Chaotic Neutral

Posted by Andrew E. on

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Freedom Freedom Freedom Oy!

The Dungeons & Dragons alignment charts hit the mainstream long ago with the alignment chart internet meme leading to endless debates about what characters fit into each of these labels, how to play them, and what they actually mean. Chaotic Neutral alignment in particular is one of the least defined, and the easiest to misrepresent. If you’re curious about this or are just trying to play your chaotic neutral character right, then read on as we go through everything you need to know.   

What’s the Alignment Chart?

Dungeons & Dragons uses a simple character alignment spectrum that broadly describes any given character’s attitudes, ideals, and moral alignment. It compares a creature’s selflessness and selfishness on a scale of Good, Neutral, or Evil. And it compares a creature’s independence and conformity on a scale of Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic. This means each character is placed at some combination of those scales, such as a Lawful Evil character, or a Neutral Good character.

What’s Chaotic Neutral?

A Chaotic Neutral character is chaotic on the scale from lawful to chaotic, and neutral on the scale from good to evil. Chaotic characters are typically impulsive, love individual freedom, and distrust authority. And a neutral person (on the good/evil axis) isn't a good person or a bad person, and they don't prioritize evil actions or altruistic actions instead adhering to a personal code.

Typically, this makes the Chaotic Neutral alignment the alignment of self-interest, independence, freedom, and apathy. A Chaotic Neutral character follows their whims and serves themselves, working with groups and within lawful boundaries only when it benefits them in some way. They’re gamblers and conmen, merchants, and tricksters. Beholden only to their own desires and uninterested in controlling anyone else. 

Unlike a Chaotic Evil character, Chaotic Neutrals don’t enjoy the suffering of others and aren’t wreaking destruction for destruction’s sake. Unlike a Lawful Neutral character, they rarely adhere to any sort of legitimate authority, and unlike a Chaotic Good character they don’t typically make moral decisions or rather, they don’t let morality enter their decision making.

How To Play a Chaotic Neutral Character

This is actually a harder question than it seems at first since out of all the possible alignments chaotic neutral is the least defined. It’s often defined by what it isn’t rather than what it is, but chaotic neutral does have its own unique identity.

Playing a chaotic neutral character doesn’t mean rebelling against every “lawful” thing just to rebel, and it doesn’t mean always acting in pure self-interest. More so a chaotic neutral character should be “going with the flow”. They don’t seek out control and they don’t only have selfish motivations. They can care about a close circle of friends, or a specific interest, but they’re not so “good” as to have pragmatic feelings toward strangers. Instead, so long as actors and events don’t directly affect them or the people they care about, a chaotic neutral character just shouldn’t care. Chaotic neutral characters might prioritize their personal freedom over others, but they also tend to value freedom itself and may fight to preserve it.   

Ultimately how you play your characters is up to you, but try some of the following tips if you want to embody the chaotic neutral alignment:

  • Fight for your own benefit or the benefit of people you like, not for any creed, cause, or ideology.
  • Rebel against authority when it would benefit you, not just for rebelling’s sake.
  • Lie and cheat when it suits your needs, but don’t go out of your way to hurt people just for the sake of hurting them.
  • Pick a few main desires and many fleeting interests, a chaotic neutral character without desires becomes flatly random.
  • Try to roleplay into liking the party and considering them “people you care about”, otherwise you’ll end up working against the group.
  • You shouldn't have any adherence to tradition and while you may have a code of conduct it shouldn't be related to any sort of code of laws.

Chaotic Neutral Flavors

As with any alignment there’s some significant variety that all falls under the chaotic neutral label. The following tropes are all common interpretations of what it means to be chaotic neutral:

Hedonist

The hedonist embodies the selfish and self-serving aspects of chaotic neutral and are only interested in fulfilling their own desires and interests. They have no respect for law or authority and subvert it whenever doing so would help them get what they want. They tread close to a chaotic evil alignment except in that the things they want aren’t evil. They’re not interested in harming others and aren't necessarily a "bad person", they just don’t care about others. They may find working with “good guys” rewarding, they may find working with “bad guys” rewarding, but in the end it’s all about the rewards. At best the hedonist can find they enjoy doing good or perhaps the fame or adoration that comes with it, and at worst they’re simply jerks who don’t care who they hurt to get what they want.

Anarchist

The anarchist embodies the chaotic rejection of law and order found in chaotic neutral. They may even be willing to work in some sort of organization if it serves to topple some greater authority. It’s a thin line to walk, and one fraught with the potential to veer neutral evil or chaotic good, and it’s prone to hypocrisy. Chaos itself can become a fanatical ideology and the anarchist can see it as their duty to destroy the system and uproot order. At best the anarchist is a revolutionary fighting against oppression, at worst it’s a terrorist simply causing trouble for the fun of it in the name of revolution.

Rebel

Don’t tell me what to do DAD! The rebel embodies the desire for freedom and the lack of obedience to authority found in chaotic neutral. As opposed to the anarchist, the rebel is usually much more lowkey, and usually has a personal authority figure that they’re rebelling against that bleeds into rebelling against the system as a whole. They’re cool kid counterculture, rebelling in little ways at first and often in bigger ways as their character develops. At best they’re the angsty cool kids who don’t listen to the man, at worst their angst turns to hate, and they become either self-destructive or literally destructive as they veer towards neutral evil.

Chaotic Stupid

Chaotic neutral can (if played a certain way) be more derailing to an adventure than a chaotic evil character. This certain play style for chaotic neutral characters is often called “chaotic stupid” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. “Chaotic Stupid” characters act as purely chaotic creatures and often act as living monkey wrenches that derail narratives and only exist to subvert the game with awful choices. While meeting a king you decide to whizz in the corner of the throne room, you steal random items from important NPCs just to annoy them, and you generally do whatever you think would be funny regardless of ethical choice “to see what happens”. Chaotic neutral adventuring should be self-centered and free spirited, not full of arbitrary actions done for the sake of “lol so random”. Avoid this playstyle, as it will derail adventures, enrage DMs, and generally will be a detriment to your game and everyone else’s experiences. 

Famous Chaotic Neutral Characters

When it comes to understanding a dungeons & dragons alignment, it often helps to identify the alignment in characters you’re already familiar with. Exactly which characters embody which alignments is a subject of numerous nerdy debates, but we feel the following pop culture icons fit the bill:

Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is a solidly chaotic neutral character. He mostly acts in self-interest, works with others when it suits him and breaks those allegiances just as easily.

Deadpool from the marvel comic books may kill bad guys, but he’s entirely motivated by his own vendettas and whims, and he definitely embodies chaos, maximum effort, and maximum freedom.

John Constantine from the DC comic universe sometimes tries to do good and make moral choices but time and time again when he has to make difficult decisions he reverts to selfish actions and motivations. He fights angels and demons alike, standing apart and against cosmic tyrannies.

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Last updated: January 27, 2019

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