Playing Chaotic Neutral
Skipping along the chart for a moment, the True Alignment is too big for a single article, so I’ll jump to the second biggest alignment to deal with because it’s often done so badly! It’s almost a stereotype that the words Chaotic Neutral might as well read “Doesn’t know how to play”.
The problem tends to be that inexperienced players understand that the alignment is for those who are in it for themselves and damn the consequences, but play the alignment to some comical exaggeration, like a bizarre and psychotic prankster without direction or purpose. A bad CN player is a Tazmanian Devil let off the chain, a destructive force that sews chaos for chaos’ sake, playing the alignment instead of applying it to a character.
So let’s have a look at what a good Chaotic Neutral player can be.
You Do You
It’s a piece of American slang I absolutely love, far more proactive than the equivalent “live and let live” but both work equally well. A Chaotic Neutral character’s primary motivations differ wildly but they are theirs and no one else’s. An alliance will likely be mutually beneficial, or at least will have to benefit the CN party in some way to engage their interest and assure their assistance. Every action that your character takes pursues personal goals and self preservation, and if it helps somebody else then maybe they can owe you a favour somewhere down the line.
So let’s say you’re playing a glory hound, you might chase down the monster that’s been tormenting the town so that you can come home and tell everyone about it. You want a character who’s out to explore the farthest reaches of the world and come back with a souvenir, if your travelling companions won’t let you take what you came for then that’s their problem. Perhaps you’ve got a need for money to help someone you care about, you might accept any shady deals that are laid on the table, and so long as the consequences aren’t coming back to haunt you damn the consequences to anyone else.
Mind your own business. You do you, leave everyone else to do their own thing while you get on with yours. Law doesn’t matter unless its’ boot is on your neck, but it’s not necessarily something to be fought against for the sake of it, that’s a cause you take up for other people, to free people from oppression. The best example of Chaotic Neutral in pop-culture is Jack Sparrow, who recklessly pursues everything he wants in life, starts out fleeing those who’d bring the law to him until cornered, then he points a god at them and fires. If only they’d left him be.
It may not always be the case, but a CN character can rely a lot more on their impulses. Laws must be committed to memory if you intend to abide by them, but when you’re your own boss then decisions can be made far faster. A lawful character will always be thinking about how his actions reflect upon those who he/she will ultimately answer to, and what the consequences will be on a larger scale. Good characters are the same, always accounting for some greater good and the lives of others, and evil characters may be consumed by the benefits of every action and gaining the upper hand.
Chaotic Neutral needs only to ask “How does this impact me?” Whatever your goals, be they fame, fortune, obscurity, freedom, a life of peace, every time you act you only need to work out the possible repercussions. Now the extent to which you work that out depends very much on how smart you are, foreseeing the possible reactions of other parties involved, every possible eventuality of each action, but most are content to deal with the fallout if and when it becomes an issue.
In a role-playing game that leaves you incredibly free, but setting aside the problems that attitude can cause, it can also make for a rather bloodthirsty Dungeon Master. Considering how others may react to what you do and how you behave can keep you out of trouble, it can even help you get what you want, but failing to plan ahead like that can result in some rather grisly situations that you simply will not be able to resolve.
As an example, the Discworld’s Moist Von Lipwig goes around defrauding and swindling his way through life, only for his punishment to be the hardest public service any criminal has ever faced, resurrection of the defunct Post Office. He sacrifices his biggest stash as part of a grand ploy to do exactly that, as slowly it becomes less about merely surviving the wrath of the Patrician, and more about winning, doing the impossible because it makes him feel great! His deeds come back to haunt him, and the only way to move forward is becoming someone completely different.
A journalist has a bone to pick with the office of the mayor, holding a vendetta that stretches all the way back to college. She pursues any story that’ll discredit the mayor on a personal level, but in the process she uncovers plans that implicate someone else working alongside the mayor. Could it be that her old rival is innocent, and is it enough to be right without settling the old score along the way?
Vin Diesel’s “let me tell you about my character” series The Chronicles of Riddick may follow the life of a super-criminal but Richard B. Riddick isn’t malicious in intent, he’s just a survivor who had to survive the hard way. He cares about others whether he likes it or not, but time and time again he’s lost someone he cared about because they got too close to him, and the more people who give him a reason to get vengeful the bigger his bounty gets.
Tales from the Borderlands’ Fiona is a classic Chaotic Neutral character, raised as a criminal and cut lose from the man who trained her by his betrayal. She’s dragged unwillingly into Rhys’ madness by a deal gone south but along the way finds out she may be capable of more than she knows, a life of picking pockets and fencing stolen goods may have been holding her back from a life of adventure and bigger scores, a better life for her and best friend/little sister Sasha.
An old soldier has trouble leaving his war behind, especially after what he saw members of the other side doing to his platoon, hours of torture for information followed by a final insult, resurrection to unlife to serve as zombified warriors against friends and family. That war is over, but his war crawls on, finding that vile necromancer, destroying his every creation, and putting the decayed remains of his squad to rest, and gods help every fool who stands in his way.