Worlds of Design: Chaotic Neutral is the Worst

In my articles from the early 1980s I often characterized the typical D&Der as a hoodlum (hood). You may know them by many other names: ruffian, bully boy, bully, bandit, mugger, gangster, terrorist, gunman, murderer, killer, hitman, assassin, hooligan, vandal, and more. Has anything changed?


According to D&D Beyond, as reported by Morrus, the most popular alignment after Chaotic Good is Chaotic Neutral. I doubt the preponderance has changed much since the 80s; it might even be more common today in an Age of Instant Gratification thanks to the Internet. Even 40 years ago, most players wanted their characters to act like more or less Chaotic Neutral hoods, doing whatever they wanted but not responsible for what they did, able to act like hoodlums but not suffer the consequences of being of actual evil alignment. And they wanted to be called “Good” at the same time.

Fundamentally, this is a desire to avoid all constraints. Which is fairly natural for people, in general, though rarely attainable. But a game is an agreed set of constraints on behavior within the “magic circle” of the game. And some games have constraints that ought to affect the chaotic neutral character's behavior.

The typical hood wants to be able to do whatever he wants to, to other people. Occasionally killing one, or something just as evil, that’s OK as long as it isn’t excessive. In another context, I saw someone ask why so many people disliked a certain person as a liar, because after all he told the truth more often than he lied! That would be ideal standard for a hoodlum, but most people don’t see it that way. Key to this behavior is a desire to avoid responsibility, very common in the real world too - people wanting to do things without facing the consequences (taking responsibility).

The question is, how does “the game” see it? Taking D&D as the obvious example, we have alignment as a guide to behavior. The alignment system in D&D was designed (I think) to provide constraints on character behavior, so that games wouldn’t devolve into a bunch of murderers having their way with the game-world. Certain alignments have advantages in civilized society, some don’t. In uncivilized society, other alignments might be preferred. Chaotic Neutral (the alignment hoodlums gravitate to) should be a disadvantage in civilized contexts because it doesn’t include/condone permission to kill people whenever you feel like it (as long as you don’t do it often!). Yet that’s how players want to treat it. That’s Evil, and if you behave “evilly” you’re going to be in an Evil category, which makes you fair game for a lot of adventurers.

I’m not saying killing is necessarily evil, e.g. in wartime it’s expected that you kill the enemy if they won’t surrender. It’s the “senseless killing,” killing for sheer personal gain or enjoyment, that sets apart the hood (who wants to be called Chaotic Neutral, or better, Chaotic Good), and of course the “officially” Evil characters as well.

D&D GMs who feel that constraints make the game better, will enforce alignment and make clear to Chaotic Neutral types that they can easily slide into Evil alignment. Those who aren’t interested in constraints, will let the C/N types do just about everything they want to do without consequences. In other rule sets, who knows . . .

Of course, Your Mileage May Vary. If everyone wants to be a hood rather than a hero, and the GM is OK with that, so be it. It’s when you run into players who think (as I do) that these characters are the worst -- certainly, not someone you would want in your party! -- that we encounter problems.
 
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Lewis Pulsipher

Comments

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
Well that' an oberrlylyy zndnd restrictive and judgmentald tjdk way of cagevori,ivn the vhaptic neurral sthat is pribably running quite counter to the pijt og this thread WHAT IS WRONG WITH JUST SAYING THAT IT'S A POINT ON THE PRO/ANTI-AUTHORITY AND ALTRUISTICVF/EGOIDTIC AXES WHAT ELSE IS THE GODDAMN ROGUE THAT WALKS INTO THE CAVERN LOOKING FOR THE ENXT HIG JOB SUPPOSED TO BEHTKSKFLJKDGOROWOODK BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Are you okay?
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
If CN is entirely self centered without going "out of their way" to harm or help, then the character that fits the bill is Frodo.
I don't see that fitting Frodo at all. His characteristic act is to exercise mercy on Gollum/Smeagol, which allows him to resist the One Ring until essentially the very end, when Frodo's will finally gives out. However, it is that very act of mercy that puts Gollum in position to destroy the One Ring in the Cracks of Doom. I mean I could think of worse choices---anything with Evil---but he seems like poster child for Neutral Good or maybe Lawful Good.

Unless Frodo is a cat. Then Chaotic Neutral is totally appropriate!
 

doctorhook

Adventurer
Chaotic Neutral vs True Neutral vs Unaligned; these are probably the murkiest alignments. Y’all have been talking about CN vs CE (I stopped reading at page 2, I admit), but evil is easy. I’m here wondering about how CN is different from TN. Discuss?
 

DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
Chaotic Neutral vs True Neutral vs Unaligned; these are probably the murkiest alignments. Y’all have been talking about CN vs CE (I stopped reading at page 2, I admit), but evil is easy. I’m here wondering about how CN is different from TN. Discuss?
Eek.

Not asking the easy question are you =)

I've always seen TN as an NPC alignment or at best someone really challenging themselves. Either you don't care much about things one way or another because you're a peasant trying to grow enough carrots not to starve in the winter, or on the other end of TN you're some hopped up Planescape ethics warrior who believes that only in balance [the universe, soap operas, chocolate, etc.] can be preserved.

So you are somewhere inbetween either being too busy to care about law or self-determination (carrots gotta be weeded whether the King decrees marriage between Duke Whatso and Duchess Whosit); or you are striking against whichever "side" is getting ahead of the other.

Or, if you want to push really far out, you go TN doesn't care because they consider law/chaos and good/evil to be corrupt notions of petty minds. Thanks K'thriss!
 

Hussar

Legend
My warped view of CN. Huh.

EVERY edition of D&D has described CN as untrustworthy:

1e: Above respect for life and good, or disregard for life and promotion of evil, the chaotic neutral places randomness and disorder.

Sounds untrustworthy to me.

2e:
Chaotic neutral characters believe that there is no order to anything,including their own actions. With this as a guiding principle, they tend to follow whatever whim strikes them at the moment. Good and evil are irrelevant when making a decision.Chaotic neutral characters are extremely difficult to deal with. Such characters have been known to cheerfully and for no apparent purpose gamble away everything they have onthe roll of a single die. They are almost totally unreliable. In fact, the only reliable thing about them is that they cannot be relied upon!

3e:
A chaotic neutral character follows his whims. He is an individualist first and last. He values his own liberty but doesn’t strive to protect others’ freedom. He avoids authority, resents restrictions, and challenges traditions. A chaotic neutral character does not intentionally disrupt organizations as part of a campaign of anarchy. To do so, he would have to be motivated either by good (and a desire to liberate others) or evil (and a desire to make those different from himself suffer). A chaotic neutral character may be unpredictable, but his behavior is not totally random. He is not as likely to jump off a bridge as to cross it.

So, not insane, like in 2e, but, still untrustworthy.

5e:

Chaotic neutral (CN) creatures follow their whims, holding their personal freedom above all else.

So, yeah, untrustworthy.

If you are dependable and trustworthy, you are not following your whims, nor holding your personal freedom above all else.

I know folks get all huffy why it gets pointed out that CN is unreliable. I frankly have no idea why. It's not like this is new to the game. It's been there since pretty much day 1. Perhaps folks tend to self identify with particular alignments and thus don't like it when interpretations might be negative? Not sure. Don't really care honestly. I do know that folks are going to jump up and down and disagree with me vigorously.

So, I'll pop some corn and sit back and watch.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
Drow are Lawful AF.

That’s ok though. makes them a better counterpart to their CG elf cousins.
I did always think that LE would have been a better choice but once tPtB decided Llolth was a demon, their alignment became CE. Still, I think they could personally be evil of any alignment. However, their whole crazy family structure does seem to push them in a more lawful direction.
 

DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
So, I'll pop some corn and sit back and watch.
I've had one player who fell on the CN spectrum as described and wasn't ejected from my game. I'd say the 5E CN still works well for barbarian chieftains (see: the PHB suggests CN for barbarians), etc.

So... D&D is the game you allow at your table? This kind of CN sucks, because it promotes bad behavior and annoying characters. Maybe you have players/DMs who like it better and tolerate it? Maybe somewhere out there has been a successful all kender game. Power to them!

I feel like implying that a conflation of "whim" with "personal freedom" leaves too much whimsical or just random for its own sake. That's why I don't go straight off of 5E's official definition.
 

Coroc

Explorer
We need some alignment archetypes and then we may see better what society they would have if they have one.


Philantroph: any good but preferable lawful good
Rule fetishist: any lawful
Anarchist: any chaotic preferable chaotic neutral
Criminal: any non lawful (except Mafiosi or the like which could be lawful evil), most likely evil. But that one is already tough, is a criminal in an state with unjust laws evil or nonlawful or not?
So where do we put the baseline? Jesus was perfectly lawful good for most people. Otoh for the romans he was an anarchist aka chaotic.

So some more easy cases:
Psychopath: definitely chaotic evil, will psychopathic behavior combined with otheer evil always result in chaotic evil? I would say yes.

Tyrant: mostly neutral evil, could be lawful evil

Normal citizens in a civilized land (not the crazies): Mostly LN LG NG N CG

Crazies: CN yes also mentally challenged would fall into this chategorie although for them their behaviour might not be a choice.

I still got problem who will be true neutral? Eventually only animals or other beings who cannot comprehend morale.

So for me Lawful evil, true neutral and chaotic good are most hard to come up with examples.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Chaotic Neutral vs True Neutral vs Unaligned; these are probably the murkiest alignments. Y’all have been talking about CN vs CE (I stopped reading at page 2, I admit), but evil is easy. I’m here wondering about how CN is different from TN. Discuss?
Easy. CN is anti-authority, while TN is indifferent towards authority. Both are unwilling either to intentionally harm others for their own benefit, or to put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others.
 

dwayne

Explorer
Being a DM, i have played every kind of alignment there is, i for one love CN and have as a player played it to great effect. But the DM at the time was frustrated in the fact that well i did it too well, as i was so unpredictable that if he put me in the same situation more then once i always acted different. That is what CN is folks unpredictability, i have seen people play or should i say try and fail to play it and end up just using it as a way to do what ever they wanted. I have had to correct these people and take them aside and tell them they are acting evil, and made them ether change their alignment or play right. Most end up changing to another one, and as i don't let evil it is almost always CG or NG.
 

jedijon

Explorer
There’s a lot of stuff to get past before you can actually get down to reading this.

Whoah with the useless “been doing this since the ‘80’s” thing.

And then holla if you love “hood” used repeatedly and in poor context.

Then “TERRORISTS”?

Really?

We just accept that?

I dunno. How this stuff gets on this site blows me away.

Let’s not pretend this article says “hey, CN is popular, whyz that?”
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I feel like implying that a conflation of "whim" with "personal freedom" leaves too much whimsical or just random for its own sake. That's why I don't go straight off of 5E's official definition.
What's wrong with whimsical, or random for its own sake?

Remember, to a true chaotic "plan" is a four-letter word.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
My warped view of CN. Huh.

EVERY edition of D&D has described CN as untrustworthy:

1e: Above respect for life and good, or disregard for life and promotion of evil, the chaotic neutral places randomness and disorder.

Sounds untrustworthy to me.

2e:
Chaotic neutral characters believe that there is no order to anything,including their own actions. With this as a guiding principle, they tend to follow whatever whim strikes them at the moment. Good and evil are irrelevant when making a decision.Chaotic neutral characters are extremely difficult to deal with. Such characters have been known to cheerfully and for no apparent purpose gamble away everything they have onthe roll of a single die. They are almost totally unreliable. In fact, the only reliable thing about them is that they cannot be relied upon!

3e:
A chaotic neutral character follows his whims. He is an individualist first and last. He values his own liberty but doesn’t strive to protect others’ freedom. He avoids authority, resents restrictions, and challenges traditions. A chaotic neutral character does not intentionally disrupt organizations as part of a campaign of anarchy. To do so, he would have to be motivated either by good (and a desire to liberate others) or evil (and a desire to make those different from himself suffer). A chaotic neutral character may be unpredictable, but his behavior is not totally random. He is not as likely to jump off a bridge as to cross it.

So, not insane, like in 2e, but, still untrustworthy.

5e:

Chaotic neutral (CN) creatures follow their whims, holding their personal freedom above all else.

So, yeah, untrustworthy.

If you are dependable and trustworthy, you are not following your whims, nor holding your personal freedom above all else.

I know folks get all huffy why it gets pointed out that CN is unreliable. I frankly have no idea why. It's not like this is new to the game. It's been there since pretty much day 1. Perhaps folks tend to self identify with particular alignments and thus don't like it when interpretations might be negative? Not sure. Don't really care honestly. I do know that folks are going to jump up and down and disagree with me vigorously.

So, I'll pop some corn and sit back and watch.
I don't know about anyone else, I don't get huffy. I just disagree.

As one aspect of many PC descriptors, alignment doesn't dictate who your character is.

I had a CN PC who would sacrifice himself for his friends (but not strangers unless it sounded like a fun time) who would never lie or deceive because he saw it as a sign of personal weakness. If he gave his word it was a matter of honor to keep it, which is why he almost never did. He had zero respect for title, authority or law of the land.

You may say he wasn't CN. You may even be right, people don't fall into one simple alignment. But it was my interpretation of what alignment meant for my barbarian.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
There’s a lot of stuff to get past before you can actually get down to reading this.

Whoah with the useless “been doing this since the ‘80’s” thing.

And then holla if you love “hood” used repeatedly and in poor context.

Then “TERRORISTS”?

Really?

We just accept that?

I dunno. How this stuff gets on this site blows me away.

Let’s not pretend this article says “hey, CN is popular, whyz that?”
For what it's worth I agree. The article is extremely biased and one sided.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
I've had one player who fell on the CN spectrum as described and wasn't ejected from my game. I'd say the 5E CN still works well for barbarian chieftains (see: the PHB suggests CN for barbarians), etc.
A functional CN to me seems like a pretty strong loner alignment for a character who's not particularly altruistic. Conan fits it well. He's really never tied down for long and isn't a group-oriented kind of guy. I could also see a "philosophical" Chaotic Neutral that's very nihilistic and random, essentially seeing randomness as the key force in the universe. Yet another CN might be the prototypical mad scientist type, like the obsessed gnomish inventor. Again, he's not evil or malign, but is fundamentally focused on making his creations.

One downside to these versions of CN is not that they couldn't be played but that such PCs wouldn't work too well in a group. Think about the player whose characters are always haring off on their own and seem to be unable to connect to any group orientation? Whatever's on their sheet, they've got a strong streak of CN.

So... D&D is the game you allow at your table? This kind of CN sucks, because it promotes bad behavior and annoying characters. Maybe you have players/DMs who like it better and tolerate it? Maybe somewhere out there has been a successful all kender game. Power to them!
Murder hobo-ism is not something I enjoy either participating in or running for. However, I think that's pushing well into the Chaotic Evil camp. I've played in a few that were evil-ish or certainly oriented around acquisition more than heroics and that can work. One very much started that way but due to us acquiring the Horn of Change during the middle of the campaign has shifted in a more altruistic direction, at least for some of the PCs.

I feel like implying that a conflation of "whim" with "personal freedom" leaves too much whimsical or just random for its own sake. That's why I don't go straight off of 5E's official definition.
They don't really provide a whole lot of information. The definitions are only a few sentences each.
 

DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
What's wrong with whimsical, or random for its own sake?

Remember, to a true chaotic "plan" is a four-letter word.
Nothing wrong (other than its fit in an organized recurring social activity like D&D). I object when someone claims it is the only CN.

For example, I don't think CN necessarily dislikes "plans" as much as "planning." A CN would definitely be angry if they deviated from the "plan" in the middle of something ("wait, I have a better idea!") and got called for not "following the plan" by a lawful PC.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Nothing wrong (other than its fit in an organized recurring social activity like D&D). I object when someone claims it is the only CN.

For example, I don't think CN necessarily dislikes "plans" as much as "planning." A CN would definitely be angry if they deviated from the "plan" in the middle of something ("wait, I have a better idea!") and got called for not "following the plan" by a lawful PC.
You're saying LEROY JENKINS!!!! is CN?

P.S. Sorry for the the caps, but it's part of the trademark requirement.
 

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