Neutral Evil- How do you see it?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

Liberty's Edge

I recently had a discussion about the potential for a Token Evil Teammate, and what alignments would work best. We both agreed CE was probably right out, but differed with regards to LE versus NE.

He was of the opinion that LE would be the only workable Token Evil Teammate because he could be trusted at his word to basically play within the team structure. In his opinion, NE wouldn't. He basically claimed that NE was Evil with a personal agenda, and would be focused on opportunities as they present themselves for advancement. If that meant betraying the party, they would. In his words, "They lack the order enforced by the Laful nature of LE to be anything beyond the opportunistic individual."

I don't see NE in that way at all. I've always considered NE to be "Pragmatic Evil" Regardless of the reason why (sociopathy, personal advancement of an overall agenda, selfishness) they are evil, they choose how to be evil, and can even suspend being evil if it will advance their own personal goals more at the time. I believe the best NE characters have long term goals- they don't care who gets hurt on the way, generally, but that doesn't mean they can't do the calculus to see when the immediate evil wouldn't pay off as much as playing nice or neutral would. In my opinion, a NE character could operate in a party so long as they remained convinced it was in their best long-term interest to be a part of the party, or because they selfishly want to be a part of the party (say for romantic/familiar/friendship reasons).

How do you guys see NE?

Liberty's Edge

I agree with you more or less, but your friend does have a point:

What if those purely selfish reasons become invalid?

Which they certainly might (breaks upwith girlfriend, becomes angry with team, given better offer, etc.). And if they do, suddenly you can't trust that guy an more. Which might or might not be a problem depending on style of play.

I will also note that, frankly, CE is in about the same boat as NE. There are certainly CE long-term planners, and they can certainly be driven by ambition and/or personal relationships. I played in an Evil game where the CE characters were actually extremely loyal to the party for various reasons.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

The game has always used 'neutral' to cover two different things;
1: Seeking a balance between two positions
2: Being indifferent to two positions

A 'neutral evil' being following 'neutral = balanced' would want to avoid overly strict rules and procedures, but also keep things from slipping into outright chaos. Where chaos is 'everyone do their own thing' and law is 'follow the leader' neutral balance is 'follow the leader unless it makes more sense to do your own thing'.

A 'neutral evil' being following 'neutral = indifferent' (which I generally call just the 'Evil' alignment) doesn't think about those issues at all. They are motivated entirely by evil with no interest in organizational structure, personal freedom, et cetera. They're going to do the evil thing in any situation... regardless of whether it happens to be lawful or chaotic.

'Indifferent Evil' would be hard to have as a single token member in a mostly good group. 'Balanced Evil' would probably be able to get by better. It really depends on the makeup of the rest of the group... CE fits in with a CN group better than LE would.

Scarab Sages

I've always viewed Neutral Evil as the "most evil" alignment - fully unburdened by the concepts or worries of Law or Chaos. A pit fiend is fundamentally opposed to reckless slaughter, individualism, and modernism. This is why LE works best in an adventuring party. A balor is likewise fundamentally opposed to social structure, organized campaigns, or tradition.
A NE character doesn't care about any of that, only Evil for Evil's sake. While there is certainly some individuality to a Neutral character, the ultimate individualists are Chaotic characters. Rather, a Neutral character is equally comfortable alone or in groups, serving a greater force or working alone, as long as it advances their Evil Cause (which may or may not be personal).

As CBD said, it depends on if the character is truly Neutral or if they shift positions between Law/Chaos intentionally.

From your particular point of view, I would sort of agree with your DM. Unless the NE character is connected to the party and has some strong personal reasons to remain attached, they would likely have little cause to remain loyal if they honestly believe they or their cause is better served by betraying them to another.

This is really another good case as to why I imagine a third alignment axis (Zeal: Devoted - Adherent - Lax) as well as a true Unaligned category outside the normal alignments.


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I agree with your friend. The best 'team' oriented evil is Lawful Evil. They HAVE rules and systems they operate by which you can work with. They will be the worst 'rules lawyers' in the universe but they have a system that can usually be manipulated if your smart.

Neutral evil is just dangerous. They don't care about law or chaos, they only care about Evil. As such they are nearly on par with Chaotic Evil in how bad they are to work with. Chaotics are unpredictable and USUALLY unthinking in their evil. No impulse control as it were. As such they tend to cause loud, visible, heinous problems, regularly.

Neutral evil though by the time you realise your on their bad side, have already betrayed your, captured you, contained you and are torturing you for fun/profit/information before killing you (slowly and horribly), disintegrating your remains, mixing the dust from that into a lead brick and giving it to an earth elemental to take to the center of a mountain somewhere.

Then they start on your faimly and loved ones. OR they got them first and made you watch what happened to them before they started on you.

You just can't trust those neutrals. Who knows what they will do?


Fitting. That's how I see it. >:)


Just my $.02 -

A character that is LE wouldn't necessarily be a better fit than a NE character in a group. It really depends on the character's overall personality and how it is played. Evil characters of any alignment are frequently played as if they are constantly sizing up their adventuring partners for lunch, which imo is kind of a limited approach to evil. (Unless of course, your evil adventuring partner is a hungry fiend in which case they probably are daydreaming about consuming some part of you.)

The LE character works within rules and systems, but he sees them as tools to manipulate to his advantage. He is no less likely to betray or otherwise inconvenience his adventuring group than a NE character, but his methodology would be different. His betrayals would come from within the rules to which he adheres, bending and manipulating them to his best benefit. Loyalty to his adventuring group is not necessarily part of his codified morals.

The NE character tends to have a more pragmatic and selfish nature, but that doesn't mean his particular brand of evil has a greater chance of group betrayal. He does not follow any particular code or structure of laws. He does, however, have the ability to understand the consequences of his actions, to quantify risk. Being NE doesn't necessarily mean a character aggressively seeks out every opportunity to betray those around him for his own gain. Playing nice with party members who provide complimentary abilities and allow him to more easily take what he wants from the world is perfectly within the scope of NE. Just make sure if he's your adventuring partner that you don't put him in a situation where leaving you to twitch in the wind is worth the inconvenience and risk involved (and the same caution applies to LE and CE party members).


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A lot of extreme views on evil alignment here.

For me, NE at its "noblest" meant that a person was, essentially, selfish. They may act good most of the time, and even think that they're good, but when push comes to shove, they revert to dog-eat-dog. They're the guy you send ahead to secure the escape route . . . and, when things go south, they look at you, shrug (or apologize), then escape themselves, leaving you hung out to dry. There's no reason they have to take the "e-ville" action just because it presents itself--though if they get the chance to better themselves at the expense of someone else, they probably will, especially if they're confident that they won't get caught. You don't really know what alignment you are until you're put to the test.

Being evil is much easier than being good. Good is restrictive. Evil is not. (Analogous: Just because you're a liar doesn't mean you lie all the time.)

For the characters that do evil things "For the Evuls", while they can be NE or even LE, they're usually better off in CE territory, depending on how willing they are to abandon any personal code or boundaries they set on their own behavior.

An unscrupulous merchant is often NE. They don't set out to screw people just for the sake of it; they do it because it makes them rich.

Note that this is in addition to the "pure evil" NE types. Just clarifying that NE doesn't necessarily imply "pure evil".


Note: "For the Evuls" got me thinking about TVTropes. They have a good article on Neutral Evil.

Scarab Sages

@blahpers: Your descriptions sound more like a CN character (selfish, unconcerned with morality). Evil IS just as restrictive as good. In the same way that a paladin that murders is cast out of his order, so would be a blackguard that sends money to a poor orphanage with no expectation of return.

I'm seeing more and more the "evil characters think they are good" argument. Yes, most evil characters think they are doing the "right" thing, but they also know the difference between Good and Evil, and the fact that they choose Evil whenever practical is what makes them Evil and not Neutral. The "right" thing is that Good = weakness, and Evil = power; only the stupid or foolish would choose to help others at the expense of themselves or their group. The exception here is the insane or extra-planar evil, which ignorantly commit evil at every possible turn regardless of consequences, but in this case they don't think about the "right" thing at all, that's why they are the way they are.

An unscrupulous merchant is not NE, he is N (a CN merchant will likely be out of business quickly).

A NE merchant is someone who will choose murder/torture/blackmail ahead of any other option whenever practical. He may finance a local death cult, or secretly run a slavery ring. Merely hoarding goods at the expense of others is not evil. Hoarding goods with the explicit intention of starving a group of halflings to death is evil.


Too often, characters with a neutral bent in their alignment are inappropriately viewed as someone who makes an active effort in order to 'preserve neutrality'... much more likely, he is simply a character that is indifferent to whatever aspect he is neutral in.

I see a Neutral Evil character as one who is ultimately self-motivated and driven by self-interest whether for power, wealth, whatever. When the law or even meticulous planning favors him, he'll take full advantage of it... when working outside the law, double-crossing or backstabbing supposed allies, he's fine with that as well.

I agree, 'Pragmatic Evil' - and 'Pragmatic Good' for that matter, definitely seems the way to go. Some characters or NPC's may choose for rP purposes to actively serve the force of balance, but that would be a much rarer interpretation to my mind.

Liberty's Edge

Jal Dorak wrote:
A NE merchant is someone who will choose murder/torture/blackmail ahead of any other option whenever practical. He may finance a local death cult, or secretly run a slavery ring. Merely hoarding goods at the expense of others is not evil. Hoarding goods with the explicit intention of starving a group of halflings to death is evil.

I disagree with this. Evil can be based on philosophic devotion or outright sadism and malice, but it can also be the result of simply not caring about the welfare of others. To quote myself for an example:

Deadmanwalking wrote:

Indeed. My would-be Evil Overlord LE Drow Bard was polite and conscientous as a rule, always treated his personnel extremely well, had no personal hatreds or prejudices of any kind (and considered racial prejudice foolish), and always attempted to negotiate with enemies prior to the outbreak of hostilities. He treated his personal prisoners well (securing their loyalty in many cases), and never personally engaged in wanton cruelty, as he saw no point in it. Really, he was an urbane, pleasant, individual to associate with.

He was just utterly without anything resembling a conscience. and completely willing to do anything necessary to accomplish his goals. A consumate pragmatist.

For example (in his backstory), his most reliable subordinate (a Half-Drow cousin and family retainer) was CE and personally enjoyed torturing people to death in the most horrible fashion possible. My character's sister was in the line of succession before him (Drow, after all) so he decided to remove her, lured her into an isolated location, and gave her to his retainer to dispose of. While she still lived. The awful things that happened to her thereafter probably don't bear thinking on.

Why did he do it? It was the most effective solution to the problem she posed, and he had nobody else he could trust to dispose of her and never talk about it under an circumstances. Simple pragmatism, not any real hatred or desire to hurt her per se.

Also, the definition of Evil.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

LE all the way, the lawful aspect you give the character direction that they will follow. Just make sure they define their laws, being lawful does not always mean following the laws of the realm, it means they have a set definition of laws or rules they follow. A serial killer could very well be considered lawful evil.

Most fun I ever had was a LE merc, I did the job and followed the contract. Tell me to kill that baby, sure if it was within my contract to do so, go save the princess and save the kingdom also ok if it was within my contract.

Another fun character I played that was LE, was a Psionic character who had been picked on and always passed up for promotions in town, when he was "obviously" better off at leading. He finally figured that he needed to make these people love him, if he was going to take over and rule. So he set out to be the "hero" people wanted and sometimes even set it up so he could save the day. Yes he may have been doing the right thing and helping others but he was doing it for his own motives. He was NOT above killing someone to keep them quiet when he needed too.


NE usually is portrayed as greedy in my games. If the character is a bit of a coward, others can control that. If they are an adventurer, then they'll turn when the odds look good to do so.


I see a neutral evil character as someone who's evil and who isn't particularly consistent or inconsistent in his actions.


StrangePackage wrote:
He was of the opinion that LE would be the only workable Token Evil Teammate because he could be trusted at his word to basically play within the team structure. In his opinion, NE wouldn't. He basically claimed that NE was Evil with a personal agenda, and would be focused on opportunities as they present themselves for advancement.

Ya know, in my opinion, being evil =/= stabbing friends in the back. You could be evil, and still be loyal to the party (even if they are good.) I'd describe it as working towards the greater evil that may or may not conflict with the party. If you read Order of the stick, Belkar's a good example (I guess...)


I think most of the problem people are having with accurately defining it- is because.. well, being "neutral" is really an abstract thing that would be extremely hard to do.

You have law: which is rigid and structure. Not necesarily bound to laws- but bound to doing things in an orderly fashion.

Chaos is far more free form. They aren't worried about law or order or structure- and will struggle against it in the aim of just being themselves.

So Neutrality is supposed to be between the two. Yet there really isn't alot of wiggle room.
Neutrality is going to be seen as Chaotic simply because it isn't the rigid lawful thing.

To me i see it more as- them advancing the morality side of it regardless of law or chaos.

A chaotic good person would struggle against laws as them not being the most expedient way to be good, while a lawful good person would want to follow the laws even if they dragged out justice a little longer.

I could see a neutral good person not caring which road to good you took as long as you got there. If there are laws, good use them. If not- well fine, go that route too.

The evil side would really work the same way, IMO.
A lawful evil person would have a rigid hierarchy. An evil mercenary group or church would be a prime example of this. They are perfectly evil but have ranks and schedules and rules and regulations for how to go about doing said evil things.

The Chaotic Evil guy is the reverse. He has evil to do and he's going to do it his way and doesn't care one whit for rules, regulations, agreements, or whatever. His goal is whatever his goal is and he's going to do whatever it takes to do it without regard to laws internally- even any code or set of conduct. he does what he does however he can do it.

The Neutral Evil guy has his goal. He'll use the best method to obtain it. If that means following guidelines or using some structure, fine. If that means going off the hook and winging it, then so be it. He's not really wedded to either method- he just wants his evil done.

The value of the NE guy is that he can fit into the LE or the CE role- if thats what he needs to do. he just doesn't care about law or chaos. He cares about the end result.

Thats just my 2 cents anyway.

-S


Most evil isn't philosophical in nature. The neutral evil person cares about number 1, more or less to the exclusion of caring much about anyone else. If working with a bunch of heroes advances number one, they'll do it, and maintaining a pretext is no big deal for them if it serves their ends. There's always a cost-benefit calculation running under the hood for them. They might not even terribly enjoy acting 'EVIL' per se. If you want them to work with you, it's actually not terribly hard in most cases---just ensure your offer is the best on offer.

Grand Lodge

I would agree with you on the whole, though I would probably prefer someone lawful evil with long reaching goals you could have a neutral evil character in pretty much the same situation.

I recently purchased Book of the Damned- Volume 3, Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which talks extensively on the nature of Neutral Evil. It shows that even creatures who are essentially pure evil can work with others in order to further their long term goals. A daemon may support a group of Lawful Good clerics, if only to slowly twist them towards evil an tyranny and in the end bring about theirs and many other peoples deaths.

To me neutral evil has always been the deepest, darkest evil. It supposes evil over all other choices, law and chaos are abstracts that do not even factor into the mind, they are constructs that a pure evil person or creature can ignore or even mimic in order to reach their true ends.

This of course is all based on how closely you hold to alignments, in many of the games I run I like to look at the alignment as a loose guideline, not a strict code, which is why I have never had a problem with non-lawful monks or even paladins with enough justification (this was mostly in earlier editions without as many options as Pathfinder allows).


I find playing 'Neutral' characters easy and fun. I'm never one sided in my current use of alignment. If I do something good, I try to do something evil next to balance it out. Same with lawful and chaotic acts. My character sort of gets bipolar about things. When I do good, I do really quite good on equal levels to a paladin. Then I recall what alignment did I emulate last, and strive to appear opposite in alignment to whatever it was I had been.

In a way it's kind of forced alignment, but it's the best way I can keep track that I am maintaining some consistency in my alignment reveal at the time of given playing session.

Our group has played completely evil aligned groups without much of a problem. In general the chatacters stay neutral to each other while doing absolutely evil things to those around us.

The idea that evil characters cannot work together is silly. Chaotic evil is a bit more difficult to maintain well, but lawful or primarily neutral evil groups work fine together, as long as the evil activities are constant and directed at a specific target outside of the party.

Other GMs play like evil groups are stupid and never have reliable results of success. That's simply crazy. While being an evil genius, you do really dark things, you don't suddenly become stupid - you're still a genius, evil or not.


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I am seriously considering doing away with alignment. The concept creates more problems than it solves.


EWHM wrote:
Most evil isn't philosophical in nature. The neutral evil person cares about number 1, more or less to the exclusion of caring much about anyone else. If working with a bunch of heroes advances number one, they'll do it, and maintaining a pretext is no big deal for them if it serves their ends. There's always a cost-benefit calculation running under the hood for them. They might not even terribly enjoy acting 'EVIL' per se. If you want them to work with you, it's actually not terribly hard in most cases---just ensure your offer is the best on offer.

E.g.: Jayne Cobb.


blahpers wrote:
EWHM wrote:
Most evil isn't philosophical in nature. The neutral evil person cares about number 1, more or less to the exclusion of caring much about anyone else. If working with a bunch of heroes advances number one, they'll do it, and maintaining a pretext is no big deal for them if it serves their ends. There's always a cost-benefit calculation running under the hood for them. They might not even terribly enjoy acting 'EVIL' per se. If you want them to work with you, it's actually not terribly hard in most cases---just ensure your offer is the best on offer.
E.g.: Jayne Cobb.

Yes, although I'd argue he's got some neutral leanings also that become more prominent as the show progresses. But the totally unscrupulous mercenary is the NE archetype.


It is virtually impossible to get anyone to agree on what any alignment means. I like CBDunkerson's comment above about how "neutral" means two things in the rules. He's right, it does. The conflict between "neutral means doesn't care" vs "neutral means seeks balance" is one of the major reasons that neutral alignments are so frequently debated.

And "evil" is at least as frequently debated. Does evil mean "greedy?" Does it mean "selfish?" Does it mean "seeks to harm others?" Does it mean "seeks to advance the cause of evil"?

Who knows?

Here's how I generally play evil characters:

Chaotic evil - Totally unpredictable and wholly selfish. Not necessarily "greedy" just completely focused on their own desires. Will mess with lawful and or good societies/people just for fun. Think "The Joker".

Lawful evil - Wants to impose their desires on others. Believes that their way is the only way. Prone to hierarchical organizations with strict codes of behavior. Relies on strict punishment/reward system and believes in frequent use of examples. Will make deals and generally will stick to them until the one major backstab that makes them the biggest boss. Can be absolutely ruthless in pursuing goals. Think "Al Capone".

Neutral evil - The sociopath. Pretty much truly only thinks of their own ends, and those ends can be quite subtle and complex. Rarely overly greedy or overtly selfish. Can and will pretend to be law-abiding and/or good to gain their ends. Plays well with others until their ends are met. Keeps promises only when that advances their true goals. Able and willing to accept compromise when necessary. Is utterly rational and can seem to be quite reasonable at times. Think "Braniac".

Any of these can work within the framework of an adventuring party if it suits their needs. Of these the one that should have the most difficulty "fitting in" for a particular quest or short "adventure" would be the lawful evil character. Their natural desire to impose their will is difficult to ignore for long.

Liberty's Edge

blahpers wrote:
I am seriously considering doing away with alignment. The concept creates more problems than it solves.

I think that's sort of the point- it's supposed to give general guidance while raising additional questions. That provides for better roleplaying opportunities- making tough decisions while trying to stay within the bounds of what your character would consider appropriate or acceptable.

Besides, even in real life, with well delineated legal and moral codes, there are still differences in interpretation.

The conflicts created by competing alignments can be one of the most interesting parts of intra-party interactions and roleplay. They ought to be thorny- folks dealing with epic deeds should face epic challenges, both external and internal.


Really, even a C/E character COULD run with a party... even mood-swingy, emo villains can have friends (if they'll put up with the mood swings).

But N/E and L/E are generally better for group-oriented activity over the long haul.


Any actions can be reasoned and logic'd into any alignment.

I see Lawful evil as the "I'm not a bad person. well, maybe I am. But I do what I have to to get what I want."

Evil is a means to an end, or a flavoring aspect to a greater goal.

I see neutral evil as someone who simply *is* a 'bad person.' They want to see children crying, lives ruined, harm spread because they have hate, want to spread it, they have a simple enjoyment from it.

Chaotic evil in my books is very similar to this, but where the neutral evil person steals the money to go towards medicine, the chaotic evil person burns down the hospital and laughs because to him, it's just darn funny.


StrangePackage wrote:
blahpers wrote:
I am seriously considering doing away with alignment. The concept creates more problems than it solves.

I think that's sort of the point- it's supposed to give general guidance while raising additional questions. That provides for better roleplaying opportunities- making tough decisions while trying to stay within the bounds of what your character would consider appropriate or acceptable.

Besides, even in real life, with well delineated legal and moral codes, there are still differences in interpretation.

The conflicts created by competing alignments can be one of the most interesting parts of intra-party interactions and roleplay. They ought to be thorny- folks dealing with epic deeds should face epic challenges, both external and internal.

The conflicts are far more interesting when characters aren't pigeonholed. And like it or not, they are pigeonholed, particularly by detect evil and all the other various mechanics that depend on the categorization of characters into neat little buckets. "Everybody in this corner is bright and pure, while everybody in this corner is evil and deserves holy judgment." Things are never that simple with mortals. So why such silly mechanics?

Replace [good] and [evil] with [holy] and [unholy]. Change all the detection spells so that they detect either (a) holy or unholy descriptors, (b) positive or negative energy, or (c) pure or malicious intent at the time of the reading. Possibly have all three kinds of detection. Tweak any mention of good and evil similarly as the case warrants. Remember that LightIsNotGood and DarkIsNotEvil (and TvTropesWillRuinYourGamingLife).

Mortals are complicated. My own alignment probably changes two or three times a day. The system doesn't support that; it wants a creature's "overall alignment", something that isn't expected to change but maybe once or twice in a lifetime if at all. People just aren't that simple. They can be several alignments at the exact same point in time. We're complicated.


Regarding "making tough decisions while staying in the bounds of what your character considers appropriate or acceptable": You don't need an alignment system to do that. You just need a character. The alignment system actually hurts this aspect of roleplaying by pigeonholing you into one of nine neat cubbyholes.

Dark Archive

blahpers wrote:
Replace [good] and [evil] with [holy] and [unholy]. Change all the detection spells so that they detect either (a) holy or unholy descriptors, (b) positive or negative energy, or (c) pure or malicious intent at the time of the reading.

I'd suggest not breaking holy and unholy up into different types. They already did that with sacred and divine types, and only managed to create an absurd situation where a pair of good clerics can't stack a sacred bonus on someone, but a good cleric and an evil cleric can stack sacred and profane modifiers. (In addition to the grammar fail of defining something sacred to an evil god as 'profane.' Ur-Priests are profane, not evil clerics.)

Using the flame strike precedent of just refering to the energy as 'divine power' instead of trying to break it up into holy/sacred power or unholy/profane power or chaotic/anarchic-holy power or lawful/axiomatic-holy power would simplify matters, IMO.

Liberty's Edge

Lawful Evil= Adolph Hitler. Neutral Evil=Joseph Stalin. Chaotic Evil= Idi Amin.


I treat Neutral Evil as the common evil. Neutral evil characters are the most common type of evil people in my games.

I basically describe them as individuals who lack feelings of sentiment and kindness except towards those they share a bond with, such as family or brothers in arms, though any breach of loyalty or trust can destroy that.

In addition, Neutral Evil characters get a feeling of satisfaction from hurting other people or imposing their will.

Law and chaos, civilization and wilderness, and so on and on, only matter to the Neutral Evil character as means to his own ends, unless he has some personal preference towards something (such as loving the comforts of civilization).


NE is your friend, right up until he slides the dagger under your rib cage. Hey, don't take it personal; it's just business.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

I usually put 1/3rd of the population on good / neutral / evil, and 1/3rd each on law / neutral / chaos. Its therefore pretty possible to "get along" with evil aligned people - they probably won't be pleasant, but they get along in society for the most part. You certainly wouldn't like working under them too much, but they won't rape and kill you for the most part.

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