Posted by: Opinicus | April 16, 2010

The Evil Character

Your friendly, neighborhood Opinicus here.

I have often wrestled with the idea of evil characters, whether they are NPC (the usual case) or a PC.  Now it’s pretty easy to role play a good aligned character, good guys just always try to do the right thing.  The dragon is terrorizing the town, time to kill it!  The maiden needs saving? Let’s start kicking in doors! Old lady needs helping across the street? Lend a hand!  Alms for the poor? Well… let’s be honest here, we’re adventurers, not a charity case (I jest! I’ve had characters donate to the poor before, usually when the GM makes me keep track of coppers and silvers).

Neutral characters are also fairly straight forward to play.  You do what benefits you most.  Dragon attacking the town? Can I kill it and will they reward me for it. Maiden needs saving? Is she hot? Old lady needs helping across the street? Am I not doing anything remotely entertaining at this point in time (unless you’re paranoid in which case you help her across as the GM wouldn’t have put that in unless it was some wizard or genie in disguise)?  Alms for the poor?  Will they become henchmen/lackeys?

Now there’s evil.  There is the usual evil character, that is pretty easy to role play as well, you just have to play an asshole. Dragon attacking the town? Extort money from the town then join up with the dragon, or wait till the dragon leaves, sack the town again for the leftovers, then follow the dragon back to its lair to kill if for the rest of the loot. Maiden needs saving? Is she hot and/or can I sacrifice her to my dark gods (you may replace the words “dark gods” with “penis” if you wish). Old lady needs help across the street? Kill her, Ignore, or help her 1/2 way across then extort money from her (or if you’re paranoid, see the Neutral characters response). Alms for the poor? Remember that scene from the Disney Robin Hood? Where the sherif tosses a coin into the blind guy’s cup to bounce out the other coins? Yeah, either that or roast marshmallows on their burning remains.

If you’ve not noticed, many of the evil character’s actions are the actions of a sociopath/psychopath.  Do you have to be insane to be evil?  A large part of me says yes.  Ever wonder why it is so hard to find a GM that is willing to have evil PCs? It’s due to the fact that running evil PCs is akin to herding cats, homicidal, greedy, bloodthirsty cats.  You can’t use the regular plot hooks for them, they just won’t care.  You need a more stick and carrot approach. “You want to kill these guys because they wanna kill you or have done something bad to you.” or “You want to do this because you will get a really nice reward for it.” Now be wary of that last one, I was trying my hand at an evil game, and Akal decided that it was easier to kill the quest giver and just take the money, so don’t make the guy holding the loot be something squishy, make sure that that guy can kick their asses, and is only paying them because he’s too lazy to do it himself… kinda like the quest givers in the starter zones of World of Warcraft. Of course, sometimes you get the “fun” evil PCs, you know, the ones that made Chaotic Stupid characters.  A whole band of homicidal maniacs that will do things for the sheer fact that it was an evil act.  Why attack the orphanage? Because it’s full of things we usually have to save (though I love giving semi-logical reasons for doing so, like “Well, eventually we’ll have to save that orphanage, so I’m jumping the gun and killing them all before the bad guys do”).  In this type of game, it’s pretty easy to motivate them. “Look! there’s a paladin in the next town over!” PCs:”SWEET! Lets go over there and kick his ass!” GM:”You see group of pilgrims, all bare foot, trudging along the road, singing songs praising the gods.” PCs: “I roll initiative!”

Now, there are the evil gods.  Who in their right mind would willingly worship a god bent on destruction of all that is good (other than assholes)?  When I look at most of the evil characters in history, save the ones that were legitimately nuts, I highly doubt that they saw themselves as evil.  They all did what they did because they thought it was the best course of action for them and their people.  This is why I have a hard time coming up with evil NPCs, or at least ones that are completely unsympathetic. Why is this overlord slaughtering people? Because he needs it to be done in order for him to win.  Why does he want to win? Because he wished to right some injustice he perceives.  You don’t find characters that do evil for evil’s sake, at least not in real life.

So what happens when you want the party to realized that this guy is here to be killed?  I’ve run a party of mostly neutral characters, all with decent to high charisma and low wisdom, who, upon meeting the first villain of the campaign, decided that he wasn’t such a bad guy, just a necromancer.  And as they were friendly to him on first meeting, he had no reason to dislike them.  So, the next villain I concocted, I really wanted the party to know, “this pendejo is one bad S.O.B.”  So, I made a sociopath, a sadistic, callous, homicidal, EVIL, sociopath, i.e. a Paladin of Slaughter.  And it was great, I think it was the first time the party actually hated the guy they were fighting.

I find that evil is too subject to perspective, at least realistically.  No one wants to do evil, it’s just sometimes, their actions are.  This is why I usually dislike the Detect Alignment spells, or any spell that relies on a specific alignment.  Usually, most of the people the party fights are neutral.  They may be opposed to the party, and I guess in most games they would just be listed as another evil minion, subject to all the alignment affecting spells and enchantments, but I like to think that they’re just some guy.  He has a job here, and it puts food on the table and pays for the medicine for his sick, blind little sister, who, incidentally, will not be seeing her dear brother again.  And on that note, upon killing that guy, does that make the party’s actions evil?

Opinicus out.



  1. 1. I need to write a sequel to this.
    2. Murdering my father and stealing my wives and child was ok, but killing my dog was just going too far.
    3. In our defence, if she’s blind, she wasn’t going to see him again anyway.

  2. I honestly don’t remember killing the quest giver to get straight to the gold, but it certainly sounds like something I would do.

    I don’t really mind evil PCs, but it’s important that the character has something to care about that can motivate them to adventure. Bella’s PC in my Birthright game, for example, presumably cares about maintaining her position at the top of the totem pole. To some extent all of your characters in the Dragonlance game have an interest in furthering the goals of the Red Dragonarmy or the evil gods. I’m not so sure about Bella in that one though 😛

    If you don’t have a strong motivation, then the PC has to work harder to make the character’s actions generally believable. I think it’s one of the problems I run into when I play Jey the sociopath swift hunter – I don’t want to give him strong motivations because he’s only in half the game sessions, but at the same time it generally feels like he’s just doing things for the hell of it.

  3. Thank you, James, thank you for using me as the example of all that is evil.

    And you know I’m only staying with the Dragon Army until I can kill the god of lies, replace him with his own avatar, become the Walrus King, and form an army of flying whales to turn back Takhisis and show dragons once and for all that they should have evolved into mammals with the rest of us.

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