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I have recently started GM-ing a new group of players, most of them are unexperienced. One of the players is a Chaotic Neutral Rogue.

This description of Chaotic Neutral mentions that such character can be portrayed by others as a "greedy" type, while the character himself might see his actions as "self-fulfillment". So a form of "greed" is generally accepted to be normal for a CN character.

However this player in particular tries to steal most of the time, whenever he has a chance. He doesn't seem to care whether something belongs to someone or not and he actively expresses his intention to steal, if nobody's looking. He also lies about it to other player characters.

My question is, is this still a Chaotic Neutral character or is it becoming closer to Chaotic Evil?

  1. Is frequent stealing okay for a Chaotic Neutral character as long as they know that this does not inflict any actual harm?
  2. Is any form of stealing okay for CN, even if the character knows that something belongs to someone else (say, a poor person) and might cause problems to such victim of theft as long as the player doesn't murder that person or inflict severe harm in the process?
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Keep in mind that new players may want to "test the waters", so to say. Anyway, here's a related question with a good answer: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/18937/… Also this one might be helpful, but read it toned down a bit, e.g., replace "killing" with "stealing": rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/8002/… –  Eric Apr 23 '13 at 14:11
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@Rob Alignment should never be a straitjacket. Admittedly, more than a few Dungeons & Dragons authors themselves have messed this up. But it should be a description of how your character has acted in the past, not a proscription on how he will act in the future. –  KRyan Apr 23 '13 at 14:17

5 Answers 5

up vote 22 down vote accepted

The alignment system is not very good

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, there are numerous cases where the suggestions for what is in each alignment are contradictory, it relies on the poorly-explained idea that there are objective, cosmic Goods and Evils and Chaoses and Laws. It works well enough for simple adventure-fantasy where we are the Good guys, and those are the Evil guys, and everybody not really involved are Neutral, and the Dwarf is Lawful because he’s a Dwarf and the Elf is Chaotic cuz she’s an Elf. There’s no moral question that Detect Evil cannot solve.

If you want to play a more serious game where there are shades of gray, moral and ethical questions are ambiguous and difficult to answer, and sometimes people subvert various expectations of them, then the alignment system, as written, becomes largely useless. It might make for a convenient short-hand, but with all the hang-ups and arguments that it causes, I don’t consider it useful even for that.

And the reason that all of this is the case is because the different alignments are very poorly defined. So much so that most actions and characters can make solid arguments for almost any alignment, as I do in this answer. Sometimes it seems like it’s just the action that is Good or Evil, regardless of why you do it, other times it seems like your intentions matter, and so on. Law and Chaos are that much worse, as indicated in my answer to What is a good way to explain the difference between a Chaotic Neutral character, and a character who is just crazed?. But even Good and Evil are often described in a lot of ways that make people feel they are less “good” and “evil” and more “on the side arbitrarily labeled Good” and “on the side arbitrarily labeled Evil.”

So I personally would not pay any attention to the alignment system’s perspective on this at all. If you insist, I suspect this is considered solidly Neutral rather than Evil by... most of the published books, which is to say there are still quite a few that contradict that. Unless he’s doing things that obviously just hurt people and don’t even benefit himself (stealing some dude’s medicine that he needs to survive, but which does little or no good to anyone else), it’s a Chaotic act but not an Evil act by the stupid rules.

But I’d just ignore it and figure out your own story

Behavior like this has traditionally been taken very dimly. He could (and probably would, were this some actual reality) be arrested, and in the time periods/fictional narratives that Dungeons & Dragons typically mirrors, he could expect to lose a hand, be forced into literally back-breaking manual labor for more years than he’s likely to survive, or just get hung. His party would be expected to either aid in his capture or be treated as in league with him and treated to the same punishments.

Even if he doesn’t get caught, almost all of his party should not appreciate his antics, in-character. He’s behaving in ways that are decidedly Chaotic and non-Good, which should annoy the Lawful and Good sides of the spectrum, and for everyone else he’s just likely to get them all in trouble, get them involved in some stupid investigation or arrest or whatever when they have important things to be doing (the party does have important things to be doing, right?).

In other words, there is no real good reason why his party wouldn’t kick this guy out. He only causes problems.

And you should explain all of this to the players, out of character, so they can discuss the issue. Maybe they want a silly, light-hearted game where these kinds of antics go unnoticed and they can all laugh at the ridiculous shenanigans he got up to. Maybe they don’t realize that he’s eliminating any possibility of anything more serious. Maybe they’ve all been thinking the same thing (except for the player in question), and been waiting for you to call him on it. Regardless, get input from every player on how serious a game they want, how they feel the player’s behavior is or is not derailing the game, and so on. Find a compromise or consensus, and go with that. And if everyone else disagrees with you, you have to decide whether you are going to just accept that, or find a new group. You can’t tell them they’re all wrong and make them play as you want to play.

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When i first started playing my GM told me that a Chaotic-Neutral character will do anything that benefits himself. If stealing said item will benefit him or her in anyway, well then that is what they will do. There is a line though. When you get into murdering people for a small portion of gold, well then you are starting to cross that line, and are becoming more evil then neutral really. It is up to the GM to say when enough is enough though. You are the one controlling the game. If you think that they have gone outside of that nuetral area, fire up your flaming space cow! –  Jackskel21 Apr 23 '13 at 15:05
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@KRyan, thanks for this rich answer. I think you're right that if this gets out of hand we can discuss this out of character. And perhaps you're right that I shouldn't look at this from the perspective of the Good/Neutral/Evil alignment. I'll wait with accepting it though so that other people can try answering this question too. –  MMM Apr 23 '13 at 15:40
    
A Chaotic-Neutral can get away with just about any kind of behaviour (though arguably that might be true for most alignments). Chaotic-Neutral can absolutely be Chaotic-Stupid, but doesn't have to be. I'm currently playing a Chaotic-Neutral Bard who is totally willing to pretend to be a Good guy and he phrases all his suggestions so that the Paladin can hardly disagree. But in the end, he's willing to murder anyone who stands in the way between him and the power he craves. But he does hope it won't get to that. It's better to be loved than feared, said Machiavelli. (Or was it the opposite?) –  mcv 3 hours ago

I think your problem is not so much with his alignment as it is with his class- or specifically, his job.

Not all rogues are thieves. I've seen the class be built many different ways- from charming con men to light on their feet boxers. But lets be honest- 90% of the players playing a rogue want to steal stuff and stab people in the back, and most approach this task with a gleeful abandon that very few players ever reach for any other task. As such, the classic backstory for a rogue is something like "Left home/orphaned at a young age, fell in with local thieves guild, proceeded to steal everything not nailed down."

While such a character sometimes does not fit with a campaign story, I've found he makes remarkably more sense than the common backstories of fighters or wizards. ("Ah, so your quest for ultimate arcane power involves delving into caves killing giant rats. How obvious." "Remind me again why we grabbed the man who hits things with a sharp stick for our attempt at world conquest?")

Don't start by asking what his alignment is - start by asking what his profession is, and what his role in the party is. I'd bet the answers are "Thief" and "To take things that we need from people who have them." If I'm close, then think about whether stealing everything is a problem, or roleplaying. Also keep in mind that most games of D&D (Maybe not yours, but the bulk majority of other games) involve the regular armed assault, murder, and occasionally genocide of intelligent beings by the good guys where taking the victims' stuff afterwards is perfectly normal. (Goblin warbands, anyone?) In such an environment, robbing bystanders blind isn't exactly the biggest issue. But, since you asked about alignment...

A chaotic neutral character follows his whims. He is an individualist first and last. He values his own liberty but doesn’t strive to protect others’ freedom. He avoids authority, resents restrictions, and challenges traditions.

...

A chaotic evil character does whatever his greed, hatred, and lust for destruction drive him to do. He is hot-tempered, vicious, arbitrarily violent, and unpredictable. If he is simply out for whatever he can get, he is ruthless and brutal.

Pathfinder alignment

This seems fairly straightforward chaotic neutral. While he is driven by his greed, he does not sound filled with hatred or a lust for destruction- that's an 'and' up there, which is very different from an 'or'. He is probably also not vicious or arbitrarily violent, and it doesn't sound like he's being ruthless or brutal- he's not mugging people, he still has friends who he doesn't hurt, he's just looking out for number one. That's chaotic neutral, and as long as he keeps his thieving mitts off the other player's stuff (or if he does steal from them, it's out-of-character good naturedly and he eventually gives it back) then it sounds like everything is going just fine.

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Thanks, I agree with your points. He might be driven by greed, but as long as he does not enjoy destruction and making people suffer, he shouldn't be considered evil. –  MMM Apr 23 '13 at 15:42
    
This is an excellent answer, methinks. A lot more optimistic than mine, but I'm probably over-cynical. –  KRyan Apr 23 '13 at 18:49
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This will probably catch me so much flak but... I actually really like the D&D alignment system. It's just most people try to use it as the primary part of characterization. –  IgneusJotunn Apr 24 '13 at 14:16

The question here appears to be, "What is the primary difference between Chaotic Evil and Chaotic Neutral?" That being the case, the answer is a differing opinion of freedom and its value from the perspective of the character. I think this link explains it best:

Chaotic neutral and the chaotic evil characters will disagree on the nature of freedom. Both value their own freedom above that of other beings, but the chaotic neutral character feels all creatures should be free to pursue their goals, for good or ill. They do not feel that others have the right to restrict them of their freedom, but the chaotic neutral character may restrict others. The chaotic neutral character may not be malicious in the liberties he takes. He will generally leave others alone, any evil they suffer because of his actions is incidental. Chaotic evil characters believe that freedom should only exist for those creatures strong enough to keep it. They will go out of their way to corrupt the good and destroy their works. They see no value in any individual's life, other than whatever value it has to gratify that particular chaotic evil character. Chaotic neutral characters are not concerned with life, but do not feel that others exist for their exploitation, necessarily.

Therefore, we can conclude that one critical area where they differ is that a CN thief might steal for the benefit of his group or himself, while a CE thief might steal merely for the pleasure of causing despair without any need; especially if the theft is an object that the original owner held most dear. Note that if played intelligently, both characters will try to avoid getting caught (which explains lying to both other PCs and NPCs) out of an interest in self preservation (after all, getting arrested by Flaming Fist mercenaries is not in either of their best interests), the difference is that the CN thief is only interested in survival for survival's sake whereas the CE thief is interested in survival so that he can continue to cause pain and suffering to the innocent.

If you find that the character only steals valuable treasure and only very rarely commits outright murder, then sure that sounds like solid CN play at work. If on the other hand he happily kills anything and everything that might stand in the way of a heist, that indicates he's getting closer to NE or CE territory.

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The thing about alignments is they are often stretched to the extreme to fit whatever needs the player has. If you forbid evil alignments in your campaign or punish being evil, a player will take Chaotic Neutral and act like a jerk anyway.

With that being said, think about the consequences. If you steal to a fat rich prince who taxes his subjects so much they can't eat, that's perfectly neutral. If you steal the prince to give to the poor that's Good. If you steal him for your own richness, it's evil.

If you're stealing only to eat and survive you're considered Neutral in alignment because it's for your own survival. It's part of your nature and if you don't do it, you'll die.

But don't forget the most important part of the Evil/Good axis: it's mainly based on religion. Always think what a god would say to that player. You stole from the rich and the poor alike, what say you to save yourself from eternal hell? "But I was Chaotic Neutral" is the wrong answer. It's a metagaming one. In your setting, do you have a Chaotic Neutral god with thievery as a domain that would agree with that he's doing?

So my answer is: In your setting/pantheon, would that be considered evil to steal the poor for fun? Typically yes and I don't know any exceptions to this. Some games assume you'll steal and kill but it doesn't make it good.

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Stealing from a rich prince is almost never Evil; if he's rich, he can afford it (the only exception I can think of are when he's rich, but not actually rich enough to take that loss and still accomplish something really important; i.e. you are badly hurting his subjects by taking from him). Being Evil involves hurting people. Theft doesn't do that unless you take something that without which they are injured. As for the Good/Evil axis being primarily about religion, that's sort of true in some settings but not others. And ultimately there is definitely more to morality than consequence. –  KRyan Apr 23 '13 at 18:54
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@KRyan I totally disagree. The definition of Good and Evil are always either based on religion or philosophy (if you consider them being different in any way). There's no science to it. No way to measure it. It's always in context and in motion. I can hit your face and you'll recover without any scar but that doesn't make it a good act. Stealing from the rich is not ok because they are rich. The debate is out of scope for this question beyond that point. –  MrJinPengyou Apr 24 '13 at 2:27

Once the greed is hurting others beyond the value to the character - e.g., stealing bread from the poor when you're rich - then you're into Evil territory. It's Evil that is truly rapacious, not chaos. Chaos can seem that way because the character refuses to "knuckle down" to the group's aims and ploughs their own furrow as it were, but that doesn't require them to harm others or be materially greedy at all. Chaotics just believe that working in groups involves compromises that undermine their chance to achieve their goals.

The CN character won't go out of their way to help others, but will not seriously harm them unless it's a "them or me" situation either.

http://www.d20srd.org/srd/description.htm#theNineAlignments

In that light, the PC is shading towards CE. Basically, if the character is causing more harm to others (e.g., the poor) than they are fulfilling any real need then they're heading south on the alignment graph.

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