Chaotic Neutral is the way to go, you’re told. When you roll up your first D&D character, all of your gaming friends and vets tell you that CN is the perfect alignment because “you can do whatever the hell you want to.” There’s a lot of free range in Chaotic Neutral; you can decide to help the old lady get her change purse back and then charge her an exorbitant “getting-change-purse-back-reacquisition” fee. No altruistic or beneficent morality getting in the way, and no true desire to eviscerate the old lady at the same time boiling in your psyche.
Complete gaming freedom it seems.
That is, except for the obvious conundrum of having too much freedom. Chaotic Neutral (or the new “Unaligned” from D&D 4.0) may seem like an appropriate starting alignment for your characters; however, I think Chaotic Good is a better (well, at least more morally ambiguous) alignment for the first-timers.
(It should be noted that I purposefully am omitting any discussion of evil-aligned characters because I find that it’s difficult to run a campaign with them. Essentially, everyone who’s not a seasoned veteran thinks any evil alignment means Chaotic Evil. That is, everyone acts like The Joker, and the chaos is just overwhelming and dismantling to any hope of a compelling story.)
So, what can Chaotic Good do for you? First, as in any scholarly discourse, we must define our terms. Chaotic Good means, at the core, you are a benevolent being. You generally care about others, and the delectable Turkish Delight of selfishness hasn’t fully consumed you yet. You seek to do good deeds and spread altruistic beliefs; however, you are not above any scheme or backhanded plot in order to accomplish your goals. You will lie, cheat, steal, and — as the caption to the left reads — “blow shit up” to ensure good tidings. There’s no “Lawful” anywhere in your alignment, so forget the structured systems of ethical behavior. Would you even kill for good? Yes: Batman is Chaotic Good. He doesn’t always leave the criminals tied up for Commissioner Gordon to find. Sometimes, he has to remove them from society by committing one of the most hateful crimes: homicide.
In this sense, Chaotic Good is less selfish than Lawful Good. Lawful Good is rife with pretension: you are bound by the law books or spiritual codes yet simultaneously above those who admit they’re human. Lawful Good can easily be a sham that exists only in fairy tales; unless you want your LG character to remain cartoonishly good, some evolution is required.
Lawful Good lends itself to a one-note quality and frequently halts a party’s progress because of one character’s selfish motives. Be honest: you don’t want to kill the injured Orc because your god commands you to spare the weak; you don’t want to kill it because you’ll feel badly about it. Trouble is: when that Orc recovers, his Chaotic Evil god beckons him to wreck your spiritually saved face.
The problem, then, with Chaotic Neutral is that it’s the opposite end of the spectrum from Lawful Good. Both are extremes of “doing” and “not doing” that are severely limiting for first-time players. One (LG) narrows the spectrum of choices so thinly, and the other (CN) widens the realm of possibilities too much for new-to-the-game participants.
Now, D&D 4.0 has shuffled off many specificities within alignment choice. All of the “Neutral” alignments have been combined into “Unaligned,” and the “Neutral” moralities have been excised completely. I believe this is an attempt to accomplish somewhat that which I’m advocating in this article: making the game more accessible to new players.
However, I have found that new players — as they transform into experienced table-top gamers — crave alignment specificity and evolve into more complex characters naturally. I firmly believe it is the job of the DM to allow for alignment transformation and resurrect the removed alignments as choices. This is why I suggest Chaotic Good as a nice starting point: the characters in your story should attempt to save the world and they should feel encouraged to explore morally ambiguous methods of doing so.
The Chaotic Good alignment paves a foundation for the reluctant and flawed hero. The Chaotic Good alignment provides the freedom to explore the darker sides of the psyche. The Chaotic Good alignment allows characters to openly admit the humanity that resides within them and furthermore emphasizes that any world — real or fantasy — is designed in shades of gray.