Most adventuring parties will be forces of good: protecting the innocent, slaying monsters, and generally keeping the peace. However, many players want to dabble in the dark side. Playing a Lawful Evil character can be a new, exciting way to approach a DnD campaign, but you might be wondering how to make that kind of character work.
A Lawful Evil character can be compelling and driven, but a challenge to integrate into a party if you aren’t careful. These characters believe in strict heirarchies and codes, and they’ll do whatever it takes to follow their orders. As a result, they can be fiercly motivated and offer lots of great opportunities for roleplaying. At the same time, however, conflict may arise if their goals don’t align with the party’s. It’s important to define a Lawful Evil character’s convictions, as well as how to make them work with the rest of the group.
Perhaps you’re interested in playing an evil character for the first time. You might also be a DM who has a player interested in a Lawful Evil character. No matter what you’re looking for, we’ll go through the ins and outs of Lawful Evil in DnD 5e!
What Does Lawful Evil Mean?
Before you can play or even build a Lawful Evil character, it’s useful to know exactly what this alignment means. There’s a wide variety of ways to play a character with this alignment, but there are some general traits that all LE characters share.
A lawful character believes in some kind of order, whether it be a personal code, a religious doctrine, or the law itself. They believe that firm structure is necessary for society, and they’ll try to use rules and hierarchies to their advantage.
Lawful characters are often seen as strict and unwavering, but that isn’t always the case. They firmly believe in their personal code and will listen to their superiors, yet they don’t have to follow every order they’re given. They also might not respect every system of rules. A priest in service of a lawful god may not pay attention to the laws of mortals, for example.
Ultimately, a lawful character strongly prefers order to chaos. They may seek an important position as a means to gain power, or to fulfill a sense of duty. They’re also the most likely characters to trust hierarchies, authority, and the law.
Evil characters are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, no matter what the consequences are. They may not care about how their actions affect innocent people, or they may even enjoy hurting others.
These characters are defined by their willingness to harm others, but that doesn’t mean they kill random civilians every chance they get. Some evil characters might have family, friends, or mentors that they want to protect or help. A sympathetic villain could still be evil if they have noble goals but use violent methods to achieve them.
Evil characters will cross lines that good or neutral characters are unwilling to. Either their goals or their actions will cause suffering for others, and evil characters just see that as a necessary consequence.
A Lawful Evil character is a dangerous schemer, willing to use various systems of government and power to reach their goals. The methods these charaters employ can be manipulative, precise, and ruthless.
“Lawful evil (LE) characters methodically take what they want, within the limits of a code of tradition, loyalty, or order. Devils, blue dragons, and hobgoblins are lawful evil.”Player’s Handbook (pg. 122)
Lawful Evil characters desire to be a part of something larger than themselves, or to change the status quo of a society or the entire world. Some of these characters belong to inherently evil organizations, while others are corrupt members of otherwise good or neutral factions.
Although your own character may not fit these broad categories, I often divide Lawful Evil characters into two main groups: followers and leaders.
Followers are the loyal servants within an evil order. They make up the lower ranks of the group and are likely to be obedient to authority. Some followers may gain more power as they prove themselves, but they don’t start at an important position.
Some followers may be zealous worshippers of a dark god or archfiend. They follow their orders exactly, and they’re concerned with spreading the influence of their patron across the world.
Ultimately, followers work towards the desires of their master above all else.
Leaders, on the other hand, seek positions of power for their own ambition. They may still be fully loyal to an evil deity or ruler, but they’re driven to achieve greatness for themselves. Such a character might undermine or usurp an authority figure if they perceive that figure to be weak or unworthy.
Your character may also be the highest ranking member in a cult or guild. Depending on your starting level, this organization may start small. As the campaign progresses, though, you might work to increase your influence and recruit new members.
Playing as either a follower or a leader can be compelling, and your character might share traits from both groups.
Examples from Pop Culture
Now that you know more about what Lawful Evil means, let’s take a look at some famous examples. These characters or groups have their differences, but they’re all great examples of what Lawful Evil looks like in practice.
Darth Vader might just be the best example of a Lawful Evil character in modern media. He’s the second-in-command of the Empire, and he inspires fear in both his subordinates and enemies. We see him betray his former allies and kill his enemies to maintain the Empire’s iron grip on the galaxy. For most of the original trilogy, he also dutifully follows the Emperor’s orders. Whether he’s in command or obeying his master, Darth Vader is the epitome of Lawful Evil.
Magneto may have good intentions (depending on the era), but his methods definitely make him Lawful Evil. As a holocaust survivor, he has witnessed some of mankind’s worst atrocities. He wishes to protect mutants from humanity, but his methods for doing so are violent and destructive. He hurts innocent people and threatens entire nations in his mission, and he even sought world domination during his early storylines. Attempting to reshape the status quo in your own image, no matter who has to get hurt along the way, is definitely a Lawful Evil act.
Lastly, the Capitol from the Hunger Games is undeniably a Lawful Evil organization. The Capitol is willing to do anything to maintain its authority over the districts, most notably by creating the Hunger Games. Forcing children to battle to the death, as well as mandating that everyone watches them, is undeniably evil. In addition, the purpose of the Hunger Games is to remind the districts of the Capitol’s power over them, so you can see how this government values its ability to rule above all else.
Lawful Evil Compared to Other Alignments
By now, you should have a solid understanding of what Lawful Evil means. However, there are eight other alignments that characters in your campaign could have. You might be curious how your character views people with different alignments, or if your concept might fit another alignment better. No matter what questions you have, you can see how each alignment compares to Lawful Evil below.
Both of these alignments are lawful, so they’ll generally respect rules and hierarchies (though not necessarily the same ones). Characters of either alignment would favor establishing structure within society, even if they would disagree on who those structures should benefit.
Although these alignments agree that order is preferable to chaos, they’re still unlikely to get along. Lawful Good characters will likely see a Lawful Evil character as a perversion of their beliefs. On the other hand, an LE character might see an LG character as naive or idealistic. These characters work together best when they’re maintaining order, rather than focusing on their ethics.
There isn’t much middle ground between Neutral Good and Lawful Evil. NG characters are known for their compassion and willingness to help others, whereas LE characters have little regard for those outside of their order. In fact, a Neutral Good character would oppose the oppression and cruelty of a Lawful Evil oraganization.
The best compromise these two alignments could reach is to defend a lawful institution, but there would still be major challenges. A Neutral Good character would only assist a government or guild if doing so would bring more good into the world. If it would, it’s hard to imagine what a Lawful Evil character would gain by helping that same group. Good and evil rarely work together, so characters with these alignments are likely to butt heads.
Chaotic Good is the absolute opposite of Lawful Evil. It’s not only difficult to imagine these alignments sharing a common cause, but it’s far more likely that they’ll be fierce enemies.
Lawful Evil characters, especially in positions of power, are tyranical and oppressive. They want to restrict their subjects and hoard power, wealth, and everything else for themselves and their masters. This system of rule is the exact opposite of what Chaotic Good characters value: goodness as a result of freedom. They’re opposed to restrictive laws and harsh governments, and they believe that the most good occurs when people have personal choice.
If your party has multiple Lawful Evil characters, a Chaotic Good character would be much more fitting as an opponent than an ally. Some groups may enjoy having radically different characters, but there’s bound to be conflict between Lawful Evil and Chaotic Good.
Lawful Evil characters are likely to get along with Lawful Neutral ones. LN characters only care about maintaining some kind of order and structure in society, or about following their own personal code. As a result, they’re more likely to respect the goals of a Lawful Evil character. They might not always agree with their methods, but they won’t oppose them as strongly as a good character would.
True Neutral characters don’t have strong feelings about morality or politics. They have motivations outside of these broad categories, so their willingness to cooperate with Lawful Evil characters is personal. Of course, this is true for every character, but it’s especially hard to predict how True Neutral characters would react to a Lawful Evil agenda. As long as it benefits them in some way, though, they’re likely to find a compromise with LE characters.
Chaotic Neutral characters might be able to tolerate Lawful Evil ones, but it depends. If your Lawful Evil character wants to reshape society or holds an important position, a Chaotic Neutral character likely won’t align with them. Chaotic Neutral characters despise anything that would restrict them, and they often work to undermine the structures of society.
If your character has a more personal code, however, a CN character will just see them as too rigid. It’s unlikely that they would oppose you as long as their freedoms remained intact.
Neutral Evil characters are some of the best allies for Lawful Evil. They agree that the use of violence is sometimes necessary, and they won’t question vile methods if they get the job done. NE characters might not have the same long-term goals as LE characters, but they can still see the benefits of order and authority. As long as their missions have at least some overlap, these two alignments can make for a dangerous team.
Lastly, Lawful Evil and Chaotic Evil have some pretty big differences.
Lawful Evil characters are often cold and calculating, even if they are ruthless. They might be willing to hurt or even kill innocent people, but they always do so with a larger plan in mind.
On the other hand, Chaotic Evil characters act on their desires without much thought. They’re impulsive, reckless, and only really consider the short-term.
As you can see, these two alignments have opposite views on how to act, making it difficult for them to work together. It’s not impossible for them to join the same party, but they’ll have to compromise on when to act patiently and when to act on instinct.
How Do I Play a Lawful Evil Character?
We’ve thoroughly covered the alignment itself, so now we can get into how it works in gameplay. When you sit down at the table, how exactly does a Lawful Evil character work? What kind of decisions would this character make, and how do you even go about building one? There’s no definitive answer to either of these questions, but I’ve included some general rules below to help you develop your own evil mastermind.
When you’re working on any new character, it’s important to consider their past. You could come up with any number of Lawful Evil backstories, but I have a few suggestions if you aren’t sure where to start. These are some of the easiest backgrounds to make work with Lawful Evil:
Acolytes have served a specific god or pantheon for most of their life. This might seem like a strange choice for an evil character, but remember that there are plenty of evil gods in DnD’s many worlds. Bane, god of tyranny, or Hextor, god of war, are both LE dieties that your character may worship. This works especially well for any classes with divine magic, like clerics or paladins.
Criminal is an easy choice for an evil character, but it’s harder to imagine a lawful criminal. After all, how can a lawful character be defined by breaking the law? Keep in mind that not all lawful characters have to play by society’s rules. Your character might have their own personal code, or they could work in organized crime. They also may have been a criminal in the past, but now work for a corrupt politician or extraplanar force.
Lastly, Nobles have a great incentive for maintaining the status quo. They usually have wealth, power, and a high social status, so it’s easy to make a lawful noble. If your character wants to hoard even more power, or if they belong to a particularly vicious family, your DM could craft some excellent adventures around intrigue and politics.
Similiarly to backgrounds, you can build an amazing Lawful Evil character using any class. If you’re looking for inspiration, however, I think there are some classes that can work with this alignment more easily than others.
Clerics and paladins are easy choices for any lawful alignment. After all, these classes are defined by having a strong devotion to a certain god. Most clerics and paladins feel a strong conviction towards their god’s teachings, so it’s not hard to play them as lawful.
It may be harder for you to imagine these classes as evil. Paladins especially have a reputation for being Lawful Good, but there are plenty of evil deities for your character to worship. 5e also doesn’t restrict which alignments are available to a class. If you want to try a new twist on a cleric or paladin, making them Lawful Evil could open up tons of new character concepts.
Rogues are another great option for Lawful Evil characters. This class is often associated with organized crime and dubious methods, so it’s not hard to imagine them as evil. There are also plenty of reasons why someone who works outside of the law could still be considered lawful.
Perhaps your character is a spy who works for a corrupt noble. They might also be a loyal member of a thieves’ guild. With either backstory, your character still believes in someone else’s authority, and they likely have a personal code.
Lastly, warlocks are an excellent choice for a Lawful Evil character. Simply choosing an evil patron, such as an Archdevil, and following their commands could make you Lawful Evil. The ease of making a Lawful Evil warlock gives you plenty of room for a unique backstory, so feel free to get creative!
What Motivates a Lawful Evil Character?
Along with your class and background, you’ll likely consider what drives your character while you’re building them. I’ve found that characters with similar alignments will have similar motivations, so keep in mind why your character is Lawful Evil during this process.
A great motivation for LE characters is personal ambition. Whether they want fame, power, wealth, magic, or anything else, they might see their code or their faction as a means to an end. They want to rise through the ranks and attain personal glory, or fulfill a deep desire. These characters can be wonderfully dramatic, and ambition is a great reason to go adventuring.
Other lawful evil characters might feel a strong devotion to their cause that drives them. Whether it’s loyalty to their master, religious zealotry, or some other conviction, these characters believe wholeheartedly in their faction’s mission. Furthering their cause, as well as testing their faith in it, can make for an interesting character with clear goals throughout a campaign.
Lastly, some characters might want to fundamentally change the status quo. Whether they seek to conquer nations, bring back an eldritch horror, or otherwise change the world, they have grand plans. These characters share some elements of the previous two: they likely have a big ego to attempt such a massive plan, as well as a deep conviction that their actions are necessary. Playing such a grand mastermind can be tons of fun, though your goals might be outside the scope of a given campaign.
What Would/Wouldn’t a Lawful Evil Character Do?
Not all LE characters think alike, but they share a general philosophy that results in similar actions. After all, characters with the same alignment should have similar feelings towards order, chaos, good and evil.
If you’ve never roleplayed an LE character before, or if you need some guiding principles for an important NPC, read the following statements and see what resonates with you.
A Lawful Evil Character would:
- Do anything within their code to take what they want.
- Use acts of violence to achieve their goals or threaten others.
- Corrupt bureaucracies and systems of power for their own gain.
- Recruit minions and servants to do their bidding.
- Usurp an authority figure they deem too weak.
- Patiently wait to seize power or wealth for themselves.
A Lawful Evil Character wouldn’t:
- Break their rules on a regular basis.
- Show mercy to those who oppose their order.
- Perform an act of charity without expecting something in return.
- Allow their subordinates to disrespect them.
- Ignore the commands of their superiors.
- Sacrifice their own ambitions for someone else’s needs.
Even if you understand what Lawful Evil means, you might have trouble applying that knowledge to your own character. After all, DnD puts us in unique, complicated situations, and it can be hard to know how your character would react to them.
Every character is different, and I can’t predict exactly what direction your campaign will take. However, I’ve included some potential situations you and your party might face, as well as some reactions a Lawful Evil character might have. If your character would do something completely different, that’s great! This exercise is meant to give you a foundation for roleplaying, not dictate what you must do.
Scenario #1: A Lawful Evil Character Enters a Town in Distress
Your party arrives in a small town only to find the citizens living in fear. After talking to the town guards, you learn that a mysterious monster has been stalking the nearby forests. They can’t collect wood, go hunting, or use the roads that pass through the forest. The guards have no idea what sort of creature it is, and they’re ill-equipped to fend it off.
As a Lawful Evil player, there are countless options you could take here. First, you could offer assistance under certain conditions. Perhaps you demand that the townsfolk construct a temple to your god, or establish trade routes with your noble master. If you succeed, you could leverage your newly-formed reputation with the townsfolk to recruit them to your faction. As long as you benefit in the end, you might be more than willing to appear generous to potential allies.
You could also attempt to capture the monster for your order. If your faction is academic, someone may wish to study the creature. If it’s militaristic, the monster could become a valuable weapon. Either way, whatever boons you can provide for your faction could go a long way towards achieving your end goal.
Scenario #2: A Lawful Evil Character Faces Someone from their Past
Your latest orders are to capture, interrogate, and kill an adventurer who has defied your faction. After besting them in combat, you learn that your target is a long lost friend. No matter how they fit into your past, they’re someone you once cared for deeply.
Some Lawful Evil characters might follow their orders and kill the target. No matter how much pain it causes them, they’ve devoted their life to the faction. They believe that all of their actions are for a greater purpose, and it would be selfish and impractical for them to break away now.
Others might not be so willing to sever that bond. Some of the best roleplaying in DnD can arise when you explore the nuances of your character, and perhaps this order is too much for them. Your character might try to convince their old friend to join the order, or even let them escape. Taking either of these actions might cause them to question their Lawful Evil beliefs, and that can be an engaging story arc. Whether they shift towards another alignment or simply count this as an exception, your character doesn’t have to fully embody law and evil all the time.
How Do You Play with a Lawful Good Character?
We’ve already discussed the differences between Lawful Good and Lawful Evil, but it’s worth going into more detail about how these alignments can cooperate. After all, most DnD players build good characters, so you’ll have to learn to work with them in most games. Luckily, LG and LE characters both share a respect for law and order, so these characters can have mutual goals and beliefs.
If you’re playing a Lawful Evil character in a Lawful Good party, I’d recommend discussing the situation with the group. You deserve to have fun playing an evil character, but good characters can struggle to work with you if you’re always murdering and threatening people. Just keep in mind that everyone gets to play their characters how they want, and the whole group might need to compromise if there are opposing alignments (such as good vs evil).
The best way to unite this type of party is to focus on your shared value of law. If the whole party can agree to fight for a certain nation or guild, you can all work towards common goals and be invested in helping each other.
There could be plenty of interesting reasons why good and evil characters fight under the same banner. Perhaps you’re caught up in a dark side of your faction that the other players haven’t discovered… yet. Or maybe your backstory explains why you’re more ruthless towards your enemies. No matter what reasoning you come up with, it can be exciting for the whole table to explore different approaches to the same goal.
Even if you don’t all belong to the same faction, you could share a mutual respect for each other’s allegiences. After all, lawful characters see value in hierarchies and structure, so you can all focus on that similar perspective.
By now, you should have all the information you need to put your schemes into place. Lawful Evil characters can be some of the most driven and compelling PCs at the table, so I hope you feel inspired to try out this devilish alignment for yourself!