Chaotic Neutral is a popular D&D lineup, especially for new players. However, many end up frustrating others by misinterpreting what CN means.
New Dungeons and Dragons players often make the same mistakes when entering the game, in part because of how confusing the sheer number of rules can be. One of those mistakes is how they interpret their lineup. While individual Dungeon Masters will have different expectations of how many players must stick to their character lineups, many use the Chaotic Neutral lineup as an excuse to do things that are unnecessarily violent or out of place. Many players interpret the “Chaotic” part to mean that the individual character is chaotic and uncontrollable, but that is not actually the case.
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The alignment is generally considered to be more of a guide on how to D&D character it should act on the world rather than be something to which it must strictly adhere. It is more important that players behave as their individual character would behave. Unfortunately, people who misunderstand the Chaotic Neutral lineup and use it to justify annoying behavior can be detrimental to the enjoyment of the game as a whole, even if the murder-happy playstyle may be fun for the gamer in the moment. In truth, Chaotic Neutral means something different than what many people think.
As described in the Player’s Manual, chaotic neutral characters are more concerned with their own individual freedom and the rules they set for themselves. This does not mean that they are all anarchists; they generally do not want to stop others from fighting for their own freedom. With this in mind, the killer vagabond gameplay that many new CN players employ actually contradicts what this lineup really means; in fact, such a style of play really falls under Neutral Evil or Chaotic Evil depending on the situation.
Rather than killing and stealing, chaotic neutral characters are usually more content to let people live their own lives. They are usually meant to be free spirits who are content to let others live their lives as long as they can do the same. CN characters tend to be great Bards and Barbarians, as these classes tend to be more concerned with the vagaries and freedoms of their own lives, and reward that kind of play.
It’s understandable why so many players misunderstand what Chaotic Neutral really means. After all, the “Chaotic” part is a bit misleading, but that’s mainly because Chaotic means something different when talking about D&D lineups. Chaos in D&D refers to the absence of order, since law and order are two important forces in the Forgotten Realms. Chaos is flexibility and freedom compared to the rules and reliability of order, neither of which is described as inherently good or bad. In fact, Good and Evil are two entirely different forces within the Forgotten Realms, although the way they work is more in line with what new players would expect.
Law and order can be good, bad, or even neutral. Neutral as an alignment does not show any commitment to sacrificing things for others or disrespect for life. Instead, apply beliefs on a case-by-case basis. Most chaotic neutral characters do not have a strict moral code and are generally content to let others do their thing as long as they do not stifle their own freedom.
Playing chaotic neutral characters is about recognizing the freedom you have to make your own decisions and protect that, whether for the benefit of yourself or others. The characters of CN will protect themselves and will not feel obliged to follow the laws of the country or the government, although they will avoid imprisonment or death as much as possible. In short, if a Chaotic Neutral character feels that the consequences of their actions would violate their freedom, they are not likely to perform those actions.
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