Posted by: allhailthoon | April 18, 2010

Evil Part 2: There are No Bad Characters, Only Bad Players

Being a subject near and dear to my heart, I feel as though it is my duty as a D&D player and a blogger to further explore the subject of evil and its place in a campaign. Before I continue, however, I must explain the logic behind my choice of title.

Too many people assume (unfortunately, often correctly) that PCs only want to play evil characters in order to screw each other over, backstab, hoard loot, and give hell to the DMs lovingly and painstakingly created NPCs and world. These aren’t symptoms of an evil character, they’re symptoms of an asshole player. The main goal of D&D is for the party and DM to all have fun together as a group and some people just don’t care if they ruin other people’s good time.

While doing this with an evil character is the obvious way, a real jerk is going to manage to wreck the game no matter what they play. Not allowing the chaotic evil necromancer? They can make a lawful good paladin and bully the party on the grounds that their cause comes before everything else and their methods are the only correct way. Or they can be a cleric and deny healing unless they get their way. Or they can be rogue and steal and fence the loot before anyone else gets a share on the grounds that they’re planning to use the money for a worthy cause.

A good player and good friend will make their character work for the party and the game no matter what they’re playing. I understand that if you play a character, you should play it true to personality and actions, but at the same time, if you think there’s a chance that said character is going to be a major problem, maybe you should just reconsider playing them.

All that aside, there are plenty of interesting and viable options for evil characters that can be played in non-evil campaigns. They just require a little more thought and planning than traditional good characters.

First, you have to think about what causes the character to be defined as evil.

If a character is evil because of their intentions or goals, they could still go along with the party, just for entirely different reasons. It’s even possible that they like and get along with the rest of the party (you don’t have to be in direct opposition just because your long term plans are different). This can be especially fun if you have the evil character working for an evil NPC or organization rather than just being a megalomaniac or the like. Rather than just being a flaw, their evil can be a gateway for interesting role play, conflicts of interest, moral choices, and character evolution or redemption.

Should you prefer to be more obvious, you could also define your character as evil by their actions. Again, this doesn’t have to bring them into direct conflict with the party (unless the party chooses). Instead of asking nicely, this character may strong arm, torture, and intimidate people for information. They might kill opponents that are trying to surrender. Or they might completely ignore collateral damage if it means getting the job done. Again, these characters can get along perfectly well with a party on many levels and share many goals, but they lack that extra ounce of humanity that makes someone a real hero.

Being a fantasy game, D&D also give you the option of being evil simply by association with powerful dark magic and entities. A character like this may come across as a decent but slightly unhinged eccentric, but spend their time in private consorting with demons and adventuring in search of more vile lore. Or they could be bound by a personal sense honor that keeps them from chaos and unnecessary violence, but dedicated to an evil cause.

History is also an important factor when it comes to making a viable evil character. After all, what made the character evil? Maybe a brutal past made them violent. Maybe they were brought up in an evil cult or society. Or maybe when times got tough, the only people there for them just happened to be villains in their own rights.

Evil isn’t something players and DMs should be afraid of just because it brings to mind images of ruined games and shattered lives. It’s just another character trait that can be played with like anything else. Alignment shouldn’t be set in stone. Being evil doesn’t automatically make you a villain and if DM and rest of the party play their cards right, they might just end up turning someone into an unexpected hero.

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