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Could you have a chaotic neutral character, who in a public setting appear lawful good? Saving people, turning in bad guys, following all of the laws of an area to a T, if he knew that by doing so it would result in financial gain? If so could he do the reverse all well in case he was in an environment where appearing evil would benefit him more.

Essentially a character who's entire motivation involves fame and fortune. Every move by the character would be highly calculated in order to provide himself with the greatest benefit either now or at a later point.

I'd imagine a thief doing this in order to use his hero status to defect suspicions that he is stealing every valuable object at every opportunity.

I know the big complaint with chaotic neutral is that they appear chaotic stupid... and is used routinely by a player to try to get away with any action. This isn't me fishing for a get out of jail card for a character but rather trying to display a character who only cares about getting ahead and will do anything and everything that would accomplish that goal.

The restrictions I would envision of for the character, is doing any good or evil act which would not result in any direct benefit to the character.

For example he wouldn't attempt to save a poor person if he thought that either they would not be able to reward him OR that no-one would care if he saved them.Likewise he wouldn't attempt to hurt them either unless he could get a reward for it, AND he was sure it wouldn't impact his image.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Discussion is not for comments. As this is a contentious question, comments will be cleaned aggressively. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 25 '14 at 0:20
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The motives and actions you've described are not presciptively tied to any alignment; alignment is fuzzy enough that he can be justified as having any alignment you wish to choose for him.

Both fame and fortune are unaligned motivations, that is, not really solidly towards any particular alignment, including True Neutral or any other kind of Neutral. Fame and fortune factor into the goals of an enormous number of people and characters from all alignments, after all.

If you’re willing to break laws to get fame and fortune, that’s starting to look more Chaotic; if you’re willing to hurt others, particularly those who are mere bystanders, in order to get them, that’s starting to look more Evil. If your methods for achieving fame and fortune uphold the law, that’s looking more Lawful; if your methods help others, that’s looking more Good.

Someone who only upholds the laws and helps people because he believes those are the best routes to fame and fortune is clearly not a lawful good ideologue. But his actions are still squarely lawful and good. His behavior is still lawful and good. And his reasons for those actions, that behavior, aren’t really chaotic or evil.

This isn’t someone pretending to the alignment for the sake of betraying it, undoing it, or destroying it. He is not a saboteur or spy. He will, most likely, remain acting lawfully and good until the day he dies.

So what does that make his alignment? I doubt anyone could tell you definitively. The books are frustratingly vague, and worse at times self-contradictory, about what makes an alignment. Does intent matter? Many books imply that it does not, evil actions are always evil no matter what you do them, and drag you towards the “deep end of the alignment pool,” as Belkar once put it. Other books seem to imply that intention matters a great deal.

In short, no two people agree 100% about alignment, not even the authors of the books. I could take your description and make a case for any of the alignments. Here, I’ll do it:

Lawful Good

He’s acting lawfully and to improve others’ lives. Why he does so is irrelevant, particularly when his reasons aren’t really chaotic or evil.

Neutral Good

His actions improve others’ lives; that’s what’s important. The fact that he doesn’t have any personal belief in the law, though, means you cannot truly call him lawful.

Chaotic Good

He’s basically using the law for his own ends, making it almost a mockery of itself. But he’s still helping people.

Lawful Neutral

He’s playing the game, following all the rules to a T to get what he wants. The laws, where he is, reward good behavior, so he helps people, but that’s only a coincidence of what the law happens to say.

True Neutral

He doesn’t really care about law or goodness; he’s just out for himself. “Looking out for number one,” isn’t evil or chaotic, though, pretty solidly neutral behavior.

Chaotic Neutral

Using the law while not believing a word of it is, again, a mockery. Fame and fortune are pretty neutral goals, but his cavalier attitude towards the law is chaotic.

Lawful Evil

Following the letter of the law perfectly to get what you want? That’s literally the description of Baatorian society. Sure, he doesn’t do anything evil outright, but he would and will the moment there’s a loophole that will see him receive wealth or fame for doing so.

Neutral Evil

Devils, despite their letter-of-the-law trickery, still obsess over the letter of the law, believe in it (or, more exactly, are belief in it). Not this guy; this guy is out to get his without any care for the law except insofar as it helps him, and again, only acts good because it’s in his best interest to do so. As soon as that’s no longer true....

Chaotic Evil

As above, but now with more emphasis on just how much he is abusing the law.

Conclusion

Alignment is dumb. This is far from the only case that can be trivially argued from any of them. Sure, maybe deep down the guy has some scruples, and so the evil alignments don’t fit. And the chaotic alignments are something of a stretch, since (ab)using the law to one’s benefit is typically considered lawful behavior. You’d really have to emphasize the mockery of the law to make that stick. But the arguments are still there.

And that’s why I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the alignment system was invented for a game where the heroes were Good because they’re heroes, the orcs and goblins were Evil because they’re the villains, and everyone else is Neutral because they’re not involved. The dwarf was Lawful cuz he’s a dwarf, the elf is Chaotic cuz she’s an elf. That is how alignment works, that is what alignment was designed for. You can stretch it, somewhat, to go beyond that, but the farther you get from that simplistic paradigm, the more and more nine little boxes aren’t going to be enough to categorize everything and you get self-contradictory descriptions of the alignments.

In other words, the character you describe is too complex for the alignment system. Which isn’t to say he’s particularly complex – he’s not, really – but that the alignment system is extremely simplistic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am not quite sure that I agree with your definition of lawful. A Lawful Evil individual does not necessarily follow the laws, the Lawful only says that such individual has some kind of "morale code" that he will abide to. In essence, it follows A law; it might be a different one from what you would expect though. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Nov 25 '14 at 16:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. My entire point is that the definitions of Law (and the other alignments) are not consistent from book to book. Some books agree with you. Others don't. No one can say definitively which it "actually" is. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 25 '14 at 19:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with most of this, except that in the original D&D campaigns, the heroes were often neutral because the players were big fans of Lankhmar and Hyboria and such, where many of the “heroes” were cads and mercenaries and barbarians and explorers who were mostly looking out for themselves, and only got into the world-saving business out of necessity. \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Nov 25 '14 at 23:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BraddSzonye Didn't they originally use only the Law-Chaos axis, too? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 26 '14 at 4:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I think that was unique to the Moldvay–Cook line. Even the Holmes basic edition used both axes. \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Nov 26 '14 at 9:28
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Sure - For a While

A chaotic neutral character could do some occasional good acts in order to further his own goals, whatever those might be. Here's the description of Chaotic Neutral:

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.

So that's fine. If you want to get in the good graces of some people because it gets you something that you want, and that requires doing some good acts, that's okay. Neutral characters are not opposed to good, they're just not particularly in favor of it either. Doing some good deeds won't be a big deal.

It's going to be a chafing experience though, since lawful characters typically respect authority and chaotic characters typically don't. This will not be an easy charade to keep up for an extended period of time unless you just start playing lawful good instead and ignore that you're actually chaotic neutral.

(Okay is relative when it comes to alignments, and subject to DM interpretation. Every DM I've ever seen treats them a bit differently than every other DM, but some things tend to be reasonably consistent. I'd suggest checking with yours.)

That's the big problem with alignment, really. It's extremely open to DM interpretation and areas that aren't covered by the rules at all.

Lawful Evil

What you're describing sounds more like lawful evil than chaotic neutral to me. Here's that one:

A lawful evil villain methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He condemns others not according to their actions but according to race, religion, homeland, or social rank. He is loath to break laws or promises.

This is much less of a stretch, since the lawful parts match. You don't have to pretend to care about law, because you actually do. You just care in the sense that you can use it to help you get the fame and fortune you want.

Acting "good" means you can't let anybody notice the evil things you might be doing, of course. But it seems a better fit to me than chaotic neutral.

Algnment Detection

It's worth noting that alignment detection is a thing. Even if you "act good", someone with detect evil is going to notice unless you take steps to conceal your alignment magically. That further complicates the whole thing of trying to act like a different alignment. If you light up on a Paladin's detect evil, acting good is not going to be enough to avoid suspicion.

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The phrase "Every move by the character would be highly calculated" suggest to me that the character is actually Lawful. Law is about order and self-discipline and planning and predictability and reliability.

Chaos is about freedom and flexibility and adaptability and unpredictability and free-spiritedness. A Chaotic being is just not capable of long-term planning and working to achieve goals - they keep getting distracted.

As for the Good-Evil axis, Neutral seems a good fit for a being whose primary motivation is "help self, regardless of the effect on others".

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    \$\begingroup\$ “A Chaotic being is just not capable of long-term planning and working to achieve goals - they keep getting distracted,” is false. Being chaotic is not the same as having some ridiculously over-the-top attention deficiency. Even slaad (beings literally made of chaos) are capable of both long-term planning and working to achieve goals – bizarre goals, to be sure, and with a more-than-healthy amount of distraction along the way, but still, progress can be made. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 25 '14 at 2:19

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