Wednesday, 17 December 2008

[Alignment Breakdown II] Chaotic Neutral

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 on the 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! This alignment is perhaps the most difficult to play. Lunatics and madmen tend toward chaotic neutral behavior.

- 2nd Edition Player's Handbook

There's always been something ridiculous about Chaotic Neutral as it is described in the above quote: lunatics and madmen are surely a different kettle of fish altogether - that is to say not in control of themselves, and therefore alignment-less. I prefer to think of Chaotic Neutral types as people who aren't necessarily malicious but who nevertheless prefer not to abide by society's rules. This doesn't mean self-conscious, "I'm mad, me!" buffoonery, but can actually ecompass quite a range of behaviours.

First is the Nihilist Type, or people who absolutely refusal to engage with society, because
they see no purpose or reason in the universe, and therefore choose to set themselves apart from it. A good example in fiction is Bartleby, the Scrivener, whose only response to any request is to say, "I would prefer not to", and who eventually retreats into catatonic slumber and possibly death after refusing to eat. The members of the Bleak Cabal can be said to be the epitomy of this brand of Chaotic Neutral.

Second is the Hellraiser Type, or those who see themselves as completely unfettered by society in their pursuit of pleasure; they are not necessarily explicit hedonists or libertines from a political standpoint, but their beliefs and actions amount to as much. Hunter S. Thompson is the epitomy of this kind of Chaotic Neutral - "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me." There is no malice in such behaviour but nor is there goodness.

Third is the Discordian Type - that is, those people who believe in 'Chaos' as a philosophical construct and seek to perpetuate it. These very rare characters aren't the tiresome kind of person who insists on being 'zany' and tries altogether too hard. They positively work towards disorder for its own sake, and are deadly serious about it. The Doomguard, who believe in 'preserving' entropy, and the Slaadi, who embody discord, encompass this kind of Chaotic Neutrality.

The main thing to escape from, when playing a Chaotic Neutral character, is the use of that alignment as an excuse for being unaligned - which is what in my experience it comes to signify. Like the other 'neutral' alignments - LN, NG and NE - the important point in CN is not the Neutrality but the 'active' alignment, in this case Chaos. For the Chaotic Neutral, morality is irrelevant and disorder is everything; it is in fact the most extreme alignment, rather than the least meaningful. And it is this which makes it the most difficult to play, not that it is the alignment for "lunatics and madmen".


  1. Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!

    I've found that this type of character is often the most fun to play - not the "WoO wOo WoO!" type, but the paradigm shifter.

    For me, a CN person will do things simply to see how people react, what happens, and what kind of shake-up he can get.

    He won't fireball a passerby simply because they were there. But he might genuinely wonder what would happen if he were to randomly help one person undeserving of it, and randomly hurt another undeserving of it, just to see how people reacted.

    Or he might queue up in front of a building in Russia, to see who would follow him.

    Of course, I tend to play Malkavians and Pooka in WoD, so I may be a bit biased. But it's often fun to play someone dedicated to shaking up people's world views.

    For instance, I had a pooka character who refused to use traditional nicknames. If your name was Christopher, he'd call you Isto. If your name was Steven, Tev. It's amazingly how quickly memorable he was, and it was amusing to watch people react - some thought it was amusing, some felt it was extremely rude, and some were genuinely confused.

    But 99.9999% of the time, CN is the gnome sorcerer who casts magic missle at entirely inappropriate times, and blows things up because he can.

    I do agree that you're best to ignore the "neutral" piece in general. To me, the alignments are CG, C, CE, LN, L, LE, G, E, annoying.

  2. Lorechaser: But 99.9999% of the time, CN is the gnome sorcerer who casts magic missle at entirely inappropriate times, and blows things up because he can.

    I think every alignment has the capacity to be used by players as an excuse to behave like an ass. This is the Chaotic Neutral version.

  3. I think perhaps what we should take away from this is that people are asses, no matter what their alignment. ;)