Being Lawful and following the 'law of the land'


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


At what point dow a lawful character need to stop following the 'law of the land'?

Is there a point where a lawful character simply has to break the law in order to do what needs to be done? This includes, but is certainly not limited to an evil empire with opressive and even down right evil laws.

Where does a Lawful character, especailly a Lawful Neutral one, get his or her laws from, does the lawful character maintain the laws of where he was born, or does this need to swithc to fit the 'Laws of the Land' he or she is currently in.


It is a fundamental principle of moral philosophy that an unjust law is not a law. Not obeying an unjust law is a right and a moral duty.


Mark Chance wrote:
It is a fundamental principle of moral philosophy that an unjust law is not a law. Not obeying an unjust law is a right and a moral duty.

This is only true if you are a moral person. A tall lawful evil person will happily follow a law that says you can take money from anyone who is shorter then you.

To the original question you need to look at the character as a whole. A lawful good person will behave differently then a lawful evil or lawful neutral character.

A lawful person will try an follow the law. When he does not like a law he will try and change that law or work around that law while still being within the law. (Think loophole).

As to where he gets his "law" I think that is more of an RP thing. Did he/she swear an oath to some group or nation? If so that is the "higher law". Otherwise a person will probably just follow the laws of their homeland and society. When they travel they will try and follow the laws of their host. But when local laws conflict with your characters oaths or societal laws that is where you have to make a decision based upon RP.

Not all lawful people are bluntly honest. Some tell white lies. There is room for a grey area when you are not playing a class with a rigid oath even if they are lawful.


Darkfire Knight wrote:

At what point dow a lawful character need to stop following the 'law of the land'?

Is there a point where a lawful character simply has to break the law in order to do what needs to be done? This includes, but is certainly not limited to an evil empire with opressive and even down right evil laws.

Where does a Lawful character, especailly a Lawful Neutral one, get his or her laws from, does the lawful character maintain the laws of where he was born, or does this need to swithc to fit the 'Laws of the Land' he or she is currently in.

I think this is even MORE of a dilemma for LG characters. LE characters will just shrug and find ways to manipulate the law. LN may just accept the law as is because, well, it's the law. But the LG character has two very compelling motivations which may be, and often are, at odds with eaxh other. Which one takes precedence? Philosophers and theologians have been debating that for Millenia. Furthermore, when addressing the law, and whether to break it for the cause of good, are we talking about the law of the land or our own personal code of honor? Perhaps one is more easily broken than the other. And for what good ends? for the good of an entire society? For the benefit of one particular victim of evil? For the sake of "Good" as a general principal?

In the end, I think these are questions best left to the characters and their players, to be discussed with and challenged by their DM, and should not be a fixed set of priorities and dictums set forth as the definitive guide to Lawful Good behavior -- unless, of course, the PC follows a code that has such a set. ;-)


When I ran a World War II/D&D game, I explained that lawful characters do not have to follow the legal code of Nazi Germany. Lawful good characters, especially, would be judged based on the universal code of ethics, not on Nazi Germany's.

I didn't elaborate beyond that because I didn't think it necessary. Elaborating, I would say that switching legal codes on a whim would be chaotic, so a lawful character, whether good, neutral, or evil, would have to go be a code, which may or may not be the code of the country in which reside.

The nature of things is that if a character is lawful good, and is in a country which has a lawful good government, then I really can not think of an instance where there would be a major conflict. Perhaps a lawful good character might have to take some action that is illegal, especially since the written legal code always has to imperfectly represent The Truth.

In my mind, a lawful character is one who follows _A_ lawful code, but it need not correspond to one followed by the country in which he was born, resides in, or is passing through. A lawful character might legally shift allegiance to a new country, for lawful reasons, in which case the new code would apply. An example would be the many Nazi officers who switched allegiance to the Communists when Germany lost the War.

Another consideration is that the laws of a country are not always lawful. In my homebrew of Audor, they are more of a Neutral Good nature, specifically carving out areas where laws do not apply, including freedom of religion. My study of Nazi Germany indicates that it was really a Chaotic Evil regime with only three laws: 1) Adolf Hitler is in charge. 2) The rules may be changed at any time, with or without notice. 3) If any questions arise, see Rule #1.

Even if a lawful character lawfully opposes the laws of the nation he is in, that is not license to do whatever he wants. A paladin in Nazi Germany, for example, would still need to refrain from wanton violence and destruction of property.


OK, so at what point does a Lawful character risk an alignment change?

Wouldn't a PC playing a Lawful Neutral character need to have something set up before hand that would dictate his or her 'Lawfulness'?

Does he or she act diferently if from a kingdom that leans more to Evil than one that is form a kingdom that leans more toward good?

How does that PC intigrate into a new kingdom with totally different laws. Let's be extreme and say he ro she was born where slavery was unheard of, then comes to one where it is commonplace and even normal.

Does this PC fight agianst it, or does he or she simply accept it and never own one out of the morality of where he or she was born.

Or even worse, a Lawful Nuetral PC who has broken the law unknowingly and is imprisoned or enslaved. Does he or she accept this or does fighting agianst it change his or her alignment.


Darkfire Knight wrote:

At what point dow a lawful character need to stop following the 'law of the land'?

Is there a point where a lawful character simply has to break the law in order to do what needs to be done? This includes, but is certainly not limited to an evil empire with opressive and even down right evil laws.

Where does a Lawful character, especailly a Lawful Neutral one, get his or her laws from, does the lawful character maintain the laws of where he was born, or does this need to swithc to fit the 'Laws of the Land' he or she is currently in.

The further away from Lawful the law gets the more likely a Lawful character would be to break it.


You have to look at the context of the character. For example, a LN character who switches allegiance because his code says to support the winner is being Lawful in switching allegiance. A LN character who feels that who wins is not important, but switches allegiance anyway for the opportunity commits a chaotic act, but if that is the only chaotic act, may still retain a LN alignment. A character who routinely switches allegiance whenever it is useful to do so would probably drift to a Neutral alignment.

Since 3E came out, I've instituted a policy of not telling players what their PCs' alignment is unless there is a spell effect or class ability that determines this. For PCs with an alignment restriction, I'll warn if this alignment is in danger, but otherwise I will just note what I figure their alignment is based on what they do.

In the case of the PC moving from a non-slave to a slave nation, that would depend on the PC's background and own code of laws. A LN or even a LE PC might have ingrained a rule that you don't keep slaves, and so would avoid keeping slaves. A LN PC might even have a rule that slavers should be stopped at every opportunity, in which case breaking the law to free slaves and/or disrupt slavers would still be a lawful, albiet illegal, thing to do.

An LG character might have a prohibition: slavery always bad. Or the LG character might note whether or not it would be helpful to try to free slaves/disrupt slavers. Or the LG character might have a "When in Rome" rule, and do business as usual, but be unlikely to help the slavery business beyond the letter of the law.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Darkfire Knight wrote:

OK, so at what point does a Lawful character risk an alignment change?

Being lawful, in terms of alignment, is a moral position not a legal one. As such both a criminal and a policeman can be considered lawful so long as they follow the code they believe in.

A GM should review a characters Lawful alignment when he can no longer predict what the character will do. So if you present the character with a similar moral dillema multiple times the responce should be similiar.


Personally I don't see a lawful alignment as having any more than a tangental relationship to the laws of the land. A lawful character appreciates the benefit that order brings, but doesn't have to rigidly obey the law of whatever land he's in. Otherwise you can end up in a strange situation where a characters outlook or alignment would need to shift while travelling between countries that have very different laws.

I like to think of it in a similar way to how Good and Evil seen to work in the game. What is 'Good' isn't defined by the belief of an individual city, it's decided on a more cosmic level. It doesn't matter if an entire village believes that it's good and proper to kill anyone who looks at you crosseyed. The game would still give those villagers an evil alignment!

Similarly for 'Law', the character follows their ideal of law to the best of his or her ability. But again they're trying to follow universal laws, which may or may not be the same as the local ones. A city could make a law where all decisions needed to be made by the roll of the dice or the flip of the coin. But that doesn't make that sort of decision-making Lawful in the alignment sense.

This sort of idea would probably work better if Law was instead titled Order. But alignments like 'Ordered Good' just sound a bit silly. :)


Cultural perceptions and power relationships are as important as mere alignment. An imperial power, for instance, can be pretty Lawful, but his officers, authorities, military and intellectuals (including clergy) can be very disrespectful towards the laws of a nation they have conquered, especially if they see that nation as "inferior" in the scale of civilisation.

Pretty common situation in RW history especially when an "old" and a "new" empire did clash and the result was foreign (normally Western) rule over a place.

Dark Archive

IMO Lawful characters don't have to follow any laws. My perspective on lawful characters usually goes into there behavior and attitudes twords life and living in general. My favorite alignment is lawful Neutral, now a Lawful neutral character does not need to follow any laws, he could break any and every law in the book as long as he does it in a consistent manner and acts in a consistent manner such as in usually reacting the same way to certain situations, like when combat occurs not just blindly charging in weapon swinging yelling like a Psycho killer, the lawful character would enter combat in a steady and solid stance. Or in social situations a lawful character would usually be fairly polite and social not belch and scratch himself like a fool, he wouldn't be nice necessarily but he would be structured.

Just my 2 cents on lawful.


I agree with Bigkilla.

One situation I thought of where there could be a LG/LG conflict is in Robert Bolt's _A Man For All Seasons_.

We could argue about what Henry VIII's alignment was, but Bolt tried to portray him as a sympathetic character who really believed that he had to start the Church of England because the Pope was wrong, not just because he wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon. And he did not execute Thomas More as a tyrant would, but felt that he really had no other choice but to imprison him and then to execute him for treason.

In my own homebrew setting, I have in the history that these dark-skinned Nobeni mercenaries had a monotheistic religion. When they lost the War of Toranian Occupation, they were told that they either had to swear an oath of recognition to Odin, or give up their rank and be barred from political positions, including mayor, sheriff, or commander of the militia. Many Nobeni felt it wrong to recognize a pagan god. The "pagans" on the other hand felt that it was necessary to secure recognition of a single Allfather to avoid further violence.


Do you guys make chaotic characters change alignment if they aren't always breaking the law?

Because seriously.

Seriously.

Poor, poor lawful characters. Why must they attract so much attention? ;_;


ProfessorCirno wrote:

Do you guys make chaotic characters change alignment if they aren't always breaking the law?

Because seriously.

Seriously.

Poor, poor lawful characters. Why must they attract so much attention? ;_;

I did change a bard's alignment to Lawful Neutral because he was just always so organized and consistent. Fortunately, I also houseruled that bards do not have an alignment requirement, so LN bards are fine, and eventually the PC even multiclassed into Monk.

Dark Archive

ProfessorCirno wrote:

Do you guys make chaotic characters change alignment if they aren't always breaking the law?

Because seriously.

Seriously.

Poor, poor lawful characters. Why must they attract so much attention? ;_;

you don't have to always break the law as chaotic, you can follow it at times as well doing things that are inconsitant is part of being chaotic.(kind of like my spelling)


bigkilla wrote:
ProfessorCirno wrote:

Do you guys make chaotic characters change alignment if they aren't always breaking the law?

Because seriously.

Seriously.

Poor, poor lawful characters. Why must they attract so much attention? ;_;

you don't have to always break the law as chaotic, you can follow it at times as well doing things that are inconsitant is part of being chaotic.(kind of like my spelling)

I raised some eyebrows when I posted a PrC from my homebrew once, the Judge. There was no alignment requirement.

So you could be a Chaotic Evil judge. One of the requirements of the class is that you have to follow the laws of the land. But you can do so, and still be chaotic, and still be evil.

I'm going to say don't start a political argument here, but there are a couple politicians I can think of who match this description. As a DM, I might put their alignment at Chaotic Neutral (or even borderline), but they at least follow enough of the rules enough of the time that they can't get indicted.


ProfessorCirno wrote:

Do you guys make chaotic characters change alignment if they aren't always breaking the law?

Because seriously.

Seriously.

Poor, poor lawful characters. Why must they attract so much attention? ;_;

I also had a character DM-fiat changed from NG to LG because he was too cautious and uncompromising.

But I agree, people have to narrow a view of what defines lawful.


Being of lawful alignment does not mean that you obey the laws of the land no matter what they are. While some lawful characters embrace the law with great zeal, that's not that only thing a lawful alignment can represent. Lawful alignment can also represents an adherance to tradition, honor, order, loyalty and the like.

This is why I have always strongly disagreed with the restriction from Barbarians being lawful characters, as tribal "barbaric" people very often have a strong sense of duty, honor and tradition, even if they may seem "savage" to other cultures. "Lawful" was unfortunately confused for "civilized" in the barbarian's case.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
ProfessorCirno wrote:

Do you guys make chaotic characters change alignment if they aren't always breaking the law?

Because seriously.

Seriously.

Poor, poor lawful characters. Why must they attract so much attention? ;_;

Because it's our nature to put people on pedestals and then knock them down. And there's no pedestal like the Lawful Good alignment.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8

Darkfire Knight wrote:

At what point dow a lawful character need to stop following the 'law of the land'?

In the D&D alignment scheme, I don't think of lawful as meaning that you follow one particular set of laws, but rather that you have *some* set of rules or laws that you follow. Lawful people believe that they should behave in a manner dictated by a codified set of rules that persists over time.

So, its perfectly fine to disobey the laws of the land if you are, say, a monk who is adhering to the discipline of her monastery, or a paladin adhering to the rules of their church, or a spy who adheres to the laws set forth by his nation and the commands set forth by his own government.


FallingIcicle wrote:

Being of lawful alignment does not mean that you obey the laws of the land no matter what they are. While some lawful characters embrace the law with great zeal, that's not that only thing a lawful alignment can represent. Lawful alignment can also represents an adherance to tradition, honor, order, loyalty and the like.

This is why I have always strongly disagreed with the restriction from Barbarians being lawful characters, as tribal "barbaric" people very often have a strong sense of duty, honor and tradition, even if they may seem "savage" to other cultures. "Lawful" was unfortunately confused for "civilized" in the barbarian's case.

I figured that going into Rage is itself a chaotic act, so if a Barbarian goes into Rage with any frequency, she maintains a non-lawful alignment no matter what else she does. A lawful character would not be able to become a Barbarian because he would not be able to reach this source of passion and unbridled power that drives the Barbarian's power.

This is based on the idea that alignment is not just what you do, but is a force that drives the entire cosmos like gravity and electromagnetism.


Mark Chance wrote:
It is a fundamental principle of moral philosophy that an unjust law is not a law. Not obeying an unjust law is a right and a moral duty.

It's a fundamental fact that laws don't care about morals.

Laws are laws are laws. Your morals might differ. The law remains the law. (For example, I don't find it immoral to kill people I don't like. The law that prevents me from doing that legally remains in effect even though I consider it immoral).

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