I talked a bit ago about the “paladin” style unyielding character type and the problems that can arise in a game if all the other characters in the game don’t see eye to eye. Edward, The DM from Outremer, made a comment that Chaotic Neutral jerk was much more damaging to a game than a good aligned character, even lawful good code of honor unyielding type ones. While I wasn't speaking strictly about alignment, and more about attitude, ethos, code, and viewpoint, Edward’s statement really made me think. I have seen some Chaotic Neutral shenanigans over the years.
Chaotic Neutral often equals crazy from my experience. It can sometimes be an excuse for a character to do whatever they want whenever they want to do it. If a character comes to the game reveling in anarchy and wanting to see the world burn it will be hard for the other characters to do much but deal with the repercussions of the chaotic neutral character’s actions. This can be fun from time to time but most players want their characters to have some time in the spotlight as well and can detour the story line in an unexpected and mostly unwanted direction. While this sort of role-playing can add a great change of a pace to a game once in awhile, it will probably cause more problems than it is worth on a continuous basis.
It's rare that you will see any of the actions of the Chaotic Neutral crazy character put the character in danger or at a disadvantage in a combat encounter. I said rare, sometimes a character does something that puts the character in danger because they are insane and it is great. You are either successful and have a great story to tell, or you die a glorious death and the other players will tell your tale for years to come. If you want to really play crazy, but you are just in a pain in the butt and never just jump off the bridge to see how deep the water is, then it is false.
Once in a while Chaotic Neutral alignment can also manifest as a character that is completely unpredictable but not out of their minds, which is an interesting boon for a game. Jane from Firefly is that kind of character. The character who shows no loyalty to organization openly, in some devious way will get along easier in a party than an evil character. In the hands of some players it can be adjusted to accommodate a bit more. Just this week in a Pathfinder game I was running, I am pretty sure the oracle charged another party member for a healing spell for their character. When I raised an eyebrow about what I had just seen, the player with the oracle character said, “What? I’m chaotic neutral.” That was an interesting surprise that might chafe the other characters and players a bit, but shouldn't be too much of an issue because the other players can see it coming. You might even get a laugh from time to time.
I did play a dwarf fighter in a Scales of War campaign who was completely off his rocker, unfortunately 4E D&D left some gaps in the alignment process over previous editions and my character was simply unaligned. I probably would have picked chaotic neutral as an alignment in any other edition. I did play the character absolutely crazy as hell, always yelling and cursing at the top of his lungs that whatever opponent was in front of him was, "responsible for the death of me brudder!" My dwarf Tor, ran in to most fights completely ignoring the party's plan, swinging his craghammer, engaging as many enemies as possible, fighting bravely, taking tremendous risks, and handling so much party business in a fight that the rest of the party pretty much ignored his hard headed, impatient, and dangerous ways. If you want to get away with playing a chaotic style character who doesn't always do the best thing for the group, you had better handle your business in a way that makes your character an asset invaluable to the group. Even if you are sometimes a liability.
Chaotic Neutral has always been a way to play your character however you wanted to play them in any given situation, usually to personal advantage in my opinion. I have seen a few characters over the years that have handled this with some excellent story rewards, but I have also seen some PC on PC violence as well. That is never a problem if everybody remembers it is a game and nobody takes it personally. Have you had some interesting experiences with Chaotic Neutral characters in your games? Let me know in the comments section. Until next time, Roll Hard!