A lawful evil villain methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He condemns others not according to their actions but according to race, religion, homeland, or social rank. He is loath to break laws or promises.
This reluctance comes partly from his nature and partly because he depends on order to protect himself from those who oppose him on moral grounds. Some lawful evil villains have particular taboos, such as not killing in cold blood (but having underlings do it) or not letting children come to harm (if it can be helped). They imagine that these compunctions put them above unprincipled villains.
Some lawful evil people and creatures commit themselves to evil with a zeal like that of a crusader committed to good. Beyond being willing to hurt others for their own ends, they take pleasure in spreading evil as an end unto itself. They may also see doing evil as part of a duty to an evil deity or master.
Lawful evil is sometimes called "diabolical," because devils are the epitome of lawful evil.
Lawful evil creatures consider their alignment to be the best because it combines honor with a dedicated self-interest.
Lawful evil is the most dangerous alignment because it represents methodical, intentional, and frequently successful evil.
Creatures of this alignments are great respecters of laws and strict order, but life, beauty, truth, freedom, and the like are held as valueless, or at least scorned. By adhering to stringent discipline, those of lawful evil alignments hope to impose their yoke upon the world. Obviously, all order is not good, nor are all laws beneficial. Lawful evil creatures consider order as the means by which each group is properly placed in the cosmos, from the lowest to the highest, strongest first, weakest last. Good is seen as an excuse to promote the mediocrity of the whole and suppress the better and more capable, while lawful evilness allows each group to structure itself and fix its place as compared to others, serving the stronger, but being served by the weaker. (1)
These characters believe in using society and its laws to benefit themselves. Structure and organization elevate those who deserve to rule as well as provide a clearly defined hierarchy between master and servant. To this end, lawful evil characters support laws and societies that protect their own concerns. If someone is hurt or suffers because of a law that benefits lawful evil characters, too bad. Lawful evil characters obey the law out of fear of punishment. Because they may be forced to honor an unfavorable contract or oath they have made, lawful evil characters are usually very careful about giving their word. Once given, they break their word only if they can find a way to do it legally, within the laws of the society. (2)
The cliché that there is "No honor among thieves" is false when dealing with the lawful evil character. This is a person who is driven to attain his goals through force, power, and intimidation. Yet the lawful evil stands apart from the norm, with his own, personal, code of ethics. He expects loyalty from his minions, punishing disloyalty and treachery with a swift merciful death. A lawful evil character will define his terms and live by them, whether anyone else likes it or not. (3)
Lawful evil characters value the allegiances that they have with their cause, government, religion, or other organization. They also value those individuals that they call allies. Betraying a friend is just as much a transgression for the lawful evil as it is for the lawful good. Lawful evil characters always try to work within the law, since it's the safest way to ensure your own success. Breaking the law results in possible punishment and forfeiture of both wealth and power, and the lawful evil is loath to give up what he has attained through his own determination. These characters also like to use the law to destroy their enemies. If a lawful evil can find devastating evidence of a rival's wrongdoing, you can be assured that he will use this information to his own advantage.
This character seeks to increase his power over others within the hierarchy of the universe, with the strongest first and the weakest last. Naturally, most adherents of this alignment wish to be first. Like the other two lawful alignments, the lawful evil being normally holds that strict order is of utmost importance, but he sees it as necessary to further the ends of the deserving (strong ) over the undeserving (weak and worthless). Usually it is that being's own ends that are to be promoted above all others, but he respects the will of the group and the power and authority of those above him--unless he believes his superiors are not deserving of that position. A lawful evil being is seldom subject to the secular laws of good society in general, as he sees those laws as restrictive and unfair because they deny the worthy their proper place. So-called "good" is seen as a means by which the undeserving are placed and maintained in positions of power, whereas each person should be allotted his place by his leaders according to personal merit. Life is valueless to the lawful evil character; those too weak to defend their possessions and positions don't deserve to have them in the first place. (4)
A lawful evil character will keep his word if he gives it and will never lie, although he may mislead or withhold information. He will attack and kill an unarmed foe and will harm an innocent. He will use torture to extract information, but never for pleasure. He will kill only to advance himself, never for pleasure. A lawful evil character will use poison. He will not help those in need without a reward and he prefers to work with others. He responds well to higher authority, is trustful of organizations, and will always follow the law. He will never betray a family member, comrade, or friend. Lawful evil characters respect the concepts of self-discipline and honor. (5)
Here are some possible adjectives describing lawful evil characters: cruel, vengeful, proud, callous, hostile, taciturn, malevolent, calculating, plotting, merciless, domineering, severe, tyrannical, commanding, organized, and respectful of authority and power.
Well known lawful evil characters from film or literature include: Darth Vader (Star Wars), Magneto (Marvel Comics), Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter), and the Borg (Star Trek, the Next Generation).
Equivalent alignment in other game systems: Aberrant (Palladium), Road of Blood (Vampire), Dark Side (Star Wars), Evil (Warhammer), Corrupt (Alternity).
A code of conduct for a lawful evil organization may look like this:
1. You shall not lie.
2. You shall harm the innocent to advance yourself or promote order.
3. You shall kill to advance yourself or promote order.
4. You shall not aid the weak.
5. You shall honor legitimate authority that promotes you and your comrades.
6. You shall follow the law.
7. You shall not betray others.
8. You shall not aid criminals or those who protect the weak.
9. You shall use the law to advance yourself and your comrades.
10. You shall seek unlimited power over others and unlimited order in society.
Likewise, a lawful evil character may consider the following as signs of weakness. A sign of weakness indicates that the character is straying from the cruel tenets of the lawful evil philosophy. This list is given in the order of least severe infraction to most severe.
1. Failing to use the law to harm others, even when there is no chance for personal gain.
2. Failing to assist or avenge a peer.
3. Failing to dominate those not worthy of respect.
4. Breaking your word to your peer or ally.
5. Refusing to punish the disobedient. Not pursuing vengeance when appropriate.
6. Failing to commit cruel acts that are in your best interest.
7. Failing to further your cause when opportunity presents.
8. Turning down a chance to gain power or wealth. Failing to corrupt an institution or being for material gain.
9. Betraying your superior without cause. Breaking your word to your superior.
10. Aiding the forces of Freedom and Goodness. Breaking a sacred oath.
The following two lists detail common actions undertaken during "adventuring" that are considered honorable and dishonorable for the lawful evil alignment. An honorable action is one that is in keeping with the spirit of this alignment, while dishonorable actions tend to be those which bring shame to the character in the eyes of his or her alignment peers. Note that an action which is considered honorable by one alignment may be considered dishonorable by another alignment and vice versa.
Allowing a disarmed enemy to pick up his weapon
Allowing the enemy to attack first
Allowing the enemy to remove their dead/wounded from the field
Defeating a superior opponent
Delivering death blow to a helpless opponent
Desecrating an enemy's corpse
Gloating over a victory
Neglecting to properly bury a member of one's own race
Paying off an extortionist or shake-down
Reporting illegal actions to the authorities
Taking a bribe
Taunting an enemy into fighting
Unjustly slaying a prisoner or unarmed opponent who has yielded
Accused of crime (innocent or not)
Being taken prisoner
Convicted of a crime
Defeated by an inferior opponent
Falsely claiming the 'bragging rights' that belong to another or outright lying
Fleeing a battle that's obviously going poorly
Fleeing a fight with a superior opponent
Fleeing a fight with an equal opponent
Killing a host who has provided you food or shelter
Picking up the funeral expenses of someone you slew in combat
Refusing a fair contest/challenge
Saving the life of another at great risk to own self
Taking an arrow or hit for someone else
Walking away from a challenge
A lawful evil being...
Respects the authority figures in his family and obeys their mandates.
Values lifelong commitment to a romantic partner.
Obeys all personal contracts.
Respects the laws and authority figures of the community and nation.
Considers public service in a leadership role an honor.
Supports the legal procedures of the nation, without regard to their own discomfort.
Seeks secure employment, believing hard work will pay off in the end.
Will betray law-breaking family members for personal gain. Will not betray family if loyal.
Will betray law-breaking friends if profitable. Will not betray loyal friends.
Will seek to undermine his community and nation, if profitable and legal.
Is not trusted by the community and may have enemies.
Will kill others to get ahead.
Uses any legal means necessary to evade justice.
Will use wealth to destroy others.
A community with a lawful evil government usually has a codified set of laws, which most people obey out of fear of harsh punishment. The government is marked by its severe laws, involving harsh punishments regardless of guilt or innocence. Laws are not intended to preserve justice so much as to maintain the status quo. Social class is crucial. Bribery and corruption are often ways of life. Adventurers, since they are outsiders who may be foreign agents, are viewed with great suspicion. Lawful evil kingdoms often find themselves quashing rebellions of oppressed peasants clamoring for humane treatment.
Lawful evil and lawful neutral characters will have conflicts over the nature of laws. Lawful evil characters will support laws that further their own cause, normally meaning the gaining of wealth and power. They will want laws which ensure that their regime gets the upper hand in society. Any laws that oppress the weak will not concern them, unless they receive no benefits from this oppression. A lawful neutral character will resent a lawful evil character's attempt to control laws to benefit their own group. Lawful neutral characters want all laws to apply equally to everyone, for good or ill. They will also have contempt for the way that lawful evil characters use laws to injure or harass their enemies. To lawful neutral characters, laws exist to provide order and stability for society. To lawful evil characters, laws exist to elevate the strong and cunning to positions of power over others.
Conflicts between lawful evil and neutral evil characters will deal with the question of loyalty. The neutral evil character's loyalty is to himself and those who aid him currently. He will not go out of his way to help another, unless he needs that individual's help in the future. The lawful evil character recognizes the need for comrades and will help those that he considers allies, even at some personal risk and cost. Whoever a lawful evil character calls an ally can expect loyalty and aid, unless he fails to support the aims of the group or organization. Woe to the person who betrays the group! The lawful evil character will not be forgiving and will seek to cause injury or kill the offender, whatever is appropriate for their crime. The neutral evil character will also make an example of those who cross him, there is no question. The difference between the neutral evil character and lawful evil character is that the neutral evil character will betray an ally for gain when the ally has done him no wrong, whereas the lawful evil character will only betray a former ally who has proven himself unworthy or if that ally betrays the group.
When operating as leaders within society, this is how characters of these three alignments may behave. The lawful neutral character will advance the aims of society and apply the law impartially to all citizens. He will follow laws and fight to ensure that all citizens follow laws. He will use legitimate means to change to social order if the state would benefit more from the change. He will promote fairness, using the law to reward those who act in accordance with the social order and punish those who act to the detriment of the state. He will tolerate corruption as long as the strength of the state is not jeopardized. The lawful neutral character will enjoy his position and its perks, but will not abuse his authority. The lawful good character will view his position as an opportunity to selflessly serve his fellow citizens. He will work to increase weal throughout society through the apparatus of the state. He will tirelessly fight corruption and work to eliminate social ills such as poverty, uneven wealth distribution, abuse by the state, and other problems. The lawful evil character will use his position of power over others to ruthlessly pursue his own agenda using the apparatus of the state. He will follow laws and encourage all citizens to follow laws by severely punishing criminals. He will increase his own wealth and power at the expense of the population as long as he can use legal means. The lawful evil character views his position as proof of his superiority over the common rabble.
In a situation where a character must kill a rival, this is how characters of these different alignments may respond. The lawful evil character will use whatever the easiest, most direct method is. He will not be concerned primarily with the rival suffering before death, and will not want to prolong the killing. He will get it done, pay someone to do it, or use an underling. It is not important that the rival know who the attacker is, better that he doesn't in case the murder attempt fails. All that is important to the lawful evil character is that the rival is eliminated in such a way that he will not appear to have broken any law. The neutral evil character will find the most painful, yet direct way to kill his enemy. He may or may not personally commit the act, depending on how much he hates his foe. The neutral evil character may wish to dispose of his rival in a poetic manner, if fitting. The method will be cruel and heavy-handed. The rival must be taken out, but other potential rivals must get a message from this also... The chaotic evil character may use any of the above methods, but will tend to prolong the suffering of the victim to provide him with amusement. He may destroy the victim's family first to see how it affects him. He may torture his rival and play at killing him for a great length of time before finally doing him in. As long as there is amusement to be had, the chaotic evil character will keep him around.
Creatures highly dedicated to the spread of evil likewise differ in their approach depending on the law-chaos component of their alignment.
Lawful evil characters believe that the only way to impose the tyranny of their alignment over all creation is to follow an ordered course of action. Their evil society is rigidly structured, each being knowing its place and cruelly dominating all beneath this station, while being just as bullied from those above. Each creature in this hierarchy strives to follow the orders from the stronger most painstakingly--both to avoid punishment and in hopes of bettering its position in the order. To those beneath each is as harsh and cruel as possible: fearful of failure in its tasks, of being replaced by an underling. The evil ends desired might be better obtained by actions which are actually less vile than other options, but the order of lawful evil will generally perceive the most useful course rather than merely the most baneful in the short term. Lawful evil characters hate chaotic good characters most vehemently, for they see threats there to both the structure of their social system and their proposed course. What worse than both total freedom and happiness brought about only by individual achievement and character? Therefore, a lawful evil character would certainly not hesitate to ally itself with virtually any other cause if this helped to abridge the scope and influence of those creatures typifying the chaotic good. (6)
A chaotic evil character certainly has the common denominator of banefulness with those creatures who follow the ordered path of woe. They likewise oppress and enslave, torture and kill for the pure pleasure of seeing suffering and death. But while lawful evil character sees these activities as part of the structured course towards a world ruled by evil, those of chaotic evil alignment see such activities as an end in themselves. While the weaker chaotic evil creatures fear and often hate the stronger, they are ruled by them only insofar as the reach of the stronger extends--and possibly only as long as the stronger has interest in so doing. The individual evil is more important than the collective one. Let each evil being do its best to spread evil and chaos, and the ultimate result will be a cancerous spread of the alignment. Order is next to good in undesirableness, so lawful good is the antithesis of chaotic evil. Yet creatures of this alignment will not long associate to combat their hated foes, except lesser creatures under the leadership of some mighty villain or in extreme situations where the very structure of chaotic evil is threatened by some great coalition of good. (6)
The neutral evil path becomes evident as the middle road between the two opposite approaches to the precept of banefulness. The neutral evil character values both order and freedom as useful tools in the acquisition of personal power through the spread of evil. Any means that further their own agenda are embraced by neutral evil beings. The flexibility of this alignment ensures that a course of maximum evil is pursued and is not limited by considerations of either law or chaos. Structured and random acts of evil are both part of the arsenal of the neutral evil villain, who is concerned with advancing evil in the short-term and long-term. Thus, the neutral evil character will work with anyone, lawful evil, chaotic evil, or otherwise, who can aid them in their quest for total power over others. The neutral good alignment is diametrically opposed to neutral evil, so the neutral evil being is opposed to any social order that allows goodness to flourish. By destroying the works of good creatures, neutral evil beings hope to create a world where the powerful and capable are able to secure maximum benefit for the self and maximum woe for all who oppose them.
The chart below shows how Lawful Evil views itself and the other eight alignments.
Honorable but Self-Righteous
Unreliable and Self-Righteous
Honorable but Irresolute
Unreliable and Irresolute
Honorable and Determined
Determined but Unreliable
Lawfuls tend to view actions on a scale ranging from honorable to dishonorable. They hold themselves honorable while chaotics are seen as dishonorable in their eyes. Lawfuls view ethical neutrals as unreliable as they are concerned with doing the right thing some of the time whereas other times they seem to disregard society's expectations.
Although labeled as "evil" characters with this alignment tend to view themselves as determined, assertive, and full of conviction. To these characters, "good" is simply self-righteousness and the promotion of the weak over the strong. They tend to view moral neutrals as irresolute, since they seem to be torn between the competing philosophies of the self-satisfied and the self-reliant.
Lawful evil is the philosophy that the self is best advanced through the apparatus of the state. It is a philosophy of egoistic collectivism. This philosophy holds that people should behave egoistically and that the state exists to elevate the worthy to positions of power. Lawful evil can also be associated with rule egoism, universal ethical egoism, and social darwinism.
Lawful evil philosophers generally maintain that there is metaphysical order in the multiverse and thus may support doctrines of hard determinism, predeterminism, fatalism, predestination, and/or necessitarianism. They may believe in fate or destiny. They tend to be moral objectivists, holding that values exist in the external world independently of and external to our comprehension of them; that they can be found and known; and that they must be used as principles for human judgments and conduct.
The ideal government for this alignment is an authoritarian state with codified laws supporting a social order in which radical egoism is rewarded and altruism is punished. Lawful evil beings want the power of the state to be used for the benefit of the self. Retributive justice is used to punish those who threaten the social order.
(1) Gygax, Gary. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide. TSR:1979. and Gygax, Gary. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook. TSR:1978.
(2) Cook, David "Zeb," et al. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, 2nd Edition Player's Handbook. TSR: 1989.
(3) Wujcik, Erick. Ninjas and Superspies. Palladium Books: 1994.
(4) Renaud, J.R. "Making law out of chaos." Dragon (#163). November 1990: 74-78.
(5) Parlagreco, Carl. "Another View of the Nine-Point Alignment Scheme." The Dragon (#26). June 1979: 23. and Wujcik, Erick. Ninjas and Superspies. Palladium Books: 1994.
(6) Gygax, Gary. "Evil: Law Vs. Chaos." The Dragon (#28). August, 1979: 10-11.