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Something I’ve never gotten is that true neutral and unaligned seem to be the same in the long run. The only difference is that unaligned is for wild animals, and true neutral is for intelligent creatures - one being driven by instinct and the other by choice.

Similarities

  • Neither leans towards good or evil nor law vs. chaos
  • Both do what seems right at the time

Differences

  • The reasoning behind their action is the only one I can seem to find
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Questions about alignment tend not to work well in the stack format unless they’re about the raw mechanics. This will likely get closed as POB. \$\endgroup\$ – 40355 says Reinstate Monica Aug 21 at 22:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ This isn’t really opinion based it’s pretty factual. Asking where does x belong on the axis is opinion based. But this isn’t that. I’m asking what the difference between two seeming similar alignments are which isn’t opinion based. The first being morality and the second about how two things in a system are defined. \$\endgroup\$ – Mage in the Barrel Aug 21 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related on Can a PC be unaligned?. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 21 at 22:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @indigochild I don't think it's dupe, they're not asking if they can be, they're asking how it's different from True Neutral. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 21 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ While the morality angle may be subjective, this question can be addressed with mechanics. For example, if there are effects that apply to neutral-aligned creatures but not unaligned creatures, or vice versa. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Aug 21 at 23:01
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The reasoning behind their actions is what alignment means

You hit the nail on the head when you said

unaligned is wild animals and true neutral being for intelligent creatures.

Alignment is a choice (most of the time), it's a philosophy and world outlook that a creature capable of thinking uses to interact with the world.

Animals (and certain other things like oozes, aberrations, monstrosities, whatever) lack the intelligence to choose to follow their alignment, they just do. A wolf or a cow or a black pudding doesn't choose to eat things and it doesn't have internal reasoning for its actions, it just reacts based on instinct. They all are amoral (lacking morality).

Carcer pointed out that outsiders like Fiends and Celestials also cannot choose their alignment, it's intrinsic to what they are, but they can still choose their behavior based on their alignment, whereas an unaligned thing doesn't choose at all.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be precise, the text is also clear that for fiends and celestials, alignment is not a choice - they are what they are because it's fundamental to their nature. A devil is lawful evil by instinct and nature rather than by deliberate choice. The distinction is that the devil is smart enough to introspect and understand that its actions are lawful and evil, even if it doesn't have a real choice about behaving that way. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Aug 21 at 23:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Might be worth pointing out that outsiders that change alignment become something else entirely. Zariel as an example (p10 MTOF), outsiders like angels and devils lack a dual nature (soul and body) so their entire being changes if they "fall" or "rise" so to speak. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Aug 22 at 0:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ A devil can, in fact, upon introspection realize that they are a jerk and try to mend their ways. If they succeed however, they are no longer a devil. A devil that becomes chaotic becomes a demon, an angel that becomes evil becomes a devil, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Aug 22 at 8:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Then there was an article I read years ago that the Abyss was pseudo-sentient and that would mean that any "good" demons would serve only to instill more chaos as all the demons were extensions of the Abyss... but that goes down a really existential rabbit hole. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Aug 22 at 11:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you're missing the mark a bit with fiends and celestials. Historically celestials have been Good-aligned because they're literally made out of Good-alignment. Compare a regular badger against a celestial badger in 3.5. I don't believe this has changed for 5e (although alignment gets vaguer over time). I once wrote a lengthy answer about this for Pathfinder, which mostly applies to core D&D. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Aug 22 at 19:16
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Unaligned specifically describes the "alignment" of creatures that lack the intellectual capacity to understand morals and ethics, as the Basic Rules describes:

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.

What this is meant to convey is that a creature that lacks the capacity for moral reasoning can do things which would absolutely be considered evil (or good, or lawful or chaotic) actions, were it a creature with the capacity for moral reasoning, but that doesn't make it actually evil (or good, or chaotic or lawful).

To take an example from popular culture, the common domestic housecat has a reputation for apparent sadism and cruelty based on how it hunts and "plays with its food". Were the cat an intelligent creature who chose to act that way towards its prey, it could quite fairly be called evil; it effectively often tortures prey animals for no practical purpose. However, a cat is not capable of moral reasoning, and it is not reasonable to ascribe an alignment to it - the game makes this explicit by calling such creatures unaligned.

Being unaligned is not the same as being neutral, since being neutral describes an intelligent creature that takes an overall neutral moral/ethical stance, but an unaligned creature could display any manner of cruel, altruistic, random or ordered behaviour without that having any impact on its mechanical alignment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Heh, for beasts we used to have an ad hoc alignment: Hungry. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 22 at 17:27

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