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A character of mine has died in a game - the "do no harm, break no law" type of paladin - and I wanted to switch it up. I want to play a serial killer type, who believes what he's doing is not wrong, but also recognizes that society doesn't agree with him. (He's loosely based off Jhin.)

I've had experience with other characters that are evil in a group of good characters, and if they do their evil thing "on screen", the party will usually go out of their way to make excuses to be places that the evil character is, follow him with no reason, or generally be suspicious with no in character reason. I still want to develop my character "on screen", but I don't know how to do so without incurring the meta-game wrath of the party.

To be clear, none of this character's actions would hamper the do-goodness of the party. Distinct from murder hobo. The evil serial killer would carry out his killings at night on people that are unimportant, like a random drunkard in the bar or a criminal in the stocks, and he would work towards the party's good goals, like stopping the evil lich man.

I recognize that if I'm ever caught, I'll surely die at the hands of my party, I just want to organically get there, instead of being "caught" by out of game knowledge on day one.

I've discussed this with my DM and they like the idea, but they also agree with my analysis of the problem. We're playing a sandbox type game where we're free to do what we'd like during downtime. Simple stuff like buying supplies is glossed over but more detailed stuff like this would be played out.

How can I play this character "on stage" and not encounter the problems listed above? Is this even feasible, without becoming a problem player?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @BittermanAndy The guideline is that comments are for requesting clarification or suggesting improvement, not for discussiony commentary or advice on handling the situation or moving forward with it. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 26 at 10:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this really a serial killer, or more of a vigilante? \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Feb 27 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IvanGarcíaTopete See this FAQ for why your comments were removed. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 28 at 3:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.Sar See this FAQ for why your comment was removed. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 28 at 3:01
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Your problem is meta, solve it meta

Tell other players, including your DM, that you are planning to play this character that does justice serial-killing. Other characters might feel this character is shady, which is fine, but ask them not to uncover your hobby too quickly. Tell them that you want to develop this character, at least for x sessions.

The in-universe explanation would be that most people tend not to stick their nose in other's business, and respect each other doing in their time. Ask for your DM's cooperation.

  • If they try to follow you, DM will say they lose you after a while (you should be trained in shaking pursuers, I guess?)
  • If they become suspicious of you, ask the player to explain why their character became suspicious and what they are suspicious about. Everyone has secrets to hide, and they won't know exactly what you are doing
  • Start stating where you will be hunting your prey after others state their whereabout. You can choose victims where other PCs are not there
  • Basically, whatever they want to do, you always escape and no one knows/confronts you until the time to do so, which is when you say so

DnD is not a game of hide and seek, a competition where other players want to uncover your dark side, unless you are playing the villain. Even so, DnD is a game of story. What fun it would be if the villain is uncovered on first session and killed? Instead, ask their help to build the story, until the day where you think you want to play another character, when their suspicion is proven and this time you fail to escape and must accept the judgement.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Although this isn't the strategy I've used in the past, I'm a fan of this strategy. Especially the part where you tell the other players. I've heard it said that "a story that only you know isn't a story." \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Feb 26 at 5:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree. It's fine to deceive the characters, but the story works best when the other players are also aware and can work with you to tell that story. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 26 at 6:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer has the root of the matter. DnD is a game about collaborative story telling, so collaborate!. Your fellow players absolutely can and often should be fully aware of what you're doing OOC, it should make no difference to the characters if in-meta the players know full-well that you're a serial killer. Get them to help you tell the story in an interesting fashion, playing it as a competition is fundamentally missing the point. \$\endgroup\$ – Rowan Feb 26 at 11:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree this is tricky and this is a solution that might work well for some. But @Gandalfmeansme it is important to remember that the players are simultaneously the story-tellers and the audience, without the shock of reveal at some point it loses its meaning from the telling standpoint. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Feb 26 at 13:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a very FATE-like way of handling things, which is cool when you want everyone to know what's going on as you weave the story together. It loses the actual mystery aspect, though, where the other players have the experience of actually putting the clues together and figuring it out. If he wants to "organically get there" it sounds like he does want to be the villain. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Feb 26 at 14:13
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Develop a code with your DM

I've played a similar character before: one that was delusional and paranoid, and became quickly convinced that random passerbys were part of a vast and sinister conspiracy against him. My GM knew all this about my character, and we developed a particular way of describing my actions. In my case I said that I was "questioning" the person (my code for murdering them), and would give very vague descriptors of what that meant. For example:

  • "I question this person quickly: I am concerned that their roommate may return soon."

  • "I question this person thoroughly, but make sure to do so somewhere out of the way."

The GM knew what I was saying, and would give similarly vague and brief descriptions of how that went down. Such as:

  • "Ok, you succeed."
  • "It's not without complications, but nothing of consequence goes wrong."

The descriptors were sufficiently vague that other players didn't feel an immediate need to be a part of that interaction, but it also allowed me to gradually build up the perception (on the part of the other players) that something peculiar was going on (for example, at one point my GM let me know that my target didn't speak any languages I spoke: I said "I don't see how that's relevant. I question them.").

My other piece of advice would be to be careful that you either keep these interactions brief (in real time), or give other characters an opportunity to interact with you (e.g. have them see you stumble out of a bar without knowing that you are currently stalking a target, and either make an excuse to go about your business or [perhaps even better] divert from you plan and spend some time with them to prevent them from being suspicious). A scene that only has you in it is likely to be less entertaining for other players. Besides, the thrill of almost being discovered could add an interesting spice to your element of the story.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I... "I'm not sure how that's relevant." \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Feb 26 at 15:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm just going to take a "very enthusiastic walk through the woods" :3 \$\endgroup\$ – Tezra Feb 27 at 15:00
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It sounds like what you need is a bit of solo play.

You're trying to turn your character into the villain of an ongoing mystery side-quest, based on the fact that he goes around murdering people during downtime. Okay. You want to play out the "murdering people during downtime" part. Cool. You don't want your fellow players to react to the inevitable metagame knowledge. Cool.

So why are you doing it in front of them?

You don't need codes (potentially suspicious). You don't need note-passing (always suspicious). Any time you're in front of the rest of the party, you wouldn't be doing this stuff anyway. You just need to get together with the DM outside of the scheduled group times (possibly handled via chat, phone, email, or whatever) and run through the murder scenes (perhaps in a somewhat abbreviated manner). Then the next time the party convenes, the DM talks about the horrible murders that occurred when everyone was on downtime. They'll almost certainly investigate in-character (its an obvious plot hook, after all) but that's what you want, right?

It's been a few years, but I did once run a campaign (of heavily modified D&D 2nd edition) that involved a significant amount of meeting separately with specific players in ones or twos to run personalized scenes and then pulling them back together for the group events. It required a fairly heavy DM investment (something I had time for at the time) and it meant that the party never really gelled as a group, but it worked quite well at allowing differences in player knowledge, and sometimes-antagonistic interactions. Your case is a much more limited scope. In your case, I would expect that it might lead to some emotional separation in your mind between you and the rest of the party (which, honestly, seems appropriate given what you've said) and some additional effort on the part of your DM (but not an overwhelming amount). If the DM is not willing to make the additional investment, this technique is not for you. If they are, though, I believe it would work well for you.

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Do they need to know?

The first question you should ask yourself is, do the other players need to know that you play Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde? If not, then you need to find a way to tell your GM what you do and when you do it.

Leaving the others in the dark

There is a quite simple way to get info past the others without them knowing, and that is writing a quick note passed over. You might use text messages/WhatsApp or something similar if you have relaxed table rules for such things. Best combine it with some sort of misdirection.

This method to inform the GM (or just other players) of some plot you are doing works best if everybody does this and uses it for even trivial stuff.

For example, the Paladin-Player hands a note "I want to help the poor woman A to find her husband" to his Cleric friend, they nod, making that a whispered exchange before they announce their actions to the group. The Rogue meanwhile might announce something (see the anecdote) and do something entirely different to build up plots and gears to work later.

A big caveat though: This method works better in groups that are ok with some intrigue and side-quests and is best answered by the GM to also use the method to distribute information. This increases the chance to play the character and helps with the distinction of Player/Character information.

Anecdote

This is what I did once to keep the other players in the dark, more for the comical effect - and to prevent all a loot debate who would benefit most:

R[ogue]: hands a note "I will stick the healing Gem into the Paladins Pocket" to the GM "Finders Keepers, I don't tell the others and pocket it."

GM: nods "OK, can I see your sheet a moment? Hmmm... Roll against 12... Your Mod is +2"

R: clattering dice "13, got it."

GM: "You succeed"

[3 hours later, the paladin falls to the ground with 0 HP]

P[aladin]: "Ok, did my job. You finish the Dragon for me..."

R: "I don't think you are out of combat yet. That healing gem..."

P: "The one you stole and our PCs don't know about?"

R: points to the slip of paper "Yes, that one. It's in your pocket."

GM: nods

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch yes. It worked great in various games (Pathfinder, WoD & TDE) as long as it was made consistently and everybody was ok with knowing that people didn't need to know everything. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Feb 26 at 14:20
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What I did

I am currently playing a similar character, except mine is a secret operative for the other side of the war with orders to assassinate a particular officer, rather than a serial killer. I took the approach of creating an alter-ego for my cover RP, and also creating a "real" personality/voice for my actual character. I also opted for doing all of my sneaking off screen. I usually have a conversation with my DM the following day to handle what I did, this usually involves any necessary rolls.

Additionally, if I want to do something secretly during a session, I text my DM who knows that I may text him with a secret action. He will usually quickly text back what roll he wants, I roll and relay my roll, then depending on the action he either says "you succeed/fail" or he will work it into the narrative. It is working out extremely well and is very fun for me, and also very fun for my DM who was actually hoping someone would want to play a double agent. It does require a TON of communication and also trust on the DM's part that you won't do something to horribly derail the campaign or get the party in trouble.

Work very closely with your DM

Any time you want to do secretive things (like being a secret serial killer) you need to work very closely with your DM and check before-hand to make sure your DM is ok with it. Keeping it off screen is a great way to handle it, and can even add a great element of surprise for the rest of your group when your actions begin to have consequences, but if you keep it from your DM then it didn't really happen.

DM's word is law.

Manage your expectations

While you think the idea is great, your DM might not really be into it. They might have reservations or not want to risk you messing up the campaign with a stupid action. If you try to do something that concerns them they might say "no". You will have to be prepared to be denied doing something you want to. Also, your off-screen actions will have on-screen consequences. Be fully prepared to be targeted, arrested, or even killed. At the end of the day, the campaign is for all the players and the DM, not just for you.

Lastly, some characters must end

With a secret character like this it is likely that you will be found out at some point. If this happens and nobody else at the table (DM included) seems to be enjoying playing with your character anymore, hang up your hat. Have the character die, run away, whatever, but don't sacrifice the fun of the party for a character that is likely to get the party killed or is taking away fun for the rest of the table.

That isn't to say immediately give it up....there are some great RP and character development opportunities hiding behind being caught at being a serial killer. If they discover it late enough, the party might even vouch for you or try to help you. I love some good RP driven character development. My point is at the end of the day you are all [hopefully] friends getting together to have fun. Pay attention to the mood of the party. If you are the only one having fun, you need to rethink your strategy.

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