This thread was inspired by Graham's I like Charisma
Well, the thing is I have always loved Alignments. I believe they are one of the best roleplaying tools there is in the game, and one of the most underused, abused and misunderstood.
Most people think of it as a lousy restriction to avoid the players from doing whatever they want. Some people like it because it gives them the sense there would be nothing but anarchy and chaos from players and characters fighting and it helps them decide what goes and what not.
I like them, but in a very different light. They do not tell me what I could or should not do. They tell me a lot about how I perceive and interact with the world, in a philosophical and ethical way.
And I have found that most people don't really think about the implications they have. Every LG Paladin must be a lame boy scout incapable of acting in any reasonable way, always bossing everyone around and acting all righteous. And every CE baddie must be this chaotic entity without purpouse or reason, only interested in fighting and doing bad things. And every other alignment is just an in-between.
The one that infuriates me the most is the people that choose CG just because they feel that way they can claim to be "good", while beeing allowed to do bad things. "I'm chaotic. That's the way I am!" Godammin!!!
I for once have always loved the way the two axis worked, and how the different blends allowed you to develope a complete, complex and "human" personality for your characters (and even for your monsters). (I have to confess I hated it when they took them out of 4 Ed.)
Now, how have I made this work for me so far? It is actually quite simple.
The Law-Chaos axis is not related to how good or bad I am. Quite obvious, isn't it? Then what does it tell me? It speaks about my adherence to my personal code of conduct. That code can be based on something external (laws, religious principles, chain of command, my elders...), internal (my own discipline, how methodic and logical I am...) or situational (I go with what everyone else thinks or does).
When I am closer to the Law pole, I believe I must act as close to that code as possible. Thus I dislike going against the law, against my honor, against my boss... As long as I follow that, I may even not care about other things not related to my code (thus a dwarf might be as stubborn as it comes when dealing with what the elders told him, while regarding "those foolish human laws" as unimportant and mere guidelines). When I'm closed to the Chaos pole, I dislike limits, methods, orders. I do not follow that or any other code. I'd rather do things the way I like, the moment I like to, in any way I believe it fits at the moment. Therefore I might follow orders one moment, while disobeying them the next one. It is not that I just do random stuff without any sort of goal. It is that I only follow my whims and desires, thus while it might appear random to others, I always have a reason for doing what I do (even when some times that reason can be a mistery, even to myself).
The middle ground (the Neutral part of the Axis) means I understand the importance and use of the code, but I only adhere to it when I consider it is the best for my goals. As long as I consider them fair, I'll follow your laws. As long as I see them as wise and pragmatic, I'll obey the elders. As long as I don't have to give up to much, I'll be disciplined and do what I must.
The Good-Bad axis is not related to the western extremist "I'm good, so I'll be all nice and helpful. I'm bad, so I'll randomly and purpouselessly conquer the world!" It relates to what I'll be capable of doing to and for other people. If I'm willing to put other people before me, I'm good. If I'm willing to put myself before other people, I'm bad.
So the closer I am to the Good pole, the more things I'm willing to do for others. The greater the sacrifices I believe I could do for other people's sakes. I can get to hurt others, as long as I percieve that is for the greater good. The closer I am to the Evil pole, the more stuff I'm willing to let people suffer to get something good for me. It is not that I hurt people "just because". That is not evil, that is lame. The key is "what benefit would I get from doing this?" It might be power, pleasure, money, selfrighteousness, vengance, fun...
The middle gound (the "other" Neutral) means I'd rather put myself first, that I would do what would benefit me the most, but that doesn't mean I don't care about the welfare of others. If I feel justified enough, I might hurt others, but only if I believe there is no other choice. And most deffinitely I'd rather hurt strangers than those close to me.
In my eyes, the thing is not that some alignments allow or disallow you do do stuff. The thing is the way you justify why or how you feel about doing them.
The classical internet alignment controversy (which keeps resurfacing over and over again in any D&D forum). Is poison use evil? Does a Paladin gets to be punished just for using poison?
My take is "it depends". If in the paladin eyes he is following his code, and if he feels it will be for the greater good, he might. He might be following his orders, codes and laws (how different is killing a monster by the sword to doing it by poison?). And he might be willing to sacrifice his own "purity" by dirtying his own hands "for the other people's sakes". (If he kills the monster himself, then no one else will need to kill it afterwards.) Thus he used poison, without ever falling outside of what his alignment "would allow him to do".
So, Story-Games people, what are your takes on the Alignment thing? How have you used it? In what way has it become a roleplaying tool to you, rather than a simple mechanical limitation?