Player characters, NPCs, and monsters are not alone in having alignment. Since a kingdom is nothing but a collection of people, united in some fashion (by language, common interest, or fear, for example), it can have an overall alignment. The alignment of a barony, principality, or other small body is based on the attitude of the ruler and the alignment of the majority of the population.
The alignment of the ruler determines the nature of many of the laws of the land. Lawful good rulers usually try to protect their territory and do what's best for their subjects. Chaotic good rulers try to help people, but irregularly, being unwilling to enact sweeping legislation to correct a social ill.
At the same time, the enforcement of the laws and the attitudes found in the country come not from the ruler but the subjects. While a lawful good king issues decrees for the good of all, his lawful evil subjects could consider them inconveniences to work around. Bribery might become a standard method for doing business.
If the situation is reversed (a lawful evil king with mostly lawful good subjects), the kingdom becomes an unhappy place, filled with grumbling about the evil reign that plagues it. The king, in turn, resorts to severe measures to silence his critics, creating even more grumbling. The situation is similar to romantic portrayals of Norman England, with the good and true peasants struggling under the evil yoke of Prince John (as in Robin Hood and Ivanhoe).
The general alignment of an area is determined by the interaction between ruler and ruled. Where the ruler and the population are in harmony, the alignment tendency of the region is strong. When the two conflict, the attitudes of the people have the strongest effect, since the player characters most often deal with people at this level. However, the conflict between the two groups—subjects and lord—over alignment differences can create adventure.
Using Area Alignments
Using a general alignment for an area allows a quick assessment of the kind of treatment player characters can expect there. The following gives ideas for each alignment.
Lawful good: the people are generally honest, law-abiding, and helpful. They mean well (at least most of them do). They respect the law. As a rule, people don't walk around wearing armor and carrying weapons. Those who do are viewed with suspicion or as trouble-makers. Some societies tend to dislike adventurers, since they often bring trouble.
Lawful Neutral: The people are not only law-abiding, they are passionate creators of arcane bureaucracies. The tendency to organize and regulate everything easily gets out of control.
In large empires there are ministries, councils, commissions, departments, offices, and cabinets for everything. If the region attracts a lot of adventurers, there are special ministries, with their own special taxes and licenses, to deal with the problem. The people are not tremendously concerned with the effectiveness of the government, so long as it functions.
Lawful Evil: The government is marked by its severe laws, involving harsh punishments regardless of guilt or innocence. Laws are not intended to preserve justice so much as to maintain the status quo. Social class is crucial. Bribery and corruption are often ways of life. Adventurers, since they are outsiders who may be foreign agents, are viewed with great suspicion. Lawful evil kingdoms often find themselves quashing rebellions of oppressed peasants clamoring for humane treatment.
Neutral evil, neutral good, and true neutral: Areas dominated by these three alignments tend to adopt whatever government seems most expedient at the moment. A particular form of government lasts as long as the ruler or dynasty in power can maintain it. The people cooperate when it suits them—or, in the case of true neutrals, when the balance of forces must be preserved.
Such neutral territories often act as buffer states between lands of extreme alignment difference (for example, between a lawful good barony and a vile chaotic evil principality). They shift allegiance artfully to preserve their borders against the advances of both sides in a conflict.
Neutral evil countries tend to be benign (but not pleasant) dictatorships while neutral good countries are generally "enlightened" dictatorships. Transfers of power are usually marked by shifts in government, though these are often bloodless coups. There is a certain apathy about politics and government. Adventurers are treated the same as everyone else.
Chaotic Good: The people mean well and try to do right, but are hampered by a natural dislike of big government. Although there may be a single ruler, most communities are allowed to manage themselves, so long as their taxes are paid and they obey a few broad edicts. Such areas tend to have weak law enforcement organizations. A local sheriff, baron, or council may hire adventurers to fill the gap. Communities often take the law into their own hands when it seems necessary. Lands on the fringes of vast empires far from the capital tend to have this type of alignment.
Chaotic Neutral: There is no government. Anarchy is the rule. A stranger to such a town may feel as if he has ridden into a town of madmen.
Chaotic Evil: The people are ruled by, and live in fear of, those more powerful than themselves. Local government usually amounts to a series of strongarm bosses who obey the central government out of fear. People look for ways to gain power or keep the power they've got. Assassination is an accepted method of advancement, along with coups, conspiracies, and purges. Adventurers are often used as pawns in political power games, only to be eliminated when the adventurers themselves become a threat.
Varying Social Alignment
Within these alignments, of course, many other government types are possible. Furthermore, even within the same kingdom or empire, there may be areas of different alignment. The capital city, for example, where merchants and politicians congregate, may be much more lawful (or evil, etc.) than a remote farming community.
And alignment is only one pattern of social organization. Not every nation or barony is defined by its alignment. Other methods of describing a group of people can also be used—peaceful, warlike, barbaric, decadent, dictatorial, and civilized are all possible descriptions.
You need only look at the world today to see the variety of societies and cultures that abound in the realms of man. A good DM will sprinkle his campaign world with exotic cultures created from his own imagination or researched at the local library.
Alignment of Religions
General alignments also can be applied to religions. The beliefs and practices of the religion determine its alignment. A religion that espouses understanding, working in harmony with others, and good deeds is more than likely lawful good. those that stress the importance of individual perfection and purification are probably chaotic good.
It is expected that the priests of a religion will adhere to its alignment, since they are supposed to be living examples of these beliefs. Other followers of the religion need not adhere exactly to its alignment. If a person's alignment is very different from his religion's, however, a priest is certainly justified in wondering why that person adheres to a religion which is opposed to his beliefs and philosophy.