Lawful Neutral

Posted by Andrew E. on

Table of Contents:

Rules are Rules!

The D&D alignment chart expanded past the RPG and hit the mainstream long ago, leading to endless nerd debates about what characters fit into each of these labels, how to play them, and what they actually mean. Lawful Neutral is the alignment of law, order, and authority, taking peace or justice as a higher order than mere morality. If setting the world straight seems interesting for your next character, then read on as we go through everything you need to know.

What’s the Alignment Chart?

The often-disputed Dungeons and Dragons alignment chart is a system that generally defines any given character’s personality. It compares a creature’s selflessness and selfishness on a scale of Good, Neutral, or Evil to determine moral alignments. And it compares a creature’s independence and conformity on a scale of Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic. This means every character, assassin, paladin, dragon, and everything else from celestials to demons are placed at some combination of those scales, such as a Chaotic Evil character, a Chaotic Neutral character, a Neutral Evil character, or a Chaotic Good character.

What’s Lawful Neutral Then?

The lawful neutral alignment is lawful on the scale from lawful to chaotic, and neutral on the scale from good to evil. Characters with a lawful alignment have some sort of code of conduct that they follow, which could come from legitimate authority figures and actual laws or from internal codes. A character with a neutral type of moral alignment isn't driven by morality or a moral code and they aren't really a good person or an evil person.

A Lawful Neutral character believes first and foremost in order and stand against chaos. This can range from a simple law-abiding citizen to a fully authoritarian tyrant, or it can even mean just steadfastly following one’s own personal code. The lawful neutral are soldiers, town guards, bureaucrats and businessmen. Regardless of what is right or wrong, they have their order and their codes, and they intend to abide by them. 

Unlike a True Neutral character, Lawful Neutrals aren’t indifferent or purely apathetic, they believe in something, it's just that their beliefs are rigidly locked into a strict code. Unlike a neutral good character, they're not always inclined to do the right thing. And unlike a Lawful Good character or Lawful Evil character, they aren’t interested in altruistic or idealized goals obtained through order, instead their goal is the order itself rather than some sort of idealized lawful neutral society. 

How To Play a Lawful Neutral Character

Playing a lawful neutral character alignment usually means being a voice of reason. A stick in the mud and a wet blanket to some, but a dependable realist and reliable friend to others, lawful neutral does the “right thing” according to the law and a lawful character does their best to abide by it.

The most important thing to figure out for how you roleplay a lawful neutral character is their “code”. You could literally adhere to the local laws, pledge fealty to a specific ruler, or to a personal code of ethics and behavior. This code can be an expansive set of rules, or it can be just a couple strict lines you refuse to cross. 

Depending on how tightly you hold onto your code, and exactly what this “code” is, this can bring you into conflict with your party. The lawful neutral character probably shouldn’t be cool with abducting and torturing the town guard for information. How exactly you resolve these conflicts is up to you but generally you should at least voice your objections. You don’t have to rigidly adhere to the law regardless of any circumstances, but you should at least raise the issue.

Ultimately how you play your characters is up to you, but try some of the following tips if you want to embody the lawful neutral alignment:

  • Be levelheaded and address issues logically.
  • Follow your code, maybe not fanatically but do your best to adhere to the rules your character follows.
  • Be loyal and dependable, lawful neutral is very rarely the alignment of lies or backstabbing.
  • Be steadfast and resolute, once you’ve determined the right course of action do your best to stick to it.
  • Do your best to be a “voice of reason”, that doesn’t mean nagging, but it does mean at least attempting to be reasonable amidst the chaos.
  • You don't have the good alignment or the evil alignment, but that means you're capable of both good and evil acts so long as they serve your code.
  • Be diligent and thorough when exploring a dungeon, don't take chances if you don't have to.

Lawful Neutral Flavors

As with any alignment there’s some significant variety that all falls under the lawful neutral label. The following tropes are all common interpretations of what it means to be lawful neutral:

Authoritarian

At the lowest level this could be somebody who simply obeys the orders of a policeman, at the most extreme the authoritarian trusts in some authority with absolute blind devotion. For them the issue of right or wrong is a secondary factor to their orders. This means that how they act and what they do will largely depend on the authority giving them orders. They might be devoted to some benevolent god, or they could be devoted to some evil tyrant. In either case they’re not really motivated by any moral compass and are instead simply trusting the word of authority. They tend to resent the free-spirited chaotic neutral alignment and tend to view things as either obedient or rebellious. At best the authoritarian is a loyal knight, at worst they’re an executioner operating under the blanket excuse of “only following orders”.  

Samurai

The samurai is a lot like the authoritarian except they place their trust in a personal code. We use samurai here as a good example of personal codes but anybody can have an internal code they hold above all else. Their personal code might be ethically based, or based on a literal oath they’ve taken, but they’re defined by their unbending devotion to it. They’ll literally die before violating their code, and often see death as preferable to dishonor. They can verge on lawful good if their code is morally based, but are distinguished by their desire to follow their code overruling any desire to do good. At best they are noble and stoic following their own form of justice, at their worst they are blind fanatics obeying antiquated laws.

Bureaucrat 

For the bureaucrat the outcomes don’t matter, only the rules matter. The rules exist to be followed and people exist to follow them. There may often be some sort of idealistic umbra surrounding or even deifying these rules but it’s the rules themselves that the bureaucrat cares about. They’re passionate about the rules, they believe in the rules, and they imagine existence without the rules is simply chaos and madness. These people usually see themselves as lawful good, and their actions can often be similar, but any altruism and noble purpose has been eroded by the constant grind of order. At best they’re studious and efficient scholars of law, at worst they’re an officious administrative power operating from a position of power in a cold and uncaring machine.

Adventure Dad

A lawful neutral character without a specific external code often becomes the “adventure dad”. They use their own judgement to try and determine orderly behavior while adventuring in the dungeon. These characters tend to become leaders, or at least they try to be. They try to reign in the chaotic character shennanigans and try to corral them like cats into making common sense decisions. Depending on the party structure this can become real leadership, or it can just lead to arguments between players over personal freedom. Lawful neutral players that find themselves becoming the adventure dad should remember that it’s a game, and not to stifle fun just for the sake of “order”. Be a conscience whispering better judgement, rather than an overbearing commander making sure everything goes perfectly.

Famous Lawful Neutral Characters

When it comes to understanding a dungeons & dragons character's alignment, it often helps to identify the alignment in fictional characters you’re already familiar with. Exactly which characters embody which alignments is a subject of numerous nerdy debates but we feel the following pop culture icons fit the bill:

Judge Dredd from the comics and films of the same name is an iconic lawful neutral character. He adheres strictly to the law regardless of any morality and acts as judge, jury, and executioner whenever the law is infringed. 

The Jedi Council as a whole sticks to their code regardless of any moral imperatives, matching lawful neutral to a tee. It’s cheating a bit to use a group here, but these heads of state trusted in the system so much that they didn’t believe it could crumble, in an exactingly lawful neutral way. 

The Predators operate by a strict honor code, revering it above their own lives and definitely over the lives of others. They’re a good example of a lawful neutral order that exists entirely without our moral concepts.

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Last updated: January 27, 2019

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