Erik at Tenkar’s Tavern asks if alignment is better left out of the game. I think the answer lies in how the game and campaigns deals with alignment along with the GMs understanding of how alignment works within said game and campaign that provide the answer.
Here was my reply to Tenkar’s Tavern commenting from my phone:
Alignment works well when it is defined as a general tendency or alliance and not a straight jacket for individual behavior. When there are few if any game mechanics that deal directly with alignment and and alignments are treated as something to impose it's un-fun. When mechanics support and give meaning to alignment choices and present themselves as a challenge to be mastered instead of avoided thegame is better.
Whether the game has 3 point, 5 point, or 9 point alignment is irrelevant if the DM and campaign don't support the relevance of the alignments. In AD&D the rules for alignment restricted access to classes and were a factor in measuring player performance as their. character and would have an impact on training costs, most DMs seem to have ignored this over the year So alignment had little relevance beyond "mother may I" to retain membership and advancement in a class.
Give alignment a wider and clearer role in a campaign and it is useful and campaign enriching.
To elaborate on the above: alignment is significant and useful if it means something in the campaign and provides a means for superior players to shine instead of begin used as a stick to punish wayward murder hobos.
Alignment as faction i pretty easy to understand you got the Lawful folks here and the Chaotic ones there: lets fight! The neutrals can be bought but are self-serving jerks. Not very complicated is it? That’s how alignment started out in RPG and it can still be applied today in just that fashion. If adhered to it is entirely useable and campaign shaping, players shouldn’t have a hard time dealing with it. Sure there might be silly things like the gods and all decent folk expect Lawful folk to keep to their promises, like the real world works ideally (if not in truth), its simple but it works. No one really trusts the neutral mercenaries and the others are the enemies.
Alignment as personal morality can work as well but when the GM starts telling someone the personal morality they are claiming and enacting don’t mesh up and hits them over the head with the consequences it can be troublesome as it is a a situation that is no longer personal. Alignment as personal morality should be a guideline not a straightjacket players should be rewarded for role-playing well when adhering to alignment ideals not flat out punished or told…no you can’t do that you are Lawful Good. Lawful Good isn’t Lawful Stupid, LG characters can steal, lie and murder but how they deal with the personal consequences is what should matter folk that turn themselves in to the authorities for their crimes are begin lawful, those seeking redemption of their sins are being lawful and good. A LG PC that kills in cold blood and is played as if troubled and seeking redemption for their crime is being played well not poorly, personal trials and tribulations are being played out and that’s excellent role-playing.
Alignment as cosmic force is a little trickier as it does present a degree of “mother may I” that some folks find distasteful. When alignment is a cosmic force it makes sense some folks get screwed over for certain decisions and there may be entities out there keeping score. When alignment is a cosmic force it needs to stay relatively impartial and game mechanics should support that with wider application of the cosmic force. Some spells in a campaign where alignment is a cosmic force work differently when cast by magicians of certain alignments or are entirely un-castable. Spells may impact folks of different alignments differently depending on inter-relations. PCs may drift between alignments based on their behavior or be forever cast in a mold to gain the benefits and damnations of alignment selection and as long as alignment matters in a tangible way alignment as cosmic force works.
Alignment as vague ethos gets a bit trickier, here alignment would deb predictive and possibly an means of identification but aside form some odd psychological reactions there should likely be few mechanics that function in regard to alignment. Players who constantly adhere to the ethos should likely gain a benefit for playing well but restrictions and judgements against those that deal with their professed alignments poorly are likely out of line. Sure lawful folk in a campaign where law is a loose ethos support groups and order and may be respect by other lawful folk but they are not bound to other lawful folk by more than explicit contract and actions. Alignment as vague ethos makes cackling evil or goodie-two-shoes benific good ridiculous factors to enforce and even have much mechanical impact outside social interaction within the game but again it has a place if the place is understood.
Leave out alignment if you just don’t want to bother but it is my opinion that if well understood by the GM and supported by game mechanics actually put to use consistently alignment can be a useful (but not absolutely required) tool in role playing games that offers the GM an ability to define the campaign and give players a means to identify the role of their PCs and gives players another way to shine within the game.