I know the blurb says this but let me repeat it. I have been playing and running D&D and its various incarnations for 37 years+; my 1e/OSR campaign has been ongoing for 36 years this Summer; I have been in the rodeo a long time.
[feel free to skip down to the next brackets]
I have also played, sometimes also run [deep breath]: 2300 AD, Aberrant, Indiana Jones, Aftermath!, Alternity, Amber, Ars Magica, Beyond the Supernatural (very fond memories), BESM, Boot Hill (the GM for that game passed away last month, sadly), B&B, Bureau 13, CoC (about to start a new series of adventures for my kids), Castles and Crusades, Champions (most flavors - running one for a bunch of teens right now), oWoD (all of 'em, with Mummy being my favorite due to the other players), Chivalry and Sorcery, Conan, CORPS, Cyberpunk and FNFF, DC, Elric! (loved the book), EotPT, Fading Suns, FUDGe and Fuzion, Gangbusters, Ghostbusters (hilarious GM), Godlike, HackMaster (both versions, early memebr of the HMGMA and early pre-orderer of books), HARP, Heros Unlimited, In Nomine, Jorune, Marvel, Mechwarrior, Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, Metamorphosis Alpha, MERP, Morrow Project (a memorable campaign run by a special forces guy), Ninjas and Stupid Guys, Over the Edge, Palladium (and I have the notes around here somewhere converting my entire 1e campaign to Palladium - I was sick in bed for weeks and needed something to do!). Paranoia, Pendragon, Prime Directive, Psiworld, Rifts, Robotech, RuneQuest, Sailor Moon, Shadowrun, Space 1889, Spacemaster, Star Frontiers, Star*Drive, Star Trek (most versions), Superworld, Talislanta, TMNTAOS, TFOS, Timelords (great fun), TOON, Top Secret, TORG, Traveller (all versions, although the LBBs are best), Trinity, Twilight 2000 (one campaign was when I was in the army and everyone played *themselves*. The briefings were run by a senior intelligence analyst and were AMAZING!), and, of course, D20, D6, and GURPS.
And my favorite non-D&D game, Rolemaster.
[here's those other brackets I mentioned]
So, I am familiar, often very familiar, with a lot of mechanics. I understand long discussions of skill systems, combat, initiative, damage, etc. I love most of these discussions. The one I never understood?
"D&D alignments make no sense."
Personally, I think the AD&D alignment system is one of the best ways to quantify the personality and behavior of a fictional character in a game system that reflects good and evil.
And since the Real World has good and evil, shouldn't our RPGs?
The axes of the alignment system are called moral (good to evil) and ethical (law to chaos). This allows us to examine each to see how to apply the system.
Walk with me for a minute.
'Good' is obviously meant in the Thomistic sense when used by Gygax meaning that 'good' is striving for what should be and 'evil' is a rejection of the good. Or, 'good' is true and 'evil' is the rejection of the true.
'Law' also obviously refers to basic adherence to rules, order, social mores, etc.
So when alignment refers to 'good or evil' it references Virtue and when it references 'law and chaos' it references Duty and the focus of duty.
Let's look at the best example we have from Gygax to PC alignment, the paladin. The paladin is obviously based upon Catholic military orders which allows us to quantify alignment from the reality of those military orders.
The orders followed the knightly virtues of Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence, Faith, Hope, and Charity. This looks like a pretty close map to how paladins are expected to act: self-control (limits on items and money) = temperance; brave without being foolhardy = fortitude; not cheating or lying, giving people what they are owed = justice; showing good judgement = prudence; remaining faithful; not giving in to despair; and giving to others.
Yup, looks the same, so it appears that equating the virtues with good is fine.
But what about duty? Deontology is the ethical concept of adherence to rules and where those rules come from. Catholic military orders had a strict hierarchy, codes of conduct, rules of dress, scheduled prayer times, the Code of Canon Law from the Church, etc.
Again this seems to fit with the description of the paladin.
So it looks like we can classify 'Lawful Good' and 'striving for virtue and accepting a strict code of moral rules from a specific outside source'.
The 'specific' part of 'specific outside source' is a critical element! It means that 'lawful' does NOT mean 'accepting and enforcing any law'! Even if local law allowed, oh, a warrior class to execute lower caste people for a lack of courtesy, a lawful good character would reject this as being unjust and against the prohibition against the murder of the innocent, for example.
'Evil', then, means 'ejecting virtue'. No a fully evil person would be unjust, cowardly, intemperate, and imprudent; they would be impious, full of despair, and greedy. But failing or rejecting all of the virtues is not required to fail to be 'good'! A temperate, courageous city guard with an open hand with the poor and heart full of hope who indulges in too much drink to the point he says cruel things and starts drunken brawls could very well be Neutral, not Good. If he also takes bribes to ignore 'small crimes' he is edging into actual evil. Likewise, someone who desires to be good but often falls to temptation can be neutral or even evil. The flip side is a character that wishes to be evil but can't stop helping people, telling the truth, etc. can be neutral.
On the law - chaos axis the character that believes in no external code but only trusts their feelings and decisions of the moment is the true Chaotic while a character that accepts the validity of a strong external code but makes exceptions, 'forgets. etc. could edge into neutral. A person who trusts themselves only for judgment but has a strict schedule and obeys a hierarchy could likewise be neutral.
So the comparison to Lawful Good (the character that strives for virtue and obeys an external code of ethics) is the character that accepts no code but his own desires of the moment and embraces injustice, imprudence, self-indulgence, greed, etc. - Chaotic Evil. If a Chaotic Evil person obeys another it is out of fear, greed, or the desires of the moment.
Seen this way an 'alignment violation' can be a serious issue because it is a sudden, drastic change in the characters personality - why would a paladin rob an old lady? Why would a demon perform a completely altruistic action?
It also explains why True Neutral is virtually impossible. Animals are True Neutral because they don't make moral decisions - virtue, ethics, etc. simply don't apply.
I know, this is very brief, high-level, and may only add to the fires, not solve anything. But it is a brief look at alignment in my campaign.