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Chaotic Neutral Means “I’m Nice”…

Written by Krystal - Published on February 15, 2010

Addressing one of my biggest pet peeves today; people attempting to play chaotic neutral just because it’s cool.  I do what I want, when I want, and ain’t nuttin’ you can do about it! Well, I beg to differ. I honestly am sick and tired of Lawful Good characters with “C.N.” written on their sheet.  If you want to be chaotic then fine, play it. But exactly -what is- chaotic? How do I define the lines between each alignment? Well, let me give you some helpful tips.  (P.S. Sorry to be old school, but this is geared towards 3.0-3.5 players, but I’ll make sure to throw in a few tips for you 4e goers too!)

For those of you following along get out your players handbook and turn to page 88 (3.0 handbook, for 3.5 please turn to the “Description” area, and for 4.0 page 19 will do.). Now before we go reading into this, I know a lot of us are lazy so let me sum up the first part: You are what you do! If a guard comes up to you and inquires about your person, and you attack him at first level with ill regard to your life; you are chaotic. If you attack him and you are Epic lvl (20+), and slaughter him easily. You are evil. If you politely tell him what he wants to know, and don’t question his reasoning, you are lawful.  If you grumble under your breath and know he’ll throw you away if you don’t tell him so you do it anyways! — You are likely neutral or “Unaligned.” Defining the lines is a tricky aspect, if I kill a guard because I believe he is raping children — am I evil? No. But chances are, if you had no proof & only allegation,s you are Chaotic Good (Or “Good” for 4e).

But my character believes he’s good. So, should I put Good on my character sheet?

No. Your character sheet is a reference for you and your DM, the personality of your character is only for you that you get to explore and exhibit to other people at the table. If you, the player, understands your character is Chaotic Evil psychopathic killer who believes he is killing in the name of Pelor he is not considered good.

Well, in that case my character is Chaotic Evil, can I touch good aligned items since he thinks he’s good?

Every DM runs this differently, some do a Will save to see if you can trick the item into believing the way you do (I.e. I killed that family to protect the land.), sometimes they do a Will save vs. the items intelligence, or, they just do an intelligence check for the items. Some DM’s say No is no, you are not a good character you can not wield the Holy Avenger of awesomeness. And some DM’s will just give it to you cause it’s in the script. How do you decide which one, if you are a DM? Compare the item to the character, and how they will interact together. Perhaps the item believes he is doing goodly things and goes a long with it, until later on realizing that all is done in evil then the item turns on them. Again, this is more user your imagination, it’s your world. But as a confusing aligned character, be wary of your choices and DO NOT get angry at the DM because you were stupid enough to try and take something you can’t have. “I was playing in character.” yeah, well the DM was doing that as well. Remember, his character is everything you are not playing.

Another aspect to remember is use alignment to sum up your character, NOT to define it or as guidelines. Instead of choosing an alignment first, CHOOSE a personality, sum up the areas in that personality with an alignment. Remember, it is a reference sheet for you and your DM! I’ve seen DM’s go in and change alignments when people weren’t playing accordingly, or lose favor of God’s because of their misguidance. One thing I allow my players to do is to leave the alignment area blank for the first few sessions to get a feel for their character (and I try not to throw any aligned weapons or things of the sort) while they are getting to know their character. Refer to those pages for further alignment question and enjoy your turn!

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Written by Krystal

At a young age, my mother opened up her own gaming store. We had two game rooms, an office, and the front area which had a ton of miniatures and books. I helped manage that store for several years, my mother teaching me the ropes and treating me like an adult so I could learn. Even beyond that she played games at stores like Haster Hobbies and several other places. In fact, my parents met gaming! DnD kind of runs in my blood, as well as any other gaming you can think of. I’m simply a gamer at heart, an artist, and a jack of all trades. I love to write and that’s why I’m here at Dungeon Mastering! I’m going to be going to school for Video Game Design, and my bf is going to school so he can publish Core Rule Sets. In the short few years I’ve been with him I’ve learned all about how to create my own rule system and create a game from the ground up! But my expertise is not limited to DnD alone. I’ve ventured far into Call of Cthullu, and beyond to games like Shadowrun and some White Wolf games..though I’m not a big fan of dice pools. :)

Anyways! Gaming is my passion and my life. I game constantly, go to conventions, and so much more! Maybe I’ll see you there! Happy Gaming!

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21 Responses to “Chaotic Neutral Means “I’m Nice”…”
  1. scott says:

    i personally gave up on allignments awhile ago. I found them as a restriction on my players that didn’t actually add anything to the game. So i just got rid of them.

    That being said, allignment is helpful for those new to the game and this article makes some good points for those who still use alignment.


  2. Zen says:

    I’m not sure I fully agree with your summary of chaotic versus evil. I always understood that it was the difference between the law and morality.

    So, in your example posed, attacking the guard who isn’t already hostile is probably an evil act whichever way you slice it, whereas a chaotic neutral act would just be to stubbornly refuse the guard his help or hamper his investigation (hopefully with good motive).

    A chaotic good character would probably have to choose whether he could better solve the case, or if he should give the information to a guard (whichever is for the greater good).

    But then, that’s just what I thought. I’m willing to be corrected.

  3. I’m inclined to agree with Zen on your example. Having complete disregard for your life isn’t necessarly c/n if that were the case then most c/n characters would have been dead before they started adventuring.

    I think a better example would be again what Zen described in making the guards job harder cause you disagree with his authority over you and you aren’t inclined to help him. Attempting to murder him for no reason other then that he’s talkign to use would be an evil act in my games.

    I’m glad yoru starting the discussion though I’m sure a number of people are going to be chiming in with their thoughts and I’m looking forward to how this is going to unfold.

  4. GoOrange says:

    I hope you weren’t referring to 3rd edition as old school, the grognards would have a field day with that one. =)

    Alignment is a guideline more than anything. If a player isn’t sure how his character would react to a situation, the player can turn to alignment for some suggestions. A character’s actions define his alignment, however and so if a character continually acts in a manner that is outside of his alignment, the GM should step in and arbitrarily change the characters alignment for the purposes of game mechanics. I like your idea of leaving alignment blank for the first level or so while players get a feel for their character.

    Don’t confuse chaos with evil. A chaotic character would not attack a questioning guard. A chaotic good or neutral character would likely refuse to answer (depending on the severity of the question) but wouldn’t draw a weapon. Disregard for life is on the good-evil axis, not the law – chaos axis. In this regard I’m in agreement with Zen.

  5. Alignment has always been left vague, probably just so we can always have these debates. Which is somewhat disappointing, since alignment is a fundamental part of the D&D mythos. The way magic works, and the default planar structure, treat good, evil, law, and chaos as tangible elementary forces, so it would be nice to have a clear definition of what they mean.

    I look at them a little differently than some, and base all alignment on intent.

    A good character had regard for life, and won’t kill unless necessary, so in the case of the guard, he would not attack. A neutral character has little or no regard for life, and will kill if it suits his other purposes, and so might kill the guard just to get past. An evil character might kill and torture the guard because he wants to kill and torture. It’s more than a disregard for life, but a willing desire to do harm.

    The chaos track is similar. A lawful person wants order and structure in their life and the world around them, whereas a neutral person is more of a libertarian, seeking freedom. A chaotic person, though, active seeks chaos, and will act to create it. While there is similarity to evil here, the motivation is not to cause suffering, but to cause disorder.

    By this model, a Chaotic Neutral character seeks to cause chaos, and has no moral compunction limiting his options. Most arsonists fall into this category. For an arsonist to be Chaotic Evil, he would lock people in a building before setting it ablaze just to see them die. The Joker from the Dark Knight is a perfect example of Chaotic Neutral. Sure, he kills people for fun, but it’s not the killing he finds funny, but the way people react to it, or the chaos it creates.

    The reason people seem to chafe at this description is that the vast majority of people are Neutral Good to Lawful Good. The further you get from these two alignments, the less we’re able to understand the mindset involved. But those two alignments don’t seem to capture the depth of difference between good men, and people want to use alignment for that purpose.

    Chaotic Good is a challenging concept, because the desire to sow chaos is limited by ones regard for the well-being of others. A Chaotic Good character is likely to search for villains, or even see villainy where there is none, simply to have something to destroy.

  6. R says:

    Chaotic vs. Lawful has always been “loner vs. team-player.” Lawful beings believe in things like fate. They believe that systems govern reality and that society is useful and organization an important tool in accomplishing goals. They believe that the “the whole is greater than any of its parts” concept. Additionally, lawful beings hate to act spontaneously, and see it as a rash and foolish thing to do that is a mistake more often than not. They usually seek some reason or precedent to define why they are doing what they’re doing.

    Chaotic beings despise systems, rules, and do not respect things like promises or destiny. A chaotic character will only be part of a group for his or her own sake. They feel no loyalty to the group and will leave if the group is in their way (i.e., Wolverine, Raphael). Chaotic characters actively hate being unable to make their own decisions. Whenever they are forced to do something, they will do so only with great regret.

    Good and evil can be illustrated in terms of a help/harm continuum. Good beings enjoy helping others and go out of their way to make that happen. Conversely, evil creatures enjoy harming others and go out of their way to make that happen as well.

    Neutral characters care nothing for whatever half of their alignment is neutral (Lawful Neutral cares nothing for helping or harming others, and only does what promotes order).

    In this sense, Chaotic Neutral may be a free spirit, but they’re still held to certain restrictions: if they work together happily all the time, listen to orders, make tough decisions because they want to keep promises, and have no problem with the law, society, or “their fate,” then they’re not really being Chaotic Neutral. They can “do whatever they want because they want to” …just as long as what they want to do involves sticking it to the man or bucking the trend or not listening to orders.

  7. gull2112 says:

    I find most of the above definitions of Chaotic to be unplayable in an adventure. I choose to view it as an issue of where a character believes ultimate authority rests, in oneself or in a higher power. A chaotic (or lawfull) character sees the good and evil axis as being the same as Lawful or chaotic. In other words, a chaotic character sees lawful as evil, or regards it with suspicion, at any rate.

    A chaotic character can care about others, he just doesn’t do it merely because some authority tells him to, he does it because he has compassion. This is why a chaotic could view himelf as more “good” than a lawful good paladin.

    Chaotic does not mean sociopathic.

  8. Krystal says:

    All very good points. :P I guess I was just using the extremes as examples in this situation since extremes are easier to identify where the line is. :) Thanks for all your guys feedback and comments. :D It’s good to stir the pot up sometimes and see what comes out!

  9. glikker says:

    This is kind of a pet peeve of mine as well, but for significantly different reasons. I think most people misunderstand the alignment mechanic. It is not a restriction. Alignment doesn’t determine what your character is allowed to do, it reflects how you intend to play your character. If I design a character that is noble and respectful of the law, I put Lawful Good because that’s how I intend to play him. If I intend to play a character who is self-serving and spiteful, I put Chaotic Evil (or just neutral if he doesn’t have much of an agenda and just wants to be a jerk).

    Alignment is not a restriction. It is a game mechanic. Without an alignment, spells like Detect/Protection from Good/Evil have no meaning. Use alignment to reflect how you want to play your character. If you or the GM feel that you aren’t playing according to the alignment you wrote down, change it or change the way you’re playing. But a GM should never say “you can’t do that, you’re Good.” He can, however, suggest that your alignment and how you’ve been playing the character don’t line up and one of them should be adjusted.

    But of course the bottom line is having fun, and if dealing with an alignment system takes away from that, just drop it. But drop the Detect Evil spell too. Just don’t pick CN so you can do whatever you want without restriction. The fact that this is an RPG already means you can do that.

  10. mfoux says:

    There are alot of interesting comments on this thread. I like to use the following example of law vs chaos as it relates to good and evil using the following example:
    In the HBO series Deadwood, study the characters of Al Swearengen and Seth Bullock. I think this is one of the finest examples of diametrically opposed alignments ever seen in television. Al Swearengen is obviously lawful evil and Seth Bullock chaotic good. At first, you may think that Swearengen is chaotic, or even neutral. But if you watch all three seasons of the show and really dig into the character and his motivations, you’ll see that, although he is evil, he is far from chaotic. Bullock, on the other hand, is hotheaded, and a bit of an ass. While good, he commonly loses his cool and starts fights, dispensing justice his own way.
    Cy Tolliver is, to me, chaotic evil.
    As for chaotic neutral…I’m not sure if any of the characters in Deadwood fit into that alignment, although, perhaps Steve the drunk comes close. Except that when the owner of the livery runs away, Steve stays and takes care of the horses out of compassions for the animals. A tendency toward good even though he is an even bigger ass than Bullock?
    Overall, I find humanity too complex for alignment to work in all characters/people, and I think Deadwood makes an excellent character study for DMs, players and writers.

  11. Steve says:

    Your concept of chaotic is far away from mine. Some others come closer, but are still a bit different (for instance, suggesting that chaotic characters try to generate chaos strikes me as similar to saying that lawful characters would rather be sitting down writing laws.)

    Somebody who is lawful is concerned with what is allowed and what is not allowed. They do not like breaking rules, and react well to having a code by which to live by.

    In contrast, a chaotic character is a person who rejects the lawful construct and does not believe in having a set of rules or code to follow; in fact, they believe that such codes are to their detriment (and likely to the detriment of all) and tend to believe that such codes should be opposed.

    This does not mean that a chaotic character is random, violent, or has “ill regard” for their own life. They are anti-establishment.

  12. TXHermes says:

    Thanks for writing something for us old schoolers, Yax!

    PS “Chaotic” is misspelled in the second paragraph.

  13. Krystal says:

    Yes, the typo has been fixed, thanks for helping catch that!

  14. @Steve You make a valid point about a chaotic character not wanting to create chaos, if a lawful person doesn’t want to create law.

    I would contest, though, that a lawful person does want others controlled, and that the extreme of the lawful part of the axis would be someone who wishes to directly control others and the world around them. It comes part and parcel with wanting law. By that token, someone who is chaotic would want to see chaos created.

  15. TXHermes says:

    Oops! Thanks Krystal–much appreciated! (Small print)

  16. Steve says:

    @Jeff I agree completely — but what is important (to me) is your use of the word “extreme”. We so very seldom expect our lawful characters to be at the extremes, but for some reason many people expect chaotic characters to always be played in such an extreme fashion.

  17. wyrd says:

    I still can’t see how law and good are even compatible.. Maybe it’s that I’m chaotic good, and have always seen authority as a corrupt influence :)

  18. Elderon Analas says:

    As a Chaotic Good Brass Dragon I feel I fall very well in the lines of your argument. I am good I try to help people but only if theres something in it for me or I will usually ask for something in return. If nothing is provided I get a quick meal. Now that may be slightly Evil but I’m a dragon so what do you expect.

  19. Ellis says:

    I think that the Chaotic alignments have gotten a bad rap because of how poorly people play them. It’s possible to realistically be a Chaotic Neutral character, but it doesn’t entail that your character must act like he/she has a mental illness. For instance, if a Chaotic Neutral character was questioned by a curious guard, they wouldn’t necessarily attack him just because he’s supporting Law. They could just lie to him or try to get away.


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