Can people give examples of aligment disputes?

I can't point you to the threads I've seen (I imagine they are in the "What's a _ to do?" forums or found via Yahoo/Google), but they all seemed to come from the question of "Whose judgement of Good and Evil does Alignment reflect? The DM's? The character's player's? The world setting's?" and "Are [insert race here] inherently evil, or just their culture?" and "Is _ action always Evil, or does context matter?"

The key events that set them off are "losing class abilities because of Alignment change" and "a paladin finds a bunch of kobold babies." I've seen one where the player just didn't want "Evil" written on their sheet.

The rare Law/Chaos debate is usually around "Is [insert TV character or PC], who follows his own rules separate from his society's laws, Chaotic (for disobeying the law of the land) or Lawful (for sticking to a code)?"

We'd do better with personal character mottos, I think; they'd be more concrete, less subjective among the group, and tell you more about the character. Those 3 things solve each problem above.
First I want to say that Alignment did helped me when I was young, but if the idea of alingment is to be a training weel for the inexperienced and uniniciated, then it should be a Guideline not an Enforcer.

Let's say I want to play a William Wallace kind of character.

He's a Barbarian in 3.X, he's required to be Nonlawful. If I become lawful at any moment, I lose my ability to Rage, which is practically my schtick. Nevermind that I also can no longer gain levels in the Barbarian class, thus banning me for ever progresing as my character was.

I am a charismatic Player, so I rally the party in my favor, they se me as a Leader. I am more like Conan and Wallace, I am not some dumb axe wielding brute. I decide that my concept is to be a Defender of the Wild, so I fight for the forest and for the Nature Spirits.

I rally the rest of the characters to my cause, then eventually find out that the neighboring nation is excesively cutting the forest for a number of reasons. They need to expand, they need the lumber. The Lord of the land explains me that it's not like he wants to, it's just there's no other way to get the resources his people need.

What happens now?

Do I sing a treaty? That sounds really Lawful.

But then how can I resolve the conflict? There's no way the people are not going to cut the trees, they need to.

So maybe my DM was kind of a jerk for throwing me that deicision, but it's not like he decided that I wanted to be a crazy tree hugging zealot, and that I would convince the party of my crazy tree hugging zealot ways. Or maybe that was the whole campaign concept.

The problem is, the DM decides if I become lawfull or not, not me. The DM decides if he warns me about it, not me. The DM decides if a Third Option exist or can work, not me.

 I can only decide to play my William Wallace inspired Two-Handed Barbarian, decide I want to be an inspiring Leader and a protector of the Wild, as a follower of Corellon or whatever Nature Deity you have, or the Primal Spirits, or the little voices in my character's head.

Suddenly, through no fault of my own, I have to decide to keep true to my concept or lose my main schtick, one of the main reasons I chose to play this class. For some people this could mean "cool roleplaying opportunities", frankly as both a Player and DM I don't think so, not one bit.

Why restricting my class features to a tag on my sheet? Why not just give the features, guidelines about what roleplaying is, motivations, personality tratis, and yes, even alignments, and just let me and my group decide what happens?

It's easier for that scenario to end in disaster if Alignment is married with the mechanics. If Alignment is just a guideline for RP, the DM would still decide what concecuences my decision brings, but I don't suddenly become any less Barbarian than I already was. I can see the argument about them being helpful RP tool, if I was a novice Player the Alignment could give me an idea of how to Roleplay my William Wallace inspired Two-Handed Barbarian, and alignments did helped me when I was young. Having said that, since I am a veteran of many years now, I don't need the game to show me how to roleplay, but because there is no impact whether I decide if I need/want alignment in my game, I can just drop it and everything works just the same.

Worst, if they are indeed tied to the mechanics, a new Player facing this choice would have to learn the hard way to "play True Neutral" and avoid this magic "cool roleplaying opportunity" to lose any chance to gain more levels in Barbarian, thus forcing him to retrain, multiclass or worst.

Also, restrictions are always easier to add. A whole spell casting "subsystem" can be incorporated later, as 'one of them modules',  that covers features that revolve around Alginment, rich mechanical repercusions, describe the 9 axis with as much detail as desired.

EDIT: I chose Barbarian because at least the Paladin was supposedly bound by alignment because of it's extraordinary powers, which I agree where really cool. But the Barb loosing Rage just because they learn how to read or lift their pinkies when zipping in tea cups was nonsensical. It even says in the game itself "In fact, they think not of themselves as Barbarians but as warriors". Yet, I could never have my Viking Dwarf Barbarian of the Mountains, because then it had to be an iliterate brute that couldn't be elegible for a party Leader because that's the way the class goes. And may the Spirits held my hand if the neighboors where those who wielded "book magic", lest I would be obliged to distrust their enigmatic nature. Sadly the Viking class never came... did it?
Want an easy problem that will lead to heated debates? The greatest sorcerer ever was wounded in his soul in the final fight. He now threatens to destroy the whole world because his power is too strong and out of control. The paladin has a sword in hand, and the sorcerer begs the paladin to save him, because he doesn't want to die. The sorcerer is also his best friend and a definitely Good character. Should the paladin kill the sorcerer?
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Reflavoring: the change of flavor without changing any mechanical part of the game, no matter how small, in order to fit the mechanics to an otherwise unsupported concept. Retexturing: the change of flavor (with at most minor mechanical adaptations) in order to effortlessly create support for a concept without inventing anything new. Houseruling: the change, either minor or major, of the mechanics in order to better reflect a certain aspect of the game, including adapting the rules to fit an otherwise unsupported concept. Homebrewing: the complete invention of something new that fits within the system in order to reflect an unsupported concept.
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I am curious because so many people say they had disputes about alignment interpretation.


I think the primary offender is the "paladin committing an 'evil' act to save the world" catch-22. Although it is very closely related to the concept of a paladin losing all his class powers if he breaks his code of conduct, the major issue is with the rules trying to quantify what "evil" is.

The basic setup is this: a demon lord has magically merged an evil artifact with an innocent 4 year old girl. The artifact is about to get activated, and in doing so will destroy the whole mulitverse. The only way to stop the artifact - and resulting destruction of all creation - is to kill the girl. It is too late for a ritual to stop the artifact, it is too late for divine intervention.

Is killing the girl a good act, yes or no? Is killing the girl an evil act, yes or no? Is letting the world get destroyed by inaction a good act, yes or no? Is letting the world get destroyed by inaction an evil act, yes or no?

Should the interpretation whether it is an evil or good or neutral act be different for a paladin of Sune (chaotic good FR goddess of love, beauty and compassion) and a paladin of Helm (lawful neutral FR god of law, strength and protection)?

~~~~

Another problem is that alignment is absolute and not situational. Imagine an evil sorceress being at home and playing with her two 5 and 3 year old children when the PCs stumble in and someone uses an ability to discern alignment. Does the sorceress register as evil in that situation, yes or no? Both decisions open a massive can of worms.

If she doesn't show up as evil, then alignment would be highly situational. Just like the evil sorceress wouldn't show up as evil while playing with her children, the paladin under a Dominate effect wouldn't register as lawful good while killing someone.
 
If she does show up as evil, then alignment is absolute and would never ever change regarding the circumstances. This would allow good/neutral characters to mask evil deeds with their lingering positive alignment. If Batman was a chaotic good character, he would still show up as chaotic good while burning down an orphanage and killing dozens of children.

Alignment being absolute also suggests the concept that the character is incapable of ever acting in any other way, especially when some mechanical consequences are attached to the alignment. An evil sorceress or an evil warlord is apparently completely unable to ever show love, compassion or mercy... because they are teh EVILZ111!!!. On the other hand, a paladin or good cleric are permanently stuck with a helper complex and never ever have bad temper or throw a fit because they are goody-two-shoes for life.

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One more thing is that the different alignments allow for little diversity and are not nearly as fine-grained as it was required. With the two-axis alignment system the egoistic bartender who cheats his customers and abuses his employees is the same "evil" as the megalomaniac necromancer who wants to kill everyone and become the new god of undeath. That just doesn't make any sense at all, since there are several orders of magnitude between these two characters.
I can't point you to the threads I've seen (I imagine they are in the "What's a _ to do?" forums or found via Yahoo/Google), but they all seemed to come from the question of "Whose judgement of Good and Evil does Alignment reflect? The DM's? The character's player's? The world setting's?" and "Are [insert race here] inherently evil, or just their culture?" and "Is _ action always Evil, or does context matter?"

The key events that set them off are "losing class abilities because of Alignment change" and "a paladin finds a bunch of kobold babies." I've seen one where the player just didn't want "Evil" written on their sheet.

The rare Law/Chaos debate is usually around "Is [insert TV character or PC], who follows his own rules separate from his society's laws, Chaotic (for disobeying the law of the land) or Lawful (for sticking to a code)?"

We'd do better with personal character mottos, I think; they'd be more concrete, less subjective among the group, and tell you more about the character. Those 3 things solve each problem above.



Wow, I am humbled by your post, in comparison I wrote so much to say so little...

I like the sound of Personal Mottos, I liked the idea of explaining the concept of a personal Ethos to the Players and provide advice on how to craft their own motivations. Personal Mottos seems like a very good idea IMHO.
The problem I have with it is that interesting characters, fictional or real life, are never easy to qualify as one alignment.  What alignment is Severus Snape? Robin hood? Julius Caesar? Batman?

And what makes them interesting is partly that they are hard to qualify in two words because they have complex motivations and results.  And interesting characters change over time and players shouldn't be punished for that.
An alignment dispute that comes to mind from a 3e campaign I ran was when my friend made a cleric he claimed was true neutral.  But from the beginning he did the following:

- He worshipped an evil god of disease.

- On the first session on the way to the first encounter he threw their mountain guide off a cliff in the middle of the night so there would be no chance the guide would reveal the party's location to anyone. He claimed his character did this because he was "paranoid", not "evil".

- One of the first things the character did in the first dungeon room they were in was take some helpless, emaciated starving orcs they found dying before they got there, tied them up and started throwing them into doors and onto floors to test for traps.  (Ultimately they found a trap this way, finally putting the two orcs out of their misery.)


That was just the first three things he did. Most of what he did he said was because of "paranoia", not because he was evil. I ruled that he was both paranoid AND evil, because he could easily have chosen to deal with his paranoid delusions in less evil ways, such as bribing the mountain guide for his silence, healing the orcs and asking them for help checking for traps (or even just using inanimate objects to check for traps), as well as maybe not loyally worshipping a deity that was clearly evil.  My ruling made a practical difference later on in the campaign when the party encountered certain alignment specific magical effects such as some wards they encountered that hurt evil creatures but let non-evil creatures pass through unscathed.

I think I've seen some other alignment disputes in various 2e and 3e games but it's been so long I can't remember the specifics. This one stood out though since we had some pretty lively discussion about it and the circumstances and character were kind of bizarre.



In the end it's this sort of thing that makes me think that alignment is a nice roleplaying tool but it shouldn't have gameplay effects. A characters alignment should simply be a handy guide for what a DM and player might expect the character to do in various situations, but in the end the player should decide how to play his character however he sees fit.
A couple from groups I no longer play with.

1.  A DMPC, to the surprise of no one in the group, turns out to be a necromancer hellbent on raising an army of the dead and slaying all the living to usher in a new age of Undeath.  The paladin's abilities, from detect evil to smite evil, do absolutely nothing, because the DM has written "Chaotic Neutral" in his notes for the necromancer, and something about how he wasn't evil because he was just trying to follow in another necromancer's footsteps, with the basic morality at play being "No matter how snidely whiplash you get, it isn't evil if you make up excuses."

 2.  A paladin discovers that the town the party is in is stifling under the oppression of very corrupt authorities.  The local lord, the guards, all of it.  He decides that the Lawful and Good thing to do is to make sure the King knows so that he can put an end to it.  However, the party decides gathering evidence first is the way to go, to make sure it doesn't all come down to one man's word against anothers.  Sure enough, the local authorities discover the party snooping and tell them to mind their own business.  Naturally, "Hey, stop getting us convicted of crimes" is not a sufficient moral argument, and the party persists for several sessions of rather fun intrigue.  Then the DM informs the paladin that his continued defiance of legal authorites has changed his alignment and he falls.

 
Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
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I think much of the problem stems from arbitrary alignment restrictions on classes and such. It makes no sense either in a realistic sense or a game sense most of the time.

Examples:
Barbarians have to be chaotic, because they are wild. Science and history, though, teach us that barbarians tribes often had complex and rigid societal structures.

Paladins are champions of an ideal or god, yet they have to be lawful good. Why can't they be champion of the balance(N), or a champion of freedom(CG), or a champion of pure good(NG), or a champion of pure law(LN), etc...

Monks must be lawful because they are very disciplined, but eastern monks are not bound by lots of dogma like western monks are. In fact, many eastern martial arts teach "the way of no way."(watch some Bruce Lee sometimes - maybe Game of Death where this is most prominent)

A great parallel to this was the 1E cavalier. His code of conduct specifically said that he could never retreat from battle, no matter the odds or lose his cavalier abilities. Boy, the situations that line of text created.

These issues are not as big for older players with experience and better critical thinking skills. For new, young players, though, these kind of rules create massive conflicts between players and against the DM.

I started playing D&D when I was 10(almost 30 years ago). Sadly, my group didn't have an experienced, older DM to shepherd us around. We had to do it ourselves. It caused massive problems within the group until we learned to just play around it. While the fluff was a good guide, the mechanics of it caused nothing but problems.

That's just my experience, though. 
For examples of alignment disputes, look up any ethical dilemma.  All alignment disputes bascially boil down to the subjectivity of ethics and morality, and, more importantly, how much people disagree on the subjects.  If countless philosphers, psychologists, theologists, scholars, and talk show hosts over the several thousand years of modern history haven't figured it out, it's doubtful that a group of five to eight poeple playing a game made for ages 12 and up are going to be able do much better.  And when such a disagreement causes a player to lose entire class features or drastically alter an othewise vialble character concept due to a risk of the former, alignment threads ensue.
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There's also the fact that alignment rules were horribly inconsistant by RAW.

Take poison in 3e. Poison was evil because, according to the Book of Epic Deeds, it causes undue suffering in the victim. Ok, put aside the fact that poisons could numb, paralyze, induce altered mental states, or even kill by methods that would not result in pain or discomfort. According to RAW, poison was an absolutely evil act. But, in the PHB, there's a spell, poison, that does not have the evil discriptor. Is it a trap, or is this the one time when poisoning isn't evil?

Eventually, the designers of 3e thought it was pretty dumb to limit poisons to non-good characters, so they created the questionable concept of positoxins. Just like poisons, but they're good for some reason!
A paladin attacks the town guards. The DM tells the player that all his paladin abilities are now lost. Nevermind that the town is ruled by an evil tyrant, because that tyrant is the legitimate authority in that town, those guards enforce the laws, and that player just broke the law.
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Alignment works well when you keep in mind that D&D is a fantasy game with absolutes of good and evil which aren't subject to moral equivocation or waxing philosophic on right and wrong.

If you're reading this there's a good chance you should be wearing a helmet, consequently I really can't bring myself to care about your opinion.
Alignment works well when you keep in mind that D&D is a fantasy game with absolutes of good and evil which aren't subject to moral equivocation or waxing philosophic on right and wrong.




The Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft all disagree with you.

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Alignment works well when you keep in mind that D&D is a fantasy game with absolutes of good and evil which aren't subject to moral equivocation or waxing philosophic on right and wrong.




The Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft all disagree with you.



No, pretty sure good and evil are pretty important in Ravenloft.

Not exactly sure how a group of campaign settings go about forming an opinion though. Is artificial intelligence one of the modules in D&D Next?

Anyone who can't manage alignment in a D&D game should stick to Monopoly.
If you're reading this there's a good chance you should be wearing a helmet, consequently I really can't bring myself to care about your opinion.
For more examples of alignment disputes, look up any alignment thread.  Or better yet, start one.  The guaranteed lack of consensus will speak for itself.
Thinking about creating a race for 4e? Make things a lil' easier on yourself by reading my Race Mechanic Creation Guide first.
The core always comes down to different people have different perspectives on what is Good and what is Evil.


For some Evil is the "mwahahahaha I'm am pure darkness" villain
For others it's not being willing to step up and stop the old lady from being mugged by a half dozen thugs.


For me Good and Evil is about Selflessness vs. Selfishness.  How often will you put your needs above others and where do you draw the line. While Lawful and Chaotic is about how hard you stick to the rules.

That is the basis that I use to judge alignment debates and my group knows that even if their own views are different.  We don't always agree in a lot of cases but it ultimately comes down to who is running the game at that time.
If alignment is so freaking absolute then you must have ever single answer Is it okay to kill the good aligned gaurd of an evil organization? Is it good to kill the evil gaurd of the good organization? can a good character use any tactic he wants to defeat an evil enemy? do babies (barring atropals and certain forms of sentient embryo demons) register as good or evil? Is neutral an actual force or is that balance dogma a smokescreen for maintaining the status quo? A real absolute reading of the elignment rules means that a paladin can operate only in the most wild and untamed lands because half of what even the total stick up their ass Lawful Good fanatic prickish Pallies get up to is illegal in most areas, and despite the fact that everyone else is ignoring the law the paladin is the only one who cannot. How is it more lawful to obey the paladin code vs. a warrior tribe's code? Is it okay to fight against a gaurdsman abusing his power over civilians even if he hasn't done anything ilegal yet? in some places it's ok for a noble to execute a peasant on a whim, which is more important to a pally? to be lawful and allow it or to be good and stop it? If the answer is neither then you have a problem because a class, especially a base class that only works when the DM decides to be nice isn't a class, it's a plot device.

In fact is I was an evil tyrant in this kind of scenario I'd make all sorts of little gotcha laws for paladins to ensure that they can't do anything to stop me because doing so would violate their lawful requirement. 
Alignment works well when you keep in mind that D&D is a fantasy game with absolutes of good and evil which aren't subject to moral equivocation or waxing philosophic on right and wrong.




The Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft all disagree with you.



Absolute alignment might as well exist, in a fantasy world or otherwise. But the human mind cannot grasp this concept, so the argument is moot. 
The sheer number of topics that create endless debates should speak for itself.
Alignment works well when you keep in mind that D&D is a fantasy game with absolutes of good and evil which aren't subject to moral equivocation or waxing philosophic on right and wrong.




The Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft all disagree with you.



Absolute alignment might as well exist, in a fantasy world or otherwise. But the human mind cannot grasp this concept, so the argument is moot. 


We cannot grasp Alignment's true form.
Thinking about creating a race for 4e? Make things a lil' easier on yourself by reading my Race Mechanic Creation Guide first.
Alignment works well when you keep in mind that D&D is a fantasy game with absolutes of good and evil which aren't subject to moral equivocation or waxing philosophic on right and wrong.




The Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft all disagree with you.



Absolute alignment might as well exist, in a fantasy world or otherwise. But the human mind cannot grasp this concept, so the argument is moot. 


We cannot grasp Alignment's true form.



Hahaha, you win, because I was thinking exactly that... And Giygas of course!
Well, for basic alignment 'disputes', class alignment restrictions made no sense.  Just because I play an instrument I can't have a code of honor I stick to?  Because I can control the weather I have to be neutral?  Because I fight with my fists I can't be freewheeling and capricious?  Nonsense in the highest degree.

As far as a 'big' alignment dispute, I played a Paladin once (once ...).  We travelled to a city, and I introduced myself to the guard by my name and title ('Holy Knight of (God of Honor and Justice)'), and via skill check, noticed he was acting kind of uncomfortable when I said that.  He hastily excused himself with an excuse only slightly better than 'I have kids in the oven and I need to pick up the cake from school', so I gave him the Pali-dar scan.

He pings positive.  So, I ... tell the party sneak that the man is acting suspicious, and if he would please follow him to see if he's up to something.

*POOF*  Powers gone.  Why?  Because I didn't smite on sight.  Cue argument about mercy being an integral part of justice, the punishment fitting the crime, lack of concrete evidence of wrongdoing, not knowing if what he's done warrants a smiting, attacking someone who IS a duly appointed law official ... nope.  "He's evil, you didn't kill him on sight, that makes you evil!"

Utter and complete bulldroppings.  I spent hours gutting alignment out of D&D after that, every spell, every class, every magic item.  I had never cared for alignment, but that proved how horribly designed and counterproductive it is to roleplaying and character and creative freedom.  4e hit it hard, but now we need to let it take its last swirl around the toilet before going down the pipes once and for all.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I really hope 5e keeps alignment as nothing but fluff.  It annoyed me looking at classes(like the pally and monk) in 3.5 and seeing an alignment requirement.  Screw that crap.  If I want to play a pally but have him sometimes do questionable things, break the rules, yada yada then that's what I want to do.  I don't want to be told that as a pally I have to be the most morally uptight member of the group.  Especially since most of our group functions on a more or less unaligned state of being.

All in all though alignment is and should be pointless.  People can choose how they want their characters to act without being told how they should do it.  In 3.5 my first character, a fighter, started off as lawful good.  I mean I was new and playing a good guy, so I was told this should be my alignment.  But then things came up in the game like how I couldn't steal(can't remember why I wanted to, but there was a good reason) and such for it and I was told that as lawful good I wouldn't be stealing and such acts.  So I went to just good or something like that(hated 3.5's 20 different, and pointless, alignments).

All in all for me at least when it comes to my characters I basically describe them as being good(except one evil character I failed at playing).  They'd probably all be more suited to unaligned, but whatever.  It really doesn't matter.  And that's how it should be.  The only time alignment should matters is if say your character is a good guy and you walk up to a random citizen and stab them.  Doing that is definitely an evil act and should then mean your character has decided to be evil(and one player in one of our games basically did this, with the whole group watching).  But that's all for the DM and in the end the only reason it matters is how other players and NPCs react to said character.  And that's based on their own personal moral code.

Hell, my first 4e character was an eladrin wizard, female who's whole town was razed by goblins.  It scarred her mentally and she has an absolute hatred for goblins and will do all she can to kill them if she sees them.  Now, she wasn't stupid and didn't just charge into a hord of goblins just to kill them.  But if she saw a goblin on the road she would more likely than note strike first and ask questions later.  It never came up that she came across a good goblin, but depending on the situation I'm not sure if I would just kill the goblin regardless or not.  In some eyes(especially goblin ones), her actions toward goblins would be considered evil.  But in all other aspects she was a good person. 
Well, for basic alignment 'disputes', class alignment restrictions made no sense.  Just because I play an instrument I can't have a code of honor I stick to?  Because I can control the weather I have to be neutral?  Because I fight with my fists I can't be freewheeling and capricious?  Nonsense in the highest degree.

As far as a 'big' alignment dispute, I played a Paladin once (once ...).  We travelled to a city, and I introduced myself to the guard by my name and title ('Holy Knight of (God of Honor and Justice)'), and via skill check, noticed he was acting kind of uncomfortable when I said that.  He hastily excused himself with an excuse only slightly better than 'I have kids in the oven and I need to pick up the cake from school', so I gave him the Pali-dar scan.

He pings positive.  So, I ... tell the party sneak that the man is acting suspicious, and if he would please follow him to see if he's up to something.

*POOF*  Powers gone.  Why?  Because I didn't smite on sight.  Cue argument about mercy being an integral part of justice, the punishment fitting the crime, lack of concrete evidence of wrongdoing, not knowing if what he's done warrants a smiting, attacking someone who IS a duly appointed law official ... nope.  "He's evil, you didn't kill him on sight, that makes you evil!"

Utter and complete bulldroppings.  I spent hours gutting alignment out of D&D after that, every spell, every class, every magic item.  I had never cared for alignment, but that proved how horribly designed and counterproductive it is to roleplaying and character and creative freedom.  4e hit it hard, but now we need to let it take its last swirl around the toilet before going down the pipes once and for all.



Sadly, you were more the victim of bad DMing than the alignment system, but this does demonstrate one of the problems with a mechanically tied alignment structure. New/young players and DMs that aren't very sophisticated read rules very concretely and take what they read to extremes. This lead to lots of problems in my group when the DM was 12 years old and had the philosophical sophistication of a jar of mayo.
 
Just to keep with the theme of the thread, an exemple of alignment discussion from my memory:

I was playing a thief, a NN rogue with an heavy detective specialization and kind of inspired by L of death note. My character at some point goes on a sort of rant, talking about the need of justice and how he is really committed to catch a criminal to see him behind the bars. The DM at this point freaks out and call me on the alignment, saying that this is a Legal Neutral thing and yadda yadda.

I counteracted by saying that for me he is NN, because while he believe in justice and pursues criminals, he is a "Ends justify the means" guy and he is willing to step on laws if he thinks it will help him catch a criminal.

Who was right? I sincerely don't know to this day. We both had our own reasons and, for us, they were the right interpretations of the alignments.
Turns out that the morals are a subjective thing, eh? 


Is killing the girl a good act, yes or no? Is killing the girl an evil act, yes or no? Is letting the world get destroyed by inaction a good act, yes or no? Is letting the world get destroyed by inaction an evil act, yes or no?




If you are going to use an alignment system then good and evil cannot be relative terms.     There is no such thing as moral relativism with an alignment system.     Most alignment disputes evolve from relativist arguments.     The actions alone must be separated and labeled and then compared to the characters alignment.   

Therefore killing the girl is an evil act.   

I think that in this case if the Paladin kills the girl he loses paladinhood and must face the consequences of his actions regardless of the greater good accomplished.   

It really isn't the best example because as a player I might try to first try expel the evil from the girl or banish it in some way.   Perhaps I put the girl into an eternal sleep until such time that I found a way to remove the evil trapped inside of her.    Killing the girl would realy be the last resort.  

The bigest problem with alignment are the bad DM's and players who don't understand it. 


People cannot even agree what alignment is - when asked (and I have on more than one occasion) they cannot even provide a common definition of why it is in the game and how it supposed to work.  The different editions also have differing perspectives on it.  Even given editions may directly contradict themselves on how certain elements of alignment-related rules are to be handled.  And THEN the individual alignments again lead to disagreements beyond number regarding how a character of X alignment can or should behave in a given circumstance, or when given a certain circumstance and a characters actions the question is asked, "What is this characters alignment?" for which every individual who responds seems to have a different notion of the "correct" answer.

Just about the only thing that can and should be agreed upon is that it is ultimately up to the DM to define and explain alignment - as it is handled in HIS campaign - to his players.  This discussion between DM and players should come FAR ahead of the time when the answers to important alignment behavioral questions actually arise.  The DM who waits until a player makes a choice in play which disagrees with the DM's notions of "how it should be" and THEN tries to explain and impose restrictions and penalties is in fact himself responsible for the player having insufficient basis to make his choices "correctly" and thus the player MUST not be held at fault for substituting his own definitions and perceptions instead.

Old School: It ain't what you play - it's how you play it.

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"Who says I can't?" "The man in the funny hat..."

Basically no one can agree on the rules for alignment so many people think it would be best to avoid them in the game. 

Let's look at batman for example.

You could argue that he is any of the non-evil alignments, and during some of his bad days even those are on the table.

Chaotic Neutral - driven by the death of his family he seeks a personal revenge on the criminal underworld
Chaotic good - realizing that the legal process in gotham has become as decayed as the rest of the city he sets out to clean the streets himself
neutral good - He works with the cops (when they let him) he avoids lethal force when possible, he turns his captives over to proper authorities, but knows that sometimes he's gotta fudge the rules a bit to accomplish anything
Lawful good -  He works with the cops (when they let him) he avoids lethal force when possible, he turns his captives over to proper authorities, and does his best to stay on the justice side of the justice/vengeance equation.
Lawful neutral - He crawls the city streets busting up low level crooks who often time don't have any way to support themselves in this corruption filled city adding to the physical and social burdens of the lower class gothomite, all because they are criminals and therfore it is perfectly alright to stomp them down anytime the step even a little out of line.
Neutral -  He spends his vas fortune improving his ability to fight crime while doing very little to help the average cop.

Ok batman's not a dnd character, but you get the point it's hard to tell a story with any complexity if you force people to rigidly adhere in every particular case to an ill-defined concept that is designed as a general description of your behavior.

Unless the designers are willing to spend a chapter's worth on alignment and how this edition deals with alignment conflicts it probably isn't a good idea to make a lot of the core rules depend on them too much.
Wow, I am humbled by your post, in comparison I wrote so much to say so little...

Thank you. I try for brevity.

I doubt that Alignment will require mechanical effect in 5e; 4e kept it in name-only for nostalgia, but having played 1-4e, I say nostalgia only applies to fond memories.

A second problem is that even a mechnically impotent Alignment doesn't well accomplish what people expect it to, hence my suggestion it be dropped entirely in favor of something that doesn't confuse new players and remind old players of past arguments. The 1991 Black Box had only Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutral, and "Detect Evil" indicated creatures who intended the caster harm and "Protection from Evil" affected any attacks made against the warded. It has been almost done before.
If you are going to use an alignment system then good and evil cannot be relative terms.     There is no such thing as moral relativism with an alignment system.     Most alignment disputes evolve from relativist arguments.     The actions alone must be separated and labeled and then compared to the characters alignment.


There's nothing relative about the question. It's only moral relativism if you're taking the point of view of the actor into account: i.e. it's not evil for Character A to kill the girl, because his society places the welfare of the community above the life of a single member, while it is evil for Character B, as his background cherishes individualism above all else. That's moral relativism.

But, the point of view of the character is not a factor here in determining the goodness or evilness of the act. Just the facts of the circumstances surrounding the action. As long as the result of your inquiry is true for ALL characters, then your position is morally absolute, regardless of how nuanced or exception-based it is. It's just not morally rigid.
The actions alone must be separated and labeled and then compared to the characters alignment.   

Therefore killing the girl is an evil act.   

I think that in this case if the Paladin kills the girl he loses paladinhood and must face the consequences of his actions regardless of the greater good accomplished.  



You are quick to conclude that killing the girl is an evil act.  Why? 

Which part was the evil part?  Even if we assumed to agree to use some brand of deontological, rather than some form of consequential, based ethics, you would still need to establish the rules you are using to make this moral judgement so that then can be applied to other cases.  Without such rules clearly and concretely defined, you can't have an action-based alignment system. 

So was it because the paladin killed?  A paladin is a trained warrior first and foremost.  His sword is not for decoration.  His calling is to kill, and he is divinely powered by the powers that be to do so far better than the average warrior.  A paladin that is forbidden to kill is a self-defeating paradox that cannot exist.

Was it because the paladin killed a child?  "There is nothing more pure and cruel than a child."  Are you prepared to rule that killing a child, no matter the circumstances, will always result in a paladin falling?  Even if the child possess a serious, credible, "adult-level" threat? Which, in a fantasy setting, is very possible.  What criteria does a person have to fulfill to be consider (not) a child in regards to the Paladin's powers?  Is childhood status determined by age, socially defined, or both?  Do those standards hold true for races with different development and lifespans, or different social designations?  And what about moral status of "children" of non-common races?  Especially those of "Always Evil" races, or those with different values than the common races.  Could a paladin kill goblin children and not fall, for example?  Or what about an evil dragon "child", which may very likely be stronger, older, wiser, and far more deadly than you are.

You didn't address the paladin's inaction either.  Since you are assuming the stance of action-based ethics, the paladin's inaction must also have moral weight as well, regardless of intent or outcome.  So if the paladin, in the position of stopping the end of the multiverse by cutting short one life, decides not to do so and instead let countless billions suffer and die (including the girl, unless she is no longer in the multiverse somehow when its destroyed), should the paladin fall then?  Is he or is he not responsible for the lives he could have saved?  Why or why not?

It really isn't the best example because as a player I might try to first try expel the evil from the girl or banish it in some way.   Perhaps I put the girl into an eternal sleep until such time that I found a way to remove the evil trapped inside of her.    Killing the girl would realy be the last resort.   



Searching for a 3rd option is always a worthy idea.

Ra-Tiel's hypothetical scenario already assumes that there is no time for a 3rd option:  "It is too late for a ritual to stop the artifact, it is too late for divine intervention."  So the scenario already assumes you are at your last resort.  Even assuming you are capable of doing so, there is no time to expel the evil.  There's no time to ask a wizard to research a spell that can put the girl into an eternal sleep - which would likely just put the girl to sleep, not stop the ritual.  You are already at the end game scenario, and you have no back-up saves. 

Which all goes back to my last set of questions above.  What is the moral value of the paladin's inaction.  If inaction is evil, then the paladin is doomed to fall one way or the other.  If inaction is not evil, then that would mean that the powers that be would rather the entire multiverse be destroyed - the end of all things - rather than have one of their paladins save it at the regrettable cost of a single life.

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Of course given that scenario even the most absolutist pallies would kill the girl. A paladin who falls can sometimes be redeemed, or use the gods being massive pricks and stripping his powers FOR SAVING THE MULTI-VERSE as justification to go blackgaurd. If the multi-verse goes ker-splodie then the lack of existance would generally be considered worse than a fall. 
Of course given that scenario even the most absolutist pallies would kill the girl. A paladin who falls can sometimes be redeemed, or use the gods being massive pricks and stripping his powers FOR SAVING THE MULTI-VERSE as justification to go blackgaurd. If the multi-verse goes ker-splodie then the lack of existance would generally be considered worse than a fall. 



That's a problem right there. What if I wanted to play a paladin? What if my character concept is a paladin who acts for the greater good above all else? Shouldn't I be able to play that character? Should I be punished because I play that character?
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Reflavoring: the change of flavor without changing any mechanical part of the game, no matter how small, in order to fit the mechanics to an otherwise unsupported concept. Retexturing: the change of flavor (with at most minor mechanical adaptations) in order to effortlessly create support for a concept without inventing anything new. Houseruling: the change, either minor or major, of the mechanics in order to better reflect a certain aspect of the game, including adapting the rules to fit an otherwise unsupported concept. Homebrewing: the complete invention of something new that fits within the system in order to reflect an unsupported concept.
Ideas for 5E
My rule would be based on roleplaying. If the paladin kills the girl without a second thought, it's an evil act: bye-bye, paladin powers. If he screams, curses his fate and weeps while killing her and afterwards, it is not evil, but he would feel like that and seek redemption anyway (which his deity would undoubtly grant, though maybe a good quest would be fine), or be consumed by bitterness and become a blackguard anyway. In the end, the act of killing the girl per se wouldn't be good or evil in my campaign, because there is no real choice about killing her or not (any good, neutral or evil person would do so out of self preservation), but how the deed is done, is worth examination.

My rule of thumb for individual actions is fixing the 'normal' thing to do (what most people are expected to do in the same situation), picture how good people wold behave better, how evil people would behave worse, how lawful people would behave in a more rigid way and how chaotic people would behave in a less restrained way.

My example for good and evil: the stone merchant. A stone merchant lives near a farm. The farmer, who is very poor, is afraid of an incoming kobold raid and needs stone to fortify the house walls. He can afford the stone and still have a little money, barely enough to eat and feed his family the rest of the year.
The neutral action (the action by default) would be selling him the stone at its normal price. If the merchant is good (or feels generous), he can cut his prices so the farmer can afford it without suffering more economical needs. If he is evil (or feels greedy), he will rise his prices, so the desperate farmer will still buy it to save most of his family, but surely some of his children will starve in the winter. Remember, if an evil character would receive a clear profit from a good action and no profit from an evil action, he will most surely do the good deed and there won't be a real choice.

My example for law and chaos: The same merchant is approached by a fellow merchant, who informs him that town X pays big prices for stone and proposes buying his wares to sell them across the forest, in town X, which is in a rival country which the merchant is forbidden to trade with.
The neutral action would be participating in this trade, which is not illegal per se, but is against the spirit of the law, and surely the authorities would see it as a traitorous act. The lawful action would be not to take part with it, and the chaotic action would be taking his stone and making the trip to town X to trade directly.

Some times there are only 2 possible actions, so you either do the good thing or not, or you either do the evil thing or not; or maybe there's no realistic choice and everyone would do the same thing. The paladin example above shows how I'd rule these situations.

Apart from ruling individual actions, there's the issue of character alignment. When a character goes constantly from a good to an evil action on a whim, he is either neutral or badly roleplayed. When he makes few good or evil choices, and mostly sticks to the 'normal' ones, he is also neutral (if on the occasions on which he does choose, he chooses always good or always evil, being good or evil depends on how often these choices come to the table: 5 good acts when the character lost 100 opportunities to be a good guy don't count a lot). Conversely, when most of his actions are good (or evil) and occasionally fails to behave as a good (or evil) guy, becoming neutral depends on how often the character failed to his principles.

Evil actions for good characters (and vice versa) are a bit trickier. As a rule of thumb, I can allow a tormented hero to commit a lone evil deed (or even a few, if the roleplaying is outstanding) once in a while, so long as it fits in character. The way the character copes with the action afterwards (like the pallie killing the girl) would be very important for me to decide whether to make him neutral. Conversely, an evil character with a soft spot can make good deeds without stopping being overall evil, but it depends mostly on roleplaying.

This said, this is about definition of the alignments. Their impact in the game is an entirely different matter.
Of course given that scenario even the most absolutist pallies would kill the girl. A paladin who falls can sometimes be redeemed, or use the gods being massive pricks and stripping his powers FOR SAVING THE MULTI-VERSE as justification to go blackgaurd. If the multi-verse goes ker-splodie then the lack of existance would generally be considered worse than a fall. 



That's a problem right there. What if I wanted to play a paladin? What if my character concept is a paladin who acts for the greater good above all else? Shouldn't I be able to play that character? Should I be punished because I play that character?



That's a by the book session of Dogs in the Vineyard :p

Sadly, a scenario impossible and/or unfun in D&D. The point is not if killing a children is an evil or good act. The problem is for who?
It's an evil act for the cultural background of the paladin? Maybe the paladin was raised in a society so cynical an practical that they don't see it as an evil act. The character, while resentful, understand that sometimes something must be done for the greater good. Though who decides when this is applicable? There is still the risk of arguing.
The point of view is on the player? Then the must decide when the paladin does something evil or good, everybody decide the alignment of his character absed on his own assumption, while it's something that work, it renders the alignment useless, an artifact of the past.
The point of view is on the DM? He decides when something is good or bad based on his own morals and his own (flawed, since he is a mere mortal) understanding of good and evil. He says that killing girl is an evil act, another players says no, the DM says "Shut up! I decide what is good and what is bad! I am a god!". The paladin must play the way that the DM thinks is the correct way, the player has no saying, the character has no saying, he has to adapt to the view of another person.

Those 3 variants are incompatible between then and every one of them is flawed at the core (expecially the third, that forces you to play the way that another person sees fit). I just use a rule of Dogs in the Vineyard: "Dont' play God (he has too many dice)".
As stated in another alignment thread:
 Subjective mechanics = bad mechanics
The easiest example is baby kobolds. The PCs are clearing a warren of kobolds that have been robbing the surrounding farmland blind. The PCs have cleared the first few trapfilled room of warriors, when suddenly they find themsaelves in a den of cowering children. What is the approperiate response? To make it more challenging. The party is a LG Paladin, a LG Samurai, a Cleric, a Barbarian, a LN Monk, and a CN Rogue.

There are so many different reasonable reactions that you can see where the disputes arise. 

Depending on the nature of Good/Evil Honor/Dishonor and Law/Chaos in the game, we  can see a variety of options for each of the PCs.

Paladin - If they are evil to the core by nature, the paladin is obligated to slay them. (unless the paladin is obligated to try anyway even if they know it is doomed to fail). If they are evil by nurture, the paladin is obligated to protect them, and ensure they are raised properly. (unless they have already been nurtured towards evil.) If they have already been raised to be evil, the paladin is obligated to slay them. (unless the paladin believes in punishment and bringing people back to a court system). Keep in mind the paladin, DM, and all nosey players all need to agree on all of these If/Unless responses. 

The Samurai - If they are cowering he may be required to force them into a fair fight. He may be required to slay them for cowardice. He may be required to protect them as they are weaker. He may have no obligations whatsoever.     

I'm not actually going to do them all but you see how it goes. The important part is, the DM, player who owns the PC, and players who are in the room all need to agree on everyone of these if/unless statements. (as do people who happen to overhear)  If they do not, there will be a debate. This can often times totally shock someone who has been using a different definition the entire game and invalidate their entire PC concept. This is why if you are including these systems you need to have this conversation before character generation, so no one is suprised that their paladin is in trouble because he attempted to bring baby kobolds to an orphanage.

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Also, consider (first film) Han Solo or Mal Reynolds.  They're not going to go looking for a chance to do good, they'll try not to get into a situation in which they're obliged to do good, but if they do find themselves, kicking and screaming, in a situation that calls on them to be Big Damn Heroes then Big Damn Heroes is what they'll be.
Good or neutral?
Hoard: may earn you gp; Horde: may earn you xp.
Of course, you can be actively good (champion of goodness) or passively good (Episode IV Han Solo). The same for Evil (a selfish person versus someone who wants to make the world a worse thing or plainly destroy it) or Neutral (unaligned or seeking Balance). Some gods should ask for their followers to be actively X while others would have other portfolios and be content with a passive alignment.

Of course, for divine characters and their allegiance to their gods, you can keep track of other alignments, like the nature/civilization axis, nonmagical/arcane or even fire/cold if your deity finds it important.
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