On Alignment Part 2: Neutrality

The PHB says that those with a neutral alignment in regards to good and evil “have compunctions against killing the innocent but lack the commitment to make sacrifices to protect or help others. Neutral people are committed to others by personal relationships.” Those with a neutral alignment in regards to law and chaos “has a normal respect for authority and feels neither a compulsion to obey nor a compulsion to rebel. She is honest but can be tempted into lying or deceiving others.”

I have heard that the neutral alignments are the most difficult to play, one must not stray too far in any direction or they risk changing their alignment. I agree in that it is difficult to play a character who is able to stay truly neutral in regards to either axis of alignment; however, I think that true neutral is a great place for new players or those who have yet to form a strong sense of who their character is to start.

This perceived difficulty appears to come from the view that alignment should be a static metric of identity and that characters should not change. It is true that numerous classes have some degree of alignment restrictions: barbarians and bards cannot be lawful, clerics alignments must be within one step of their patron deity’s, etc.; however, there is still some room for change while still keeping your required alignment.

Alignment drift is a part of an interesting character. One of the most well known cases of alignment drift in “geek culture” is Anakin Skywalker’s descent into the Dark Side of the Force and his eventual transformation into Darth Vader. As a young boy Anakin is inexperienced and has a neutral to neutral good alignment. As his story progresses Anakin learns the Jedi ways, but is unwilling to accept the wisdom of the council and goes with what his instincts tell him. Eventually Palpatine twists Anakin’s views and leads him down the path of evil. In his final confrontation with Obi-Wan Anakin, now Darth Vader, tells his former mentor that to him the Jedi are the evil ones.

It seems like I have so far in this post talked a lot about what is NOT neutral, but I have said very little about what IS neutral. Neutrality is probably a harder topic to discuss than it is to play out. The neutral alignments are a gray area that allow characters to commit evil to achieve a greater good, bend the rules a bit to ensure that justice prevails, or to maintain a balance between two opposing ideals. Neutral characters can see the value of lawfulness but also recognizes the limitations, they also see that chaos is useful at times but has major drawbacks; they can value good, but see the need for evil as well.

To restate a previous point, the neutral alignment is a great starting point for characters. I believe that characters can and should change their alignments over the course of a story. Interesting characters evolve and develop over the course of their lives. Characters who are static in their alignment are, to me at least, rather boring. My longest played character began his career as true neutral, but as he adventured and became more connected to the world began to care more for others and became neutral good. Later in the campaign he had the resources to start a small private army and control a bit of territory and as such saw a need for lawfulness switching his alignment a second time to become lawful good. The process was slow and involved many encounters that shaped his perspectives.

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~ by katallos on October 8, 2009.

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