Friday, July 2, 2021

Unpacking Lawful Good

 The nine alignments from Dungeons and Dragons have been hotly debated over the years. Deciding who is chaotic good vs chaotic neutral sparks long conversations during game nights between refilling the popcorn and somebody taking their turn. The most hated and rampantly misused alignment is lawful good, the stalwart hero of the land archetype. In an effort to curb more bad decisions, let's explore what it means to be lawful good and why it's not a bad thing to be after all. 

The Nine Alignments

For the uninitiated, the Dungeons and Dragons alignment system is a combination of attributes meant to generally describe a character or monster's overall outlook on the world. Combining the characters preferences towards law vs chaos, good vs evil and neutrality, the general idea of a character's drive can be gleamed at a glance. A chaotic evil character for example is only out for themselves, and don't care what they have to do to get what they want or need, whereas a chaotic good character is interested in doing what's right even if it goes against laws or cultural norms. 

Lawful good can be best described as having a code of honor or a set of laws, believing them to be the epitome of good and defending those laws against all who wish to do evil. This usually puts people in mind of a Knight of the Round Table hero or Superman, which are fair judgments, but the issue comes when the characters have to be played in a game where they don't just show up to swoop in and save the day. 

Lawful Good Vs Lawful Stupid

The issue with lawful good is that players tend to play these characters not as impassioned heroes but as overbearing zealots, enforcing their code of law onto everyone around them. Droves of stories exist online of the player as the lawful good paladin bullying other players, annoying the dungeon master and jumping unprepared into fights just because "there is evil to defeat!" 

We get less Superman and more Don Quixote. 

One example is when the party contains a lawful good character (Usually these are paladins so we'll stick with that) and a chaotic or neutral good rogue. They are tasked with taking down an enemy and devise a plan to take him down involving the rogue sneaking the villain's magical item off their person to make them easier to fight. The paladin, not wanting anything as dishonorable as disarming a foe, rejects the plan and continues to argue with the table that his way, a duel to the death with the dastardly villain, is the best because it has the most honor and virtue. Eventually the group either gives into the paladin's plan and laugh as he is used to repaint the villain's entrance hall with his entrails, or attempt to do their rogue's plan only for the paladin to do something in the middle of it to ruin the surprise and get the entire party killed. 

Ox In the Mire

The thing to remember about the alignments is that they're meant to be guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Without room for the character to make decisions outside their alignment boundaries the characters become flat with no room to grow. A lawful good hero isn't unthinking, quite the opposite. They'd try to find a way to satisfy both the greater good and the higher law they uphold. Knowing that the villain needs to be defeated for the people to be free, but knowing that the magic item they hold is extremely dangerous, the paladin may forego their own personal honor for the sake of the greater good (Unless they've got some weird pledge that says they have to fight every evildoer in a one-on-one fight without doing anything to gain the advantage, in which case just go play Dark Souls.). 

Three Excellent Examples of Lawful Good Done Right

Since people like to make those little charts identifying which character in a franchise is what on the alignment chart, I figured the best way to illustrate lawful good would be through some solid examples. 


We talk about Avatar the Last Airbender a lot here but dang it if it isn't just a solid show. Aang is lawful good because he adheres to his own moral code as closely as possible throughout the run of the show. The best example of this is during the last season when he's preparing to square up against Firelord Ozai and he comes to the realization that in order to defeat Ozai he will have to kill him, something that is strictly against his moral code. Aang puts considerable thought into his decision, including consulting his past Avatar lives for advice. Eventually it gets sorted out with a deus ex machina, which is a shame because I would've loved to see what Aang would've chosen had he not been given the option to just depower his nemesis. 


The head of the Knights of Pluto from Final Fantasy 9, Steiner believes fully in his duty to protect the royal family, particularly Princess Garnet. He sees anyone who would willingly go against the law to be dangerous and is constantly butting heads with the game's protagonist Zidane, a thief who helps the princess uncover the truth about her mother and kingdom. Throughout the game, Steiner is forced to choose between serving the kingdom, his lawful side, and protecting the princess, who has chosen open rebellion against her mother. After seeing evidence that the kingdom is corrupt Steiner chooses the greater good, holding to his personal code as a knight and swearing loyalty to Garnet. Steiner never lost his lawful nature, he just chose where to apply it so it could serve the greatest good. 

Thor (MCU)

Thor, particularly in his title film, is a character that becomes lawful good. At first he is more interested in personal glory, prepared to start conflict if it means that he can come out as the hero. It's only when his power is taken away and he is told he must be worthy to use it again that he begins to see the virtue of selflessness. Once Thor is willing to sacrifice himself to protect others he becomes worthy again and is fully powered. Afterwards in the films we see Thor constantly choosing to fight for Asgard and those that can't defend themselves, no longer interested in his own personal glory. During Avengers we even see him hesitate to pick up his hammer, taking a moment to center himself and make sure his actions are not for him alone but for what needs to be done, realigning himself to his own law. The part I love most about Thor is that it's not up to him to decide whether or not he's worthy, it's purely predicated on Mjolmir, and the worthiness that it deems in others. During Avengers: Endgame Thor reunites with his now destroyed weapon and is able to summon it to him, proving that despite being depressed, traumatized and retreating from the superhero life, he was still worthy. 


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