We sink ever deeper through morality and into cruelty, malice, desire placed above need, ambition put before consideration, ends always justifying the means.. It’s important to recognise here that the most evil amongst us are the ones who don’t consider themselves evil, perhaps they are just motivated enough pursuing their goals to overlook the damage they might be doing, or perhaps they feel as if they are doing the right thing, and those who try and stop them are being unjust. Or perhaps their malevolence is born of some great injustice done to them, real or perceived.
Oh how I love a good villain.
So while I quietly persuade myself not to get too political, let’s take a look into what can earn someone the label of Lawful Evil.
The Tyranny of Contracts
Most often when discussing a Lawful Evil character you hear people say “the letter of the law”, generally those who use the rules of a system to their advantage, twist the very laws laid out to protect individual rights to subjugate and to dominate. This system works best when dealing with characters who have placed themselves in a position to understand exactly what laws they’re manipulating and to twist their meaning to serve their purpose. It’s the very letter of lawful evil, but narrows the options for the character’s role, especially within a group dynamic.
Remember that “Law” is a highly subjective term when it comes to the moral alignment system, and can be applied to whatever code, oath, or governance to which your character has pledged themselves. Corporations, guilds, and religions may not deem an elected official to uphold a law worth following, and the agents of such organisations might murder, steal, and subjugate without discrimination to support the aims of their superiors or further their own cause, so long as in doing so they do not contravene the tenets that they have chosen to uphold.
As a prime example, take the classic “Inquisitor” style character, a torturer led by dogma to a zealous crusade against perceived evil-doers such as witches and heretics, blinded by faith to the despair of innocent victims left behind. They might see themselves as just, an obedient servant doing what they “know” to be right, but others may disagree fiercely with that perspective.
A Pile to Stand On
Above all an LE character respects the need for order. The prospect of rebellion and disarray leaves the LE character without prospects to rise and dominate. For those who are innately strong and powerful chaos may seem the reasonable option, but to work your way to the top of an organisation requires guile and cunning, making it a more appealing prospect for the weak and manipulative. A Chaotic character might seek to overthrow a governing force altogether and reinstate something more to their taste, where LE would rather rise above the system and mould it in their image.
That’s not to say of course that an LE’s character is only ever to strive for the top of their chosen organisation; to rule may be a beguiling option, but so long as following the rules serves your needs then let all else fall by the wayside. An imperial stormtrooper might be considered evil by inaction, being a soldier to an oppressive force and gunning down whoever stands between you and completing your orders without question is evil whether intentionally so or otherwise.
Ultimately what a Lawful Evil character lives to serve is some kind of order, be it one of their own design or simply one that makes sense. They may serve without question, placing the needs of the organisation, country, or superiors over any other concerns such as life and freedom; or they may aspire to dominance and control, looking to enforce their worldviews on everyone, no matter the greater good or wishes of others.
Any number of futuristic dystopias embody the essence of Lawful Evil in its most obvious form. Without going into detail, a few quick examples; the emotionally repressive Tetragrammaton and Father from Equilibrium (2002), the classist order of the train under Engineer Wilford from Snowpiercer, the genetically driven government of the Combine from Half Life. All of these are classic and increasingly unoriginal examples – not to say that they’re bad examples, they’re just a little obvious for my purposes.
Sat in an office cubicle at his 9-5 dead end job, he takes the opportunity to remove the dead end in front of him. A few e-mails printed from the supervisor’s account anonymously dropped onto her boss’s desk on office stationary and suddenly there’s an opening on the next rung of the ladder and an application for the position well under way. Hopefully no one else gets the job before he does, it’d be a shame for someone else to suffer the same fate.
The dreaded paladin Kore from Goblins is an exterminator of all things perceptibly evil; goblins, orcs, trolls, or anyone associating with or tainted by their influence. This has led him to entering a tavern filled with creatures peacefully living free lives and killing every single one, and when Kore finds a small dwarf child amongst them he comforts the boy, assuring him that while he has scoured the impure from around him, he cannot risk that their influence has cut too deeply, so killing the little boy is a mercy.
It’s just a job. She stands and watches as heavy set men and women remove the boxes from the ship and load them into her cargo bay, once again she brandishes the clipboard at the debtor as he pleads for his family, but facts are facts. The stock now vacating his ship was being transported illegally as he had not paid his fees for shipping lanes, he was no better than the smugglers and raiders in trackless space, exploiting the hard work of Regency operatives like her and her bailiffs.