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Alignment Part 4 – Dictators and Despots

They crush their enemies and demand obedience from all their subjugated people. Evil tyrants and petty dictators are a staple of fantasy role play, and fit in well in any other genre. They tend to believe that they are best fit to rule, again fitting with the concept of evil not believing they are evil. The lawful evil character is truly a worth foe. However, lawful evil can take on many forms.

The key thing to remember about a lawful evil character is the lawful part. In other words, they don’t break the law. Instead, the lawful evil character has a tendency to manipulate it. The make handshake agreements and then break them, since the law says handshake agreements aren’t binding. They overcharge for a service because they know you need it and will pay it. The lawful evil character is notorious for following the letter of the law, but rarely the intent.

One thing truly scary about a lawful evil character is how they can operate freely in society. The neutral evil and chaotic evil character must hide their nature from society, while the lawful evil character doesn’t have to. Sure, they generally do, but there’s no requirement. They are often masters of the legal system of whatever realm they happen to be in. If there’s wiggle room, they’ll stretch it as far as they can.

In all honesty, the lawful evil character is pretty much like the lawyer stereotype. They are untrustworthy and can screw you despite having been careful, simply because they know the rules better than you do. Of course, I’ve seen role players do this to inexperienced DMs too, but I digress. If you think about the sleaziest characters you know, almost all of them do the things I’ve outlined above. Congratulations, you’ve seen lawful evil up close and personal.

Lawful evil characters also tend to be the most plentiful of all the evil alignments. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense, especially since it is easier for a lawful evil person to function in polite society. They work within the system so they have more chance to inspire others to follow in their footsteps. For example, you have Nocnar, a lawful evil human merchant. He makes a handshake deal with a farmer. The deal is that the farmer drops off his grain at Nocnar’s warehouse, and Nocnar will split the profits of the sale with the farmer. Kingdom law is similar to our laws in that handshake deals aren’t enforceable. However, the farmer trusts Nocnar and does so. Six months later, the farmer asks Nocnar for his share of the profits. Nocnar may try to lie or even go with the truth. Either way, there’s no law to punish Nocnar. Now, the farmer’s eldest son grows up understanding this as the way to do business, so he does the same to others.

This is just one possible example. However, I think you can see how lawful evil characters should be the most common type, and what form they take. It’s important, however, not to simply associate greed with lawful evil characters. For example, many other alignments can be greedy as well. The alignment illustrates the potential methods for getting the gold to satiate that greed.

That, in conclusion, sums up lawful evil, the last of the evil alignments. As we work on the other alignments, I’ve had several folks interject their own ideas of what various evil alignments are, and I’d like to ask for more of that. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat, so please share your views as well!

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August 21, 2008 - Posted by | RPG | ,

2 Comments »

  1. Examples of lawful evil include the iconic black knight and anti-paladin type characters. These are characters that might or might not follow the exact law of the land, but always have a personal code that they will not break for anything. The Lawful Evil alignment might be considered the ‘honorable evil’, the kind that might, in fact, have honor amonsty thieves.

    On the other hand, as Tom pointed out, there is always the greedy merchant, or power-hungry chancellor. These are characters that follow the letter of the law while subverting the spirit of it to their own ends. Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars universe sums up Lawful Evil for myself. He worked within the system at hand to place himself at the top of the universe by manipulating the letter of the existing law.

    Lawful evil is a driven, focused evil. Evil with a plan, a purpose, and usually the means to carry that purpose through to the end.

    Comment by Liambic | August 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. Good call on the personal code type of lawful evil. Those, I feel, are rarer than the others I mentioned, only because evil characters who follow any type of code do so because it is forced upon them by someone else for some reason. However, there are always exceptions to every rule. 😉

    Comment by Tom | August 22, 2008 | Reply


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