Lawful Good Interpretations #1: The Intolerant Zealot

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If the common concept of the Lawful Good alignment is the saintly figure of the priest who overflows with compassion and has taken vows of poverty or charity, the holy warrior that is the paladin, and the heavenly beings occupying the celestial realms. There is no doubt that these are paragons of the alignment. Not everyone can serve as the epitome of the alignment’s tenets, however. Far and few between could even hold to such a standard. To make your game feel like a living, breathing world, some characters must fall short of the ideal but still retain most of the core of the alignment.

Not everyone can hold to the ideal, so what do others do to exhibit the alignment? The rest of the adherents might strive to embody the ideals, but their shortcomings mean their interpretations as to what they should do and how they act are seen through a lens of the person’s background. This means that what many Lawful Good characters do falls short in reality, especially if viewed by someone else without the same set of experiences. Some of the characters may be fully aware of their failings. To compensate for the difference, they are hyper vigilant.

The intolerant zealot is a character who is ruled by his passion. At his core, he is filled with compassion for the tenets of his alignment. It is through this love of his ideals and convictions that he works to save his culture and the populace from corruption and strengthen the worship others have for his ideals. It drives him to extol the benefits of a well ordered and benevolent society and to police it lest it becomes lost to the ages. When confronted with deviance, his response is not to express melancholic feelings. His compassion becomes anger directed at and borne of the social ills caused by chaos and evil which lead to harm of the individual or the collective.

Anyone on the wrong side of this fury experiences the zealot as being a member of the awful good. The intolerant zealot is so convinced of the rightness of his tenets that he does not see his concerns as an imposition of his views on others. In fact, he may not even be aware of his actions affect on others. The deviation from the “true path” is the blasphemy or heresy that imperils the soul, so it must be stamped out before it takes root.

The intolerant zealot routinely expresses his views at every opportunity. This goes along with his self-appointment as society’s watchdog. The slightest failing is subject to an espousal of doctrine or philosophy. A keen eye is developed for such scrutiny to be possible. What is the purpose of this? It is fear of the damning of the soul or society to irrevocable and eternal loss. With a belief that such is the gravity of what is at stake, what loving and compassionate Lawful Good character would not act on the individual’s or society’s behalf? Thus, the tom foolery must be corrected.

It is possible that this view conflicts with the alignment’s core edicts of compassion and tolerance? Maybe, but the zealot will be quick to point out his tolerance of others so long as what they do is lawful and promotes the greater good. Questioning whether something does this is not a rejection of anything new or different. For the zealot, people or laws are created to serve the greater good in an orderly fashion.

One can easily envision how merely being in the presence of an intolerant zealot can be an insufferably torture. The nitpicking of the wrongs of society and one’s on companions is as irritating as it is draining. Such a situation can lead to a group dynamic rife with tension, which may explain why so few players will consider such a character is Lawful Good. Characters in such a group may find themselves trapped in the uncomfortable position of needing to defend or explain their actions on a near-continuous basis.

Unless the intolerant zealot has a common goal or affiliation with the group, any cohesion the group may have will likely evaporate at the first perceived deviance from the intolerant zealot’s lofty ideals. Amongst a group of player characters, this might be unsuitable as a choice. The problem is the risk that the tension between the characters might carry over to non-gaming interactions between the players that may require the gamemaster to intervene in both the game and outside of it. There are ways to work around this if a player insists on following an interpretation this strict. If there is a lighter tone to the campaign, then a comedic gap between the intolerant zealot’s worldview and his reality can make the game more bearable when such a well meaning but abrasive personality is part of the group dynamic. When the group then encounters non-player characters, there can be a collective groan as the likely outcome is well guessed at in advance. Another option is to involve a lot of character building scenes and even flashbacks as part of the background story to let the other players in on the reasons and motivations for the intolerant zealot’s behavior so that whatever transpires between the characters stays within the framework of the game world.

As a villain, the intolerant zealot makes an excellent choice for Lawful Good antagonists. From an outside perspective, the character’s motivations are too rigid to be recognized as being rooted in the alignment’s tenets. While he might not outright terrorize his self-appointed charges, it does not mean he is not doing just that. Such a character is more likely to visit everyone under his sway to ensure they toe the line. What ultimately keeps the people in line is the fear of punishment. They might have more fear of the retributions of their deity than the intolerant zealot. After all, this is the very retribution which the intolerant is trying to save the people from.

The intolerant zealot might not do much to discourage such a mindset in others – if he is aware of it at all. Depending on the society, the intolerant zealot may be given more power, not less. The populace may very well see the character as an emissary of their deity, making it easier for him to preserve the souls of the people or their culture while risking flirtation in developing a cult of personality around the intolerant zealot. Such a villain is empowered by legal and moral authority to enact his policies. So long as this does not lead to abuse of power, the character is still Lawful Good.

Whether such powers were usurped or not is of no consequence so long as the means to gain that power were not overtly dishonest. After all, the zealot prides himself on his honesty and likely used it to secure his power base. The confidence he and others have in his morality is how he got here in the first place. For the intolerant zealot, this confidence is often resolute and unwavering, allowing the character to exude it in his speech and mannerisms. So long as the intolerant zealot has not transgressed, the illusion is the lie perpetuated by those believing it. Should he be able to do so, the intolerant zealot will use what he sees as a self-delusion as a method to guide the person to the correct path. The justification for this is that he did not create such a view; if it can be used to promote the greater good and an orderly society, then it is a loving gesture on the intolerant zealot’s part. Eventually the scales should fall from the individual’s eyes.

Discipline is an oft used tool for the intolerant zealot. Both components of the alignment require it, with it being known as restraint when referring to good. Not all intolerant zealots will use such a tool or love to do so. It is only a necessity to enforce discipline when an offender cannot keep his ways upon the purity of the alignment’s ideals. Nobody enjoys pain and the intolerant zealot knows this. That said, he resigns himself to the task out of a belief that punishment of the body teaches the mind the lesson of restraint. The intolerant zealot metes out justice in the same manner as a parent disciplining a child. In fact, the intolerant zealot may view his stewardship of his society as a parental one.
Another way in which the intolerant zealot remains Lawful Good is that he never pushes for a punishment that exceeds the law or surpasses the crime. The point of serving the greater good would be lost, rendering the effectiveness of the lesson to a diluted state. Keep in mind that the character desires to curb chaos and evil tendencies before they take hold in the community. The intolerant zealot is afraid of crossing a line wherein any punishment carried out becomes an act of evil.

Given the propensity to seek out and quash behaviors that threaten the social order and greater good, it would be easy to believe that the intolerant zealot would use any means at his disposal. This is not the case. Some acts are so abhorrent that not even the intolerant zealot can justify. If he can, he is no longer Lawful Good. At best, the character will use questionable methods, but they must still be legally acceptable when rooting out the bad seeds. Again, the methods are used to prevent moral decay and corruption that helps his fellow citizens keep the faith in the value of the Lawful Good tenets.

The intolerant zealot has to view the administration of justice symbolically in order to carry it out. Otherwise it feels too personal. If he is carrying out the corporal act, he is not flogging an individual; rather he is flogging the deviance out of the person. Yes, this is dangerous territory. The intolerant zealot cannot take solace in the symbolic role. Giving in to that temptation is a form of justification used to distance himself from the violence he is parceling out. The key thought behind this must remain that the use of the rod applied justly and as needed serves as a lasting reminder that the pain the transgression caused others will be visited upon the offender. They received a taste of the suffering the lawbreaker’s actions caused as a lesson; hence the reason the justice cannot be personal.

Up until this point, the focus has been on the visceral. Is this what the intolerant zealot defaults to? Does the punishment have to be physical? No. The intolerant zealot prefers verbal instruction and correction. Physical punishments are seen as a last resort. They received so much emphasis because the intolerant zealot must not shy away from the hard tasks. The severity of the infraction must be weighed, but the effectiveness of the disciplinary methods must also face the same scrutiny to see if they will prevent future instances of the infraction. The intolerant zealot wants to bring the wayward back into the fold, not drive them further from the flock.

When Good Zealots go Bad

You probably noticed how tenuous this position is within the Lawful Good alignment. Most zealots eventually go too far in their methods. When this happens, people remember why they cannot stand the character. The problem is that ultimately for many zealots nothing is good enough for the intolerant zealot’s exacting standards of purity. Zealots are still mortal and subject to all the flaws that entails – another reason they try to be impersonal when carrying out some offices. When they can no longer keep their emotions from overruling their reason in pursuing their ideals, they cease to be Lawful Good.

Such individuals may admit that their actions are harsh, but claim that they are misunderstood. They are often blind to their own faults. Many intolerant zealots reason that if people only knew the truth the way they do, it would be clear how much they love their faith and country and they have the best of intentions. The intolerant zealot is quick to point out that there needs to be someone to watch over society and protect from being frayed. The best way to do this is a vigilant policing from within and without. When the intolerant zealot takes it upon himself to shoulder the deity of holding the line for the community, he often does so without anyone to reign him in. This leaves him to judge what qualifies as an evil or chaotic element seeping into his beloved community should his vigilance fail.

Perhaps, then, it is fitting that the intolerant zealot is aware of the challenges and that he cannot hold back the darkness on his own. Like-minded zealots will thus band together in order to increase their efforts and as a means of protection. Thus it is rare that an intolerant zealot will be encountered alone. Worse, such insulation serves to unmoor the group from its original tenets and creates a gap between the zealot and their society. Banding together serves several functions: it keeps the intolerant zealots from giving in to temptations, a way to receive moral support, and a method by which they can organize. All of these things further isolate them from the very people they believe they are saving.

While all zealots have a dim view of the world’s moral state, those who have gone too far (and thus make suitable villains) have an exceptionally grim outlook. They have all but abandoned their alignment. These zealots feel they must do whatever it takes to fight against the moral decay at all costs. Such characters are close to becoming irredeemable fallen heroes. Once they cross the line to use any tactic to get their point across, the character stops being Lawful Good. Justifying the razing of a town to save the nation at large is neither lawful nor promoting the greater good. Even the possessed can be redeemed. The only way for this character to return to the alignment’s tenets is to give up the ghost to rid society of its ills. To continue is folly and eventually will lead to the character losing himself.

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