This article will explain everything you should need to know in order to understand and play the Lawful Neutral alignment. Here’s an overview of what I’ll discuss:
- What is the Lawful Neutral alignment?
- How to play a Lawful Neutral aligned character?
- Lawful Neutral examples & background ideas
- And more!
With that said, let’s start with some definitions first.
What is Lawful Neutral?
Lawful alignments are all about order. They enjoy structure, procedure, and laws. They will often support clear hierarchies and form social norms. Lawful characters defer to authority and follow tradition. They prefer stability over change, especially rapid, uncontrolled change.
Lawful creatures were originally described as creatures of habit — their reactions in any given situation can be more or less predicted. Lawful creatures may not necessarily uphold the law or even respect it; Devils are lawful because of their preference for hierarchy, punishment, and organization.
Characters who are neutral on the Good ⇄ Evil spectrum don’t care about typical notions of morality. Their conscience is not guided by the same principles as most people. These characters won’t go out of their way to help others simply for the sake of it, but also don’t take pleasure in harming others or putting others down. Neutral characters instead are directed by some other code or plan, and pursue that with ambivalence to the goings-on of others.
Lawful Neutral Definition
While Lawful Neutral characters also ascribe to values such as honor, duty, and tradition, they don’t adhere to black-and-white views of morality. They instead tend to follow an alternate code or prescribed set of principles, such as a personal dogma or religious doctrine.
Lawful Neutral characters are not averse to helping others, but their first priority is separate from benevolence. These characters respect credible authority and defer to them especially when in pursuit of the same goal.
Lawful Neutral Character Examples
Lawful Neutral characters are interesting and dynamic because of their adherence to a code—just not the code most others tend to follow. They make up the vigilantes, crusaders, undercover agents, and assassins of the world, and may outwardly appear evil. Though they have no particular need or want to put others down, they also don’t tend to go out of their way to help others without reason. In D&D, Lawful Neutral characters include loyal soldiers who follow orders, sphinxes, and the Dungeon Master themselves.
Severus Snape from Harry Potter is a perfect example of a Lawful Neutral character. He may not have been the nicest or kindest person at Hogwarts, but he wasn’t evil at heart. He followed his own code and morals, and acted on them as he saw appropriately.
Deadpool is another Lawful Neutral icon. He hovers firmly in the gray area between good and evil, and more often than not completely eschews both the formal law and the rules set out by groups like the X-Men. However, he diligently follows his own position on good and evil and fights to uphold it.
Ashoka Tano is Star Wars’s most prolific Lawful Neutral character. She has eschewed the ideals and morals of the Jedi, but instead of falling to the Dark Side, has taken to upholding her own personal values and principles. In doing so she defaults strongly to her internal compass and defends it rigorously.
Lawful Neutral Quotes
“Justice is incidental to law and order.”J. Edgar Hoover
“The Code is the law.”Captain Teague (Pirates of the Caribbean)
“Want? Agree? That has nothing to do with it. The law is the law.”Michael Garibaldi (Babylon 5)
“The law? Commander, laws change depending on who’s making them. Cardassians one day, Federation the next. But justice is justice.”Odo (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
“Fame… justice… I’m not interested in either. A woman was murdered. I’m out to find the killer. That’s all.”Inspector Lunge (Monster)
Lawful Neutral Character Background Ideas
Lawful Neutral characters come with some of the most built-in depth of all the alignments, because of the personal code that comes packaged with them. However, in order for this personality to be realistic, players should do two main things:
- Clearly define the character’s code.
- Root the code firmly in their background.
In other words, players should ask themselves: What is my code? What purpose does it serve? Where did it come from?
Here are some background examples that answer these questions and might spark your inspiration.
Whether by some great crime or other foil, you suffered or witnessed a great injustice. You have seen where the law falls short, situations it can’t reach, places where it is abused. It is your mission to protect the weak and the innocent, and anyone else you deem worthy, whether the law would recognize them or not. You act within the law when you can, but your internal code and compass are paramount when deciding how to act.
Player’s Handbook Background suggestion: Criminal (page 129) or Urchin (page 141)
Honor Among Thieves
You don’t follow the law. In fact, you break it routinely — you do whatever you have to do to survive. But you aren’t some petty crook; you and your crewmates, if any, follow a strict set of rules. Maybe you only take from those who would hardly notice things missing anyway, or only steal from those who deserve it. Whoever your targets are, you definitely don’t steal from your friends, and if you’re caught, remember: don’t say anything.
Player’s Handbook Background suggestion: Criminal (page 129)
Whether you’re employed by the Kingdom as a soldier or guard, or are part of a shadowy intelligence organization, or even a librarian hunting down lost and stolen books, you are loyal to your employer. Your mission is your top priority, as well as fulfilling your organization’s mandates. You don’t go out of your way to put people down or to help them, especially if it would interfere with your objective. You’ll do whatever it takes to succeed. Furthermore, you don’t fail, and you don’t make mistakes.
Player’s Handbook Background suggestion: Soldier (page 140)
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.
Lawful Neutral Traits
While Lawful Neutral characters are incredibly diverse in their doctrines, they each share an amount of common ground. No Lawful Neutral character needs to follow any one of these traits, but they’re a good starting point in figuring out who they are.
Lawful Neutral characters are loyal to their creed first and foremost. They make friends, and can be persuaded to help others, but their first priority is completing their mission or following their prescribed code. If they’re ever confident someone else is dedicated to the same cause, they come to trust them implicitly.
Doggedness is a common feature for the Lawful Neutral alignment. While many characters are willing to have leeway in their interpretation of the law or morality, Lawful Neutral characters’ code comes from within, and thus they are firmly bonded to it. They don’t often compromise, and their strictness can often get them into trouble.
Passionate — and Dispassionate
While these characters are firm and dedicated to their doctrine, outsiders often view them as heartless or lacking compassion. The plight of others is, if not irrelevant, secondary to all other concerns. The best way to persuade a Lawful Neutral character to help is by convincing them that their code demands it.
Lawful Neutral characters play their cards close to their chest. More often than not their code comes from within, meaning they’re confident only they are right, and everyone else is wrong. It’s not easy to get past a Lawful Neutral character’s defensive shell. However, once you do, you’ve found a steadfast ally.
Because of the confidence innate in many Lawful Neutral characters, they’re often hot-headed. They know what to do and how, and will rush in with a plan of action even if it wasn’t discussed. They might not be team players, but the pure violence of their action can be effective when combined with the element of surprise.
Lawful Neutral characters stick to their cause and tend to go where it takes them. As a result, they’re rarely attached to a particular home, base of operations, or set of possessions. However, some characters incorporate a location into their creed or their mission, at which point it becomes as important to them as the code itself.
How to Play Lawful Neutral Characters
Lawful Neutral characters are difficult to play because they’re often not seen as team players. In order to build a cohesive group, you need to find a reason to bind your character to the others as well as to their cause. While your character may inflexible, you as a player should remain flexible for the sake of the game. Ask yourself: How can I incorporate this goal and this group into my code? How can this party help me carry out my mission?
Below are some more tips on how to play Lawful Neutral characters.
What to Do?
Lawful Neutral characters are defined by their code, and roleplaying them is most effective when you frame their experience by it. For example:
- Seek a satisfying resolution. Fight for what your character believes in, and push the world and NPCs until you achieve it. If you can’t quite make it, consider reframing the result so it better fits your code.
- Work together. Even if those around you don’t share your ideals, they might still be useful tools in reaching them.
- Respect others than their codes, and the law of the land. Even if a set of rules or laws doesn’t serve your mission or your personal creed, if it doesn’t directly go against what you believe in, better to live and let live. If you aren’t enemies, you can coexist.
What Not to Do?
- Don’t bring gameplay to a halt because of your unbending will. D&D is a game, after all, and you have to be able to move forward. Just like with any character, if your DM gives you an objective, find a way to make your character want to complete it.
- Don’t cause unnecessary strife. Just because your creed is the most important thing to you doesn’t mean it has to consume the game. When you’re hunting the largest injustices, sometimes you have to let the little things go. Lawful Good characters are the greatest “big thinkers.”
- Don’t ignore the code. While in D&D fun always comes first, it weakens your roleplay power if you give up on your code because it doesn’t fit a setting, story, or group. Explore it instead. What does that mean for your character? Might they have to give up on the code? Or adapt it? Or adopt a new one altogether? Your character always has room for growth, and growth is healthy for the game. Embrace it.
Lawful Neutral VS Other Alignments
Lawful Neutral characters don’t make the best friends and teammates, but they make strong allies. Over time, there are few relationships whose bonds are stronger. The following explores typical relationships between Lawful Neutral and other alignments.
Lawful Neutral VS Lawful Good
Lawful Neutral characters often work well with Lawful Good ones. They both value structure, rules, and laws, and while they might not agree on the finer points, they often work towards the same general outcome: namely justice, peace, and order.
Their relationship begins to break down where they come at odds about the more serious issues of morality, large discrepancies of which are clear in their respective doctrines. Lawful Good characters tend to see the world in black and white whereas Lawful Neutral ones in shades of gray; Lawful Good characters often rigidly follow conventional laws and rules, whereas Lawful Neutral individuals can eschew them in favor of their mission or code. They often work through their conflict in the service of a common good.
A clear relationship example is the one between the typical new, “green” police officer and his grizzled, veteran partner. The one (Lawful Good) strictly and at times blindly follows the rules in service of traditional values of good and evil. The other (Lawful Neutral) has developed a personal code after years on the job. Therefore, it disregards the law when they feel it’s irrelevant, seeking out the justice they find important and meaningful.
Lawful Neutral VS Neutral Good
Lawful Neutral characters form perhaps the tightest bonds with Neutral Good ones. Generally, the latter have the same overarching values and goals as the former, while they aren’t particularly concerned about specific rules or laws in the way of obtaining them.
Neutral Good characters are often content going along with Lawful Neutral ones as long as they’re generally going in the right direction. In these relationships, Neutral Good characters often defer to Lawful Neutral ones.
James Bond and Felix Leiter represent a perfect Lawful Neutral and Neutral Good relationship. Suave, confident James Bond follows his own internal compass and code when interacting with others, often putting himself at a disadvantage in order to stay aligned with his ideals. Felix Leiter and Bond’s other associates, however, are firmly in the pursuit of good. Although, as a spies, they often disregard conventional laws and norms to get the job done.
Lawful Neutral VS Chaotic Good
Chaotic Good characters usually tend to get in the way of Lawful Neutral ones. They tend to follow a positive direction morally, but often they violate most other rules and requirements in the Lawful Neutral guidebook. They’re uncontrollable, and Lawful Neutral individuals have difficulty partnering with those so different from their beliefs. Lawful Neutral characters constantly try to enforce structure, where Chaotic Good characters actively fight against it.
However, Lawful Neutral characters will often concede some level of value in these counterparts: they can do things Lawful Neutral characters can’t (at least, not without breaking their code). Thus, they can form uneasy partnerships when the current mission is of paramount importance.
While Tony Stark (Ironman) never much liked Peter Quill or the other Guardians of the Galaxy, their Chaotic Good nature proved indispensable in contrast to his Lawful Neutral one. They provided perspective, experience, and unpredictability that was key in overcoming certain obstacles, and while their methods were often haywire, they could always be trusted to do the right thing. Except that one time.
Lawful Neutral VS Lawful Neutral
Oddly, Lawful Neutral characters are often most at odds with others of the same alignment. Their constant conflict comes from their equally unerring loyalty to their own cause and, often, the disparity between each other’s.
Neither character wants to defer to the other; neither is willing to give up on their own ideals. While they might both be on the same side, their unfaltering adherence to their own strict code makes it difficult to reconcile both the ends and the means of any particular mission.
A police officer and an FBI agent represent well the Lawful Neutral / Lawful Neutral relationship. They both respect, follow, and uphold the laws of the land, and the law is paramount, even perhaps to specific questions of morality. They can work well together, but when one gets in the way of the other’s case, they can easily turn into bitter rivals.
Lawful Neutral VS True Neutral
Lawful Neutral characters and True Neutral ones tend to work together only when it’s convenient. True Neutral characters very rarely care for a Lawful Neutral code or set of principles and will disregard them whenever they please, or when it’s no longer convenient to follow.
Lawful Neutral characters will rarely trust True Neutral ones, because they don’t tend to conform to a set of rules at all. However, when they come to better understand the motivations of the True Neutral character, they can come to respect them and find common ground.
For example, an aimless nomad may join with a determined bounty hunter in their mission for a time. However, if they discover a direction that benefits them more, or if the bounty hunter becomes more trouble than they’re worth, they’ll cease to work well together. The bounty hunter, on the other hand, will appreciate an extra set of eyes and hands but won’t rely on their ally.
Lawful Neutral VS Chaotic Neutral
These characters have very little in common. They can work together when necessary, because Chaotic Neutral characters rarely have an overarching or sinister agenda, but their fast willingness to eschew morals, principles, and structure make the partnership uneasy at best.
Lawful Neutral characters wouldn’t likely feel the need to control them, but would become frustrated when they get in the way. While their coupled brashness might get them in trouble, these two characters also form quite the force to be reckoned with.
A Lawful Neutral White Hat (benevolent) hacker might team up with a skilled hacker with less noble motivations (Chaotic Neutral) on a specific mission or goal, but their partnership will always be strained and is unlikely to last long. The one has specific, clear goals and a code they follow; the other likes to use their expertise to satisfy their curiosity, poking around where they aren’t allowed and causing damage when it amuses them.
Lawful Neutral VS Lawful Evil
Lawful Neutral characters share a lot of characteristics with Lawful Evil ones. While they’re often on different sides of the moral compass, they both tend to share a personal code, and believe in structure and order. Morality often comes second to both of these characters, so when viewed from the lens of their dogma and doctrine, they are quite similar.
They would have no problem working together when their goals align and moving on when they don’t. They don’t share any innate animosity, but can become quickly and firmly at odds when their ethics and ideals clash.
Self-serving mercenaries such as Gamora and Nebula represent Lawful Neutral characters in their relationship with the Lawful Evil Thanos. Thanos is a powerful ally to have when he’s on your side, and for a time it served them to do so; however, eventually their motivations failed to line up, and they became dedicated enemies.
Lawful Neutral VS Neutral Evil
These villains rarely hold much appeal to Lawful Neutral characters. Motivated purely by selfish gain, with little to no standards or rules as to how they go about achieving it, Neutral Evil characters are immediately seen as a threat to the Lawful Neutral character. They will quickly and easily be at odds, and it’s unlikely they’d be able to form a partnership.
The Neutral Evil character views the Lawful Neutral as strict and inflexible, whereas the Lawful Neutral character views the other as aimless and unguided.
Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings series is a perfect example of a Lawful Neutral character at odds with the Neutral Evil villain Sauron. Gandalf’s personal beliefs and code are completely irrelevant to Sauron, who seeks power in any way he can get it. Gandalf is personally and deeply opposed to Sauron and would readily see him deposed.
Lawful Neutral VS Chaotic Evil
These two alignments are diametrically opposed. Chaotic Evil characters would seek to violate every aspect of a Lawful Neutral code 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, on the other hand, seeks to cause damage, and is motivated only by hedonism. It is nearly impossible for the two to find common ground.
The Lawful Neutral alignment is a favourite among soldiers and paladins, and slots nicely into a group of Good characters to give them a broader perspective. While it can be difficult to design at first, their personal code makes for a strong roleplaying backbone, something that you can fall back on when you need to.
However, it also leaves room for growth, and even dramatic temperature shifts—for example, the Oathbreaker Paladin subclass. Overall, Lawful Neutral is a fun and relatively simple alignment to play, and a staple for newcomers to D&D.
For an overview of the other alignments, check our D&D Alignment Guide.