Posted by: allhailthoon | May 5, 2010

Stuck in Neutral

We’ve done good. We’ve done evil (twice). Now it only seems right to round out the collection with a healthy dose of neutrality.

In a largely unrelated response to my post on good-aligned characters, Opinicus mentioned that he finds neutral characters to be the hardest to play because he tends to make them either essentially good or extremely evil. After re-reading his comment, one thing I noticed was that he said that he played neutral characters in order to be able to do whatever he wanted. I think it’s really that approach that is the source of his problem.

Before going into what makes a character neutral and what makes a neutral character interesting, I want to say something about playing alignments in general: I can see neutral or evil characters performing good acts much more easily than I can see good or neutral characters committing outright evil acts. It’s not hard to imagine an honorable villain saving a child or refusing to desecrate hallowed ground, but it’s nearly impossible to picture a paladin executing prisoners just to shut them up or burning down a village because they wouldn’t give him a place to stable his horse.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the matter.

Lawful neutral characters are supposed to put the law, or at least some strict code of conduct, above all else. Personally, I like to picture them as gritty cop drama type characters. I like to think that they started off good but years on the force left the disillusioned and bitter. Overall, they do more good than evil, but they also believe that the end justifies the means and are willing to beat, interrogate, and execute if it leads to getting the job done. There are plenty of other ways to do it to, like the bonded knight or the aging banker that values accounts more than kindness, but when in doubt, I like to look to Law and Order.

Unless you want to pursue the whole balance thing described in the rule book definition of neutral, which I personally don’t, true neutrality works well as either a sort of limited good or self-serving non-evil. A limited good character will probably come across as a great guy once you get to know him, but usually won’t go out of his way to help people outside of the inner circle. The self-serving non-evil character is even more limited  in what he will do to help others. He probably adventures for personal gain and will always save his own neck first. Both are capable of the occasional evil-ish or questionable act, but neither is likely to commit one without a good reason.

Chaotic neutral is definitely the most challenging to play without slipping into evil. By their nature, chaotic neutral characters do whatever they want, regardless of what law and society dictate. Again, I think it comes down to goals and personal limits. A chaotic neutral character might steal (I need this hat more than he does), lie (No, sir, I did not see where that man’s head went), and flout society’s strictures (Pay for twin hookers and they throw in the triplet for free! Who can pass up a bargain!), but they probably won’t kill without cause or steal from the needy.

Someone who isn’t evil isn’t going to go out of his way to cause harm. While people may be hurt by the chaotic neutral character’s actions, it isn’t likely that that was the original intention.



  1. Futurama:
    I guess we’ll never know what darkness in a man’s heart makes him go neutral…

    I mean, with somebody evil at least you know where you stand, but those damned dirty neutrals!

    WoW RPG Player’s Handbook:
    Note that a forsaken character does not have to be evil. An interesting character could be a forsaken adventurer, out to convince the world of his true neutrality.

    I think those sum up just how I feel about neutrals. It’s honestly a rare, rare character that I make and think, “Hmm…true neutral fits him!” At least since I stopped playing 2E druids, that is.

    • It wasn’t that I played a neutral character in order to do what ever I want, that’s just what I observed in others who chose neutral characters (usually when they were banded from playing evil). Whenever I play a neutral character, it’s because I either want to play a good character that sometimes does the wrong things for the right reasons (or vice versa), or an evil character that will do the frequent acts of good. Of course, most characters that I play intending to be evil, I’ll often make then neutral as I feel actual evil characters must have some sort of mental illness, see my post on evil for more on this. I usually assign an alignment to a character based on what I feel they fit into, not what I want to play them as. I have a hard time playing evil characters in Video Game RPGs, I have to keep reminding myself to take the asshole path. I guess I’m too much of a goodie goodie at heart.

      • It makes sense though that you don’t have to do too much to be considered evil. Plenty of famous serial killers have killed a lot less people than the average D&D character has after just a couple levels.

        Falling into what people consider evil isn’t that difficult, it’s just a matter of motivation and the way you go about doing things. Good, on the other hand, seems like it should be a proactive sort of thing.

        Neutral can mean you haven’t been bad enough to hit evil, but you probably don’t go out of your way to be good either.

        I could see most members of supposedly evil societies or races in fact falling into neutral. If everyone was a murderer and a criminal, society would fall apart. The neutral population doesn’t actively participate in the extreme evil and keeps the whole system running.

      • Agreed. The typical Evil-aligned organization or state is probably going to be mostly composed of Neutral members.

  2. Honestly, the very idea of an “evil-aligned organization” is faintly ludicrous from a real world perspective.

    Even in a fantasy setting, it takes some suspension of disbelief that people can say with a straight face, “Yes, I work as a lieutenant in the Dragon Army, we pillage and slaughter for the glory of Takhisis, goddess of evil. On my days off I generally spend them with my family and play yahtzee with my daughter. My eeevil daughter.”

    • I see nothing silly about Verminard and his vast legion of evil.

      Is someone gonna have to die in a dark room full of bats?

    • If you look at the history of warfare it seems pillage and slaughter in the name of your god is actually pretty typical. People just tend to sugarcoat it with funny little sayings like “to the victor go the spoils” and so on. What evil person from history didn’t have some fun little logic game to dress up their acts as good or even neutral ones? So if you were trying to make the Dragon Army more believable, your lieutenant would be either duped into thinking his acts were justified, or if he was aware of his own evilness he’d be trotting out some party line about how the world OWES it to Takhisis to be slaughtered and oppressed.

      • Villains in your mind must aim really low if they’re just trying to dress up their acts as neutral. I can just see Vauurm addressing his gathered minions with a rousing speech of, “I guess we’re alright!”

      • I was thinking of the villain from the Pirates movies. “It’s just good business.”

  3. Remember, Vauurm’s friend the king was too stupid to connect ancient red dragons with evil overlords, so Vauurm probably doesn’t have to work too hard at his PR campaign.

    • I guess he won’t be Dorian the Great any time soon.

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