How to Play an Evil Character without Messing Up the Party
“So, Lone Starr, now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.”
We love the bad guys in movies and TV shows – and well done bad guys can make or break a book, movie or show. However – when it comes to playing an RPG – many people advise steering clear of the moustache twirling villains in order to have a party that actually get’s something done. Here we'll tackle how to play an Evil character in any sort of party.
What is evil?
“I’ll have puppies with a side of kittens for breakfast! And don’t forget to kick the orphans this morning – come to think of it, they look a bit plump, are you feeding them AGAIN?”
We all have a variety of actions, phrases and people we would associate with “Evil” – but in our increasingly moral relativistic world – it is hard to define evil – especially in an RPG.
Dungeons and Dragons defines evil as:
Evil implies harming, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient or if it can be set up. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some malevolent deity or master.
This is a simple statement, and does not actively provide an adequate framework for playing an evil character with any depth.
However, since most fantasy games take place in some variant of the middle ages, I suggest we base evil on the prevalent moral compasses of the time – the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Philosophy and Islam.
Roman Catholic Definition of Evil
The Roman Catholic Church, during the middle ages, defines evil as the following:
Evil : Sin, as distinct from physical evil, which is some form of suffering. It is evil because it is contrary to the will of God; it is moral evil because it is caused by a free created will acting against the law of God, who does not want moral evil as an end or as a means. – Catholic Culture Questions
In literal layman’s terms, this can be summed up as this – “Physical evil is suffering, moral evil is anything contrary to the will of God.”
If one were to simply overlay this onto a fantasy setting, one could combine this with the predefined good deities of the D&D world in order to create a framework for what is evil – doing that which is contrary to the will of the good god which a character claims to follow.
Greek Philosophical Definition of Evil
Aristotle, whose research and philosophical findings are the basics of most Western moral teachings and thoughts, defines evil as a privation – or lack of something. So, whereas the Catholic Church defined evil as something distinctly in conflict with the will of God, Aristotle defines evil as simply the lack of good.
As a result, by Aristotle’s world view, most “neutral” people could not exist – by not doing good, they could rightfully be considered evil.
The Islamic Definition of Evil
Wikipedia explains the Islamic doctrine on evil as such:
Within Islam, it is considered essential to believe that all comes from Allah, whether it is perceived as good or bad by individuals; and things that are perceived as evil or bad are either natural events (natural disasters or illnesses) or caused by humanity’s free will to disobey Allah’s orders.
So – nice examination of cultures and all, but what is evil in an RPG?
Fair enough – in an absolute sense, it seems that there are two ways to strictly define evil that would apply to people in the middle ages and thus can be applied to those in a fantasy setting – actions that are either in rejection of the laws and will of the good gods, or the absence of good.
As a result, it is fair to say that, in order to be evil in an RPG, you simply really just have to not be good, or have any real intention of being good.
What sort of evil are you?
Most RPG’s give three options for how players can be any level of alignment(good, neutral or evil) – Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic.
Easydamus explains Lawful Evil as such:
A lawful evil villain methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He condemns others not according to their actions but according to race, religion, homeland, or social rank. He is loath to break laws or promises.
This reluctance comes partly from his nature and partly because he depends on order to protect himself from those who oppose him on moral grounds. Some lawful evil villains have particular taboos, such as not killing in cold blood (but having underlings do it) or not letting children come to harm (if it can be helped). They imagine that these compunctions put them above unprincipled villains.
Some lawful evil people and creatures commit themselves to evil with a zeal like that of a crusader committed to good. Beyond being willing to hurt others for their own ends, they take pleasure in spreading evil as an end unto itself. They may also see doing evil as part of a duty to an evil deity or master.
Lawful evil is sometimes called “diabolical,” because devils are the epitome of lawful evil.
Lawful evil creatures consider their alignment to be the best because it combines honor with a dedicated self-interest.
Lawful evil is the most dangerous alignment because it represents methodical, intentional, and frequently successful evil.
(More details on how to play such a character are available on Easydamus’ website.)
Essentially, lawful evil characters are your quintessential sociopaths – they have absolutely no problem doing morally reprehensible things – but most importantly, they are really not motivated to do good things – and would most certainly almost never take a risk that was not in their own self interest.
A great lawful evil character in fiction is Michael Corleone from the Godfather. He isn’t operating out of spite or evil zeal, he’s simply conducting business for his own personal benefit, without regard for who get’s hurt.
Easydamus explains Neutral Evil as such:
A neutral evil villain does whatever she can get away with. She is out for herself, pure and simple. She sheds no tears for those she kills, whether for profit, sport, or convenience. She has no love of order and holds no illusion that following laws, traditions, or codes would make her any better or more noble. On the other hand, she doesn’t have the restless nature or love of conflict that a chaotic evil villain has.
Some neutral evil villains hold up evil as an ideal, committing evil for its own sake. Most often, such villains are devoted to evil deities or secret societies.
Neutral evil beings consider their alignment to be the best because they can advance themselves without regard for others.
Neutral evil is the most dangerous alignment because it represents pure evil without honor and without variation.
(More details on how to play such a character are available on Easydamus’ website.)
Neutral evil is simply a creature completely devoid of any entanglement or desire to help anyone. A neutral character is most likely to simply have no qualms about doing evil – but in most cases won’t go specifically out of his or her way to do something atrocious and get themselves killed.
Ben Linus, at the beginning of his appearance in LOST is a great example of a neutral evil character.
Easydamus describes Chaotic Evil as such:
A chaotic evil character does whatever his greed, hatred, and lust for destruction drive him to do. He is hot-tempered, vicious, arbitrarily violent, and unpredictable. If he is simply out for whatever he can get, he is ruthless and brutal. If he is committed to the spread of evil and chaos, he is even worse. Thankfully, his plans are haphazard, and any groups he joins or forms are poorly organized. Typically, chaotic evil people can be made to work together only by force, and their leader lasts only as long as he can thwart attempts to topple or assassinate him.
Chaotic evil is sometimes called “demonic” because demons are the epitome of chaotic evil.
Chaotic evil beings believe their alignment is the best because it combines self-interest and pure freedom.
Chaotic evil is the most dangerous alignment because it represents the destruction not only of beauty and life but also of the order on which beauty and life depend.
A chaotic evil character is the one which will do evil, just for more evil. He has no moral code and really, most likely is going to cause everyone to die in a terrible, terrible way.
Fundamentally, a chaotic evil character is a threat to party stability, and almost always doomed to die, or to kill everyone else in the party and as a result wipe. In a few instances, such a character can be played in such a way that does not cause the death of everyone – which we shall discuss shortly.
The Joker is the quintessential chaotic evil character.
How do we play these characters – without causing party wipes and flipped game tables?
The fundamental component of playing an evil character without ruining everything is this – don’t be a caricature. Here are some basic rules to remember when playing your evil character:
If you show everyone that you are evil immediately, it is in their best interest to kill you.
If you act in such a way that everyone knows you are evil – then you wouldn’t last long in the majority of societies.
Evil doesn’t need to be loud – you can simply take a bit extra when the other players aren’t looking, or simply act as though “Rules don’t apply to you”
The other players don’t want to play with an evil player – remember the character is evil, not you, and don’t mess them up for no reason.
Once you have these rules down, figure out exactly what sort of evil your character is – and WHY he or she is this evil. Here are a few simple archetypes for playing an evil character, that hopefully will NOT cause everyone in the party to murder you out of character.
The Ends Justify the Means
I want to make this city, something better than it is, something beautiful. You took that away from me! You took everything! I’m gonna kill you!
This is a very doable archtype, which involves simply abandoning any degree of morality in order to pursue your goal. This is undeniably an evil choice, but can fit fine in a party where everyone else has the same goal, but your character is just the one who is “willing to get his hands dirty”.
Wilson Fisk from Daredevil is a perfect example of someone who follows this goal.
Ultimately “Evil” Goal
Sure, I want the world to burn, but in the meantime, I like my friends and I enjoy their company – before everyone dies when Cthulu arrive that is.
If your desire to explore the evil temple is to find a sword to kill infants with to summon your dark master and your group wants to clean it up so that the town is safe, you still technically have complimentary goals – now, when they find out, there may be a showdown and your character will probably die – but it might be worth it to play an enjoyable cultist.
Enlightened Self Interest A**hat
1 for you, 2 for me, 1 for you, three for me… Oh, did I say that aloud? Have I mentioned I appreciate you guys?
The typical scoundrel, after his or her own best interest can work in a group. This sort of evil character has no qualms stabbing orphans if it helps the party or screwing them over, but doesn’t go out of his or her way to do it. If there is any chance of being found out, they probably won’t do the evil action, thus eliminating most of the group ending scenarios. That being said, a DM can easily exploit this, and players will likely quickly figure out of the player is screwing them over, so he or she is best off secretly robbing NPCs.
The Morally Ambiguous Noble
Did I make my fortune selling children into slavery? Potentially. Will I confirm this? No.
A politician, noble or criminal lord with enough connections can make an interesting part of a party, as chances are he or she are unlikely to do anything incredibly evil in a dungeon where everyone can see him or her. Such a character can be an asset to the group with political maneuvering and diplomacy checks, and their evil backstory can be an opportunity for RP, rather than a party end..
Here are a few that almost never work:
Burn Baby Burn!
Do I really look like a guy with a plan? I’m a dog chasing cars – I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it.
If your character wants to watch the world burn, and is willing to do whatever he or she can immediately to cause that, it is doubtful he or she will survive one gaming session. It works in a few movies, but not so well in table top gaming.
Ummm, I’m gonna need you to go ahead come in tomorrow. So if you could be here around 9 that would be great, mmmk… oh oh! and I almost forgot ahh, I’m also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too, kay. We ahh lost some people this week and ah, we sorta need to play catch up.
Everyday, most people deal with jerks. And, the opportunity to kill one at the gaming table is not an opportunity that would likely be missed – if the towns people don’t revolt against a character who is just a complete asshole, and the party doesn’t kill you – they certainly won’t save you.
Playing an evil character is a challenge for sure – but it can add depth to a campaign. Hopefully this guide will help you play a character not a caricature next time you try and play on the darker side of the straight and narrow!
Tell us about your experiences with evil character – do they mess up the group? Do they add depth? Do they die at a high rate?
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Originally published by Ed