I've been asked to do a sample dungeon illustrating how dungeon shorthand works, and I really should do a follow-up anyways... But there are also a couple posts on other blogs I would like to respond to, including the great "setting vs. rules" debate. But I'll start today with a topic raised on Tenkar's Tavern today: using alignment in actual play. Or rather, I'm going to focus more on his example of all the difficulties in enforcing alignment with a group of people who disagree on what the alignments mean (when it's convenient for them...)
Specifically, I'm going to call out the use of the term "Lawful Stupid", a phrase I loathe. All the examples I've seen of so-called Lawful Stupid behavior involve players who clearly know what their choices are, and the consequences. And yet, they chose the action that didn't net them the biggest treasure haul or eliminated the threat! The fact that some people consider that "stupid" might be worth commentary. But more importantly, it makes it clear that the Lawful concept comes from a different cultural context, one where people worried about what others thought of them as much as they worried about material gain or personal survival. Sometimes, even more so.
But I'm not just harping about "kids these days". The thing about altruism and honor and other such concepts is that they assume people are actually going to react positively to noble sacrifices or restraining one's bloodlust and greed out of honor. But the way most GMs run the game, even the GMs who see Lawful Good in a positive light, is to assume that only wealth and personal survival matter. There's no chance that a Lawful character showing mercy, nobility or virtue is going to impress anyone.
There really ought to be a Virtuous Acts table, used whenever a Lawful character does something noble that would otherwise screw themselves over. Say, a 2d6 reaction roll, with these standard results:
Very Bad: Enemies take advantage of the fool's weakness.
Bad: No affect, other than what you'd expect.
Neutral: Enemies are rattled by the display of nobility and take a penalty on hostile actions.
Good: Enemies are impressed and show mercy or nobility themselves.
Very Good: Enemies are so impressed that they immediately cease hostilities.
... The idea being that the paladin who says, "I'll hold the bridge alone against these goblin hordes. Get everyone to safety!" now stands a chance of surviving, simply because the goblins will be awed. Any third-party non-combatants would join the Lawful character on a Good result, allowing for possible slave revolts triggered by a lone warrior's staunch defiance of the evil overlords.
There would, of course, be a similar table for Vile Acts, performed by Chaotics, which would strike fear into the hearts of enemies. Neutral characters would not roll on a table, unless they performed a Virtuous Act in front of a pure Lawful character or a Vile Act in front of a pure Chaotic (I'm thinking only supernaturals and clerics count as "pure"; most monsters and ordinary people with alignments wouldn't count.)
Pure Lawfuls are more impressed by Virtuous Acts performed by Lawfuls, and pure Chaotics are less moved: double the result for pure Lawful opponents, halve it for pure Chaotics.