It finally happened. The paladins in my game got into alignment trouble. It happened pretty much as pictured.

Here’s how it all went down. Somewhere deep down in the dungeon, the party cracked open a door to discover the standard darkened chamber full of ominous webbing. They stepped inside, held aloft their torches, and were summarily attacked by phase spiders. I made sure to point out how these things spoke to each other in a creepy, alien language. I even had them retreat to the ethereal plane after they’d been beaten. The paladins in question simply didn’t notice or care. They were fighting creepy spider monsters as the good gods intended. Never mind that these particular monsters failed to detect as evil.

Anywho, my players hadn’t committed any transgressions at this point. Sure they’d entered the home of neutrally aligned intelligent creatures with swords drawn, but they’re adventurers. That’s their job. The trouble came when it was time to loot the room.

There were all manner of interesting magical whatsits strung up in the webbing. Coins, wands, weapons, and gemstones were all there for the taking, and the PCs took ’em. However, there were also pulsating egg sacks in the webbing. Whenever the PCs came too close to these, one of the beaten phase spiders would partially emerge from the ethereal plane like a fish breaking the surface of still water. Again, my players failed to put one and one together. The party wizard, however, was getting ideas of his own.

“You know,” he said, “I bet those eggs would go for 50 gold apiece if we could find the right buyer.”

It was true. It said so right in the module. It also said that the spiders would fight to the death to defend their young, and that’s exactly what they did. The phase spiders were already pretty beat up from the first fight, and the goodly paladins made short work of the ethereal arachnids. They proceeded to cut down the egg sacks, throw them onto the treasure pile, and head for home.

So now that you know what happened, what say we put this sequence of events into perspective? A pair of paladins entered the home of neutrally aligned, intelligent creatures. They fought off a young wedded couple, took their stuff, and then noticed that there were babies in the room. Realizing that they could sell these babies for a fair price (as magical reagents, no less) they proceeded to kidnap them. When the beaten and bloody parents tried to defend their young, the paladins cut them down.

Now I’m not the kind of GM that tries to set up these situations. I may be evil, but saying “gotcha!” to the paladin always struck me as a dick move. Let the players decide what their characters will and will not do, you know? If the paladin is making an honest effort, I’d prefer not to tell a player what qualifies as good and evil. However, this bit of monster description was fresh in my mind, and I couldn’t let it slide: “Were phase spiders less horrifying and alien in appearance, they might find the allies they need to defeat the sinister xill among other races, but their monstrous forms and often overwhelming hunger make diplomacy difficult.” At some point, you’ve got to ask your paladin to adhere to a higher standard, you know?

Don’t worry. I didn’t make them fall for an honest mistake. I home-brewed a few deity specific penalties to let them know that their gods were displeased. I’ll ask for an atonement spell, figure out some kind of minor side quest, and move on with the adventure. However, I can’t shake the sense that I may have been unfair to my well-meaning paladins. They thought they were fighting giant spiders, you know?

Question of the day then: Have you ever seen a paladin fall? How did it happen? And more generally, how do you define good and evil acts at your table? Let’s hear it in the comments!