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This question already has an answer here:

Basically, my character would be evil in secret until she could do a huge emotional betrayal and try to kill everyone. I'd have to lie to my friends and make up two separate character sheets if I did this - after all, even the least metagame-y people would change their reactions slightly if they knew one of their fellow travelers was evil. But it would be for the sake of the most epic betrayal ever and I'm pretty sure they would appreciate the cunning of it once they found out.

Is secretly playing an evil character against D&D etiquette?

Are there other ways to play an evil character in a good campaign, to avoid metagaming by the other players?

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marked as duplicate by KRyan, Oblivious Sage, LegendaryDude, Novak, user17995 May 19 '16 at 19:36

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You will probably get better and more useful answers if you can make your question(s) a little more clear. I've made some edits to your post to try to clarify it; please feel free to revert if I got your meaning wrong! \$\endgroup\$ – thatgirldm May 19 '16 at 6:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ This appears to be a duplicate of Can a fundamentally deceptive character work? in all details (is it even possible, hidden agenda, betrayal, doing it for the epic story payoff, preventing others' metagaming) except for the tags. Layla, do the answers to that question answer your question? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 19 '16 at 6:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ A bit of personal experience: Yeah, A long time ago I did the "epic betrayal" thing. From my perspective it was brilliant, and I took for granted that everyone would appreciate the cunning of it. Nah. They didn't. It was the stupidest thing I ever did in a game and I nearly lost my girlfriend over it. It turns out that most people don't play the game to watch other people have brilliant successes at the expense of their own fun. Who knew? \$\endgroup\$ – pokep May 19 '16 at 13:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pokep That sounds like most of an answer already. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 19 '16 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, that makes sense. Perhaps it would be better to use this character as a DMPC and have her be the BBEG there. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Layla May 19 '16 at 21:31
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No, please don't do that.

I like to make an analogy to football. Imagine that the score is tied, the clock is ticking down, and the quarterback has a clear path to the end zone. But he's not running! He turns and throws the ball to the enemy quarterback, who catches it and promptly scores a touchdown for the enemy team! A dramatic upset! The crowd goes wild!...

And the traitor turns to his team and says: "What do you think, guys? Wasn't that a totally epic betrayal? I was a double agent for the other team this whole time! I knew I'd have to lie to you, but I was pretty sure you'd appreciate the cunning of it, once you found out!"

In most games of D&D, people go into it with the assumption that everyone is on the same team. If someone trusts you and you betray them, that's not epic or cunning or clever, it's just you being a jerk.


To be clear, being a traitor can work. What you need is to have an agreement, before the game starts, that this isn't necessarily a cooperative game, and that people can choose to backstab each other. You could get the DM to make that announcement, if you think it would give too much away to bring it up yourself.

I've run some games where the ground rules allowed this. What I found was that they were very backstabby. Everyone wants to be the backstabber, and nobody wants to get backstabbed, so players spent most of the session trying to kill each other, and very little else got done.

But this is a legitimate way to play the game, and if your group thinks it might be fun, you should absolutely try it.

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Background

Evil is not necessarily cackling with laughter, hatching plans to destroy the world and stroking white Persian cats. Go on, actually read what it says on p. 122 of the Player's Handbook. As well, read How do you adjudicate what alignment a PC's actions are?

All psychopaths are evil but not all evil characters are psychopaths.

An evil person in D&D 5e puts their interests ahead of the interests of others. Such a person may coexist quite happily and peacefully in civilised society and be known as nothing more than someone with sharp business practices and a hard touch for charitable causes. However, when the Titanic hits the iceberg and its "woman and children first", this is the guy who gets picked up from the lifeboat in drag.

Furthermore:

Individuals might vary significantly from that typical behavior, and few people are perfectly and consistently faithful to the precepts of their alignment.

Betraying your friends and colleagues is something someone of any alignment could do; motives matter! In fact, such a long term plan is unlikely to be followed by a Chaotic person irrespective of their ethics.

Answer

Can I play an evil character without letting anyone but the DM know?

If your DM agrees to this, sure.

How else does one play an evil character in a good campaign?

By being open that you are evil, that is, your motivation is, first and foremost "what's in it for me?" Get a little sign made up and put it on the table each session.

An evil person is quite willing to save the beautiful dragon from the hideous princess provided the rewards to them outweigh the risks; they won't do it just because its the "right thing to do." Tell the other player's not to waste time trying to engage your better nature because you haven't got one! If they want you on the quest there better be some real personal incentive like cash, magic, power or whatever your traits, bonds and flaws lead you towards.

Alternatively, everyone can play with secret alignments and personality: in real life I have meet plenty of self-centred, narcissistic, inconsiderate so-and-sos but none of them ever announced this to me when we met - I had to learn it for myself. Remember, in D&D 5e there is no way that your alignment can be revealed magically - Detect Evil and Good is misnamed because it doesn't do that. What it does do is:

... you know if there is an aberration, celestial, elemental, fey, fiend, or undead within 30 feet of you, as well as where the creature is located. Similarly, you know if there is a place or object within 30 feet of you that has been magically consecrated or desecrated.

So unless your character is "an aberration, celestial, elemental, fey, fiend, or undead" you are safe from this.

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Yes you can plan an evil character in secret, and it's fun for the DM.

One of my player is a Tieffling assassin and the other players see him as 'a discret thief that disappear frequently'.

If I have any advice for you, it would be :

  • avoid metagame
  • don't tell them your alignment
  • protect yourself from detect evil
  • enjoy conspiration with the DM
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Having done this myself, it's definitely possible. If you do it, I would recommend

  • Have your DM use the same-page tool. Specifically, what happens when someone sides with an enemy. I planned it with the GM from the start, but the other players simply weren't expecting it. So while we gave plenty of hints about my nature, they just didn't connect the dots that I was playing an evil character.
  • Do "hidden" evil things. We left a guard alive, and my character went back and killed them after the party left.
  • Consider letting your party in on it to begin with. If your party is into roleplaying and not metagaming, say "I'm going to play an evil character" and let them react as their characters would.
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Just ruleswise you normally can. Only one thing is to keep in mind there that there are spells and abilities which show ones alignment which means THERE no lie should be done (although it is for the gm to reveal to the casting player there anyway so that is not your job).

Socialwise it could prove to be a problem in case you LIED to your friends. But that you have to know yourself if they would accept such a lie for the sake of the games story or not. Some people don't like such things others do. The same goes for betrayals within a party...some players are really allergic to this. Thus you and the gm really should consider if there could be any fallout due to this.

That aside if its doing a nice story why not? Just keep in mind that you should still play according to your alignment, thus the other players and characters would probably notice a few strangenesses. For example if your character is officially a peace loving one and does not even stop for a second when he orders an assault on an undefended monastery because he thinks loot is inside, .... .

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What spells are you referring to? Detect Alignment doesn't exist in 5e and Detect Good and Evil doesn't mention alignment in its description. \$\endgroup\$ – Sent_ May 19 '16 at 6:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @sent good, evil are alignments still even in 5e. Thus detect good and detect evil is what I'm talking about there (alignment being the general word for those and the other possible alignments as there are the spells to detect specific alignments like good/evil and possibly also abilities in this direction). \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas E. May 19 '16 at 6:58

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