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What are some of the major challenges in playing an Evil Character (whether that's a formal alignment or not) in a co-operative party game, and likewise, what are some of the reasons many groups discourage playing evil characters in co-operative party games?

For the GM, what are the major challenges in running a co-operative party game where players have Evil Characters?

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I'll just leave that here lfgcomic.com/page/16 –  Evpok Apr 20 at 12:57

8 Answers 8

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I see evil player characters as presenting three basic challenges to a game.

  1. Motivation. The plot hooks which work to pull good PCs into an adventure won't necessarily work for evil PCs. Worse, the hooks that do work on evil PCs might not hold them all that well. Depending on how invested the player is in his "evil" persona versus how much he cares about keeping the game going, he might just say "Screw this; I'm not getting paid enough."

  2. Squick factor. Depending on the tastes and boundaries of everyone involved, the evil PC (or PCs) could easily lead the game places that make other participants extremely uncomfortable.

  3. Party infighting. Both of the above factors--and any number of roleplaying situations--can lead to endless intra-party bickering and outright PC-on-PC violence. If you and your group are more insterested in a character-driven game than a plot-focused game, this might be okay, but it's unlikely that everyone will be happy with such a derailment.

That said, I don't think these problems are insurmountable. The best hope for a game like this is (as is so often the case) for everyone in the group to talk about the campaign and their characters and how they see it all working together before the game starts. Share expectations, get plans out in the open, gauge responses, adjust expectations and plans, and get everyone's buy-in before you start.

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The hardest thing about Evil characters is not making them parodies. As in the old saying "Chaotic Evil does not mean Chaotic Stupid!"

Next is defining Evil in any useful way.

Given that the typical understanding of "evil" in RPG terms is that the character always puts him or her self as the ultimate beneficiary of all their actions, there is a strong tendency to short-term selfishness, rather than the much more realistic "Callous but scheming."

  • Evil need not be uncompromising; it merely needs to be persistent.
  • Evil is much more effective when it wears a charming friendly face.
  • Evil works best by getting others to do evil thinking it's good they are doing.
  • Evil is about gaining power, and enjoying power, not so much about hurting and maiming, but if Hurting and Maiming gets you fun or power, sure, that's evil.

Playing Evil in such a way as to not take alignment infractions and yet not reducing it to "Chaotic Stupid" or "Lawful Mean" is difficult, but doable. Unless the GM is reducing everything to "black and white"

The third big problem is the GM. If the GM won't let you be anything less than a scenery chewing over the top "cartoon villain", then you're going to find evil hard to play without it being "Backstabs and Betrayals".

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In my experience, there are three main issues with "evil" campaigns (all potentially fixable).

  1. Evil is often seen by players as an excuse to be backstabbers. This sort of thing tends to spiral out of control, and lead to players not enjoying their play time. For a lot of people, "evil" and "jerk" are synonymous.

  2. Establishing degree of evil is difficult. Some people see evil as self-centered. Some people see evil as "the ends justify the means." Some people see evil as simply being immoral. Some see evil as eating babies.

  3. Establishing empathy can be difficult. It's easy to like heroes, but it takes work to like the villains. This is exacerbated by number two above... If one person is dramatically more out of control than the rest of the group, it hurts the campaign a great deal.

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There are going to be a lot of answers to this, but here's the one I see the most often:

For the player-- It's likely that it's not going to be you that is the problem. It's going to be the other player you end up in a game with who says "Well, it's my policy to kill evil characters". You may have never committed a single evil act, but as long as you have "evil" on your sheet, he may take that as a signal to kill/harass/mess with your character (and you) because "that's what my character would do".

For the DM it's keeping everyone together. The evil alignment thing is often just a front for some persona cues the players want to work with- they may want to play a character that looks sinister or dresses/acts darkly. As long as you give the group a common goal (and maybe it has an "evil" theme, like assassinations or thefts or what-have-you) then your'e fine. But if you don't provide enough goal, the players sometimes get bored and start exercising their "dark roleplaying traits" off by messing with each other, ala Paranoia. And then you have kind of a mess.

Those are the real challenges as I see them. The issues are usually entirely in the realm of player and expectation management rather than "is this theme too dark".

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The main thing to remember is not to screw over the rest of the party unless you have a really, really good reason. Evil people are capable of working with other people just like good people are, and won't typically stab anyone in the back that they see as useful. Also, even evil people have people they like.

The next thing to remember is that interesting evil characters have an agenda. They aren't going to randomly shiv people unless that actually aids in said agenda. I mean, unless your character is actively trying to cause fear and panic among the populace, they're hardly going to murder random passers by - unless that's really how they get their fun, in which case they're at least going to be careful about it.

Finally, whatever you do, remember that everybody is there to have fun, and everybody else's fun is just as important as your fun. Every group is different, and they all have different boundaries as to how mean you can be to them IC without them being upset about it OOC. So discuss those boundaries with the group before you start creating the character, and have fun. Just make sure that your actions don't prevent the others in your group from having fun too.

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This is a system agnostic question.

So there is a lot of leeway here. I don't even know if you are talking about with or without an alignment system or the accompanying alignment-restrictions. I don't know if this is class based (with accompanying class issues), or not. Evil characters exist heavily in non-alignment worlds, but they are rarely as one-dimensional. Spells such as 'Detect Alignment' and 'detect evil' make playing an evil character an exercise in frustration if played by an intelligent GM.

There are gameplay issues not defined. Are you talking about an evil character, or a possible evil group?

What level of maturity is the game being played? Setting with alignment systems tend to be a lot less realistic and a lot more balck and white. Mature settings with more ambiguity and more mature thesmes leave more room for the evil character to act in. If the world has a clearly defined good but a very large undefined population, that gives cover an anonymity.
Most religeous systems in RPGs revolve around Patron deities...whereas evil in the real world normally believes itself to be wrapped in the rightness of their religion, Most evil deities are simple-minded. Hard enough to be an evil character in town with temples to only good deities, harder still to be a cleric or priest. It requires a GM with experience and good setting design skills to create more layered, textured religions with subsets and cults that would allow for an evil priest to hide in plain sight in a populaiton center.

All of the above aside, just as 'Lawful-Stupid' is not a real alignment, 'stupid-evil' does not have to exist either. An evil character may merely act with their own long term goals as more important than everyone elses. Backstabbing is rare and cooperation makes sense most of the time...except for the rare case that is does not.

Also, by the terms of most alignment systems, anti heroes such as Elric Or the Grey MMouser would be considered evil; yet these are great characters to be able to play, and would be part of great campaigns...with the right GM.

The biggest challenge I see to playing an evil character is the GM. Running a setting or campaign that is open and realized enough to allow for a non-good, selfishly motivated PC or an anti-hero requires a more talented GM than a normal, vanilla, heroic game.

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It's important that 'Evil' characters not be mixed with non-Evil characters. I was in a campaign where the GM said that anything would go, so I made a Cleric who's intention was to get the rest of the party hopelessly addicted to narcotics so that he could exert control over them. One of the other players made a thief/assassin of some sort. Our characters got along all right, though we were actively plotting against one another.

Then the GM tried to introduce a Paladin into the party. Once it became clear that the paladin did not approve of our antics, he didn't survive the first night. The game fell apart shortly afterward, because the GM was not really prepared for an 'anything goes' style campaign.

For me, the biggest problem with Evil characters, is that they don't tend to work well with others. They want lackeys, but players don't want to play each others lackeys. Players would need to be okay with their companions plotting against them, and as a GM, you need to be prepared for that too.

I have had success with the 'evil' concept of a person who was secretly trying to subvert the success of the party, but was still trying to seem like they were one of the good guys. It can add a really interesting element to the story.

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It's worth noting that evil doesn't HAVE to be this way. It's entirely possible to create a group of villains that operate as a cohesive group, or to mix good and evil characters in the same party without having them undermine eachother. However, what Foxxtrot describes is definitely the default assumption most people have regarding evil characters, and it takes a lot of work to move them away from that mindset. –  AceCalhoon Sep 9 '10 at 15:38

Being the DM of a campaign with an evil character in it has been a different experience. It worked ok. He had an amulet that hid his alignment from the party's paladin character which prevented his immediate evisceration. The paladin took that ambiguity and tried to make redeeming the assassin character a pet project. The assassin character would find ways to harass the party and cause problems and I slowly worked him into alliances with the evil demon the party is working against.

Ultimately, two weeks ago, he finally struck the party at the start of a major battle, attacking the cleric who was trying to bring back to life the front line fighter that had just gone down. His massive sneak attack damage to the cleric prevented the fighter's return. The party, of course, immediately ignored the main foe and killed the traitor. He had also stolen an important magic item the night before from another companion while in camp and the party, now down two PCs, had to flee the battle against the arch-villain.

Overall, the concept worked out okay. It was difficult, at times, finding ways to channel the evil acts the PC wanted to do into the plotline and prevent his immediate demise at the hands of his companions. But I think it turned out mostly all right in the end. It was an interesting diversion and it has actually given me some ideas for a future planned module that our normal DM is going to run where my PC will be the evil one.

As an aside, his new character has now joined the party via the standard in-dungeon "you look trustworthy" despite wandering the dungeon by yourself and we just happened to come across you shortly after another party member died pattern.

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