A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true 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, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he’s not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true 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. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.
The “true” neutral looks upon all other alignments as facets of the system of many things. Thus, each aspect–evil and good, chaos and law–of things must be retained in balance to maintain the status quo; for things as they are cannot be improved upon except temporarily, and even then but superficially. Nature will prevail and keep things as they were meant to be, provided the “wheel” surrounding the hub of nature does not become unbalanced due to the work of unnatural forces–such as human and other intelligent creatures interfering with what is meant to be. Absolute, or true, neutral creatures view everything which exists as an integral, necessary part or function of the entire cosmos. Each thing exists as a part of the whole, one as a check or balance to the other, with life necessary for death, happiness for suffering, good for evil, order for chaos, and vice versa. Nothing must ever become predominant or out of balance. Within this naturalistic ethos, humankind serves a role also, just as all other creatures do. The may be more or less important, but the neutral does not concern himself or herself with these considerations except where it is positively determined that the balance is threatened. Absolute neutrality is the central or fulcrum position quite logically, as the neutral sees all other alignments as parts of a necessary whole. This alignment is the narrowest in scope. (1)
True neutral characters are concerned with their own well-being and that of the group or organization which aids them. They may behave in a good manner to those that they consider friends and allies, but will only act maliciously against those who have tried to injure them in some way. For the rest, they do not care. They do not wish ill on those they do not know, but they also do not care when they hear of evil befalling them. Better for others to suffer the evil than the true neutral and his allies. If an ally is in need, the true neutral will aid him, out of genuine love or because he may be able to count on that ally a little more in the future. If someone else is in need, they will weigh the options of the potential rewards and dangers associated with the act. If an enemy is in need, they will ignore him or take advantage of his misfortune.
True neutrals are offended by those who are opinionated or bigoted. A “hell-fire and brimstone” lawful good priest is just as offensive as a neutral evil racial supremacist in their eyes. They do not necessarily strive for philosophical balance. In fact, they may avoid philosophical considerations altogether. A true neutral may take up the cause of his nation, not because he necessarily feels obligated to do so, but because it just makes sense to support the group that protects your way of life. True neutrals tend to believe in lex talionis forms of justice.
However, a true neutral being with a highly philosophical outlook may hold that law, chaos, good, and evil are all necessary forces in the universe. But all are of equal import, and none should be allowed to take precedence over another, unless an imbalance should be perceived–in which case corrective steps must be taken until the balance is righted once again. Hence, the motives of a highly philosophical true neutral character are perhaps the most difficult for any other alignment to fathom, for such a true neutral being will usually act first to preserve the balance, second if he deems it his business, and third if it is in his own best interests. For these reasons, being nature’s mediators, true neutral characters should be diplomatic and tactful, but they may also come across as being strange and enigmatic until one gets to know them and their “world view” better. This is because some true neutral beings look far beyond the immediate situation to the overall balance of the cosmos. Most true neutral characters will, throughout their lives, tend more or less toward one of the other alignments, dependent upon their perception of the state of the world and what force should be balanced. Such a “deviation” will be temporary, until the true neutral being recognizes and modifies his actions in accordance with the new balance. For example, once the strong evil forces in an area have been conquered, and the balance restored, the true neutral character will stop acting “good.” In, addition, this attitude of balance will ordinarily be reflected in a true neutral’s choice of companions and should thus be demonstrated with reasonable consistency. As all things in the cosmos are equally important and necessary, life is as valuable as death to the true neutral being, because life is inevitably followed by death. In this character’s view, one’s time will come when it is supposed to come, and no sooner or later. (2)
True neutral is typically the most misunderstood of all alignments. One common misconception is thinking that true neutral characters seek a balance by deliberately following a certain alignment one day and an entirely different alignment the next. Such behavior makes true neutral characters unpredictable, and the cumulative effect promotes chaos more than anything else. True neutral characters tend to remain nonjudgmental and uncommitted to any moral, legal, or philosophical system beyond the basic tenets of their own society. Despite this fact, true neutral beings do not resent being into struggles involving different viewpoints. True neutral individuals do not lack interest, ambition, or passion–they value their own well-being and that of friends and loved ones. They may struggle passionately on behalf of themselves or others, as well as feel compassion for those they barely know. In fact, since most humans are true neutral, it is the alignment of the majority of people encountered in day-to-day situations. (3)
A true neutral character will keep his word if in his best interest. He may attack an unarmed foe if he feels it necessary. He will not kill, but may harm an innocent. He may use torture to extract information, but never for pleasure. He will never kill for pleasure, only in self-defense or in the defense of others. A true neutral character may use poison as long as there is an overwhelming need. He will help those in need if it is in his best interest and works well alone or in a group. He responds well to higher authority until that authority attempts to use the law to hamper his ability to pursue his own self-interest. He will follow the law unless breaking it is in his best interest and he’s reasonably sure that he will not be caught. He will never betray a family member, comrade, or friend unless the situation is dire. True neutral characters are indifferent to the concepts of self-discipline and honor, finding them useful only if they can be used to advance their own interests. (4)
Here are some possible adjectives describing true neutral characters: diplomatic, judgmental, enigmatic, aloof, distant, self-reliant, mediatory, even-handed, fair, indifferent, and impartial.
Well known true neutral characters from film or literature include: The Watchers (Marvel Comics), Horace Slughorn (Harry Potter), and Tom Bombadil (Lord of the Rings).
Equivalent alignment in other game systems: Neutral (Warhammer), Apathetic, Worldly, and Conformist (Alternity).
A list of Ten Commandments for a true neutral religion may look like this:
- You shall avoid lies.
- You shall not kill the innocent.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall help the needy if such action aids yourself.
- You shall honor those who honor you.
- You shall follow the law unless breaking the law can advance you without harming others.
- You shall not betray others unless your life is in jeopardy.
- You shall aid those who aid you and harm those who harm you.
- You shall not promote an extreme viewpoint.
- You shall advance yourself without harming others.
Likewise, a true neutral religion may list the following as sins. This list is given in the order of least severe infraction to most severe.
- Trying to persuade others to take a stance on a moral or ethical issue.
- Failing to assist a friend or ally.
- Killing for any reason other than survival.
- Breaking your word to a friend or ally, unless life is threatened.
- Needless torture.
- Making a sacrifice for someone unrelated to you.
- Refusing to kill when important to your survival.
- Betraying an ally or friend, unless life is in danger.
- Showing mercy to a dire enemy.
- Taking sides in a conflict that doesn’t affect your survival.
The following two lists detail common actions undertaken during “adventuring” that are considered honorable and dishonorable for the true neutral alignment. An honorable action is one that is in keeping with the spirit of this alignment, while dishonorable actions tend to be those which bring shame to the character in the eyes of his or her alignment peers. Note that an action which is considered honorable by one alignment may be considered dishonorable by another alignment and vice versa.
The following actions are honorable for this alignment:
- Defeating a superior opponent.
- Dirty Fighting.
- Fleeing a fight with a superior opponent.
- Gloating over a victory.
- Perpetrate humiliating prank on enemy.
The following actions are dishonorable for this alignment:
- Allowing the enemy to attack first.
- Being taken prisoner.
- Convicted of a crime.
- Defeated by an inferior opponent.
- Killing a host who has provided you food or shelter.
A true neutral being…
- Values his family, but will not heed their requests necessarily.
- Will provide for friends, and expects to be repaid in some manner.
- Does not seek positions of authority over others.
- Fits in with their society.
- Supports their nation.
- Supports the law when advantageous to do so.
- Is not concerned with politics, most likely.
- Will keep his word, generally.
- Will take risks if the benefits are great.
- Will not aid family members in need if personal discomfort is required.
- Will not betray a family member, unless the circumstances are dire.
- Has few close friends and would never betray those he has, unless circumstances are dire.
- Is generally well liked by his community, but normally will not seek to improve the community.
- Will support his nation when profitable to do so, but will not act against his nation if profitable.
- Believes people deserve the treatment they are willing to endure.
- Is not concerned with those less fortunate.
- Will not harm others for profit.
A true neutral government rarely influences the community. Those in power prefer to pursue their private goals. True neutral societies tend to adopt whatever government seems most expedient at the moment. A particular form of government lasts as long as the ruler or dynasty in power can maintain it. The people cooperate when it suits them. Such true neutral territories often act as buffer states between lands of extreme alignment difference (for example, between a lawful good barony and a vile chaotic evil principality). They shift allegiance artfully to preserve their borders against the advances of both sides in a conflict.
True Neutral vs. Neutral Good
Neutral good and true neutral characters both believe that any means should be used to achieve desirable outcomes, but they disagree on exactly what types of outcomes are desirable. The neutral good character uses a variety of means to promote and further the cause of goodness, but true neutral characters are not interested in a selfless pursuit of beneficial results for others. Where neutral good characters are altruistic, true neutral characters are interested in their own affairs. True neutral characters will behave altruistically when it comes to friends, relatives, and allies, but for the most part will return the kind of treatment they receive from others. Neutral good characters, on the other hand, will behave altruistically even when dealing with others who are not friends or relatives, and may even forgive enemies that have done them grievous harm in the past (provided their enemy has truly mended his ways). True neutral characters will not extend the olive branch in such situations and may take advantage of their enemy’s weakness to protect themselves from further machinations. True neutral characters follow a morality of reciprocity. Neutral good characters follow the Golden Rule.
True Neutral vs. Neutral Evil
Although true neutral and neutral evil characters are both primarily interested in their own advancement and welfare, neutral evil characters ruthlessly pursue their self-interest, even at the expense of others. The true neutral character will use any means to benefit themselves, but will not follow this philosophy to its extreme conclusion through an unrestrained pursuit of self-interest. The true neutral character understands that more benefit for the self can be garnered by behaving altruistically sometimes, especially when they have been the beneficiaries of the altruistic behavior of others. If someone treats a true neutral character well, they can expect that character to treat them well. The neutral evil character does not believe that one good turn deserves another, however. The neutral evil character will of course accept the altruistic generosity of others, and may even appear to return the favor on occasion. The neutral evil character will not behave altruistically for the benefit of others, only for the benefit of the self. Any actions which seem good are merely actions which the neutral evil character has determined will give him a greater benefit in the future, often to the detriment of their benefactor. If someone treats a neutral evil character well, they can only expect good treatment from that character as long as the current relationship offers the best advantage to him. As soon as the neutral evil character can benefit to a greater degree by betraying his benefactor, he will. True neutral characters see such behavior as detrimental to self-interest (and unfair to those who have helped them) and thus will not betray benefactors. Neutral evil characters have no such qualms about burning bridges if the reward is great enough.
True Neutral vs. Lawful Neutral
Lawful neutral and true neutral characters are similar in their morality. Both of these types will tend to return the treatment they receive from others. They differ in their outlook concerning legitimate authority and the structure of society. True neutral characters believe that laws should be followed as long as the law benefits themselves. They will also follow laws out of fear of punishment. If they can break a law which does not support their self-interest, and there is a good chance that they will not be caught breaking the law, true neutral characters may break laws. However, true neutral characters prefer to follow the law, because usually it is in their best interest to follow laws. Lawful neutral characters follow laws not only for their own self-interest, but also because they believe that one should always follow the law, even laws that run counter to self-interest. The lawful neutral character takes issue with the true neutral because the true neutral character will readily admit that he mostly benefits from the law, but he will not go out of his way to support the law. True neutral characters feel that lawful neutral characters are too obsessed with established laws and customs to realize that they may be better able to support their own interests by advancing personal freedom as well as law and order.
True Neutral vs. Chaotic Neutral
Chaotic neutral and true neutral characters have a similar moral outlook. They tend to follow a morality of reciprocity, behaving altruistically toward benefactors and egoistically toward malefactors. Their difference involves their outlook on laws and society. The true neutral character wants to work within the law and will observe most customs and mores because it it in their best interest to do so. True neutral characters don’t want to “rock the boat” but will on occasion if their self-interest is overwhelmingly served by breaking the law or flouting custom. The chaotic neutral character sees no value in laws, customs, or mores. A chaotic neutral character may appear to follow many laws, but does not do so because they believe in any inherent value to such systems. The chaotic neutral character believes in the pure freedom to pursue their own self-interest (and for others to pursue their own interests in the same manner). Although the true neutral character does not believe that the law should be followed all of the time, neither do they believe that laws are completely useless. They believe that chaotic neutral characters actually limit themselves by refusing to consider that sometimes self-interest can best be served by order in society. Chaotic neutral characters feel that true neutral characters limit themselves by paying lip service to laws and customs that they do not necessarily support.
How True Neutral Views the Other Alignments
The chart below shows how True Neutral views itself and the other eight alignments.
Strict and Idealistic
Practical but Idealistic
Lax and Idealistic
Realistic but Strict
Practical and Realistic
Realistic but Lax
Strict and Egoistic
Practical but Egoistic
Lax and Egoistic
Ethical neutrals view both lawfuls and chaotics as extreme. They see lawfuls as overly strict and rigid while chaotics are viewed as overly lax and inconsistent. Ethical neutrals feel that they take a practical approach to matters involving rules and regulations.
Characters who are morally neutral tend to see themselves as realistic. So-called “good” is actually an idealistic and naive philosophy in their eyes. Moral neutrals also eschew what they see as the radical egoism of darker, “evil” philosophies.
True neutral is the philosophy that harmony and freedom are both important in society and that altruism and egoism are both legitimate ends. It is a philosophy of pure equitistic consequentialism. This philosophy holds that people should pursue a rational self-interest while balancing the needs of the state or social order with the freedom of individuals to pursue their own agenda. True neutral can also be associated with ethical equitism and skepticism. As the philosophical “average” of altruism and egoism, equitism holds that harm to others should be minimized when advancing the self and that harm to the self should be minimized when advancing others.
True neutral philosophers generally maintain that there is metaphysical balance in the multiverse and thus may support doctrines of soft determinism, pragmatism, conventionalism, and/or instrumentalism. They may believe in free will or choice. They could also embrace skepticism or suspend judgment on philosophical issues. They tend to be moral relativists, holding that values differ from society to society, from person to person; that they are conditioned by the peculiarities of the society in which they arise; that they are not universally applicable at all times or in all places; and that they are correct or incorrect, desirable or undesirable only relative to whether or not they conform to a common norm or to common acceptance.
The ideal government for this alignment is any social order that balances the needs of the state and the individual and allows beings to pursue their own interests as long as they do not violate the rights of others. True neutral beings want the benefits of the social order to be applied equally to all. Any form of justice that is fair and impartial is desirable.
Source: D&D Alignment: True Neutral
(1) Gygax, Gary. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide. TSR:1979. and Gygax, Gary. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook. TSR:1978.
(2) Renaud, J.R. “Making law out of chaos.” Dragon (#163). November 1990: 74-78.
(3) Pulver, David. The Complete Druid’s Handbook. TSR: 1994.
(4) Parlagreco, Carl. “Another View of the Nine-Point Alignment Scheme.” The Dragon (#26). June 1979: 23.