Playing True Neutral
This one’s kinda huge. I mean really big.
Every other entry from the moral alignment axis table comes pre-packaged with its own ethos, its own motivations and philosophies, so often Neutrality is seen as bland, so aggressively treading the middle of the line that at its most extreme the True Neutral character will spend his days alternately helping old ladies cross the road and filling her house with bear traps before turning yourself in to the police. But Neutral doesn’t have to be the dry toast of moral breakfast time!
Settle in, let’s have a look at what kind of person fits under the massive True Neutral label.
Practically everyone in the word is Neutral! I’m deadly serious. There are plenty who might like to believe that they’re Lawful good or Neutral Good, just inherently nice and selfless people, generous and caring to a fault. But let’s be honest now shall we? We’re apes, we are inherently tribal, and on some level we are competitive and inherently selfish. The morality we have is the result of a massive expansion in our mental capacity to care for family, to the point where we’re capable of empathy not just for our own species, but to care and love for other species as well. Many of us are good, no denying it, but many of us will also grab the last cookie without a word and blame it on a sibling.
We lie! We cheat! We want stuff for ourselves, we’ll disagree with the laws as written and break them when we think we can get away with it, but most of us won’t kill people just because we’re afraid of getting caught (most of us). We’re not good, we’re not bad, we’re not rebels or conformists, we just want an easy life for ourselves, and you can get that a lot easier if you tow the line and get on with people.
I joked about helping the infirm only to mutilate them in their homes with inhumane hunting traps, and that’s the kind of hilarious extremes you can reach in a role-play situation. To me, True Neutral is about the little every day good deeds and selfish acts. It’s parking on a double yellow line and then feeling bad about it for an hour before eating a bagel and forgetting about the whole thing. It’s denting someone’s car and not feeling guilty because it was a Mercedes.
Because we’re only human.
The Moral Starting Point
And because we’re only human, we are hugely capable of extremes of philosophy and individualism. We’re driven by passions and impulses, dogmatic in our believes but easily swayed by suggestion. That makes us mighty.
In the other articles in this series I’ve discussed how your alignment changes how you pursue your goals, or how you work to drive the goals of an organisation you have affiliated yourself with. A neutral character simply is the goal they pursue, the ethos they uphold, their personality without strong leanings in any moral direction. In fact one should always assume that they are building a True Neutral character to begin with, before sitting back and debating how the decisions they have made might cause their character to lean more strongly in one direction or another, and how the pressures of their history have made them more strongly aligned along one axis or another.
In short we are born Neutral. The D&D monster manuals always list animals as neutral because the notion of charity or cruelty, obedience or rebellion are very human concepts, born of personality and millennia of history trying to rationalise our existence. Beautiful in its way. The reason why the admittedly flawed alignment system causes so many arguments is because of how each alignment is perceived by other people.
Anything But Bland
You’re not a boring person.* You have hopes and dreams and have lived a life of experiences that have driven you, shaped you, and moulded you into the glorious specimen we all know and love.**
The archetypal view of True Neutral is the dull and flavourless character bumbling their way through life without a rhyme or reason to their name. It’s just not the case, because nobody is that boring. The best example of a character who never sways from the stance of moral stoicism despite the forces that pull him in every direction could never be accused of boring: Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones.
Tyrion’s interests lie predominantly in self preservation. He is loyal to a family that despises him until their betrayals force him to unconscionable acts. He is loyal to a nation that very nearly destroys him, and so he turns to someone outside who might be able to save everyone from themselves. He could never be accused of being Good as he acts in his own self interests as far as he can get away with, exalting in hedonism as far as it will go without harming another. He could never be truly considered Lawful or Chaotic, because while he may be a loyal servant, he picks and chooses his masters and runs vicious and hilarious tactics against those who have the power to undermine him.
The same is true of Jessica Jones. Invasive, deceitful, even outright criminal in her actions but keeping her paperwork in order and working to uphold the law. She stops a supervillain but she’s no hero, in fact she’s given up on the very idea.
Are these bland characters? Hell no. But they’re True Neutral because most of us are, most of the best characters are.
*If you are a boring person, please disregard.
**If we do not know you personally, please disregard.