Neutrality is a state of mind where you are not emotionally invested in the outcome. As for the alignment in roleplaying games (RPGs), neutrality means a few things as there’s many different ways to interpret it. This article series explores how a Neutral Alignment character should think and act to make playing them more fun for everyone involved including yourself as the player.
In this second installment of this three-part series, Jared Emanuel, explores the struggles and potential for growth that Neutral characters can experience. Remember, just because a player chooses one Alignment at the beginning of the campaign, does not mean that a character must stay in that zone. A player and a GM should feel comfortable talking about character growth.
Introduction: Stuck in the Middle? You’re Not Alone
Alignment can sometimes be a confusing topic for gamers, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into in the beginning. Some players are content with playing good or evil characters while others want more freedom of expression and creativity by choosing neutrals instead.
The Neutral is the most balanced alignment when it comes to moral decisions. Because they are open to new ideas, people and places, Neutrals are more tolerant than others. The flip side of that coin is that this makes them indecisive, stubborn and flexible. Realizing their faults will help a Neutral player understand how their character thinks.
Here we’ll explore why playing neutral is an excellent option if there isn’t yet an alignment that feels right for your character at first glance!
The Struggle is…Unreal?
In the realm of RPGs things can get pretty boring if there is not enough conflict to be had. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to only draw on a player’s inherent bias or desire for involvement in conflicts as this guide alone has three subjects that represent different biases and how their struggles might work within an RPG game with gods potentially meddling in mortal affairs. The first subject (True Neutral) does not mean they are free from direction, but instead means there may indeed be some sort of universe-wide bias against them!
The Struggle of the Lawful Neutral Hero: Truth vs. Lies
If a Lawful Good Hero is a “Knight in Shining Armor”, then the Lawful Neutral Hero is more akin to a “Scientist in a White Lab Coat”. The Laws of the Universe are governed by mostly observable phenomena. But, what happens when something incredible occurs that defies explanation? Getting to the heart of the matter, uncovering the Truth is the journey of the Lawful Neutral Hero.
Or, perhaps everything I said is the opposite! Perhaps, the Lawful Neutral Hero has a powerful delusion, where they would make any leap in illogic to preserve their worldview.
The Lawful Neutral Hero should have a desperate need to answer questions. The Lawful Neutral Hero will grow when they discover the Truth, or answer a question that desperately needs answering. They should change into any Alignment when they incorporate the revelation into their world view. Depending on the character’s attitude about the revelation may determine if they move towards Good, Evil or Chaos.
The Struggle of the Neutral-Neutral Hero: Fate vs. Free Will
The struggle of the Neutral-Neutral Hero is perhaps existence itself. How can any creature expect to go through life and not have an impact on those around them? The Hero, like it or not, is destined to be at the center of a great conflict. Is the Neutral Hero reluctant because they are scared of the consequences of their powers? Or fleeing from an awesome destiny? Or a nihilist desperate to not care about a universe that does care about them? There are many fun narratives to create, but at the end of them they must face the inevitable choice.
A Neutral Neutral Character ideally grows out of this box in any direction as the game progresses. They will easily grow as the game unfolds. The Hero will feel powerful when they are given a chance to challenge their destiny. Or perhaps they succumb to the whims of the gods and realize that they have been a part of something greater all along. Moments of empowerment or despair will determine if the character is more inclined to move towards Law, Chaos, Good or Evil.
The Struggle of the Chaotic Neutral Hero: Comedy vs. Tragedy
Life can be a cruel sick joke at times. A chaotic Neutral Hero recognizes the irony of that statement and is equally likely to do one of three things:
- Remedy the cruelty
- Get in on the joke
- Do nothing at all
One of the key themes in the Chaotic Neutral Hero story is that no one really knows what they’re doing or where things are going. For example, the Chaotic Neutral Hero, who has been tasked with guiding her people and story through a chaotic world, does not know how to do so herself and often perhaps relies on others for guidance.
In reality, I could keep counting on other acts of the Chaotic Neutral Hero, because down the path of infinity lies chaos, or does it? Another irony.
The Chaotic Neutral Hero straddles the line of joy and despair because the world can just be too much to bear at times. They don’t know if they should cry, scream or laugh about it. The Chaotic Neutral Hero observes many of the inconsistencies within the universe.
They observe the hypocrisy of gods and mortals; the delight that comes from pain and pleasure; the sorrow that can come from sweet love and memory. Without their fellow party members it would be too hard for them to navigate this chaotic universe alone.
The Chaotic Neutral Hero can grow when they find something stable to latch onto; or the opposite: delve too deeply into one of the many inconsistencies that surround them. Close friendships will nudge them into the direction of Good and Law, while bitter hardships may cause them approach the path of Evil. Discovering something they care about or willing to take seriously, will help them overcome the drama we call life and focus on other things.
Good and Evil are perhaps the easiest to understand, because they are often clearly defined by you as a GM. A player can shape a Neutral Hero into any of the three alignments played in two directions. They can do so primarily by making their decisions based on other characters around them and how they affect those characters emotionally.
The Lawful Hero is driven by their need to answer questions or discover truths about themselves and the world around them; they grow when those answers are revealed to them. Chaotic Neutral Heroes walk that thin line between comedy and tragedy with a healthy dose of irony thrown in for good measure. It’s easy to see why these two types of Neutral alignments could have trouble coexisting together at times, but if handled properly there’s plenty of opportunities for creativity on both sides. Stay tuned as I explore Good, Evil, Chaos!
If you’re looking for more insight into how characters behave or want some ideas about incorporating alignments within your system, I hope this article gave you plenty of inspiration!
About the Author
Jared Emanuel is a hobby enthusiast that loves high fantasy, science fiction, and everything in between.