Ancient Scroll’s Secret Room: To Punish and Enslave (or “Being Lawful”)

Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced.
Albert Einstein

One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last week I was writing about my approach to chaotic alignments in roleplaying games. It can be boiled down to one thing: chaotic characters break a law not out of a blatant disregard for the law, but because of not being aware (or not internalizing) that the law exists.

So what about lawful PCs? It’s pretty easy to describe such a character. His or her approach is the complete opposite to the chaotic one. I could leave it at that, but I won’t. Why? Because I feel there’s more to it than that…

You might think that there’s nothing easier than running a character with a lawful alignment. He’s nearly invisible to law enforcers because if he obeys the law (and this is a fundamental part of his morality), he can’t get into trouble.

But does this person obey all laws? Both those created by governments and those created by religious organizations? Even today we face problems when secular and religious codes conflict. How does such a character manage to bring these two forces together?

And what happens if the code of law conflicts with the character’s conscience or sense of justice? For instance, what does a character do if she knows that a convicted criminal (sentenced to death) is innocent, but she can’t prove it? Which will win – blind obedience to the law or her conscience?

What happens when a party travels to lands with strange and severe laws? Will they obey the laws even though they think they are too harsh? Or will they stick to the laws from their own country/culture/religion? Whichever way they choose to go, one of the codes of law will be broken – whether it’s their own or that of the country they are traveling through.

Even beyond that, a character may choose to be lawful for different reasons. In a kingdom with very harsh laws, characters can pay for being unlawful with severe mutilations (losing fingers, hands, or feet) or even their very lives. So they may decide that it is more reasonable to obey those laws and stay whole and alive.

Or maybe the “government” rewards those who obey and enforce the laws? Remember in the Transformers movie when the Decipticon disguised as a police car changed “To Serve and Protect” to “To Punish and Enslave”? It’s easy to twist it once again to be “To Protect The Loyal and Enslave the Disloyal” or “To Serve the Loyal and Punish the Disloyal.” Does that sound good?

On the religious side, those obeying faith-based-laws may associate that behavior with the hope for eternal life after death or with fear for those who break the laws and perish only to suffer eternal misery in the afterlife…

Personally, I prefer to stick with a single code of law and not use “Lawful” to describe a character. I’d rather discuss the nature of laws and obedience with my players to gain a deeper insight in how the characters approach those laws they choose to obey.

What about you? What are your opinions about being good or evil, chaotic or lawful? Feel free to share your ideas and disagree with me below.

Stay tuned and I’ll talk to you next Saturday!

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