So, for some reason, if you tell some rpg players a character is lawful good, and that character is opposed to an oppressive system of laws that marginalize gnomes, there’s a subset of players who freak out because you aren’t being lawful. And if two lawful characters disagree on how to handle a tricky question of order, this is seen as a weakness of the alignment system, because it “doesn’t describe those characters properly.”
But if you tell a group of players your gnome has red hair, they normally don’t pause to ask if you mean crimson, or auburn. And if two gnomes have radically different red hair? Everyone is fine with that.
Alignment is a descriptor, not a straight-jacket. And that descriptor is a very, very simple description about some of the ways your character thinks. And because Pathfinder (and many games like it) present some non-real things like holy swords and manifest demons of carnage as rules you can interact with, those very simple descriptors are used to determine who the holy sword likes, who it hinders, and who is most damaged by the unholy aura of the demon.
But it’s still just a descriptor. And if you play someone with supernatural powers tied to how a god views you (for example), and the GM has decided the descriptor no long describes you, you may lose game powers.
But it’s still just a descriptor.
So, here’s my opinion on alignment.
GOOD – “In general I am concerned about the welfare of everyone, and the welfare of each person individually at least as I encounter them. Broadly, I prefer to use methods that keep these points in mind, and I feel the best system is a system that keeps these points in mind.”
EVIL – “In general I am concerned with what I want, and am unconcerned about the consequences to others. I may decide that a system that helps everyone is useful to me and thus support it, and I may decide that long-term goals require the suppression of immediate gratification, but overall I’ll back the thing that is most likely to give me what I want.”
LAWFUL – “I think an orderly plan is most likely to achieve my goals, and most likely to move forward the things I think are important. I am concerned that randomness and unplanned action will lead to consequences I don’t approve of. Overall if I must choose between an orderly system and one without many rules and there’s no sign that either is more likely to achieve my moral concerns (if any), I prefer an orderly system.”
CHAOTIC – “I think a loose, flexible plan is most likely to achieve my goals, and most likely to move forward the things I think are important. I am concerned that rigid regulations and rules that must be obeyed regardless of real-world circumstances will lead to consequences I don’t approve of. Overall if I must choose between a flexible system and one with rigid restrictions and there’s no sign that either is more likely to achieve my moral concerns (if any), I prefer a flexible system.”
NEUTRAL (good/evil) – “In the real world, you have to choose your battles, and there are more important issues at play than who benefits from a specific system. I have greater concerns.”
NEUTRAL (law/chaos) – “I think things are too complicated to allow yourself to trust your biases on what kinds of things will achieve your goals, and different methods are most likely to work in different circumstances. Sometimes, I don;t trust any system except that which evolves as a result of the forces involved.”
For characters with auras that are stronger than normal (generally supernaturally augmented agents of divine forces), add “This is more than my personal belief, This is the Word, and the Directive, and as much as possible I shall make it [part of who and what I am.”
For supernatural beings (such as outsiders and undead), you *may* need to add “This is the power that fuels me. It is no less real than gravity, or light, and I promote it not just for belief, but because I am this philosophy incarnate, and without it, I cease to exist as I am.”
For Paladins – “To be lawful and good is not the pinnacle of virtue. It is the beginning. I must be better than the beginning. I have been given great power by forces that wish me to not only make the world better, but also to hold to an ideal, which may be impossible. To attempt to maintain this ideal is hard. That is why I must serve as an example. I honor all the good. I respect all the law. But neither of these things is enough, and even together they represent only one step on a journey.
For Antipaladins – “Fuck it all. Burn it all. Always always, find the way to cause the most vile, anarchistic, pain. And if I can’t burn it all? They’ll burn me.”