The Power of Paragons
Everyone knows the Paragon, a righteous hero gifted with glorious powers, a beacon of hope and optimism, always trying to see the best in people. Pit this unwavering tower of virtue against an unspeakable evil, and you get a tried and true formula as old as time itself. It’s a staple of the genre, and it’s easy to see why. Everyone likes the idea that there’s someone in your corner who has your back, and the notion of a larger-than-life figure fulfilling that role is appealing.
People like heroes. Even if they have flaws, it’s always nice to see someone who rises above and stands tall. Despite personal failings, losses, and inadequacy, they persevere. It’s an admirable trait that many want to see in themselves. With the creation of Role-Playing Games, we are allowed to play an idealized version of reality, one in which it’s easier and sometimes rewarding to hold true to certain ideals. Being a Paragon is surprisingly easy. So why don’t many people play that in D&D?
“Aligning” with Stereotypes
D&D has an interesting system for determining a character’s overall good/evil dichotomy. It’s a grid that measures legal and moral goodness.
"Good" and "Evil" measure the character’s likelihood to help or harm the Non-Player Characters (NPCs), while "Lawful" and "Chaotic" measure a character’s likelihood to follow or break the law. For example, a "Lawful Evil" character will harm people while (or possibly by) exploiting loopholes in the law, while a "Chaotic Good" character will break laws if they deem it in the interest of the people (this is my favorite alignment). These all come with their own various flavors and fun ways to play. Your Chaotic Good character’s personality can range from Robin Hood to The Punisher, while your Lawful Evil character can be somewhere between Lex Luthor and Tywin Lannister.
With "Neutral" characters, there's slightly more freedom for the player to choose which way they will go in a moment-by-moment case. Sometimes rules can be bent, or followed to the letter, if not necessarily in spirit. Sometimes the safety of others takes precedence over their personal happiness. There's room for more "gray" morality and clever interpretation of legality. Chaotic Neutral is by far the most popular version of this, with players embodying the detached, nebulous allegiances of Jack Sparrow. Nobody truly knows which side this character is on, so there’s more autonomy.
Paragon characters are almost always Lawful Good, with the occasional dips into Neutral Good. They may not violate the law outright, but they definitely don’t have to follow it to the letter either. The most popular example, of course, being Superman – the incredibly strong and capable hero who fights for the people, upholding the simple virtues of truth and justice. That’s not to say that every Paragon has to be Superman, of course.
I have personally seen some cases where a Lawful Good character essentially gets pigeonholed into becoming the “party pooper” and spends the entire campaign keeping the rogue and bard in line. The unfortunate bit is that a lot of these players, when asked, say that it’s because they’re often the only one with restrictions. A Chaotic Neutral player doesn’t have to care about the lives of NPCs, while a Lawful Good one does. That lack of variety can often feel isolating and one-note. Being a Paragon feels boring because they don’t have as much autonomy.
I’ve even had an extreme case where a player in one of my campaigns described their character’s backstory: a banished prince whose older sibling was a spoiled despot, wanting to gather support and restore their kingdom after their sibling nearly destroyed it in a war. What they had described was a character whose motives were entirely altruistic, with a strong sense of legal right as their people’s tradition played a part in their backstory. When I asked if they were playing a Lawful Good character, they responded, “No, I’m Chaotic Neutral,” in a tone that sounded almost afraid, as though playing Lawful Good was a bad thing.
With every alignment, there are different extremes. Some view Chaotic Good as a way to break minor laws like theft to help people, while others see political assassinations of corrupt officials as fair play. Neither one is wrong, but they don’t always play the same way and can argue with one another about their own versions of morality. Lawful Good is the same. The problem is that a lot of players are not aware of that spectrum when it comes to alignment and end up conflating “righteous” with “good.”
Breaking the Mold
When it comes to being a Paragon, the only real stipulation is that you try to help people and try not to break the law while doing so. The success of this is not entirely necessary, but you have to try. There are plenty of flavors that a Paragon can come in as well.
The Fundamentalist views legality and morality as intrinsically connected. Any violation of the law is immediately seen as a moral failing, regardless of the reason. This character will ultimately be in it to help people and might even be willing to sacrifice themselves for others, but their rigid belief in their legal system and personal biases gets in the way. They may not be evil, but they’re far from perfect, and their worldview is flawed. Their ways might even be a bit authoritarian.
Part of the fun of role-playing this character is that it invites the other players to challenge them and possibly argue with them about their personal ethics. There’s also no real loss of player autonomy as this character mostly exists as a way to have the players argue in character. This character can also end up as the traditional Paragon by the end, after their worldview has been sufficiently challenged.
The Hapless Idealist
This is a person who regularly tries to do the right thing, always has the best goals in mind, but will often miss obvious cues and make mistakes. The mistakes do not make them evil, but act more like obstacles. This is a character who would not do well in a complex political environment because the half-truths and nuances are hard to keep track of. Instead, this person wants to do the proper, straightforward thing. One thing that can be done is to show the frustration of a character who fails so often when all they want is to help.
Such characters might hire an investigator to assist them in tailing a villain but not anticipate that their enemy might be prepared for that, getting the investigator killed. They might miss hidden motivations and accidentally help a more morally gray person achieve something bad, even though the Hapless Idealist was doing a fundamentally good thing.
The Hapless Idealist and the Fundamentalist can also both be assured that they are doing the right thing while still being completely unaware of the damage they are doing. This can be either through a lack of awareness or a strict adherence to dogma. Either way, these are more flawed versions of the Paragon character that do still fit in the Lawful Good alignment.
The Party Therapist
This character usually has a history of adventuring and has seen some rather rough stuff. As a result, they spend more time with their party, keeping track of their emotional state and ensuring they are okay after some rough fights. They’re also more likely to succeed with persuading NPCs because they approach things more empathetically. People tend to flock to this character because they focus on physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It’s also easy to see why this character is everyone’s friend.
The key aspect of this character is that they can acknowledge the darker aspects of their world and can have some firsthand experiences with it. The character can also hold onto personal trauma and try to help others not suffer in silence.
The Atoner character is one who started off as a villain or anti-hero but came to acknowledge the error of their ways. Now, they work to wipe out the evil they used to participate in and wash themselves clean of sin. This is a character with a somewhat serious attitude and is entirely searching for redemption. Often, they will be a bit more reserved in regards to party interactions but take charge when action is needed.
The Atoner can pair nicely with the Party Therapist, as they share a similar root but have very different approaches towards being Paragons. The Party Therapist can also be part of the reason the Atoner decided to make the change.
This character can best be described as "pure of heart". They are fundamentally good people, willing to step in and help others, but with a childlike innocence that leans more toward comedy. They’re generally less serious and more goofy but retain a lot of fun traits that can be played straight if needed. It’s hard to view them as self-righteous or preachy because they don’t really try to force a worldview onto others, simply helping as much as they can in ways that may seem unconventional.
In most cases, it’s the innocence that gets people on their side, as it’s hard to hate a person who simply tries to help, especially if, unlike the Hapless Idealist, they rarely ever mess up in that pursuit. Add in a bit of a "Happy to be here" attitude, and they become the party’s favorite person.
So, no Sympathy for the Devil?
Anti-hero characters and straight-up villainous characters are great, and I love them. I tend to play more Chaotic Good characters myself, after all. It’s part of the fun of RPGs. You get to step in and play as someone you aren’t. It’s that odd bit of hesitation when it comes to playing a Lawful Good character that seems strange, especially since it’s easier to be a hero in the idealized space of D&D, where saving the world is a weekly occurrence.
All of the alignments have their place. My hope is just that all players, new and old, don’t feel pigeonholed or pressured into these pitfalls. Being a Lawful Good player shouldn’t come at the cost of player engagement, and there are various ways to play it so that it never becomes boring. A Lawful Good character doesn’t even need to take things seriously to be utilized.
In the end, heroes are important. If everyone is an anti-hero, then there is no baseline, no high point to counter all of the lows. A hero, even a flawed one, is an integral piece of a party dynamic and should be utilized whenever possible. So have sympathy for the Devil, but be sure to save some love for the Hero.
Feel free to try any of these archetypes out and tell us what you think of them. Do you have any other archetypes you feel fond of? What was your favorite kind of Lawful Good Player Character from a past session? More than that, what is your favorite alignment and why? We’d all love to hear about it on our socials HERE.
Hunter Fox is a long time fantasy nerd, caffeine addict, and amateur game designer. He has some large ambitions of being a fantasy author in his own right and loves to go on diatribes about worldbuilding and magic systems. When he’s not managing his group’s campaigns, he’s working on his writing skills, cooking for himself and his roommates, or brewing mead.