Alignment Meter (3.5e Variant Rule)
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Does alignment matter? If your characters are utilizing classes, spells, or powers based on alignment than it should matter. Too often players choose an alignment when they create a character, then they ultimately ignore it or directly oppose it for the remainder of a campaign. Alignment shifts are part of the game but they can be difficult to justify and it usually upsets the players. Right and wrong are often a point of view but it can take away from your game if your Lawful Good characters are running around murdering and pillaging everything in sight with no consideration for their actions.
By offering players a method to track their alignment progress, you can often defuse any dispute or drama. A commonly suggested concept is that a 100 point grid could be placed over the standard nine alignment map. With this grid both Good and Lawful alignments should be represented by high value scores above 75, meanwhile both Evil and Chaos should be represented by low value scores below 25. As a graph takes up to much room to chart, this system can be easily simplified by merely tracking two numbers. One score represents the vertical alignments of Good vs Evil and the other represents the horizontal alignments of Law vs Chaos. Personally I have attempted to track it using negative values with Zero being True Neutral, however players have shown more receptive of the 1 to 100 point method.
Whenever the character is given a moral choice, then how they react should adjust their alignment score slightly. Alignment points should only be adjusted when the character performs an “act” that can be defined as good, evil, chaotic, or lawful. Alignment represents a character's willful deeds more than their moral beliefs or intentions, thus a character should not be penalize for unintentional accidents, actions forced upon them, or actions performed based on the deception of a NPC. If an adjustment shifts a character score above or below 25 or 75 then it justifies a fundamental alignment shift.
These adjustments are minor giving the player ample time to correct their character's behavior towards their desired alignment. Depending on the outcome of the willful action compared to the character's current alignment, an alignment should change between 1 to 3 points, at most once per in-game or major interaction. "Opposing" actions take precedence, followed by "Avoiding" actions, and finally "Following" actions. The DM should select the most prevalent action per day, meaning that it is not a balancing act. A character should not be able to murder someone only to balance their ledger by offer starving orphans food, so to speak. The dominate act should represent the outstanding effect. Example; If a Lawful Neutral character willfully broke the law, then the action would subtract three points from their Law vs Chaos score. This is because Chaos is opposed by Law and Chaos decreases the score rather than raises it. If the character refused to brake the law then they would gain one point on their Law vs Chaos Score, because they were following their prominent alignment.
_____ Law vs Chaos & _____ Good vs Evil
1-25 Evil & Chaos / 26-74 Neutral / 75-100 Good & Law
Starting (15) (50) (85)
+/–1pt Actions that "Follow" a character’s alignment.
+/–2pt Actions that "Avoid" a character’s alignment.
+/–3pt Actions that "Oppose" a character’s alignment.
Unless an alignment is required by a starting class it is often best to start all new character off with a score of 50/50 = True Neutral and allow their actions to define their ultimate alignment.
Rules to determine the direction of an alignment adjustment.
1) When a character is given the opportunity to make a moral choice, each option needs to be broken into one of the three categories based on the character’s current alignment. The act either Followed, Avoided, or Opposed their current alignment.
— Normally characters are offered choices that either follow or oppose their alignment. In this case, simply follow the table listed below the meter. Lawful & Good choices result in positive changes whereas Chaos & Evil are negative, as represented in the above example.
— When a player is given two or more choices that can be considered within the same alignment, than one choice should be defined as the greater choice. Effectively which choice is the most Lawful, Good, Chaotic, or Evil? If these choices oppose the character's alignment than any lesser choice can be considered forced and thus it should not effect their alignment at all. However, if these choices are within the PCs alignment, consider a lesser choice as avoiding their alignment and adjust the score in the opposite direction of their current alignment. It is best to utilize this method for openly offered choices presented by the DM, because the characters should not be punished for failing to consider the "greatest" possible choice.
Keep in mind that abstaining to take action may sometimes be considered a moral act. Such inaction should be weighed carefully. Example; if slavery is legal in a land than opposing it can end up being more Chaotic than allowing it might be Evil. Also consider the treatment of the slaves. Some slave cultures award minimal rights to a slave and require that their master properly provide for them. Additionally the ultimate goals of a mission should be considered. Example; while infiltrating an enemy's stronghold, the act of avoiding detection may take priority over stopping current injustices, if the party's discovery could prevent them from achieving the mission goals.
2) When a character is within the neutral alignments, they cannot be deemed "Avoiding" or "Opposing" their alignment. (This is limited to the alignment axis that designates the character as neutral.) Thus any willful action only shifts their score by one point. Example; a Lawful Neutral character is neutral to the Good vs Evil axis of moral choices, however they may still be considered “avoiding" or "opposing" their alignment by performing a Chaotic act or making the lesser of two lawful choices, because they are still Lawfully aligned.
3) When a character makes a choice that can effect two different alignments, then they may choose which alignment they are basing the actions on if both paths are equal. Example; When a Chaotic Good character kills a helpless peasant by order of the king; was it do to Loyalty or Disregard of life? In this case only the player can define their character's motives. On either alignment axis the act opposed the Chaotic Good character's alignment, thus neither axis takes precedence over the other. All alignments are fundamentally equal, so Good vs Evil does not inherently supersede Law vs Chaos.
Optional Enforcement = Any score equal to 1 or 100 is considered as being on the wall. Any character within 5 points of a wall is an "extremist." Given the flexibility this meter offers the player, DM’s are urged to enforce = Extremists take – 4 to their saves to resist opposing alignment based effects and double the duration of harmful effects from alignment based magic or abilities. This should be limited to the opposing alignment(s) that have designated them as an extremist. Creatures with alignment [Subtype] should not be considered extremist as it is part of their nature.
Missions & Campaigns = Alignment adjustments should also be considered at the conclusion of each mission and campaign. Characters should not be penalized for failing a mission/campaign unless the failure was intentional, however, giving up on a mission within their ability may be considered a moral act of avoidance. Unlike normal alignment shifts, completing a mission and campaign objective usually only occur every few sessions, thus it is reasonable to adjustment both axises of the alignment chart at the same time. The DM may consider an outcome to be both Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Evil, or even Chaotic Evil. When this occurs evaluate each alignment shift independently.
Evaluating the mission/campaign outcome can be easy, but keep in mind each character’s conduct is their own. The decisions of the party and their successes do not always fully reflect each character. If a majority of the party supported the outcome that one more characters were reserved or opposed to, than those character represented their alignment under the circumstances. If a character strongly opposed a party decision than consider any "Opposing" alignment adjustments as if they were merely "Avoiding" their alignment, because they still aided in the completion of the mission/campaign.
[Subtype] Creature Exceptions = A subtype is the word in brackets like this = Medium outsider (Evil, Extraplanar, Lawful). Most creatures with a subtype have an alignment that matches. Player characters with such subtypes normally replaced these designations with the word (Native), which means "born on this planes" but not always. Native outsiders can be resurrected however non-natives are expelled from any plane other than their own. As we have learned in BoED & BoVD such creatures are compelled by their native planes, which is why it is not murder to smite a helpless demon, but this contradiction in morality is limited to only creatures with subtype. Example = Killing a baby Bugbear is an evil act considered the unnecessary murder of a innocent member of a savage race, much like when explorers or settlers killed American Indian or an Australian Aborigine.
Use of Subtype Magic = The use of alignment base magic with [subtype] can also shift an alignment, slightly. Example = Cloak of Chaos, Abjuration [Chaotic]. Casting "opposing" subtype spells can shift an alignment by one point in excess of the daily limit. The use of positive energy is normally a good act while the use of negative energy is normally an evil act, with the exception of using it against the inappropriate subtype creature. Summon or Calling a creature with a subtype is consider a [subtype] spell of the same alignment.
Note the following effects when using [Subtype] spells on [Subtype] creatures vs creatures of an opposing Alignment.
[Good] spell cast on a [Good] creature or an evil aligned creature are Good acts.
[Good] spell cast on an [Evil] creature are normally Evil acts.
The exception to this is if the [Good] spell had a negative effect on the [Evil] creature.
[Evil] spell cast on a [Good] creature or an evil aligned creature are Evil acts.
[Evil] spell cast on an [Evil] creature are normally Good acts.
The exception to this is if the [Evil] spell had a positive effect on the [Evil] creature.
[Lawful] spells are lawful acts regardless of who they are used on.
[Chaotic] spells are chaotic acts regardless of who they are used on.