Tuesday, 23 December 2008

[Alignment Breakdown IV] Neutral Evil

Neutral evil characters are primarily concerned with themselves and their own advancement. They have no particular objection to working with others or, for that matter, going it on their own. Their only interest is in getting ahead. If there is a quick and easy way to gain a profit, whether it be legal, questionable, or obviously illegal, they take advantage of it. Although neutral evil characters do not have the every-man-for-himself attitude of chaotic characters, they have no qualms about betraying their friends and companions for personal gain. They typically base their allegiance on power and money, which makes them quite receptive to bribes. An unscrupulous mercenary, a common thief, and a double-crossing informer who betrays people to the authorities to protect and advance himself are typical examples of neutral evil characters.

- 2nd Edition Player's Handbook

Neutral Evil is, I think, the easiest alignment to play and play realistically; we all know people who fit the stereotype of a stop-at-nothing self-aggrandising swine, and if we are honest we would probably admit to containing a healthy dose of such impulses ourselves (at least at a subconscious level). And it's undeniably true that Neutral Evil characters are also among the most fun, because everybody loves an unprincipled rogue, and everybody loves a rotten scoundrel even better.

The DSM describes a mental illness called Narcissistic Personality Disorder, described in the following way:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

(3) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

(4) requires excessive admiration

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

And that is, almost to a T, how I think a Neutral Evil character should behave.

An old favourite Neutral Evil character of mine is Alan Rickman's Sherrif of Nottingham from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He epitomises the bad guy who the audience secretly roots for, while never making concessions to compassion, sympathy or scruples. He's the kind of man who'll kill his own family members, burn down villages of innocent forest dwellers while nonchalantly picking his teeth, and give alms to beggars just to ingratiate himself with young ladies - every single action he takes is in the name of self-advancement. If only all Neutral Evil player characters were that fun.


  1. "Why a spoon, cousin?"

    I love Nottingham.


    Alternatively, NE can be the most disgusting people around, who don't even do things with the pretense of freedom or law - they just gratify themselves, and all the rest can burn.

  2. That DSM entry pretty well matches my own sense of Neutral Evil.

    It is (IMO) trickier to draw a line between CN and CE; those can both easily be mapped to a fairly common real-life type.

    I would have CN correspond particularly to the sort of person who just does not pay others much mind.

    CE, by contrast, would indicate the sadist. There's someone who wreaks havoc not indiscriminately but with special attention to certain victims.

    Pardon me if I've wandered too far OT!

  3. The CN would be someone who cannot even keep his or her own affairs in order. The left hand really does not know what the right hand is doing.

    The CE might take some precautions to avoid unpleasant consequences ... but not as systematically as the NE.

    Just my 2 cents.

  4. Lorechaser: "Because it's dull, you idiot, it'll hurt more!"

    One of Alan Rickman's best, I think.

    Dwayanu: I wrote entries about CN and CE a few days ago. I think CN is somebody who basically just doesn't give a fuck, for whatever reason - and if people get hurt, it's just collateral. CE on the other hand is someone who not only doesn't give a fuck - he is actually actively malicious.

  5. Great post, noisms. Might I also suggest Avon, from Blake's 7, as a good example of NE? He is cold, sadistic, self-serving and unprincipled. And of course what's great is that he's cast in the role of a freedom fighter. I love the way B7 plays with psychology, and it can be read in alignment terms. Blake I see as LG - yes, he breaks the law, but he serves the higher law of (what he believes to be) justice, and rejects the tyranny of the Federation (who are LN in my book - the law is everything). Blake is obsessed with rules, hierarchy and order, and he has to try and forge a true revolutionary movement out of a bunch of disinterested, cynical neutrals (Jenna, Gan, Vila), with only one other idealist (Cally, who has a very different fight to his) really on his 'side'. I think B7, read in this way, really shows how versatile the alignment system is, and makes a great, dynamic exploration of how a group of adventurers with disparate alignments might work together (or not!) Sorry for trying your patience with this post - I'm a B7 nut!

  6. Viriconium: I've never watched any Blake 7. A bit before my time. It's one of those things I've always meant to take a gander at, though.