OD&D offers the classic three alignment choices of Lawful, Chaotic and Neutral. Fine. So let's say you're a first-time player and you're trying to decide your alignment. You open up "Men and Magic" and look up the definitions of each one - but wait! - there IS NO definition! That's right folks. Nowhere in the LBBs is the definition of each alignment listed (that will have to wait for Holmes Basic).
There is, however, a chart that lists restrictions on alignment for all monsters and PCs. On this chart we learn that Men can be any alignment, Halflings can only be lawful, and Dwarves/Elves can be lawful or neutral. The moral of the story: if you want to be an evil S.O.B. then you need to be a human. By reading this chart, you could infer that baddies are chaotic and goodies are lawful - but again, no definition.
OD&D also introduces "divisional languages," which means alignment languages. If you speak the "wrong" alignment language in front of a foe of a different alignment, you are likely to be attacked. (PS: alignment languages suck so f'ing bad!! OK, that's out of my system).
Holmes introduces "Good" and "Evil" into alignment choices, so you now have 5 alignment choices for the first time (LG, CG, LE, CE and N). And now we have DEFINITIONS:
- Lawful characters act from a "highly regulated code of activity." It also says characters can keep their alignments secret except for LG characters whose code requires them to announce it to the world!
- Chaotic characters are unpredictable - "expect the unexpected!"
- Neutral characters are "motivated by self interest." Furthermore, they may "steal from their companions or betray them."
All five languages have an alignment tongue. Nothing new here.
For the first time, penalties are discussed. If a DM feels that a character has "begun to behave in a manner inconsistent with his declared alignment," he may penalize the PC with a loss of XP!
Interestingly, B/X goes back to the three alignment choices of OD&D (C, L, N). Each alignment has a language, but now the language is mostly comprised of "hand signals and body motions." We also learn that any time a PC changes alignment, he immediately forgets his old alignment language and learns the new one. Now I get that this is fantasy. I get that it's not supposed to be realistic. But seriously! C'MON!
In B/X, the three alignments are all give a pretty thorough explanation. I won't list them all out, but suffice it to say they are very much in line with what you would expect from lawful, chaotic and neutral. In general, the books states that lawful means good and chaotic means evil.
B/X continues with the concept of penalizing players who act outside of their alignment. If the DM feels the PC is not acting within his stated alignment, he may "suggest and alignment change" or impose some form of "punishment or penalty."
And then there was the alignment "bloat" of AD&D which offered no less than nine different alignment choices and listed some VERY harsh penalties for behaving out of alignment, such as level losses and loss of class abilities.
Again, I'm not satisfied with any of this. It feels like PCs get narrowly restricted in their choices and behaviors.