Lawful Evil: Tropes, Examples, and How to Best Use this Alignment

Who doesn’t love a villain who follows the rules? 

Lawful evil characters love law & order, but only when they’re in charge. 

What is Lawful Evil?

Lawful Evil is one of the nine character alignments from the popular tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons. 

These characters are morally evil but love rules, using them to create dystopian societies where they reap all the benefits. 

Character Alignments in Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons has nine character alignments, each describing how a character falls on two axes: lawful vs chaotic and good vs evil. 

The lawful vs chaotic axis describes how a character relates to the ethics of their society, while the good vs. evil axis represents morality or their sense of right and wrong. 

There are nine primary D&D character alignments: 

Each describes where a character falls on the two axes. 

A Dungeons & Dragons character alignment chart showing the archeatypes on the good vs evil and lawful vs chaotic axes with lawful evil highlighted.
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What Kind of Person is Lawful Evil?

Lawful evil characters are evil. They aim to do wrong and use the law to achieve that goal. They’re cruel, calculated, and selfish but also dignified and egotistical. Many believe they are the law. 

Many lawful evil characters celebrate law and order because they know they can tweak the rules to fit their wicked desires. Others love hurting people and will delight in killing in the name of the law.

Darren Bogus, Senior Editor for Shop LC, says the lawful evil alignment is characterized by adherence to a strict code, laws, or tradition while pursuing selfish or evil ends. Individuals or entities with this alignment are methodical with a high regard for structure, and are willing to use the system and its laws to achieve their nefarious goals.

Demi Marshall, Marketing Coordinator with MindPoint Group and avid D&D player, says everything is about the master plan. Lawful evils don’t care who gets hurt as long as they achieve their goal. 

Lawful evil characters are ambitious and ruthless but don’t strike out emotionally. They’re highly disciplined and think before acting, considering how each movement aligns with their ultimate goals. 

Lawful Evil Ideals

People falling on the lawful side of evil have a rigid code of ethics. They believe in strict hierarchies, order, and control. They uphold atrocious traditions for the sake of “tradition,” not caring they oppress and subjugate people – though sometimes that’s the point. 

Bogus says that lawful evil characters tend to uphold these ideals not due to a sense of right and wrong or out of respect for ancient ways but as a means to an end to achieve their goals. They use the system’s order to gain power and twist traditions to suit their vile purposes. 

Lawful evils love hierarchies but tend to believe they’re at the top. They control the narrative and the people around them. 

Personality Traits of Lawful Evil Characters

The lawful evil alignment showcases how rulers use law and order to commit atrocities. 

These characters delight in twisting the law. Although each individual is different, there are a few personality traits that you will typically find in a lawful evil character:

  • Intelligent:  Lawful evil characters are typically brilliant. They use their intelligence to understand the confines of the law comprehensively.
  • Calculating:  Bogus calls lawful evil characters strategic thinkers who stay several steps ahead in their planning. They are methodical, thinking every action through to ensure they achieve the desired result.
  • Devious:  Able to twist and manipulate rules to achieve the results they want.
  • Strict:  Does not accept deviations from the law for any reason.
  • Unempathetic: Bogus also describes lawful evils as characters who lack empathy. They view everyone else as tools to be used and discarded as they see fit.

How to Play a Lawful Evil Character

Lawful evil characters create a delightfully twisted foil for heroes in tabletop games. Players who enjoy using the letter of the law to get their way will love the alignment. 

Here are the best tips for playing a lawful evil character

Communication is Crucial

Marshall says lawful evil is one of her favorite alignments because they’re often polite and personable while manipulating the situation to their benefit. 

She says they enjoy enacting malicious compliance, but players must remember to separate the story from the Dungeon Master. The character should follow the alignment, not the player. Marshall stresses that it’s essential for players to maintain good, open communication with the table and for the character to follow their personal code of conduct to ensure everyone has a good time. 

Define Your Code

Lawful evil characters always follow a strict code of personal ethics. To succeed with this alignment, you must identify and abide by your character’s code. 

Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast Collin Schuck says to think of villains like cult leaders and mob bosses when defining your code. These bad guys have strict laws that keep their crews organized while maintaining the power structure. 

Even rogue lawful evils have a personal set of ethics, though they’re usually selfishly motivated. 

Be Personable

Think of lawful evils as the ultimate narcissist. They’re charming, personable, and charismatic when things go their way, or they want something. Many present themselves as honorable heroes to get what they want. 

Bogus says to lean into this aspect of your character, almost as if it’s a dual personality. The Dungeon Master should also highlight it, contrasting their despicable behavior against the image they attempt to portray. 

Use Logic

Lawful evil characters are ruthless, but there is almost always a method behind their madness. Bogus calls them “evil with a purpose” and says players should think through each situation logically before acting. 

Schuck calls lawful evil characters master tacticians rather than criminal masterminds. They use their world’s structure to exploit others and serve their own interests. 

Build Relationships

Evil characters can have friends, especially if they serve the ultimate purpose. Lawful evils will nurture relationships that benefit them, though they’ll likely drop the friendship when it’s no longer helpful. 

Twist the Law

According to Jack Daedules, host of the YouTube channel Coffee Over Gaming and expert Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master, players who choose this character type should twist the rules to their advantage. The laws typically meant to protect can be a tool to attack if used for nefarious purposes.

When playing this type of character, it’s essential to stay within the framework of the rules and laws. However, if there is any way you can use the law to support an evil purpose, embrace it. Create tolls obligating other players to give to you, support injustice in law whenever you benefit, and always consider how you can use the rules for your own sinister plans.

Make it Fun

Tabletop gaming is supposed to be fun for everyone. There has to be a reason the lawful evil character is joining the party. It’s crucial to discuss your character’s code and relationships with your Dungeon Master and fellow players, and it’s vital to stay within the framework to ensure everyone has a positive experience. 

Character Classes and Races that tend to be Lawful Evil

Dungeons & Dragons is a rich world with numerous characters of different classes and races. In the game, the class describes a character’s job, such as a cleric or barbarian, while race relates to where the characters come from. Examples of race include elf, devil, or dwarf. 

Class defines your character’s role in the party, while race gives them specific innate skills, abilities, and tendencies. 

Although you can build your character however you want, a few character classes and races have traits that lean toward the lawful evil alignment. Devils, blue dragons, hobgoblins, and dark creatures easily tend to the evil scale. 

Nearly any class can fall under the lawful evil alignment. Warlocks, in particular, fall toward darkness if the higher power they serve (who represents the law) lacks moral good. 

Examples of Lawful Evil Characters in Fiction

Fictional characters don’t always fit neatly into boxes of character alignments. Each character has more nuance, and many grow and adapt over time, traversing numerous alignments.

There are still some good, if not perfect, examples of lawful evil characters in fiction.

The Mayor

The big bad of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s third season, The Mayor, is an excellent embodiment of lawful evil in fiction. He rose to power legally, and as mayor of Sunnydale, he filled positions like the high school principal with his lackeys. The Mayor runs a tight ship, keeps everything clean, and has high standards for how his “adopted” daughter Faith should behave.

He’s also incredibly evil. The Mayor has no qualms about sacrificing babies to demons or eating high school graduates as long as these things fit into his sphere of power and control. However, he can’t let an outsider like Spike sow chaos in the city. The Mayor has a monopoly on evil in his town.

Darth Vader

For most of the original Star Wars trilogy, Darth Vader is the perfect example of a lawful evil character. He is powerful and ruthless, killing his own men and enemies without hesitation. 

Vader strikes fear in everyone around him.

However, Vader is also loyal to his cause and his master. Everything he does is within the confines of the Emperor’s plans. He obeys the Emperor without question and follows the rules and structure of the dark side of the force.

Darth Vader is compelling because he doesn’t stick to the lawful evil designation throughout the series. In one of the most shocking plot twists in film history, we find out that Darth Vader is our hero’s father. At the end of the series, he switches sides to save his son’s life, betraying everything he stood for.

Emperor Palpatine

Though many commonly point to Darth Vader as the embodiment of the lawful evil archetype, Schuck has a different view. He says the Emperor highlights the alignment far better. 

“Vader often acts on emotions both as Anakin Skywalker and his pursuit of Luke,” he explains. In contrast, Palpatine is a master manipulator who stealthily maneuvered his allies into powerful Senate positions, using the power structure against itself to seize power. 

Emperor Palpatine then rules the galaxy with an iron fist, valuing loyalty and control above all else. 

Dolores Umbridge

Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter is an excellent example of lawful evil because she embodies the everyday lawful evil that people might really experience. She’s not a killer, yet she delights in torturing students. She uses the letter of the law, not the spirit, to devise awful punishments and create rules that suit her needs.

Umbridge is fascinating because of how realistic she is. Most people know someone who will delight in abusing the smallest amount of power, and Umbridge viscerally showcases this reality with how she treats the students. Her evil is the everyday banal evil we all experience, and her lawfulness is the rigid government structure we all encounter when trying to accomplish something with bureaucratic red tape.

Character Alignments are a Guide

Dungeons & Dragons character alignments provide a good baseline for how to play a particular character, but they aren’t the only consideration. 

Characters who lean good are capable of horrible evils, just as evil characters have the potential to do good. Alignments are general rules of behavior that help guide your gameplay, but you don’t always have to adhere to them strictly.

Author: Melanie Allen

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Pursuing Your Passions, Travel, Wellness, Hobbies, Finance, Gaming, Happiness

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 and is a certified happiness life coach. She covers a wide range of topics centered around self-actualization and the quest for a fulfilling life.