D&D is full of hundreds of small, exciting moments, and learning their origins can do wonders for enhancing your adventure! Lawful alignments traditionally belong to righteous characters, so how would Lawful Evil players engage in the world of D&D? Let’s find out!
The Lawful Evil alignment enjoys power and authority, often using the law to further their evil goals or actions for what they believe to be the law. They consider life valueless but accept loyalty and order are essential for success. They’re naturally cruel and self-serving beings.
Most players know how to roleplay a character with a Good alignment, but how many can say they’ve bathed in the sweet darkness that is Evil? We’ll explore the personality of Lawful Evil characters, their gods, relationships, and examples of different Lawful Evil archetypes that will prove enlightening!
What Does It Mean To Have A Lawful Evil Alignment in D&D?
A Lawful Evil character is an evil character who either tries to impose or uphold a lawful system on others without regard for their wishes and adheres to a particular code. They believe in order, but mostly because they think it is the best way of realizing their evil desires. Aspects of life, like truth, liberty, and beauty, are trivial nuisances that hold no true intrinsic value.
They will obey the letter of the law as they understand it, or more often, as is convenient to their goals or benefits. Even when obeying the letter of the law they aren’t the types that care for the spirit of the law, and are usually very careful about giving their word because they do not intend to waste their time on actions that do not further their agendas.
The law is a hierarchal tool useful for assigning inherent value to groups or individuals, from the strongest to the weakest.
Some lawful evil characters adopt a black knight philosophy, believing that their evil actions are benevolent, even though it is clear that they cross the borders into wickedness and tyranny. In the anime series Kill la kill, Satsuki Kiryuin oozes a lawful evil nature when she exclaims her famous decree:
“Fear is freedom! Control is liberty! Contradiction is truth! That is the reality of this world! Listen well, you animals who dress as humans, and submit to that reality!”
It would be unlawful if there were no mention of Darth Vader from Star Wars, arguably the epitome of lawful evil. His lawful nature prefers to follow a very strict system to accomplish his goals, ruling those involved from a position of power and authority. He follows the Emperor with absolute loyalty and uses whatever means necessary to keep their power as strong as possible and crush all resistance without hesitation.
When anyone steps outside the boundaries of his systematic approach or disregards his decrees, he views them as nuisances, often showing rage at their resistance, and disposes of them.
Caesar, from Fallout: New Vegas
In the video game, Fallout: New Vegas, (one of my all-time favorite games) Caesar governs his cult of people with an iron fist and describes his rule by stating: “Long-term stability at all costs. The individual is valueless beyond his practical worth to the state to improve military strength or wealth.”
This outlook has led to slavery, crucifixion, and complete massacres of cities but all under the very codified set of beliefs of Might Makes Right and the State Is Might so the State Is Right…with him at the helm leading it, of course.
How Have D&D Alignments Changed Since Its Inception?
Alignment changes from D&D 1st Edition to D&D 5th Edition moved from one axis of alignment to two, with 5E including an unaligned option for a creature’s instinct, that removed the focus on race alignment and shifted it to roleplaying and storytelling.
Lawful Evil: 3rd Edition Vs. 5th Edition
The 3rd Edition of D&D released in 2000, mimicking the same two-axis alignment system as the previous AD&D 2nd Edition introduced in 1988.
Tactual Studies Rules (TSR) published the first D&D series in 1974, and this version gave players access to only three alignments: Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic.
- Lawful – Obedience to the law and a strong desire to fulfill it
- Neutral – A delicate balance that sways between lawful and chaotic
- Chaotic – A disregard for the normalities and order for the sake of self-improvement
This later gave way to the two-axis system in 1977, which introduced good and evil alignments to the game. When D&D’s 3.5 Edition released the Eberron Campaign Setting (2004), it brought with it many positive changes that nudged toward the D&D 5th Edition ruleset that has far more nuanced details when it comes to alignment.
It encouraged use of the Good alignment for monstrous races – a small step for goblins and an earth-rumbling step for giants, ogres, and cyclops! It also gave players more freedom to create a character with a well-rounded personality and made for an even better roleplaying experience.
This opened up new paths of character development and storytelling because players could choose to possess both lawful and evil attributes, like a destructive white knight or a lawful evil antagonist like Darth Vader.
Before this shift in perspective fully took hold, races frequently had set alignments that predetermined how a player interacted with the world of D&D. Optional alignment variations suddenly let them be much more colorful, encouraging benevolent races to have evil tyrants, and evil races to have members who served as beacons of hope and righteousness.
Players with opposing alignments could also band together to eliminate the ominous mist surrounding the elven village or pool their talents to recover a red dragon egg.
When D&D 5th Edition appeared in 2014, it did so with shiny, clinking plate armor and a +3 Masterwork Greatsword, bringing along the nine traditional, but impressively fleshed out alignment options, plus a tenth unaligned option. The unaligned option is for creatures who follow instinct rather than reason.
The improvements shifted the focus from race or monster-specific alignments to a free-for-all battle royale. The two publications, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden (2020) and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (2020), were the first to introduce the free-spirited approach.
A sourcebook titled, Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse (2022) revised the preset alignments for around 250 monsters, save for those with the potential to implode your campaign. Creatures like banshees, which are inherently and traditionally evil, can now have a friendly disposition, thanks to the updated descriptions stating, “… are typically evil”.
Important: Many DMs I know, and Braden and I both count ourselves among them, aren’t very happy at all with Mordenkainen and see it as a sort of money grab that did a few things right but for the most part only added confusion, incomplete revisions, or changes no one asked for or wanted.
While absolutely considered a core book from Wizards of the Coast, the reception was cool at best and many, many tables choose to keep Volo’s and Tasha’s as is as the core books, and ignore Mordenkainen, so keep that in mind when looking at what your table allows, or doesn’t.
So How Does All This Affect Lawful Evil Interactions?
Players who wish to play a lawful evil character in 5th Edition D&D have several subsections to help their character-building. The same applies to DMs who want an interesting and nuanced villain for their party to deal with and not just a chaotic force of evil for the sake of evil.
Lawful Evil: Using Evil To Achieve Lawful Ends
There are lawful evil personalities like villains who consider their aspirations Lawful Good, yet the record of their actions proves to border on the extreme. While they believe wholeheartedly in a structurally sound society, their evil nature often draws them into the darkness. It causes them to employ wicked means to enforce what they believe to be absolute.
Lawful evil characters with this disposition exist in all kinds of societies, like in the universe of Arcane, from the video game League of Legends.
In Arcane, Silco attempts several evil methods toward a lawful outcome to improve the hazardous conditions of the Undercity. The Undercity suffers from oppression, and the toxic air causes many people to fall ill or die. Piltover does nothing to alleviate the suffering, at which point Silco believes it cannot govern the Undercity, then the Undercity should govern itself.
He values the acts of betrayal he engaged in regarding his brother, yet he expects loyalty from his subordinates and followers – like a tyrant. The lawful part wants to see all his plans go according to plan, so his ever-conflicting relationship is a painful source of frustration for him.
In summary, Silco is lawful because his tyrannical nature values a hierarchal rule that is often exceptionally brutal and evil due to his motives and destructive actions that disregard the well-being of others.
Lawful Evil: Using Lawful Means For Evil Ends
If the first lawful evil type has three glasses of evil a day, this one rolls gleefully in all it offers three times a day. They are typically moral monsters governed by strict codes of honor. These characters adhere to order and use an orderly approach, believing it will yield the most fortuitous results.
They have varying personalities, with strong influences of cruelty, sadism, vengefulness, and selfishness, and adopting the maxim, “The end justifies the means!”. Regardless of their approach, they often justify their villainous actions with orderly conduct and slippery reasoning.
You can see an example of such behavior in Loki, from Marvel’s Avengers, with his speech on freedom:
“It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you desire subjugation. The appealing lure of liberty detracts from the joy in your life as you grasp for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”
While Neutral Evil characters may adhere to specific rules because they offer convenience or practicality, this type of Lawful Evil entity might mimic the same behavior only for authentically self-serving purposes.
Lawful Evil: Balancing Lawful & Evil, And Calling It Good
This kind of Lawful Evil character veers between the lines of Lawful and Evil, and like Newton’s Cradle, they always return to a center, balanced state. Their wicked actions tend to make them inherently evil, though they believe they follow a good law and thus substitute Lawful for Good.
This Lawful Evil type detaches their evil inclinations and deeds from other areas of their life, employing a code of conduct to govern their actions or impulses. If you watched the series Dexter, the friendly neighborhood serial killer, you’d be able to match many of these characteristics with him.
When a situation arises for Dexter to exact a murder, his actions are Lawful according to the code taught to him by his adopted father, Harry Morgan. The concepts of right or wrong are at the bottom of the list of things to consider when considering his next steps.
In the series, he has the opportunity to converse with a fellow serial killer. The killer asks Dexter, “How many people have you killed?” clearly proud of his body count. Dexter responded to his gleeful exclamation with befuddlement because to him it was a natural way of life birthed by his code rather than an activity for hunting and collecting trophies.
This category often covers various Lawful examples that speak about the character’s family values or religious beliefs, as was the case with Dexter. When his victims question his murderous actions, he often responds with, “It’s nothing personal,” indicating that his lawful code takes priority. He doesn’t view himself as either good or evil; because his code grants him standards that allow for his misdeeds.
What Are The Characteristics Of A Lawful Evil Character?
Lawful Evil characters are code-bound, self-serving, cold, and calculated, dislike weakness, use any means to an end, are cruel, dislike breaking laws or promises, and value loyalty. They can be much more unpredictable than lawful good characters since they will harness good, evil, or chaos as long as it pushes them towards their goals or purpose that makes up their code.
Lawful Evil characters have the following traits:
- Code-bound – Lawful Evil entities use careful planning and subtle scheming to achieve their wicked ambitions, given that their methods assimilate with their code. They care nothing about how their actions can hurt others.
- Self-serving – They care about tradition, loyalty, and order, not freedom, dignity, or life. While personally self-serving, it’s worth noting that many lawful evil characters will serve others at a basic level if it gets them to their goal on a deeper level. That’s the point though – it’s all about whatever tactics get them to their personal and code-based goals.
- Cold and calculated – Lawful Evil characters play by the rules without mercy or compassion.
- A strict mindset – He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule but is willing to serve.
- Dislikes perceived weakness – The stand by which they hold others is not by the merit of their actions but their social status, religious affiliation, and racial background.
- No interest in benefiting others – Lawful Evil characters try to impose or uphold a lawful system on others without regard for their wishes.
- Any means to an end – Evil is about power and about using it. Lawful Evil characters don’t mind employing force to get what they want. Force can be a political, social, and economic influence, calling in favors and outmaneuvering opponents or scheming, including boycotts or bribery.
- Loathes breaking laws or promises – Lawful Evil is the most likely alignment among the three evil alignments that will have villains that honor their word.
- Cruelty is routine – They are willfully cruel by choosing to do more than the situation requires. It’s one of the primary characteristics that distinguish Evil from Neutral. Neutral does only what the situation warrants, while Evil goes beyond that.
- Loyalty for underlings – A Lawful Evil character shows loyalty to underlings because, according to them, they are the better part of the group, while the others are inferior.
They firmly believe in their right to rule while the rest remain at the bottom. They want to be worthy of their underlings and endeavor to earn the right.
A leader who recognizes the accomplishments of their underlings is inspirational (like the relationship between Ainz-sama and his trustworthy NPCs in the anime Overlord), and they protect each other.
Lawful Evil Gods
Tiamat, the queen of dragons and goddess of greed; Asmodeus, the deity of indulgence and ruler of all devils; and Loviatar, The Maiden of Pain, are lawful evil gods in the D&D universe.
Tiamat is the lawful evil queen of dragons, goddess of greed, and, for a time, reluctant servant of the greater gods Bane and Asmodeus.
Tiamat is highly arrogant, greedy, and filled with hate and spite when not flaunting her vanity. She never shows mercy for even the slightest mistakes and focuses all her efforts on attaining limitless power and wealth.
She dislikes mortals, caring nothing of their ploys and viewing them as tools for her gain. Her deceptive nature had her often appear charming, but the fissures of her true personality eventually burst from the bowels of reality.
Tiamat’s history shows she made more enemies than allies:
- Tiamat had the opposite ideals of Bahamut, her brother, who represented characteristics of good and justice.
- Tiamat conflicted with Iyachtu Xvim, the half-demonic son of Bane, the god of tyrannical oppression, hate, and terror. He opposed her request to join the Faerûnian pantheon. She later also conflicted with Bane.
- She once allied with Bel as an archfiend in Avernus and to Asmodeus for helping him forge his Ruby Rod. The relationship didn’t last, however, as they both betrayed her.
Asmodeus is the deity of indulgence and patron of power and oppression. He exists as the greatest devil and Lord of the Ninth and rules as the overlord of the Nine Hells.
He’s a supreme strategist who remains unchallenged in his tactical brilliance. Such is his sinister machinations that the results can show centuries or even millennia later – expanding across the multiverse.
Asmodeus delights in having his own servants tremble at the thought of his schemes. Having access to every plane of existence, he lives up to his title Lord of Lies, shuffling people as one would a chess piece. While methodical and subtle, his methods are manipulative and have him using both deities and mortals to achieve a flawless victory.
Asmodeus’ strategic mind opened the gates of Avernus for many alliances:
- Asmodeus agreed to a Pact Primeval with other lawful deities, allowing his devils to corrupt mortals. The process made it possible to extract divine magic from mortal souls.
- Tiamat served Asmodeus for a time, ensuring that her influence remained minuscule. He relinquished her control on Avernus, so much so that she was contractually imprisoned.
- Asmodeus agreed to a contract with Laduguer in which the Archfiend provides aid to duergar to liberate them from mind flayers. In return, the Task promised that the freed duergar would bolster forces against Lolth and other forces within the Abyss.
Loviatar was the evil queen and goddess of agony. She thrives off the mental and physical suffering of others, so much so that it is more akin to torture. The Main of Pain is the servant and queen to the greater god Bane. The Maiden of Pain was the master of inflicting physical and psychological suffering, her portfolio encompassing hurt and torture.
Loviatar is manipulative and cruel, often using an aggressive approach when dealing worth mortals or other deities. Her sadistic personality uses sharp-edged words and actions to leave her prey wounded and discouraged. While bullies generally hurt others due to a troublesome past, The Maiden of Pain has no such thing. She does not react to love, hate, or fear, making her resistant to such emotions.
Loviatar’s cold nature left little room for allies, but she did serve others:
- Talona killed Loviatar’s sister, Kiputytto, making them heated rivals. Loviatar tortured her rival in revenge while hoping she would come to serve her.
- During her rivalry with Talona, she associated with Malar, the lesser deity of stalking, bestial savagery, and hunting.
- Loviatar often conflicts with Ilmater, the deity of martyrdom, suffering, endurance, and perseverance, because Ilmater hates those who assist others.
- She hates Eldath, the Mother of Waters, and Lliira, the chaotic good lesser deity of joy, because they rewarded others without suffering or sacrificing.
Are Any Character Backgrounds Inherently Lawful Evil?
The D&D 5th Edition changes give players an impressive amount of wiggle room to create a truly unique and fun character to roleplay. There’s no need to concern yourself with race alignments because the focus is now on how you want your character to develop and their role in the campaign.
What, then, of your background? Shouldn’t it sway over your character’s decision-making? While there are no character backgrounds that are inherently lawful evil, there are some that can easily be written into that direction.
The sailor background describes your character as having spent years on a sea vessel – it may have been a pirate ship, naval vessel, or merchant ship. Your position on the ship determined your duties, and your days as a navigator, boatswain, cannoneer, or even captain, were arduous. Some of the storms you encountered left you wondering whether you’d ever see dry land again.
As a lawful evil ship navigator, you hold the lives of every other soul onboard in your hands. The weight of the responsibility will likely instill a code in you that has you doing everything according to a system. Your role is essential, and everyone knows it. You enjoy demonstrating your authority as the ship’s only navigator, but you realize the importance of serving your captain with loyalty.
While the above is a typical Lawful Evil personality, a sailor may be more meek and humble, too, adopting a Neutral Good alignment. In the same example as the ship navigator, your character may grow attached to the ship crew and consider them family. Such an approach will have your character sharing food, caring for the sick, and acquiring goods on land that a crewmember might strongly desire.
Mix sailor with criminal to get a pirate background, and you have a lot of lawful evil there as anyone who has studied pirate history knows, there’s a surprising amount of laws, rules, and order to pirate society.
As a Noble, the concepts of power, prestige, and riches are not foreign. The common folk greatly respect your family name, and you collect taxes from the collection of plots that put your family on the map. Your father gives you daily lessons on maneuvering the political chessboard, expecting you to improve your family’s prestige and wealth further.
You rely on your thirteen servants for menial, everyday tasks, and you find it insulting that others expect you to sully your hands with the same work as the common rabble. Your lawful nature believes in the hierarchy according to race and social status and that you should be the one to stand above others. Your evil nature shines during your political play, corruption, and self-serving habits.
Your noble upbringing may be the opposite, with your father respecting people of all status, while your mother hated common folk and considered them a stain on society. Thanks to your father, you are empathetic toward those who suffer, listening to anyone with a voice. You care little for political struggles and wish to break free from the restraints of nobility to pursue a life of adventuring.
The idea of a noble being lawful evil isn’t hard to see as they come from a background of privilege and position, and it can be easy to see that translating to a selfishness that leads straight into the evil but lawful alignment.
Acolytes definitely tend to follow a code, a higher calling, a strict leader, entity, or set of ideas. That can veer into a cult very easily. This can happen from following an evil patron, a tricky one, or even lawful good twisted (The Crusades, anyone?) into something that is somehow supported despite clearly being evil and against the core tenants of what it’s supposed to be defending.
Because of this the Acolyte is another background that can easily go bad and they may or may not even realize it, adding yet another layer to the character.
Does A Lawful Evil Alignment Determine Your Class?
While classes dictate the actions a character can make concerning alignment, the goals of an alignment are attainable in many ways. A lawful evil druid might show authority by changing using lightning to threaten a village, but any other class has the option to threaten the village, too.
A lawful evil druid may adopt the laws of nature to extort supplies from a nearby village, believing his connection with nature makes him superior to others. They embrace the laws of nature as their code, stating that only the strong should survive and remain at the top.
An opposite disposition might be protecting surrounding villages, like nature’s elements often do for their own. The entirety of nature is a single living organism, where every part functions like a body part that works to benefit the other parts.
Lawful Evil Vs. Neutral Evil
The Lawful Neutral alignment is more dangerous and unpredictablethan Lawful Evil. Since these characters consider life valueless, they can be naturally ruthless and self-serving. Lawful Evil characters respect these qualities, but it does not raise ethical concerns for them as they consider it a means to an end.
Lawful Neutral characters tend to be mercenaries, not promising any loyalty or affiliation to their masters. Any interactions with these characters should be concise and to the point, lest you start irritating them with meaningless drivel.
Lawful Evil Vs. Chaotic Neutral
Chaotic Neutral characters despise authority, seeking to be free from unnecessary rules and decrees. They’re anarchists who choose their own path, although they can easily fall into a manipulative trap that promises freedom.
Unlike Lawful Evil characters that show loyalty toward their subordinates, Chaotic Neutral beings show no such affiliation, choosing to remain neither here nor there.
These two alignments are similar because they are willing to dirty their hands to finish the job. For this reason, Chaotic Neutral characters are perfect for executing a plan with great success. Their somewhat indifferent disposition means keeping long-term relationships with them is not advisable.
Lawful Evil Vs. Chaotic Evil
Chaotic Evil boasts all the exciting anarchy of Chaotic Good and Chaotic Neutral, less the fantasy of control and manipulation. Lawful Evil characters despise working outside their systematic approach, but Chaotic Evil has no such leash! They are ablaze with passionate destruction, cackling manically as they’re about to destroy their intended target.
Chaotic Evil’s free-from-restraints approach means they won’t think twice about blasting a subordinate for failing to meet expectations – they can get more. These entities often carry an aura of fear, instilling terror in their followers and enemies.
Unlike Lawful Evil characters with guiding codes, Chaotic Evil characters are unhinged, with no code, and often get titles according to their wicked actions. In the MMORPG World of Warcraft, Deathwing is an evil dragon that gained the following titles for his wicked deeds: Aspect of Death, The Destroyer, and The Worldbreaker.
Braden’s Lawful Evil Paladin – In A Party of Good Players
Lawful Evil characters are interesting because that end justifies the means can result in them doing long-term good with fully legitimate do-gooders if that helps them get closer. In this world, it is post-apocalyptic in many ways after massive calamities, but it also had cities, villages, places fighting like crazy to stop civilization from burning away completely.
He was a paladin secretly serving the Cult of Takhisis, a name that a shard of Tiamat’s spirit took in this plane (Dragonlance fans may see the Easter egg slipped in). To give her strength to form in a more Deity-level state she needed him to plant 20 magic saplings at various ley line points around the world.
This wasn’t a viable solo mission considering the state of the world, and the fact a full half of it was called “The Gray Continent” because it was unexplored by any civilized groups or even most smugglers. But the capable group of adventurers who seemed to be guided by an Arch Fey willing to guide them towards being strong enough to assault a Chaos God’s Hold?
He traveled with them and helped them achieve their goals because if he was invaluable to this group and trusted, he could travel and plant the saplings, reaching locations he never could have made solo.
While this character fell due to an on-going conflict with an agent of Bahamut, Braden played Lawful Evil as a guy with very sketchy moments, very open to propositions by the Rogue that most Paladins wouldn’t have considered. For most of that campaign, his actions helped the greater good because if the group thrived, so did he, and that allowed him to get his long-term goal done.
Or would have if he hadn’t found a way to blow him and the agent of Bahamut up with a stunning 366 d6 damage explosion that took out a wizard tower with it.
Lawful Evil: The Ends Justify the Means, A Code You May Not Agree With
Lawful Evil characters often employ wicked actions for lawful gain or use the law to further their dark agendas. Their self-serving nature makes them highly selfish and willing to be cruel to achieve their goals. They believe order necessitates success, so they never deviate from their code or methods.
If you enjoyed this guide, consider checking out our other Alignment Guides:
- Lawful Good D&D Alignment Guide
- Lawful Neutral D&D Alignment Guide
- True Neutral D&D Alignment Guide
- Every Condition in D&D
- Every Damage Type in D&D
Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.