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 represents methodical, intentional, and organized evil.
Lawful evil characters believe that law and structure mean power and safety. In their view, a strict, systematic hierarchy enables outcomes impossible for a single individual, so they seek power and security by positioning themselves advantageously within such systems. They may operate according to strict personal codes—private ethics or creeds that may not align with an observer’s concept of morality—but more often choose to operate within (and take advantage of ) the framework of the society around them. Many are quick to cite their law-abiding natures when defending their actions. This alignment is particularly appealing to those who want to get ahead and don’t care whom they hurt, yet who also want to maintain a sense of self-righteousness or don’t want to open themselves up to unnecessary risk. They may take great pride in never breaking their word—and thus rarely make promises—and are invariably methodical and organized in their machinations.
Lawful evil characters appear on every rung of the social ladder. Some seek desperately to climb the ladder, dreaming of doing unto others what has been done to them.
Others feel smug superiority toward the less fortunate and enjoy abusing their power and privilege.
Following are some common lawful evil personality archetypes.
Destined to rule—at least in their own minds—despots seek to impose their will on those around them.
Obedience is often not enough; a despot requires total submission. Despots are capable of collaboration and even subordination within a larger structure, but they usually get resentful if they don’t climb the ranks quickly enough, and they seek out opportunities to give orders instead of taking them. Rarely, despots actually enjoy sharing power with like-minded souls; more often, their alliances are of convenience, and a pact’s stability depends on whether the despot’s goals are being met. While all despots believe themselves to be great leaders, not all are; dark tragicomedy abounds when incompetent despots achieve even a small measure of power.
If you are a despot, you:
- Demand blind obedience and servility.
- Welcome neither questions nor failures from your underlings.
- Constantly seek to expand your personal power base.
Code: Your commands are law—and woe betide those who disobey.
The world is a dangerous and confusing place, filled with overwhelmingly powerful entities. Thankfully, sometimes those beings take lucky souls under their wings, offering protection, purpose, and perhaps permission to indulge aspects of oneself that society otherwise prohibits.
Whether the patron is a god, monster, nation, or mortal, the minion knows that loyalty and perfect service—no matter how distasteful or depraved the command—are the best ways to rise in the ranks and achieve comfort and security. Minions may take pride in their service or comfort in the fact that any responsibility for their actions ultimately lies with their masters. Total devotion is a small price to pay for the gifts these dark masters offer.
If you are a minion, you:
- Seek powerful figures to serve and obey.
- Avoid anything that might raise questions about your loyalty.
- Live to please your master, regardless of the harm to yourself or anyone else.
Code: Be an obedient and useful servant, and your master will take care of you.
Swindlers accumulate power through indirect means. By using deception and manipulation, and by exploiting the systems they inhabit, they gain personal advantage. Their most common method is brokering deals and contracts that seek to extract the maximum commitment from others while giving as little away as possible themselves. While driving a hard bargain is not itself evil, swindlers specifically prey on those at their most vulnerable, abusing the legal system and doing their best to exploit (or create) weakness.
Loopholes and plausible deniability are a swindler’s bread and butter, and most have legitimate business concerns to augment their extortion and entrapment. Often charming, always cunning, swindlers are experts at using people’s own desires against them.
If you are a swindler, you:
- Look for exploits, loopholes, and advantages in every interaction and institution.
- Rarely break the law—working around it is so much more elegant.
- Are exceptionally proud of your wits and cunning.
Code: Anyone who shows weakness deserves to have it exploited.
Advantages and Challenges
Lawful evil characters are often surprisingly good at working with others, as long as doing so suits their agenda.
Their organized minds excel at spotting ways to make a situation work for them, and they usually recognize that most systems require give and take between the various components. They tend to honor at least the letter of their agreements, and many lawful evil characters are capable of a cold self-discipline that lets them rein in unproductive traits when necessary.
At the same time, lawful evil characters who see weakness in their companions are often quick to capitalize on it, making them potential liabilities in combat. They may be unwilling to risk themselves for a cause or partner, or to bend to group decisions if they feel doing so places them at a disadvantage. Self-interest is the driving force for most lawful evil characters—even minions.
Opportunities and Allies
Lawful classes like the monk, samurai, and cavalier all have evil members, but perhaps the class most suited to lawful evil is the cleric. A witch’s relationship to her patron and familiar and a summoner’s to his eidolon can take on similar overtones at a smaller scale. Unethical wizards are also often drawn to lawful evil—the intellectual rigor of complex studies meshes well with a lawful disposition, and their pursuit of knowledge may lure them into deviant experimentation. And of course, while many people think of rogues as freewheeling criminals, some of the most effective masterminds and string-pullers are rogues and bards who abuse the law without breaking it.
Lawful Evil Teamwork
One risk of an evil campaign is that the characters’ selfishness can erode the team bond. Yet selfishness can also help characters overcome their differences, even across alignments.
Lawful evil characters who operate in groups usually focus on mutual self-interest. To them, other characters are resources, and no tool should be discarded out of hand if it can still be of use. For instance, chaotic characters may be messy, undisciplined wretches, but if a lawful evil character can channel that scattered energy into something productive, everyone can benefit. Good characters may be sanctimonious or sentimental, but as long as the evil they’re stomping out is an evil that stands in your way, you have every reason to help them.
A wise lawful evil character doesn’t care about motives, only outcomes. By properly framing decisions for your allies and knowing how to manipulate them, you can point them in a direction that aids your objectives. And in the end, a lawful evil character doesn’t need to have a problem with other characters succeeding—as long as she succeeds the most.