If you’ve been looking into D&D or even playing it for a while, alignment can be a term that you might find a bit confusing. I mean, it’s a simple enough concept. Characters have a moral alignment that defines their actions, but the intricacies of alignment are where things can get quite difficult.
While the guidelines we’ve been given concerning alignment are pretty clear, they can still leave a lot open to interpretation. How evil does a character have to be to be considered evil? What does a chaotic character do that a lawful character wouldn’t dream of?
These questions and more really come down to each table’s individual interpretation of alignment and the importance we place on it. Still, there are some general concepts we can all agree on, and that’s what I’m going to be talking about today.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on the Neutral Good alignment. We’ll be going over exactly what this alignment is and what it means, how to play a character of this alignment, and much more.
What Is the Neutral Good Alignment?
Neutral Good characters are good for the sake of being good. This alignment is probably the most generically heroic of all the good races as they aren’t entirely beholden to laws nor are they disdainful of bureaucracy. They simply do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing.
Of course, while this alignment may be simple, that doesn’t mean it’s without its intricacies and nuances. So let’s look at the two components that make up any 5e alignment and how they relate to this specific slice of the pie.
First, let’s look at what it means to be “good.” In most contexts, good characters are defined by a general empathy for others. They act altruistically, not concerned with how a deed might benefit themselves. Rather, they care about the impact they are having on the world around them.
Good characters are the easy heroes as they would often gladly put their life on the line if it means saving innocent lives. Of course, good to evil is a spectrum, and self-sacrifice tends to be pretty far down the line toward 100% good.
A lot of the alignment chart boils down to intent, not just outright actions. Good intentions are often more outward facing, and evil intentions tend to be focused on self-gain. This doesn’t mean a good character can’t do bad things; it just means that they’re not doing things based on some hunt for power.
When we look at characters like Anakin Skywalker, who have undergone a sort of alignment change (spoiler alert: he’s Darth Vader), we see that their intentions slowly shift toward the self. Even though he believed himself to be doing good things for his wife Padme, his true focus was on himself. He was afraid to lose her.
The inverse is true of good characters, and while one might seek to make a name for themselves or make some money along the way, it’s the decisions that they make in the moment that determine who they really are.
Before we get into that decision making though, let’s talk about the other axis of the alignment chart: lawful to chaotic. Neutral just means that they are neither lawful nor chaotic, but what does it mean to float in the middle of the two ends of this spectrum?
Well, this axis of the alignment chart rules over what a character is willing to do to follow up on their intentions. A lawful character will follow the law, be it the law of the land, of their deity, or even some strict personal code. A chaotic character is the opposite, willing to do anything in spite of any form of law.
Then, we have our neutral friends, hanging out right in the middle. These characters don’t care so much about laws, but they aren’t going out of their way to break them either. Or, in other words, they may break laws, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to follow them when it makes sense.
When we put this together into a character that is neutrally good, we have someone who intends to act in the best interest of others, regardless of what the means to that action will be.
Of course, this is a line we have to be careful about. If we go around breaking every law, then we’ve just become a Chaotic character. If we follow every law to a T, we’ve become a Lawful character.
So what does this really mean? How can we be neutral without feeling like our decisions are dictated by laws in one way or another?
In order to truly be a neutrally good character, everything we do has to start and end with our intentions. We have to decide to do something for the benefit of others and then act on it in the way that it can best benefit them. If this means following the rules set by the kingdom, so be it. If this means breaking some sort of vow, so be it.
Neutral good characters are defined by their ability to make their own decisions with extra attention paid to how they can help others.
Let’s look at a few examples of this to see how it really plays out.
A keep is cut off from supplies. A smuggler who hears of this decides to bring their stolen goods to save the people from starvation.
Now, a smuggler might sound like a character who fits as more of a chaotic good, but the action here demonstrates what we’ve defined Neutral Good to be. Our hero wanted to save the people and did what he could to do so.
In reality, a smuggler doesn’t have to be constitutionally against the law. Most of the time, people are just trying to get by. The key bit here is that smuggling was already something this character was doing.
If this example had been centered on a random “hero” who then decided the best way to save the day was to steal from the king’s men and bring the supplies to the keep, then we’d be looking at a character who is much more chaotic.
In my experience, it’s easiest to see what defines an alignment when we compare them to their neighbors.
The random hero stealing just for the sake of saving the day is Chaotic Good because they made an active decision to go against the law in the most flippant way they could. The Neutral Good smuggler, on the other hand, just used what he had at his disposal. There was no active intent to go against the law, no vehement hatred of those making the laws.
On the other side, we have a Lawful Good character who would really be in a predicament. They obviously wouldn’t want to see the people starve, but it’s the law that has put them in this situation.
Likely, they would try to solve the problem through more diplomatic means. They might go directly to the king and petition against the embargo. Or, they might just buy a bunch of food and sneak it in. There is a range here since one does still go against the law, but they’re doing their best to follow their own principles as well as the law.
We’ve basically nailed down what defines the neutral good alignment. One last thing I want to add is that these characters tend to be the least dramatic of all the alignments. They’re good for the sake of being good, and that often makes them friendly, agreeable, and welcoming people. These are all things to keep in mind when you go to roleplay your own Neutral Good character.
Neutral Good Characters in Pop Culture
Looking at random examples is nice, but relating these alignments to characters we’re more familiar with is the best way to develop a deep understanding. It can also just be easier to roleplay as a character that you have a strong preference for.
Below, I’ve chosen a few characters that I believe fit the 5e description of Neutral Good. Remember though that alignments are a bit subjective on their own, and characters are definitely subject to interpretation by each individual. That’s all to say that if you don’t agree with my assessment, that’s fine; at least that means you have an understanding of what Neutral Good means to you.
Still, I’ve included arguments for why I believe these characters fit perfectly into this slice of the alignment chart.
We see hints of this alignment as soon as we look at the nickname of this street-level hero: “The Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.” Peter Parker, in most iterations of this hero throughout the multiverse, is a good-natured person who does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
We all know the famous line “with great power comes great responsibility,” a line that perfectly nails down the neutral goodness of this hero. He isn’t doing good because it’s the law, and he isn’t vehemently against what the law stands for. Instead, he’s here to do whatever is right.
In the comics, we see Peter constantly make decisions based solely on what is the right thing to do. He’s willing to go against the law or with the law, depending on whether or not the law is doing the right thing, and that can often be the biggest internal struggle he deals with.
If we look at the civil war run from 2006, we initially see Peter take the side of the law. It isn’t until he sees how much this is hurting people that he turns away and changes sides.
All in all, Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen, Spiders Man, and most other webheads out there are good people, and that’s about that.
Captain America (Steve Rogers)
In the comics, he might be the star-spangled man with the plan, but in the movies, we definitely see a slow departure from the lawful nature of this character. As the character learns more about the government’s dealings, he becomes less trustful and more willing to act solely for the purpose of the greater good.
Even in the original movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, we see a character who “is a good man, not a good soldier,” and is willing to make the tough calls, outwardly disobeying his superiors to save lives.
This progresses to the point of him stripping his suit of the star, making it very clear that he acts on his own accord. All this being said, Steve is still someone who acts within the law when the law supports the same righteous cause as he does.
Now, there are many different iterations of Batman. The one I want to look at is the Bruce Wayne captured by Christian Bale in the Dark Knight trilogy. This Batman sees his city suffering and realizes that the law isn’t bringing people to justice.
Unlike characters, such as the Punisher, who would kill to uphold their own version of justice though, Bruce Wayne seeks to make his city safe enough that he doesn’t need to be the Batman.
We see this come into play in the second movie with Bruce extremely hopeful that Harvey Dent can become the hero Gotham deserves, a hero who can work inside of the law.
Bruce doesn’t distrust the law, but he knows that people are flawed. He seeks to do good, to save lives, and to save his city, so he’s willing to do what is necessary (barring murder) in order to save his city.
A humble farm boy from the desert planet of Tattoine who just wants to do good for the sake of doing good, he actively rebels against the government in charge (the Empire) in order to bring more peace to the galaxy.
Of course, he’s more of a rebel than most. Luke goes against his orders on several occasions, following his heart and the force more than any form of rules set in his way.
We see this when he deserts his targeting equipment, when he abandons the rebellion in search of Yoda, and even when he goes to the Death Star to confront his father for the final time.
This character is Neutral Good in the sense that he cares about people more than any sort of code or structure of laws.
Just about every iteration of James T. Kirk is a loyal, compassionate leader with more than a small rebellious streak. As a captain of a Federation starship, his job is to follow the rules and set an example for his crew. The more important thing to Kirk is making sure the right thing is done.
Kirk is more than willing to defy orders outright, cheat, and otherwise bend the rules if those rules and orders contrast with his core beliefs. Even from his beginnings as a third-year cadet cheating on the Kobayashi Maru test, Kirk was willing to follow his heart and his moral values rather than do what was expected of him.
Still, Kirk has great admiration for the Federation and believes wholeheartedly in its goals. He may have a problem with authority, but that doesn’t translate to an outright hatred of order.
In the BBC series Sherlock, John Watson is essentially our narrator, our way to glimpse into the mind and life of Sherlock Holmes. While John is an extremely rational and good-hearted man, he’s willing to follow Sherlock on crazy adventures and protect him even when it means getting into extremely sticky situations with the law.
The character goes as far as shooting a serial killer to save his friend as early as the first season. Murder is something any lawful character would be extremely against unless they were ordered to do so. Still, John does what he believes is right and continues to do so.
Again though, John isn’t a character with any disdain for law and order. He grounds Sherlock by consistently trying to bring him back to the lawful way of doing things, even when he’s willing to break those laws himself as it suits him.
In reality, the Jedi order as we see it in the Star Wars prequel movies is probably a lot more Lawful Good or even Lawful Neutral. Their basic ideology and their actions don’t always seem to match up.
We need look no further than Qui-Gon Jinn to see that there are Jedi who do uphold the basic values of the order though. He is a truly good individual and far more concerned with the balance of the force than even Yoda seems to be.
Going out of his way to free a slave boy, even when it isn’t part of his mission, all because he has hope, is an incredibly good-natured act. He then goes on to disobey the Jedi council’s orders and take Anakin as his padawan, further enforcing his stance as someone who is willing to do good in the face of defying “order.”
Of course, Qui-Gon has a deep faith and trust in his fellow Jedi, but he trusts the force, his instincts, and his heart far more than he values the orders of others.
As far as factions go, the Minutemen of New England in Fallout 4 take the cake for being Neutral Good. When it comes to a faction though, the concepts are a bit broader. While certain individuals might care about order in one way or another, it’s the faction’s overall stance on things that really matter here.
Well, the Minutemen overall are little more than a slightly organized militia composed of individuals seeking to build a better life amidst the fallout. They impose no grand laws on their subjects because they have no subjects. They simply do what they can to protect those who need protection.
There are many characters from The Last Airbender series and its spinoffs who fit the model of a Neutral Good character, but perhaps there is none better than Aang. He is the Avatar, a powerful being tasked with protecting the world of men and the spirit world, but his actions are guided more by compassion than they are duty.
Everywhere Aang goes, he spreads joy and does whatever he can to protect others. He even shows mercy in his final battle against the tyrannically evil Fire Lord Ozai. He recruits his enemies as friends and bridges pacts between rival nations, and there is no cause too big or too small for his concern.
Aang isn’t even someone who really has any opinion on “law,” he just wants people to live safe, joyous, prosperous, and harmonious lives and will defy anything that stands in the way of that righteous goal.
To that note, Uncle Iroh carries an incredibly similar demeanor and is perhaps even more willing to put his life and status on the line for the sake of the greater good. The Dragon of the West could easily have sat idle as the brother of the Fire Lord, but he chose instead to fight for harmony between the four nations.
Originally, Jon Snow was fueled by a desire to live an honorable life. This is more traditionally aligned with a lawful nature, and yet, when faced with decisions based around the greater good, he forsakes his vows and treads his own path.
The boy we met in season one of Game of Thrones grew into a man willing to learn from anyone and to fight alongside anyone for the good of the realm. On more than one occasion, this meant defying his superiors, forsaking his vows, or otherwise betraying the type of order and honor he once sought to uphold.
He even denies his right to rule, essentially a divine law, because he did not believe he was fit to rule over a nation. This is more than enough evidence to show that this character is ambivalent in regards to the laws of men and gods, and yet, he always seeks to do the right thing, never once focused purely on personal interest.
Playing a Neutral Good Character
Now that we have an understanding of what makes a character fit into the Neutral Good alignment, let’s take a look at some characteristics that we might see in one of these characters. Of course, not every Neutral Good character will have the same upbringing or background, but that doesn’t mean they can’t share certain values.
Below are lists for each of the characteristics typically governed by a character’s background. I’ve chosen or created these based on their exemplary representation of the alignment as a whole. Feel free to choose from the lists for your character, roll random characteristics, or even use them as inspiration to come up with your own.
Personality Traits (D8)
- I’m always cheery and plucky, even in the face of disaster.
- Finding similarities with others isn’t hard. You can even have empathy for your enemies without much effort.
- I am no better or worse than anyone else; we are all of the same blood.
- My friends all know they can count on me no matter what.
- If I can make someone smile, I’ve done my duty for the day.
- I will listen to every side of an argument before making my own judgment.
- Trust is something that can be lost as quickly as it can be gained.
- Nothing beats the company of good friends and a nice cup of tea.
- (Mercy) There are few souls out there who truly deserve death; most just need compassion.
- (Charity) I help those worse off than myself no matter what it takes from me.
- (Duty) It is my duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
- (Protection) If I can save even one life, my effort will have been worth it.
- (Beauty) Whether it’s making music or letting plants thrive, spreading beauty in the world is the noblest pursuit.
- (Knowledge) In order to understand the world, we must seek out true knowledge.
- I owe my life to a brave hero who saved me from certain death.
- I seek the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything.
- I serve the realm, not gods nor men.
- I once had a great teacher who showed me the good in all creations. I hope to do right by them in my actions.
- I seek to honor those who have died fighting at my side.
- When I was a child, I watched a village burn down. I would die before seeing that again.
- I am far too quick to trust others.
- The cruelty of some people disgusts me, and I would gladly see them brought to swift justice.
- I am quick to solve a problem, even if most of my solutions tend to be extremely convoluted.
- Speaking my mind comes naturally, so my mouth getting me in trouble is something I’m very used to.
- I can’t deal with being called a coward.
- I don’t believe in unchecked power. I’ll question authority if it ever seeks to overstep its bounds.
These characters are ruled by a duty to do good by others, not by laws, themselves, or possibly even any form of god. Their goodness is often innate, but it can be something that was nurtured. In those cases, they will often have great admiration for those who put them on their path.
When building a character, you really want to think about what motivates them to do the things they do. Building a backstory may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be incredibly in depth to be effective. You just have to understand enough of your character’s history to think like them in the moment — that is the art of true roleplaying.
As you develop your Neutral Good character, try to find a reason that they are as holistically good as they are. Were their parents incredibly nurturing, did they witness great horrors, or have they committed crimes that they wish to pay their penance for?
Whatever the answer is, develop a short piece of backstory that you can think back to whenever they are faced with a tough decision. The more convincing the story is, the easier it will be for them to act righteously despite what anyone else might say.
Nail down your backstory, refer to your characteristics, and understand your character’s motivations to do good no matter what. Once you have that nailed down, you’ll be well on your way to playing an exciting and truly honorable Neutral Good character.
And as always, happy adventuring.