Some of these restrictions make sense when two assumptions about the spiritual universe both come into play in a campaign:
1) Certain kinds of magic, like a cleric's spells or a paladin's powers, are derived directly from God, gods or other divine powers;
2) Those divine powers themselves have a value-based alignment, and consciously uphold and represent it through the magic granted to mortals.
Break either one of those assumptions and alignment in a campaign can exist blind to behavior. But if a cleric by her behavior breaks her god's core values, it's only right that her god, if aware and in charge, should refuse to let sacred power be used by such a person.
|Cartoon by David Sipress, Boston Phoenix|
- Team alignment vs. alignment principles. Having defeated the orc lair, you are the custodian of three kneeling, disarmed cowards, their wretched females and puling young. Do you show mercy as a Good person should? Or slay them all, ruthlessly pursuing the agenda of Team Good against Team Evil? Perhaps you trot out a rationalization - "It is mercy to end their miserable existence!" How seriously should you take your principles in time of holy war? Is the survival of a great champion of Good (yourself) worth a little ethical slippage?
- Conflicting alignment principles. Looking back at the Schwartz value diagram, the three "self-transcendence" values that correspond to Good - benevolence, justice, and equality - often clash. Does a Good person spread benevolence equally, target it where it will do the most good, or give it to the most deserving? How much should justice, in a Good society, be merciful or harsh, when benevolence to a murderer is cruelty to the victim's family? And should a Lawful knight follow the traditions of his people, or the command of his reformist monarch?
- What does it mean to be Evil or Chaotic? Is an Evil character merely free to pursue her own selfish interests liberated from any concern for others? Or must she actively refuse to cooperate, actively commit acts of cruelty, even at the expense of the ambition and power she craves? Likewise, must a Chaotic character act crazy and stick it to the Man at every turn, or is that alignment merely about seeking personal freedom from obedience, conformity, and tradition?
- Do I follow my alignment at the expense of an enjoyable game? If the extreme answers to the above question are true, then what place does an Evil or Chaotic character have in a game that is best played in a cooperative spirit? For that matter, if a Good character is in a group with Neutrals who slay and pillage when expedient, doesn't ethics dictate that their ways part - or at least that the Good character should endlessly harangue and undermine the efforts of the party?
- What does it mean to be Neutral? Do you simply not care about alignment concerns, acting on a variety of motivations as it suits you? Do you have some minimal amount of compassion, setting you apart from Evil, but not enough to make you truly Good? Are you an opportunistic neutral, siding with the winning team? Or do you take an active part in ensuring alignment balance, siding with the losing team, and making sure to commit a carefully balanced schedule of Good, Evil, Lawful and Chaotic acts? Doesn't that last one make you kind of like the person who felt she had to sleep with men on even-numbered days and women on odd-numbered days in order to count as a bisexual?
I'll let the problems stand for a while, and next post, consider a number of ways they might be solved without completely throwing out the idea of divinely directed sacred magic.