Reckless Abandon LLC
The below is an excerpt from a google+ chat. i cannot find the post now or i would credit the author. I completely agreed with his views.
Alignments indicate what you’re capable of – your personal convictions, or lack thereof in some cases.
A Lawful Good paladin would likely argue that in many cases, the means are not justified by the ends; he builds his life, heart, and mind on the idea that law (holy law, personal law, civil law) are the guiding pillars of existence, and requires (at least of himself) that the journey is as pure as the good he strives for.
A Lawful Neutral character – say, a knight, magistrate, or sheriff – might believe in the strict order of things (the knight his codes and oaths, which guide his life; the magistrate and sheriff the laws of the land, which they put their trust in). For them, the means and the ends are one in the same: adherence to justice, code, honor, or law is the goal as well as the process. Not everyone, or not many are truly LN.
A Lawful Evil character is one who respects law and authority, but utilizes it to his own purposes. The corrupt robber-baron and the dark priest are good examples. To them, the ends do tend to justify the means; adherence to laws, statutes, and codes are a means to get ahead, to accomplish a goal. They manipulate and control to obtain what they want.
Lawful is a hard one, people generally don’t put that much thought into it. Very rarely are characters actually lawful; the purview of most adventurers is that they be flexible and a bit rebellious, many just breaking the mold.
Now walk down the Chaos line and you see instead of strict adherence, you see the trend of personal liberty.
Chaotic Good characters believe in pursuing the greater good on their own terms. Often, the ends do justify the means, though CG characters tend to determine for themselves what the means should be. Intentions are important! If a CG character intends to do good, then that is, perhaps, the most important justification. In my experience, most players in a good-aligned adventure are Chaotic Good: it’s the consummate Robin Hood complex: screw the law, forget restrictions, and I don’t care what anyone says: I think it’s right and I’m going to pursue it – and I’m probably going to do it my way.
Chaotic Neutral characters double down on the self determination aspect. CNs are in it for themselves – consummate bandits, pirates, vagabonds, thieves, mercenaries, gypsies – if the concept is “personal autonomy”, then you’re likely dealing with a CN. It’s not to say that they don’t care about anything; it just matters that they care about it; as long as it matters to them, it’s worth pursuing. Goals are often self-oriented or self-motivated: coin, fame, wanderlust, love, anger, vengeance – LN is “do what’s right because it’s right” whereas CN is “do what I want because I want it.”
Chaotic Evil is… a personal favorite when I see it done right. The ends always justify the means. If it benefits them and they care about it, they’ll likely pursue it, even at cost to others. Madmen, most malevolent monsters, murders, psycopaths, serial killers, and villainous masterminds are all well-portrayed by CE. They are most sincerely self-centered, but what differentiates them from CN is, CN wants what they want because it’s what they want, and they don’t need a reason; CE’s purview is darker, deeper, more – love turned to lust, fame turned to dominance, coin turned to greed, anger turned to hatred. In their mind, there’s only one law – “mine” – and one cause – “mine”. Most players in a good-aligned campaign will not play CE; even in an evil campaign, most CE players would be constantly on edge, manipulating and backstabbing each other to get the supreme edge.
_And of course, Neutral is it’s own tasty little flavor – people neglect Neutral because it seems “boring” to them, but I believe it gives plenty of latitude.
Neutral Good is straightforward: the pursuit is the greater good (whatever flavor the character takes can vary, but it’s always a suitably just and positive one). They have any number of positive and uplifting characteristics. It’s quite important to them that the mean and the end are both right: a sloppy, hazardous approach to a good result is as just as dangerous as a well-intentioned catastrophe. They’re “balanced” good.
True Neutral are easy. They do not believe in picking sides, are not moved overly much by personal desire, but neither trapped by rigid adherence to any one doctrine or belief, except perhaps neutrality and peace. They have a tendency to respect the natural order above all else, often believing in a sort of grand coexistence. TN’s rarely represent most players, but it’s possible: a monk that pursues inner peace and balance in the world; a druid who does not pursue the squabbles of man, but trusts in the circle of life and nature.
Neutral Evil is perhaps one of the most dangerous. A NE is single-minded and will do whatever is necessary to accomplish the task at hand. The ends justify the means. This does not mean that a NE character plunges head-first into a situation without thinking; rather, that he will consider all options and choose the one with the best outcome – the costs are likely irrelevant, especially if they’re not to himself. A single-minded master assassin or an alien bent on the death of humanity make for excellent examples of a well-balanced (and highly dangerous) NE character.
This is not to say that characters cannot act outside the purview of their alignments: some do. Repeatedly acting outside of one’s alignment causes a fulcrum shift over time, pushing the character closer to his new alignment. Anakin probably started out as a Chaotic Good character – best of intentions, preferred to live life by his own standards – and gradually ended up Lawful Evil after his descent into the Dark Side, with an adherence to the Emperor and the ways of the Sith. These are dramatic changes that represent not just character development, but character shift.