Non-pony content today. Flee now if you are not interested in a somewhat wandering exploration of a subject that is one of the oldest sources of arguments in Dungeons and Dragons. I absolutely guarantee that this post will do nothing to end any of those arguments.
Okay. Reading the book Dungeons & Dragons & Philosophy had me thinking about alignment. More specifically the ability for spells and magic talents to be able to detect alignment. My brain likes the idea of different magic physics for fantasy worlds, so something just clicked in my brain. What if alignment in D&D was something like radiation? Which isn’t all that good a metaphor but it works as a starting point. The main point is that alignment is a spectrum, not a binary chaos/law sort of thing. Which most reasonable people accept anyway. More specifically let’s say that your spot on the spectrum of good/evil and law/chaos changes over time in response to your actions. Yes, this is probably no big revelation for anyone who thinks about this sort of thing. My point is that in a fantasy world with spells that detect alignment, your actions actually build up energy inside you. A moral radiation, so to speak.
Do a good deed or think virtuous thoughts and ‘good’ energy is added to your soul. Likewise with evil actions and thoughts. Spend a lot of time following the rules, you become more lawful. Do a lot of thinking about how to avoid or get around rules and chaos permeates you. Most humans can build up a small but detectable alignment after just 2-3 decades. Though if a human does a lot of contradicting behavior it will cancel out to a unaligned state. The reason that archons, demons, ancient dragons, and the like are so strongly aligned is not due to any supernatural power. They simply live so long that centuries of dedication allow them to build up such intense levels of alignment energy that it becomes a central foundation of their existence.
The reason I like this system is that it allows traitors even in a world that has alignment detection. A few acts of evil do not undo a lifetime of good, from the perspective of the mystic physics we are talking about. As for Paladins and/or Clerics losing their powers due to alignment violation? That can be handled one of two ways. How I would do it is that divine class powers is a matter between the PC and their god. It’s not an alignment thing, it’s you pissed off your god and they took their gifts back. The other option would be that the divine powers are channeled from the source of alignment energy in your soul and if it gets reduced or tainted the PC just can’t channel through it anymore.
As for what actions and thoughts go with each alignment? Heck if I know. I’m not trying to define good/evil/law/chaos or anything. I wouldn’t worry too much about getting precise about such things. This isn’t meant to be a guideline for game mechanics or anything. Just a framework for thinking about how it works in a mystic-physics sense as underpinnings of a fantasy world.