This is Faith in Play #27: Believing Balance, for February 2020.
Over a year ago we began a series on the notion that in the Original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons® game system alignment was the True Religion, what characters actually believed. We have since examined those beliefs in Goodness, Wickedness, Order, and Individualism, the four sides of the alignment grid. However, the game also included a center, a middle ground between each pair of creeds, which it called Neutral, and a character could be neutral in regard to law and chaos or in regard to good and evil, taking the middle ground.
There are actually four distinct ways in which neutrality can be achieved in play; the book puts a lot of focus on the third, and connects it to druidism, but for the many applications of neutrality in the game it is important to recognize these concepts. I label the four choices pragmatic, oblivious, druidic, and cross-principled. Let’s start with a brief tutorial. Remember, a character can be neutral in either axis, that is, a “neutral good” character is neutral in regard to law and chaos but committed to good as against evil, and a “lawful neutral” character is committed to the maintenance of order without regard for whether good or evil is the outcome.
The pragmatic neutral has a strong belief in that in which he is not neutral, but regards the other axis as tools to achieve this. A pragmatic neutral evil character seeks his own benefit, and accepts that sometimes that is achieved by supporting the social order and sometimes by opposing it in the name of liberty. He thus uses law and chaos as means to the end of his own gain.
The oblivious neutral does not recognize these as real values. A chaotic oblivious neutral believes in liberty at any cost, and when people say that law is required to protect people and bring benefit to the greater number, he replies that this is so much sophistry, that the difference between helping one person and helping many is an illusion, and the many are just as selfish as the one. To him, the concepts of good and evil simply do not exist; what matters is the struggle between law and liberty.
The druidic neutral is in some ways the most difficult. The assumption is that the character will balance the good he does with a like amount of evil, and the chaos he causes with a like amount of law. Thus in combat he kills a man, and then in another place he heals one who is dying; he steals from an enemy but then gives to the poor. In this sense he is relatively unpredictable. Most who play this alignment try to keep their actions contained, never doing anything too good or too bad, too structured or too anarchistic. On the other hand, this alignment is open to some rather drastic conceptualization, such as a character who heals everyone in a village and then in the next village flame strikes a children’s playground. For the druid, the concept is that good and evil, law and chaos, must remain balanced in the world, and they must not put it out of balance by supporting one against another.
One solution to this seemingly erratic approach is the fourth option, the cross-principled neutral. This approach recognizes that the side alignments, while in a sense coherent approaches to reality, can be divided into distinct issues. A character who is neutral on the law/chaos axis might support the monarchy absolutely, but completely oppose legal slavery in the realm (a lawful structure in many societies). A cleric neutral on the good/evil axis might feel it his obligation to heal the poor of their diseases but at the same time take whatever valuables they might have for himself.
By the book, a druid has to be druidic neutral in both axes; however, that can be achieved by being cross-principled. Any character who is not a druid but is true neutral (“neutral neutral”) can be druidic in one axis and something else in the other, and those who are “side neutrals”–neutral good, chaotic neutral–can be any kind of neutral in the neutral axis. A true neutral fighter could be pragmatic to the ethical axis and druidic to the moral, that is, believing that law and chaos are tools to maintain the balance between good and evil; or he could be druidic in the ethical and oblivious in the moral, believing that talk of good and evil is all nonsense and what matters is maintaining the balance between order and liberty.
It should be evident at this point that the neutral alignments represent a plethora of belief systems, even within the concept of druidism. The druid, of course, believes in maintaining the balance of four beliefs, although he has several ways of achieving that. The “side alignment” neutrals are perhaps more complicated, and we will return to them in a future article.