December 20, 2010 by thebasicsofthegame
So you want to be evil? The notion of villainy sets your heart all flutter? Was your hero in Star Wars always Darth Vader? Do you think Sauron had the right idea and that if you had been in charge, the Shire would have been burned to the ground? Is your favorite guy always the bad guy? Many people, off and on, find the notion of playing an evil character very appealing. It even comes up in movies and stories. The Black Company series of books is really story of less bad people who work for the really bad people in the world. In any other story, the Black Company would be counted as the bad guys. The whole genre of crime films, is based on career criminals as protagonists. There are some icons to work with as far as playing evil in your stories, but there are some problems as well.
If not handled well, having a game with evil PCs can be a quick way to end a campaign. Evil often adds up in some players’ minds, to an excuse to be an ass. Whats more, motivating a party to be interested in each others well being is…harder with evil in the group. Also some people are not comfortable with being really nasty. Some players may sign up thinking they are maybe playing lovable rogues, where as others have signed up to be Hannibal Lecter. The range of evil people can put up with in a game, is going to vary quite a bit. Often the culprit in the dissolution of a group is due to the evil PC factor, a lack of making sure everyone is on the same page. The expectations of players and DMs need to match up, or this will not work.
There are a lot of different types of evil. You can however, reduce the types down to some major archetypes. Here are a few, though this is not an exhaustive list.
There is evil for a good cause. History is filled with people who did terrible things for a good cause. A media example you might look to is the Operative from the movie Serenity. His actions in the film are in support of order and the peace in the Alliance. He knows his methods are evil, but he justifies the actions because he is doing it for the right reasons. PCs based on this paradigm can be interesting. This kind of evil generally sees everyone else as someone to be used, unless of course they share his world view. Then they are allies in a secret war. Remember, most of the villains in history were heroes in their own mind. Even many of the Nazis thought they were doing some good. Are you the villain in another person’s story?
There is selfish evil. This is sometimes called low or street level evil. These are folks who look out for themselves and not much else. These guys are are not necessarily all that bad, but they will sell out their fellow man, take his last cent, and steal his girl. The examples of these kinds of characters are found in most crime films(Layer Cake is a favorite of mine). These are not muhahaha evil. They will kill, but they wont take much pleasure in it….usually. They will steal even from good people, but may not have to kick a puppy in the process. This kind of group can be a lot of fun, but again everyone has to be on the same page. The Black Company is a good example of low or selfish evil. They are not interested in the greater good, just doing their job and getting paid, even if the payment is from big bad evil.
Then there is evil for it’s own sake. In a world with swashbucklers, world shaking magics, and large pantheons of gods, you can find people who actually worship evil. Most folks in history were heroes in their own minds. Most bad people don’t want to be evil or bad. In stories though, you can find all sorts of people who are evil, just because evil is cool. They range from the TV show Jekyll (seriously, the main character is just plain bad and stylish), to supernatural evil baddies (Loki, the god of mischief, various devils), and a whole long history of movie villains (Emperor Palpatine, Sauron, Etc). This can be the most fun kind of evil to play at times. You turn the bad up to 11. You are kicking the puppy, tossing grandma off the building, and setting fire to the orphanage, just because you can. It is also hard to make this work in the average gaming group. Unless everyone in the group is on board being the minions of the one player, then the conflicting plans of the various would be conquerors can cause in party conflict, which is often the cause for games falling apart.
Whatever brand of evil you are shooting for, there are a few things to keep in mind when doing the evil PC. The first thing to remember is, if you are making it hard for a fellow player to play his character, then that is not fun for them. If your character’s evil is taking away choice from your fellow players, then your taking away their fun. The reverse of that can cause problems as well. If the party is not all evil and your the one evil bastard kicking orphans or the like, and the rest of the party are good guys, they are not going to stand aside while you light the helpless grandmother on fire. You should not expect them too. Be aware of the overall character of the party. If you are all evil, establish what kind of evil early on, so as to keep everyone on the same page.
An evil group can be fun when everyone is in on the mayhem. If you are the lone evil character in a party, try and find the ways to sneak in your evil in on the side. Be sure you check with everyone to see if they are comfortable with evil in their game. Sometimes you will have players who are not comfortable with it. Respect that and move on. Don’t force it on the group. Try and make it a cooperative storytelling sort of thing so you all get to enjoy what is going on.
Another thing you should remember is being evil does not mean you have to be a jerk. I like to talk about it as being in on the joke. If you look around the table and you do the evil thing, is everyone else smiling at the clever and vicious thing you just did? Are they instead frowning? Do they grumble about the whole thing? This is a sign. This is a sign they are not enjoying things as much as you. Talk to them. Tell your fellow players and the DM where your head is at. Ask them what you can do to make your concept work better in the group. Get them in on the joke. Make sure when you are doing your villainous laughter, they are laughing too.
The key here is to communicate. Communication is the key to any evil endeavor. Whether you are a would be Doctor Doom, or simply the fantasy equivalent of Dr. Smith from Lost In Space, you and the rest of your party will have much more fun if you all talk about whats going on. Of course this as true of playing good guys as it is of being bad.
and now a word from Eartha Kitt