Alignment plays an interesting role in some of our RPGs where as others ignore them. Depending on whom you ask, some gamers would do away with them completely were as others stick by them and argue that certain games effects are affected by or have an impact on a character's alignment. I suppose it does make certain things easier when you codify it.
When I first started playing AD&D the notion of choosing an alignment didn't really strike me as odd but that might have been because so many other things were a bit odd when I was creating my first character. Having been brought up on stories, mythology, movies, and comic books, I had a fair grasp of what was good and what was evil. By equal measure, I understood what was law and that chaos was the absence of law and pretty much an embracing of anarchy. Neutrality was just neutrality so none of this is something I gave much thought about.
It wasn't until years later that I did give it more consideration.
In classic D&D ... you have three alignments: Law, Chaos, and Neutrality with Law generally being associated with 'good' and Chaos being associated with 'evil' (but not always... good and evil are based on intent). With AD&D, more depth was added when ethics were separated from these original concepts Where you once had three alignments, you now had a total of nine which ranged from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil. These seemed to be more representative of many common archetypes though it feels a bit more 'cookie-cutter' to me.
A lot of this became a lot clearer to me once I read a lot more Moorcock -- the Eric series in particular. There you have the forces of Law in constant struggle with the forces of Chaos but are these strictly good or evil? To me, the Elric character is certainly of 'Chaos' but I wouldn't necessarily put him as evil. Of course, with Games Workshop... the forces of Chaos are universally twisted, warped, and evil. In fact, I've thought about doing away with alignment completely in my games, and other times I felt like just adopting the Law / Chaos dynamic instead. It certainly worked well enough in the past without over complicating matters. Is there another option?
A couple of games have tried to do something a bit different though usually this is centered on a cosmetic aspect of the game (the fluff) as opposed to a system. How the new Fellwater RPG handles this issue was very interesting. First, it's not a simple two sided argument of good or evil. These are more like 'world views' or philosophies and a much more detailed replacement for a conventional alignment system. In the game, the author refers to them as Sources. When I asked him about it, this is what he had to say:
The Source represents the character’s overall world view, as well as that which the supplies the character with her energy. It is comparable to D&D’s “alignment”, but it does not represent stations on a spectrum between good and evil. One could also compare the Sources to the “Roads” in Vampire. But the eight Roads described in Vampire are very specific models of good and evil: so specific they attach to specific clans in most cases. They aren't comprehensive world views. But the Sources in my game are comparable to the general world views of monotheism (divinity), pantheism and taoism (nature), the dharmic traditions (consciousness), and scientific rationalism (forces). The fifth source (emptiness) may be comparable to existentialism or nihilism, but it is a 'source' of my own creation for the sake of the game. I got the idea for the sources by reading books on the anthropology of religion, and the works of philosophers like Albert Schweitzer and Michael York, and of course my own life-long study of folklore and philosophy. My hope is that they will enrich people's gaming experience, but also enrich their thoughts about their own world views.
Now, some of these might seem a bit abstract at first but, to give an example from the text (a draft of the manuscript):
The intentionality of Divinity is order: whether this is the rational order of a just and fair society, or the oppressive order of a domineering state, or even the simple order of a clean house and well-organized garden.
By embedding a slightly more detailed philosophy to the character, it may help give a greater dimension to the character you are trying to portray as well as a better set of guidelines for their behaviors and responses.
Curious to know more about the Fellwater RPG? You can find out more by following the link HERE.