This article will explain everything you should need to know in order to understand and play the Neutral Evil alignment. Here’s an overview of what I’ll discuss:
- What is the Neutral Evil alignment?
- How to play a Neutral Evil aligned character?
- Neutral Evil examples & background ideas
- And more!
With that said, let’s start with some definitions first.
What is the Neutral Evil Alignment?
Characters who are neutral on the Lawful ⇄ Chaotic spectrum maintain no particular affinity for the laws, norms, and values of “traditional” society. They don’t follow inconvenient rules, and they place their own success or goals ahead of supporting those of those around them.
However, they don’t tend to stir up unnecessary trouble or draw attention to themselves. These neutral characters find a balance between the two extremes, adhering to rules when it makes no difference, but diverging from them when they feel they need to.
Evil characters have no respect for others and are willing to cause or inflict hardship, up to and including death, when it suits them. Some take pleasure in harming others, and do it for the sake of exerting their power, while others simply have no qualms about collateral damage in search of their goals.
Evil characters are not bonded to notions of the greater good and justice for all. Instead, they typically pursue personal wealth and power, at great cost to others and little cost to themselves. They aren’t willing to make sacrifices unless there is a high return.
Neutral Evil Definition
A Neutral Evil character is bonded strongly to their own self-interest, and they have little qualms about what they need to do to achieve it. They’re selfish and individualistic, and are comfortable both exploiting and eschewing laws and society in order to succeed. They are dirty fighters, have no honor, and consistently put others down when it means they can succeed.
That being said, they don’t create unnecessary conflict or chaos: doing so only causes them trouble and can actually inhibit success down the line.
Neutral Evil Character Examples
Neutral Evil villains are the archetypal villain. They want to succeed at any cost, but they follow the rules when it’s convenient to get ahead. They question the heroes’ values when they impose moral dilemmas: Neutral Evil characters don’t care about collateral damage, whereas heroes typically do. Following are a number of Neutral Evil character examples to inspire your character choice.
Voldemort, Harry Potter’s nemesis, is the perfect example of a Neutral Evil villain. He likes to stay in the shadows and avoid unnecessary conflict, but when pursuing a goal, he lets nothing stand in his way, be it the deaths of innocents or the betrayal of an ally.
Nicol Bolas from Magic: The Gathering represents a Neutral Evil background. His one objective is achieving power and, eventually, godhood, and has no qualms about whom he has to exploit or kill in order to achieve it.
Some corporate executives can be views as Neutral Evil, or even the corporations themselves. Their priority is success, at any cost; they are willing to exploit their employees locally and abroad. Usually their morals are completely separate (or nonexistent) from their efforts to succeed.
Neutral Evil Quotes
In their phrases, Neutral Evil characters enjoy expressing the lengths they’re willing to go to in order to succeed. They threaten heroes, knowing their moral scruples will likely interfere with their ability to fight the villain. They enjoy targeting the heroes’ weaknesses, in even the most terrible of ways, to get away with whatever they need to.
Following are some quotes they might be found saying, or others might say about them.
You never did anything for anyone unless you could see what was in it for you.Sirius Black (Harry Potter)
You’re worse than a traitor, Nina. You don’t even have a cause, you don’t believe in anything. You would sell anyone and anything out to the highest bidder.Jack Bauer (24)
The only side Ben is on is his own.Sayid (Lost)
There are only three people I look out for: me, myself, and I.Damon Gant (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney)
Neutral Evil Character Background Ideas
Neutral Evil characters were taught early on that the only person they can rely on is themselves. They learned that personal success is the only thing that matters. When building one of these characters, you should ask yourself, “Where did my lust for power and success, and my innate independence, come from?” The following backgrounds should help inspire some answers to those questions.
Throughout your childhood and youth, you only had yourself. The streets threatened to tear you apart, and you had nobody to trust, nobody to rely on. You fought for survival, but now you want more. If everyone’s in it for themselves, who’s to say you should be at the bottom of the food chain? No, you’ll build yourself a castle, even if it means tearing every other castle down brick by brick.
Player’s Handbook Background suggestion: Urchin (page 141)
Your parent or mentor was one of the greats. But they were no artist or musician; they were one of the great thieves, smugglers, or bandits. Now it’s your turn to take up the mantle. You’re trying to make your way in the world’s underground, amassing wealth, and shutting down the competition.
Player’s Handbook Background suggestion: Criminal (page 129)
You’ve gotten a taste of power. You’ve cast your first spells, destroyed your first structure, or killed your first person. It felt good. Now you want more. You’ll become the most powerful, so nobody can hurt you again. You’ll be the one doing the hurting.
Player’s Handbook Background suggestion: Sage (page 137) or Folk Hero (page 131)
As you’ve seen, I’ve mentioned the Player’s Handbook several times. That’s because it’s an essential reference guide for every D&D player. If you don’t already have one, you can get one on Amazon.
Neutral Evil Traits
Neutral Evil characters may appear at first to be a typical villain, but they can stand apart from other characters in many ways. Using a variety of the following traits can make your character unique and dynamic, as opposed to a simple “I am evil” bad guy.
Selfish & Greedy
Naturally, Neutral Evil characters are characterized most strongly by their greed. They are obsessed with self-empowerment and success, and will make decisions purely based on themselves, no matter the effect on others. While they aren’t necessarily obsessed with immediate gratification, they prefer not to wait out future rewards, especially when it involves a gamble.
Neutral Evil characters do not forget easily. When you cross them, expect them to come back for you, even if doing so doesn’t immediately benefit them. While they expect to be betrayed, they take such infractions seriously, and tend to deter them by way of intimidation.
Cold & Calculating
These characters are constantly analyzing the situation and try to glean the most beneficial outcome. The lives of others only factor in terms of the time and energy it would take to end them. Cost and benefits are the only determinants in their actions.
Deceitful & Manipulative
Neutral Evil characters only care about succeeding, and they’re more than comfortable lying to do so. There’s nothing holding them to their word except whatever other benefit they might gain from keeping it; once the scale tips in the other direction, they will readily betray even the most steadfast allies.
How to Play Neutral Evil Characters
As with any evil character, this alignment is difficult to play because it’s often at odds with other party members. However, there are a number of ways you can make your character work with the group.
What to Do
- Find a reason to work with your party. Doing so surrounds you with powerful adventurers, who can help you in your goals to accumulate wealth, or achieve other goals. D&D is a cooperative game — why would you stick with them, and why would they keep you around?
- Find other goals. Just wanting money is a boring motivation. What else does your character want? What goals does money help them attain?
- Consider the possibility of “turning.” You spent your whole life thus far on your own, working towards success. But now that you’ve found a group of companions and friends, is it possible you’re questioning those motives? What if there are things you find more important now?
What Not to Do
- Don’t betray your party. Unless you’ve discussed it with your group and DM beforehand, betraying your party can be frustrating for the other players. In building your character, it’s your responsibility to create one that works well in a group.
- Don’t be “Stupid Evil.” You may be motivated by wealth and power, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dumb or blind — you won’t follow a breadcrumb trail of gold pieces into a trap. Gold means nothing if you’re dead; you also prioritize self-preservation.
- Don’t be passive. It’s easy for your character to become an NPC hireling when you’re afraid of interfering with the party. Create conflict! Cause trouble with your selfishness! Conflict and drama can be interesting and fun — just make sure you do it tastefully, and the rest of your group is on board.
Neutral Evil VS Other Alignments
Neutral Evil VS Lawful Good
There is significant conflict between Lawful Good and Neutral Evil characters. Neutral Evil characters only abide by the laws and norms of society when it suits them in achieving their selfish or sinister aims.
Lawful Good characters despise both of those qualities, and view Neutral Evil as the “typical” villain archetype. They are predictable, and easy to combat as a result. However, Lawful Good characters often believe in the rehabilitation of these individuals, and seek out redeeming qualities.
Captain America and the Winter Soldier, while the Winter Soldier was under villain control, exemplifies the Lawful Good / Neutral Evil relationship. Captain America is in the unique position where he has to stop the Winter Soldier, and yet knows there’s good inside him. Instead of killing him, he fights for his redemption.
Neutral Evil VS Lawful Neutral
These villains rarely hold much appeal to Lawful Neutral characters. Motivated purely by selfish gain, with little to no standards or rules as to how they go about achieving it, Neutral Evil characters are immediately seen as a threat to the Lawful Neutral character. They will quickly and easily be at odds, and it’s unlikely they’d be able to form a partnership.
The Neutral Evil character views the Lawful Neutral as strict and inflexible, whereas the Lawful Neutral character views the other as aimless and unguided.
Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of a Lawful Neutral character at odds with the Neutral Evil villain Sauron. Gandalf’s personal beliefs and code are completely irrelevant to Sauron, who seeks power in any way he can get it. Gandalf is personally and deeply opposed to Sauron and would readily see him deposed.
Neutral Evil VS Lawful Evil
Lawful Evil characters can form alliances with Neutral Evil characters easily. While Lawful Evil individuals often have to appear outwardly good, and remain within the system as the source of their power, sometimes things can only be done by someone with fewer scruples.
Neutral Evil characters enjoy protection and resources from Lawful Evil ones, and can easily move in and out of the partnership as they please. When Lawful Evil characters try to control them or clean up loose ends, conflict arises. Usually, the Neutral Evil party has enough knowledge of the Lawful Evil one’s activities to do harm them personally or indirectly, such as through their reputation.
A callous corporate executive might represent a Lawful Evil character in their lust for power and wealth. In order to remain above-board, or at least to appear so, they might hire thugs to intimidate competitors and even partners into compliance.
Neutral Evil VS Neutral Good
Neutral Good characters are at odds with Neutral Evil ones. While neither agree with the laws, values, and norms of society, they have opposing views on morality and justice. These two characters are dangerous when in conflict, because either will do whatever they must to stop the other, even if this means collateral damage.
While Neutral Good characters at least attempt to minimize the harm they inadvertently cause, their convictions and passions are often intensified and exaggerated by their evil counterparts.
A good example of this relationship is Green Arrow and Deathstroke. They both seem to be fighting their own battles outside the law, and as nemeses, they constantly butt heads. While they could join forces and be a powerful team, they’re both on opposite ends of the morality argument, and will never see eye-to-eye.
Neutral Evil VS True Neutral
Neutral Evil characters are typically obsessed with self-success. So long as this doesn’t interfere with the True Neutral characters’ creed, they rarely have a problem. Again, True Neutral characters are happy to live and let live in these altercations, and so long as they don’t get in the way, it isn’t worth the time of Neutral Evil characters to cause trouble for them.
A good example of this relationship is Spike Spiegel (True Neutral) from Cowboy Bebop and other mercenaries (Neutral Evil). So long as they both stay in their lane, both parties are happy doing their own thing and staying out of one another’s way.
Neutral Evil VS Neutral Evil
Neutral Evil characters are focused on self-betterment, so cooperation with one another is often low on their priority list. They can sometimes coexist, but their selfishness means they’re typically spiteful and don’t want anyone else to have wealth or power. They don’t share well.
These characters will often compete with one another for success and when they become bonded, are often destined for mutual destruction.
The Sith from Star Wars are a perfect example of this relationship. They are so focused on their own power and strength that they end up killing one another to succeed them. This was such a common occurrence that the Rule of Two was invented, where only a master and apprentice can exist; anymore creates too much unavoidable conflict.
Neutral Evil VS Chaotic Good
Neutral Evil characters despise Chaotic Good characters as pests that get in the way. The latter cause trouble and drama that upset the former’s plans, and seek to tear down what they’ve built. They are a good match, however, because of their near-equal willingness to do whatever it takes to win the fight.
Deadpool (Chaotic Good) and Ajax (Neutral Evil) exemplify this dichotomy. They’re both willing to cause damage, but for different reasons; Deadpool wants to stop Ajax because he’s evil, whereas Ajax wants to stop Deadpool because he interferes with his plans.
Neutral Evil VS Chaotic Neutral
As long as they stay away from one another, these two characters can typically coexist. Occasionally they can work together when their interests align. Neutral Evil characters don’t mind Chaotic Neutral ones so long as the latter’s goals don’t interfere with their own, and vice versa.
The Hulk and Scarlet Witch are a good example of a typical (albeit short-lived) relationship between these two types of characters. Scarlet Witch (Neutral Evil) manipulates Bruce Banner into turning into the Hulk in order to take advantage of the Hulk’s Chaotic Neutral character and cause damage, soiling the name of the Avengers.
Neutral Evil VS Chaotic Evil
Many evil characters are opposed to one another due to the competition between these goals, and this relationship is no exception. Chaotic Evil characters are especially troublesome to Neutral Evil ones because of their chaotic and unpredictable nature, often ruining carefully-laid plans.
However, when it’s mutually beneficial, the two can work together to bring greater benefit to each than either could individually.
One of the most famous examples of this type of partnership is between Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. The latter is a villain whose focus mainly revolve around the environment, and typically relies on subtle methods. Harley Quinn, on the other hand, clearly embraces her chaotic and violent side often. Despite their differences, the two work together as an effective team, ultimately forming a romance.
Alignment is complex, diverse, and difficult to represent properly. Like other evil alignments, the Neutral Evil alignment is a challenge to represent effectively while also maintaining the fun of the table.
However, by leaning into the evil-ness and finding a way to make your character work with the rest of the party, it can be a breath of fresh air from the typical do-good mentality most D&D parties favour.