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– 2 days ago

Feeling Chaotic Neutral: Character Alignment Paradoxes


For the last hour or so, I have been discussing character alignment paradoxes with Aaron Brazell (@technosailor on Twitter) on Facebook. It all started with a simple status update.

Aaron is in a Chaotic Neutral mood.

For those who don’t get the reference, chaotic neutral refers to one of nine character “alignments” in Dungeons & Dragons. Think of them like a matrix. Lawfulness versus Chaos is essentially your adherence to the laws of society, whereas Good and Evil are your moral/ethical disposition.

Now here’s the problem, and the jumping off point for the discussion with Aaron. I contend that chaotic good and chaotic evil are false choices. Good and evil, just like law and lawlessness, lie on a continuum. That is, there is an order to them. There are degrees between them.

Chaos, on the other hand, is completely random. There is no order at all. Therefore, a chaotic character would be just as likely to be good as evil. As Aaron said, everything becomes situational. A chaotic good character would always tend toward the good. If they are chaotic evil, they would always tend toward evil. By that logic, they have applied order to their own lives. They have chosen a path, and a path, by nature, is not chaotic.

It’s like Johnny Depp’s line from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Me? I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest.

A truly chaotic person can always be counted on to be chaotic, and that means they’re just as likely to swing toward good or evil. As Paul Rodriguez (@pjrodriguez) said, “[A] Chaotic Neutral person might hit you in the face one day and gave you a $100 bill the next and then borrow your car, use all the gas, but [leave] a TV in the back seat.”

That’s pretty much exactly it. In a fight against long odds, a chaotic person would be just as likely to stay with you and fight as they would be to stab you in the leg so they could outrun you in retreat. They’re chaotic, and chaos defies patterns. If they always tend toward good (or evil for that matter) you could always know what they would do within a certain range.

So do chaotic good and chaotic evil exist? I don’t believe they can, and therefore the whole D&D continuum is off. I think the continuum should look more like this:

Anything below neutrality in regard to morals (good and evil) and lawfulness would fall into a base category of Chaotic. You would have no idea what they would do or what their moral leanings would be. I think it would be a much better framework. Frankly, with people stabbing each other in the leg, I think it would make the game more interesting.



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Written by Michael Turk