This article will explain everything you should need to know in order to understand and play the Chaotic Evil alignment. Here’s an overview of what I’ll discuss:
- What is the Chaotic Evil alignment?
- How to play a Chaotic Evil aligned character
- Chaotic Evil examples & background ideas
- And more!
With that said, let’s start with some definitions first.
What is Chaotic Evil Alignment?
Characters who are chaotic on the Lawful ⇄ Chaotic spectrum not only disregard laws and norms set out by society, but often actively seek to break them. These laws are seen as a constraint on freedom and creative expression and therefore deserve to be broken.
These characters put their own freedoms and beliefs over all else. They generally believe that order is a constraint no matter whom it serves—everyone deserves freedom. They believe that the ends justify the means, and that sacrifice and collateral damage are often necessary to achieve their aims.
Evil characters have no respect for others. They are willing to cause or inflict hardship, up to and including death, when it suits them. Some take pleasure in harming others, and do it for the sake of exerting their power, while others simply have no qualms about collateral damage in search of their goals.
Evil characters are not bonded to notions of the greater good and justice for all. Instead, they typically pursue personal wealth and power, at great cost to others and little cost to themselves. They aren’t willing to make sacrifices unless there is a high return.
Chaotic Evil Definition
Chaotic Evil characters are generally considered the most despicable of characters. They cause pain and suffering without rhyme or reason, simply because they enjoy it. They enjoy causing pain simply for the value of doing so, and seek ways to profit off of the suffering of others.
These characters are entirely selfish and hedonistic and pursue whatever they want, whenever they want. When in positions of power they are unpredictable and ill-suited leaders because they are unconcerned with their image or uniting their forces.
Characters in Chaotic Evil alignment are perhaps the most dangerous; for example, while a Lawful Evil tyrant might seize the castle of an enemy or neutral party, a Chaotic Evil one would raze it to the ground for no reason other than simply to do so.
Chaotic Evil Character Examples
Chaotic Evil characters are not as common villains as one might at first think. It’s hard to build a story around them and have it remain interesting and meaningful, because it’s easy for it to seem like it’s just chaos for chaos’s sake. Such motivations often feel shallow. It’s even more difficult to make a Chaotic Evil protagonist, because they are frequently adverse to most people’s interests. Here are some examples, however, of Chaotic Evil characters done well.
Hannibal Lecter is the perfect example of a Chaotic Evil character. Despite his use of subterfuge, he kills whom he wants, when he wants, and in the most horrific of ways. He often enjoys causing suffering—both physically and mentally—as he puts his victims on display.
The Matrix’s Agent Smith is another archetypal Chaotic Evil character; he is motivated by a want to destroy life and existence and will stop at nothing to achieve it. There is nothing Agent Smith won’t do to crush the life around him.
Similarly motivated, Marvel’s Doctor Doom wants not to destroy everything, but rather to own everything. Doctor Doom believes effectively in the divine right of kings, and that he is the only true king; everything in the universe thus is rightfully his, and he will stop at nothing to take it all, even if it means causing death and destruction along the way.
Chaotic Evil Quotes
It’s hard to find logic and reason in the things Chaotic Evil characters say. They, like Sith, often deal in absolutes, and are unwaveringly confident in their convictions. Here are some things the most prolific of Chaotic Evil characters have said:
“The purpose of life is to end.”Agent Smith (The Matrix)
“Metropolis belongs to me. The people are mine, to nurture, or destroy.”Lex Luthor (Marvel)
“Fire and chaos are coming. And I am the lord of chaos!”Loki (Marvel)
“My Lord, I’d like to volunteer for this task. I want to kill the boy.”Bellatrix Lestrange (Harry Potter)
“Do I look like a guy with a plan?”The Joker (Batman: The Dark Knight Rises)
“I’m doing exactly what I want to do, and I’m having fun doing it.”David Johansen
Chaotic Evil Character Background Ideas
Chaotic Evil characters must have a background that lends them a complete lack of moral compass as well as absolute self-motivation. These characters have incredibly strong wills and convictions and will stop at nothing to attain their sinister goals. The following are some example backgrounds for Chaotic Evil characters.
Leadership Through Strength
Pirates, bandits, and other brigand bands are united by strength, and only the strongest can become those leaders. In order to rise above the ranks you must prove your mettle, often by fighting those stronger than you and defeating them. You take what you want, when you want, because you have the power to do so—it’s nothing personal.
Player’s Handbook Background suggestion: Criminal (page 129), Sailor/Pirate (page 139)
Taken Advantage of No Longer
Your whole life, you’ve been used. By your employers, by the state, by the world itself. You’ve given everything either willingly or by force. Perhaps you lived to serve, or perhaps servitude was a life into which you were forced. But no longer. Now you’re the one who will take—whatever you want, whenever you want, by force if you have to.
Player’s Handbook Background suggestion: Charlatan (page 128), Urchin (page 141)
Can you be considered morally evil if you’re not entirely in control of your actions? With some sort of madness consuming your mind, your actions are disorganized, wanton, and often horrible. You lash out and cause pain not because you want to, but because you don’t know any other way. Some part of you doesn’t want to do the things you do, you want to escape, but you can’t do it alone.
Player’s Handbook Background suggestion: Folk Hero (page 131), Sage (page 137)
As you’ve seen, I’ve mentioned the Player’s Handbook several times. That’s because it’s an essential reference guide for every D&D player. If you don’t already have one, you can get one on Amazon.
Chaotic Evil Traits
Chaotic Evil characters can be identified by a number of distinct traits, many of which are shared between entirely disparate characters. These traits help to represent them in both their lack of morality and their selfish, chaotic nature.
Chaotic Evil characters rarely have a plan, and take things one step at a time. This makes it difficult to predict their actions but also makes them less effective in achieving more complicated goals.
More than any other character, Chaotic Evil characters are completely selfish and often believe anything they want is rightfully theirs, no matter what it costs to get it. They will take from others rich or poor for their own gain.
Chaotic Evil characters don’t bother by the goings-on around them, including setbacks to their own aims. Such events are all part of the push-and-pull of the world, and these characters are confident enough to believe they’ll recover no matter the obstacle.
These characters have an infallible conviction. It’s normal for most people to question themselves and their beliefs even in a minimal sense. However, in order for Chaotic Evil characters to live with their actions, they must be utterly convinced that they are right, in everything, and any cost is worth the gain.
How to Play Chaotic Evil Characters
Chaotic Evil alignment is perhaps the most complex to play as a player character. Not only are they evil and selfish and unconcerned with the plights of the world, their chaotic and unpredictable nature makes them difficult teammates. Even in an “evil campaign,” they are like to betray their party at the briefest moment. Here are some tips for playing Chaotic Evil characters.
What to Do
- Flesh out your background. Frankly, if the entirety of your character is “chaos” and “evil,” it will be a boring character. This can be more interesting if you define your motivations in more detail. You can do so by developing a backstory and learning where your character’s personality came from.
- Find a reason to participate. Unlike video games, it’s critical in D&D to be a team player, and work with your party to form a cohesive team. Even if that means not playing characters who don’t meet that standard. If you choose to play this alignment, find some reason you’re part of this group, else you only inhibit the fun of those around you.
- Be prepared to make concessions. The Chaotic Evil archetype may not fit with other characters’ playstyles, and as a player, you don’t have a right to play whatever you want. Be good to the people at your table, and work together. This way, everyone can have fun. If you’re dead-set on the Chaotic Evil playstyle, there are countless videogames that may be a better fit.
What Not to Do
- Don’t create conflict for conflict’s sake. I’ve said this for each chaotic alignment now, but it holds true here, too. D&D is a cooperative game, and by its nature, characters need to be cohesive in some way. Working against the party’s interests can be fun and intriguing, but when it’s all the time, with every decision, it can become exhausting.
- Don’t play an antagonist. Similarly, remember that good or evil, you are the protagonist of the game—not the main villain. Different DMs have different rules. Nevertheless, I firmly believe if your character becomes as or more evil than the campaign’s Big Bad Evil Guy, your character may just transition to NPC status and become the next BBEG.
- Don’t justify actions with “it’s what my character would do”. Playing your character is great and encouraged in most games. However, it’s your responsibility to create a character that’s fun for everyone at the table.
Chaotic Evil and Other Alignments
Chaotic Evil VS Lawful Good
Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil characters are on polar opposite sides of the spectrum and are arch nemeses. Chaotic Evil characters are the antithesis to everything Lawful Good characters stand for, they can’t be controlled, and they can seldom be redeemed.
Not only do Lawful Good characters despise Chaotic Evil, but they struggle to work against them because they have difficulty understanding them. They are unpredictable and display pure, unadulterated selfishness and cruelty.
Chaotic Evil is so difficult for Lawful Good characters to handle, they are like to bring out the flaws in the Lawful Good alignment. They can even evoke hatred and fury, as they tear down everything Lawful Good characters seek to uphold.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron displays these two opposing forces perfectly. The (generally) Lawful Good Avengers oppose Ultron, a Chaotic Evil villain who seeks nothing but power and world domination, at any cost, and who enjoys causing pain and suffering.
Chaotic Evil VS Lawful Neutral
These two alignments are diametrically opposed. Chaotic Evil characters would seek to violate every aspect of a Lawful Neutral code. Just for the sake of it, and laugh at the idea of a set of personal principles. To them, the only meaningful pursuit is personal gain and power.
To the Lawful Neutral character, they are a heinous villain who not only stands for everything they stand against but is also holds an abhorrent personality. They are unpredictable and hard to combat, and Lawful Neutral characters would stand against them if given the chance.
In a simple example, a construction site security guard (Lawful Neutral) is at constant odds with the wanton vandal (Chaotic Evil). The guard isn’t paid to uphold the values of good and evil—only to protect property and follow their company mandate. The vandal, however, seeks to cause damage; their motivation hedonism. It is nearly impossible for the two to find common ground.
Chaotic Evil VS Lawful Evil
Lawful Evil characters despise Chaotic Evil ones because of their penchant for causing chaos. Lawful Evil characters build their careers on order and careful planning, and Chaotic Evil ones not only eschew those structures completely, but often actively seek to tear them down.
Sometimes Chaotic Evil characters can be effective tools for Lawful Evil ones. Either as distractions or as weapons (i.e., pointing them in the direction of an obstacle and pulling the trigger), but often they get in the way and make it difficult for them to enact their carefully laid out plans.
DC’s Penguin is a Lawful Evil villain who seeks to control the criminal underworld through a clear hierarchy and structure. The Joker, however, thrives on anarchy and chaos. He doesn’t care if he tears down the police department or a criminal organization. Joker is just as dangerous to other criminals as he is to law-abiding citizens, though he doesn’t care about either: he just wants chaos.
Chaotic Evil VS Neutral Good
Chaotic Evil characters are unsurprisingly at odds with Neutral Good characters, like most others. They do not follow the same goals, and tend to use more severe methods than Neutral Good characters can justify.
While Chaotic Evil characters will chaos any amount of damage to continue with their machinations, Neutral Good characters will be willing to do whatever must be done to stop them. Chaotic Evil characters may enjoy bringing out the darker side of Neutral Good characters, and use that to compromise their credibility with others.
James Bond is a perfect example of a Neutral Good character while at odds with his many Spectre enemies. James Bond is willing to cause some damage to complete the mission. However, when he’s antagonized by the villain Blofeld, for example, his rage causes him to cut corners and hurt more people than he normally would have in order to take him down.
Chaotic Evil VS True Neutral
Chaotic Evil characters cause trouble for most other characters, True Neutral ones included. However, unless their actions violate some core doctrine, True Neutral characters are still typically intent on letting bygones be bygones. That is, unless the Chaotic Evil actions begin to infringe upon the True Neutral tenets, at which point the violent actions of the former make them sworn enemies of the latter.
The classic druid/eco-warrior versus logging company exemplifies this relationship. The True Neutral character just wants to preserve nature and the forest, whereas the logging company wants to raze it to the ground for profits. The two are nemeses and will never see eye to eye. Conflict will always arise between them.
Chaotic Evil VS Neutral Evil
Many evil characters oppose one another due to the competition between these goals, and this relationship is no exception. Chaotic Evil characters are especially troublesome to Neutral Evil ones because of their chaotic and unpredictable nature often ruining carefully-laid plans.
However, when it’s mutually beneficial, the two can work together to bring greater benefit to each than either could individually.
One of the most famous examples of this type of partnership is between Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. The latter is a villain whose focus mainly revolve around the environment, and typically relies on subtle methods. Harley Quinn, on the other hand, clearly embraces her chaotic and violent side often. Despite their differences, the two work together as an effective team, ultimately forming a romance.
Chaotic Evil VS Chaotic Good
Chaotic Good characters oppose Chaotic Evil ones. While Chaotic Good characters are willing to cause harm and damage when the outcome is greater than the consequence, the latter go out of their way to harm others and enjoy doing it. They are exactly the sort that Chaotic Good characters despise.
The two will hardly see eye-to-eye, except in that Chaotic characters will always find some level of kinship with one another, as they see some acts as necessary that others would view as despicable.
Thor represents a Chaotic Good character while Loki—at least, before his redemption—represents a Chaotic Evil one. The two brothers are consistently at odds. They both have wild and unpredictable methods and often wreak havoc in their respective exploits. However, Thor ultimately seeks to uphold freedom and aid others while Loki takes pleasure in sowing chaos, confusion, and madness.
Chaotic Evil VS Chaotic Neutral
Chaotic Neutral characters dislike Chaotic Evil ones because they often interfere with their aims. On the other hand, Chaotic Evil characters care nothing for others and will frequently go out of their way to disrupt others’ lives and plans. So despite both archetypes’ chaotic nature, they’re at odds. Chaotic Neutral characters may only care for themselves, but they don’t feel the need to go out of their way to harm others, unlike Evil ones.
Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean series is the perfect example of a Chaotic Neutral character. He encounters many Chaotic Evil villains in his journeys that seek to do harm to him and others, and fights them not because he’s kind and a do-gooder, but because they interfere with his self-serving life goals.
Chaotic Evil VS Chaotic Evil
Chaotic Evil characters despise one another, because each believes they are the one person who is right and everyone else is wrong. They are willing to stab anyone in the back when it’s convenient, and know other Chaotic Evil characters will do the same. They may form uneasy alliances when it’s convenient, but they also know that only one will ever come out on top.
A perfect Chaotic Evil group dynamic is Joker and the bank robbers in The Dark Knight. They are all selfish and chaotic criminals seeking to rob a bank, and though they don’t fully trust one another, they work together to complete the job. Ultimately, Joker manipulates each one into killing another, leaving him as the only remaining bank robber, with the entirety of the profits.
Alignment is complex, diverse, and difficult to represent properly. Of all the chaotic and evil alignments, Chaotic Evil is the most difficult to play and represent, because it often manifests itself in the realm of traditional, nonsensical villains, not protagonists.
However, when played correctly with thought put into the character’s background, they can provide an interesting dynamic—with room for a redemption arc.