Getting into D&D can be an incredibly exciting process if a bit overwhelming to newcomers to the RPG scene. You’ve got races, classes, ability scores, and more to learn about, and I hope the guides on this site are helping you to develop a deeper understanding without having to feel like you’re sitting in a classroom.
One concept that can be a bit difficult to wrap your head around, even for people who have been playing this game for a while, is alignments. In 5e, we use a two-axis alignment chart, which means we end up with a total of nine alignments.
This mechanic is used to give a basis for how characters will act in different situations and can be incredibly useful when used correctly. Where a character lands on the spectrum from good to evil and where they land on the spectrum from law to chaos can be instrumental in a simple and fun roleplaying experience.
Today, we’ll be looking at the center of the whole chart, the true neutral alignment. This complete middle-ground character type is a very interesting one indeed, and we’ll be paying extra care to ensure your next true neutral character doesn’t venture too far in any direction.
First, we’ll be explaining exactly what this alignment is and how it fits into the chart. After that, we’ll go into further examples, look at iconic characters from pop culture who fit the description, and even give you a full guide on how to play one of these characters.
What Is the True Neutral Alignment?
True neutral is the name for the middle section of the nine-part, two-axis system of moral alignment chart used in 5e and many other RPGs. Characters who fit here are neither lawful nor chaotic and neither good nor evil. They are characters with a shifting stance on order who are not entirely motivated by altruism or personal gain.
One of the first things I want, no, need to cover, is that the true neutral alignment is by no means dull. It’s easy to assume that this is a noncommittal, boring, and unmotivated group of characters with no stake in anything whatsoever. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, true neutral characters can be the most influential free-thinkers with a strong passion for logic and reasoning that can lead them in many different directions.
The alignment chart, as I’ve already alluded to, exists as a grid plotting the intersecting points of two spectrums. The axis along the top represents everything from characters who are stringent followers of law and order to characters with disdain for any form of order altogether. The axis along the side represents everything from completely selfless characters to characters who think only of themselves.
Few characters can be placed at the far end of either spectrum, but you can think of the columns (law, neutral, chaos) and the rows (good, neutral, evil) as covering roughly a third of their respective spectrum. This means that a true neutral character doesn’t fall exactly at the center for both ends but rather is concerned with a large chunk of characters who don’t lean excessively in any direction.
Let’s look at both of these spectrums a bit more in depth and talk about what being in the middle really means.
Neutral: Neither Good nor Evil
The range of good to evil is a bit subjective but is mainly concerned with a character’s intent. For example, murder is a generally evil act, but a lawful good soldier may kill hundreds in the name of righteousness and their king. Okay, so maybe that’s not “murder” so to speak, but that’s really where the philosophical debate lies.
Typically, when we talk about good characters, we are talking about those who do things almost exclusively out of concern for others. They have a strong disposition for kindness, empathy, and altruism and a general willingness to go out of their way to do “the right thing.”
On the other hand, an evil character is concerned with themselves. Just about everything they do is to further their own interests. They’re also often willing to do just about anything to achieve their goals, including but not limited to murder of innocents, theft, sabotage, general violence, etc.
Additionally, both of these alignments tend to take great pleasure in what they do. Just as a good character is delighted when assisting the needy, an evil character is happiest when torturing someone.
Both of these can easily be taken to extremes, often more so in the case of evil characters, but if roughly 70% of a character’s intentions and actions fit these outlines, they can be defined as either good or evil.
That leaves our neutral characters motivated by, what? Well, it leaves them motivated by logic, mostly. Sure, it can mean that they are unmotivated, but typically, it means that they aren’t instinctively out of their way to partake in good or evil acts. They’ll act according to the situation they’re in.
This means that neutral characters, on the axis of good to evil, make their decisions based on their prior experience. Where a good character might see someone on the side of a road and offer to help, a neutral character will reflect on what they know first.
If they’ve encountered bandits posing as those in need, they might be wary of the situation. They may just take their time to assess the situation regardless. Is the person injured? Are we on a well-traveled road? Do I see a weapon?
In this way, neutral characters can be very balanced, refraining from hasty actions altogether in favor of a more realistic and well-thought-out approach. This makes them an asset to many parties that would jump to certain conclusions one way or the other.
Being neither good nor evil also means that a character is less prone to taking sides. A good character will often jump to another good character’s aid. An evil character is often at least willing to cooperate with another evil character if their goals align.
A neutral character will weigh their options and hear what people bring to the table before aligning themselves. They may even choose to avoid conflict altogether, operating instead as a third party. You can see this on scales as large as war or as small as simple friendships.
Neutral: Neither Lawful nor Chaotic
On the other side of things, the spectrum from law to chaos defines a character’s willingness to abide by certain laws. Most of the time, laws refer to actual ordinances set by some ruling body, but they can refer to the tenets of a religion, a superior’s orders, or even a character’s strong moral code they have developed for themselves.
A lawful character follows the law and often seeks to uphold it. On the extreme end, they are willing to follow the law no matter what it asks of them, but most characters will disobey something if it goes strongly against their (good or evil) conscience.
Conversely, a chaotic character disagrees with laws on a constitutional basis. They believe in freedom of choice and will do what they believe in regardless of what the rules say.
Some extremely chaotic characters have an outright hatred for order and tend to be an “agent of chaos” operating solely on the whims of their conscience. These are far and few between and cannot often give this whole side of the chart a bad rep.
A neutral character doesn’t have a strong opinion either way. If good and evil represent a character’s intentions, their placement between law and chaos represents how they go about following through on those intentions.
For a neutral character, they will follow through on their intentions with actions that accurately represent those same intentions. In other words, a neutral good character will act good according to the law when the law is in agreement with them and against the law when it does not.
A character in this section of the alignment chart will have no great stake in any form of government or church and often seeks balance more than anything else. They probably believe that order serves a purpose but only up to a point. The term “absolute power corrupts absolutely” was likely coined by someone with a neutral stance on order and government.
Neutrally Neutral, True Neutral, or Just Plain “Neutral“
Putting all of this together gives us a character who is motivated by logic and reasoning and willing to act in a balanced fashion according to the situation. Doesn’t sound so bland anymore, does it?
These characters are free-thinkers and aren’t held down by either their ideals or their flaws. What’s more is that they end up being excellent decision-makers and sound voices of reason for the people they surround themselves with.
The biggest question is, why go adventuring at all? Well, some might do it simply for the fun of it, others might do it out of a necessity to make some money, and others might have a singular goal in mind based on some event in their backstory.
And that, my friends, is what really ties a true neutral character together. A character’s backstory always influences their decisions in some way, but it’s easier to forget about their prior experiences if you know they’ll do the “good” thing no matter what.
With someone who is true neutral, it’s important to flesh out their origin with at least a few stories. When it comes time to make decisions, you won’t be just making decisions willy nilly, you’ll be acting according to the information your character has collected throughout their life.
Of course, you don’t need to have a written experience for every choice you make; it’s just nice to have a basis to work on. From there, you can be creative and improvise new past experiences as they become necessary.
Unlike most alignments, the age of a true neutral character can actually have a huge impact. A young adventurer might not have much experience to call on. Instead, they get to learn from their mistakes and successes in real time. An old adventurer will have a wealth of stories and sayings they’ve picked up along the way to influence their actions today.
The true neutral alignment really is the jack of all trades. They aren’t really limited by any lofty ideas of law, evil, chaos, or goodness. This doesn’t mean random action, but it does mean that anything is possible once a true neutral character arrives on the scene.
True Neutrality in Action
Normally, this is the part of the alignment guide where I would list a few examples and talk about what the given character would do in hypothetical situations. As you know now, that isn’t quite so easy to do with someone who is truly neutral.
So, I’m going to switch things up and put you in the driver’s seat. The following examples are some situations that could arise in a 5e adventure. I want you to think about how a true neutral character would act. What stories might support different courses of action? What would the logical, balanced approach be?
Don’t worry, this isn’t a Buzzfeed quiz or an SAT. I’m still going to walk you through my thoughts on the examples, but more than any other alignment, I want you to think about your prospective character and what makes sense for them.
If you don’t have a character in mind yet, don’t worry. You can use these examples and the experiences they conjure to give some shape to the one you eventually create.
A group of bandits is stealing from the keep of a noble lord.
A lawful good character might jump at the idea of smiting some bandits in the name of justice. A chaotic evil character might be content to watch the keep burn, even offering to help the bandits. But what would a true neutral character do?
Well, it all depends, doesn’t it? Probably the first thing to assess is the motivations of the bandits. Are they stealing to provide for their village? Is the lord greedy, gluttonous, and pompous, keeping supplies from his people?
It might be time to gather some information. People around the town may be unbiased enough to give a clear perception of what’s really going on. Or, you may want to hear both points of view up close and personal. From there, your past experiences may dictate whether you’re more likely to believe the bandits or the lord.
The true neutral character doesn’t have any instinctual support for order, but this lord may be an old friend. The same is true for the opposite scenario, and the bandits may be old war heroes you looked up to. There are a million different ways this scenario could be set up, but the only way to know what’s really going on is to ask questions.
From there, we need to decide how to move forward. Ignoring the problem is always an option, but that doesn’t make for good storytelling. You may decide to side with the bandits and help pull off a huge score, or you may decide that they need to be wiped out.
Both extremes are an option for a true neutral character, but even your response may be neutral as well. There is always the option of finding a peaceful compromise, convincing the lord that the bandits are just regular people who deserve more food and better pay.
In fact, a true neutral character is often willing to try multiple paths to a solution until something sticks. They’ll also listen to what their party members have to say and provide counter-arguments and balancing thoughts when necessary. Keeping a level head is the true neutral specialty, and this kind of situation demands it.
The party is asked to fight alongside a rebel organization and dismantle the corrupt government currently in charge.
This kind of situation is a nightmare for true neutral characters with no strong allegiances anywhere. It’s asking them to take a side in a war they have no stakes in. Staying out of it probably isn’t an option at this point, so it’s important to really assess the merits of both sides.
Few rebellions are started on a whim, so the rebels probably have a justified reason for their distrust of the government. Get to know the situation, and you’ll learn how “justified” their reasonings truly are.
It also can’t hurt to take a deep look at how effective the current government is. A corrupt government letting their people die by the thousands is an obvious thing to side against, but it might be more subtle than mass genocide, even by neglect.
Here, we need to lean on our past experiences. If we’ve lived in the area for long, we’ll have some stake, even small, on one side or the other. Maybe we fought in a past war and believed in the current government at the time but have watched it decay from a distance for years. Or, maybe we just don’t believe the rebels because their organization is full of known criminals.
It’s tough to decide something when the outcome can be so significant, so don’t be afraid to really spend time considering your options, gaining information, and playing things out logically.
Again, we can listen to the suggestions of our peers and take in all of their thoughts. If the whole party is for joining the rebellion, it would be silly to disagree, even if we only side with them begrudgingly.
Of course, there are still other options. True neutral characters are masters of finding the hidden third course of action with ultimatums being nothing more than puzzles to them. If sitting it out doesn’t work, maybe there is a way to find a diplomatic solution. Maybe there is a third claim that the party hasn’t even considered.
I can’t tell you what the “right” thing to do here is, but I can tell you that your character will be completely free to make up their own mind.
True neutral characters are some of the few characters to not act on instinct alone. Experience and biased preconceptions are totally different, and this kind of character knows it. When you come to a crossroads, don’t just look at the paths that lie before you. Look at the trees and the bushes, check for potholes and underground passageways, check the position of the sun, and most of all, don’t be afraid to think for yourself.
True Neutral Characters in Pop Culture
We’ve got the definition nailed down. We have some idea of how our true neutral character will act in different situations, but sometimes, situational examples aren’t always enough. I find it incredibly helpful to look at some iconic examples from pop culture. This way, if we’re struggling with how to roleplay a character, we can turn to established characters and use them as a basis.
This section needs a disclaimer though. Alignments are subjective, and while I’ll be making arguments for each character I bring up, you are completely free to disagree. People interpret the motivations and methods of characters’ actions differently, so having a different perception is completely okay.
In fact, I invite you to consider whether or not you believe my examples are true neutral characters or not. That way, you’ll at least be flexing your understanding of the alignment and learning more about your specific beliefs as to what really makes a character true neutral.
After exposure to extreme amounts of radiation, Dr. Jonathan Osterman was transformed into an extra-temporal being. The character verges on omnipotence and omniscience (all powerful and all knowing), and as such, is a character with little stakes in the lives of mortals.
Instead, Dr. Manhattan becomes a being rooted in pure logic. He is an observer, someone who is impartial to the outcomes of different events mainly because he knows what the outcomes are going to be already.
Still, he isn’t above helping others. His appreciation for the random chance of human existence, the “thermodynamic miracle” of any one person’s life, is enough to persuade him to protect humanity. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from completely vaporizing a hero in an attempt to protect the world.
Manhattan is a character whose ends justify his means just as much as his means justify his ends. He is without allegiances but willing to act in accordance with or on behalf of others if it suits him and if he believes it is the logical, not just the right, thing to do.
The weapon merchant from Outlaw Star, madly in love with the protagonist Gene Starwind, is a great example of a true neutral merchant. His interests lie in making some money, regardless of where that money is coming from.
His business policy of “Don’t ask questions. Don’t take credit.” is an incredibly neutral aspect. Essentially, he’s saying, “I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone and let me do my business.”
In one episode, he warns Gene about incoming pirates. Of course, the question is, how does he know where the pirates are going to be? Naturally, he’s the one that sold them weapons. While this might seem like he has a personal drive to do the right thing, his motivations are really just based on concern for a specific person.
True neutral characters are by no means free from attachments. They make decisions according to their own beliefs, and that can mean seeming a bit contradictory at times. Make some money, protect a friend. These can definitely coexist, even if a good character might disagree.
Hero or villain? This is a good question when it comes to “the prince of all saiyans!” Vegeta is an interesting character who seemingly switches from chaotic evil to lawful good depending on the scenario.
During certain story arcs, Vegeta may have a more clearly defined alignment. However, looking at the character as a whole shows him to be a true neutral character through and through.
He acts in his own interests as it suits him and for the good of others when he believes that’s the right course of action. He follows laws and orders at times and completely obliterates planets at times.
Vegeta is what I would call Passionate Neutral. He is a character who bases his decisions on his prior experiences, and he is willing to do just about anything if he believes it makes the most sense.
However, even if he exemplifies everything we have defined a true neutral character to be, that doesn’t stop him from leaning heavily to the extreme sides of either spectrum for long stretches of time.
Take this as a warning and as a fun fact. Your character can really do anything, just so long as it really makes sense and the motivations behind it are well thought out.
Timon and Pumba
Hakuna Matata. What a wonderful phrase. It means no worries for the rest of your days. The lovable odd couple from Lion King are, hilariously, a great example of what it means to be true neutral.
The two are just interested in living a relaxed life and convert a young Simba to do the same. They are good natured and friendly, but they certainly don’t act altruistically as a rule. Instead, they are content to chill out in the sun, eat some bugs, and apparently sing some great show tunes in the meantime.
I know, this is a silly example, but hear me out. They are actually a great example of true neutral characters finding motivation for adventure. They are content and essentially raise Simba to be a relaxed and well-adjusted adult lion.
When Nala comes to seek Simba’s help, they want him to stay out of it, but Simba in all of his neutral goodness knows he needs to do the right thing for his pride (yes, both meanings of the word).
So what do the lackadaisical pair do in response? Why, charge to their friend’s aid, of course. They don’t fight hyenas and Scar out of a sense of duty or out of pure goodness. They are simply concerned for their friend and want to do what they can to help.
A true neutral character’s motivations don’t need to be dramatic, they can be as simple as concern for another life. They just need something to give them that little push to go out of their way and live a relaxed, content life.
Two cartoon references in one article? Yes. Like it or not, Shrek is the prime example of a true neutral character going on a grand adventure and not just once mind you but time and time again.
Shrek’s entire plot arc begins because he just wants to get his swamp back. The poor ogre just wants to be left alone, but the pompous Lord Farquad has ruined that, so it’s time to do something and make a change. He is by no means interested in dismantling Farquad’s rule; he just wants to get home.
His misadventures are hilarious, but time and time again he proves that he doesn’t really care for heroics by any means. Sure, he does end up finding new motivations in love and friendship, but throughout the entire series, he remains a reluctant hero with no grand stake in any political dealings or any concepts of good and evil.
While Spock might verge on Neutral Good thanks to his human nature, Vulcans as a whole are completely grounded in logic. Sure, they do feel great emotions, but they don’t allow those emotions to impede them. Instead, they act rationally according to the situations they are presented with.
Sandor Clegane, The Hound
The hound may take some rash actions from time to time, but it’s pretty clear that his motivations lie somewhere between “get revenge on my brother” and “get the hell away from here to settle down.”
He’s seen to follow orders but also openly disregards them and even holds a great amount of contempt for the king (and Lannisters in general). He’ll also freely murder or steal from most people, even if he’s also willing to sacrifice himself for others in different scenarios.
Clegane is what I would call a Neutral Badass. His neutrality doesn’t keep him from being an amazing, well-thought-out character. Just about all of his decisions are based on a cynical worldview, which makes sense for someone who had half their face burned to a crisp by their brother when they were just a child.
A true neutral protagonist might seem rare, but the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy presents us with an option just as neutral as Shrek is. Again, we have a character really just motivated by a desire to get home. Of course, his home was blown up to make way for an interstellar bypass, so that tends to throw a wrench in one’s hands.
Dent doesn’t perform many heroics, but of course, he does have a vested stake in the continuing existence of humanity. He would also really like a good cup of tea, a hilarious quest if there ever was one.
Who knows, maybe your true neutral character’s adventures will all start because they took a wrong turn and ended up very far out of the way from where they should have been. Maybe they’re just trying to find a really good cup of ale, and that means adventuring to pay the way.
From characters concerned with enforcing balance to characters just looking for a good meal, true neutral characters by no means need to be bland. They can be fully capable of adventurous and even harsh, badass personalities. The main takeaway is that these characters act more according to situations than according to any sort of lofty ideals.
Playing a True Neutral Character
Congratulations! If you’ve made it to this part of the article that means you have a good understanding of what it means to be true neutral (or you scrolled very fast). Now, it’s time to put that knowledge to work in setting up the character you’re about to play.
The first thing to nail down is a character’s origin or backstory. This will provide you motivation not only in the rest of the creation process but throughout your entire time assuming the role of the character. Having some juicy details that you can call back to when you end up in a tough spot is incredibly helpful and will also give your character some incredible depth.
Then, we tend to move on to selecting a background. You may have already chosen one, or you may want your alignment to have an impact on your background. Either way, there should be some synergy, and you can refer back to your backstory for those common elements.
If your character was a soldier, for example, you’ll want to have some reason for their indifference toward the cause they fought for. Maybe they were just part of a conscription army, or maybe they once believed in the cause but have since changed their mind. It’s up to you to find those connecting pieces as you continue to develop your character’s story.
It might sound a bit daunting, but if you think of the process in a couple of repeated steps, it becomes much easier. First, you decide upon an element for your character. Then, you see how well it can be associated with the alignment. If it’s not obvious, add some details to connect the dots. Then, just wash, rinse, and repeat.
One of the last things to do is to decide upon the actual characteristics of your character. How do they act? This is going to be influenced by every decision you’ve made so far, and 5e backgrounds even provide you with tables for four different categories of characteristics to include.
Of course, those can be very general, so I’ve put together a few tables of my own. Below you’ll find options for each characteristic that I believe fit the concepts of a true neutral character. Feel free to use these as inspiration, to roll on the table, or to select any that stand out to you and just rock with them as is.
Personality Traits (D8)
- I always want to know how things work and what makes people tick.
- I am incredibly awkward in social situations.
- I’m always polite and respectful.
- Once I make a decision, I’ll follow it through no matter what it takes.
- I can’t stand stupidity.
- I’m full of witty aphorisms and have a proverb for every occasion.
- I happen to be telling the truth quite often. It’s surprising how rarely people seem to believe that.
- I’m used to helping out those who aren’t as smart as myself, and I will patiently wait while I explain things to others.
- (Live and Let Live) There’s no sense in killing or going to war over beliefs.
- (Knowledge) The path to power and self-improvement is knowledge.
- (Boundaries) Meddling in the affairs of others only causes trouble.
- (People) I’m committed to the people I care about, not any lofty ideals.
- (Hakuna Matata) No worries for the rest of your days.
- (Logic) Decisions must be made with careful consideration of the facts.
- I entered seclusion to hide from those who were hunting me. One day, I must confront them.
- I lost something incredibly valuable to me, and I intend to retrieve it.
- I work the land, I love the land, and I will protect the land.
- Someone saved my life once. To this day, I’ll never leave a friend behind.
- I’ve been searching my whole life for the answer to a certain question.
- The workshop where I learned my trade is the most important place to me.
- Money makes the world go ‘round. Why shouldn’t I be a part of the action?
- I am easily distracted by the promise of information.
- I’m quick to assume that someone is lying to me.
- Unlocking an ancient mystery is worth the price of a civilization.
- I have little respect for those who can’t defend themselves.
- I don’t see the point in passion; it just gets people in trouble.
If there’s one thing I hope you leave this article with, it’s an understanding that the True Neutral alignment is anything but boring. I would rather you leave with a full understanding and an excitement for the character you’re about to play, but I’ll settle for unsmudging the good name of the Neutrally Neutral characters across the many realms of fiction.
As always, happy adventuring.