Law vs Chaos in D&D/Pathfinder

Also, LG creatures may be lawful, but they’re also good - they’ll be lenient on criminals whose intentions were good. Otherwise, what difference is there between LG and LN?

Law vs Chaos was the central conflict in Babylon 5. The Vorlons were lawful and the Shadows were chaotic. And ultimately both were rejected…

And Batman is… well, wouldn’t it depend on which Batman? I’d say that Adam West’s Batman, and the version I remember from Saturday morning cartoons, are Lawful Good, but some of the other, more vigilante-ish interpretations of the character tend more toward Chaos.

In fact, it’s more a Great Pear than a Great Wheel - LG and CG are much closer to each other than LE and CE.

That’s where the “moral code” mumbo-jumbo falls apart for me. You can have Batman breaking all sorts of laws for the greater good, which would be Chaotic Good (or NG at best) but people say “Well, he has a moral code so he’s actually Lawful Good”.

To me, Lawful Good means that you believe that structure, codes and regulations are the best possible way for society to protect the most good for the greatest number of people and to provide justice and fair treatment (LN would believe that an unjust law that maintains order is better than an easily flouted law that helps more people).

This doesn’t mean you blindly adhere to whatever the law is where you’re at: You can fight against a nation of slavers or oppression, etc. But you don’t break the law because it’s in your way while expecting others to adhere to the same laws. Trying to overthrow a tyrannical government is still a LG act. Cheating on your taxes so you can afford a new magic sword for fighting evil while expecting others to pay their taxes is not.

Batman is Lawful Good all the way. He follows the rules he made for himself (no killing the most famous. No guns is another) and he is barely a vigilante (the Police have a giant signal to call him). He wants to make a world that is safe for everyone so no one else goes through the pain and terror he did and he does it by enforcing the law and scaring criminals into following it. Very very much Lawful. That said, he does try to maintain a false persona to the Criminal world that he has no ethics or morals so that they are afraid of him but that is a ruse.

An example of a Chaotic Good hero in his sphere is Red Hood. He works outside the law, has no issues with killing bad guys (but doesn’t to keep in Batman’s good graces) and doesn’t have any sort of code or rules he feels he needs to follow.

Figuring out an alignment for Batman largely depends on how Gotham is being depicted at the time. When Gotham is a lawless dystopia filled with corrupt cops and crooked politicians, Batman’s a pretty easy sell as LG - the “law” is enabling violence and disorder, and he’s working to reestablish those things. When Gotham is, more-or-less, functioning like most other cities, he’s much more NG. He respects the law when it works, but doesn’t trust it to always work, and is willing to break it when necessary for the greater good. I’d argue that his strong personal code argues against him ever being chaotic good or any non-good alignment.

Except when Frank Miller is writing him.

Fair enough. I’m not Batman-savvy enough to have strong opinions about him, more that I don’t buy into the “a moral code is enough to make you LG” argument when a character is ignoring the laws of the land for the sake of convenience – especially a land he is trying to protect.

Mostly, I see “lawfulness” as a belief in the importance of rules and structure for a society to function and everyone having their own “moral code” isn’t a substitution for that.

Captain America is often considered the poster child for Lawful Good–yet he resisted efforts to force super powered beings to register with the government. Resisted to the point of beating Ironman senseless…

Presumably he was resisting forcing ANY super-powered being to register and didn’t think that not having to register only applied to him. Resisting unjust laws can still be a Lawful Good act; sometimes a LG character puts the “Good” before the “Lawful” but not because they feel that law/order/structure isn’t important.

It’s also possible for a character to do something outside their usual alignment during unusual circumstances and still maintain your alignment. Generally, no single event should be what determines your overall alignment (setting aside cartoonish examples of a paladin murdering babies for fun but just once, etc)

I remember an exchange in Planescape: Torment where you meet two Baatezu (essentially gargoyle devils) talking about the chaotic scum and it made me double take for a minute.

I think that’s one expression of lawfulness, but I don’t think lawful/chaotic has to be wholly expressed in terms of following or disobeying legal authorities. A serial killer with obsessive compulsive disorder could be a species of lawful evil - he breaks all sorts of laws regularly, but spends his non-murdering time making sure all the spoons in his kitchen are sorted by size.

I agree that someone who follows a moral code because it’s more convenient than following a legal code is probably not lawful - but Batman’s moral code is generally not that convenient to him. “Convenient” is putting a bullet in the Joker’s head, an act that conflicts with Batman’s moral code on two different fronts. He also tends to view his role as a superhero as a duty that he has to perform, and this is often contrasted with his inability to have any sort of normal civilian life - everything he does is in service to further “the mission.” He often explicitly chooses continuing being a superhero over his personal happiness. The fact that his moral code is about holding himself to an impossible standard is a big part of the argument for him being lawful good, regardless of his relationship with law enforcement.

To add a little context to my OP, I’m currently running a campaign based on *The Throne of Bones *by Charles McNaughten. The capital city of Crotalorn is equivalent to ancient Rome under Caligula. The rulers have become corrupt, lazy and largely uncaring what happens to the populace, just so they can save their own skin. The nobility considers commoners no more than brutes, and they constantly plot and scheme against each other.

So, there’s a lot of evil to spare, and lawful vs chaotic isn’t really a factor. It’s two powerful families, the Vendrens and the Fands, that have been opposing each other for centuries. The city has been wrecked and rebuilt multiple times from their infighting. The Vendrens worship the goddess of evil, engage in necromancy, and have infiltrated worship of the Sun god, substituting false priests for genuine priests. The Fands aren’t much better. They’re currently the majority power in Parliament, but they rule by steamroller and have no reservations about killing anybody who gets in their way. So, in alignment terms, it’s Evil vs Chaos mostly, and the city rots while they kick each other in the nuts.

The PCs include Pharcos, a paladin of Polliel the Sun god. He is related to the Vendrens. His father sired a lot of bastards as part of a Vendren plan to increase their ranks. The Vendrens may be evil scumbags, but they don’t necessarily want to kill Pharcos. They see him as a new plaything to involve in their schemes against each other, and to use against their Fand rivals. Pharcos certainly wants to kill his entire family, and the Vendren cats like to toy with the Pharcos mouse. So again, law vs chaos hardly comes up as a basis of conflict.

This becomes a tad bit problematic when some spells and effects use the law vs chaos principle, as I use NPCs from the PF SRD. The Hell Knights correspond to Death’s Darlings, the Vendren household guard, but the Hell Knights use law vs chaos effects instead of evil vs good. It’s not hard to make alterations, but it just serves to demonstrate how little law vs chaos matters in the grand scheme of things.

The difficulty with Batman is that he’s been written in many different ways by many different authors. You can find good justification for calling Batman Lawful Good, but then, you can find good justification for calling him any alignment. And the problem is made even more complicated by the fact that nobody’s familiar with all the different versions of the character, so folks are likely to reject the evidence from the versions they’re not familiar with. Though you can still generally assign an alignment to any individual version of Batman.

One character I’ve encountered recently who’s problematic is Jazz Bashir, from Andy Weir’s Artemis. She makes her living as a smuggler and seems to be actively offended by the notion of central authority… but she also will absolutely not go back on any business deal. To the point that, when the chief of police is questioning her about a case, he offers her fifty bucks to tell him the truth, because, as he says, she’ll lie to him all day long, but if she’s getting paid, it becomes business. And she refuses the payment, for the same reason.

I was about to to say the same. I don’t think that superheroes in general are a great tool for discussing RPG alignment systems in depth because most of them have volumes of stories written by numerous authors and covering all sorts of things.

The thing is, if you have ten thousand people all following their “moral code” above the written law, you don’t have a lawful society. In fact, you basically have chaos. Someone who believes that ten thousand people should all be allowed to follow their own personal codes of ethics is Chaotic. That’s basically the definition of Chaotic. Someone who thinks that ten thousand people should follow the law – but he gets to follow his moral code instead – is just a hypocrite.

If you don’t write a law v. chaos conflict into your campaign, then law v. chaos won’t matter much, but that’s not really saying anything about the utility of the concept in general. From what I can see, there’s nothing inherent in your setting that precludes a bigger emphasis on law v. chaos, other than you not being interested in that sort of story. The quasi-Roman aspect lends itself particularly well to that sort of plot, I think.

Batman absolutely does not think that everyone should follow their own moral code, and to the extent that he holds himself to a different moral code than other people, it’s usually because he holds himself to a higher standard than he expects from other people. His moral code (usually) can’t be distilled down to something as simple as, “Follow the laws.” Maybe Silver Age Batman, but Silver Age Batman was also an official police deputy with his own badge, so there’s no hypocrisy angle there. Anyway, being lawful and being a hypocrite aren’t mutually exclusive.

The problem about superheroes acting differently over the years as different creative teams take over the character is well made, but there’s another one that makes them particularly difficult in this specific context - what exactly is the law, in the DC universe, regarding costumed superheroes? Sometimes Batman is portrayed as hunted by police. Sometimes he’s literally a volunteer policeman. Usually, it’s somewhere in between, with the police actively seeking him out for help on certain cases. A bunch of criminals showing up tied to a lamppost out front of a police station, with a note saying, “Caught these bank robbers for you,” apparently does not cause any issues with putting those criminals behind bars. There’s literally thousands of other people running around in costumes, beating up bad guys, and how the legal system feels about it is a function of the tone they want to set for the book. Superman is every bit as much a vigilante as Batman, but “Superman is a wanted criminal” is hardly ever an angle for a Superman story, except for rare situations where he’s been mind controlled, or framed, or something like that, because Superman isn’t grounded in a pseudo-noir framework the way Batman is. But if Batman is chaotic good because he enforced his own justice rather than letting the state do it, then Superman must also be chaotic for the same reasons, and pretty much everyone balks at the idea of Superman being anything other than lawful good.

But there are other traits and principles that can be defined as Lawful Good. Honesty. Integrity. Trustworthiness. Fairness and objectivity. Civic-mindedness. If, for instance, a LG hero makes a deal with someone, he’ll keep it because he gave his word (a smart LG hero will be ready when the other guy betrays him - but he won’t be the first to break the deal). Its not all just statutes and laws.

I can conceive of a person who’s decent and honorable, but not law-abiding. It depends on the circumstances.

Right, this is exactly the point I’ve been making. Batman’s got a very strong moral code that doesn’t perfectly align with the legal system in Gotham, which means he can still be lawful good, even if he’s regularly breaking the law. But I’m also making the point that a lot of the stuff Batman does that would be super, super illegal in the real world is apparently okay in the comic book world. Outside of those stories where Batman being outside the law is a major story beat, it’s not immediately obvious how much of what Batman does is actually illegal.