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

With the rise of nerd culture, the Dungeons and Dragons character alignment system became popular and widely used to describe characters in various fiction works. However, the alignment charts were initially designed to guide players in decision-making based on the traits of the character that they are playing.

There are nine primary D&D character alignment types. These are lawful good, lawful neutral, neutral good, chaotic good, lawful evil, neutral evil, chaotic evil, chaotic neutral, and true neutral.

One of the more exciting character types is lawful evil because this alignment clearly showcases how law and order can be used for evil.

What Does it Mean to Be Lawful Evil?

Lawful evil characters are evil. They aim to do wrong and use the law to achieve that goal. Many lawful evil characters love law and order because they know they can tweak the rules to fit their evil desires. Others really love hurting people and will delight in killing in the name of the law.

Personality Traits of Lawful Evil Characters

Lawful evil characters delight in twisting the law. Although each character 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.

Devious – Able to twist and manipulate rules to achieve the results they want

Strict – Does not accept deviations from the law for any reason

How to Play a Lawful Evil Character

According to Jack Daedules, host of the Youtube Channel Coffee Over Gaming and expert Dungeons and 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 and hurt people 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.

Character Classes and Races that tend to be Lawful Evil

Although you can build your character however you want, a few character classes and races tend towards the lawful evil alignment. A class is a character’s job, such as cleric or barbarian. Class defines your character’s role in the party. The character’s race, such as elf, devil, or dwarf, gives them certain skills, abilities, and tendencies. 

Character races that tend to be lawful evil include devils, blue dragons, and hobgoblins. Any class can be lawful evil. Warlocks can make great lawful evil characters. The higher power they sever can be considered the law, and if it’s cruel, they may act in evil ways to support that law. Warlocks don’t have to be evil, though.

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.

That said, 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 Major 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 come in and sow chaos in the city. The Mayor has a monopoly on evil in his town.

Darth Vader

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

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 creates 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

These alignments give us a good baseline for how to play a particular character, but they aren’t the only consideration. A generally good character is capable of evil, just as evil characters can potentially do good things. Alignments are general rules of behavior that you should try to stick to but don’t have to be strictly adhered to.