This essay intends to set out a more coherent and less straight jacketing take on the alignments than the core book version. These guidelines for which alignment a character follows will be in play for Beholden.
"Evil" is a loaded term in the mouths of most sentients, and generally just means "he has goals opposed to what I believe is right." In some cases this is an accurate assessment of evil, but it misses the point. True Evil is not just disagreement and conflict, but disregard for others. Someone who is truly Evil has removed himself from society. This individual cares not one bit about others as people, but simply as tools to satisfy his own desires.
Some Evil individuals can quietly lead blameless lives, as their desires are easily filled and they go through life merely leaving behind a slight stain of selfishness on those around them. These people are generally thought of as jerks, true, but their own lack of vision limits them to wreaking little harm on those around them. Evil becomes dangerous in the hands of those with larger desires. These individuals have a lust for power, a greed for gold, or an envy of status that leads them to greater and greater depravities. Murder, theft, desecration, and rapine are acts taken when people or their ethics stand in between an Evil character and his desires. For the Evil, individual selfishness and personal satisfaction are far more important than anything else; Evil only stops when its desires are met or when it is afraid that filling one desire will result in personal harm or loss of another desire. Many Evil individuals can blend into civilization easily, willing to forego some of their desires in order to preserve life and freedom should others discover their debased ways. Yet, release them into a place without anyone more powerful to stop them and one can watch their behavior change immediately for the worst.
Good is just the opposite. A character whose morality bends towards the Good is more concerned with the needs of others than his own desires. Good characters will sacrifice their own safety, health, wealth, or goals almost without thinking in order to keep others from suffering unfairly. A Good character cares about others more than he cares about himself, and gains the greatest happiness by improving the lives around him.
Yet Good is a much harder path to walk than Evil. While a Good character wants to do what is best for others, he has no objective way of determining what this is. What helps or protects one group is often to the detriment of others, and Good characters frequently find themselves having to make hard decisions, or letting the ends justify the means. A life aligned to Good is often thankless, morally difficulty, and fraught with increasing expectations from those who don't understand the intentions of the hero.
Between these extremes sits Neutrality. Sometimes a principled rejection of either morality, Neutrality is more often the default state of a society. Neutral characters respect Good characters and have contempt for Evil characters, but cannot bring themselves to give that level of personal sacrifice to others. Neutral characters may screw over others to their own benefit, but will feel guilty about doing so, and will not do anything truly objectionable in cold blood, such as commit murder, even if it would bring no repercussions. Neutral characters may try to help others out because they feel it's expected, or for the thanks they receive, but will rarely engage in thankless pursuits simply because they're Good. Neutral characters may even risk their lives for others; yet if anyone but a friend or family member is so threatened, the character probably expects compensation for the action. Essentially, Neutral characters make up the bulk of society; they avoid doing Evil unless heavily pushed, but also don't engage in acts of pure Good very often.
More nebulous and generally less driving than Good and Evil, the conflict between Law and Chaos is, nonetheless, useful in understanding characters and the forces of the world. The difficulty with these concepts is that each relates a pair of distinct, yet related, behaviors.
Law is the description of order both personal and societal. A character referred to as "lawful" may be seen as either "a rational, predictable individual" or "in favor of a government with laws." And, in general, many individuals of a sedate and logical mindset do tend to favor a similarly orderly civilization. Yet the two are not inextricably linked.
Chaos has the same problem on the other side of the coin. A "chaotic" character may be "irrational and unpredictable in actions" or "interested in anarchy as a state of society." Again, it is quite possible to pursue anarchy as a goal without being chaotic in one's actions.
The way to distinguish these conflicting lawful and chaotic individuals into their alignment with Law and Chaos is through comparison with the other part of the alignment. Characters who are Evil are less concerned with society than they are with their own actions, and so their alignment to Law or Chaos is defined by how rationally and logically they pursue their goals. Conversely, Good characters are more interested in society than in their own personal desires. Their pursuit of a strong or weak government is what affects their alignment to Law or Chaos, no matter how orderly or random their methods. Characters who are Neutral towards Good and Evil must strive doubly hard to maintain an alignment to Law or Chaos; they must support their choice in both personal and social life or default to True Neutrality.
Extended definitions of what Law and Chaos means across these ranges are included in the nine alignment write-ups below.
A strong proponent of civilization, a Lawful Good character believes that a powerful government and legal base is the best way to protect the people and see them prosper. In this character's beliefs, anarchy allows small Evil to practice its depravity unwatched and unchecked and more powerful Evil to dominate others and amass power by fear, tainting innocents if they want to survive. Only a strong government with uncorrupt police, unbiased courts, and just laws is sufficient to protect those that cannot protect themselves. A justiciar tends to try to reform an evil society from within if it already has laws and to get the good and the innocent to organize when faced with an anarchic evil. Justiciars tend to resent Lawful Evil characters for their corruption of governments, but leave them unmolested if they keep their selfishness checked by fair laws. Likewise, justiciars disagree with Chaotic Good characters, but can accept, with reluctance, anarchic societies that seem untainted by evil. The true wrath of justiciars is reserved for Chaotic Evil individuals that would fragment and destroy societies in order to more easily dominate and harm their populace.
Lawful Good characters may behave in an orderly or random manner in their personal lives. Their adherence to Law comes from their utopian attempt at founding a perfect government, not their behavior.
Justiciars are in danger of losing Lawful alignment if they break laws for expediency. Even a seemingly unjust Law should be followed: if the justiciar doesn't set a good example, then others can lose their respect for laws and the justiciar is rendered a hypocrite. It is generally better that a society suffer under a few onerous laws, and work to change them from within, than to succumb to anarchy. Only when the need is utterly pressing, and all other options have been exhausted, should a justiciar knowingly break the law. Even then, he will feel guilty.
Justiciars are in danger of losing Good alignment if they let their personal desires drive them to harm others. Sometimes the quest for Law may lead to some difficulty, and it is tempting to let the ends justify the means, but a justiciar always keeps in mind that his ultimate goal is to protect the innocent, not to forward his own agenda.
Neutral Good characters have seen the benefits and flaws of order and anarchy, and favor neither. The goal of a paragon is to promote Good over Evil no matter what flavor such Good will take. In some situations, say the paragons, Evil can be best contained and rendered harmless by strong laws and government. In other instances it is preferable to break laws and destroy governments rather than letting Evil use them to protect itself. A paragon's agenda is to work to the greater good as expediently as possible, but with an eye on leaving behind enough structure to maintain goodness after he is finished. Paragons are able to get along well with other Good or Neutral characters. They have true contempt for Evil characters in general, and will use whatever method is necessary to destroy their plots.
Paragons are in danger of losing Good alignment if they allow their personal desires to stop them from doing what seems to be best for others, particularly the innocent. They have the freedom to choose between Lawful and Chaotic solutions to problems, but the responsibility to make certain that this choice is the best, not simply the easiest.
To the Chaotic Good character, government, laws, and even civilization itself is a trap. Government and bureaucracies attract those that want power to tell others what to do and what not to do. The basic laws of living together are common sense, not the morass of contradictory statements that tend to spring up; when you tell people what not to do, specifically, then you have to tell them everything that they can't do. People become conditioned to only do the right thing if there's a law against doing the wrong thing. Inevitably, someone's going to find a law they disagree with, or are unable to avoid breaking, and suddenly all the other laws seem like little more than suggestions. A person raised to do good because of laws isn't really doing Good, and is easily tempted to do Evil when convinced that the laws don't apply to him.
To an unchained character, laws are, at best, simply needed at the beginning of a society, like a baby crawling before it can walk. These individuals believe that in general, if left to their own devices, people will form small but close-knit groupings. These anarchic groups will do what is best because it is right, not because someone made a law. Those that do Evil will be cast out for doing evil. In a society dominated by Law, Evil too often goes unchecked because Evil people don't do anything that is technically illegal, or don't get caught with enough evidence to punish them. Unchained characters refuse to follow any law that they feel isn't made with the greater good in mind, and actively seek to convince people to think and find Good for themselves. This causes some friction with Lawful Good characters, but the unchained rarely seek to cause too much disorder in a civilization that has well-meaning laws. The unchained are generally disgusted by Chaotic Evil characters, but will be reluctant to overthrow such a society if its citizens have chosen selfishness without fear or coercion, and don't seek to harm their neighbors. The true wrath of a Chaotic Good character is reserved for Lawful Evil individuals that pervert and corrupt laws for their own advantage and the detriment of others.
Chaotic Good characters may behave in an orderly or random manner in their personal lives. Their adherence to Chaos comes from their utopian attempt at founding a perfect anarchy, not their behavior.
The unchained are in danger of losing Chaotic alignment if they find themselves following or supporting unjust or unnecessary laws. The character must serve as an example of thinking for one's self and doing Good without coercion, or he becomes a hypocrite. A law that is curtailing an unchained's ability to do Good is probably limiting many other individuals in the same way, and by breaking it he shows that they can do the same. Only when breaking an unjust law would put others in greater danger than necessary should an unchained follow it. Even then, he will only do so grudgingly.
The unchained are in danger of losing Good alignment if they let their personal desires drive them to harm others. Sometimes the quest for Chaos may lead to some difficulty, and it is tempting to let the ends justify the means, but an unchained always keeps in mind that his ultimate goal is to protect the innocent, not to forward his own agenda.
The Lawful Neutral character is a big proponent of order. Lawful Good characters talk a good talk about the moral reasons for governments, but those can be ignored in the face of the overwhelming proof that Law just works really well. An organized city allows people to come together under mutually understood terms. People understand what is acceptable behavior and what is illegal, and danger and misunderstandings are eliminated as a result. Those that can't play well with others are arrested or exiled. This organized, controlled environment allows the character to regulate his behavior and pursue his long term goals without distraction. There's a subtle wonder in knowing that tomorrow is going to be basically the same as today. Arbiters are controlled and organized in everything they do, prizing efficiency and order above spontaneity. Some consider them boring, but these same people are generally amazed at the sheer amount that they get done. Some consider them heartless, but Arbiters generally don't ever do anything truly selfish, even if they never do anything out of true philanthropy.
Arbiters are in danger of losing their Lawful alignment if they allow criminality or disorder to taint their attitudes. An orderly country and an orderly mind are their guiding principles. They can sometimes allow themselves to give in to spontaneous fun, if pushed by friends and they have no projects that will be interrupted. They would enjoy it more if it was structured. Breaking laws, even minor ones, upsets their entire day. If they don't follow the law then no one has to, and then their entire worldview breaks down. Only in direst need will an Arbiter break a law, and then with great trepidation and guilt.
The ultimate traveler, True Neutral characters are at home almost anywhere that they can feel safe. Pragmatists have no firm bias towards government or anarchy, and are fine with either as long as they're not hurt by the process. Their lives are lived either with order or spontaneity, as they need, and they can switch back and forth with little lead time. Some pragmatists prefer governments and laws but are erratic in their personal lives. Conversely, some pragmatists prefer anarchy as a concept, but tend to live their lives with too much regulation to really fit in completely. Pragmatists tend to have a pretty strong set of ethics that keeps them from doing anything especially despicable. They never seem to muster the self-denial to practice true heroics, though. When a pragmatist is around, what needs to be done gets done, even if it requires moral choices at which others balk.
Every word and deed from a Chaotic Neutral character is with the goal of personal freedom in mind. They don't like others to tell them what to do. Hell, they don't even like to make long-term enough plans that it's like their past-self telling them what to do. Nobody except the anarchist, right now, can know what is best for the anarchist, right now. This is not to say that anarchists are stubbornly uncooperative; they have no problem at all working with others when their goals mesh. Those individuals just need to understand that the anarchist is an equal partner who is working with them because he wants to, not someone to be controlled or ordered about. Detractors like to think of anarchists as crazy people, but this is also far from the truth. They don't flit from thought to thought, or action to action, randomly; every project is followed as long as it is necessary or interesting unless a more important project interrupts it. This spontaneity allows anarchists to react to change without pause; they don't waste time complaining that things are different now, they just deal with the new situation. If the new situation curtails their freedom or reduces their safety, they'll do something about it. If the new situation isn't a threat, then they'll explore it and find its benefits far faster than others. Anarchists understand the importance of their own freedom, and so are greatly opposed to any action that curtails the freedom of others - especially the freedom to own their own property or live a safe life. That it harm none, do as thou wilt.
Anarchists are in danger of losing their Chaotic alignment if they allow themselves to be snared in laws or long-term obligations. These characters are slow to make a commitment to goals, friends, or lovers and even then will not avoid backing out should the situation change for the worst. If an anarchist follows a law he does so because it's what he would have done anyway, not because it was a law. Any anarchist coerced through force or fear into an action or imprisonment has been fundamentally insulted. Unless this enslavement is repaid by the one responsible, few anarchists have any compunctions about paying him back with interest. Anarchists avoid making complex or long-term plans; this is not because they're simple or stupid, but simply because they prefer to get the details and then improvise as they go.
Principled scum, Lawful Evil characters use orderly behavior and well-crafted plans to satisfy their desires. These characters have no compunctions about breaking laws if they can get away with it, but instead see their allegiance to Law as one of personal strategy. Any action by the mastermind is calculated, planned, and designed for maximum efficiency in personal gratification. Masterminds, though they have an orderly mind, really care very little for laws except as a tool to get what they want. They tend to do well in organized crime syndicates, where the only rules are ones designed to use planning to maximize the desires of the members at the expense of anyone else. For masterminds, love is a rare and nebulous concept that is best nailed down, watched, and then discarded when it is no longer useful. These characters will betray anyone should their meticulous reasoning find a benefit in doing so. If the person betrayed was a loved one, the mastermind might feel a slight twinge of guilt.
Masterminds are in danger of losing Lawful alignment if they allow emotions to get in the way of a good plan. Everything the mastermind does is orderly, plotted, and as subtle as possible in the pursuit of achieving maximum personal satisfaction. Laws are useful, especially if they can be manipulated, because many people will ignore Evil if it's legal. As soon as the mastermind's complex plans see a way to bypass the laws for a net benefit, though, they are discarded without compunction.
A character who is Neutral Evil does anything necessary for personal desires. They have no compunctions about making complex plans or flying into a murderous rage. They use whatever tools are available to destroy anything in the way of their personal goals. They can utilize either plots or brutality to reach these ends. Unfortunately, this freedom leaves them without a single principle. Some Good characters may try to reform a mastermind or feel respect for a beast, but nobody likes an opportunist. Even other Evil characters hesitate to work with an opportunist, since there's no telling what methods his twisted mind will use to pursue his goals. It's a hard life, but one full of opportunity.
The monster under the bed, the creature in the wilderness, and the storm in the desert, Chaotic Evil characters are the greatest threat to society. Like a horde of locusts, they roll over a land taking anything they want and leaving only ashes behind. Few understand how seemingly anarchic monsters manage to so easily band together into much larger threats. The secret is that for beasts, Chaos is only behavior, not philosophy. Unlike the anarchists, beasts have no compunctions about dominating others and no moral outrage about being enslaved themselves. For the beast, the strongest leads and those he controls attempt to overthrow him if their own needs aren't met. A powerful leader can convince his underlings that their strongest need is for him not to kill them. Like the anarchists, beasts react well to surprises but don't engage in forward planning to any great extent. A group of beasts will come together, the strongest will prove himself and take over directing the others, and they will move in search of their desires until stopped by an external force or internal squabbling. Too often this behavior gives others the impression that beasts are of animal-level intelligence. Beasts are usually only underestimated in such a way once. While these individuals don't like to plan very far ahead, they are quite capable of using wits and cunning when the situation calls for it. If necessary, they can focus on one task for quite some time. In general, the only way to drive off a beast is fear or death; attempting to reason with one merely gives him time to try out other ways of getting what he wants.
Beasts are in danger of losing their Chaotic alignment if they allow planning and caution to overcome their spontaneity as a way of life. Beasts do what they want, when they want unless someone stops them. They certainly aren't going to stop themselves.