Introduction: The System
Compared to D&D’s alignment system, the one employed in all Palladium products is seemingly simpler. It is a single-axis, or linear, alignment system. So it intertwines both legality and morality into a single spectrum. From “Good” to “Evil” it reads as follows:
The Good: Principled & Scrupulous;
The Selfish: Unprincipled & Anarchist;
The Evil: Aberrant, Miscreant, & Diabolic.
For those unfamiliar with the system I will try to offer some analogies for each alignment.
Principled: Correlates quite closely to “Lawful-Good” or at least “Neutral-Good” in D&D. This is the alignment for the goody-two-shoes type. Honesty, integrity, fairness and justice are held high, as well as respect for authority and a desire to work within the system – be it legal, civil, religious, etc. Examples include: a Paladin (D&D), Superman (comics), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (prequel trilogy).
Scrupulous: Is your “Neutral-Good” to “Chaotic-Good” alignment. This character puts “life and freedom above all else.” Very often a Scrupulous character will live by a moral code, but not as rigidly as the Principled character. The biggest distinction is in the Scrupulous character’s willingness to work outside the law. Examples include: Knight (D&D), Spider-Man (comics), Luke Skywalker.
The Palladium systems defines the Selfish category by stating, “Selfish characters (Unprincipled and Anarchist) are not necessarily evil, but they have their own best interests at heart and their opinions in mind above all others. These are the mercenaries, rogues, vigilantes and anti-heroes of the world.”
Unprincipled: Politically, an Unprincipled character would likely be a Libertarian (which makes the label “Unprincipled” a misnomer). They are sometimes schemers, but good at heart. This is closest to “Chaotic-Good” to “Chaotic-Neutral”. The first distinction being that while a Principled character will work within the law (only going around it when necessary), the Unprincipled character has an inherent distrust and disdain for all forms of authority and institutions, seeing them as intrinsically corrupt. They can be a team player, but it will always be on their own terms. Examples include: Rogue or Bard (D&D), Wolverine (comics), Han Solo.
Anarchist: Very self-centered, indulgent and impulsive. His motivations are entirely personal. Again, to quote Palladium, “The Anarchist is continually teetering between good and evil, rebelling against and bending the law to fit his needs.” Clearly “Chaotic” in regards to law, and “Neutral” in morality. Examples include: Rogue or Bard, The Punisher (on a good day), Lando Calrisian.
Aberrant: The first of the “Evil” alignments. Here the motivation is power. Aberrant has a lot in common with Anarchist, the difference is in the cruelty towards one’s enemies. Honor is important, though this is often corrupted in some way. The other value is loyalty – at least loyalty from his underlings. Perhaps “True Neutral” to “Lawful Evil” is the closest correlation to D&D. But if you’d prefer examples: a Devil (D&D), Magneto (comics), Darth Vader.
Miscreant: Here, we take another step up on the selfishness and megalomania scale. Personal pleasure, power, and wealth are the motives. “This character is a savage misanthrope out for himself” (Palladium). This character would fall somewhere in the “Neutral-Evil” to “Chaotic-Evil” range. My examples would be: King Kaius I (D&D Eberron), Lex Luthor (comics), Jabba the Hutt.
Diabolic: Finally, the lowest-of-the-low. This is as bad as it gets. Not necessarily random and crazy (but don’t exclude that either); they are just twisted. Any of the “Evil” alignments in D&D will work, so long as you put a “Very” in front of “Evil.” Examples: Orcus (D&D), Dr. Doom, Darkseid (comics), Emperor Palpatine.
So, how do these match up with the major Ethical Theories? How can those Theories inform how one portrays a character of a certain alignment?
The Good Alignments
With their emphasis on creating formal systems to govern all behavior, Natural Law Theory and Kant’s Categorical Imperative are very informative for a Principled character. The most difficult thing to role-play is at what point that character would step outside the law – be it the formal legal code, cultural norms, social convention, religious rule or his own code of conduct – in order to accomplish some “greater good.” This would force the character to articulate why and how said law is unjust or morally wrong/bad/evil, and then what course of action to undertake. This could in itself lead the character to grapple with Utilitarian methods and ideology; that is, the character may ask himself, “Do the ends justify the means?” Natural Law and Kant’s Imperative both say “No” to this question, for they look at the act itself, not the consequences.
The Scrupulous character would have less difficulty in making such a decision, but would still hold to the highest purpose of Natural Law, or the universality of the Categorical Imperative. It’s also possible to create a Scrupulous Utilitarian character. This may make it easier to skirt-the-law in search of doing the greater good.
The Selfish Alignments
Egoism and Hedonism begin to take root here. The character may aspire to some other ethic – whether Natural Law, Kant, Utilitarianism. He may even have a good personal code that he doesn’t require of others – thus making him an Individual Relativist. So here, it is how one mixes Egoism with some other ethic that defines the character’s morality.
The Evil Alignments
The Miscreant character could be a Egoist-Utilitarian or follow some twisted Natural Law theory. Here the question is to what degree of depravity and cruelty the character will stoop to achieve his goals. The best villains are those that adhere to some ethic – twisted though it may be. Imagine a villain who sees humanity as a blight upon nature, and while the loss of life is “bad,” preserving the environment is seen as a “greater good,” and so the villain justifies releasing some evil virus designed to kill all humans – except for himself and a chosen few. The key is that an evil character will always make exceptions for himself.
Moral depth will help make your character more “three-dimensional,” more fleshed-out. What motivates your character? How does he define “good” and “evil”? Why does he do the things he does? For those that want a deeper ROLE-playing experience these are the questions that need to be asked, not just at character creation, but every point along the way.
Thanks for reading! (Now I need to come up with a new topic…)