In the forgotten past (which is to say, February), my esteemed colleague Bob wrote an impassioned piece in support of Chaotic Good. He hailed Chaotic Good as the least selfish and most human of the altruistic alignments, contrasted against its imperious and robotic Lawful counterpart.
Now, Lawful Good has something of a reputation. The alignment is infamous for being a killjoy — the law-abiding stick in the mud with delusions of authority trying to impose their rules on a party of (loosely) altruistic brigands. Nobody likes a moral busybody telling them what to do, and most D&D players resent the implicit, self-proclaimed position of the LG character (often a paladin or cleric, but not always) as the voice of Authority, rarely a friend to the adventuring party.
This view of Lawful Good is so prevalent that, after repeated attempts to dissuade players from seeing the alignment thus, D&D actually went so far as to design alternate paladin models distinguished primarily by their lack of a Lawful Good alignment requirement.
Sounds hard to defend, doesn’t it? But some of the most beloved, iconic characters of classical literature and recent fiction are in the Lawful Good camp, as much as you can ever try to assign complex figures like the Hindu hero Yudishthira, King Arthur, or Samuel Vimes (of Discworld fame), or grade-A badasses like Beowulf and Nicholas Angel, to a category on the classic nine-stage alignment spectrum. None of these are characters most readers would call selfish, one-dimensional, or less than compelling purely due to their sense of duty.
Playing a Lawful Good character to its strengths requires a few different things from the player than the Chaotic Good character. But these aren’t flaws or obstacles to playing a compelling adventurer. Part and parcel of appreciating the upsides of Lawful Good is to view your moral quandaries as opportunities, not as problems.
Playing Lawful Good means struggling with authority, not claiming it. This is the most important thing to recognize. The Chaotic good character is guided primarily by their free-spirited desires, tempered by a naturally benevolent nature. Precedent and authority mean little to the Chaotic Good character, who is free to act as he or she pleases on whatever seems like a good idea at the time. The Lawful character, on the other hand, has to consider their actions in terms of their consequences and precedents set. The Chaotic Good character takes morality as purely personal; the Lawful Good character attempts to reconcile moral dilemmas in a systematic fashion.
Far from being a self-centered alignment, Lawful Good is about accepting that well-worn chestnut of Star Trek fame: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. The Lawful Good character has to recognize that what may be inconvenient for them may be valuable and necessary on the large scale. This does not, of course, turn the Lawful Good character into an automaton, never defying or questioning the moral principles they espouse. But it does require the Lawful Good character to consider their actions closely.
Playing Lawful Good means embracing the character’s struggle with their duties. Just because the Lawful Good character recognizes the broad importance of their moral code, it does not mean they never find its execution difficult. The Lawful Good character presented with a sympathetic murderer or a thief who steals because they know no other way of life hesitates, their natural sense of sympathy clashing with their duty to the law or to themselves. Morals exist in stories not just to reinforce and motivate, but also to challenge, and few alignments challenge one’s moral code in an imperfect world quite so much as Lawful Good.
Again, this doesn’t render the character a mindless automaton. The Lawful Good character need not automatically haul in every transgressor or kill them without mercy, nor do they need to let every single person with the slightest excuse go free; the player retains agency and must ultimately resolve the dilemma. But prioritizing the dueling principles of justice and compassion is a classic literary dilemma, and requiring your character to confront it can only strengthen role-playing.
Playing Lawful Good requires either a sense of resignation or faith in the absurd ideal. Unlike the Chaotic Good or even the Neutral Good character, the Lawful Good character’s ideal cannot be easily attained in a flawed universe. Their struggle is, in a sense, unending. The Lawful Good character’s personal drama comes from how they choose to accept this unpleasant fact, and the resulting character type is an almost classic Kierkegaardian question of spirituality.
The two fundamental poles of this dilemma can be summed up as Kierkegaarde’s knight of resignation or knight of faith. The resigned character accepts that their duty is impossible, and that what they are being asked to do is something they neither deserve nor have any hope of completing happily. They do what they do because it is right and necessary, not because they hope to derive any personal satisfaction in it. The world-weary detective of film noir is a classic example of the knight of resignation.
The knight of faith is an even more difficult, but just as rewarding character to play. The knight of faith is defined by their complete trust in a higher power or ideal, and in that submission they find freedom. A paradoxical character type, the knight of faith has the moral strength to defy the dangers of injury, death, or disillusionment, liberated from fear by their sublime trust in their impossible dream. The knight of faith is an intrinsically alien character type, but perhaps best encapsulates the noble ideals of the chivalric hero in a way that few other alignments can demonstrate. They refuse to be defeated.
These are only a few of the many opportunities a Lawful Good character brings to the table. Playing Chaotic Good or other, less-structured alignments is an easy affair, but it’s so easy it’s unlikely to ever really constrain or come into play for your character except when an adversarial Authority aims to stamp your character’s defiance out.
Vanilla Chaotic Good challenges the character’s body; Lawful Good challenges the character’s sense of self. In doing so, it provides special opportunities for character growth that are well-worth consideration by the player who wants to flex their literary and storytelling muscles.