So I’ve talked about how I think alignment should be allowed to affect mechanics. Another issue that comes up way too often is “How much action that doesn’t mesh with the alignment on the character’s sheet should be enough to force them to change their alignment.” The truth of the matter is that I think the answer is that you should never look at a player after an action and tell them their character has crossed a line and is now a different alignment. This doesn’t mean that I think players alignments should never be changed though. Let me explain.
If a player’s alignment is going to change, that should be the result of a conscious decision on the part of the player to change his alignment. I do not believe there is any single act that constitutes a shift in alignment. If a character takes a dark turn for a bit, murders a prisoner in cold blood, or gives in to the dark side then the only reason that should result in that person having to change their alignment is if the player says “Yeah, my character is going evil now.”
I know this is a point where a lot of GMs will disagree with me. For some reason that is, to me anyway, completely unfathomable, many GMs seem to want to find a reason to punish a player for acting out of their alignment. This comes up with Clerics sometimes, but it seems to actually be most common with Paladins. I could go on for days about the alignment related nightmares that come up when someone decides they want to play a Paladin, from players deciding that there’s something in the Paladins code about making everyone hate you to GMs deciding that there’s some rule of being a GM that if you have a Paladin they should be in constant danger of falling. In fact, maybe I will do that one day. Right now though, I’m just going to talk about the limited moral wiggle room that a Paladin has compared to other classes.
See, part of the reason I’m against Paladins being a core class is that they have so very little leeway role play wise. Unlike other cases where a character can be Lawful Good and have their moments where they do something shady or wicked for the purpose of the greater good, Paladins in a lot of cases have their hands tied and that tie is literally built into their class features. So the question is: what sort of slip-ups from the player should lead to their Paladin falling and losing their powers? How big does a mistake need to be for a player to suddenly be playing a warrior? My answer is that you should never, EVER, look at a player after an action and say “You fall.”
Note that this does not mean I think that a playing a Paladin shouldn’t come with the alignment restrictions. I believe, rather, that a Paladin should always be very aware of whether or not an action will lead to his fall. This means that when a player declares an action, if it violates the Paladins code, the GM should tell the player “You know this is something that will lead to you losing your powers, right?” The player should never, EVER be surprised that his character fell. This goes with clerics too.
Another thing before I close out. It’s important to remember that alignment is a combination of actions and motivations. The best intentions in the world don’t make genocide a good action, and giving to charity isn’t enough to make someone a good man if they do it for selfish reasons (like building a reputation). With that in mind, it is not incredibly rare for a good man to perform evil deeds in the name of trying to make the world a better place and this should be considered before even raising the question of whether or not a person should be changing their alignment.