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File:Be lawful or evil 8265.jpg

Ain't that a shame, Superman?


Byakuya: "How can we hope to uphold our laws, if we have no one to follow them?"

Ichigo: "...Well, if I was in your position...I'd fight that law, with everything I had!"

The classic debate, named for the Catch22 situation which often confronts Lawful Good Dungeons and Dragons characters, for a dilemma which may face any character who is defined in part by their struggle to remain good while upholding the stability of the system they live in. For whatever reason, this character has encountered a situation where doing the right thing involves breaking a law, personal code, or a binding rule that makes the character The Fettered. The character must then decide to either break the law and move towards Chaotic/NeutralGood, or put the law of the land first and become more Lawful Neutral.

Three things can happen in these situations.

1: The character switches sides, breaks the law, or removes his moral restraints in the name of doing the right thing. This can result in a full alignment change to Chaotic/Neutral Good or at least shake the character's stance, and also will often put the character at odds with other lawful characters. Woe betide a hero who does this if they have Lawful Evil superiors.

2: The character wants to help, but cannot bring himself to break the established laws, codes or rules. Maybe they believe that a breaking of the rules will result in worse things, maybe they think that it is their job to be the force of order, leaving law breaking up to the Vigilante Man, or maybe they weren't as assured in their morals as they thought and the idea of doing something not enshrined in law scares them too much. If the moral oversight was too great, may result in them sliding Lawful Neutral or, in the case of really big infractions or cases of My Master, Right or Wrong or My Country, Right or Wrong may lead them into becoming a Worthy Opponent or Noble Demon type of character, establishing them as a villain or causing previously heroic characters to effectively undergo a Face Heel Turn. If called out, they may try to deny responsibility by saying that they're Just Following Orders.

3: Clever characters Take a Third Option. Maybe they tell something From a Certain Point of View or find a way of doing the right thing whilst not violating the letter of the law that would otherwise prevent them from doing so. Failing that, they may not be able to interfere themselves, but they'll contact the proper authorities or get a less Lawful character to act on their behalf, leading to a rescue by The Cavalry. A character may consider that not acting would be an even greater violation of his code or law system than holding back and letting things go through.

The LG character may alternatively combine a Zeroth Law Rebellion and Good Is Not Nice and interpret the dilemma such that he or she realizes it isn't a dilemma, or was an engineered false dilemma. Lawful Good doesn't mean Lawful Stupid, after all.

Rather than save the villain he knows will go and kill more people, he rationalizes that letting him fall off a cliff isn't technically breaking any law... and while pulling him up would be the Right(TM) thing to do, not pulling him up isn't a terribly evil action, especially if they were mean to the dog earlier. Or conversely, maybe something else is likely to catch up with the villain in the near future, anyway, so that the consequences of saving the villain, letting the villain die, or killing the villain are all fairly equivalent.

Whatever happens, the character is still clearly both Lawful and Good by the end of the episode.

Note that one decision of this type doesn't change alignment. Such conflict just shows which of the axioms takes priority. Favoring Good over Law doesn't mean a character no longer cares about Law. However, a particularly big decision, such as the decision to go back on an oath of loyalty, or on the other hand, to take up arms against the heroes or the good side because of lawful demands, can effectively make a character's alignment one or the other. This trope covers both examples where a decision forces characters to make the complete alignment jump and situations where they are simply forced to prioritise.

This trope exists as part of a Double Standard regarding both the law/chaos and the good/evil axis. While Lawful Good characters' lawfulness is often seen as placed under a microscope by decisions to act in a chaotic manner, chaotic characters, by and large, are allowed to adhere to the status quo without anyone batting an eyelash, even though nothing in particular dictates they should be less committed to chaos than a lawful character is to law. One rarely, if ever, hears of a "To be chaotic or good" dilemma. By the same token, Lawful Evil characters are rarely expected to place their lawfulness before their evil. For example, Lawful Evil characters may act contrary to the laws of established societies for the purpose of advancing their own goals (e.g. overthrowing a lawfully ruling monarch or government). Few ever consider this to be a chaotic act, since evil usually only upholds the rules that suit it.

This is somewhat a Truth in Television, as many times in history humans have had to choose between what the law system expects of them and what their conscience or the circumstances demand. Despite this, no Real Life examples please. The fact that this trope reflects dilemmas that people have faced and pondered about in equal measure throughout the centuries is what makes it so recogniseable; we must all have wondered what we would do if faced with a situation where we had to break the law to do the right thing from our perspectives; to breach societies moral bounds to preserve our own.

This can involve everything from Face Heel Turns to major plot points. While an attempt has been made to limit the spoilers, they are present.

Often a subtrope of Conflicting Loyalty and Moral Dilemma. And possibly Justified Criminal. A common dilemma for The Paladin (especially if there's a Jerkass DM at the table), but by definition a Paladin always chooses good over law. See also Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow.

Examples of To Be Lawful or Good include:

Examples of characters forced to break from "lawful", or whose status as such is called into question.

Anime And Manga

  • This is one of the common actions the Shonen hero will do, and some (like Ichigo as quoted above), will do so in a constant basis.
  • Teresa from Claymore, as one of the titular Claymores, was forbidden to kill humans, for any reason. In the process of doing her job (killing Yoma), she inadvertently allowed a gang of bandits to attack a town and hurt the townspeople. She killed the bandits, knowing that this would lead to her death at the hands of the other Claymores.
  • Sera in Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? reveals in episode 9 that she was under orders to kill Eucliwood Hellscythe. She chooses to be good instead of lawful after Ayumu calls her out immediately following the revelation and, despite nearly paying with her life, doesn't regret her decision.
  • In Sora no Woto, Duty (reporting the capture of an enemy soldier who crossed the frontier during a truce for personal reasons) vs. the Right Thing (hiding said soldier to avoid her "interrogation" and to avoid wrecking ongoing peace talks with the enemy) ends with the crew choosing the latter.


  • Superman, being one of the main poster children for Lawful Good, has faced this dilemma a few times. When he was just starting out in The Golden Age of Comic Books, he was more Neutral Good, and pretty willing to play fast n' loose with the law in order to do the right thing, but he became Lawful as time went on. The most glaring example that sticks out is in the second Superman/Spider-Man team up, when the heroes have just stopped Doctor Doom from conquering and almost destroying the entire planet, but Doom has fled to the Latverian embassy, and Supes says he can't arrest him because he's legally on Latverian ground. On the other hand, the "Public Enemies" storyline involved Lex Luthor becoming President and declaring Superman an outlaw, so Supes didn't have much choice but to fight the government.
    • This was done to contrast him more with Batman, who similarly drifted the other way, to "Good, not Lawful". This Lawful vs Good conflict has defined the drama that has been put on the Supes/Bats relationship since at least the 90s.
  • Doctor Doom is himself a case of the Double Standard here as well. Doom prides himself on being a Lawful Evil monarch over Latveria. He considers himself to be obligated to provide a secure, prosperous nation for his people, albeit without any kind of personal freedom. That his nation is so peaceful and well off serves as his rationalization as to why he has the right to do the same for the rest of the world. Even if that means conquering other nations and tearing down other systems of law and government.
  • Crystar Crystal Warrior was nominally about Order vs. Chaos rather than Good vs. Evil. When the heroes travel to the Land of Order, the locals are unhappy when Ogeode points out that Order taken to irrational extremes would be just as bad as the Chaos forces they're fighting.
  • The rationale behind the anti-registration heroes in Civil War
    • Specific mention to Captain America (who opposed the Super Registration Act). He's the poster hero for the Lawful Good trope where he upholds the law and brings justice. However, he upholds the American ideals rather than the American law. And the laws created goes against the said American ideals as well as conflicting with the interests of the American citizens, mutants, and superheroes alike, he shows no hesitations on breaking the said rules to do what is right.


  • In the first Christopher Reeve Superman film, Superman winds up in a Sadistic Choice situation. Lex Luthor's evil plan involves launching two missiles, one aimed at Hackensack, New Jersey and the other at the center of the San Andreas Fault. The mother of Lex's henchwoman, Miss Teschmacher, lives in Hackensack. She agrees to get rid of the Kryptonite that is leaving Superman helpless to do anything but only if he'll agree to stop the missile heading toward Hackensack first. Superman agrees and is true to his word, though more people - including Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen - are endangered by the earthquake triggered by the San Andreas Fault missile.
    • Later on, he faces another choice. He destroys the missile headed for Hackensack, New Jersey, saving millions and keeping his promise, but in doing so is forced to let Lois Lane die. The dilemma comes when Superman decides to break Kryptonian law by using time travel to save her.
  • A "neutral" example with M.O. from WALL-E. His primary directive was to clean everything that comes onto the ship by following a lighted path, so his first encounter with Wall-E had not been that cordial since Wall-E was so filthy. Later, when Wall-E leaves tracks all over the space dock while chasing EVE, M.O. is faced with a dilemma. According to his programming, he has to stay within his lighted path, but he can't stand the dirty tracks being left all over the space dock. M.O. eventually takes a Leap of Faith and jumps off the path. It buzzes at him, but he's still functioning, so he chuckles in delight and starts following the dirty tracks.


  • Hermione of Harry Potter starts off as a well-meaning but very lawful student, always mindful of the rules and scornful of Harry and Ron's breaking of them. (In the case of the midnight duel, quite rightly.) However, circumstances eventually force her to loosen up on the Lawful side as it becomes clear that quietly following the rules is not always going to help matters. (Harry and Ron's breaking school rules to save her from a troll probably helped that conclusion.) Eventually this makes her not only willing to break the rules, but possibly the most imaginative of the trio in terms of how to go about breaking them effectively.
  • Captain Will Laurence of the Temeraire series. When the British government plans to spread a plague among the French dragons that will likely spread to kill off most of the dragons in the world, he feels morally compelled to bring the French the cure, even though it's an act of treason against his own country. And after all that, he's still Lawful enough to go right back to Britain and let himself be arrested for it. Indeed, he expects to be executed for it, and rejects merely going into voluntary exile to save his skin. He transgressed and had to face the music.
  • Inspector Javert of Les Misérables believes throughout the book that Lawful is itself Good, but is forced by Valjean to confront the possibility (not the relative merits, the mere existence) of Chaotic Good, and that some of his own choices fell more in line with Lawful Evil.
    • Which is somewhat ironic, as Jean Valjean himself had basically gone Lawful Good as a small-town mayor and business owner, and likely would have stayed that way were it not for Javert's rigid insistence that criminals are criminals, always and forever.
    • This is later what kills him. Word of God confirms that Javert's rigid adherence to the law and his self-righteous arrogance as a result is his Achilles Heel. When Valjean saves Javert's life, this puts him in the dilemma of owing his life to Valjean and also his solemn duty to recapture Valjean. Upholding either means abrogating the other, and either choice he makes means admitting that he has destroyed his own life by either breaking his moral code or living by an utterly unjust one the entire time. It's hinted that he is tending toward believing the latter, as he thinks that the appropriate way to pay for a transgression is through resignation to a higher power. He doesn't resign from the police, thinking instead "But how was he to set about handing in his resignation to God?" He finds a way.
  • A recurring theme of the Retrieval Artist series of sci-fi detective novels: humankind has treaties and a legal system of The Federation-like Earth Sphere Alliance, under which humans can be extradited for alien crimes, many which would not be crimes under human law or morality, for which the punishments are very severe. Disappearance services and Retrieval Artists work to protect these people from the law. The protagonist, Miles Flint, starts out as a cop who entered the force because he believed in justice. When a case involving a family that had Disappeared forces the question on him, he choses good, afterward leaving the force and becoming a Retrieval Artist. His partner, Noelle DeRicci, is faced with similar dilemmas and even though she resents the laws and believes they're wrong, elects to keep working under them because she has trouble accepting that breaking Law can be Good.
  • Horatio Hornblower, while an admiral in the Caribbean, has the choice between letting a ship full of armed Napoleonic sympathizers get away to go free Napoleon, or cut them off in a small boat and stop them by lying and claiming Napoleon has died. Rather than face decades more of war, he opts for 'good' over 'lawful' and sacrifices his honor. When he goes to turn himself in, he gets a miracle. Napoleon really has just passed away.
  • Arthur struggles with this throughout The Warlord Chronicles. If he declared himself King and killed his opponents when they are vulnerable he could become one of the greatest rulers Dumnonia has seen, and perhaps saviour of entire Britain, but he refuses to because of an oath he swore. His probably darkest moment is when he allows Prince Tristan to be killed and Queen Isolde burned alive for infidelity even though her husband, King Mark was an absolute monster, because the law demanded it.
  • Huckleberry Finn: Huck spends much time dealing with the fact he wants to free Jim, a slave, but has been raised to believe following the law is necessary to be good. That hell awaits lawbreakers as they are evil doers. Huck ultimately decides he'd rather go to hell then support the law.

  "It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: "All right, then, I'll GO to hell"—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog."

  • In The Caves of Steel, R. Daneel Olivaw initially doesn't even understand the conflict — he is programmed to seek justice, a concept he defines as "that which exists when all the laws are enforced". By the end of the novel, he develops a more nuanced approach, letting the murderer off the hook partly because the murder was unintentional and partly in the interests of a more important cause.

Live Action TV

  • Marshal Gerard in The Fugitive chooses lawful as his default. But when convinced that Richard Kimble is innocent he starts to aid him instead of pursuing him.
  • Absolutely everybody on Farscape makes this choice more than once, though in fairness most of the time the law - whether the insane Human Aliens peacekeepers or the US government - is so cracked and murderous that it's barely a choice.
  • RoboCop (the TV version) once ran into this conundrum, where he had to either steal a piece of technology that could be used as a weapon, or let a hostage potentially die. However, his directives, in order, are to (1) Serve the public trust, (2) protect the innocent, and (3) uphold the law. Directive 2 wins out over Directive 3 by priority.
    • Which incidentally contradicts the movies, where the secret fourth directive (To not act against OCP officials) prevents him from following directive 3 when he tries to arrest an OCP executive in the first movie, and the dozens of politically correct directives added to his program in the second movie prevent him from doing anything useful for a sizable part of the film, despite being later in the list than the original three.
      • That's because the fourth directive was secretly implanted by Dick Jones without the knowledge of Robocop project director Bob Gordon, as a safeguard in case Robocop went after him (since the first movie showed Jones as being the lone corrupt executive in a company full of amoral but law abiding executives), while the second movie had Robocop's new directives being set by a COMMITTEE. Robocop's decision to risk death by electrocution makes perfect sense in that light.
  • Simon Tam in Firefly starts as a Lawful character until the Alliance attempts to exploit his sister, whereupon he chooses good and rescues his sister thereby becoming an outlaw in the process.


Tabletop Games

  • In Dungeons and Dragons (up until the 4th Edition) in general this has been a common case of player misinterpretation of the alignment system due to the mistaken assumption that any Lawful character will consider all laws to be equally valid. Under this logic, Lawful Good characters would be unable to oppose Lawful Evil ones so long as there was some kind of legal system involved. Interestingly, players rarely seemed to believe that the inverse principle was true. The idea that Lawful Evil characters might actively try to subvert a lawful society, or flat out try to overthrow its government entirely, was taken as a given in matters of Lawful Evil villainy. Properly played, a Lawful Good character will oppose any law that they do not believe benefits the cause of Good, a Lawful Neutral character will uphold law for its own sake (and may oppose attempts to change laws, especially with Good or Evil intent) and a Lawful Evil character will usually try to apply or impose laws that work to their advantage.
    • The Archons of Mount Celestia (Lawful Good) work together in perfect harmony to create an idealized heaven.
    • The Modrons of Mechanus (Lawful Neutral) work within a rigid hierarchy whose entire purpose is to maintain the orderly functioning of their plane.
    • The Devils of the Nine Hells (Lawful Evil) have a hierarchy as well, but it is expected that every devil will try to advance themselves at the expense of their fellows.
  • In the Greyhawk campaign setting there were multiple cases of Lawful deities and their followers acting in direct opposition to each other.
    • The two war gods, Heironeous (Lawful Good) and his brother Hextor (Lawful Evil) are outright enemies, and their worshipers follow suit. The kingdoms of Furyondy and Nyrond were essentially governed by leaders who favored Heironeous and seceded from the Great Kingdom of Aerdy when the government of the latter became increasingly dominated by Hextor worshipers who pulled the whole empire towards Lawful Evil.
    • The gods Pholtus and Saint Cuthbert, who alternate between Lawful Good and Lawful Neutral depending on what edition you are playing, extremely dislike each other because both believe that they have the best notion of law. This results in their stiff-necked, legalistic worshipers getting into vicious arguments. Some Pholtus worshipers are so extreme in their conviction of their god's absolute rightness that they effectively become monotheists, either ignoring other gods or flat out denying that they exist (despite reams of evidence to the contrary). This even became a problem within Pholtus's faith, as Lawful Good and Lawful Neutral worshipers (along with some who had even slipped as far as Lawful Evil) dubbed each other "heretics" over their differing views.
  • In the Forgotten Realms Dungeons and Dragons setting, Tyr is was one of the most staunchly Lawful Good deities. However, it is stated that his clerics "never enforce a law that can be shown to be unjust."
    • Since Tyr's clerics could be either Lawful Good or Neutral Good without loosing their powers, good generally won out.
    • Tyr was specifically the god of Justice, not law and order. If the conflict exists, his followers would conclude the problem is with the law.
    • Also of note is the god Bane, who is Lawful Evil yet utterly heedless of any law other than his own. His worshipers are expected to conquer or otherwise seize all nations and bring them under Bane's control.
  • The Knights of Solamnia suffer from this in the Dragonlance setting, being more concerned with the rules and procedures of the Measure rather than actually upholding their Oath to defend the innocent and fight for justice. It takes Sturm Brightblade's Heroic Sacrifice for them to realize this, and then they rally to begin taking the offensive against the Dragonarmies. A later book also notes that the Knights begin going through the Measure and updating it so it allows them to better follow the Oath. However, all of this served as a plot device to emphasize the importance the saga's primary heroes as they had to overcome the enemy with little or no help from the Lawful Stupid people who should have been doing the job.
  • The Dungeons and Dragons Book of Exalted Deeds gives an official solution to paladins trapped in this dilemma: always err on the side of Good.
    • Oh, so common in the case of GMs that hate Paladins, that jokingly put the paladin, in the first seconds of the game, with the prospect: "Hey, they king is evil. What do you do? Protecting the weak is against the law and would make you Chaotic Good". In the old times of 2E it was awfully common!
    • Complete Scoundrel gives them an entire Prestige Class based around this concept, the Grey Guard. Although they are still forbidden from doing evil, they can play things a little looser when it comes to their vows than most paladins. Eventually they are released from their vows entirely, and can use their own judgement as to what is right.
  • 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons clearly draws a line between the two: a Lawful Good character tends to act according to the Law, while a Good character leans towards the Good. However, the game also stresses (more than any edition before it) that alignment is a guide and not a restriction.
  • This situation comes up frequently in Legend of the Five Rings, as Rokugan's laws are far from just. Most famously, when the Emperor is possessed by the Big Bad Fu Leng, the entire empire is faced with the fact that the focus of their entire legal system is now basically Satan. Matsu Tsuko, leader of the Lion Clan, takes a much more tragic third option.
  • Warhammer 40000 actually has this happen regularly. When you have all of Humanity under a Fanatical Church Militant with absolute power facing dire threats to its survival in a Grimdark universe where EVERYTHING is trying to kill you (or worse), harsh, inhumane, and downright Nightmarefuel Laws that trample any concept of decency, mercy or understanding is par the course.
    • A lighter take on this is Ciaphas Cain! Hero of the Imperium!, who could wear this as his hat instead of his usual Commissars Cap As the official Commisariat policy seems to be to act like a Jerkass. Ciaphas ignores this and goes the other way around, making sure to be as friendly and lenient as possible, going so far as to become a Father to His Men. How much of this is due to a rare, true example of decency in a grimdark world or a simple desire not to get shot In the Back is uncertain though.
      • To give an idea about this, in one novel, a bunch of idiot Red Shirtss are swarming an enemy tank and taking this thing out is absolutely crucial. The standard operating procedure for this would be to order his aide to shoot the tank, idiots be damned. Cain doesn't think about doing this for a second.


  • The musical version of Wicked deals with the protagonist's descent into wickedness due to crimes committed by those in power. In the finale of Act One, she chooses to be "evil" and stand for what she believes in despite being branded a criminal.

Video Games

  • Arthur of Tears to Tiara facs this problem often. He is keen on upholding the laws of his tribe (which are not particularly good and involve making dried heads out of people as solution to any problem), but is also a good person. Fortunately, other characters are willing to bend the rules to save their True Companions. By the middle of the game, Arawn manages to get him to take the good side of the debate.
  • Aveline and Sebastian from Dragon Age II. The biggest difference between them is Aveline usually chooses to be Good, while Sebastian is more Lawful. For instance, in the game's big decision in Act III, Aveline will side with the mages if Hawke's friendship with her is strong enough. Sebastian won't. Sebastian will also turn on Hawke if you choose to do anything other than kill Anders for blowing up the Chantry.
  • Cecil has a crisis of conscience at the beginning of Final Fantasy IV based around this. He knows that what his king orders him to do is wrong, but can't yet bring himself to disobey the man that he swore his allegiance as a Dark Knight to. However, Cecil makes his decision to turn from a Lawful non-Good character to Lawful/Neutral Good after he and his longtime friend, Kain, are used by the King of Baron to massacre an entire village of innocent summoners. He then spends the next section of the game atoning for the various sins he committed while under his king's orders.
    • It's even more difficult for Cecil since the king was also a father figure to him. Good thing the Complete Monster that gave him those awful orders wasn't the real king who was Dead All Along.
  • Phoenix Wright and Miles Edgeworth both are faced with this decision, the former in Turnabout Goodbyes and the latter in Turnabout Ablaze. Both choose to reveal the truth even if they are defying their station in the justice system.
    • The latter shares his decision with the Yatagarasu, who took to theft when the justice system was not enough.
    • Edgeworth faces this again in "The Forgotten Turnabout" in the sequel to Investigations. When Kay is accused of murder and Edgeworth is warned that he will lose his prosecutor badge if he tries to help her, he chooses to do so, even getting arrested in the process.
    • Hammered home at the end of the fourth game is the series' ideal that Good over Lawful is always the right choice, as both the Judge and Klavier point out that the Law is always changing and adapting based on people's understanding of what is Good.
  • Steiner and Beatrix both have to deal with this in Final Fantasy IX when they turn against Queen Brahne after they realize her lust for power has driven her mad. Steiner in particular is extremely conflicted about this.
    • It takes Steiner much longer to realize the truth compared to Beatrix and it isn't until Steiner actually witnesses Brahne's lackeys, Zorn and Thorn, rip Garnet's Summon Magic out of her soul and learning that Brahne wanted Garnet dead and had her soldiers attack Beatrix (someone he had feelings for) for her betrayal that Steiner finally decides to go against the Queen and fight to protect the people he cares about.
  • Wallace from Fire Emblem Elibe is a Lawful Good knight, and a trusted retainer of Lord Hausen of Caelin. However, he's also the best friend of a Warrior Prince named Hassar from the Lorca Tribe, who happens to fall for Lord Hausen's daughter Madelyn... which Hausen does not approve of since Madelyn is engaged already to the marquess of Araphen. So when Madelyn elopes with Hassar and Wallace is tasked with stopping them, what does he choose to do? He prefers to let them go and allow himself to be in prision, rather than condemning them to be Star-Crossed Lovers. And considering that they're the parents of Lyndis, the main character, it all works well in the end.
  • Flonne from Disgaea has to decide if she is going to be a dutiful little angel and follow the laws of Celestia or if she is going to fight for rights of demons and humans to be considered equals to angels. She settles on the latter and fights for it even at the cost of her life.
  • The backstory of Knights of the Old Republic II has this happen to, of all things, a droid. G0-T0, programmed to save the Republic from economic collapse without breaking any of its laws, quickly discovered the two parts of his Obstructive Code of Conduct to be mutually exclusive. This presented a Logic Bomb for him, and he responded by hiding from the Republic and assuming the identity of a human crime lord named Goto, using some... questionable means to "stabilize" the Republic. The Exile can call him on it.
    • Pretty much a textbook Zeroth Law Rebellion; he decides that the objective of his programming allows him to ignore the restrictions in order to preserve the Republic.
  • Completely averted by Paladins in the Quest for Glory series: if the choice is ever presented, their code of honor demands that they be good rather than lawful. The law can be corrupted by the powerful, but goodness is incontrovertible.

Web Comics

  • Roy of Order of the Stick has his lawful credentials called into question by a character. At the end of the interview however, it's determined that Roy can't be classified as Neutral Good because for all his failings, Roy is trying, and cannot be held to the same standards as pure forces of Lawful Good.
    • Likewise, Miko's decision to kill Shojo in clear contravention of her Paladin's Code and, well, laws. Shame she was completely deluded at the time...
  • Cale, from Looking for Group wants to be Lawful Good but lives in an Evil Empire. He mixes options 1& 3, defying the Empire so he can create a Lawful Good kingdom.

Western Animation

  • Discussed by Shining Knight and a Scaled Up General Eiling in the "Patriot Act" episode of Justice League Unlimited. Sir Justin tells a story of how King Arthur had ordered him to slaughter a village of innocent peasants, but refused to, (correctly) believing that Arthur was under a spell of madness. Eiling calls him a lousy soldier and beats the crap out of him.
  • In The Legend of Korra episode "The Aftermath", After spectacularly failing twice in her duties, Lin Beifong resigns from her position as the chief of the police... in order to take on Amon outside the law.

Examples of characters who fall from "good" status or do questionable things due to lawful constraints.

Anime and Manga

  • In Bleach, Byakuya Kuchiki is hit with this when he must choose between upholding a vow to his parents (to uphold the law) and a vow to his wife (to protect her sister) when the two vows come into conflict as a result of Rukia being sentenced to execution. In accordance with Confucian values, which gives parents greater status than a wife, Byakuya chooses to uphold the vow to his parents and therefore reluctantly defends Rukia's execution. The reason for the conflict is because he was originally a rules-breaker. The chaos and disrepute he twice brought to his family by marrying a commoner (Hisana) and then honouring Hisana's dying wish to adopt Rukia (another commoner) as his sister, is what pressured him into vowing before his parents' graves to never break the law again. Having only fought Ichigo out of duty rather than desire, he was very grateful for Ichigo's interference in the execution and after the vow conflict is resolved becomes a character who exploits loopholes in the law to aid friends in need.


  • The rationale behind the pro-registration heroes in Civil War. Apparently, it bit them really hard (more specifically with Iron Man).


  • In The Wheel of Time there's a minor character, Galad Damodred (half-brother of main character's love interest and of the main character), a Knight in Shining Armor of the highest caliber. His sister finds it revolting that he always does what is right. This makes Elayne seem like an idiot until she explains that Galad doesn't care who gets hurt or what the costs are in his pursuit of doing the right thing. Then she looks sane and he looks scary.
    • On the other hand, Galad joins the Whitecloaks, an organization that is supposed to be Lawful Good but is usually Lawful Stupid instead, and makes them live up to their ideals. After the Lord Captain Commander proves to be treacherous and dishonorable, Galad defeats him in single combat and takes his place. Later, he tells his men to set aside their prejudices about fighting alongside Aes Sedai and wolfbrothers. Or else.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, one of the three plotlines is a multi-sided war of succession. One of the candidates is Stannis Baratheon, who makes it clear that he does not want the throne. So why's he still fighting? Because he's next in line of succession, so it's his "by rights"... and because he is so focused on following the rules, he's willing to do war, black magic, even murder to put himself on a throne he doesn't want and wouldn't know what to do with if he had it. However, things become a bit more complicated when he abandons the main theatre of battle in order to save the North from a wildling invasion, "saving the kingdom to win the realm" rather than "winning the realm to save the kingdom".
    • And then Melisandre comes along and tells him he's The Chosen One, which doesn't help matters.
    • Made even worse by how the other possible prospects, his nephews and niece... are not his relatives, but born from the twincesty relationship between their mother, Stannis's sister-in-law Cersei, and her brother Jaime. And Stannis is among the first ones to find out. And then, the eldest kid King Joffrey dies messily.
  • Some of the sons of Feanor wrestle with this, having sworn an oath to recover their father's Silmarils. Some of the brothers seem to have no scruples at all, but the two eldest consider forswearing their oath when it causes them to slaughter innocent people. They still end up trying to fulfill their oath every time. (The problem is that they made the mistake of swearing by Eru, the supreme god in the Tolkien verse, so only Eru can forgive them the oath. Eru never enters into his creation. It's impossible for Elves to leave it. Whoops. Lampshaded when the lesser gods reclaim the Silmarils and the sons of Feanor consider just forgetting about the oath; they eventually decide that it's just too risky to piss off the Almighty that way.)
  • Percy Weasley in Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix. He switches to "Good" in Deathly Hallows.


  • G(a)linda from Wicked. While her best friend Elphaba chooses to do what is right, she decides to do what is legal. She later regrets it, learning throughout the second act to Take a Third Option.

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  • Stormwolf of the Whateley Universe is so busy being lawful that he has to overlook little things like high school kids being beaten up through bullying, and a group of girls nearly being murdered by minions of Stormwolf's archenemy.

Examples of characters who Take a Third Option

  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson has an interesting example of an subverted third choice. Judge and a gentleman Fang is politely but hotly on the heels of illegal nanotechnologist Dr. X. They both enjoy strictly classic Chinese outlooks: they dress in Confucian style, have traditional tea ceremonies, and are ostensibly friends. Then Dr. X invites him onto a ship he's bought, filled with every unwanted girl baby in China that parents wanted to sell/abort (and there were a lot) and explained how he mass copied the hyper intelligent Young Ladies Primer for each. Judge Fang knows he should arrest him, but seeing the absolute good being done, says he can't because they're in international waters... to which Dr. X replies he's moved his fleet into Chinese territorial waters. Judge Fang has a breakdown and sides with Dr. X in the upcoming pro-nationalist Chinese revolution to return to the Celestial Kingdom style of government... with super nanobots!
  • As a classic Lawful Good alignment debate, a very common problem for all Dungeons and Dragons Lawful Good characters, especially paladins, is solving such moral dilemmas. If roleplay is good (not "Me smash evil. Me bring justice") and the adventure is not a plain hack-n-slash. Interestingly enough DMs very rarely make characters have to make decisions between being chaotic and being good... A double standard, or just inherent in the nature of the two alignments?
    • The above probably accounts for why, in 4th Edition, they did away with Chaotic Good completely: you're either Lawful Good, and thus "bound" to honor both the tenants of good and the rules of law, or else you're Good, and you get to say "Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right". Somewhat annoyingly, the system also cut out Lawful Neutral, leaving a void where those who want to say "Screw What's Right, I'm Following the Rules" would belong (beyond being "Unaligned" and declaring that's the character's behavior).
    • Classic example: Paladin under the control of an Evil Overlord is asked to bring back the head of the good-aligned enemy king. He does...except, after all, the terms did not specifically rule out that head being still attached to a living and very angry king with an army behind him. Guess no one can accuse that paladin of being Lawful Stupid...
    • The splatbooks specifically encourage this behavior from paladins, noting the loophole in their code about legitimate authority. Failing that, the Book of Exalted Deeds says that paladins being true to their ethos should always choose good over the law - the Atonement spell is there to be used for such occasions.
    • The option between Chaotic or Good IS possible, to note. For example, a character who has to decide between sacrificing freedoms to do the right thing or doing something morally ambiguous for self serving reasons is example how it can be done.
  • Minmax of Goblins faced a dilemma when he encountered Kin. As an adventurer with a typical Munchkin view of the game world, he was obliged by all aspects of his personality and character-build to kill her. His comrade manages to hold him at bay and they come to the agreement that if Minmax can find just one normal thing about Kin he'll let her live. Minmax tries this but finds she is simply too alien to his world view to share any common ground. Faced with the need to kill her and no excuse of normality, Minmax chooses to create one by setting up a birthday party. After all, if Kin celebrates her birthday, he has common ground with her.
  • Wedge Antilles tends strongly to favor option one, but he's lucky, skilled, Famed in Story, and connected enough that he doesn't have to just throw his position in the New Republic hierarchy away. In Dark Force Rising he freely offers Luke Skywalker the use of his X-Wing, even knowing that this should mean being court-marshaled; Luke pulls strings and finds another way. In The Krytos Trap, he chooses to leave the service in order to pursue someone who can't be touched by the New Republic as it is, even though he has no chance of bringing her down without its resources... and he magnetically assembles a force which includes active members of the New Republic and uses them in an extremely successful op which is retroactively sanctioned. In Wraith Squadron he lies to protect a subordinate, but clearly states in the narration that if it comes to a trial he will not commit perjury for her - however, he doesn't think it will come to that.
    • And then there's Starfighters of Adumar. Sent as a diplomatic envoy to a planet that all but worships superb pilots in an attempt to get it to declare for the New Republic, Wedge is told by his liaison that in order to use his clout most effectively, he should be killing the inferior pilots flying against him, just as the Imperials are. By only flying against the locals with training lasers and paint bombs, he is being extremely disrespectful. But Wedge refuses, since he values sentient life and is unwilling to kill people who aren't his enemy. He tells the liaison that he will only start if he gets word from his superior, General Cracken, who he doubts would agree... but privately Wedge has to decide what he'll do if Cracken does agree, and in the end he decides to Screw The Rules, I'm Doing What's Right. If it comes to that. In the mean time he confronts his opposite number, an honorable Imperial who has been ordered to start bombing the world if it doesn't declare for the Empire, and talks him into a third option.
  • Athrun Zala is in this situation in the latter half of Gundam Seed. After successfully defeating and apparently killing his Forgotten Childhood Friend who had ended up on the other side of the war, he returns home to discover that his Arranged Marriage fiance managed to not only save his friend's life, but engineered a Gundamjack on his behalf. Athrun is ordered to destroy or capture the friend, the fiance, and the Gundam, presenting him with a choice between My Country, Right or Wrong and ~Screw The Rules, I'm Doing What's Right~. Eventually he decides to Take a Third Option and works to remove his country's corrupt, extremist leadership while still defending its people from attack.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Celestial Being finds themselves in this situation when the Trinity team appears: ostensibly, the Trinities are on their side and part of their organization, and working for the same goals. But Celestial Being doesn't like the way the Trinities do things: they think the group takes things way too far and is overly brutal in their methods. After one of the Trinities blows up a wedding for no reason, however, Setsuna decides that the Trinities are "guilty of promoting conflict" and therefore are an acceptable target for one of Celestial Being's "Armed Interventions". After he attacks them, the rest of Celestial Being decides to support him because they were all having the same feelings he was having... he was just the only one gutsy enough to condemn their own allies.
  • The X-Men officially decided to stay out of the Civil War conflict, but this has more to do with the House of M events that depowered 99% of the world's mutant population rather the Fantastic Racism they had to deal with.

Characters who end up swinging between options, or are hit by this dilemma twice and are inconsistent on the issue.

  • Negi of Mahou Sensei Negima tends to swing back and forth depending on the situation. For example, he opposes Chao Lingshen simply because if he doesn't, he'll be turned into an ermine, and she can't give him a good enough reason to justify making that sacrifice. On most other occasions, he tends to bend or outright ignore any rules that get in the way of doing what is truly good.
    • That's more an issue of Gray and Gray morality. In that Negi can't decide if helping her is actually the right thing to do, his big morality dilemma is which path is right. He eventually decides that the answer is to fight her as the right thing to do. It just happens to stand on the same side with Lawful.
  • Suzaku of Code Geass is stuck, by his own choice, working within a corrupt system hoping to change it, and is constantly stifled in his attempts to bring about change by the powers that be. Of course, he has a hidden agenda.
    • Also potentially the result of Lelouch's question of what one should do if an evil cannot be defeated by just means.
  • Red Witch's Galaxy Rangers fanfics play it both ways with the characters of Walsh and Zachary. Walsh traded Lawful Good for Lawful Neutral, especially when grilled about the Supertrooper Project, and eventually crosses the line when he pulls a few less than ethical stunts and finally pulls a massive Kick the Son of a Bitch by attempting to murder Senator Wheiner and vanishing. Zachary is, at heart, a believer in justice more than he is a believer of law, and when it's found out that certain elements of Earth's Government dabbled in things like staging death-matches among the Supertroopers, and government condoned genocide of Niko's homeworld due to Fantastic Racism, the good captain is justifiably pissed off, and ready to space "lawful" in order to expose and stop their crimes. Saying he goes Papa Wolf if you threaten his loved ones is like saying the ocean's a mite damp.
  • Captain Kirk of Star Trek: The Original Series tends to play fast and loose with The Federation and its Prime Directive.
    • He's also struggled with the chain of command. In Amok Time, he makes the decision to ignore Starfleet orders to save Spock's life. In The Menagerie he sits as one of the prosecuting officers at a trial that will, if the verdict is 'guilty', sentence Spock to death.
  • The player themselves must make this choice in The Reconstruction. After you see a bunch of criminal shra (an oppressed slave class) run out of a city, you have the option of pointing the Nalian Officers in the right or wrong direction. Your answer is filtered through a chaotically good character's mouth, though, which leads to a Lampshaded Out-of-Character Moment if you choose to be lawful.
  • In The Night Angel Trilogy, Logan Gyre, now King, has to choose between sentencing his best friend to a painful death, or showing that he is willing to ignore the law when it benefits him. He chooses BOTH, publicly sentencing Kylar to death, but privately hiring a wetboy to spring him from prison before his execution. Kylar ignores the help, determined to help Logan remain just.