I have recently had to stop going to my Thursday night D&D group, as real life has intervened and I don’t have the time any more. Most recently we have been playing through the old 2nd edition Dragonlance adventures, which has caused occasional frustrations with certain members of the group, who hate playing lawful good characters (which many of the pre-gens are). I’m not going to discuss Lawful Good today, except to point out that many people confuse being Lawful Good with the paladin’s code of ethics; not all LG characters have to smite every evil thing they come across, whether it makes sense or not. Instead I am going to talk about Chaotic Neutral.
There is probably no more contentious alignment than Chaotic Neutral, and not without good reason. I imagine that everyone who has played D&D for any length of time, has probably encountered a player who uses the CN alignment as an excuse to act like an asshole. Sometimes this is because the player in question is just not suited to roleplaying in a group, but occasionally it is because the player has genuinely mis-interpreted what it means to be Chaotic Neutral.
Here are five key points that a lot of people forget when playing chaotic neutral characters badly:
1) Chaotic neutral characters don’t have to be insane – The book points out that “lunatics tend towards this alignment”, but that is very different from “this alignment is only for lunatics”.
2) Chaotic characters are not stupid – All characters, with the exception of those that are genuinely insane, have a sense of self preservation. A chaotic neutral character won’t do something recklessly dangerous or obviously stupid for no reason, just to “be chaotic”. To quote an often quoted maxim; a chaotic neutral character will not jump off a bridge as likely as cross it.
3) Chaotic characters will break the rules if it furthers their goals – The important think to note here is that they don’t break the rules for the sake of it. A chaotic neutral character will not break the rules if he gains nothing from doing so (and may even harm his reputation in the long run).
4) Neutral does not mean averaging out between good and evil – If you murder a defenseless peasant one day and save an orphanage the next, that doesn’t make you neutral… it makes you evil, with a concern for your reputation. A chaotic neutral character will not hurt innocent people if they can help it, though they might not go out of their way to aid them either.
5) Being chaotic neutral doesn’t mean you can’t have friends and people you care about (even being evil doesn’t necessarily prevent that) – Although a chaotic neutral character may have no reason to do something on moral grounds, they may be persuaded into it anyway to help out someone they care about.
With these five points in mind, there is nothing stopping a chaotic neutral character being a functioning member of a team, even a mainly good-aligned team; the trick is simply finding a suitable motivation that allows the character to go along with the others most of the time.