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In many RPGs (or at least the ones I've heard of) the alignment system tends to have two definitions of a true-neutral character. Generally, they are something to the effect of what follows.

Definition 1.) Someone who does whatever seems to be the best idea at the time. They do not have an urge to do what is 'good' or 'lawful,' but neither do they go out of their way to avoid doing things in that manner. The same is true of 'evil' and 'chaotic' actions, with the major difference on how they view the other alignments being that lawful and/or good societies tend to be more appealing to live in to a neutral character than a chaotic and/or evil society.

Definition 2.) Someone who believes the world is a metaphorical scale, with all actions affecting the balance between the various forces at play in it. Often, either the balance of all things in the world or the complete detachment from the world is the goal of these characters.

My question: How would one play this second type of character? As an example, if I were to play a true-neutral druid who believes in a system such as feng shui, how would I go about doing this? Would I have to take into consideration all of his actions, and then determine if they affected the balance of the universe in a great enough way that he needs to take steps to restore said balance? If he helped destroy the greatest evil in the world, would he then have to commit evil acts, in order to restore the balance between good and evil?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I have found that trying to maintain an exact balance was just impossible. As you said, it ends up being ridiculous: if I help an old person to cross the road, do I have to steal her bag right after that?

So after a long time trying to play this kind of character, I realized that the important part was not to maintain an hypothetical balance (which might not even exist in the first place), but to avoid extremes.

For example:

  • You don't want the evil demons to eradicate the Good Guys. But you don't want either the Good Guys to eradicate the evil demons.

  • Total war is bad. World peace too.

  • Civilization leading to Nature's extermination is bad. But Nature overwhelmingly destroying civilization is bad too.

It ends up being more fun to play, as you don't have to worry about any single action, only the grand scheme of things.

And I believe it is closer to the intended concept, as by making sure that both sides of the coin always exist, you are really working towards Balance.

(it will also makes you develop a "Neutral Mind", which is always a good thing)

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This is really philosophical but I'm gonna try something here. In the mindset of a True Neutral Druid, your perception of evil would be three things.

  • Demons and other usual evil aligned creatures (as usual)
  • Anything that represent a threat to the cosmological balance
  • Anything that threaten nature (you're still a Druid after all)

Point two is the complicated part here. You need to define, to your character what is "balance". You can focus on all aspect of it or go in a specific domain. Such as nature vs. civilization or fire vs. water etc. Is killing someone threatening the balance? Killing someone evil might bring peace for a while and later trigger a bigger threat (the son who seeks revenge). Since you never know what are the ultimate consequences of a murder, you might avoid killing at all.

You could roleplay a really wise person who thinks before he talks. Someone who will measure everything he does and even think. Your character could have been marked by some event to suddenly be such in tune to the universe. Maybe you were indoctrinated by some druid circle who focus on nature trying to survive the expansion of civilization.

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I think a balance druid would have to be wise and always looking at the bigger picture.

I'd play them as preserving balance to prevent destruction, especially of things that are ancient and hard to replace. The worst sins to a balance druid are genocide (even of an evil race), destruction of nature, and defiling of ancient sites.

Be careful not to disrupt the game by refusing the adventure or doing something ridiculous; e.g. switching sides mid-fight in the name of fairness, or refusing to take actions that might make someone more powerful. The "bigger picture" should let you find ways around a conundrum. Killing one creature might protect a hundred others, and stealing an artifact might be the best way to protect it.

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You could play the character as one striving for balance and making (and roleplaying) the sort of agonizing choices that you have in your question.

Should I commit this obviously evil act for balance? Should I help this evil lich regain his kingdom?

Great questions to be explored in game!

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I would say they could easily view balance more as "the long path". Or similar to entropy. There are ebbs and flows, and it can push one direction or the other for a long period, and going one direction isn't a problem, you can even encourage it ... As long as its not something that is liable to become permanent. There are seasons after all. You go through spring and summer before reaching fall and finally to winter. Temporary ascendency of law, of good, of order is not, in the long run, the issue. Local ascendancy of good is not an issue, there can be places that are good, places that are evil, places that are lawful, places that are anarchic, all without violating a philosophy of balance.

If, on the other hand, it threatens to become permanent, then it may need to be addressed.

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@RDM kudos (and an upvote) for the entropy vs permanence angle.

Another way to spin the "long path" view is to have the character's objective in affecting the balance be more of a crusade-type plot element ("think globally, act locally"). Here, neutrality is a result of the character’s construction, rather than an abstract cause for their behavior. The player and the GM can identify a central or recurring theme of the campaign setting, then set the balancing goal against that and use it to create drama. I'd avoid selections that cause too extreme or too frequent conflicts, or are in direct conflict with the genre (such as extreme aversion to any type of killing in a medieval setting).

Remember that alignment isn’t the entirety of your personality; it doesn’t have to color every minor decision. This can work especially well if the alignment in question is religion-driven, rather than morality or choice-driven. The character’s deity may set the uber-goal, and the character is forced to find ways to drive towards that goal, occasionally against their basic instincts.

Some examples:

  • Perhaps there is an excessive proliferation of magical items in the world, which the player needs to help curb. This would drive them to push the party towards artifact-driven quests, barter for more than their share of magic items, develop strategies for destruction or containment, etc. They would look for opportunities to eliminate powerful items, for good or ill. This is certain to cause some strife amongst power-players.

  • Perhaps the expansion of cities is upsetting the balance across the globe. A conscientious character would certainly strive to protect wild lands and natural settings/creatures, but might also be unable to resist when presented with an opportunity to start a war between two growing city-states, or triggering a powerful magical effect that could cause an earthquake or tidal wave.

An agnostic, high-level world/universe balancing goal provides a moral compass that can very easily be used by the GM to steer the character down both “good” and “evil” paths equally, while providing an in-game rationale for the character’s neutrality beyond what the player has penned into the Alignment space on their sheet.

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