You’ll often see GMs who ban evilly aligned characters in their games, and usually with good reason. A lot of players tend to approach playing an evil character as an excuse to be selfish, cruel, and an absolute murder hobo, all of which can ruin the fun for the other players around the table. There are ways to play an evil character that can still be part of the team.
(Unless you're a Sith... might have a bit of trouble with their whole "One Master, One Apprentice" thing...)
Playing Evil Characters
When playing an evil character, it’s important to remember that they are also a part of the world and the world has certain rules and laws that are in place, both literally and figuratively. Most societies frown on evil acts such as theft, kidnapping, or murder, and your character would know that if they go around doing evil things willy-nilly then there will be consequences. Even chaotic evil characters would have the most basic survival instincts that all creatures share and would know when and how to release the evil.
That being said there are times when your character is out in the wild with the other party members with no one else around. How do you make the evil character work as part of the team? This is really something worth discussing with the GM and other players outside of the game to make sure everyone is on the same page. Really, your character needs to have a goal that requires them to work with the party, which means that they need the party to want to work with them. If you are the only evil character, then that means exercising some restraint so as to not turn your important allies against you.
Okay, so far everything I’ve said sounds like I’m saying, “You can play an evil character, just don’t do anything evil,” and I get why you would feel that way. At the end of the day, your evil character should have ambitions for some kind of personal gain. Evil always has a reason. Even a chaotic evil character has purpose and drive, even if their purpose is to sew the seeds of chaos in the world, it’s an ambition. When playing an evil character, it’s all about the end game. What is their goal? Once you know the answer to that question, every action that you take should serve that end goal. Whatever your evil plans are, make sure to keep your GM in the loop so that they can react appropriately to your actions in game.
Running a Villains Campaign
Any of you who have watched any of our Twitch streams will have probably heard of the famous (or infamous) villains’ game that I run for the other heads of Wayfarer’s League and some other friends. It is a game that we have built and love very dearly. As a GM, I am always looking to do something different when I start a new game and so it was only a matter of time before I ran a campaign for villainous characters.
In order to give the players as much agency as possible, I prepare very little for each session, instead relying heavily on my improv skills to have the world react appropriately to their actions in game. For example, the party are currently trying to pay off a debt to the biggest crime syndicate in the evil empire by helping their assassin track down a disguised
chain devil in the capitol city of the neutral kingdom. When the party arrived in the city I had no plans as to where this chain devil was going to be or how they would find them.
During their initial search of the cities market squares (which also doubled as a shopping episode), the bard broke away from the party to honour a different deal he had made with the goddess of death in the previous session. She promised him power and help if he showed that he could use pain and death as tools of manipulation. In response to this deal he found a couple in the street and waited for them to separate. He then disguised himself as the boyfriend and led the girlfriend into an alleyway where he proceeded to murder her. When the guards finally responded they arrested the boyfriend who immediately called out to a man named Dorian (an NPC that I had made up on the spot).
Whilst the crowd was gathered, the sticky-fingered kobold rogue began picking pockets and, in the process, discovered that Dorian’s visage was an illusion. This has led the party on a journey to find Dorian and find out if he is the chain devil they are looking for.
This approach to GMing has its challenges but it has allowed me and the players a huge amount of freedom to explore the story as it happens.
When I first started this campaign, I needed to find a way to make sure the players didn’t go full murder-hobo. This wasn’t so much of an issue for the group as we were all very much on the same page from day one, but as an extra level of insurance for the structure of the game I did two things. Firstly, I talked to the party about what I mentioned earlier; the characters need to be part of the world and the world won’t react well to them going around doing evil things willy-nilly (YES! I got that phrase in this blog post twice). The second thing I did was to inform the players that I wasn’t necessarily going to balance encounters to the party’s level. If they pissed off the wrong people then they would find themselves in a very difficult situation. This hit home for the party when, at level 5, they met the aforementioned assassin. At first there were thoughts that they might just try to kill her and escape without paying their debt, but they wanted to test the waters first.
In a tavern, the bard chatted up the biggest and toughest looking guy he could find, a goliath sailor, and convince him to pick a fight with the assassin. The whole party were shocked when she disappeared from view and, in a single attack, delivered over 150 points of damage to the sailor, killing him. At that point they knew that this was not an NPC they could screw around with.
Sometimes it’s Fun to be the Bad Guy
We play TTRPG’s as a way to escape from the real world and escape from ourselves sometimes. Usually that takes the form of us playing great and epic heroes, but sometimes it can be fun to explore our deeper and darker urges in a game. If you have the desire to play an evil character, I strongly recommend that you give it a go. Just remember that this is a game for everyone at the table to enjoy, so make sure that your character doesn’t cause too much disruption amongst the other players and I’m sure you’ll all have a great time.