Ensemble Game Night
The D&D Alignment system is intended to be an informative guide to aid in informing decisions about how your character may act and more specifically give a rough guide to what they believe and their general moral compass. It is not rigid, it is not intended to lock you into a way of behaving and has very little mechanical purpose. This means it can be changed if the morals and stance of the character is changed for some reason.
This is a helpful video discussing the topic:
To break it down a bit, Alignment has a 2 axis system there is Law vs Chaos and Good vs Evil. Both have a neutral point in the center.
LAW VS CHAOS
Lawful characters believe that there needs to be law, order, and rules in place. They are Pro-Civilization and Urbanization. They have a code of conduct and behavior which they follow rigorously ad/or they do their best to uphold the laws of their culture and the local area. They want to uphold order and discipline. Even a lawful evil character will not want to break the rules and laws, however they may enforce those rules and laws with extreme harshness. Most people fall into this category really. They try to obey the rules, laws and expectations of society on how they should behave and try not to upset the status quo.
Chaotic characters are, unsurprisingly, the opposite of lawful ones. They believe no one should tell them what to do, that everyone should be free to make their own choices and that rules and laws just get in the way. They will not heed authority just because. They may do so because it coincides with their interests at the time however. These are the rebels and activists on the side of good, and the raiders and bandits on the side of evil. They also tend to be the sort to prefer the wilderness and outdoors, as there is no civilization or established authority to try and lord over them.
GOOD VS EVIL
Good characters want to do the “right” thing. They want to help others because it is the right thing to do, not because they will get paid for it. They don’t inflict pain for no reason and get no pleasure from it and they don’t use torture to gain information. They don’t attack or kill innocent, helpless or unarmed people. Killing someone in self-defense is totally acceptable but once the person surrenders or is rendered helpless and unconscious then killing is generally considered evil. Some circumstances could change this but overall that is the case.
Evil characters are out for themselves. They do very little unless it aligns with their goals or benefits them in some way. They are the sort to leave a fight that is going poorly without a thought to their companions and only concerned about saving their own skin. They will torture others and use pain and fear as tools to obtain their goals. Torturing someone is evil, as you are harming a helpless and defenseless individual. Killing someone once they are helpless is evil. Inflicting pain for the fun of it is evil.
Neutrality in either of these scales means you are not directly influenced by one or the other. A neutral good character isn’t caught up in law and order or unbalancing the status quo but instead does what he feels is right regardless of laws, rules and expectations. A Lawful Neutral character is dedicated to law and order but is not concerned with if it is right or not. An orphan on the street stealing a loaf of bread to feed their family will be treated exactly the same as someone stealing the amulet of darkness to summon the world eater. They both broke the law and will be judged according to the law and not their intentions or circumstances.