Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Alignments are an interesting mechanic in D&D that can often be the source of a great deal of confusion and conflict.
I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of alignment charts placing popular characters into one of the nine categories.
Dive a little deeper, and you’ll probably find some large threads debating the validity of a character’s placement.
The reality is, there are some pretty clear guidelines that an alignment provides for a character to follow. As a player, this can really help if you’re struggling with how to role play your character.
Today, we’re talking about what I personally think is one of the most exciting alignments to play: Lawful Neutral.
In this article, we’ll go over what this alignment is, how it compares to other alignments, examples in popular culture, and so much more.
What Is the Lawful Neutral Alignment?
Lawful neutral characters believe in order and integrity above all else. This alignment is all about following the rules, whether those rules are laws, tenets of a religion, or a personal code of honor.
As with any 5e alignment, there are two important pieces of this equation to look at.
First, we need to talk about lawfulness. This entire axis of the alignment chart believes in following laws. Again though, those laws aren’t always what’ve been put in place by some authority.
Obviously, we’ll see soldiers and political figures who follow the laws of the land, but there are other codes to be honored out there.
For a lawful cleric, the tenets of their religion will be the most important thing to follow. This means that they will almost certainly value their own tenets over whatever laws are imposed by some local government.
If they believe in swift punishment for the guilty, it doesn’t matter that the law of the land supports a right to a trial.
Then, and this is what I find interesting, we have those who make their own laws. I’m not talking about chaotic individuals who follow whatever path they seek to reach their goal; I mean a solid moral code.
“Do unto others what ye would have them do unto you,” is a golden example of this kind of code, and it might be the only “law” that a lawful character really values.
Because of this wide dispersion of rules and laws, lawfulness includes such a wide variety of characters. But what does it mean to be lawfully neutral?
Well, neutral characters aren’t so much interested in whether their actions are “good” or “evil.” A lawful-neutral character follows orders not because of their moral standing but because they are orders.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a lawful-neutral character will go around committing evil deeds all the time, however. In fact, it’s quite the contrary.
A lawful-neutral character often values thinking before acting and is more than capable of deeming an act as evil.
Let’s look at an example (we’ll get into a lot more later, but here’s one for right now).
A lawful neutral soldier is ordered to execute an entire village of people.
- Scenario 1: The soldier trusts their superior and follows through on the order, understanding that while this is a grim act, there must certainly be a reason for it.
- Scenario 2: The soldier values their tenet of protecting innocent life far more than they trust the word of their superior. They consider the motivations of their superior and weigh them to be acting in their own personal interest, not for the good of the kingdom. Instead of slaughtering innocents, they engage their superior in a duel.
- Scenario 3: The soldier questions their superior. “These people are innocent. Are they not? Why would we slaughter the king’s people?” When their superior informs them that the town has been infected by a deadly and infectious plague, the soldier follows orders, content that they are doing what must be done for the good of the land.
None of these are evil acts, even though they might seem harsh.
At least in 5e, good, evil, and neutrality have much less to do with the actions you take and more to do with your intentions. The intent of our soldier in each example is to uphold order and do what must be done.
The best way to get a good look at lawful-neutral characters is to compare them to their good and evil counterparts on the alignment chart.
Let’s look at the same example and see how the other lawful alignments might react.
In fact, let’s be specific and say that we’re talking about the third scenario, where the village is stricken with an incredibly infectious disease.
- Lawful Good Soldier: Despite the threat, the soldier believes there must be another way. Surely, killing an entire village isn’t the only option.
- Lawful Evil Soldier: The soldier doesn’t hesitate to slaughter the village. Doing so will gain them favor with their superiors and ensure they move up through the ranks.
Our “good” soldier values the lives of others and the sanctity of their own moral high ground over the urgency of the situation. They will exhaust all avenues before they resort to “senseless violence.”
On the other hand, our evil soldier is happy to follow orders. They care little for the lives of the villagers. The only thing they’re really interested in is their own personal goals: moving up in the world and claiming power.
Of course, there are hundreds of ways for any of these alignments to react to a scenario. The main thing to concern yourself with here is the motivations.
A lawful-good character concerns themselves with others, avoiding any undue cruelty or punishment. They follow laws when they believe those laws to be morally right.
A lawful-evil character is interested in their own gain. They follow rules with the expectation that they will see personal benefit.
A lawful-neutral character follows the laws given to them. They may be concerned with the general well being of the land, but they understand that sacrifices must be made.
They don’t care about personal gain; they just care about staying true to their code.
Lawful Neutral Characters in Pop Culture
It can help to see some straightforward examples of lawful-good characters that you might be familiar with. For me, it’s always much easier to role play a character if I can draw on something tangible for inspiration and reference.
Below I’ve come up with a list of characters that fit the 5e description of lawful neutral. That being said, alignments can be pretty subjective.
Since they are so strongly based on a character’s motivations, different people might have different ideas of what those motivations really are.
The list below is made up of characters I have chosen.
I’ve included arguments for why I believe them to be lawful neutral, but it’s just that — arguments. You can feel free to disagree; that’s part of the fun of it.
At the end of the day, it’s how you end up playing your character that really matters, and no one can ever tell you you’re doing it wrong.
I’ll start off with a controversial one. Thanos is lawful neutral, albeit not so bright. His motivations are not based in good morality, nor are they based in self gain.
For proof of the second one, just look at the fact that he sacrificed his own daughter.
Thanos believes that all people should have access to resources. He believes in equality and balance.
Those are the two codes that dictate every decision he makes, and he follows them like laws, never swaying or faltering for selfish, or selfless, reasons.
Was there a better way to achieve his goal? Yes, obviously he could have just made more resources or created some sort of renewable resource on a universal scale.
Still, he follows his laws, and he does so with complete neutrality.
I should also note that this only goes for the MCU Thanos. In the comics, his motivations are much different.
In most Star Wars canon, stormtroopers are just doing their job. They are normal people who either enlisted or were drafted into the Imperial Forces.
We have to remember here that not everyone in the Star Wars universe sees the empire as evil because the empire hides most of its evil acts through the use of propaganda.
This even extends to characters like Finn (FN-2187), who perfectly embodies the lawful-neutral soldier we talked about in the example above.
His story arc is all about finding a new code and set of rules to follow when he realizes he is working for an evil organization.
Most portrayals of this character see him as a by-the-books spy. He isn’t acting out of any moral superiority, nor is he focused on his own personal gain.
He simply follows the mission, or more broadly, he does what he must do to serve the British justice system.
This entire race from Mass Effect has a strong culture of “putting the needs of the many before the needs of the few.” This can lead them to being a bit rigid in the eyes of other races.
The Brotherhood of Steel
This religious military order of the Fallout games cares only about preserving technology. They don’t tend to involve themselves in any issues that don’t revolve around their primary purpose.
They also have a strict code that they follow, and members do so almost on the level of blind faith.
I’m going to take a quick moment to say that those “good cop” Punisher signs are extremely misguided. The Punisher is not a police officer with more agency; he follows his own code of honor and his own laws.
“I’ll only say this once: We’re not the same. You took an oath to uphold the law. You help people. I gave that up a long time ago. You don’t do what I do. Nobody does. You boys need a role model? His name is Captain America, and he’d be happy to have you.”
This is just a nice example to show that most cops, or law enforcement, should be leaning much more toward lawful good.
On the other hand, we have Frank Castle of Marvel comics who is strictly concerned with wiping out crime at any costs.
He’s also a character who strays from his moral alignment quite a few times.
The general struggle of the Punisher is that he is constantly torn between following his code for revenge (lawful evil) and following his code because it’s what needs to be done.
It’s a good character to look at if your character starts to make questionable decisions.
He probably should’ve been at the top of this list, but I’m not ranking characters here. Judge Dredd will constantly remind his foes that he “.. is the law.”
As judge, jury, and executioner, Dredd is an excellent example of a lawful-neutral character that does what must be done to uphold justice.
A quote from John Wagner, the creator of Judge Dredd, excellently sums up the neutrality of the character.
“It sums up the facelessness of justice − justice has no soul. So it isn’t necessary for readers to see Dredd’s face, and I don’t want you to.”
The fact that the character’s face is always covered is meant as an expression of the soullessness of pure justice and neutral law.
The Forces of Heaven
A lot of popular depictions of angels aim for Lawful Good but end up blindly following the orders of God. This is especially true in Good Omens, which really parodies the whole concept and puts it right in your face.
Our antagonists are constantly met with the same attitude from the archangels in regards to the upcoming apocalypse. It’s something that is supposed to happen, so it must.
One could even argue them to be lawful evil because they really just want to defeat the forces of hell, but there isn’t much personal stake there. Their actions are all determined by the orders of the Most High.
Hopefully less of an obscure reference by now, Amanda Waller is the enforcer and creator of the Suicide Squad. She’s the Nick Fury of a group of psychopaths and criminals, but their alignment leanings matter little for her.
Her motivations behind the creation of the Suicide Squad are simple, keep the nation safe from super-powered threats.
She often is the law in most situations, so things can bend to her whim a bit, but at the end of the day, her only concern is national security.
Her willingness to sacrifice lives is another staple trait of the lawful-neutral alignment. She just seems more good leaning because the lives she sacrifices are those of criminals.
Still, anyone with their hand on the trigger for explosives set in the brains of soldiers is about as straight lawful as they come.
For those familiar with the show (or comic) The Boys, this placement might come as a shock to you, but hear me out.
Billy Butcher is definitely an anti-hero, willing to go to any lengths to take down his enemies, but there’s more to the character than just chaotic killing of supes.
In fact, Butcher really seems to only have one rule: kill all supes. While this is based in revenge, it goes far deeper than that.
Butcher isn’t searching for power; he’s trying to achieve justice. He sees that supes are a dangerous threat and will do whatever it takes to eliminate them.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, his alignment is much more clear than the TV series, but nevertheless, Stannis is a man who believes in honor and duty.
His entire reasoning for seeking the throne is not based on any desire for power. Rather, he believes himself to be the rightful heir, and so it is his duty to fill the position.
There’s even an instance of him dealing with a smuggler who brought his castle food relief during a siege. Stannis knighted the man and then cut off his fingers as punishment for theft.
He recognized the good that the man had done and rewarded him, but he still upheld the law.
This race from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is certainly an example of what we call Lawful Stupid, but that’s a term we’ll get to in a bit.
The guide says it perfectly in their description:
“They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy. Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous.”
Or, in more descriptive language:
“They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.”
The joke here is that Vogons follow the law to a T, but they can’t spare a thought for anything else.
Their destruction of Earth, to them, was completely justified because all the planning charts and demolition orders had been on display for 50 years.
The Dangers of Lawful Stupidity
Every alignment probably has a subcategory like this, but this is definitely one of the most annoying.
Lawful Stupid is what happens when you take lawful neutral too far. It defines a character who never thinks for themselves, only following orders despite any glaring signs around them.
When you’re playing a character, they should have at least some sort of moral compass. Or at very least, they should be able to consider the outcome of a situation.
If you don’t stop and consider the ramifications of your actions because you’re “following the law,” then you’ve just become a robot.
Unfortunately, this can be an easy trap to fall into for players inexperienced with the alignment system. It’s fair too. On the surface, lawful neutrality means following the rules in place.
However, we have to remember that the alignment chart is just one big spectrum. The nine boxes are meant to give some definition to your character, some guidelines.
Lawful stupid exists at the exact center of this alignment, and it should really be avoided at all costs.
Playing a Lawful Neutral Character
Knowing what this alignment is and having some examples is great, but likely you came here so you could have some guidelines on how to play your character.
In typical background format, I’ve thrown together some Personality Traits, Ideals, Flaws, and Bonds that a lawful-neutral character might have, along with general tips on role-play decision making.
Personality Traits (D8)
- There is always an answer in scripture. I can meet no obstacle that my faith will not guide me over.
- I obsess over the deeds and words of our nobles. They are a perfect example of how to live, and I strive to follow them.
- I hate those who would seek to revolt against authority. Criminals are nothing but scum.
- I am harshest on myself. If I misstep from the path, I must seek retribution.
- I question every order that I’m given, not because I seek to be disobedient, but so that I may better understand people’s motivations.
- I struggle to see how anyone could disobey their elders. Those with the most experience should always be honored, no matter how strange their traditions may seem.
- I don’t do what I do because it’s fun. I do what I do because it has to be done.
- Loyalty is something that must be earned, but if you prove yourself to me, I will follow you blindly into battle.
- (Tradition) The ancient traditions of worship and sacrifice must be preserved and upheld.
- (Honor) To strike down an unarmed opponent is to admit your own defeat.
- (Equity) Everyone should have access to opportunities according to their abilities. It’s not enough to provide equal access. Those who need help should receive it.
- (Faith) If I just follow the path laid out for me, everything will be okay.
- (Obedience) Following authority isn’t something I do; it’s who I am.
- (Fairness) If you work toward a goal, you reap your fair share of the rewards.
- My church is the only church that is right. All other beliefs are unimportant.
- I would rather die for my country than live while its rule is opposed.
- I have nothing but admiration for someone who follows their own code.
- My first authority figure will always be my biggest role model.
- All I want is to be a part of politics. To be able to create new laws for the betterment of society is the highest calling.
- Without my honor, I am nothing.
- Even the most outrageous laws must be followed, or punishment will be swift.
- There are some people who are too dangerous to be left alive and dealt with by the justice system.
- I don’t care what phony “laws” the locals have. Wherever I go, I’m the law.
- I will follow orders without a second thought if they come from a high enough authority.
- It doesn’t matter how good someone may be. One strike is enough to wipe away a thousand good deeds.
- My judgement is never wrong, never.
In general, a lot of the motivations for this kind of character come from their willingness to follow whatever code, laws, or tenets they value most highly.
A good way to set up guidelines for roleplaying your character is to create a hierarchy of rules. You can sort of split up rules into five categories or tiers.
- Tier 1 includes rules that must be followed at all costs.
- Tier 2 contains rules that can only be broken in the most dire circumstances.
- Tier 3 is for rules that should be followed but can be bent to serve a higher purpose.
- Tier 4 are rules that we can turn a blind eye to.
- Tier 5 are the rules that we disagree with. Yes, even a lawful-neutral character can disagree with rules.
The dispersion of rules in these different tiers is going to define just how strict your character is.
Typically, the majority of rules will fall in tiers 2 or 3, but more stringent characters may lean toward tiers 1 and 2 for most of their views.
I also use the term rules here as a general term. You might use these tiers to differentiate which rank of officials you’ll listen to.
The rules might be orders, tenets, beliefs, or any structure that you create or are given. Whatever is the “law” to your lawfulness, this is a tool for making it a bit less black and white.
From there, and this is where it gets really exciting, you can dive into the reasoning behind your character’s beliefs.
If the only rule that must be followed at all costs is the sanctity of innocent life, why do they believe that? If they disagree with laws about taxation, come up with some background for that.
I’m a firm believer that a good backstory results in good roleplaying. The more you understand your character’s past, the more you can make decisions about their future.
At that point, you’re not just making decisions for a group of stats and features; you’re making decisions for a person.
A character who fits the soldier/cop archetype is easy to make lawful. Your DM will do most of the work in determining what the laws of the land are, or they have already been created as part of the source material.
For everyone else though, we need to come up with some rules that our character will follow and expect others to follow.
Here is just a big old list of values, ideals, codes, and general guidelines to pull from or to find inspiration in.
Whether you’re looking to make your own code, creating a cultural set of guidelines, or putting together religious tenets, this is the list to look at.
- Show mercy. Kill only for the right reasons.
- Be honest. Always tell the truth and the whole truth.
- Always keep your word.
- Be loyal to your superiors (or masters).
- Serve the people. Offer your help to any who are in need.
- Be courageous. Fear is something to walk headfirst towards, not to run from.
- Be respectful to all, no matter their social rank.
- Don’t steal.
- Do not horde. Only keep what you need to be comfortable; the rest is charity.
- Honor the elders.
- Do nothing without consent. Never force your will upon another.
- Dismantle corruption and bring sinister forces to light.
- Punish the guilty in accordance with their crime. (Not quite Hammurabi’s code, but it can be.)
- Praise both inner and outer beauty.
- Practice patience in all things.
- Always be mindful of the outcome.
- Practice humility. See yourself as neither better or worse than others.
- Preserve knowledge at all costs.
- Everyone deserves a second chance.
- Reform is not possible; the only fitting punishment for a criminal is death.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our insight on this one corner of the alignment chart. Remember, lawful neutral does not mean absolute lawfulness. It means lawfulness absent of moral intent.
As always, happy adventuring.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.