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D&D General 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?

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?

assassins-4427872_960_720.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.​

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

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

glorken

Villager
Just popping in to speak on someone earlier saying that good <-> evil is roughly altruism <-> egoism:

Honestly, I'd say that neutral aligns with egoism, or at most aims to benefit a very tightly defined in-group. However, evil is either misanthropic or believes that any gain must be accomplished through misanthropy. A neutral character might steal, lie, or even murder if forced, but it would be have to be required of them, and they wouldn't really relish it. An evil character, however, wouldn't hesitate to do someone harm to accomplish their goals, even when unnecessary, because they enjoy it or somehow think that it's necessary.

Good and evil isn't really about whether you should benefit yourself or not. It's about how you should affect others.
 
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Hussar

Legend
/snip

Point is, Chaotic Neutral is not a license to regularly engage in evil behavior even if that behavior is less deplorable and depraved than murder. A Chaotic Neutral character will avoid theft except as in emergencies, and if stealing will tend to focus on targets which he believes can afford to suffer the loss, precisely because they recognize that theft is harm.

Why would they recognize that theft as harm. CN's are entirely self centered. Me first. Hedonistic. He would no more worry about stealing from the poor than stealing from the rich. He wants this thing, so he steals it. If they didn't want it stolen, they should have protected it better.

And, AFAIC, a CN should be unreliable. Jack Sparrow is the perfect example actually. Totally unreliable. Predictable only in the sense that you know that he's going to make the selfish choice every time. Not the person you're going to hire as a baby sitter. Notions of honor, or loyalty mean nothing to this character.

CN's aren't the "good hearted anarchist", they are anarchists, period. Steal an apple from the fruit vendor? No problem. Fall asleep during a watch? I was tired. Wander off when bored? Yup, totally in keeping with the predilections of the alignment.

Is the character completely unreliable, self centered and disruptive but not deliberately malicious or deplorable? Then yup, that character is CN.
 

Oofta

Legend
I disagree that CN is necessarily unreliable or untrustworthy. Those are personality traits.

As others have stated, chaotic does not mean insane. It just means they reject structured hierarchy and external authority.

CN can have a strict moral code, it's just not going to be one dictated by someone else.

Neutral isn't altruistic, but neither is it narcissistic nor do they enjoy causing suffering.

At least at a broad level. Personally I don't see alignment as being any more important than traits, bonds and background.
 
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Everyone keeps throwing Sparrow's name as CN. I have to disagree. He constantly shows pangs of guilt. His actions, while often selfish, are directed often by others. He tries to play a clever game which suits him, but doesn't when too many of his companions come to harm.

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.

But alignment talk is all for not. A character's motives, experiences, and exigence (that match the motive) are really what a character should be.
 

Aaron L

Hero
With drow it is difficult. How do you define the alignment chaotic evil, i mean what is the biggest denominator?

I define it thus:
CHAOTIC EVIL: The chaotic evil creature holds that individual freedom and
choice is important, and that other individuals and their freedoms are
unimportant if they cannot be held by the individuals through their own strength
and merit. Thus, law and order tends to promote not individuals but groups,
and groups suppress individual volition and success.
- AD&D 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, pg 24

Pure Social Darwinism combined with Anarchy and a hatred of "collectivism." D&D players tend to get the idea that Chaotic Evil means "Rawr I love murder!" because of the assocition with Demons, while I tend to think that Gygax likely intended it to match up pretty closely with certain real world philosophies that emphasize Egosim and denigrate Altruism. The terms Good and Evil in D&D (especially in Greyhawk as the default setting of 1st Edition) don't carry exactly the same connotations as they do in the real world, and the label Evil is borne proudly by those who embrace the philosophy that the strong deserve to rule over the weak rather than being a word that is always considered undesirable.

That's why I prefer Neutral Good, myself. ;)
 

Celebrim

Legend
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.

You mean this character: "Frodo had been in the battle, but he had not drawn sword, and his chief part had been to prevent the hobbits in their wrath at their losses, from slaying those of their enemies who threw down their weapons."

Frodo is so far from self-centered that I have a hard time thinking of a character less self-centered. Frodo consistently puts everyone else's needs before his own, and has empathy and forgiveness for even people who hate him and want to kill him. Strongly Neutral Good character.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
The older dnd editions' xp system was primarily based on obtaining gold, with relatively little xp for killing monsters. This curtailed some murder hobo behavior while still acknowledgingcombat success.
True but mostly what had the gold and didn't want to give it up? It wasn't Papers & Paychecks.
 

Why would they recognize that theft as harm. CN's are entirely self centered. Me first. Hedonistic. He would no more worry about stealing from the poor than stealing from the rich. He wants this thing, so he steals it. If they didn't want it stolen, they should have protected it better.

And, AFAIC, a CN should be unreliable. Jack Sparrow is the perfect example actually. Totally unreliable. Predictable only in the sense that you know that he's going to make the selfish choice every time. Not the person you're going to hire as a baby sitter. Notions of honor, or loyalty mean nothing to this character.

CN's aren't the "good hearted anarchist", they are anarchists, period. Steal an apple from the fruit vendor? No problem. Fall asleep during a watch? I was tired. Wander off when bored? Yup, totally in keeping with the predilections of the alignment.

Is the character completely unreliable, self centered and disruptive but not deliberately malicious or deplorable? Then yup, that character is CN.
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
 


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