a large segment of the community. Coercive leaders rule by making people afraid of them. They might field private armies, control mighty magical artifacts, or summon monsters to devour their foes.

For each power center, choose whether it is coerced or popular. If you'd like to determine the result randomly, roll on the following chart. Add 1 to your die result for good characters; subtract 1 for evil characters.

1d6Source of Power

Araine is a good character, so you add 1 to her die roll of 2, for a 3. She's a coercive leader, ruling by force; she must have a mighty royal force of arms at her command. Hharandro, neither good nor evil, gets an unmodified 4. He's a popular leader. For Cleander, you roll a 5, which modifies to 4: He's a popular leader!

Now take only the alignments of the popular leaders. If all popular leaders share the same alignment, theirs is also the community's prevailing alignment.

If one or more popular leaders espouse an alignment, mark its box. Now mark any box situated directly (not diagonally) in between any two of the boxes you marked during the first step. The community's prevailing alignments are more or less evenly divided between all of the boxes you've marked.

Hharandro is lawful neutral, so you color in that box. For Cleander, put a marker in the lawful evil box. There are no other boxes between them, so that's it; Rethen-Dhul divides equally between lawful evil and lawful neutral individuals. (No wonder the neutral good princess has to maintain her rule by force!)

If Hharandro were lawful good and Cleander lawful evil, you'd also mark the lawful neutral box between them, and the prevailing alignments of the city would divide equally between the three lawful alignments.

Alliances and Enmities

To keep politics straightforward and easy for players to understand, make alignment important. The further apart two leaders are on the alignment map above, the greater the hostility between them. The closer together two leaders are, the more tightly allied they'll be. Good leaders always team up to fight evil ones, and vice versa.

You might prefer more complicated and realistic political struggles, especially if you plan to feature them prominently in your campaign's continuing storyline. In that case, power centers clash with one another as naturally as water runs downhill. Alignment just adds a different color to the conflicts. A rivalry between good powers might express itself nonviolently, as they try to outmaneuver and embarrass one another. Evil powers slaughter each others' lackeys without qualm. A struggle between lawful powers keeps violence within legal bounds; chaotic powers battle each other in whatever way best suits their sense of momentary advantage. Powers of like alignment band together when necessary, but turn on each other as soon as their common foes are vanquished.

Community Descriptions

Now let's take a closer look at what PCs should expect to see when gathering information in communities of various sorts.


In communities split between power centers, people might cluster into different neighborhoods divided by alignment tendency. The greater the variance between prevailing alignments, the more obvious this will be to the outside observer. In our example city, Rethen-Dhul, the people tend from lawful neutral to lawful evil. Because there's not much of a difference in these two alignments, you probably don't see separate neighborhoods for each group. But, in a city divided between lawful good and chaotic neutral, you might see a neighborhood of beautiful, well-tended buildings butted up against a ramshackle collection of vandalized tenements.

The alignment of a community is reflected not only in the behavior of its citizens, but in how it looks. When you describe communities, think like a Hollywood production designer with an unlimited budget for sets and digital matte paintings.

Paint a place's position on the good vs. evil axis with color description. Good places are painted in warm colors: white, gold, yellow, orange, and red. When other colors occur, they're bright. Evil colors are cold or murky: black, brown, purple, green, or blue. Use adjectives to suggest that shades have become darkened or polluted. Red becomes the crimson of fresh blood; green is not the color of nature or growth, but of fungus and bile.

Describe a place's spot on the law and chaos axis with shape. Lawful places boast orderly arrangements of buildings, which are always in good repair. Structures tend to be large and elaborately decorated. Streets are wide and straight. Every building looks like it was carefully designed for its present purpose. On the other hand, if you look at the map of a chaotic community, it looks like buildings were just plunked down in haphazard order. Roads and alleys coil around them like constricting serpents. Structures are modest, temporary-looking, and have already taken more than their fair share of punishment. Many are unfinished, as if their builders abandoned more ambitious plans midway through construction. Others have had new wings and additions haphazardly attached to them; you can tell that their owners misjudged the space they needed. Many buildings were clearly built for one purpose but have since been adapted for another.


To most of a community's citizens, alignment is an abstract question for philosophers and clerics, not a part of their daily lives. The vast majority of people take care of their own interests, look after their families, and occasionally help their friends. They obey the rules of the places they live and passively identify with the prevailing alignment, whatever that might be. A few eccentric types might talk about their beliefs, but even they rarely act on them. Even in times of crisis, most people do what's safest for themselves and their loved ones.

Given that, the following tendencies prove true. Whoever they might be, community members respond best to PCs who share their values - or can convincingly fake them.

In areas where the prevailing alignment is good, citizens welcome PCs with a friendly smile. They'll volunteer the information PCs seek. They'll invite the PCs in to dine with them and introduce the party to their families. If the PCs are known as heroes, they'll have to fend off countless offers of free accommodation. When overcoming DCs for their Gather Information checks, the PCs are actually struggling to sift out the useful information from the well-meaning but irrelevant chatter they've heard in the course of their inquiries.

Lawful citizens expect outsiders to obey their sense of decorum and etiquette. By treating others with respect and obeying local customs, the PCs can make themselves seem respectable. Citizens tend to be reserved, with codes of behavior that encourage them to conceal their emotions even from friends and relatives. The DCs for Gather Information and Diplomacy checks reflect the challenge of properly presenting oneself.

Chaotic sorts tend to be outwardly emotional, and they judge people instinctively. Before winning their confidence, a PC might have to prove himself by doing something impressive, from winning an arm-wrestling contest to drinking new acquaintances under the table. Chaotic types can sniff out an agenda at a hundred paces, and the DCs for Gather Information checks reflect the difficulty of making one's inquiries seem appropriately casual and disinterested.

Citizens of evil communities believe that they should do unto others before others do unto them. To deal successfully with this type, a PC must show that the risks of trying to rob, swindle, or betray him far outweigh any possible rewards. The DCs for Gather Information checks reflect the difficulty of seeming tougher and more vengeful than anyone else around. Relationships within these communities are based on power, not trust, so power is what the PCs must project.

Predominantly neutral types see all interactions as exchanges of favors. The local creed is "You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours." The successful PC readily offers gifts and other considerations when seeking information. The openness with which adventurers should proffer rewards depends on the area's other alignment tendencies, if any. In a lawful neutral community, all offers are couched in veiled language to preserve a sense of respectability. Neutral good types dicker good-naturedly; neutral evil sorts consider it naive to conceal one's greed.

These five strains intermingle, of course. In a lawful good community, the PC must project both decorum and virtue. Chaotic evil types respond well to passionate intimidation, while in lawful evil company, one's threats must be couched in polite terms.

Now, Go To Town

That's it for general principles. Now it's time to unleash your own creativity and create some fun towns and cities for your players to poke around in. Whether these ideas give you all the detail you need or simply provide a starting point, here's hoping that your PCs' next visit to civilized quarters is an exciting and challenging one.

Alternative Power Center Alignment Chart

The Power Center Alignment supposes that lawful individuals are much more likely to hold and exercise power than chaotic types. This follows a world-building technique that establishes logical premises and then builds on them.

Another valid way of developing your world is to start with dramatic principles and then create explanations to support your decisions. For dramatic purposes, chaotic-controlled communities are exciting. They offer fluid, ever changing situations into which PCs can wander, with interesting trouble ensuing. Unstable political situations generate more plot hooks than fixed ones. Multiple power centers become more fun when they're more likely to have opposing alignments that inspire ongoing strife.

The logical justification for this dramatic choice is as follows: if you look at our real world today, or at almost any historical era you care to name, the average person is much more likely to live in political chaos than under an orderly regime. We who lead comfortable existences in modern, industrial democracies enjoy a level of safety and stability unknown in medieval or ancient times.

Further, a chaotic community need not be one in which the streets reverberate with the sound of continual rioting, with looting and vandalism the order of the day. A community with a chaotic bent might simply have rulers making decisions according to momentary political instinct, without reference to laws and precedents. This is not unrealistic; rule by fiat was far from uncommon in the pre-modern would. The rulings of a wise, chaotic good leader can be at least as admirable as those of his lawful equivalent.

A chaotic community might also be one in which the schemes of competing factions continually collide, with unpredictable, jumbled results. In other words, chaotic communities need not be places where order has completely broken down: they can just as easily resemble peaceful but factionalized places.

Justification dispensed with, we proceed to the chart. For communities in predominantly good regions, subtract 16 from your result. In predominantly evil regions, add 16. For communities with multiple power centers, apply these modifiers only to the first power center you generate.

01-15Lawful Good
16-25Neutral Good
26-42Chaotic Good
43-48Lawful Neutral
49-52True Neutral
53-58Chaotic Neutral
59-74Lawful Evil
75-84Neutral Evil
85-00Chaotic Evil

Your choice of charts also depends on the role communities play in your game. If they're primarily rest stops between dungeon adventures, stick to the official chart. PCs will crave the stability it offers. On the other hand, if you regard communities as backdrops for adventure, your group will enjoy the greater variety of situations the alternate chart allows.

Using The Alignment Axes

To find the specific alignment most community members follow, use this diagram, which breaks the alignments down into a Good vs Evil axis, and a Law and Chaos axis

Start by noting the power's position on the axis in question. It may help you to place a token on that space on the diagram.

For example, you've determined that the people of Abad-Thrul differ from their power center, the sorceress Patrara, by one step on the Good vs. Evil axis. Her alignment is neutral evil, so you start in the last box in the diagram's top row

You can only move the token to an adjacent square in its current axis.

There's only one direction to go from the evil space - toward the left. You move the token one space, landing on neutral. So, while Patrara is neutral evil, most people in Abad-Thrul are neutral.

If a token starts on a neutral space, there are two possible directions. Roll any die; go left on an even result, and right on an odd result.

Yyrvarad is the neutral good power of Thamarace. His people differ from him by one step on the Law and Chaos axis. You start on the neutral space, then roll an odd number, which moves the token one space to the right. The people of Thamarace tend toward chaotic good.

If you get to the end of a row, stop there.


Generating Towns