This was the other post I had considered writing yesterday.

Alignments in D&D fascinated me from the beginning.

There was a time where I thought Fallout’s karma system might be better suited to the game, and I’ve experimented with some alternatives — not to mention a few years where I didn’t use alignment at all.

But I came back. It still fascinates me.

When I first took the ‘Dungeon Master exam’ before judging for the RPGA (back in ’05 it was…) there was a question that bothered me.

(Paraphrased) “What is the alignment of a typical commoner?”

The correct answer on this… I think it was a multiple-choice test… was “True Neutral.” I couldn’t find a reference to this anywhere in the 3.5 handbooks, and I knew those things pretty well. (Nowadays I don’t care whether it says so or not, I believe it.)

It set me off on a path that I didn’t know I was still on until recently.

I’ve jokingly referred to Lawful Good as the ‘worst kind of Evil’ in the past — it’s one of my longest-running D&D injokes. Every few years, I’ll joke that one of the other eight is the worst.

Today, it’s True Neutral.

Dungeons & Dragons is a post-apocalyptic game. Whether it’s after the end of earth culture, elf or giant culture, or crystal spires and togas culture, the core conceit of the game is that you’re exploring the ruins of a failed civilization.

The adventurers who make up the principle cast of characters are pioneers, sure. Survivalists, sure. Looters and scoundrels, sure. All of that.

They’re also the heirs of a world that had been broken, often more than once.

Which you’d think would be bleak enough, right?

I have seen a lot of definitions of neutrality over the years, some of them more creative than others. But none of them really compare to the neutrality I’ve witnessed in my own life: seeing people all around me who just don’t care.

Before I go farther, there are like a million caveats.

Neutral people love, they live, they laugh. They have friends and families. They go to work, they go to church, they’re normal. Neutrality isn’t evil, no matter how much I might joke.

It’s hella depressing though.

In self-esteem books and articles, you’ll sometimes read about a thing called a “healthy selfishness.” This is like, being proactive about your own interests. It’s good advice for people with depression. It’s about taking care of your own needs: the better to help you take care of others, right?

And when we take selfishness to its awful extreme, we get unadulterated Evil. Good is harmonic, cooperative, and sometimes altruistic — Evil is selfish in the extreme, often going clear off the edge of the map and into self-destruction.

True Neutral is this kind of awful, unconscious selfishness that could be construed as ‘might makes right.’ The strong take what they want and the weak suffer.

You can see it behind a lot of dice rolls, it’s in the arbitrariness of some skill checks, reaction rolls, and the odd Charisma (or morale) check.

Neutral characters are always looking for an advantage. They aren’t charitable. They don’t give things away except to friend and family, and even then it comes down to individual temperament.

Neutral characters only trade for a profit. Unless they’ve read the Evil Overlord list, neutral characters don’t barter or bargain unless they’re getting something out of the deal. Now, they might be WRONG, like they’ve been tricked or they may have overestimated the value of something, but they’re never going to sell at a loss if they can help it.

Again, except for friends and family. Nowhere are nepotism and cronyism more apparent than among neutral characters. Advantages, remember?

Neutral characters have the worst morale. There are exceptions of course, but neutral characters won’t fight to the death to defend anything on purpose. In part because they don’t BELIEVE in anything.

And this is where the depressing bit really hits home. You never know where a neutral character stands. They might have virtues, they might have convictions, and they might even have ideals.

But whatever they are, you know THEY AREN’T ENOUGH. Whatever their beliefs are, they literally aren’t enough to matter. Because in the world of D&D, the forces of Capital-G Good and Capital-C Chaos et al. are physical laws.

When a terrible Evil walks the land, it corrupts everything it touches.

Who WOULDN’T want to fight that?

I’ll tell you who wouldn’t: neutral characters.

You know, unless it threatened their homes or families or way of life. Or unless they were conscripted by the lord they owe fealty to, or they were inspired by church leaders.

See? See why it’s depressing? A neutral character might even argue that Good and Evil are just perspectives.

Are they? Well, if Law and Chaos are perspectives, then they’re perspectives with CONSEQUENCE. And that’s something a neutral character would rather not think about.