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It's clear that in the game of D&D, 'good' and 'evil' are objective. The 5th edition Player's Handbook gives a few small examples of alignment behaviour on page 122, such as:

Lawful Good (LG) creatures can be counted on to do the right thing as expected by society.

or

Neutral Evil (NE) is the alignment of those who do whatever they can get away with, without compassion or qualms.

These and other examples in the PHB suggest that helping others or 'following your conscience' are good acts, whereas theft and violence are evil acts. Thus, it seems 'good' is somewhat open to interpretation - it involves having a moral or civil 'conscience'.

Alignment gets another short mention in the chapter on spellcasting, in the sidebar on page 203:

Creating the undead through the use of necromancy spells such as animate dead is not a good act, and only evil casters use such spells frequently.

This is again a little unclear - by describing it as 'not good' it leaves both 'neutral' and 'evil' available, but goes on to say it's only used frequently by evil casters.

My question is, are there any other references, in particular more specific ones, to what constitutes a good or evil act in D&D 5th edition?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a quick reminder to users to put answers in the answer box. Especially on [alignment] questions, noodling in the comments tends to get out of hand quickly. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '16 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this question being asked from the PoV of a DM or from the PoV of a player, in terms of "a problem I am trying to solve" which answers will address? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 8 '16 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM “How do you judge” is a different question from “what, if anything, does the text literally say about this”, so I've reopened this as a not-duplicate. They're definitely related though! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '16 at 19:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast, it's being asked from a player PoV, the problem being that I don't really understand alignment and how it relates to roleplaying or dice rolling. I know it's a broad topic, and this was the most specific, objective thing I could ask to help me understand. \$\endgroup\$ – RichardJ Mar 12 '16 at 9:39
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You ask, can specific references be found as to what constitutes a good or evil act in 5e.

Ideals

Ideals are one area to look. In the PHB (p124) under ideals, it says:

Your ideals are the things that you believe in most strongly, the fundamental moral and thical principles that compel you to act as you do. Ideals encompass everything from your life goals to your core belief system.

That section goes on to list ideals for the various backgrounds. Many of the ideals are tagged with good, evil, lawful, or chaotic. I've listed the good and evil ones below.

Based on the descriptions, good is associated with beauty, charity, generosity, the greater good, and respect. Evil is associated with greed, mastery, might, power, and retribution. Although the items are generally more attitudes than specific acts, you can make some extrapolations based on the ideals.

Good ideals:

  • Charity. I always try to help those in need, no matter what the personal cost. (Good)
  • Charity. I distribute the money I acquire to the people who really need it. (Good)
  • Charity. I steal from the wealthy so that I can help people in need. (Good)
  • Beauty. When I perform, I make the world better than it was. (Good)
  • Respect. People deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. (Good)
  • Generosity. My talents were given to me so that I could use them to benefit the world. (Good)
  • Greater Good. My gifts are meant to be shared with all, not used for my own benefit. (Good)
  • Respect. Respect is due to me because of my position, but all people regardless of station deserve to be treated with dignity. (Good)
  • Greater Good. It is each person’s responsibility to make the most happiness for the whole tribe. (Good)
  • Beauty. What is beautiful points us beyond itself toward what is true. (Good)
  • Respect. The thing that keeps a ship together is mutual respect between captain and crew. (Good)
  • Greater Good. Our lot is to lay down our lives in defense of others. (Good)
  • Respect. All people, rich or poor, deserve respect. (Good)

Evil ideals:

  • Greed. I will do whatever it takes to become wealthy. (Evil)
  • Greed. I’m only in it for the money and fame. (Evil)
  • Might. If I become strong, I can take what I want—what I deserve. (Evil)
  • Greed. I’m only in it for the money. (Evil)
  • Power. Solitude and contemplation are paths toward mystical or magical power. (Evil)
  • Power. If I can attain more power, no one will tell me what to do. (Evil)
  • Might. The strongest are meant to rule. (Evil)
  • Power. Knowledge is the path to power and domination. (Evil)
  • Mastery. I’m a predator, and the other ships on the sea are my prey. (Evil)
  • Might. In life as in war, the stronger force wins. (Evil)
  • Retribution. The rich need to be shown what life and death are like in the gutters. (Evil)

Dragons

The descriptions in the Monster Manual describe the chromatic dragons as evil and the metallic dragons as good.

The chromatic dragons are described as aggressive, gluttonous, vain, powerful tyrants feared by all creatures, driven by greed, lust after treasure, greed colors their every scheme and plot, believe that the world's wealth belongs to them by right.

The metallic dragons are described as pretty much the opposite, as inclined to actively oppose tyranny, lend a helping hand in unseen ways, befriend a lost child, a wandering minstrel, or an innkeeper.

In particular silver dragons are described as:

Dragons of Virtue. Silver dragons believe that living a moral life involves doing good deeds and ensuring that one's actions cause no undeserved harm to other sentient beings. They don't take it upon themselves to root out evil, as gold and bronze dragons do, but they will gladly oppose creatures that dare to commit evil acts or harm the innocent.

Other Monster Manual Examples

There many more Monster Manual examples of good and evil creatures, particularly evil ones. Of interest might be the demon and devil entries, the hags, the incubi/succubi, and others.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was going to post a separate answer, but you've covered tons of great ground. I want to recommend adding that creatures the come from Positive planes are always good aligned, and Negative planes are always evil aligned. So for some creatures it has to do with their literal place of birth/creation. This is because the planes themselves have an alignment. DMG pg. 58 (Chapter 2, creating a multiverse, the outer planes). This goes further in depth to state that creatures with an opposite alignment to the plane feel extremely uncomfortable on these planes. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 8 '16 at 22:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ The positive and negative planes became outer planes in 5th edition? Huh. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 8 '16 at 23:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lino Frank Ciaralli - good ideas. I'll make some additions when I get a chance. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Mar 8 '16 at 23:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ No problem Jack. I would have posted it as my own answer, but I'd be copying and pasting yours. So it's just a recommendation to improve an already great answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 8 '16 at 23:43

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