Except when it is.
Clerics are a good class to be in. You advance quick, you have decent HD (d6) and you get the best of both worlds - spell-casting and fighting. You can use all armors, there's no real disadvantage to blade vs. blunt and you can be assured of at least one chance at saving your own ass - Cure Light Wounds. You have access to ALL your level spells (assuming you're not a DM like me that makes the clerics go ask the gods for 3rd level and above spells...) unlike the poor mage that has to collect/amass libraries.
So where' the catch? Ah, you're subordinate to a deity(ies)/religion that might have its own agenda. Membership has its privileges and responsibilities.
I have two clerics of "the Light" that are 4th level. In OD&D terms, they're "heroes" and they are starting to gain a reputation of their own. (It also helps to have an annoying hireling who runs around proclaiming the grand stories of the "Mighty Mazlor" and "Amazing Alana"! The other players are cracking up now everytime "Isty" is hired to come along.) So they are cranking along... except now I'm starting to show them a new side to being a cleric... being responsible TO your ideals.
The Light is "lawful" in that it has rules, structure and believes in a code of conduct and morality. The good of mankind, the benefit of all, we're all in this together, kumbayah. No, really. It has a hierarchy but it also has people at the grassroots who really do believe and are trying to do the best they can. The people want to have some hope and after the Doom, "the Light" became the official religion of the Kingdom.
So now Mazlor and Alana are more than just joe-priests running around exploring dungeons and getting rich. The actions they do have consequences. The choices they make will affect more than just the party. The hirelings look to them (as they do the other 4th and above level players) as heroes, as bigger than life and they watch what they do. So do the deities. They're not high priests, but the choices they make can and will affect them.
So if the characters do something that I as the deity in question would not like, the clerics will face consequences. At this point, it was the "light" not giving Mazlor a 2nd level spell back for a couple of days. He'd not stood up to what was (in "the Light"'s opinion) a chaotic/evil act and so there was a small consequence.
Alignment won't be a huge DM hammer. It'll be reactive, but there will be reminders. This gave the players on Sunday a stage to really have a discussion on what was right (from their character's POV) and they thought hard about it and RP'ed it pretty good. I only asked "clerics, how do you feel about this" and now Mazlor/Alana are giving thought to actions - as they should be! They are heroes of the Light, they should be promoting what the Light is about. Benefits have costs.
It's still a fine wire and I want to avoid what Mazlor's player spelled out:
"But trying to restrict/penalize player actions very easily and frequently slips over the line into rigid stereotypes and/or a DM trying to dictate values.Trust me, buddy, neither do I. I won't stop players from doing things, nor do I have a "code of conduct/values" that everyone has to follow. If Mazlor wants to tie up helpless prisoners and brain them, I'm not going to stop him. If "the Light" disagrees with his actions/choices, he'll find out. If he goes over to the Dark Side, well, that's awesome as well and I'll have no problem with helping him adjust to his new world - but it will be his choices and his decisions, not mine. I won't use alignment as a limit, but I will use it as a consequence or reaction.
So far, I haven’t had problems with feeling handcuffed or being pigeonholed, but I’m a little bit apprehensive and I hope whatever you’re planning involving alignment isn’t going to change that.
For example, I liked how Phalleum and Averin have both served as heads of the local Temple of Light, but were totally different people with very different attitudes and philosophies towards the Marshall, other religions, etc.
That seems to fit well with me and it's something I'm going to continue to explore gently.