Alignment as a concept has morphed and changed in the life of Dungeons and Dragons. It has been a storytelling tool, a mechanical consideration, or both throughout the years. Of the nine alignments, Chaotic Evil is often misrepresented as randomly destructive and is typically used simply to justify rude and “anti-plot” oriented behavior that drives plot lines into the ground.
While the Player’s Handbook says Chaotic Evil is fueled by arbitrary violence and selfish bloodlust, this is a bit immature. Yes, bullies are chaotic evil, but they don’t have to be volatile and impulsive. They can be calculating and patient and can even view their actions as a sort of perverse kindness.
This post is about that dissonance as well as everything else we could think of about the Chaotic Evil alignment. We will start with examples from fantasy, science fiction, and the real world. After that, we will get into some of the underpinning ideas behind this box in the alignment chart and then follow up with advice on how to use the rules to create a character whose Chaotic Evil alignment is reflected in their build.
What Is the Chaotic Evil Alignment?
Chaotic Evil is one of the nine alignments you choose at character creation in order to develop your character’s personality and behavior. Chaotic Evil people are opposed to any type of social hierarchy and community good.
Chaotic Evil Characters in Pop Culture
Before we get into the technical aspects of the Chaotic Evil alignment, I’d like to start with a list of examples to give us all a big-picture view of Chaotic Evil in various media. I wanted to vary it up yet stay within a common cultural lexicon. So, I chose a few popular franchises.
Barty Crouch, Jr.
From Harry Potter, Barty Crouch, Jr. could be seen as Chaotic Evil
When Barty Crouch takes Mad Eye Moody’s identity, he is instantly flouting his disrespect for any social order. He teaches whichever way suits him. Most importantly, however, he manipulates the sacred magical rules of the Goblet of Fire tournament, proving his chaotic nature.
Even though, as a Death Eater, it would be easy to peg Barty Crouch as Lawful Evil since he serves Voldemort, he is actually motivated by a selfish need for recognition as opposed to any real love for the institutions Voldy would bring about. He is obviously evil since he tries to get several people killed and nonchalantly uses several forbidden curses.
“You won because I made it so, Potter. You ended up in that graveyard tonight because it was meant to be so. And now the deed is done. The blood that runs through these veins runs within the dark lord. Imagine how he will reward me when he learns that I have once and for all silenced the great Harry Potter!”
From Star Wars, Senator Palpatine is Chaotic Evil.
Again, we have another character who could be interpreted as Lawful Evil. He becomes the Emperor, after all, and clearly expects everyone to follow his orders. However, he uses the empire as his personal tool for power. There is no social order that truly appeals to him for its own sake — he just wants to be able to do whatever he wants with the most amount of resources.
The Dark Side of the force, while presented as evil, needn’t be. It is definitely chaotic, though. It embraces the passions, the whims, and the impulses of the force user.
As the primary dark-side user in the universe, Darth Sideous is absolutely Chaotic. As the power-hungry tyrant, he is absolutely Evil.
“Those who do not serve my ends, no matter how powerful they are, will be eliminated.”
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ultron is Chaotic Evil.
Ultron thought that a mass-extinction event was the only way to create a better world. He honestly believed that destroying all of civilization was the best way to bring evolution. This is Chaotic as Anti-Lawful. Anti-society.
He is Evil because he is not merely indifferent to the deaths he will cause, but he actually WANTS to cause the deaths.
This isn’t a measly “you have to break a few eggs” argument. That could be justified as Chaotic Neutral. He wants to wipe out humanity and replace the world with machines.
“There were over a dozen extinction-level events before even the dinosaurs got theirs! When the Earth starts to settle, God throws a stone at it. And believe me, He’s winding up. We have to evolve. There’s no room for the weak.”
“And who decides who’s weak?”
“Life. *chuckles* Life always decides.”
In Batman, the Joker is Chaotic Evil.
At the risk of quoting a meme, some men just want to watch the world burn. The Joker is not like the mob — he doesn’t want money or social privilege. He wants to burn the social structures that give money and privilege meaning, and he wants people to suffer while it happens. He is so jaded and hateful toward law, order, and any concept of morality that he wants everyone to become like him. He wants violence and disorder.
He is the single best example of Chaotic Evil.
Other Chaotic Evil Characters Include:
- Smaug from the Hobbit rejected Sauron’s advances to join the dark side simply because he wanted to have his own power base and answer to no one. He is the epitome of selfish greed, and there is no social order he finds appealing.
- Obito from Naruto Shippuden is Chaotic Evil. He gives in completely to despair and becomes the embodiment of entropy, decay, and destruction. He turns the world into his power source, undoing any social structure and obliterating any power that rivals his.
- The T-Rex from Jurassic Park. This dinosaur does not work in a pack and rampages from foodstuff to foodstuff. There is no sense of order or social cohesion. This monster is presented as a machine of destruction.
Chaotic Evil Organizations in the Real World
Any organization that hopes for the downfall of society at the expense of sacrificing innocent lives is Chaotic Evil. There are several of these out there, and many of them can be found online.
Don’t search for them, please.
Even if they pray for an apocalypse because they think that what is coming afterward is better, they can still be Chaotic Evil. Check it out: Chaotic means violently opposed to existing social orders. Evil means they are willing to kill innocents to make it happen. Think about it.
What Do We Mean by “Chaotic” and “Evil”?
From the examples above it is pretty clear that “Chaotic” concerns itself not only with a disregard for social cohesion and structure but a violent antagonism toward institutions of social authority and power.
Chaotic Evil characters don’t just ignore the law. They break it because “I do what I want!”
Evil is a term that means selfishly motivated at the expense of your compassion. It implies an inherent antagonism toward other creatures, not simply a lack of empathy for them.
Therefore, Chaotic Neutral seeks to actively upset social norms for the sake of disrupting society, and the more people who get hurt, the better.
Alignment in Previous Editions
In 1st and 2nd editions, Alignment was a way of dictating character behavior in order to control the adventure. It was a storytelling tool for both DMs and players. This had benefits and drawbacks.
It was good that the DM could place limits on who characters were in the story. If the story is about saving the world from a tyrannical overlord, it would be very difficult to get a Lawful Evil player to stand up for what was “right” if that meant breaking the law for no gain. Similarly, a heist adventure would be hard to pull off with a Lawful character overly concerned with legality.
However, it could also be used as a way to bludgeon players into certain actions, and this was not good. At the same time, players could be real dicks and say, “It’s what my character would do.”
Neither action demonstrates maturity or respect at the gaming table.
To tamp down on this, 3rd edition made alignment into a mechanical tool reflected in languages, energy types, and sources of power via planar energy. You could speak languages called Lawful or Good when interacting with entities from the planes of Law (Mechanus) or Good (the celestial heavens).
The different alignment distinctions were philosophies made manifest in those planes, and their common languages reflected this. These philosophies made flesh also came about in the types of energy you could use in your magic.
There was a thing called Lawful damage, or Lawful magic. Certain weapons dealt extra “lawful” damage to creatures considered “chaotic.” Good and Evil were represented by “positive” and “negative” energy.
Each plane of existence was maintained by that type of magical energy, and they all came to rest here in the Material Plane. In Eberron, during 3e, the planes existed in an orbit, and during certain times of the year, your magic could be boosted or penalized depending on how close or how far that planar energy was to your time and location. Fascinating stuff, really.
How To Play Chaotic Evil Characters in 5e
Alignment in 5e is not an exact science, nor is the alignment chart reflected in any mechanical decision — unless you want it to be.
Each player will have a slightly different interpretation of how to play Chaotic Evil. Great! If people don’t agree with you, you can tell them where to take their silly argument.
In general, Chaotic Evil characters are driven by their own desire for power and a willingness to remake the world in their own image — a process that usually starts with killing off boatloads of people. So, make them contrary and prone to taking selfish action without consulting the party or asking permission.
A Chaotic Evil character can be ambitious, reckless, cunning, a bully, erudite, sophisticated, or savage. They can be anything as long as it is what they want to be, and “eff you” if you have an opinion.
It is important to remember that just because a Chaotic Evil character is against order and goodness DOESN’T mean they are randomly violent.
The Most Common Misconception of Chaotic Evil
In my 20+ years of playing and running Dungeons and Dragons, I have often seen Chaotic Evil played as illogical and prone to break taboos for no reason. This, in my opinion, lacks maturity and nuance.
Chaotic Evil can be sophisticated, reserved, and intelligent. These people can have motivations and agendas. They can have reasons for what they do. They don’t need to be belligerent and slobbering monsters. They can, but they don’t NEED to be. Sometimes, they can even be both in different situations.
Feel free to play your Chaotic Evil character in a way that does not interfere with party cohesion. Just be self-motivated, and don’t take orders.
Chaotic Evil as Mechanics
In Dungeons and Dragons 5e, your alignment does not have to represent your build in any way. Typically, barbarians and sorcerers make for easily Chaotic Evil characters since barbarians have an entire ability tree called Rage and sorcerers get their magic from no other source than their own willpower.
However, there is no need to feel fenced in. You could even play a multiclass cleric/monk and still be Chaotic Evil. Just heal people because they are useful to you.
If you want to reflect your Chaotic Evil alignment into your character’s build, there are several things to consider at each stage in the building process.
Chaotic Neutral Races
When choosing your race, consider picking a species that is known for its cantankerous views on society and its inherent lack of compassion, empathy, and tendency to create violent cultures, like Humans, for example.
In standard D&D lore, these races are often found without any group structure and often view consequences as matters of luck. It isn’t their fault if you die because of their actions. You should have just been a better person.
Humans as Chaotic Evil
Humans tend to make the simplest of Chaotic Evil characters. While tending to cooperate in large groups, those groups are always organized by following the lead of a charismatic figurehead who wields power.
A strongman. A powerful leader. Someone who gets things done regardless of the obstacles in the way. If you agree with this leader’s worldview, then you will benefit. If you disagree, then you better stay out of the way.
Humans will let this person get away with public murder. It doesn’t matter what this person does. Chaotic Evil societies are built upon the idea that might makes right, and if you have all the money and the power, then the universe has blessed you because you are the smartest and best person for the job.
Humans are willing to swallow any line and lie so long as it confirms their worldview, regardless of how strange and illogical it is. This is the epitome of Chaotic Evil.
Chaotic Evil Backgrounds
Any background can work for Chaotic Evil characters; however, some are better than others. Give consideration to the following backgrounds when making your Chaotic Evil character. All of these are anti-social (but willing to take advantage of privilege) and will engage in violence for their selfish whim.
Pay special attention to the Flaws, Ideals, Personality Traits, and Bonds section of the background.
You will use these to help develop your backstory that, in turn, will help you develop your personality, and personality is the key to expressing alignment.
Chaotic Neutral Classes
When choosing your class, you will mostly need to consider what activities your character will engage in.
Are you looking for a job that suits your personality? Are you trying to make the world a better place? Are you willing to take orders from someone more powerful than you? If the answer is yes to any of these, you’ll need to do some work around how and why you are still Chaotic Evil. It isn’t impossible, though.
Of course, the simplest Chaotic Evil classes are barbarian, sorcerer, and wizard. All three of these can pursue their own power without regard for others.
Clerics and monks generally make for poor Chaotic Evil characters because of the discipline and submission to authority required. Warlocks have to swear fealty to a patron, and that may cramp their style.
Rangers could also make good Chaotic Evil characters because of their ability to eschew society and truly dive deep in the Darwinian, predator/prey ethic.
Chaotic Evil Clerics, Monks, Elves, and Questionable Combinations
When it comes to playing Chaotic Evil characters from highly disciplined race and class combinations, your best bet is to make the character arrogant.
Yes, the cleric has to submit to a god or a church, but that simply gives them the intangible moral high ground from which they can sneer and judge others. They feel like a person’s value is tied to their power and that if a person were morally good enough, they wouldn’t suffer from disease, poverty, or any other negative thing.
The monk probably got in trouble a lot in their monastery as a kid, but the overwhelming destruction they can cause with their mere fist is exhilarating.
Most elves try to live within the invisible laws of nature and magic, but occasionally one of them realizes that the food chain doesn’t have to look like an ordered pyramid. It can be a roiling cesspool of blood, lust, and power.
Chaotic Evil Magic
If you use magic, you’ll need to consider what your power source is. Remember that in 3e there was “positive and negative” energy to represent good and evil. Generally speaking, those energy types have been replaced with Radiant and Necrotic. If something is good and magical, it deals radiant damage. If it is evil and magical, it deals necrotic.
Where does that leave you as a Chaotic Evil character? You should consider your background first. Do they have a monstrous background, like draconic or aberrant? Consider matching an element for dragons or psychic for aberrations with necrotic for evil or force for chaotic.
Force damage is another good option. Chaos and Evil are about the force of one’s will to remake the world in your image. Who cares what anyone says or thinks? Is their force stronger than yours? That’s the question that really matters.
Chaotic Neutral Spells
There are spells that can be used to represent chaos. Spells like mage hand, catapult, unseen servant, and other force spells can allow you to make the most amount of chaos. Not only are you moving an object, but you are hurling it across the room. You didn’t just hurt the bad guy with a flying chair. You also messed up the orderly feng shui!
Also, Chaos Bolt. I’m just gonna leave that there…
Summon spells can be a great way to cause mayhem. You are essentially violating the laws of nature to bring a creature of that type into existence. You fundamentally change the battlefield with your extra ally and add a bit more chaos.
Finally, evocation is perhaps the single most chaotic school of magic. You put fire where there is none, summon lightning on a clear day, cause earthquakes, and hurl globes of acid from nothing.
But what about spells for the evil side of this axis? Evil exemplifies itself by exercising power without consent. Therefore, hold, charm, and dominate spells are perfect for evil characters. Those will allow you to exercise your will to overpower others.
How Does Chaotic Evil Relate to Similar Alignments?
One of the best ways to understand your alignment is to compare yourself to the others. In this section, we will compare Chaotic Evil to those alignments that are separated by only 1 degree.
The following scenario is followed by a chart of how Chaotic Evil would most likely react compared to the other Chaotic and Neutral alignments.
Let’s say you deigned to take a job where you must escort a donkey-pulled wagon laden with supplies to a nearby town. While on the way, you discover your employer’s horse dead on the ground and are ambushed by goblins while investigating.
You kill the goblins. Afterward…