Alignment is a funny thing. It’s been around in Dungeons and Dragons since nearly the beginning, but it has morphed and changed into something new with each edition.
Of the nine alignments, Lawful Good gets a bad rap: there are some great and glaring misconceptions about what Lawful Good means and how it should be played.
You could have one Lawful Good character smiting an entire village of children and be completely justified, and you could have a different Lawful Good character willing to martyr themselves for the same group of children.
This post is about that seeming dissonance, as well as everything else we could think of about the Lawful Good 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 we’ll follow up with advice on how to use the rules to create a character whose Lawful Good alignment is reflected in their build.
What Is the Lawful Good Alignment?
Lawful Good is one of the nine alignments you choose at character creation in order to develop your character’s personality and behavior. Lawful Good people try to do what is both right in the eyes of the law and right in their sense of conscience.
Lawful Good Characters in Pop Culture
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the Lawful Good alignment, I’d like to start with a list of examples to give us all a big-picture view of what Lawful Good can look like. I wanted to vary it up yet stay within a common cultural lexicon. So, I chose a few popular franchises.
From Star Trek, Spock is lawful good. In Into Darkness, Spock is more than willing to sacrifice himself so that both the law is observed and the most people are saved.
His character arc is not so much about his relationship with the law because he manages to complete the plot without losing what matters to him. Rather, it is about his relationship with the family, his crewmates, and his captain. His struggle is to maintain balance between what is lawful and what is good. Spock is one of my favorite examples of Lawful Good for this reason.
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
From Star Wars, The Mandalorian is Lawful Good. Now, I know any time anyone says anything about Star Wars, they risk starting a war. Luckily for me, there are no comments on this website! So, hear me out.
The Mandalorian follows the code of his order, and his reputation among his guild is dependent on how he interprets and follows this code. Respect among his peers, according to this code, is a huge part of his arc. Furthermore, he does not engage non-combatants, and he does his best to mitigate collateral damage. He does not want innocents to suffer from his actions. This is why he kidnaps baby Yoda instead of selling him.
“This is the way.”
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America is the most lawful good Avenger. In the Avenger world, most of the characters are Chaotic or Neutral Good, which is why they struggle with their identity and have all been featured in their own versions of the same movie.
Captain America, however, believes that the laws of his country make them the good guys. As an anachronistic character, he can bring nostalgia for a time when good was good and law was law. This is why his character arc featured Shield being infiltrated by Hydra. He had to cope with the separation of Law and Good.
Ultimately, he created his own organization, the Avengers (with Tony’s money), and became the leader of another Shield-like organization. Captain America’s Lawful nature was the root of his conflict with Tony Stark, who is Chaotic to the end.
“That is America’s ass.”
This is a pun. He is an ass, a fool; for America, as he views it, is a country built on laws that aim for the betterment of all people.
This is also why Sam Wilson became the new Captain America. Despite how the government has treated him and his people throughout time, he still believes that the American system of laws works in a self-correcting way that can, over time, work for the betterment of all people.
Harry Potter is also Lawful Good. There is some argument here. Many of Harry’s adventures involve him breaking little laws like curfew and coming against the authority of his Professors and the Ministry, but he only comes against those professors and ministry agents who (or whom he perceives, as in the case of Snape) are in league with Voldemort.
Harry also becomes an Auror when he grows up — which is a wizardly version of a cop. Harry wants the ministry, Dumbledore, the Aurors, and everyone else to do their job and enforce the laws that function to keep Death Eaters and Dark Lords in prison.
Harry’s problem is that he doesn’t understand how politics can change interpretations of the law. His conflicts were rooted in Wizard politics and their unwillingness to enforce the laws. Ultimately, Harry defeated Voldemort because Harry had a deeper understanding of the laws of magic. Voldemort was beaten by a technicality, not by Harry’s wit or magical power.
The struggle between Harry and Voldemort is an example of when a Lawful Good character comes against a Lawful Evil character. They are fighting for control of the Law and social order.
Other Lawful Good Characters include:
- Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit, who “had the only right” to enter the Lonely Mountain.
- Uchiha Itachi from Naruto, who sacrificed his entire clan because he was ordered to do so for the good of the leaf nation. He put his nation before his clan and himself.
- One of the main characters from any buddy-action movie, such as Lethal Weapon, Sherlock Holmes (the films), Bright, Turner and Hooch, or Cowboy Bebop. One character is the Chaotic Good wild card who acts impulsively and bends the law, while the other is the Lawful Good anchor who pushes too far on the straight and narrow.
Lawful Good Organization in the Real World
First Responders have a simple calling to help in emergency situations. Their only concern is to find the problem and work within their training and their legal parameters to help the injured or endangered people. It doesn’t get much more Lawful or Good than that.
The Trevor Project is a mutual aid and nonprofit organization that helps to support homeless teenagers as they find shelter, food, clothing, education, and healthcare. Their goal is to help people in need (Good) and restore them to a place of social care (Lawful).
Meals on Wheels is a charitable nonprofit organization that delivers food to elderly people who can no longer work and do not have familial connections to support them as they age. Their goal is help those in need (Good) and provide them with a social safety net (Lawful)
What Do We Mean by “Lawful” and “Good”?
From the examples above, it is pretty clear that “Lawful” concerns itself with social relationship, social norms, and the function of a civilization that runs off of greater principles than the whim of an absolute monarch who could be of any alignment.
“Good” is a term that applies to seeking the best for people, helping get their needs met, and pursuing peace and prosperity.
Therefore, Lawful Good seeks to contribute to a society that has the betterment of all people both written into its legal framework and is acted out in real time with social programs.
The Most Common Misconception of Lawful Good
Lawful Good is not when the Paladin walks around threatening people (or other players) with violence if they steal, lie, are sexually “deviant,” or are deviant in any other way. This is Lawful Neutral, and it upholds a set of laws and social norms that is not interested in Good or Evil but rather only interested in conformity.
If a player acts like this, it can be very toxic. If this is someone’s vision of Lawful Good, it may be a good opportunity to ask if they have been hurt socially in real life by violent hypocrisy of one sort or another and tell them that, while it is unfortunate they have had that experience, the gaming table is not the place to perpetuate that hurt onto their friends.
Don’t force other people into your therapeutic experience.
Lawful Good in Previous Editions
In the 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, but 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 a Lawful Good Character 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 Lawful Good, and that’s okay!
In general, if alignment is something you do at your table, try to make your lawful good character concerned with social norms and social services working to improve everyone’s life. This does not mean they will rush out to be the hero every time. They can if there is no one else, but it is just as Lawful Good to call the Guard or rush someone to an infirmary as it is to try to save the day yourself.
A Lawful Good character can be respectful, polite, compassionate, courageous, conscientious, moral, upstanding, woke, or none of these things, depending on your interpretation. It is important to remember that just because a Lawful Good character thinks that laws are good does not mean they think that all laws are good. What matters is that they seek legal means to change those laws.
Lawful Good as Mechanics
In Dungeons and Dragons 5e, your alignment does not have to represent your build in any way. You could make a Lawful Good Oathbreaker, if you choose. If you want to reflect your Lawful Good alignment into your character’s build, there are several things to consider at each stage in the building process.
Lawful Good Races
When choosing your race, consider picking a species that is known for their community orientation, like Kobolds, Goblins, Arakocra, Aasimar, Elves, Gith, Halflings, Humans, Warforged, and Yuan-Ti.
In standard D&D lore, these races are group oriented and live within a hierarchical structure. That being said, not all of those races are known for producing Good members. Of those mentioned, the ones most likely to turn out Good are the Arakocra, Aasimar, Elves, Halflings, Humans, and Warforged. For reasons we will explain in a bit, the Aasimar are the easiest race to portray as Lawful Good.
Aasimar as Lawful Good
Aasimar are physically or spiritually descended from Celestials in much the same way Tieflings are descended from fiends. As such, they have spiritual links to celestial guides known as Devas who inform the character as best they can in their understanding of law and good. They have resistance to necrotic and radiant damage, the particular damage types of good and evil. They also gain the Healing Hands ability.
That being said, Aasimar are still mortal beings with free will, which means their decisions are as much open to interpretation and personality as anyone else’s. The mechanics of the Aasimar lend them to Lawful Good as far as flavor is concerned, but do remember that they are far from omniscient and just as prone to internal conflict as anyone else.
Lawful Good Backgrounds
Any background can work for Lawful Good characters; however, some are better than others.
Give consideration to the following backgrounds when making your Lawful Good character. All of these can easily fit into a social organization that works for the betterment of all members of society.
- Folk Hero
Pay special attention to the Flaws, Ideals, Personality Traits, and Bonds section of the background. You will use these to help develop your backstory, which, in turn, will help you develop your personality, and personality is the key to expressing alignment.
Lawful Good Classes
When choosing your class, you will mostly need to consider what activities your character will engage in.
Are they a stealthy character who is likely to steal? Are they an overly violent character who responds with force instead of considering what the legal ramifications are of their violence? Are you a magical genius who can develop untold power without wondering whether you should? If the answer is yes to any of these, you’ll need to do some work around how and why you are still Lawful Good.
Of course, the simplest Lawful Good choice is the paladin or cleric. Just don’t play them as if they are some morality police looking to enforce social norms on other characters through threats of violence. That might be Lawful, but it is not Good. For Good, violence is the last resort.
Lawful Good Assassins, Barbarians, Tieflings, and Questionable Combinations
When it comes to playing Lawful Good edgelords, you certainly have your work cut out for you. Assassins are almost always neutral or evil. In 3e, you had to have an evil alignment to be an assassin and a chaotic alignment to be a barbarian. The reason for this is that Assassins kill for money, not principle, and Barbarians tend to fly off the handle and resort too quickly to violence.
These classes can still be played well, however. Assassins can be played very much like the Gloom Stalker, the hunter in the shadows, the one who walks the dark places to hunt the darkest monsters.
Barbarians need not have anger fuel their Rage ability. It could just as easily be a prayer, an anime cutscene, or some other way they can up their power for a short period of time. Think Sailor Moon as a barbarian.
Any class or race can be Lawful Good. This is between you and your DM. All you must remember is that Lawful Good means using the legal system for the betterment of all members of society. Sometimes a person from a chaotic evil society is the best person to help us stay on the good and legal path. They’ve been in the trenches. They know how bad it can get.
Lawful Good Magic
If you use magic, you’ll need to consider what your power source is. Remember, 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.
This is not true in all circumstances (for example, Topaz dragonborn need not be evil), but it is a good general rule.
Radiant damage is the preferred damage type of The Celestials and all good creatures, so try to stick with that as much as you can. The most radiant damage-oriented character I think of would be a Crystal Dragonborn Cleric of the Light multiclassed with Warlock of the Celestial.
There are no damage types to replace what was called “lawful and anarchic” in 3e. To represent your Lawful nature, consider using the damage type that best represents your community or the society in which you serve. A lawful good Fire Genasi could use Radiant and Fire damage. A lawful good goblin could use Radiant and Acid. A lawful good elf could use Radiant and Psychic. Play around and see what feels good.
Lawful Good Spells
There are spells that can be used to represent both Law and Good. As mentioned before, anything that does Radiant Damage will be considered good as well as healing and curing spells.
Spells that represent Law over Chaos could be social spells like friends, charm person, hold person, enthrall, or the dominate spells. These spells could be used as a means of enforcing social norms on a creature’s behavior.
Summon spells can also be a form of calling in reinforcements from moral or lawful authorities. Think of it like calling the police, except the police come directly from the celestial plane in the form of a great, heavenly bear or some such.
Granted, all of these spells can be used by Chaos in much the same way, so be judicious in the social ramifications of your actions. Only use these spells when the legal system supports your doing so and not at your whim.
How Does Lawful Good Relate to Similar Alignments?
One of the best ways to understand your alignment is to compare it to the others. In this section, we will compare Lawful Good to those alignments which are separated by only 1 degree.
The following are several possible ethical dilemmas you could either face or put in front of your players. Each scenario is followed by a chart of how Lawful Good would most likely react compared to the other Lawful and Good alignments.
Scenario 1 – Vampires and Werewolves
A group of concerned villagers has asked the PCs to free a village from a minor vampire overlord who acts as their mayor. The vampire routinely feeds off the villagers and demands high taxes, punishing those who can not pay.
Midway through the adventure, the PCs learn that the “concerned villagers” who hired them actually represent a local pack of werewolves who want the town to become their own hunting ground but do not have the power to remove the Vampire themselves.
In this scenario, the Lawful characters are concerned with the governance of the village and establishing a social consensus. The Good characters are concerned with protecting the innocent, and the government be damned. The Chaotic Good and the Lawful Good character are the closest in agreement here.
“Each choice we could make has far-reaching implications that affect every villager. We must take this decision to the villagers themselves and ask what they prefer. The Vampire? The Werewolves? Or their independence? Each option has its own peril.”
“The Vampire doesn’t feed on too many villagers, and he makes them pay taxes that are used to maintain the roads, the defense, and trade. The Werewolves are unsustainable: they will just feed and spread their curse through the town. That is not a governing body. If we kill the Vampire, we will have to kill a whole village full of Werewolves next year. Let’s just tell the Vampire and collect the bounty on the Werewolves’ heads.”
“We are being paid to do a job. Now, we can give the Werewolves back their money and then offer our services to the highest bidder…”
“I say we run the Werewolves off and then see what the villagers want.”
“The only option we have is to kill the Werewolves, slay the Vampire, and then stay here to protect the villagers while we train them up to protect themselves. It’s the only choice that stops the monsters both now and in the future.”
There was a prophecy that a child born in a certain village during a certain year will rise up to start a bloody revolution that will depose the king and put the nation at risk of being destroyed by a larger empire. The current king asks the PCs to go to this village and kill every child under 3 years old.
“No. We should surveil every child as they grow up and arrest them the moment the prophesied one reveals themselves.”
“This is only one option. If you carry it out, however, you are likely to incur the wrath of your populace and make them more sympathetic to a revolution in the future. It would be best to put your spies in the village and observe.”
“Thorough, complete, and simple. I like it. Consider releasing a small plague or engineering an accident to give you the appearance of innocence. Best to kill the entire village so that you can control the narrative and stop anyone from wanting revenge.”
“This is ridiculous. You should be a better king so that people don’t want to rebel in the first place.”
“Vive la revolution!”