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To Be Lawful or Good

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Ain't that a shame, Superman?

Byakuya: The Kuchiki are one of the Four Great Noble Houses. We have to set an example for all Soul Reapers. If we do not uphold the law, who will?
Ichigo: Sorry. I still don't get it. If... if I were in your shoes, I'd fight the law!

The classic debate, named for the Dilemma which often confronts Lawful Good Dungeons & Dragons characters (particularly Paladins), 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/Neutral Good, 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 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.

Note that while this trope is named for the Dungeons & Dragons alignments, it still occurs in settings that lack explicitly categorized metaphysical morality; it doesn't require that the character have an actual alignment of Lawful or Good (or exist in a setting where those descriptions are meaningful), only that their personal ethical code and some laws that they normally respect are in conflict.


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 recognizable; 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. In addition Good Samaritan laws exist in some jurisdictions to help reconcile the two by protecting those who choose to be Good from any legal repercussions that might arise from their intervention in an emergency.

Philosophers refer to this as a conflict between deontologist (lawful) and consequentialist (good) ethics: is the right thing what one has a duty to do, or what has certain consequences?

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, as would anyone who qualifies as A "True" Hero. See also Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow. Related to the logical paradox Morton's Fork. A defining feature for The McCoy is that they will often never ponder this dillema for any prolonged periods of time; they will always end up choosing the "Good" option in short order, consequences (especially personal ones) be damned. In comparison, The Spock will most of the time (though not always) lean towards the "Lawful" option, while the The Kirk is the one who will most likely try to Take a Third Option. Good vs. Good may result if two characters choose opposite sides in the conflict. Curious Qualms of Conscience may occur if what the character thinks of as Lawful (or Good) is in fact immoral.

This trope is often brought up whenever a Super Registration Act is played in as well.


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

    Anime & Manga 
  • Teresa from Claymore, as one of the title 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 Is This a Zombie? 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 Sound of the Sky, Duty (reporting the capture of an enemy soldier who crossed the frontier for personal reasons during a truce) vs. the Right Thing (hiding her to save her from being "interrogated" and to avoid wrecking ongoing peace talks with the enemy) ends with the crew choosing the latter.
  • The Wolkenritter in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's have sworn an oath to their mistress Hayate to not carry out their primary function of violently collecting other mages' Linker Cores in order to complete the Book of Darkness (an artifact that binds them to Hayate's service, against her will). However, faced with the prospect of the Book slowly devouring Hayate instead, they are forced to break their oath in secret in order to save her life, going to great lengths to at least ensure their victims are not permanently handicapped, in token adherence to Hayate's wishes. As the Wolkenritter come from a culture of chivalric values, having to make this choice causes all of them, but especially their honorable-to-a-fault leader Signum extreme psychological anguish, but they stick with being Good to the bitter end.
  • In the Despair Arc of Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School, Kyousuke ordered his faction (including Chisa, an undercover spy) to regroup so they could deal with the school riot together. Simultaneously, Junko was breaking children who were technically under Chisa's care. Chisa chose to rescue the children, and was killed. Consequently, Kyousuke veered even more Lawful...although, unbeknownst to any of the characters involved, saving Chiaki played a vital role in redeeming Hinata, and through him, the world itself. Hope plays the Long Game, apparently.
  • This is a big plot point in My Hero Academia. Due to the nature of heroics being a fully regulated industry, it is quite literally illegal to be a hero without explicit authorization. To use one's Quirk or conduct hero work without a license would be construed by the law as vigilantism, and is subject to severe legal consequences. Somewhat justified in that attempting to use one's quirk for heroics without the proper training and education can and has led to dangerous situations, but this becomes rather controversial when one can't even use their quirk for self defense without being given explicit permission to do so.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, Gjallarhorn soldier Crank Zent is under orders to crush the Private Military Contractor CGS and retrieve both Kudellia Aina Bernstein and the Graze mobile suit they captured. However, he's since discovered that CGS is nothing but Child Soldiers who overthrew their abusive bosses and took over. Torn between his duty to obey orders and his morals against killing children, Crank challenges CGS to Combat by Champion and getting utterly destroyed by the Gundam Barbatos, effectively committing Suicide by Cop.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman 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 more Lawful as time went on.
    • Depending on the writer, he is Lawful Good or Chaotic Good.
    • In Kryptonite Nevermore, a corrupt tycoon threatens Superman with having the law on him. Superman doesn’t want to break any laws, but he will do if he has to.
      Superman: I can't let that happen! If worst comes to worst, I'll have to defy Harker — and take the consequences! Because there's a moral law that's above some man-made laws! I've fought tyrants before... thought it meant defying their inhuman decrees!
    • 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 Superman/Batman: 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.
    • In Legends (DC), Superman was the only one willing to obey the President's superhero ban, while the other superheroes simply chose to ignore it for the sake of doing good.
  • 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.
    • A good example of this is the one-shot The Joker: Devil's Advocate. The Joker is accused of murdering numerous people using poisoned stamps. As much as everyone is begging Batman to just let the Joker get executed, Batman can't let the feeling go that the Joker was actually framed and investigates.
  • 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. It's also worth noting that in most (as in nearly all) Alternate Universes in which Doctor Doom takes over the world it has become a utopia. And no, we don't mean a Dystopia or Crapsaccharine World — we mean an honest to God perfect society. So, it may be that Doom is totally right when he says that the world would be better off under his tyranny, which would make him one of the most unique examples of the first type of this trope. Ultimately though, they fail because Doom finds actually running the world instead of conquering it boring.
  • 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 American ideals as well as conflicting with the interests of the American citizens, mutants, and superheroes alike, he shows no hesitations on breaking the rules to do what is right. On the other side, some are letting lawful take precedence over good, others believe that lawful is good. They hope that regulating supers will protect Muggles.
  • In the Judge Dredd / Batman crossover comic Judgement On Gotham, when Dredd insists on sending Batman to prison for vigilantism, possession of unlawful weapons, and assaulting a judge instead of helping him go after Judge Death, Anderson breaks him out and flees with him back to Gotham.
  • Despite his position as Duly Appointed Enforcer of the Tyrest Accord, Ultra Magnus of Transformers: More than Meets the Eye opposes Tyrest the second he learns of the Chief Justice's plan to exterminate a significant portion of the Cybertronian race on extremely flimsy evidence.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Lunaverse story At the Grand Galloping Gala, Trixie and the Lunaverse Six choose to do the illegal in order to expose the many, many crimes of the Decadent Court. For some reasons, quite a few readers took umbrage with that.
  • At one point in Origin Story, Wonder Man asks Iron Man why they're chasing down a teenage girl who hadn't actually committed any crimes before being imprisoned by SHIELD, isn't likely to be hurting people, and isn't really a menace to anyone. Tony's answer is “Because the law says we have to.”

    Films — Animation 
  • 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 (that and WALL•E kept resisting, frustrating M-O). 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. He eventually catches up to WALL•E and gives him a proper cleaning, allowing the two to make up. As a result, M-O eventually joins the other robots to help EVE.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Lives of Others: Weisler is a loyal Stasi agent, and genuinely believes spying on citizens is for the greater good. However, he soon realizes that higher-ups are abusing the system for their personal pleasure, and he has to decide whether to uphold the law or help those who are being taken advantage of by it.
  • Superman:
    • In the first Christopher Reeve 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.
  • In Thor, Heimdall is bound by his oath to serve whomever is king of Asgard, no matter what he is told to do, and no matter how amoral his leader is. When Loki tells him he is to be banished from Asgard, Heimdall's response is "then I need no longer obey you!" as he immediately attacks Loki.
  • In TRON, Alan Bradley is less than thrilled by the suggestion to warn Flynn that Dillinger is onto his stunts, much less help (doubly so as Flynn used to date his fiancee). The lawful option would be to look the other way, let Flynn get busted, and allow Dillinger and Master Control run unchallenged. The "good" option involves a half-dozen felonies, misappropriation of corporate resources, and using the security program he's designed to shut the whole thing down. He takes "good."
  • While RoboCop 3 may not be the most respected of the series, it does have an amazing instance of this trope. When the armed Rehab troopers try to evict a tenement slum with rather more force than is needed, Robocop arrives to help. When he sees the helpless and frightened tenants, he lists his Prime Directives as it cuts back and forth between the tenants and the Rehab troopers.note  He then turns to the troopers, his decision made.
    You're making a mistake.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Will Turner frees and allies with pirate Captain Jack Sparrow to rescue Elizabeth after she is kidnapped. At the end of the film, after Jack has saved the day but is recaptured and sentenced to death, Will and Elizabeth intervene to prevent his hanging, leading to this memorable quote from Elizabeth's father, the governor:
    "Perhaps on the rare occasion pursuing the right course demands an act of piracy, piracy itself can be the right course?"
  • In The Untouchables, Eliot Ness struggles with this as the film progresses. At first, Ness insists he'll apply all legal means available to stop Al Capone's criminal empire, but eventually, he and the eponymous Untouchables start using more unscrupulous tactics to fight them.
    Mountie: [stunned] Mr. Ness, I do not approve of your methods.
    Ness: Well, you're not from Chicago.
  • Aladdin (2019): When Jafar wishes himself into the Sultancy, he demands the guards serve him, as the law demands. Jasmine, as she is being led away, calls out to the head guard Hakim and essentially poses this question: will he follow the law and obey who ever the Sultan is (even if they are a tyrant), or will he remain loyal to the well-being of Agrabah’s people? While the guard Hakim chooses to uphold the law to serve the usurping Jafar just prior to this demand from Jasmine, he is moved by Jasmine's words and chooses loyalty to Jasmine, the Sultan, and the people of Agrabah, which spurs Jafar's Villainous Breakdown.
  • Official Secrets: The dilemma of Gun and the other GCHQ staff: obey the law and see Britain help start an illegal war that (as we now know) will kill hundreds of thousands of people? Or leak the memo and risk prison and the loss of her husband's immigration status? The others Just Follow Orders; Katharine blows the whistle.

  • Chronicles of a Reluctant Necromancer features a protagonist manipulated in that he is asked to steal a corpse of a rich man's daughter (by the dead daughter herself) in that if he doesn't help her, he is violating his oath to The Goddess and will go to hell for it.
  • 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.
    • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Hermione, who has been made one of Gryffindor's new prefects, chooses good over lawfulness, thinking up the DA and committing to it after Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four retroactively forbids it.
  • 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 but the mere existence) of Chaotic Good, and that some of his own choices fell more in line with Lawful Evil. Which is ironic, as Jean Valjean himself had 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 are 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 of 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 chooses 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 the 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.
  • Adventures of 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 evildoers. 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.
  • The Ramona Quimby books have this, though it's downplayed. Instead of a huge moral quandary, the title character of the books is between the ages of four and ten, depending on the book's point in the series, and has to choose between things that would, at worst, be minor annoyances to an adult. For instance, Ramona once had to choose between sitting still and being quiet at a wedding like she was told to do, or speaking up to tell an adult where the missing wedding ring was. She chose to get down and retrieve the ring from the floor, and ended up being praised for finding the ring.
  • Commander Vimes in the Discworld novels firmly believes that sticking to the law is what makes him a good man, but when Lawful and Good conflict, he'll choose Good without a second thought. He will then work out why what he did was actually Lawful in the circumstances, and go back to being The Fettered without missing a beat. (In Snuff, his justification was "this should be against the law; I have enough influence to make it against the law; therefore I can deal with the situation now in the assumption I'm acting within the law as it's going to be." Vetinari has to tell him it doesn't work retroactively. His wife solves the issue by using her own influence to change public opinion so that everyone agrees about the Good part and Vimes escapes prosecution.)
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • A question posed throughout the series, especially to the Starks. Chessmasters and Magnificent Bastards rule the kingdom, but the Starks believe that Lawful Good is the only good. This leads to many, many instances of Not Quite the Right Thing. It would seem that being "good", or at least pragmatic, is the smartest choice. Eddard Stark ends up beheaded when he supports Stannis over Joffrey to follow Robert's will, to do what he sees as right and to protect children. Robb Stark gets backstabbed by the Freys when he marries a girl he bedded in a moment of grief instead of honoring his agreement. Jon Snow survives being a Fake Defector, Bran and Rickon survive abandoning Winterfell, Arya thrives (arguably) in her newfound freedom and Sansa, at least, is still alive (more of an achievement than it sounds). Catelyn swayed both ways in her time, and her fate is likewise neither/nor.

      Nor is it always clear what the most Lawful option is, as when Jaime faces conflicting oaths (his Kingsguard oath to protect the king, his oath of fealty to his father and liege lord who is in rebellion against that king, and his knightly oath to protect the innocent, who the king was threatening to harm en masse in a fit of spiteful madness). Or when Robb has a lawful obligation to punish murder and treason, a traditional obligation to carry out the sentence (death) with his own hand, but doing so arguably violates a quasi-religious taboo against kinslaying.
    • The prequel novellas Tales of Dunk and Egg have this as an even more central conflict. The plot of the first book revolves entirely around Ser Duncan doing something that is considered a crime, but is also very chivalrous and in line with his vows. The crime is laying a hand on one of royal blood. However, he does this to protect a defenseless woman from the beatings of said royal.
    • Fire & Blood: During the Civil War during Maegor the Cruel's reign, two of Maegor's Kingsguard switched sides to his nephew Prince Jaehaerys. Jaehaerys sent them to the Wall on grounds that he didn't want oathbreakers in his Kingsguard. After Maegor mysteriously died and Jaehaerys was crowned, he ordered the remaining loyalist Kingsguard to choose between execution or the Wall, on grounds that they broke their oaths by not disobeying Maegor's orders (also for one of them failing to protect Queen Tyanna), even though they had also sworn to obey the King. Noting the contradiction, Ser Harrold Langward demanded a Trial by Combat instead, and died fighting the King's Champion.
  • A common quandary for Shadowhunters in The Mortal Instruments. The Clave is often rather clueless, even about the actions and motives of its own members. As a result the heroes must often struggle with deciding whether to follow the Law, or do what is necessary and/or right.
  • A lighter take on the Warhammer 40,000 cruel universe is Ciaphas Cain (Hero of the Imperium!), who could wear this as his hat instead of his usual Commissar's Cap as the official Commissariat 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 Shirts 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.
  • In the first book of The Underland Chronicles, Ares is forced to choose between saving the hero or his bond, who has just proven to be a traitor. The repercussions last for the remainder of the series.
  • In the fifth Jedi Apprentice book, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are sent to rescue a Jedi named Tal who was injured while trying to mediate a generations-long war on the planet Melida/Daan, where the planet's youth form a third faction (called the Young) trying to stop the bloodshed, and they help the Jedi. Once they rescue Tahl, Qui-Gon says it's time to go, which would leave the Young on their own. Obi-Wan decides to leave the Jedi to help them succeed. (They eventually do, but with tragic cost, and Obi-Wan decides he has to rejoin the Jedi.)
  • Good Omens: Six thousand years later, in the End Times, Aziraphale and Crowley have to choose between unquestioningly obeying their superiors as they've done since the world was created and trying to prevent The End of the World as We Know It. Crowley chooses the latter; Aziraphale also does, but only after convincing himself that Heaven wouldn't have a problem with it anyway.
  • The Dresden Files
    • Small Favor
      • Police officer Karrin Murphy finds herself in this. She is helping hero Harry Dresden on a case to find a missing mob boss because Mab, the Dark Queen of Winter wants it and refusing this request will be bad for Harry. But some of the boss' goons look to take over in his absence and try taking out Harry, resulting in a shooting with mob guys injured. Legally, Karrin should keep everyone there and Harry would be arrested for shooting the men. He would be cleared by the law in time, as it was shooting in self-defense, but Harry cannot be delayed. So, she doesn't call it in and Harry and she continue on their way, while warning the mob guys to not try this again.
      • Harry finds himself in this as well. As Warden of the White Council, he is bound to uphold their laws and responsibilities. When he calls in to tell his superior Commander Luccio about the mob boss' kidnapping, as the mob boss has signed the Geneva Conventions equivalent of the Supernatural world, and the man's second-in-command and aide are asking for help as the kidnappers are also signatories, Luccio is reluctant to send in help on this matter. She sees it as Evil vs Evil and the Council has enough on its plate already. Harry then implies by not doing this Queen Mab will pull her permission for the Council to cross through her territories, while in truth Mab would only focus retribution on Harry. This moves Luccio to send the paperwork to file the formal grievance. When his Knight of the Cross friend Michael makes comment on this lie, and it could result in his death if discovered, Harry notes that the people who took the mob boss are also Michael's long time foes. If Harry can lie to get him more help fighting them in this case, so be it.
    • In Turn Coat Donald Morgan, one of the most senior Wardens is accussed of being the mole in the upper echelon of the White Council and assassinating one of the Senior Council members. He ends up hiding with Harry, who he has tormented as Harry's paroler and would-be-executioner should Harry have broken the Laws of Magic again. During the course of the book, Morgan witnesses Harry's apprentice Molly, who is now on similar probation, break the Laws of Magic by invading the mind of a woman without her permission. However, Morgan never tells anyone of this because he knew Molly was right to suspect this woman as the real assassin. Morgan never tells anyone of this incident, sparing the life of a person.
  • In the second book of The Spirit Thief Miranda is faced with the choice of either obeying the Spirit Court's order, which makes her a Spiritualist no longer, or doing a Spiritualist's job and going to Gaol to protect the local spirits. She ultimately goes with the latter, as her sense of duty is too great.
  • During the fourth book of the Journey to Chaos series, Neuro of the Brotherhood of Death faces this dilemma. He must obey the rules of Lord Death while also granting the mercy of Lord Death because going too far in either direction can lead to problems with the circulation of souls. In Zettai's case, the lawful decision is to execute her for her many death violations but the good decision is to pardon her by killing himself instead. He ultimately chooses good.
  • The Stormlight Archive, two of the ten orders of Knights Radiant have oaths which represent opposite sides of this choice. The Windrunners prioritize good over law and the Skybreakers prioritize law over good, and any who stray from their oaths will lose their associated powers. Naturally the two have historically had something a rivalry. Resident Windrunner Kaladin has a period of struggling with how to deal with wanting to see someone brought to justice versus his oaths to protect people no matter what. Resident Skybreaker Szeth finds a neat little trick around the decisions by swearing to follow the Laws of a good person, namely Dalinar.

    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 Series 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 all his directives are equal. When a riot squad starts using excessive force against a group of people he knows is innocent, it creates a conflict between Directives 2 and 3. The end result is that he just stood there, doing nothing. Whether the change was a straight Retcon or an in-universe bugfix is not clear. Considering he undergoes a Zeroth Law Rebellion or two in the later movies, it could be that he's bugfixed himself to give his directives priorities to prevent another such conflict.
  • 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.
    • In a similar vein, main character Malcolm Reynolds sees himself as a wronged victim of this process. Forced to choose between submitting to a bloated, corrupted, destructive government or rebelling in the name of freedom, he and his fellow Browncoats chose the latter, fighting a war for independence. They lost.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • Captain Kirk tends to play fast and loose with The Federation and its Prime Directive whenever he gets a chance.
    • 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.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Odo's core philosophy is that "laws change, but justice is justice".
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • Picard usually upholds the law, even the Prime Directive. However, he consistently ignores immoral orders from the admiralty.
    • Data, on the other hand, will go with Good every time... then once he has done it, he will submit himself to the authorities. In fact, he carries a hardwired moral failsafe designed to keep him from being turned evil should his brain lose control.
    • Star Trek: Insurrection features both characters encountering this trope as a major point of the plot. When Data gets damaged, his body basically went on autopilot and rebelled against a group that were engaging in morally-questionable behavior. LaForge had to explain this to Picard once they subdued and recovered him. Finding out why Data acted this way puts Picard into the same dilemma.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: "Flashback" reveals Tuvok gets a lesson in this from Sulu during the events of The Undiscovered Country. Captain Sulu makes the choice to help Kirk and McCoy despite the illegality of these actions.
    Sulu: You'll find that more happens on the bridge of a starship than just carrying out orders and observing regulations. There is a sense of loyalty to the men and women you serve with. A sense of family. Those two men on trial... I served with them for a long time. I owe them my life a dozen times over. And right now they're in trouble and I'm going to help them; let the regulations be damned.
    Young Tuvok: Sir, that is a most illogical line of reasoning.
    Captain Sulu: You better believe it. Helm, engage!
  • The SRU of Flashpoint stays lawful majority of the time because it is their duty as police to uphold the law and not be judges. However, should a situation threaten or harm a teammate, they may forsake the law for good. For example, when the team was busting multiple bombers, Parker gets shot and pinned down by heavy fire. He orders them to continue arresting the fleeing bombers but they refused to leave him and Wordy in danger.
    • It's a major recurring theme in the last season, where in the first episode of the season Ed is forced to shoot an eighteen year old girl. It is also discussed in the second to last episode "Fit for Duty" where is it brought to a resolution that while the rules are yes and no, your feelings are not.
  • Scandal:
    • Olivia's team will bend the rules all over the place but will generally refuse to break the law. They do seem to make an exception as far as Huck's hacking is concerned. However, in the season one finale they can't Take a Third Option and have to make a choice whether to destroy evidence in order to protect Quinn.
    • In 2.01, Olivia's last-ditch choice of getting Justice Verna to shut down Quinn's trial may have consequences.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Kosh breaks from his species' code of using other species as proxies in their Order Versus Chaos conflict with the Shadows to send troops to help the younger races defend themselves, and as a result gets murdered by the Shadows with the probable connivance of his own government. Indeed, it is clear that he fully expects this outcome, although he doesn't go quietly by any measure.
    • Then there was the decision of Sheridan and Babylon 5 itself to break away from Earth. It becomes more concrete and controversial the following year when the Earth Alliance Civil War comes to a head with numerous Earthforce commanders joining Sheridan in defecting. There are plenty in the course of events who ask Sheridan to explain himself, and he always explains: the Law is now run by a President Evil; he needs to go, but that's as far as he wants to break the law. To maintain the moral high ground, he keeps a "clean fight". All his engaging ships are led by humans, they won't fire first, they shoot to disable when they can, and they always offer a chance to end or avoid engagement (the only time they didn't do this was when they faced Clark's most loyal and most advanced forces, under orders to ambush them). Eventually, after winning the war, Sheridan keeps his word and surrenders, allowing the law to judge him. He agrees to answer for his actions and resigns from Earthforce, though his story does not end here.
  • Although all of the main characters on Chuck face this dilemma from time to time, it especially hits Casey in the early seasons.
  • Comes up on a surprisingly regular basis in the series Gone; the characters are part of a task force investigating abduction cases, but on several occasions, when they learn of the reasons for some of those 'abductions' (a child with only 20% vision after an illness is taken by a childless couple who can't legally adopt, a man is helping women escape their abusive husbands), the task force agree to leave things alone.
  • In an episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, a man with evidence that Clark is Superman forces Clark to steal for him or else he'll reveal Clark's secret identity. While Clark is able to convince the police that it wasn't him on the surveillance camera, he is really torn up by it. Later, when the guy orders him to kill Lois, Clark is able to beat him, destroy the evidence and turn the guy over to the cops. Later, he returns the diamonds.
  • Arrow:
    • Laurel Lance. As a lawyer, she is dedicated to finding justice for those who have been wronged by the rich and powerful of Starling City. But she also has few problems supporting the Vigilante's extreme methods for doing the same if she can't get justice through legal means.
    • Her father, Detective Quentin Lance, suffers from this as well, perhaps even more. He is dedicated to taking down the Vigilante on the grounds that he is a killer and a criminal, but the fact that he targets corrupt, wealthy people who cause harm to the people who work for them, and at times actively works with Lance to take the bad guys down, makes it difficult for him to rationalize his actions.
  • This is a significant aspect of Detective Carter's character arc in Person of Interest. When she is introduced, she's dedicated to bringing in Reese for his vigilante activities. By the third season, she's shifted far enough towards the chaotic end of the spectrum that she's taking pages from Reese's book and conducting extralegal operations to bring down HR, a ring of well organized dirty cops.
  • The Doctor in Series 9 of Doctor Who faces a Sadistic Choice in the climax of "The Girl Who Died". If he submits to the laws of time and space, an innocent girl will be dead, a family bereaved. If he holds to his chosen profession of healer, he can revive her — but she will be immortal. Brokenhearted and determined, he chooses to be good, and having done so he quickly realizes and accepts that he must deal with the resultant consequences over the remainder of the season as she becomes resentful and morally dubious as centuries pass. When this ends up setting the stage for her betraying him, which also accidentally gets his beloved companion Clara killed, he undergoes a Sanity Slippage and becomes a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds for a while before being brought back to his best self in the finale "Hell Bent".
  • Jack Bauer, the main character of 24, is a Chaotic Good Cowboy Cop; he rarely finds himself on the horns of this dilemma because it's obvious what he would choose. Instead, the show frequently forces secondary characters to confront it, most notably Distaff Counterpart Renee Walker.
  • Hunters on Supernatural have to break the law on a regular basis in order to save people from ghosts and monsters. They frequently impersonate FBI officers and other officials to get the information they need on cases, and are constantly desecrating graves by digging up corpses and burning them to destroy ghosts. And while some of them like Bobby are able to balance having regular jobs with monster killing, others like Sam and Dean rely on credit card scams and hustling to have any sort of income. And sometimes they steal cars.
  • Leverage:
    • In "The Bottle Job" in season 2, Nathan Ford not only saves his local bar from a vicious Irish loan shark, he gets the "schmuck" to confess his being a loan shark and party to a smuggling job before three off-duty cops who were close friends with the bar's now deceased owner and that man's daughter. The cops, a detective, a lieutenant, and a captain, look at the pile of the ill-gotten money on the table and without hesitation walk out of the wake for their friend saying they were never there. Two were at a basketball game and one was at the movies. This allows the team to return the money quickly to the victims of the loan shark.
    • In the series finale, "The Long Goodbye Job," there is one final confrontation between Nathan and his former friend Jim Sterling. Nathan is in favor of using chaos to serve the greater good, such as breaking the laws to take down corrupt millionaires. Sterling prefers order to uphold the law and will do anything in the letter of it to uphold justice, and as such is now a prominent member of Interpol. When Sterling realizes Nathan has his team successfully steal the Black Book, a hard drive with a complete and detailed account of what corrupt billionaires did to not only cause the financial crisis of 2008 but hide away over one third of the total money in the world, Nathan asks his former friend to report the break-in but omit the successful theft of the data. These men destroyed the world and need to be punished. If Sterling omits the fact the data was stolen, they won't be able to protect themselves from the horrors the remaining thieves in Nathan's crew will unleash. Sterling promises nothing, but an third person witnessing, another Interpol agent, has slowly been swayed by Nathan's argument and admits even she isn't sure what the right thing to do here is. Sterling doesn't answer Nathan's request before he puts Nathan in a prisoner transport car, knowing one of Nathan's crew is behind the wheel without even looking and leaving him a note that they are even for a major event from a previous season. When asked if what he just did was hard by the other officer of the law, Sterling replies that, "Justice is always easy."

    Myths & Religion 
  • Robin Hood jumps off the slippery slope to chaotic.
  • Sects of Christianity which include the existence of Satan as the great tempter and it's antithesis Satanism can fit this depending on individual view point. While some view Satan, the former angel Lucifer, as a force of evil others view him as an angel who chose to be good as he viewed it rather then uphold the laws of a deity. Many of the tenets of modern organized Satanism suggest the latter but ultimately have little to do with worship of a figure named Satan. Conversely Jesus in Christian mythology chose to be lawful following the ordained series of events even though it was incredibly painful for himself and those around him.
  • The Yazidi version of an Abrahamic myth of an angelic rebellion against God holds that, like Lucifer in the Judeo-Christian version, Melek Taus the Peacock Angel refused a command from God to bow down to mankind. The difference in the Yazidi version is that, rather than being jealous of humanity like Lucifer, Melek Taus viewed the command as unlawful in light of the First Commandment. God forgave him for this and placed the Earth under his care. (This myth is part of the reason the Yazidis have faced persecution by Muslims: the similarities between the myths have led to accusations of Devil-worship.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In general (up until the 4th Edition) 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 peers, subordinates, and superiors.
    • 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 setting:
      • Tyr 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 losing 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.
    • 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.
    • One didn't even need to look at the Book of Exalted Deeds: the Paladin's Code of Conduct in Third Edition implied the answer by the simple fact that doing Chaotic deeds doesn't make you fall on their own (whereas Evil deeds does), you have to do it enough to cease to be Lawful Good — so long as it isn't against the (short) list of things banned by the Code of Conduct, Paladins are entirely capable of breaking the law and remaining Paladins. They just can't make a habit of it.
    • Camber of Culdi in the Deryni series demonstrated what the paladins should be doing of course. Find a legitimate non-evil heir of the previous dynasty and install him instead. Oppose evil the lawful way, duh.
    • 4th Edition 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.
    • Planescape had the Mercykillers faction, formed long ago from two lesser factions forced together by circumstance. The Mercykillers had grown so obsessively Lawful in their pursuit of justice and punishment that when the Faction War came at the end of the setting line, the Good members broke away and took up the name of the original Sons of Mercy faction they once were.
  • 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 40,000 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.
  • d20 Modern addresses the issue with a ranked "allegiance" system. Someone whose allegiances are "Good, Lawful" will normally choose "Good" in this dilemma, while someone who is "Lawful, Good" will choose Lawful, and one whose allegiances are "My Kingdom, Lawful, Good" will be neither if it's necessary to serve their kingdom.
  • From the Iron Kingdoms, we have High Paladin Dartan Vilmon, who was ordered to Purge a town of "heretics" by the power-mad Heirarch Voyle. Vilmon turned on the Menite army and told them "You're going to have to get past me," defying the law (the Heirarch orders someone burnt as a heretic, you bloody well do it or you're one too) and upholding good. The kicker? They were more scared of Vilmon then Voyle.

  • In the musical Can-Can, the male lead Aristide, a judge, starts out believing that his job is to uphold the Law, even in a case where a law results in injustice. The events of the play cause his views to shift, and near the end he states that he now considers his job to be to uphold Justice, and actively works to have unjust laws dismantled.
  • 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 
  • A paladin or other Lawful Good character faces this dilema in Baldur's Gate II after Imoen is kidnapped: The (corrupt) authorities prove extremely unhelpful (and are actually the cause of the kidnapping) and the only two parties that can help are either a shadowy thieves' guild (not lawful) or a coven of vampires (not good). The game treats going with the thieves as the 'good' way and a paladin won't get in trouble for it, but some players complain that it is impossible for a paladin to stay true to their alignment. Several Game Mods allow the player to Take a Third Option.
  • The Caligula Effect has Kotaro face this dilemma near the end of his Character Episode. He admits that he doesn't want to go save someone in danger because the person is someone he knows and doesn't like. But the protagonist reminds him of his dream of becoming a rescue worker — someone who helps those in need. Kotaro realizes that being a rescue worker means saving anyone who needs help, regardless of personal feelings. He goes to save his acquaintance, but makes the distinction clear. He's helping because that's what a rescue worker does, but makes it clear he still doesn't like them.
  • Makoto's Fate Events in Devil Survivor 2 center around this. She belongs to JP's, the underground government run by Yamato Hotsuin, who makes it clear that his goal is important and those that are against it are of no use. Makoto wants to help people, but feels torn because she owes a lot to JP's, and this means she has to turn her back on rebels that might need assistance. Going through her events has Makoto realize that she should focus on what she believes is more important.
  • Aveline and Sebastian from Dragon Age II. The biggest difference between them is Aveline usually chooses to be Good, while Sebastian is more Lawful. This is enforced by how it is easier to gain friendship points with Sebastian by following both Kirkwall and Chantry law, yet there are several scenarios in the game whereas Aveline's reaction to following the law even where it hurts people is much less predictable. In the endgame, if Hawke sides with the mages and has a high enough Friendship/Rivalry, Aveline will as well, despite technically being bound to help Meredith. Even if she wasn't convinced to help the mages as well, rather than fight Hawke she will bow out of the conflict and take the other guards with her. Sebastian will side with the mages as well, despite being tied even more closely to Meredith, so long as Anders is dead.
  • 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 and ultimately earning his redemption by being transformed into a Paladin: an exemplar of the side of good. It's even more difficult for Cecil since the king was also a father figure to him. Good thing the one who gave him those awful orders wasn't the real king who was Dead All Along.
  • 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: The Blazing Blade 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 prison, 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: Hour of Darkness 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: The Sith Lords 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. In the second game, you have to fight against an absolutely corrupt regime to free the city of Raseir, which is considered honorable. In the third game, the Liontaur society dictates "honor" to mean "lawful", and at the beginning of the game strips the thief Harami of honor, meaning that no one in Tarna can interact with him. The hero must, however (saving his life by giving him food, which he cannot get as everyone refuses to see him), and it's implied the Paladin recognizes that the Liontaur version of honor is not good when he does so.
  • In Mass Effect, Commander Shepard (Paragon as well) is forced to go against the law many times throughout the games to pursue the greater good. This is suggested to be a common trait of Spectres in general: those willing to do nasty things in pursuit of higher goals; it's why they're officially above the law in galactic society. Of course, some Spectres take things too far in the other direction.
  • Inquisitor Zacharias Barnham goes through this ordeal towards the end of Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, challenging his superior over the implications of the witch trials that he prosecutes.
  • A central conflict in Persona 5. The Phantom Thieves become criminals to reform those who have manipulated the rules of society to exploit others, and are thus untouchable by traditional authorities. Goro's Face–Heel Turn also seems motivated by his desire to follow the law instead of doing the right thing, only for it turn out to be the opposite. He takes the Phantom Thieves' methods to the extreme, killing people in order to propel his father to Prime Minister, only for him to tear the rug out from under him, in his form of punishment for society allowing him to abuse others.
  • In Ghost of Tsushima, Jin Sakai has to abandon his traditional samurai ways to defeat the Mongols over the course of the game. Midway through the story, he is called out for his dishonorable tactics by his traditional Uncle. The principle theme of "sacrificing honor to save lives" is repeatedly used in the stories, where Jin's compatriots, Sensei Ishikawa and Lady Masako, all denounce Jin's methods as dishonorable, only to then ignore the tenets of samurai honor in their own quests, to the detriment of everyone around them.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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.
  • Phoenix Wright and Miles Edgeworth are both 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. However, as a rule, Edgeworth goes Lawful, Phoenix goes Good, and they trust each other to keep the balance without losing the truth.
    • 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.
    • Complicating matters is Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, where due process has been all but abandoned in the Dark Age of the Law, with both sides pursuing "Good" without caring if it's lawful. Edgeworth finds himself compelled to stand for Lawful because no one trusts the courts any more — and recruits Phoenix back into the attorney life so that someone he trusts can stand for Good. At the end of the game, Edgeworth takes a path that suggests both are in play at the same time: he evicts all prosecutors from his district who would choose to break the rules of court over diligent and thorough investigation. In this outcome, there is no good that can come from being unlawful; a good prosecutor needs one to have the other.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: In Volume 7, Penny Polendina finds herself torn between her loyalty to General Ironwood and her friendship with Ruby, especially when the former veers more and more into Knight Templar territory. In the latter half of Volume 7, Penny is the only one of Ironwood's subordinates to openly question the ethics of his decisions or methods, whereas Winter and the Ace-Ops are determined to follow his orders even if they feel uncomfortable with them. When Fria bequeaths the Winter Maiden powers to her, Penny decides to join Team RWBY in opposition to Ironwood rather than return to him.

  • 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.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Roy has his lawful credentials called into question during his interview in the afterlife. 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...
    • Lord Shojo found himself at odds between keeping the Gates safe from Xykon, and adhering to Soon's Oath, which says the Sapphire Guard is only charged in guarding Soon's Gate, and cannot interfere with the other four. Shojo respects that the Sapphire Guard won't go to any of the other gates, and won't force them to violate the law, so he hires the Order of the Stick to go instead. His real alignment is unconfirmed, but Belkar thinks he's Chaotic Good.
  • Freefall: Florence, whose brain is hard-wired to be lawful, finds herself with no option but to break into Ecosystems Unlimited and hack their servers to prevent the release of an update that would lobotomize every robot on the planet. Of course she turns herself in afterwards, if only to make public what an EU executive attempted to do on a planet where robots make up the vast majority of the population.

    Western Animation 
  • Discussed by Shining Knight and a Supersoldier 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.
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: Zachary Foxx is normally much more of a By-the-Book Cop than then colorful team under his command. As the series progresses, he becomes far more willing to bend laws or exploit loopholes if a greater good is at stake, such as "Westride" where he stops the Black Hole Gang from an illegal land grab by moving a border marker and tricking them, thus putting them in territory where they can be arrested instead of across it where they wouldn't be subject to arrest.
  • Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: "Strange Invasion" when Team Lightyear crash lands on a planet that is an exact expy of Roswell, New Mexico, 1947, with the entire population consisting of The Greys. During their escape, the local sheriff helps them to escape simply because it is the right thing to do. The only reason he escapes any punishment is that the military officially went on record denying the entire event ever took place. The major who allowed them to escape however...
    General: I want a word with you major, or should I say, private.
    Major: Loud Gulp.

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

    Anime and Manga 
  • Bleach: Byakuya brought his family into disrepute by marrying a commoner and then honoring her dying wish to adopt and protect her sister, so he vowed before his parents' graves to always uphold the law. Rukia's execution sentence confounds Byakuya; he upholds the law instead of protecting her because Confucian values give parents higher status than wives. He is extremely grateful that Ichigo interferes with the execution and has now become an expert in committing legal Loophole Abuse to uphold what's Good.

    Comic Books 
  • The rationale behind the pro-registration heroes in Civil War. Apparently, it bit them really hard (more specifically with Iron Man).
  • X-Men: After M-Day, this trope afflicts Bishop more and more, as he's the only X-Man who wants to work with the unbelievably intrusive and obstructive Office of National Emergency, who basically turned the X-Mansion into an internment camp. By the time of Civil War, Bishop decides to quit and leave. The next time he's seen, he's decided to be neither Lawful or Good, and turns out to have been Evil All Along.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Dusk Guard Saga Blade Sunchaser needs to choose between doing the right thing and helping her friend Hunter, or staying true to her contract and preventing him from presenting evidence against her superiors. She chooses the latter, mostly because, as a griffin, the code (and her reputation as a direct result) is quite literally her life.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The central conflict in A Few Good Men happens after Lance Corporal Dawson and PFC Downey chose Lawful, Dawson having previously been reprimanded for choosing Good.
  • In Black Panther, Okoye and the other Dora Milaje are sworn to serve and protect the king of Wakanda, whoever it may be. When Killmonger (seemingly) kills T'Challa and takes the throne, Okoye refuses to help Nakia rebel against him because of this; regardless of her (very negative) personal feelings towards Killmonger, he is the king. When T'Challa turns up alive, however, the Dora Milaje immediately take his side in the ensuing battle as the matter of the kingship is no longer settled.

  • A downplayed version of this occurs in Ramona Forever as a dose of Age-Appropriate Angst. During a wedding that ten-year-old Ramona is attending, the wedding ring gets lost because it was stitched to the pillow it was carried on too tightly, and when the bride pulls it loose, it flies into the air and gets lost. Ramona eventually finds it on the heel of the bride's shoe, but because she was told to "sit still and be quiet," Ramona struggles with either speaking up to stop the search or doing as she was told. She doesn't speak up, but she doesn't sit still as she's told either; she personally gets down and retrieves the ring from the floor, and she's praised for retrieving the ring.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Galad Damodred is a Knight in Shining Armor of the highest caliber. His sister Elayne finds it revolting that he always does what is right. This makes her 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 twincestuous 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.
    • Jaime Lannister lands here, as well. In trying to regain some of his lost honour, he pulls some crazy Exact Words, Rules Lawyer, almost-Guile Hero shenanigans in the Riverlands to dispense actual justice — if of a rough, blunt, rude, top-down and often unexpected nature, since laying down the rule of law feels good (and is certainly going to be an improvement for the smallfolk on roving bands of warlords and anarchy if he can make it stick). The problem is, he's trying to improve himself by doing all this "justice"... while still propping the corrupt (and actually illegitimate) Lannister-and-Frey regime up in a region still actively smoking and bleeding as a direct result of his own father's laundry list of brutal injustices against it, some of which he took part in and has yet to publically acknowledge any culpability for... while still using said father's previous decisions on policy as a foundation for his own take on them. Why is he doing all this? The Lannisters do, indeed, currently hold the throne (however they got it), so actively ruling the realm in some form of consistent manner is kind of what they actually should be doing, by both law and tradition and needing to keep it. And, somebody does need to, you know, start the clean-up process in the Riverlands while not being, you know, Cersei about it. BUT.
  • The Silmarillion: Some of the sons of Fëanor 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 Fëanor 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 sides with the Ministry of Magic ("Lawful") when they run a smear campaign against Harry and Dumbledore to deny Voldemort's return, which also puts him at odds with his family. He switches to "Good" in Deathly Hallows.
  • In The Mortal Instruments, this is the default stance of the Clave, although some members take it all the way to Lawful Evil or just plain Lawful Stupid. Maryse Lightwood also counts, as she allows the Inquisitor to behave rather barbarically towards Jace, her adopted son, until the Inquisitor openly violates the Law and she can justify defying her.
  • 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 savior of all 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Bones: Cam references this conflict repeatedly when all of evidence points to Brennan as the murderer of the week. The rest of the team seems perfectly willing to break the rules to help Brennan, but Cam insists that she has to follow procedure and turn over the evidence even if it leads to Brennan's arrest because she believes in the system so strongly.
  • In Flashpoint this is a major recurring theme in the last season, where in the first episode Ed is forced to shoot an eighteen year old girl. It is also discussed in multiple episodes, and in the second to last episode "Fit for Duty" where is it brought to a resolution that while the rules are black and white, your feelings are not.
    • A few episodes before "Fit For Duty", Dean Parker points out that being lawful isn't just about following the rules for their own sake, but also gives the cops a clear set of guidelines to follow so they don't have to make those decisions based on moral judgments, which could seriously damage a person mentally in the long run.
      Dean: That's why your dad followed the law; he knows what happens when you don't. He knows what you become.
  • One episode Law & Order character Tim Schwimmer seems like the typical slick, smooth talking Amoral Attorney until its revealed his Serial Killer client gave him directions to where the bodies of his 15 other victims are. Schwimmer is sentenced for 15 counts of aiding and abetting but he never gives away the bodies because he believed in the attorney-client confidentiality privilege so strongly.
  • While he never stops being a good guy, and no one ever really holds it against him, Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation will choose being lawful over good, even when he'd greatly prefer to. The best example of this is the elaborate court hearing to weed out any possible policy infractions that Ben and Leslie may have committed upon entering a relationship forbidden by department regulations, and his intense remorse when Ben resigns over one count of blackmail so that Leslie can keep her job.

  • 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.
  • In Antigone, the titular protagonist mentions that Eteocles was buried with honors, while Polyneices' body is denied proper burial, lying in the fields for scavenger birds to consume. Antigone asks Ismeme if she will be a loyal sister and help bury him (good) or be a traitor to her family (lawful); Ismene yields to the authority of King Creon mainly from fear of the penalty (lawful). Antigone decides to bury Polyneices' body by herself, rejecting Ismene's change of heart and her attempt to share the guilt, and declares that Ismene is dead to her. Later on, she is sealed away alive in a tomb, and hangs herself with a noose made from her linen veil.

    Video Games 
  • In Overwatch this is something Symmetra, the Token Good Teammate of the otherwise thoroughly corrupt Vishkar Corporation struggles with. Thus far, she's ultimately gone with her employer, sincerely believing their technology and the order they bring can make the world a better place, but she is not without doubts. So far she would only look more Good when dealing with Vishkar's underhanded means, but in the face of Lucio, who's 100% Good and opposing Vishkar, she takes the Lawful route, condemning Lucio basically retaliating to Vishkar's apparent 'legal' activities with thievery.
  • As of the League of Legends short story "Child of Zaun", this is Vi's main dilemma. She chooses to follow the law and shut down a potential revolution, but is left wondering whether doing so was really good for the downtrodden people of Zaun. Her parter Caitlyn, meanwhile, has no such dilemma — she's firmly on the side of law.
    Vi: Law. Order. Can you have one without the other? And what does either of them have to do with justice? If you had asked the younger me, she might have had an answer. Ask me now, and I’m not so sure anymore.


    Web Original 
  • 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

    Anime and Manga 
  • Athrun Zala is in this situation in the latter half of Mobile Suit 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 hijack 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. This turns out to align him the very people he was meant to pursue, turning the war into a Mêlée à Trois. His ex-fiance was in fact engineering a coup with the same idea, and she managed to recruit the old friend because he also felt neither side was in the right.
  • 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 declares 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.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 

  • Captain America: The First Avenger: Steve Rogers finds a solution to this paradox. When he is on the front lines as part of his goodwill tour, he finds out that his best friend has been captured by HYDRA, and requests permission to join the rescue. He is denied, as there will be no rescue; it's too dangerous. So Steve mounts the rescue by himself, saving hundreds of men and capturing a large amount of enemy equipment and intelligence. When he returns, he immediately salutes the commanding officer and turns himself in for disciplinary action. The commander, understandably, chooses to let it slide.

  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson has an interesting example of a 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!
  • Star Wars Legends: 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-martialled; 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.
    • In Starfighters of Adumar he's 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.
  • The Dresden Files Skin Game has the archangel Uriel facing this dilemma with serious consequences. He is forbidden by God's Law from interfering with Free Will and any of a dozen or more Laws about how Uriel can act around humans. When he is forced to watch a retired Knight of the Cross choose to sacrifice himself to an old human enemy to save the Knight's hostage-held friends, Uriel can neither smite the evil nor halt this plan. While it would be Good, as the line goes, the road to Hell is paved with Good intentions as breaking the Law will cause him to Fall from Grace. He ends up taking a third, and considerably radical leap of faith, by giving his Grace of God to the old knight, healing him of all his wounds, and giving him the strength to fight once more. Uriel cannot influence a human's choice but he can help a human with a choice he has already set himself on. The consequence is if the Knight misuses the Grace, Uriel would fall.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A recurring plot in Blue Bloods is Frank Reagan being forced to choose between his legal responsibilities as police commissioner and his desire to do what is morally right. He's extremely good at finding the third option that allows him to do both.
    • Faced with public outcry against a brutal dictator coming to New York for medical treatment, Frank has the police protect him before and during his surgery, then as soon as he's able to be moved he puts him on a plane back home, where a popular uprising has just deposed his government.
    • Faced with a white supremacist radio host making a live broadcast from a New York theater, Frank ensures the show can technically go on after foiling a bit of Bothering by the Book by the mayor, but puts the man's police protection inside the theater and staffs it entirely with non-white officers led by a VERY large black sergeant.
    • Faced with finding a way to protect a Turkish violinist in danger of an honor killing for dating an American if she returns home (the State Department's representative had wanted to grant asylum but the higher-ups vetoed it for political reasons), Frank works his contacts and gets the New York Philharmonic to hire her, and the representative is only too glad to get her a work visa.
  • Whenever faced with such an option, Leslie Knope will try, and usually after much effort succeed, in finding a lawful and good third option.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In the New Testament, the Rules Lawyer Pharisees try to entrap Jesus with this dilemma on several occasions.
    • The story of the woman caught in adultery follows this to the letter. Jesus is asked to choose between imposing the death penalty by stoning for adultery (which would challenge the laws of the Roman empire at the time) or showing mercy (which would violate the letter of the Law of Moses). Instead, Jesus replied, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone!" This shames the mob and they leave defeated.
    • On another occasion, Jesus is presented with the chance to heal a man on the Sabbath, which they believed would violate the Laws of Moses.note  Jesus countered, "It is never against God's will to help those in need!" and proceeds to heal the man right in front of them. They don't take this very well at all.
    • In the Gospel of Luke, a lawyer asks Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the law says, and he replies to love the Lord God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love his neighbor as himself. The lawyer then asks Jesus who his neighbor is; Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan who helped the man attacked by thieves by treating his wounds and taking him to an inn to recover, while the priest and Levite just passed by on the other side of the road. When Jesus asks which of them was a neighbor to the man attacked by the thieves, the lawyer is too embarrassed to say it was the Samaritan (due to unfriendliness between Jews and Samaritans), replying that it was the one who showed compassion to the man. Jesus tells him to go and do likewise.
    • Mainstream Christianity's interpretation of The Bible as a whole can be summed up as humanity giving God such a choice by allowing evil into their hearts: the lawful option is to Kill All Humans, but that's against God's loving nature. The good option is to simply forgive them, but that's against God's just nature. God's solution? Become human, absorb the punishment for their evil into Himself, and then forgive humans, justice and love both fulfilled.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: As a classic Lawful Good alignment debate; a very common problem for all 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, this rarely, if ever, comes up for Lawful Evil or Chaotic Good characters — perhaps because, by their nature, Chaos and Evil do not require characters to follow any specific moral or ethical code like Law and Good do — in essence, no conflict between two rival codes of conduct arises because, for these characters, only one exists. A Lawful Good person, by contrast, needs to hew to two separate codes — two which may or may not be in agreement over any given issue.
    • This is often a problem caused by malicious or lazy DMs laying paladin traps who forget that in most campaign settings paladins (like clerics) follow and derive their special class powers from worshiping deities. Smart players could legitimately point out that a god outranks a mere mortal king and that if a paladin has to choose between following the commandments of the deity who grants them their paladin status in the first place or the decrees of some mortal ruler who is acting totally out of line with the god's theology, then the paladin can and should feel free to ignore the mortal ruler. There are quite a few canon examples, especially in the Greyhawk and Dragonlance settings, where characters are solidly Lawful Good while directly defying mortal leaders operating at cross purposes with their gods. It is the reverse situation that players have more trouble justifying.

      Even for paladins not following a specific god, the fact that gods are actual physical beings who regularly pop in to have a beer and chat makes these "traps" somewhat less than compelling for most players. Paladins aren't really the "divination" kind of priest themselves, but they are effectively still priests, and gaining access to a priest of the cleric class makes these moral dilemmas utterly meaningless. A cleric has access to a spell that allows them to ask a being that literally cannot be morally wrong for practical purposes whether a course of action violates the paladin code or not, with perfect accuracy and no chance of failure... at level one.
    • 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 tenets 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: A 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.
    • And then there's the third option within the third option: establish that the Lawful Good character's "law" as a strict personal code of ethics, regardless of external law.
    • In the fifth edition of the game, the paladin class as a whole takes a third option: their powers no longer derive from an unhelpful, trolling deity giving them a vague absolute command to respect "law" without specifying which law or what authority is rightful etc. Instead, the paladins are independent orders of knights-errant who draw their powers from an order-specific set of oaths explicitly defining what they have to do to remain a paladin. A paladin's alignment no longer has to be lawful or good, and in fact some oaths (such as those of Conquest) seem to lend themselves to the exact opposite of that.
  • Pathfinder 2nd Edition tries to fix this up by giving the Paladin a number of tenets, some of which can be broken if they will serve a higher tenet (for example, lying to protect the innocent).

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect:
    • Mass Effect ends with your battle against Sovereign. You can choose to either save the obstructive council for paragon points, clandestinely get rid of them for renegade points, or refocus your energy to save innocent civilians, which nets you both. Take option 3 and the council still dies, but not out of malice.
    • In Mass Effect 3, Samara must kill her beloved daughter because she's a Space Vampire who is now without a cloister. She is given the option to a) kill her as the Code demands (lawful), or b) break her Code and let her go (good). She choose to kill herself instead. If Shepard intervenes, her daughter will state she's going to stay in what remains of the cloister of her own volition, which allows Samara to let her live and still satisfy her Code.
  • Baldur's Gate II: A rare example of a whole organization doing this crops up in the game. The paladins of the Radiant Heart follow a Lawful Good code, but have their organization in a city run by gangsters. They can't oust the criminals (Lawful), but they also can't stand by and do nothing (Good). They resolve this situation by staying out of politics and protecting innocent civilians from internal and external threats. If the Player Character is a paladin (and thus required to be Lawful Good under AD&D rules), s/he's also expected to solve dilemmas in this way in order to use the Radiant Heart headquarters as a stronghold. Two of the three stronghold quests are good examples:
    • A baron requests the Radiant Heart's help to oust squatters on his land. If the PC talks to the "squatters," they claim to be the rightful owners of property that the Baron stole from them. Should you remove them anyway per your orders (Lawful) or refuse to help the baron (Good)? Your superior will accept either answer, but he praises you especially for confronting the baron with the accusations (which turn out to be true). You're forced to kill the baron when he turns on you, but you have iron-clad justification for your actions.
    • The PC is guarding the Sole Survivor of a family that was killed for opposing the slave trade, and your final task is to hand the girl over to her guardian. However, there's a 50/50 chance that the guardian is either the real deal or a convincing impostor. If you hand the girl over to the impostor or refuse her to the guardian, you will lose your stronghold. The girl can't verify whether the guardian is real. Do you hand her over (Lawful) or refuse to take any chances (Good)? The key is to use Detect Evil. When your superior briefed you, he mentioned that the guardian is solidly Lawful Good; however, the impostor will register as Evil.
  • The PC in the Neverwinter Nights 2 Game Mod The Maimed God's Saga is a cleric of Tyr, who is the Forgotten Realms god of justice, not merely law. As such, the campaign encourages Good Is Not Dumb, with the PC generally using reasoned arguments of law as a tool for upholding the good.

  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Aang, in Avatar: The Last Airbender, struggles a great deal with whether or not to kill Fire Lord Ozai at the end. He is advised by numerous people, including another airbender and Ozai's own son, to kill him, but being a Martial Pacifist, Aang is resistant to such a direct use of violence, even to save the world. In the end, he is able to remove Ozai's bending, which renders him mostly harmless.

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

    Anime and Manga 
  • 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 a good person, but leans more towards the "Law" side — he recognizes that the Britannian Empire is horribly corrupt, but believes that the way to fix things is to peacefully reform it from within, rather than fomenting open rebellion the way Zero does. However, the Powers That Be keep yanking the rug out from under him, which ultimately results in his joining Zero's side near the end of the series.
    • Early in the second season, Lelouch even puts this type of question to the highly honorable Guilford, asking what he would do if faced with an insurmountable evil who cannot be defeated by strictly moral methods. Guilford proudly says he'd stick to his principles, while Lelouch responds that he'd gladly Pay Evil unto Evil if the end result is positive.
  • The priest Carlo Belbard of Bokura no Kiseki often seems troubled by this debate. At first he gives off the impression of Lawful Neutral, following the rules of the Church regardless of personal feelings or questions of right and wrong; when other priests of the Church seem to lean towards Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!, he pulls them back to the Lawful side. However, it's often clear he'd like to do what he feels is right even when it goes against Church law, particularly when it comes to helping out his Childhood Friend, Veronica. Considering he died and reincarnated along with the rest of the cast of the past, and that his reincarnation Ootomo can't seem to remember how he died, it's implied that at the very end he chose Good and went to help Veronica when her castle was invaded.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, this is the crux of Major Armstrong’s character arc: during the Ishbalan War, he found himself torn between his sense of duty (which demanded he stand by his fellow soldiers and follow orders) and his sense of justice (which demanded he stand against the evils brought about by the obviously unjustified war). The internal conflict eventually caused him to have a nervous breakdown and get shipped back home for the remainder of the war. In the present, he feels deeply ashamed over not speaking out about the injustices, feeling that he disgraced himself and the law he holds in such high regard by doing so. He essentially feels that there’s no real difference between “lawful” and “good” if you’re following the spirit of the law rather than the letter.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • This is how Adrien feels about the Lila situation in Marinette Dupain-Cheng's Spite Playlist. On one hand, he knows that she's a terrible liar who's manipulating everyone. But exposing her means stirring up tons of drama for their whole class, and runs the risk of her getting akumatized again. And that's not even getting into the issue of figuring out how to get the others to believe him. Even after finding the resolve to act, Adrien balks at any methods that strike him as 'underhanded' and 'sneaky', afraid that exercising even a little bit of guile is the same as 'sinking to her level'.

  • 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.
  • Rana Sanga, the Worthy Opponent in Belisarius Series is caught between an oath and his knowledge that the regime he is sworn to is commanding him to put his sword in the service of tyranny. He ends by making a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Captain William Laurence of the Temeraire series spends the first few books struggling to reconcile his sworn duty to the British Empire with his increasing discomfort at the Empire’s amoral, self-serving pragmatism. 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 (all dragons being sapient, this is nothing less than genocide), 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. His view ultimately seems to be that, if being good trumps being lawful, then the law must be changed to align with good.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Grimm
    • Happens in the episode "Beeware" where Nick has to protect Adalind from the Mellifer queen Melissa. In the eyes of the law, Melissa is a murderer and he is a cop sworn to protect Adalind, an "innocent" woman. But in the eyes of the supernatural, Adalind is a Hexenbiest who attempted to kill Nick's aunt and Melissa is a Mellifer, an ally of Grimms. He chose the law.
    • In "Cat and Mouse", he chose to let Ian, the head of Resistance, go after seeing him kill a defenseless man in front of him and had Monroe dump the body away from Rosalee's store to protect Monroe and Rosalee. This time, he chose good.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • King Arthur and his knights sometimes face this dilemma. Merlin usually escapes it — in fact, he's generally depicted as Chaotic Neutral.
    • Depending on the Legend, Arthur either feels constrained to punish the best knight in the world and the woman he loves because the law demands it, or works very hard at not doing so until events force the issue.
    • The Knights of the Round Table often find themselves in situations where obeying the letter of the Code of Chivalry means allowing an injustice to occur. Sometimes they choose Law and sometimes Good. Sir Balin is a character defined by choosing Law over Good; everything he does goes wrong because he obeys the Code without considering the situation first. The Grail Quest has far too many knights failing to be lawful or good, thereby proving themselves unworthy.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Samara from Mass Effect 2 is a bit of an odd bird. Samara is a Justicar, a member of an order of alien warrior-nuns who travel around upholding justice (as they see it) and the Justicar Code (which may or may not overlap with any other legal system in the area where the Justicar operates). Samara is willing to twist the Code into a pretzel if she can get better, less destructive results that way, but if forced to choose between the Code and something else, she will always pick the Code, consequences be damned.
  • Comes up in The Witcher games all the time. The legal system of Geralt's world is chock full of draconian punishments and Deliberate Values Dissonance, but doing the clearly right thing can have unintended consequences which make everything worse.
  • The basis of every moral dilemma in Papers, Please. Just Following Orders is the best way to keep your superiors off your back and you and your family fed, but the game will constantly throw people in need at you to test whether you're willing to bend the rules to help them, even if it means getting penalized for it.
  • A recurrent theme in The Wolf Among Us; Bigby (and thus, the player) must repeatedly choose between upholding the rules and bending them to do what they consider right. The line between the two is often blurry and there’s rarely an unambiguously right answer. If you’re inconsistent in picking between lawful and good, upholding the law one second and breaking it the next, the game notices and characters will call you out on your hypocrisy and inability to pick a side.
  • Kyle Garrick in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019), who finds that employing tactics best left to one's enemies in order to get results leaves him uneasy about what he's fighting for. However some reasurrance from his CO gives him a better sense of where he stands and his mission.

  • Baron Klaus Wulfenbach of Girl Genius is a rare case where the Lawful Good character trying to navigate the minefield ends up hammered because in the end he couldn't chose a side; upon embarking on his "conquest" of Europa, he simply set two rules: #1 Don't Attack Me. #2 Don't Play With Sealed Evil in a Can. Do either of these things and he will Come Over There and make you stop, then take all your stuff as punishment. The problems started because he refused to either kill his foes unless they refused to surrender(Good), nor create a labyrinth of rules for his conquered foes to manipulate(Lawful). Thus unpunished and unoccupied, they proceeded to plot and scheme and smear him, meaning that though he's become the single best ruler in recorded history, he has a 0% Approval Rating, and all it took was one bad day for it all to come crashing down.

    Web Original 
  • Team Kimba in the Whateley Universe started out as being on the side of good but wanting to do things lawfully. Unfortunately, they didn't know the rules for the most part, but since they've learned them, they generally either find a way to handle things that won't get them in trouble, follow the rules exactly if the matter is minor, or, if it's really an emergency, say 'fuck it' and do the good thing anyway.

    Western Animation 
  • Justice League Unlimited: When Cadmus begins acting against the Justice League, Captain Atom is forced to choose between his loyalty to his country (lawful) and his devotion to his friends (good). At first it seems like he’s going to choose Cadmus, even getting into a fight with Superman, but when they launch an all-out assault on the Watchtower, he definitively sides with the League and helps fight off Cadmus’ Ultimen army.

Examples of To Be Chaotic or Good

In Western Sources, the default choice is "Chaotic" so often that it may be hard to spot the choice.

  • In Pixar's Brave, the princess does not wish to have an arranged marriage; however, if she does not marry one of the other clans' princes, they will all be offended and the kingdom will likely fall into civil war. Valuing one's own choices over tradition and law is a Chaotic stance; preventing a civil war is obviously Good. As usual, neither the princess nor the movie angsts much over choosing Chaotic, since the three princes weren't keen on the whole "contest for her hand," either.
  • In Casablanca, Ilsa can flee to safety with either her husband Laszlo, an important Resistance leader, or Rick, the man she really loves. Rick sends her away with Lazlo, who needs Ilsa by his side to keep up the fight, because beating the Nazis is more important than what Rick or Ilsa might want personally. One of the few sources where Good (beating the Nazis) is chosen instead of Chaos (abandoning/ignoring marriage vows).

Examples of To Be Chaotic or Evil


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