In my experience discussions regarding alignments can be divisive at the best of times, but this is something I’ve wondered about since I first started playing Dark Sun.
Is defiling inherently evil and preserving inherently good? I’m curious about people’s opinions regarding this issue. To take this conversation a step further does/should becoming a dragon or avangion have alignment restrictions or be regarded as inherently evil/good acts? This point in particular got me curious, especially given the different takes we’ve seen on Dragons and Avangions throughout the editions (some editions require noble acts from avangions, while others don’t, some are more human sacrifice focused on dragons, others just focus on life energy).
Personally I’m inclined to say that no, defiling and preserving by itself does not effect your alignment, but what you do with it does. For instance if we have a defiler that never learned about preserving and may not even know preserving exists, he may only cast spells when absolutely necessary. If he later learns about preserving, but remains a defiler because he considers the magic more powerful that is certainly questionable. However as long as he never uses the magic flippantly he’s not doing anything necessarily evil. Conversely a preserver may simply prefer using magic that doesn’t render the land he lives in uninhabitable as has an alignment as mutable as a mage from any other setting. These are both extreme examples, but I feel they illustrate my point nicely.
Dragons and Avangions are a much trickier issue. I believe their alignment will only be determined if the ritual to become a dragon or avangion requires acts of good or evil, which will depend on the edition of the game and whether or not the DM altered the rituals. But even if we’re being generous here and assuming a dragon doesn’t need to sacrifice sapient life and can just sacrifice hundreds if not thousands of animals, I sincerely doubt anyone on the path of defiler metamorphosis is a good person. Oronis of Kurn was an example of someone who was on the path of dragonhood and once he redeemed himself he stopped any further dragon rituals and instead somehow became an avangion instead (the transition between the two metamorphoses offers a fair few unanswered questions in its own right).
So even in the scenario that transforming into an avangion or dragon requires acts of good or evil I suspect that it might even be possible for an avangion or dragon to shift alignment and remain an avangion or dragon as long as they no longer advance down the metamorphosis. For instance a repentant sorcerer king may simply not know how to become an avangion or doesn’t wish to attract the suspiscions of his peers in attempting it. Or perhaps an avangion has grown jaded and places the perceived needs of Athas above the lives of its people.
This is just my own take from my experience running Dark Sun, let me know where you think alignment fits in if at all. Funny enough I’m inclined to say alignment doesn’t really matter in Dark Sun given the amoral nature of divine magic, but it does seem to pop into relevance occasionally.