Evil Characters

It is said amongst gamers that you should never allow evil characters in the party. There is a good reason for this. As a Dragonlance fan, I’m reminded of the Law of the Dark Queen, which states that evil feeds on itself. This is a truth that surpasses the Dragonlance setting. When you have an evil character in the party, they often cause untold havoc. They don’t work as part of the team, as their motives are self-serving. In other words, they don’t play well with others.

I experienced this phenomenon a couple of times myself. I will say upfront that I, as (a much younger) game master, was as much at fault as anyone else, if not more so. I knew that evil campaigns ended badly, but I didn’t heed the warnings.

In one case, I ran a Realms game where the player characters were determined to kill, rape, and plunder everyone in sight – often in that order. It didn’t last more than two game sessions. By the time it was all done, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. A gamer should never leave a game with that sensation.

In another case, I thought that a couple of bounty hunters in a Star Wars game could still work within the mold of a heroic game. As it turns out, heroism doesn’t pay well. The players abandoned the whole premise of the campaign in one fell swoop. Before I knew it, the party was somewhere else in the galaxy other than where my game was, and I sat there staring. I was a game master defeated.

Mercenary games, in general, are not to my liking. I like some of the concepts of games like Shadowrun, but the idea that all you’re doing is adventuring to get more money so you can buy more stuff is just not something that interests me personally. Plus, mercenaries can be jerks at times. I like heroic games, where you fight for some greater cause and some better purpose.

Yet can’t evil fight for a greater cause? Many evil organizations do just that. Look at the Empire in Star Wars, or the Knights of Takhisis in Dragonlance. Both entities seek to bring order to their respective settings. It’s when evil puts aside its own ambitions for something greater than itself, whether misguided or not, that it becomes palatable to play.

If you are dead-set on playing an evil character, then my recommendation would be to assign characteristics to the player character that makes him more than some murderer. If you want him to gel with the party, give him a reason to. Maybe he’s working under orders, or has a code of honor he cannot break. In these cases, I would recommend using a character with a Lawful Evil alignment. They seem to be more likely to work well with others, whereas Chaotic Evil would just kill and maim everything indiscriminately.

Maybe the character has something he cares about more than being evil. If his wife has come down with the plague and the party is questing to get the antidote, he might decide to play nice. Or, maybe the character was once good, but was misled, and so now he lives a life of evil. I would recommend placing some chances at redemption if you go this route.

While I still do not recommend evil characters, I think they can work so long as the players are experienced and willing to put aside any issues that would disrupt game play. Use the group template, and talk to the other players and GM about how you can make this work.

One thought on “Evil Characters”

  1. I think mercenary characters can work well enough in a game. See, the notion that all mercenaries care about is money is a strange concept to me. Even sellswords have wants and desires, some even have principles (just ask the coinswords of Shinare). A character whose only concern in life is getting paid is rather one-dimensional to me. Sure, the character may worry about getting paid and may turn down jobs that don’t pay well enough for his tastes but I think a good player adds other dimensions to his character than just the stereotypical elements.

    I’ve mentioned this before when discussions of this nature have surfaced on various forums but the most fun I’ve had as a player was when I played a Knight of Takhisis named Gareth Ravenmantle in a Dragonlance campaign set during the Chaos War. The entire party consisted of Knights of Takhisis and they were, by nature, evil characters. As most fans of the Dragonlance setting know, the world of Krynn was threatened by Chaos and good and evil aligned to banish the entity and its minions from Krynn. Roleplaying the war against Chaos was immense fun and the notion of good and evil allying was what really made it such a powerful experience.

    All that said, I don’t allow evil characters in my D&D games because of the reasons you mentioned. Evil characters are usually very disruptive. You mentioned evil characters fighting for an ideal (the Knights of Takhisis being one example). That is indeed a powerful storytelling tool, but one that I use for my villains when running a game, not when playing a game.

    Now, that mostly applies to games that are fundamentally about heroic characters, such as D&D/Pathfinder RPG. In other games where the focus on Good vs. Evil isn’t as profound, this becomes less of an issue and I’m generally more inclined to allow characters of a more shadowy sort, simply because games such as Call of Cthulhu focus on different dynamics and storytelling than Good vs. Evil.

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