What follows is for those of you interested in a deeper look at alignments. It all comes from D&D3.5 sources but it’s still relevant and reflects how I view alignments. And I’m the DM. So there.
Good and evil are not philosophical concepts in the D&D game. They are the forces that define the cosmos.
Alignment is a tool for developing your character’s identity. It is not a straitjacket for restricting your character. Each alignment represents a broad range of personality types or personal philosophies, so two lawful good characters can still be quite different from each other. In addition, few people are completely consistent. A lawful good character may have a greedy streak that occasionally tempts him to take something or hoard
something he has even if that’s not lawful or good behavior. People are also not consistent from day to day. A good character can lose his temper, a neutral character can be inspired to perform a noble act, and so on.
Choosing an alignment for your character means stating your intent to play that character a certain way. If your character acts in a way more appropriate to another alignment, the DM may decide that your character’s alignment has changed to match her actions.
Good characters and creatures protect innocent life. “Good” implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others.
Evil characters and creatures debase or destroy innocent life, whether for fun or profit. “Evil” implies hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master.
People who are neutral with respect to good and evil have compunctions against killing the innocent but lack the commitment to make sacrifices to protect or help others. Neutral people are committed to others by personal relationships. A neutral person may sacrifice himself to protect his family or even his homeland, but he would not do so for strangers who are not related to him.
Being good or evil can be a conscious choice, as with the paladin who attempts to live up to her ideals or the evil cleric who causes pain and terror to emulate his god. For most people, though, being good or evil is an attitude that one recognizes but does not choose. Being neutral on the good–evil axis usually represents a lack of commitment one way or the other, but for some it represents a positive commitment to a balanced view. While acknowledging that good and evil are objective states, not just opinions, these folk maintain that a balance between the two is the proper place for people, or at least for them.
“Law” implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability. On the downside, lawfulness can include close mindedness, reactionary adherence to tradition, judgmentalness, and a lack of adaptability. Those who consciously promote lawfulness say that only lawful behavior creates a society in which people can depend on each other and make the right decisions in full confidence that others will act as they should.
“Chaos” implies freedom, adaptability, and flexibility. On the downside, chaos can include recklessness, resentment toward legitimate authority, arbitrary actions, and irresponsibility. Those who promote chaotic behavior say that only unfettered personal
freedom allows people to express themselves fully and lets society benefit from the potential that its individuals have within them. Someone who is neutral with respect to law and chaos has a normal respect for authority and feels neither a compulsion to obey nor a compulsion to rebel. She is honest but can be tempted into lying or deceiving others.
Devotion to law or chaos may be a conscious choice, but more often it is a personality trait that is recognized rather than being chosen. Neutrality on the lawful–chaotic axis is usually simply a middle state, a state of not feeling compelled toward one side or the other. Some few such neutrals, however, espouse neutrality as superior to law or chaos, regarding each as an extreme with its own blind spots and drawbacks.
Lawful Good, “Crusader”: A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. She combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. She tells the truth, keeps her word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Alhandra, a paladin who fights evil without mercy and protects the innocent without hesitation, is lawful good. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion.
Neutral Good, “Benefactor”: A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates
but does not feel beholden to them. Jozan, a cleric who helps others according to their needs, is neutral good. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order.
Chaotic Good, “Rebel”: A chaotic good character acts as his conscience directs him with little regard for what others expect of him. He makes his own way, but he’s kind and
benevolent. He believes in goodness and right but has little use for laws and regulations. He hates it when people try to intimidate others and tell them what to do. He follows his own moral compass, which, although good, may not agree with that of society. Soverliss, a ranger who waylays the evil baron’s tax collectors, is chaotic good.
Chaotic good is the best alignment you can be because it combines a good heart with a free spirit.
Lawful Neutral, “Judge”: A lawful neutral character acts as law, tradition, or a personal code directs her. Order and organization are paramount to her. She may believe in personal order and live by a code or standard, or she may believe in order for all and favor a strong, organized government. Ember, a monk who follows her discipline without
being swayed either by the demands of those in need or by the temptations of evil, is lawful neutral. Lawful neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you are reliable and honorable without being a zealot.
Neutral, “Undecided”: A neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. She doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil—after all, she would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, she’s not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Mialee, a wizard who devotes herself to her art and is bored by the semantics of moral debate, is
neutral. Some neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. Neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act
naturally, without prejudice or compulsion.
Chaotic Neutral, “Free Spirit”: A chaotic neutral character follows his whims. He is an individualist first and last. He values his own liberty but doesn’t strive to protect others’ freedom. He avoids authority, resents restrictions, and challenges traditions. A chaotic
neutral character does not intentionally disrupt organizations as part of a campaign of anarchy. To do so, he would have to be motivated either by good (and a desire to
liberate others) or evil (and a desire to make those different from himself suffer). A chaotic neutral character may be unpredictable, but his behavior is not totally
random. He is not as likely to jump off a bridge as to cross it. Gimble, a bard who
wanders the land living by his wits, is chaotic neutral. Chaotic neutral is the best alignment you can be because it represents true freedom from both society’s restrictions and a do gooder’s zeal.
Lawful Evil, “Dominator”: A lawful evil villain methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about
tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He condemns others not according to their actions but
according to race, religion, homeland, or social rank. He is loath to break laws or promises. This reluctance comes partly from his nature and partly because he
depends on order to protect himself from those who oppose him on moral grounds. Some lawful evil villains have particular taboos, such as not killing in cold blood (but having underlings do it) or not letting children come to harm (if it can be helped). They imagine that these compunctions put them above unprincipled villains. The scheming
baron who expands his power and exploits his people is lawful evil. Some lawful evil people and creatures commit themselves to evil with a zeal like that of a crusader committed to good. Beyond being willing to hurt others for their own ends, they take pleasure in spreading evil as an end unto itself. They may also see doing evil as
part of a duty to an evil deity or master. Lawful evil is the most dangerous alignment because it represents methodical, intentional, and frequently successful evil.
Neutral Evil, “Malefactor”: A neutral evil villain does whatever she can get away with. She is out for herself, pure and simple. She sheds no tears for those she kills, whether for profit, sport, or convenience. She has no love of order and holds no illusion that
following laws, traditions, or codes would make her any better or more noble. On the other hand, she doesn’t have the restless nature or love of conflict that a chaotic evil villain has. The criminal who robs and murders to get what she wants is neutral evil.
Some neutral evil villains hold up evil as an ideal, committing evil for its own sake. Most often, such villains are devoted to evil deities or secret societies. Neutral evil is the most dangerous alignment because it represents pure evil without honor and without variation.
Chaotic Evil, “Destroyer”: A chaotic evil character does whatever his greed, hatred, and lust for destruction drive him to do. He is hot-tempered, vicious, arbitrarily violent, and unpredictable. If he is simply out for whatever he can get, he is ruthless and brutal. If he is committed to the spread of evil and chaos, he is even worse. Thankfully, his plans are haphazard, and any groups he joins or forms are poorly organized. Typically, chaotic evil people can be made to work together only by force, and their leader lasts only as long as he can thwart attempts to topple or assassinate him. The demented sorcerer pursuing mad schemes of vengeance and havoc is chaotic evil. Chaotic evil is the most dangerous alignment because it represents the destruction not only of beauty and life but also of the order on which beauty and life depend.