How I handle alignments in D&D

One of my favorite systems in D&D happens to be one of the most maligned systems in RPG gaming, as far as I can see. Alignments, especially the post 1st edition, nine point, two axis system, is a system that, In my games at least, influences everything from the lowliest peasant to the most universe spanning deities.

In my worlds, players choose their alignment like normal. At their option, they can also say they pretend to be a different alignment, since that's no harder to do than roll some bluff checks (think like Nature and Demeanors in the old White Wolf games). A PC's alignment choices will effect that PC in several ways

1) My expectations: This is the biggest influence of all. If given a Lawful Good Paladin for a character, I will most likely feature things that would present problems and moral quandaries to a Lawful Good character, such as evil peers within his organization, outright lawlessness and sadism to destroy, mistaken identities, and poisonous rumors that may lead that character to smite something that isn't as evil as it is supposed to be. If said Paladin turns out to be a little flaky in my eyes though (like he sees someone steal something and does nothing about it), I will not punish that player or reprimand he/she for not "doing it right." However, see number 2

2) Interaction with NPCs: While most PCs aren't going to say they are "Lawful Good" exactly, unless they are in a kingdom that can detect certain things (see number 3), none the less the NPCs around them will JUDGE them to be of certain alignments. Said Lawful Good Paladin may be seen as a Lawful Evil tyrant by the the people that his nation has subjugated, for example, even if he really genuinely hasn't done one red cent of evil. His peers in the clergy or knighthood might consider him to be "soft", or more like Neutral Good, a "legalist" (Lawful Neutral) or even a "dissident" (Chaotic Good, or worse). If the Paladin flakes like in the above example, and his peers find out, they will probably punish him, advise him, or change how they feel about him.
Appearances change the social landscape in Real Life, and thus are just important in my games.
Based what truths and what lies an NPC knows, this female half elven ranger may seem to be a Chaotic Neutral threat to order or a lawful good stabilizer of the wilderness.
Find out who she really is here:
"Selene Silverheart" by Jenny Dolfent on www.elfwood.com

3) Divine Politics: The gods in my world have written down into law what they consider to be good, evil, lawful and chaotic, and they are constantly giving energy and gifts and boons to their followers (and non-followers) based on whether or not the mortals are working towards their agendas. My lawful good gods will literally give holy energy to people who are lawful and good in his eyes. Again, lets say the flaky paladin above did nothing against the thief because he knows that he has a family to feed. Guess what? The God rewards the paladin with holy energy (for using paladin powers), even while his bishop thinks he has gone soft and the public thinks he is a tyrant. What's more, Detect Good and similar spell will be able to see that his god has recently rewarded him, and thus someone that can detect that can clear his name. Further Furthermore, his god will give him access to certain spells based on that "good behavior"

4) Metaphysics: What about non-religious players? The universe itself has its own rules, that are more mysterious and not written down. Good people are still rewarded, generally for their actions in small ways at least. Good people can still touch objects that would burn a truly evil bad guy, even if neither one follows a god. Mages that have access to [Good] and [Evil] spells just have to be Good/Bad enough to call the powers or use their energies. Same for Law and Chaos. Lawful energies are used in spells to stabilize, lock, for contingencies and punishments, and restrict/protect. Chaos spells break stuff, change outcomes, open things, and depower stuff, mostly.  Thus, bringing in the flaky paladin one more time, the thief that he ignored could easily steal and wield his Holy longsword in a duel with a cruel landowner who wants him evicted (permanently), since he thinks the paladin is an evil dictator's pawn because and is not about to ask for his help. Thus, I have a story for the paladin, just based on his blanket statement that he is "Lawful Good".


  1. Very interesting and well laid out. I love the RP and political possiblities that this presents.

    1. Thank you very much, UselesswizarD. I hope you find the information useful!