With no regard for the law and a penchant for vile actions, Dungeons & Dragons neutral evil characters thrive on selfish immorality.
These wicked wizards, malicious monsters, and horrible henchmen do whatever it takes to serve number one without regard for who gets hurt along the way.
Dungeons & Dragons Character Alignments
The Dungeons & Dragons character alignment system offers guidance for character development in the popular tabletop game.
As “nerd” culture became mainstream, these guidelines morphed into useful tropes, enabling fans to describe characters in their favorite fictional works, from comic books to movies and even video games.
The good/evil scale measures a character’s moral compass, while the lawful/chaotic scale measures a character’s adherence to society’s ethics.
Neutral Evil Characters
Neutral evil villains often lack a greater purpose for their wicked ways. They have no qualms about hurting people if it will benefit them directly but generally don’t care about creating their own system of misery, like the lawful evils, or destroying the current system and gleefully watching the world descend into chaos, like the chaotic evils.
What Does it Mean to Be Neutral Evil?
Neutral evils are malicious with no greater purpose. They’ll steal candy from babies if it makes them a quick buck.
D&D enthusiast Collin Schuck, Public Relations Manager at Elasticity, calls neutral evil characters the classic “big bad” villains, calling them “pure evil characters.”
“Evil characters are inherently selfish,” he says, adding that they focus on their self-interests and often resort to criminal activity to pursue their goals.
Neutral Evil Characters and the Law
The neutrality side of the neutral evil alignment means they have no grand plans for world domination and no strong feelings toward the law in either direction.
They’ll follow laws that benefit them and break the rules if it suits them.
Chris Reed, a Marketing Director at Project Line who enjoys D&D in his spare time, compares the neutral evil philosophy to the Church of Satan’s philosophy.
“Do what thou will shall be the whole of the law” absolutely epitomizes any and all neutral evil devotees,” he says. “They are the height of selfishness and will do whatever is necessary in order to fulfill their agenda or save their own skins.”
Their will may fall within or outside the confines of the law; neutral evils don’t care either way.
As Schuck explains, “They don’t seek to cause chaos or use law specifically to cause deception or intimidation. All they care about is that they’re reaching their objectives.”
Neutral Evil vs. Chaotic Neutral
Although it sounds similar to chaotic neutrals, the difference is that neutral evils will choose malevolence for fun if the opportunity arises. In contrast, chaotic neutrals generally won’t hurt people on purpose.
They don’t relish in suffering as the neutral evils do, and many chaotic neutrals have a line. They won’t allow the world to burn for their selfishness. Neutral evils have no such boundaries.
For example, both a chaotic neutral and neutral evil may be assassins. The chaotic won’t enjoy the act of killing and would likely conduct the job quickly and professionally. A neutral evil may delight in the job, dragging it out to inflict as much suffering as possible. A chaotic may also have lines they won’t cross, such as not assassinating a child or not killing innocent people.
Neutral evils don’t care who they hurt.
Personality Traits of Neutral Evil Characters
Although all characters have different goals, dreams, and desires, most neutral evils share a few characteristics.
- Self-Serving – Will do anything if it benefits themselves
- Callous – Unmoved by the suffering of others, and sometimes even enjoy it
- Dishonest – Will lie, backstab, or betray to get what they want
- Analytical – Will weigh the options before acting
- Terrifying – nothing is too awful for a neutral evil
How to Play a Neutral Evil Character
While playing a neutral evil character, remember your primary motivation: yourself. Think “me me me” with every decision that you make. If killing another character will help you in your quest, do it with no regrets.
Show callousness in your choices because you don’t care what happens to anyone else, and have fun doing it.
“The alignment is actually incredibly fun to play, as the only objectives that matter to you are your own, and you’ll literally do anything to achieve them, no matter how twisted, awful, and horrible they are,” says Reed.
Here’s what to remember when playing as a neutral evil character.
Cold and Calculated
Neutral evils don’t act at random. Demi Marshall, a D&D player who works as a Marketing Coordinator with MindPoint Group, says, “A neutral evil character is a master of cost-benefit analysis.”
They may even do a seemingly “good” thing if they benefit. “A neutral evil character can be very collaborative and helpful,” Marshall says, but only if they can profit from it. “If there isn’t something to be personally gained, it’s hard to convince a neutral evil character to save a child in the forest,” she adds.
Many parties need someone willing to do the dirty work, and a neutral evil fits the bill.
Richard R. Becker, an author and Dungeon Master (DM) with over 40 years of experience says although neutral evils can’t be trusted, “some parties might keep them around because they are the one character who will do what needs to be done when no one else will.”
Shuck agrees, saying players should “Be expected to lie, steal, cheat, and kill to get what you need.”
But Not Short-Sighted
Becker reminds us of neutral evil’s analytical nature when they work with a party. “They can look long-term as much as anyone and aren’t necessarily tempted by short-term gains,” he says.
He adds that they’ll be the first to steal from other party members if the opportunity arises. “If they are caught stealing, they’re also the first to say “it serves you right, leaving your gold lying around like that.”
Neutral evils make great friends if you serve their interests, but they’ll turn on a dime the second you’re no longer useful.
As Becker explains, “When faced with the choice of saving a friend, their decision is solely based upon risk and reward. Too great a risk or too little reward down the road, and they’ll be the first player to bow out,” he says.
Becker offered a few examples, saying a neutral evil will save a cleric who can heal wounds but would leave their “friends” to fight alone if joining the fight would risk injury.
Neutral evils have no real friends, only people who are helpful to them at a given moment.
Neutral evil characters can turn on a dime if the wind suits them. Their only loyalty is to themselves.
Join a party if it will get you closer to your goals, and betray them in a heartbeat if the situation changes. Lie, cheat, steal, and backstab to get what you want.
Mask Byrne, founder of Gift Ideas Guide and avid D&D player, says neutral evils “are dangerous allies, ready to switch allegiances for the right price, making them a formidable and unpredictable force in any narrative.”
A Terrifying Presence
Byrne describes neutral evils as a terrifying presence.
“Neutral Evil characters are terrifying due to their unrelenting pursuit of personal gain and willingness to harm innocents,” he says.
There’s no limit to what they will do to achieve their goals.
Consider the Motivations
It’s crucial to remember that although neutral evils delight in evil, they usually don’t do evil just for the sake of it.
Their selfish desires typically override their enjoyment of malicious acts so they won’t cause harm to disrupt a mission. The chaotic evils revel in chaos; the neutral evils usually have a goal.
Consider your character’s primary motivations, goals, and desires when playing. Every decision in-game should help you achieve those end goals, regardless of where the decision falls on either axis or the consequences to any other character.
Character Classes and Races that Tend Toward Neutral Evil:
Although you can build your character however you want, a few character classes and races tend towards the neutral evil alignment.
Neutral Evil Classes
A class is a character’s job, such as a cleric or barbarian. It defines your character’s role in the party. Classes that tend toward neutral evil include assassins, henchmen, and mercenaries.
Neutral Evil Races
The character’s race, such as elf, giant, or dwarf, provides inherent skills, abilities, and tendencies.
Drow (a sort of dark elf), yugoloths, and cloud giants tend toward neutral evil.
Examples of Neutral Evil Characters in Fiction
Neutral evil characters are often complicated to point out in fiction and literature. The henchmen, mercenaries, and assassins usually fit this mold, most of which are side characters without much development.
Main characters who lean towards neutral evil may also display chaotic or lawful evil characteristics as the story progresses. A compelling aspect of fiction is that most characters don’t perfectly fit any mold; they grow and develop as a story unfolds.
However, we can point to a few fictional examples that showcase the traits and behavior of neutral evil characters.
Glory- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Most character alignment charts put the evil goddess from Buffy the Vampire Slayer squarely into the chaotic evil alignment, but I disagree. Although her actions may seem crazy and chaotic to the viewer, she’s not motivated by wreaking havoc and causing chaos.
Her primary motivation throughout the season is returning to her home.
Glory doesn’t care who gets hurt in her quest or what happens to the world. Although she knows opening the door to her hell dimension will likely destroy the world, that’s not why she’s doing it. She wants to get home and doesn’t care that doing so will cause humanity’s destruction. Her actions are selfishly motivated, and she doesn’t care who gets hurt in the crossfire.
Many fans consider this Glory’s brain-sucking evidence of a chaotic evil alignment due to the havoc it wreaks, but I disagree. When considering alignments, it’s important to remember a character’s motivation. Sucking someone’s brain may leave them a chaotic mess of themselves, but that’s not Glory’s goal. She only does it when she needs to feed.
Glory’s first interactions at the Magic Box, when she purchases ingredients for a spell, highlight her neutral evil tendencies. At this time, she has no reason to suspect the Magic Box is working with the Slayer, and she behaves like a regular customer when she goes.
A chaotic evil would suck a brain in the magic shop just for fun, but Glory doesn’t. She purchases ingredients, makes small talk with Giles while he’s ringing her up, and then leaves. The entire transaction was utterly uneventful.
Glory’s actions here are selfish. It was easier for her to buy the ingredients like an everyday customer than draw attention to herself by causing chaos.
Smaug – The Hobbit
The Hobbit’s iconic dragon villain is evil. He hordes his treasure and burns the village to the ground, disregarding the lives lost.
Smaug is the perfect example of neutral evil. He has no grand plans for world domination and is not out to revel in anarchistic destruction. All Smaug cares about is his gold; he will destroy anyone or anything that comes between him and it.
It’s not inherently evil to guard your wealth, but we can’t pretend Smaug acquired all this gold through legal means. We know Smaug stole the gold and viciously attacks anyone who tries to stop him or take it back.
The dragon’s selfish actions and callous disregard for anyone else highlight the neutral evil alignment.
Schuck reminds us that the ultimate hunter, The Predator, falls under the neutral evil alignment. Their ultimate goal is hunting the alien (who, although many argue, is evil, I’d say falls under the true neutral alignment).
The Predator is neutral evil because they relish in the hunt and kill. They have no regard for innocent bystanders in pursuit of their prey and will often kill them for the fun of it. The law of the land holds no meaning for predators as they constantly seek fresh opportunities to be the best warriors in the hunting fields.
Henchmen & Mercenaries
Our favorite background characters from most movies and shows tend towards the neutral evil alignment. Most henchmen don’t care about the main villain’s master plan. They neither strive for world domination nor desire anarchy.
They only care about who pays the most, and if the world ends as a result, well, at least they got theirs.
Character Alignments are Just a Guide
Character alignments are general rules of behavior you should consider when planning a character, but you don’t have to strictly adhere to them while playing. The best characters are complex, embodying a blend of alignments or changing over time.
Schuck says he loves how neutral characters can shift over time to fall under either the lawful or the chaotic alignments.
Your character can shift, too. Enjoy the game and watch your character grow.
Melanie Allen is an American journalist and happiness expert. She has bylines on MSN, the AP News Wire, Wealth of Geeks, Media Decision, and numerous media outlets across the nation. She covers a wide range of topics centered around self-actualization and the quest for a fulfilling life.