Support the GITP forums on Patreon
Help support GITP's forums (and ongoing server maintenance) via Patreon
Results 1 to 6 of 6
  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Seto's Avatar

    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Location
    Paris, France
    Gender
    Male

    Default Pursuit of Happiness : a practical Guide to playing True Neutral

    The Pursuit of Happiness: a practical Guide to playing True Neutral.


    Link to the Alignment Handbook superthread, where you can find all my guide's brothers and sisters.


    Hello everyone! In the wake of the Alignment Handbooks that have flourished recently (thank you visionary Thealtruistorc, and the others), I give you the True Neutral Handbook. Now, this is going to be a guide mostly focused on playing and practice rather than theory. My goal is this: give you the tools and the motivation to flesh out a believable, interesting True Neutral character. From most general to most precise, we'll examine step-by-step what makes up such a character. If you're reading this while thinking about a character you want to make, take some time to reflect on the ideas you'll find along each section.

    Disclaimer: I will regularly give roleplaying advice. That's in keeping with my project of helping you develop a TN PC whom you'll have fun playing. However, it might give you the impression that I'm telling you how to play D&D and disparaging games that are mostly tactical and do not concern themselves with characterization. I'm not. When I'm using words like "interesting", "well thought-out", "successful", I'm operating within a roleplaying perspective. My assumption is that you're reading this handbook because you're interested in roleplay, morality and ethics, alignment, and want your game to be, among other things, character-driven. If that's not the case, please ignore such advice and I hope you still have a good time reading this


    1- What is True Neutral?


    Spoiler
    Show
    A neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. She doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil-after all, she would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, she's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way.
    Some neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run.
    Neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion.
    Neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

    Now, this is a pretty good start. It most notably covers the two broad types of TN characters : the TN by default, and the TN by choice. Ok, a third type would be creatures without moral agency, such as animals. But let's get this out of the way: I won't be talking about them, because this guide is about TN as a moral descriptor. It's intended for PCs (possibly NPCs). When you find yourself in a morally demanding situation, you have to make choices, those choices will give you an alignment, and even doing nothing is a choice. There's no way around that. At the end of the day, some of those creatures called to make choices end up with a TN tag; that's what we'll be examining. I'm personally in favor of slapping an "unaligned tag" or no tag at all on creatures without morality, not a "TN" tag. So, as I was saying, two broad types of TN characters.


    Type 1, the TN by default.

    They're just not Good enough, Evil, Lawful or Chaotic enough to be one of those alignments. Most people in the world are that, because their lives don't involve moral actions significant enough and numerous enough, and/or their responses are not consistent enough that they'd shift over to another alignment. After all, "A neutral character does what seems to be a good idea", which is a sound course of action in anything but the most important decisions. Besides, they act according to self-preservation, and try to protect the important things or people in their lives. Which is a very natural thing to do, and I think everybody reading this can relate. But surprisingly, this TN type is going to be a challenge, because I'll be focusing on adventurers, and adventurers have a lot more power, a lot more responsibilities, and a lot more hard choices than normal people, which means that they're likely to be something other than TN. But more on that later.


    Type 2, the TN by choice.

    This one is likely to have good INT (but not necessarily) and especially good WIS. They have a worldview; they're not just eyeballing their way through life, they're making a statement. This type is especially interesting because they consciously reject Good values (self-sacrifice, uncompromising rejection of Evil) in favor of other values that they probably call good: empathy and happiness, for example. And unlike Evil philosophies that, most often, make sense and enthuse you until you figure out that you had not realized all the implications and you don't wanna be such a jerk, Neutral philosophies are easier to follow through with, and actually make sense to most people.

    Now, there's a difference between being philosophically committed to a neutral cause (such as one's happiness), and being philosophically committed to Neutrality. Most TN characters are in the first case, and those that are in the second case might be in it because they're committed to a neutral cause. For example, they might be committed to defending balance between Law and Chaos (or Good and Evil) within themselves and in the world around them, because they think that this harmony is the only way to achieve happiness. Those few that are defending Neutrality for Neutrality's sake invariably have great power and are players on a cosmic level (see the Keeper of Balance archetype, a bit further).


    True Neutral is your best friend.

    There is one trait that's common to both types of Neutral (except the Keeper of Balance archetype), though. They're likely to form strong emotional bonds, and keep them. Why's that? Because most everyone has something deeply important to them, something valuable. In your TN's character case, that's not going to be ideology or strong ideas about how people should behave, or how the world should turn. So, friends and loved ones are likely to top the list. When you're faced with a choice between preserving a relationship you cherish and acting according to what you believe, a lot of characters will be hesitant; TN mostly doesn't have this problem, because their personal ties is often what they most believe in. Besides, TN people won't alienate their friends by having radically different ideas, and they can understand or at least tolerate most worldviews, which means they can and will enjoy long-lasting personal committments delightfully devoid of bickering about ethics.


    True Neutral in a nutshell.

    Let me demonstrate this first part of the handbook with a small example. (In no way exhaustive of what TN can be).
    Spoiler
    Show
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob McCharacter, True Neutral Human Fighter 5, Medium Humanoid (Human)
    I like to think of myself as a good person. After all, when I see a beggar, I give him a few silver pieces from my last loot. Same when I see two beggars. When I see three... Well, you know, I can't carry the misery of the world upon my shoulders. No one should have to. Some people spend their life trying to do just that... most of them are wasting it, if you ask me. Like, making themselves miserable on purpose. Me ? I'm not cut out for that. I do my part in making the world a better place. I kill my share of monsters, I treat people nicely, and I would do anything for my family and my friends. Let's face it : bliss is what every human being seeks. Too much selflessness and sacrifice kill bliss. I, for one, try to achieve it by leading a healthy, interesting life and having fulfilling relationships to other human beings. I don't care that much about the laws I live under, as long as they don't oppress me or my friends. One should always have a few people they can completely trust and feel at ease with. Not too much : if you'll just trust anyone, "trust" loses its meaning.
    Don't threaten people I care about.

    Bob here is mostly Type 1 (not a moral philosopher, considers himself a good person, doesn't concern himself with Good, Evil, Neutrality, Law and Chaos) with a dash of type 2 (he distrusts selflessness and rejects it as a value, which is a conscious moral choice).
    Last edited by Seto; 2015-10-31 at 07:12 AM.
    Avatar by Mr_Saturn
    ______________________
    • Kids, watch Buffy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bard1cKnowledge
    Charisma, it makes the difference between "Oh hey, it's this guy!" And "oh hey it's this guy."
    My True Neutral Handbook, a resource for creating and playing TN characters.

    Check out my extended signature and the "Gitp regulars as..." that I've been honored with!

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Seto's Avatar

    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Location
    Paris, France
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Pursuit of Happiness : a practical Guide to playing True Neutral

    2- Why play True Neutral ?


    • To prove stereotypes wrong.

    Much like LG, CN or CE, TN often gets a bad rap it doesn't deserve. Unlike LG, CN or CE (stereotyped as potentially disruptive alignments – Jerk Paladin, Insanity guy, or Total Psychopath), TN is thought of as boring or lazy. Let us deconstruct that, shall we? I know that Mr. McCharacter quoted above looks pretty average, but I'm here to reassure you that the TN alignment can make you just as special a snowflake as anyone else.

    Since you're reading this handbook and are presumably interested in exploring the depth of this alignment, allow me to make something clear: True Neutral doesn't have to be an excuse for roleplaying inconsistently, poorly or just dispense with ethical and moral issues entirely. It is true that TN is a looser alignment, and more of a blank slate, than any other. I encourage you to take that as an incentive to draw something beautiful and original on that slate, rather than just leave it blank because you can (which many people do, because blank slate technically fits TN, and that earns it the lazy/boring reputation I talked about). I'll expand on that point in the last paragraph of this section.


    • Because TN is the ultimate team player.

    It potentially tolerates (if not necessarily gets along with) pretty much any worldview, most notably those of the eight other alignments. Of course, some ideas and choices will be anathema to particular TN characters, depending on personality. But at least, you won't feel obligated to dislike or oppose other party members on the sole basis of two letters on your character sheet. If you do, you'll be forced to find good reasons for it. Besides, when intra-party conflict does arise, the TN character will often be the force of cohesion, or at least the tie-breaker: characters of opposed alignments are more likely to listen to you than to their opposite, because they know you have less bias.


    • To enjoy great creative freedom.

    TN sits in a sweet spot that lets you do pretty much anything you want while staying consistent with your character. (Which does not mean that your character shouldn't have depth: see above). If you're interested in a morally and ethically ambiguous character who can efficiently act as a hero, while on occasion doing very questionable things, TN is for you. Alternatively, if you're interested in psychological realism and would like to make a case study of how an average, normal, relatable person would react in a D&D setting, TN is your go-to option as well. Basically, whether you want to play yourself or on the contrary indulge in creative fantasy and play someone you're really not, there's a TN character for you.


    • To enjoy a creative challenge.

    I find that TN stimulates creativity in a special way. Very often, people use alignment as a tool, alongside race and class, to get a rough idea of their character before fleshing them out. And the truth is that, in that regard, TN doesn't give you much to go on. When you're going to do a LE character, for example, you already know a lot about the paradigm you're going to work with (even though you still have a lot of options). It's not really the case with TN. I mean, you know you mustn't give your character too committed an outlook or too extreme a behavior, but beyond that, everything is fair game. Which means one thing: even if you take the alignment as a starting point and go thinking "why are they TN?", you're going to have to rely on your character's personality, backstory and individual quirks to make them interesting.

    By that I don't mean that characters of other alignments are solely defined by the two letters on their sheet. But I do mean that, whichever other alignment you've got, people will have preconceptions about who you are when you announce it. ("Oh, so you're, like, a guy that follows the law, never lies and fights for his country?" "Oh, then I guess you must be a Robinhoody rebel with a heart of gold". I'm sure you can guess which alignments these respective stereotypes refer to). And chances are they'll be at least kinda right. When you announce that you're TN, they will be able to tell you a crapload of things your character is not, but they have yet to know anything positive. This point could be summarized as: in eight cases out of nine, the alignment tends to mask or take precedence over the character; in TN's case, because its predictive value is so small, the alignment tends to step back and let the character shine. (Once again, this is not a statement as to how characters are made or how complex they are; I'm underlining a perception phenomenon I've encountered).
    Last edited by Seto; 2015-10-31 at 07:14 AM.
    Avatar by Mr_Saturn
    ______________________
    • Kids, watch Buffy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bard1cKnowledge
    Charisma, it makes the difference between "Oh hey, it's this guy!" And "oh hey it's this guy."
    My True Neutral Handbook, a resource for creating and playing TN characters.

    Check out my extended signature and the "Gitp regulars as..." that I've been honored with!

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Seto's Avatar

    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Location
    Paris, France
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Pursuit of Happiness : a practical Guide to playing True Neutral

    3- How and why is your character True Neutral?


    First, I distinguished between two broad types of TN. Now I'm going to distinguish between a few broad hows-and-whys of being TN. Particularly, as I mentioned that characters who are TN by choice often have high INT and/or WIS, I'll show what this looks like in detail, what philosophy such characters might advocate, which should give you tools to roleplay them. These hows-and-whys are not mutually exclusive and you're welcome to combine them. They will then be broken down into several individual archetypes, which may or may not combine several broad types and several hows-and-whys. See where I'm going with this? From most general to most precise. So, we've got:





    TN for personal reasons: the Standard True Neutral.


    This covers most of the archetypes you'll find in the next section. This TN, unlike the two following, is often TN by default. She's TN because she has personal goals and values, not the other way around. These goals or values might be money, fame, friendship, love, self-fulfillment, happiness. She's interested in achieving and upholding them, and the result matters more than the process. She might trust reason or her gut depending on the time. She has a pragmatic approach to philosophical questions: "Whatever works". Ultimately, morals and ethics have no inherent truth, or if they do, she cares little for it. The truth she's interested in is practical rather than theoretical: theories are judged according to how well they perform in a given context. Various problems need various perspectives and various tools. It is reality's place to judge ideas, rather than the reverse.

    For all this disregard for ideals, this character is not completely amoral. She operates within a basic framework that she generally shares with the most part of society. She'll be shocked by, or instinctively reject, too extreme acts one way or another. If she's particulary wise, she'll understand that "Whatever works" is itself subject to context. It's viable within certain limits, but there are actions so extreme that you can't just treat them as means to an end, because they change you. It's just not worth risking. In such cases, it is better to choose another course of action slightly less efficient and direct, that preserves the person you are.
    A word of advice, if I may: if you play this character, make sure to give her an interesting personality. Goals, desires, fears, beliefs, hopes, dreams... Things that, when they come up, will override her general pragmatic mentality. Because if you don't, your options in any situation will be "Everything", which makes D&D into a tactical problem-solving game. It effectively dissolves the distinction between player and character. It is much more interesting to have some psychological determination, something that makes you go "oh, wait, I know what my character would say". It's one of the ways you can practically feel your character grow a separate personality from yours, which is a great experience for any roleplayer.







    TN for intellectual reasons: the INT-based True Neutral.


    This guy is either an intellectualist, or a sceptic/relativist. He is very good at reasoning and analyzing, and he mostly relies on that to determine his ethical and moral behavior.

    He may think that reason, the most powerful force in the world, is an objective, unbiased, all-encompassing eye (intellectualist); therefore all ethical and moral stances have the same value to him, that's to say exactly none until they're found rational and consistent. Rationality and logic is the criterion by which he sets his course, which makes him textbook TN (though he might drift a bit towards the Lawful side, but nothing irredeemable).

    Or, on the contrary, he may find that reason could not possibly give answers to fundamental questions, most notably those dealing with metaphysics, ethics and morality (sceptic/relativist). Actually, classic scepticism works extremely well within a TN framework. So, our sceptic, like the scientist, relies on reason. It's a flawed instrument, but it's the only one we can trust to attain truth. Here enters the antinomy. An antinomy is a set of two contradictory statements that are both defensible, rational, and yet irreconcilable. For example (I'm borrowing this from Immanuel Kant): "All that happens happens necessarily and is causally determined by strict natural laws. - Humans possess freedom, defined as the ability to determine themselves radically, without having been determined first." This determinism vs. freedom antinomy gives us a good example of a Lawful vs. Chaotic worldview in D&D. What's our TN sceptic to do? Declare "Reason alone has not the answer. It is on both sides of the argument, which means that truth is on neither. I do not know. Therefore, I will defend neither position. I may not be right, but at least I can avoid being wrong." You can make the same argument with Good vs. Evil.

    If you push it one step further, and instead of "Truth is on neither side of the argument", say "There is truth in every argument, in every view. Truth is partial and fragmented.", then your sceptic becomes a relativist. The relativist, considering that every statement has some truth to it, leaves every option open and is back to "doing what seems to be a good idea", so yeah... TN. If you will, the sceptic is on nobody's side, the relativist is on everybody's side but never fully so, and in practice this results in pretty much the same actions.







    TN for existential reasons: the WIS-based True Neutral.


    This one is all about balance and harmony. She is aware of the diversity that is to be found in herself, and in the world. She embraces it, and understands that to be happy, to fully realize oneself, is to be complete. She strives to accept every part of her. Good provides incentive to be selfless and alleviates the I, but Evil roots the I in its own desires and selfishness, allowing it to exist in the first place. Chaos provides the raw energy and passion that suffuses every life worth living, but it needs Law to shape it into something durable. Every one of them is necessary and should be made peace with. Furthermore, seeing as we're not Exemplars made of pure Alignment matter, there is a part of Good, Evil, Law, Chaos in each of us and, like it or not, it's not going away. Thus, it is better to get to know it intimately, accept it and reconcile it with its opposite as parts of the I. When you try and ignore it or repress it, it creates imbalance and infighting and always backfires on you eventually.

    The same reasoning can be applied on a local, worldwide or even cosmic scale: everywhere there is diversity, everywhere it is better to make the opposite elements work together towards a larger goal. She's not being naive: she knows that Good and Evil, like Air and Earth, are natural enemies and that none can be where the other is. She also knows that the simultaneous presence of Air and Earth and their very opposition creates a place fit for people to live in. In other words, she is not asking Good and Evil to get along; she is asking them to fight a battle from which something greater arises. (Choice, for example.) To such a character, what is wrong with the world is not Evil. It's the nature of the clash between Good and Evil (or Law and Chaos), when it's destructive instead of constructive. This can be obvious (great war between Archons and Demons raging on the Material Plane, killing its denizens, and threatening to suck it into the victor's dimension) or less obvious (Lawful Good kingdom where chaotic behaviors are discouraged and selfishness is considered shameful and dirty), but it's often there. To restore balance is to be truly free (and yes, to such a character, Chaos threatens freedom as much as Law does, because her definition of freedom is not that of absolute indetermination, but that of a judicious action subtly worked into an existing worldly canvas, all things considered).

    Or, as a fellow enthusiast of the TN alignment puts it,
    Quote Originally Posted by lenon3579 View Post
    "The balance between white and black is not grey, but a chessboard". You know, not a homogeneous constancy, but shadings and fractals and opposites-inside-opposites and forever on.






    "Aunt Abby, how can I believe you? There are twelve men down in the cellar and you admit you poisoned them.
    - Yes, I did. But you don't think I'd stoop to telling a fib ?!"


    TN without reason: The Alien True Neutral.

    Sometimes, a character's mindset simply... isn't quite right. He appears to be following an internally consistent logic, but you just can't wrap your head around it. Maybe this character doesn't feel emotions the way we do, maybe he just operates within a different logical framework. The fact remains that he interprets the world in a radically different manner. So radically different that traditional concepts of Good, Evil, Law or Chaos don't really seem to apply. Or sometimes they all apply at the same time. Or sometimes... bleh. You don't know. So, TN is probably the best guess.

    Sometimes this character is clinically diagnosed (but after all, what is "madness" but a form of reason that we can't understand?). Sometimes his otherness is explained by the upbringing he received, or his physiology (useful if you're playing a non-humanoid race). But the most successful ones are those who remain a mystery. It works especially well when such characters blend in and seem normal most of the time, and then, occasionally, let out a remark that makes you realize just how differently they think.

    Be cautious: there are two problems with playing this character. The first problem is that, simply, it's extremely hard to pull off. Your job is to identify with, and internally understand, a character whose very shtick is that he doesn't function like you. I advise having some roleplaying experience before even trying it. Even then, it requires a lot of thought and preparation. The second problem is that, with the wacky way D&D alignment is written (that is, human point of view becoming objective concepts with universal application), a lot of things with alien mindsets end up Evil. Aberrations such as Aboleths and Mind Flayers are a good example. And they don't have it so bad; they're also Lawful. But the Alien is often misperceived as chaotic, because "insane, right?". So, if you want to keep your Alien TN character shrouded in mystery and not branded as just another weird psychopath, don't forget to mostly make sense, to show loyalty, to be nice and sometimes truly selfless (yeah, that thing Aboleths and Mind Flayers never do).

    Oh wait, I see an objection coming. "But, the impredictable character who does things that don't make sense is Chaotic Neutral, not True Neutral !". Well, it's honestly a matter of taste. WotC tends to agree with you, because besides Aberrations, the most "Alien" characters are Fey, and they're traditionally Chaotic. Me? I think that what you don't understand, and what seems to follow its own logic (which is very different from no logic at all), should be True Neutral, as a Chaotic tag would indicate some patterns that a lot of people actually understand and identify with. But as I said, matter of taste, and I wouldn't stake my life on that.
    Last edited by Seto; 2015-12-21 at 09:13 AM.
    Avatar by Mr_Saturn
    ______________________
    • Kids, watch Buffy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bard1cKnowledge
    Charisma, it makes the difference between "Oh hey, it's this guy!" And "oh hey it's this guy."
    My True Neutral Handbook, a resource for creating and playing TN characters.

    Check out my extended signature and the "Gitp regulars as..." that I've been honored with!

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Seto's Avatar

    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Location
    Paris, France
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Pursuit of Happiness : a practical Guide to playing True Neutral

    4- True Neutral Adventurers – Archetypes.




    Most people in the world are True Neutral. Adventurers aren't most people. Because of this, True Neutral doesn't always seem like adventurer material. Indeed, why would you choose the life of a nomadic warrior fighting all sorts of dangerous things if not out of some ideal? Plus, if you're a powerful person with the capacity to meaningfully change the world, why would you make choices that are neither Good or Evil, Lawful or Chaotic? Well, there are a number of reasons. I've broken them down into a few... yeah, I'm going to go with "archetypes" for lack of a better term. But keep in mind those (or most of them) are less iconic and more diverse than the other alignments. Some of them you'll recognize as noted archetypes, some of them might be best called examples. In any case, each of these TN characters has a reason they're an adventurer, and that's what matters. And as with the hows-and-whys, you're encouraged to mix them up and build your unique character.







    The Druid


    The Druid is such a staple of D&D, and so closely associated with Neutrality, that he deserves his own archetype. Nature is at the core of such a character. He breathes Nature, he drinks Nature, he craps Nature. Nature is his girlfriend, his boyfriend, his parents and his boss. - Ok, I've gotten carried away. Nature certainly has a lot of aspects and a lot of definitions, which is why I'm glad that in 3.5 the Druid is only required to be Neutral on one axis. Nature is the nurturing mother (NG), the unleashing of predatory urges (NE), the beautiful and thorough organization of molecules into the miracle of life (LN), and also constant evolution and utter impredictability (CN). But the TN Druid would argue that all those interpretations of Nature are ultimately missing the point. Fundamentally, Nature is a primal force that long predates moral or ethical considerations. It's not a moral agent, and indeed it doesn't have an agenda. But a Druid will tell you that it has sentience, expressed through all natural creatures. And he is its shepherd. It is a TN cause by excellence.

    A Druid adventures to protect nature wherever it is threatened, obviously. But it is advisable to make a Druid with a personal agenda on the side, or who'll listen to other causes; you'll be a better team player for it. Or better yet, see Nature in everything and not just in wild places. People are natural creatures, for example; organized warfare is not. Death is natural; necromancy is not. Pain is natural; torture and cruelty are not. Find yourself a few of those oppositions and you'll give your Druid reasons for adventuring and ethical stances on behaviors, even when the enemy is not a forest fire, and all without dropping Nature.








    The Coward


    This archetype is often mentioned in theoretical discussions of TN, but not often played, and yet it's a pretty interesting one. Deep inside, this person doesn't want to be TN. She has ideals, she may long to be a force for Good. But when the chips are down, she's just not willing to sacrifice too much. Her life is not on the table and neither is her elementary well-being. In the face of likely death, no matter how much she wants to be brave, her strong instincts of self-preservation kick in.

    There are two main reasons a Coward would be an adventurer. The first one is because she wants to make something of herself and learn to overcome her own fear. The second one is because she's been forced into it; maybe she has a debt to pay, maybe she's been enlisted in a military force, maybe she just can't run away because she's been given powers and responsibilities she never asked for.
    This archetype offers interesting roleplaying opportunities because, on top of the external enemies, the Coward has to deal with her own shortcomings. Character growth may eventually lead her to find her own courage, in which case she might shift from TN to something else (that's all right, we here at TN-Corp wish her the best). Last but not least, a warning and a tip. Warning: When playing the Coward, make sure the other PCs know who she is. Your party will hate you if you bail on them in the middle of a boss fight. But if you work it out with them, you can meaningfully help them from somewhere other than the front lines. Tip: if you want to take up this interesting roleplaying challenge and get mechanical advantages from it (and why the hell not?), I suggest the Craven Rogue. It's a marriage made in heaven.








    "Look, I ain't in this for your revolution, and I'm not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money."


    The Mercenary


    Money is essentially unaligned. It can be used for pretty much any purpose. It's not an ideal, it doesn't change the world by itself, and yet it is much desired and many people see it as a wortwhile reason to fight. The Mercenary is a living reflection of that. He considers adventuring as just another line of work, albeit one with incredible profit margins. It doesn't even have to be money, the point is that what's in it for you is a tangible reward. Some material object that has value to you, either monetary or emotional (a stolen family heirloom or such). A word of advice, though: if you want to pull off a TN Mercenary, you need to have basic moral decency, or at least a loose professional code. If you're willing to do anything to get richer, you'll be into Evil territory faster than it takes to say "Give me all your money if you want to see your family again". (Clarification: I know that Han Solo is Chaotic Neutral and later evolves to be CG, but his Chaoticness is not directly tied to his role as the Mercenary.)









    The Explorer / The Scientist


    This character is curious. She's interested in discovery and knowledge. It might be knowledge of the books-and-scrolls type (the Scientist), in which case I bet you a cookie that she's a Wizard, or knowledge of the world around her (the Explorer). This is a perfectly valid reason for adventuring. After all, someone's got to recover the Ancient Scrolls of Fire from the Lost Ruins of Xarksaroth. And isn't mapping out a new, unexplored portion of the world a worthy and exciting cause? (It can be combined nicely with the Mercenary if you're paid to do that). Once again, knowledge for its own sake is an unaligned cause, which makes the typical Scientist or Explorer firmly TN. When playing this archetype, be sure to ask your DM questions about the background of what you're researching, so you'll have something precise to show off with and showcase your characters' interests.







    "What are you, some immortal demon sent down to even the score between good and evil?
    - Wow. Good guess."


    The Keeper of balance


    Out of my various archetypes, this is the one that works the less as a PC and the best as a high-level NPC. This guy makes sure balance is kept in the world. He's not especially interested in personal or local balance, but he's thinking cosmic. Because if not, it does tend to be silly or pointless. If maintaining balance within yourself is your primary goal, you don't need to go out adventuring, and I'm having a really hard time imagining a believable Keeper of balance acting on anything less than a planar scale (if you can, though, you're welcome to convince me). The best I can do for a mid-level character is this: kill or banish Exemplars wherever you find them, because they don't belong on the Material Plane, and their very presence is an imbalance, an attempt of some primal force to exert control on neutral territory (pun intended). On a cosmic scale, however, there's an important niche to fill: make sure the Material Plane (and the prized souls of its mortal denizens) stays independent from the various Powers (Law, Chaos, Good and Evil).

    The Keeper of balance is ultimately working towards the best interests of mortals (even when that's not really his concern). If you're doubting that (as defenders of the Good alignment in particular often do), ask yourself a question: if you could unilaterally erase all Evil from the hearts of mortals, up to the mere thought of wanting something for yourself, leaving only pure selflessness, would you? Because if Angels could do that without making the multiverse collapse on their heads, they totally would.









    The Defender


    The Defender is a friend, a family member, a villager, a member of some community. She has people and/or land that she holds dear. And then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. And then suddenly those people or this land are threatened by an outside, powerful force. The Defender, being the devoted and stalwart person that she is, takes up arms. She's an adventurer because her loved ones or her country are in danger, and her quest will save them. I affirm the True Neutrality of the Defender. I hear two frequent objections: "But, isn't the Defender Good"? She helps people at the risk of her own life." "But, isn't the Defender Lawful? She defends her country/her community at the risk of her own life!" Well, the important point is that the Defender protects something or someone she knows and loves. This is in no way indicative of her behavior towards total strangers. If necessary, she could very well adopt a "I'd rather see your family dead than mine" attitude. She helps people because of her personal involvement with them, when a Good person helps people, any people, because it's the right thing to do. Similarly, a Lawful person defends her country out of a sense of duty rather than emotional attachment.

    If you want to put a darker spin on the Defender, make her the Avenger. The Avenger has already lost what is dearest to her. She has no one to defend, nothing to lose but herself, and she's bent on revenge. Her purpose alone will leave her in the TN camp by a comfortable margin. However, beware: if she's consumed by vengeance to the point that she considers other people readily expendable, she's slipping towards Evil. After all, hate leads to the Dark Side.








    "There is a line, Lilah, black and white, good and evil.
    - Funny thing about black and white. You mix it together and you get grey. And it doesn't matter how much white you try and put back in, you're never gonna get anything but grey."



    The Transitioner


    If you're going from point A to point C in a straight line, you have to step on point B. Neutrality is point B. It's the middle ground between Law and Chaos, between Good and Evil. It welcomes characters who are undergoing development and whose initial outlook is being challenged enough that they're slowly drifting away from it. Some of the most interesting characters in long-running works of art (literature or television) have at one point been a TN Transitioner: Saruman from Tolkien, Zuko from The last Airbender, Snape from Harry Potter). This archetype is fascinating to play, because change is always interesting and successful character development is, in my experience, the single best and most fulfilling accomplishment roleplay has to offer.

    The Transitioner is all about dosage: first you make him act rather consistently according to his original alignment, then you introduce a dissonance with a few actions of the opposite alignment. Keep it up until your character doesn't know where he stands; that's the Neutral phase. Then make him act more and more consistently like the destination-alignment, while making him revert to his old ways from time to time. A final nudge in the right direction to make him firmly [insert new alignment] is possible, but it's optional, since ambiguity is part of what makes the Transitioner interesting.You've got your final product. I'll expand on that in the very next section.
    Last edited by Seto; 2016-12-15 at 05:41 PM.
    Avatar by Mr_Saturn
    ______________________
    • Kids, watch Buffy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bard1cKnowledge
    Charisma, it makes the difference between "Oh hey, it's this guy!" And "oh hey it's this guy."
    My True Neutral Handbook, a resource for creating and playing TN characters.

    Check out my extended signature and the "Gitp regulars as..." that I've been honored with!

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Seto's Avatar

    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Location
    Paris, France
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Pursuit of Happiness : a practical Guide to playing True Neutral

    5 - "It's just a phase": Getting in and out of True Neutrality


    There are two types of TN characters: those who are here to stay, and the others. I'm talking about this because it's often relevant to TN, but you can just as well read it as a small treaty on alignment change.

    Now, changing alignments is a long and important process. In D&D metaphysics, it means changing the very nature of your soul. Alignment change shouldn't occur everytime someone acts a bit out of character. And TN certainly shouldn't be a revolving door you pass through while going from Chaotic Good to Lawful Evil and back. However, because it is a long and significant process, it's one of the most interesting your character can undertake. My advice? Plan in it advance (while staying reasonably flexible, of course, because you don't know how the campaign is going to turn out). The best changes come from the seeds that were present in the character's personality from the beginning, albeit discretly. If you need an ethical dilemma to trigger the process, talk it out with your DM and ask for one; if he's on board with cooperatively telling a compelling story, he'll understand. Even if the triggering event and the subsequent change were unplanned (in the course of the campaign, a Devil comes up and offers your character a deal, for example), do think hard about the psychological and ethical repercussions of the important choices your character makes. Accepting a deal with a Devil is enough of a reason to reconsider your vision of your character, retroactively call it a starting point, and plan for a progressive alignment change. Similarly, receiving forgiveness and love when he doesn't deserve it nor expect it, might be the first step towards a realization and a change of your character's self-image.






    Of course there needs to be a reason behind the change of outlook. I trust you to find individual reasons well-adapted to your character, but I'm going to offer three possibilities, ranging from the most internal to the most external.

    First one: transition out of epiphany.

    Some big event or revelation has affected the character's life and worldview with such force that he suddenly realizes he's been lost for a long time, and now he wants to change. This isn't going to be easy at first and he'll fall back a lot into old habits. But eventually he'll get the hang of it.

    Second one: transition out of external influence.

    The character has moved into a new place, has a new social status, has met new people. He doesn't think like them, but, being exposed to this new outlook, he recognizes some truth in it. As time passes and these interestingly different people become more and more important to him, he ends up accepting it as his own. (Spoiler alert: for PCs, those new people are the party. Roleplaying moral influence on each other is one of the finest and most subtle party dynamics there is).

    Third one: transition out of habit.

    At first, for some reason, the character's been coerced into acting a different way than usual. He didn't like it, it was repugnant to him. But then, habit dulled the disgust, and he came to understand some of the reasons behind what he was forced to do. Some of those tasks, he became good at, and he even began to like them. Thus, subtly and slowly, his mindset changed. In many ways, this third option is the polar opposite of the first: transition out of habit makes you find what you do meaningful when it was meaningless to you before, transition out of epiphany makes you suddenly realize that what you thought was meaningful is in fact meaningless.


    How to make it look smooth.

    Some alignment changes go around TN, some go through TN, and some end up at TN. Most of the time, what's interesting about the TN phase of such a change is that a character's ambiguity and complexity is then at its peak. Neutrality makes up the bulk of a transition. The challenge there is to convey both the general direction of the change (to make clear that a Lawful character is having second thoughts about their unquestioning faith in their superiors, for example) and the general disorientation of the character. It needs to be precise and messy at the same time.

    To do that, you need a few milestones. I suggest these: the moment when your character's heart changes, the moment when he changes his mind, the moment when his behavior changes. These three milestones can happen in any order (you can even have two at the same time). I suggest you mark each of them with a symbolic event (significant act or declaration). In-between milestones, gradually insert hints of the alignment to come. When your character has reached his second milestone, consider his alignment changed by one step. (from whatever alignment to TN, in our case). If this is a one-step transition, the third milestone will serve to cement the character in his new alignment. If this is a two-step transition, I suggest waiting a long time between the second and the third milestone that will mark the end of the change. All throughout, and for some time after the new alignment has been reached, add in some sparser and sparser traits of the old alignment. I'm not covering transitions that go more than two steps, because I'm generally wary of them (they cause confusion and create such a multifaceted character that he might as well just be TN), but if you must, either accelerate the progression (two steps in one very important milestone), or divide it between several transitions.

    I realize this is all pretty abstract, so I'll give a concrete example, spoilered in the unlikely case you haven't gotten to the end of Harry Potter yet. I'll expand on the case of Severus Snape, who offers a smooth transition from NE to NG via TN.

    Spoiler
    Show
    Snape's an unhappy child with an abandonment complex. Like every child, he's TN (or better yet, unaligned). He then goes to Hogwarts, where he proceeds to be bullied by James Potter and his friends, and his feelings of inadequacy and jealousy lead him to be a jerk to the love of his life. Meanwhile, he falls in with the wrong crowd and adopts their Pureblood ideology because it's the Slytherin thing to do and it makes him feel like for the first time of his life he's part of something. It also makes him feel powerful, which flatters his pettiness. Once he graduates, he becomes a Death Eater and serves Voldemort. Does bad things. At this point he's NE.

    But then, partly because of him, Voldemort sets his mind to killing Lily Evans (along with James and Harry Potter, but Snape doesn't care about them). Snape, desperate, goes to Dumbledore, asks him to protect her. Dumbledore demands something in exchange. Snape replies "Whatever you want". This is the first milestone : change of behavior. It's safe to assume that at this point he stops actively helping Voldemort, and stays at his side only to avoid being killed for desertion. He's still NE, though.

    Then Lily does die by the hand of Voldemort. From this point on, he feels hatred and disgust towards himself, the Death Eaters, and what he was. He's lost and angry at the world. He agrees (for emotional reasons) to protect Harry, seeing as he's Lily's only and most precious legacy. This is the second milestone, the change of heart. At this point he feels remorse (as explicitly stated by Dumbledore) for what he's done and is disgusted at the idea of murder : he's become TN.

    Flash-forward several years later. Harry arrives at Hogwarts. Snape is still petty and bitter (after all that's his personality), but he protects him as promised. He's ironically become the Defender by substituting Harry, whom he hates, for Lily, whom he loved (and still does). And then, at one point - the exact turning point is unclear but I personally consider it to be Voldemort's return in the fourth volume -, the third milestone arrives. Instead of fleeing, he states "I'm not a coward". He undertakes the extremely dangerous job of double agent for Dumbledore. He actively works to bring down the people responsible for killing his beloved. When he has to kill Dumbledore, he does so with hatred towards himself, because he sees it as a reminder of who he was back in his Evil days. Furthermore, he stays at Hogwarts, accepting the fact that every Good person in the world thinks he's an Evil scumbag, and does all he can to protect the students from their Death Eater teachers. And most importantly, he does it partially because he still loves Lily, but also because it's the right thing to do. His own pain has led him to compassion for other people's pain and given him the will to fight so that this organization that kills people's loved ones is dismembered once and for all. When Dumbledore calls him out on his troubled past ("How many people have you seen die ?"), he answers "Recently ? Only those I couldn't save". He's NG now. he's had a change of mind (that doubles as a second change of heart).

    Snape is a prime example of a transitioner out of epiphany. His transition makes him more able than any other Good character in Harry Potter to understand the nature of Evil. He's the hero who's willing to get his hands dirty, but with great reluctance and just exactly enough for the bad guys to think he's Evil.




    6- TN, Religion and Spirituality.

    "Man knows that the world is not made on a human scale; and he wishes that it were."
    Andrι Malraux



    Religion ? Not that big a deal.

    True Neutral characters are not likely to be zealots. They have problems with strong, dogmatic beliefs. Most TN characters even have a deep-seated hatred of fanatics of all kinds. However, Neutrality, an alignment seeking compromise, often includes some sort of conformism. For this reason, in the religious world of D&D, few True Neutral characters are agnostics. Which raises the question: what place does religion have in their lives?


    Most TN characters just go about their daily business and pay lip service to one or several Gods. Even for those who mean the words of their prayers, their main concern will be asking for divine favor and avoiding divine wrath in their everyday lives. They'll make offerings to the God of the Sea if they're getting on a boat, to the God of Fertility if they're harvesting.


    True Neutral Mysticism.

    But those few True Neutral characters that are sincerely religious, are deeply so. And their belief is characterized by the blurring of the lines between the individual and the multiverse, the mortal and the divine. They're great mystics.

    Indeed, the notion of balance, so dear to some TN characters, suggests a sacred order of the multiverse. For the world and for the soul to function, balance must be found between the same forces: Good, Evil, Law and Chaos. Thus the soul and the multiverse mirror each other. This gives TN's spirituality a particular outlook: the multiverse is at once too great to be measured, and profoundly relatable. A common religious experience among TN mystics is the fundamental unity of being: they are at once themselves and the world. The individual and the divine are made of the same stuff. The very experience of their finite state and their mortality allows them to transcend both finitude and mortality by becoming spiritually one with the world.

    TN spirituality exists in the space of that tension, that gap, between the mortal condition and divinity. True Neutral is the alignment of a mortal who's recognized and embraced his condition. By this act of acceptance, he's already transcending it somewhat.


    True Neutral Divine Characters.

    Devotion to Nature fits that bill perfectly. Therefore, the great majority of TN Divine characters are Druids. A Cleric is forbidden from being True Neutral unless their deity is itself True Neutral. Boccob, God of Magic, doesn't have many TN followers, and he doesn't care. Clerics of Boccob are generally wizardy types. Fharlanghn, God of Roads and Travel, resonates more with TN people. Indeed, he's concerned about the journey through life as well as the journey through space. His followers see him as the patron of human experience, who watches over them as they travel through their mortal life, pursuing balance and happiness. Finally, some Cleric-philosophers choose to worship an entire pantheon (or the concept of Balance or Unity), to better represent their acceptance of all aspects of life as parts of a whole.
    Last edited by Seto; 2016-12-15 at 05:44 PM.
    Avatar by Mr_Saturn
    ______________________
    • Kids, watch Buffy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bard1cKnowledge
    Charisma, it makes the difference between "Oh hey, it's this guy!" And "oh hey it's this guy."
    My True Neutral Handbook, a resource for creating and playing TN characters.

    Check out my extended signature and the "Gitp regulars as..." that I've been honored with!

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Seto's Avatar

    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Location
    Paris, France
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Pursuit of Happiness : a practical Guide to playing True Neutral

    7- Roleplaying tips: Silly stuff that TN does.







    Be careful and consistent with your character: not every TN character does every one of those things. Some are for TN-by-default, some are for TN-by-choice, some are for Int-Based TN, some are for Wis-Based-TN, and so on. But all of them are here for your enjoyment and to help you assert the very truly True Neutral Neutrality of your incredibly TN character

    • When in a debate, defend the opposite position of your interlocutor's. Just to let them know their point of view is partial (and if you're well-intentioned, to let them develop and test their ideas' solidity).

    • When faced with a moral or ethical dilemma, take into account the practicality and efficiency of whatever options exist. (I'm not saying you should ultimately go with the most efficient; but at least consider it as an option).

    • When you hear someone give motivational speeches about abstract ideals, be sure to sigh, raise your eyes or frown.

    • Ask your friends for help and help them when they need it.

    • Be the mediator when party members with opposing alignments are arguing. Or alternatively, just sigh and tell them how fed up you are with their constant bickering.

    • When asked to participate in something dangerous, ask what is in it for you.

    • Depending on the context and how much self-confidence you have, either admire or despise those who have strong convictions.

    • Practice yoga.

    • Take every occasion to remind your party members how much you like quiet places, like your living room back home, or your Druidic sanctuary, and please couldn't they try to kill things a little more silently.

    • When you disagree with people, try to empathize and understand where they are coming from.

    • Often mock or criticize Good people for being naive, Chaotic people for being irresponsible, Lawful people for being uptight and Evil people for being jerks. Occasionally, applaud Good people for being just, Chaotic people for being free-spirited and Lawful people for being reliable. After all, they mean well and they're your friends. (Yes, intentionally "forget" to applaud Evil people. No one likes them).



    8- Conclusion:


    This is it, it's finished. I'm kind of excited right now. I hope I haven't screwed it up too much, and I hope this can provide some insight into True Neutrality and why it's not a boring alignment.

    Thank you for reading and bearing with me even when I use five sentences to say what I could have said in one (even though I've gotten good at speaking English, I have yet to shape it into an effective writing style). I'm open to remarks, criticism and debate. Also, if this has helped you create a TN character, you're welcome to tell me all about your PC in the comments, or just share tales of all the fun you've had playing TN.

    P.S. Hey, guys, I've actually managed to get through an entire TN handbook without a single Treebeard picture or quote. This feels like much more of an accomplishment than it probably should.


    Acknowledgments :


    - To every handbook author who's made me realize how useful these things are. Particularly, to Thealtruistorc who had the great idea of an alignment handbook (CE, no less) and was the first to brilliantly execute that idea.

    - To ThinkMinty for being the first to read and comment (see Superthread), and encouraging me to rework on the formatting.

    - To lenon3579 for the chessboard quote in section 3.
    Last edited by Seto; 2015-12-21 at 09:14 AM.
    Avatar by Mr_Saturn
    ______________________
    • Kids, watch Buffy.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bard1cKnowledge
    Charisma, it makes the difference between "Oh hey, it's this guy!" And "oh hey it's this guy."
    My True Neutral Handbook, a resource for creating and playing TN characters.

    Check out my extended signature and the "Gitp regulars as..." that I've been honored with!

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •