Mar 4, 2012

Heroes are Extremists (Part Three: Neutral)

Part One
Part Two

A neutral character, on the Axis of Intent, is one who does not actively try to save or harm anyone, or who looks out for those within his own sphere of family or friends or teammates. On the Axis of Means this character is neither lawful or chaotic; he believes in the necessity of some laws, but is willing to break others when the situation requires.

Lawful Neutral- I have claimed on occasion that the average person is lawful neutral: you don't speed but in a hurry may go what is "safely" a bit over the limit, you probably pass by the begging homeless man but you wouldn't kick him either, you dutifully pay your bills and fill out your paperwork, like it or not. Obviously the average person still leaves a lot of room for various personalities. The lawful neutral doesn't care enough to be evil or good, but doesn't want to get arrested and so follows the law. No heroes or villains here, but this person can be a helpful nice guy protagonist or an antagonistic obstacle through inaction.

True Neutral- The true neutrals are druids and mindless androids. The druids traditionally are devoted to the balance, and so for them pro- or antagonism depends on which way the wind blows. In a crap world where the ruling forces are evil a druid can unquestionably side with good in order to restore the balance, in a good or even nearly-balanced world things are a bit more iffy. The true neutral is difficult to make into a hero, though in said crap world this is entirely possible, and more often is a protagonist if the balance is on the players' side, or an antagonist through inaction or complacency, though unresistant and so truly just a speed bump.

Chaotic Neutral- The chaotic neutral works for the good of those he deems worthy, and screw everyone else! The chaotic neutral abides by no rules except occasionally his own. Mr. Freeze is one of my favorite Batman villains for this reason: he is not evil. He does everything he does because saving his wife is more important that the laws he breaks or the people he kills to do it. How many of us, to save a loved one, would worry about the laws that prevented us from doing so? And does this make us, as Mr Freeze, villains? This puts us on a fine line between Law and Chaos that can be fun to twist on your players.
The same character can, in this way, be portrayed as a hero. Any superhero, say Wolverine, willing to take desperate measures for his cause, maybe even kill, who does it not for the public good but for his own reasons, fits in this category.

I should say at this point that in most intents chaos is, despite its nature, a breeding ground for heroes, especially tragic heroes. Chaos speaks to us of desperation, of having to do whatever can be done, despite and laws or consequences. For those of you wondering why I insist on heroics in the middle of the spectrum, I hope this explanation suffices: everyone loves to see a hero broken down, a noble figure on the brink, and sometimes when they fall we smile through our tears because even to the end we could call them heroes, and if we couldn't, their extremism makes them villains. This, to my mind, is the compelling side of chaos.
The system so far...

The neutral end of the spectrum requires finesse in the creation of heroes or villains, but it is not impossible. More often it is the mundane, everyday people that mill about the center of the spectrum, but being among them we know just how varied our struggles can be, so do not hesitate to draw from this area as we all know how dramatic our everyday struggles are.

The final part of this series is coming soon. Can we find heroes even in the realm of evil? Part Four is coming.


  1. Watchmenized:
    -Rorschach: chaotic good
    -Nite Owl: lawful good
    -Dr. Manhattan: true neutral
    -Miss Jupiter: neutral good
    -The Comedian: Chaotic (also lawful?) Evil
    -Ozymandias: Who knows? Chaotic good?

    I think most old-school characters are probably chaotic neutral, also. Who would want to be anything else?

  2. I've always thought of The Comedian as chaotic neutral actually.
    Really like the bit about tragic heroes and desperation, nearly always leads to irony which is always enjoyable.