In most stories, we like for our main characters to have strong opinions. These ideals and motivations shape who the character is and often drive the plot of the narrative. Thus characters who have a more neutral disposition might be perceived as boring or at least as less interesting than characters who might have more obvious and open motivations. But this doesn't have to be the case.
First, let's examine the premise that neutral characters lack strong opinions. In some cases, this is true. Neutral characters might be uncommitted or in a process of self-discovery. In these cases, a neutral character doesn't cling to particular ideals of good or evil or of any other moral system because they themselves don't know better. This puts a character in a good position for few different roles.
First and foremost, it makes them great at being the "straight man" (Can be any gender or sexual orientation, not to worry) in a story. "Straight man" characters act as a benchmark for other characters. They set the standard for normal, and thus when other characters take their drastic actions, these characters act as a regular person would. For example, if a chaotic evil psychopath starts chopping heads off of innocent townsfolk (misrepresentation of chaotic evil, by the way, but let's ignore that for now,) the neutral "Straight man" will react appropriately- with shock, and probably by acting to stop the evil character. In this way, they can still be a protagonist. Because they act as one would expect most normal people to, if you put the normal person in extreme circumstances, you can still get extreme results. Moreover, because of their implied normality, they're fairly easy to relate to, since we can all kind of see ourselves in them.
Along the same lines, these characters might exist as blank slates. They can start off normal, and grow in response to circumstances. People tend towards neutrality until they take an interest in something. As neutral characters are put into novel situations, their opinions may polarize and shift away from their initial neutrality. Neutral characters are malleable. If you are playing a blindly devoted paladin of good, that character might never consider temporarily siding with a necromancer to defeat the more powerful and more evil demon that is a greater threat in the near future. Sometimes having less strong opinions opens more doors and more options for a character, at least until they make those choices and start closing doors.
Separate from all of this, a neutral character can be firmly and committedly neutral and still be interesting. Neutral characters might commit themselves to the cause of neutrality itself, seeking to strike a balance in the world by being the agent of order through change that makes sure that evil doesn't overtake good, nor good outshine evil to the point that it turns on itself and starts tearing apart their own causes over minor details. A good example of this are the Gray Jedi in the Star Wars expanded universe, as they hold a very similar philosophy. In regards to philosophies and ideologies, neutral characters can have those too without being committed to good, evil, neutrality, or any other overarching polarized system. Neutral characters might hold to various philosophies that are not inherently evil nor good, and they may be strong believers in those philosophies. A neutral character might be a hedonist or a rationalist, pursuing courses of action based on the ideas of pleasure or logic. Neither are necessarily bad or evil ideas, they are simply differing lenses through which one might see the world. The same can be said of many different ideals that a Neutral character might hold. A neutral character may also exist without a greater framework altogether, instead choosing to focus on more specific personal goals. This might be acquiring wealth for their family. Good in that it's helping those they care about...but bad in that it doesn't help pretty much anyone else. This character might be a consummate mercenary. They won't accept work out of the kindness of their heart, no matter how moving the plea. But toss a little bit of money their way, and suddenly they're your ally. This is but one popular example. There are of course many motivations a neutral character may have.
Which is the entire point here really. Neutral chracters can have complex or simple motivations that still make them rich and worthy of play and attention. The only difference is that they rarely shout their allegiances from the rooftops and it may not be as immediately obvious. But they still can have deep driving motivations. Or not. Because the lack of deep motivation means there is potential to develop one, and that potential can lead to a compelling sense of mystery to see what might develop.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For more on a similar topic, you might consider checking out "Character Development: Nondevelopment" on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.