What is this guy? He's a Rilmani. Why don't you know about him? Because Rilmani are dumb.Go read Thomas' thoughts about Alignment in 5th Edition over at The Tower of Infinite Evil first before you read this post because originally this was just going to be a comment on that post before it got really long.
If I'm reading Thomas right, his argument is that he'd like "Unaligned" from 4E brought back and "Neutral" aka "True Neutral" ditched. Then most things would be "Unaligned" and only exceptional creatures/characters would align themselves with one of the big five, Good, Evil, Law, Chaos or Balance (Neutrality).
I'm on the record as not liking "Unaligned" as a player option for alignment, as I put it in a blog post a while back...
Playing an Unaligned character is tougher than it sounds, freedom from morality or a very flexible morality sounds like it should be easy to portray, but it can be tricky even for experienced players. Unfortunately, being “Unaligned” can often just be used as an excuse for your PC to indulge in Selfish Prickdom, especially if you don’t share goals and relationships with the other party members.But I do agree with Thomas that the idea of Neutral as seeking "balance" as really unworkable. That's part of no-one remembers the Rilmani from Planescape who sought to keep everything balanced, because unlike the Tanar'ri or Baatezu or Modrons or any number of other bizarrely named creatures dedicated to a single alignment and that is because the idea of seeking to maintain a cosmic balance is dumb. As Thomas puts it "I find it difficult to rationalize at times: someone who legitimately thinks we need to balance soup kitchens with a little mass murder now and then?". For my part, I always imagine that version of True Neutral as a zen-like druid who retreats further and further into the wilderness and seeks a balance only insofar as he is willing to fight both "good" and "evil" creatures to protect the wilderness.
I don't really like the idea of the PCs defaulting to "Unaligned" and only a few deciding to dedicate themselves to a Cosmic Alignment. I do see Thomas' point that it would make Alignment mechanically interesting again but I'd rather most D&D characters default to Good. Since most D&D games default to "Heroic" it makes the most sense to me to have the players default their characters to a flavor of good than Unaligned.
I've found running the D&D Next playtest that if I have most of my PCs as a flavor of "Good" lets them mostly ignore "Alignment" and just concentrate on being heroes. My Planescape group has a Chaotic Neutral Halfling Thief, but aside from that I think all the PCs in my D&D games are currently a flavor of Good. It's not a solution I'm entirely satisfied with, but alignment/morality is one of the hardest concepts to implement in an RPG. Trying to enforce Humanity/Roads/Paths in Vampire the Masquerade was always difficult as well, at least in my experience.
I'd like to use something more along the lines of Alignment from Dungeon World, where acting according to your alignment gives you a mechanical bonus in the form of XP but unfortunately the D&D XP system makes that difficult to implement. I'm toying around in my mind with some kind of "Story" or "Narrative" points that could be awarded separately from XP and fill that mechanical incentive for roleplaying that XP fills as a secondary feature in many games but I just can't quite figure out some of the details of how powerful or limited the points would be. And I'm also toying with an alternate XP system that would reduce D&D's hundreds and thousands of XP for a level down to 10's to allow for a different XP award/reward system but that also has not quite gelled in my mind.
For now, I think I just need to find non-mechanical ways to reward PCs for acting according to their alignment. Having good NPCs try to help/assist good PCs and so forth.
Another little disappointment with the Basic Rules is the brevity of their Alignment definitions. Here's "Good" from 4E.
Protecting the weak from those who would dominate or kill them is just the right thing to do. If you're a good character, you believe it is right to aid and protect those in need. You're not required to sacrifice yourself to help others or to completely ignore your own needs, but you might be asked to place other's needs above your own...in some cases, even if that means putting yourself in harm's way. In many ways, that's the essence of being a heroic adventurer: The people of the town can't defend themselves from the marauding goblins, so you descend into the dungeon-at significant personal risk-to put an end to the goblin raids.And it continues for two more paragraphs about that length. Compare that to all three flavors of "Good" from the 5E Basic Rules
Lawful good (LG) creatures can be counted on to do the right thing as expected by society. Gold dragons, paladins, and most dwarves are lawful good.
Neutral good (NG) folk do the best they can to help others according to their needs. Many celestials, some cloud giants, and most gnomes are neutral good.
Chaotic good (CG) creatures act as their conscience directs, with little regard for what others expect. Copper dragons, many elves, and unicorns are chaotic good.
Ignore danger to aid anotherEven the definition of Neutral from Dungeon World is more interesting than the "Do what you want, as long as it's not really Evil" selfishness of D&D neutrality/unaligned.
Lead others into righteous battle
Give up powers or riches for the greater good
Reveal a dangerous lie
Make an ally of someone powerfulThe Ideals included in 5E Basic background rules help flesh out the alignments and provide something closer to the Dungeon World alignments, like the 'Respect' Ideal of the Folk Hero.
Defeat a personally important foe
Learn a secret about an enemy
Uncover a hidden truth
Respect. People deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. (Good)
Most creatures that lack the capacity for rational thought do not have alignments—they are unaligned. Such a creature is incapable of making a moral or ethical choice and acts according to its bestial nature. Sharks are savage predators, for example, but they are not evil; they have no alignment.