Villains, Aren’t We All: Evil and the Gaming World, Part 1

Comments really are the sweet spot on a blog, aren’t they?  I get such great ideas from someone bouncing off a post I’ve written and before you know it, you have a chain reaction of kinetic ideas.  The hardest thing is ALWAYS remembering all of the great “You know, I should write about that” topics.  Because I am, on occasion, as wise as I am intelligent, I started keeping a pen and paper (a WORKING pen and something NOT a bill envelope) next to the computer.  It has paid off. 

Alignment is a wonderful discussion topic for any gamer or gaming group.  Roleplaying — the process of bringing characters to life and giving them “experiences” — presents very unique challenges not found in other entertainment pursuits.  When you watch a movie, you aren’t concerned about religion or ethics any more than what is presented to you.  In rping, the script is written by you, for characters that must have some reading on a moral compass.  I don’t believe you could dissect a character from their ethics.  Our entire formative years are based in categorical classification:  light, dark; soft, hard; right, wrong.  No matter what you do, we’re going to analyze and try and fit ourselves in on a spectrum.  And I’ve yet to see a player create a character that didn’t have any moral center.  It’s just something we feel we automatically must have.  Which is scary.  Because the other thing that we swear we have to have but can’t lay hands on is our soul.  Another debate topic entirely.  *smile*  Do characters have souls?  Hrm…

In rping, we encounter new and vastly different worlds where the ethical footprint doesn’t resemble the tracks we leave in our real lives.  This is part of the excitement with rping… to take a foray into something different, do things we might never do (or that we would do given the opportunity but are either afraid to admit or don’t like to admit).  And despite the stickiness of the discussions that alignments and ethics entail, an ethical stance with a character is one of the EASIEST risks we can take.  Playing the opposite sex is actually one of the hardest things you can do because you have no frame of reference for that experience.  But being self-serving, greedy, heartless, cruel, nasty, angry, vengeful… oh, we’ve all felt those.  Those emotions and thoughts aren’t reserved for one sex or the other.  It truly is one of the easier paths for experimentation in the gaming world.

All the traits I listed above — self-serving, greedy, etc. — are those really, truly EVIL, though?  Stop yourself before you answer that question and ask whether or not those are selfish traits or is the classification of them as EVIL something handed down through a religious or social institution in THIS world.  As background in THIS world, modern Satanism would count all of those traits as “of the flesh” and not evil at all, but rather self-preserving, making the most of Prometheus’ gift to mankind.  On the other hand, these things are eschewed by modern dominant religion, seen as being “of the Devil”, and thus here you go.  Things that serve the flesh and the body and the self are inherently evil.  That’s the dogma and diatribe of THIS world.

But in rping, we’re playing in a new world, one with different cultures and mores.  Granted, we often take the strictures of this world and apply it to that one as a basis for the ethical ebb and flow of a game.  No one wants to reinvent the wheel, and truth be told, how many players can play such a paradigm shift off the cuff?  Not many.  However, redistributing the traits along the axis of good and evil is one of the best ways to make a normal-to-the-eye world seem alien, indeed.  What if sexual conduct was considered public and private sexual displays were considered heathen?  What if one must kill the parent of the same sex when one reached a certain age as part of population control?  These are wild extremes, however, we have just altered the entire fabric of the world and the realities of those coming into that world by changing the moral axis on which that world spins. 

I think it’s important for a GM or a writer to define the boundaries of the world for the players, many times before the players make their characters.  If Good shines a light into the darkness, then there are depths of shadow to be explored.  However, I might also make this statement.  A light in the darkness is still a light, and unless that light goes out entirely, there is no place in total darkness.  Translation:  as long as you have Good in your world, nothing will be ENTIRELY Evil… you will only have deepening shades of it.  Something is always, ALWAYS worse.  A fact that your players should be kept aware of.  A fact that YOU should be prepared to elucidate for the player who thinks they are the epitome of Evil.

So, I think that’s enough to chew on for now regarding Evil, what it is and isn’t, and the importance of defining in your game.  I’ll be continuing this run by tackling the topic of evil from various perspectives:  as a rper playing an Evil character; as a rper who has someone running an Evil character in their group and has to interact with that character; as a GM dealing with an Evil character; and the prospects of running an entire campaign of compromised characters.  There are challenges and rewards to be found in all these potential situations, and we all can relate.

As I said… villians, aren’t we all?

About Melody

And now for your daily allowance of force-fed narcissism. *christ, I hate writing bios* I'm Melody. This is my bio. Congratulations on having nothing better to do. Ever read those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid? Well, you can either: (a) Get a life now. (b) Continue with this narcissistic gluttony. Ok, apparently you're going to hell for a deadly sin. Thanks for the company. Our first stop... the rest of this goddamn bio. I'm American (oh, like you're perfect?). Female, last I looked (tits? check! ass? check! 'sall good!). Pretty easy on the eyes in that dark gypsy kind of way (Matt, no place to upload photos! what kind of joint you running here?). As far as what I'm good at, well... I sing, compose music, dance, play a variety of instruments, act, write, draw. Couple my innate ability to be good at damn near anything with a great imagination, quick wit, clever conversation, keen mind, great eyes, and... things I'll leave to your imagination, let's just say it damn well sucks that "courtesan" isn't on the list of career paths any longer. I'd have it made. I've been roleplaying since my teens. Not as much lately unfortunately. I love being a player, but have more often than not ended up in the GM's seat. I'm great with plot, development, thinking on my feet and finding ways to make your life very uncomfortable but radically enlightening. I'm crap with game mechanics and figuring out how to render "Holy shit, he just tore your head off!" into "And what did that dice roll just mean, exactly?" Fair warning. I'm rather pleased to be blogging here, and hope you find what I say entertaining or, at the least, irritating as hell. If you don't like it, you can blame Matt. It's his gig. After all... I'm perfect. Narcissistic enough for you? Thought so. My work... is done. *christ, I hate writing bios*
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4 Responses to Villains, Aren’t We All: Evil and the Gaming World, Part 1

  1. matt says:

    Surely then the complement to your penultimate paragraph is that where there is light there must be shadow. Nothing is entirely good, there will always be somewhere a shadow is cast and in that shadow, evil will lurk….

    I freaked some players out with simple nudity in a game of Skyrealms of Jorune. The arid weather of Ardoth meant that baths were popular and it seemed natural they would be wide open affairs, with men, women, children and Children of Iscin interacting freely. I could tell the players were uncomfortable (arms folded, legs crossed) and we quickly moved on. They thought something was WRONG with nudity. And no, this wasn’t a group of adolescents.

    I am intrigued with the idea that it is easier to play a character who has selfish traits than it is to play one of the opposite sex….

  2. Aidan says:

    w00t! Mabmorrigan vindicates my lack of ability to play women 🙂

    As for the whole evil thing, as a writer and GM, it’s really important to remember that evil people do not see themselves as evil. I imagine 9 out of 10 people would acknowledge that Hitler was evil – I would say he probably saw himself as a patriot.

    When I’m writing evil characters, or GMing them, it’s their motivation that is all important – “evil” is just a label that someone else ascribes to my character’s actions. Yes, often I’m committing . Who of us wouldn’t kill someone in a kill-or-be-killed (or worse, kill-or-your-family-will-be-killed) situation? “Evil” people often see themselves in this light: “If I don’t rid the world of Jews, my children and their children will be corrupted by their heathen ways … I’m doing this for the good of humanity” – obviously Hitler didn’t say that, I’m just trying to demonstrate my point.

    When I’m *playing* a character (as opposed to GMing or writing one) I always think about their motivations for anything, first and foremost. Matt once ran a $uper$ campaign (almost legendary ’round these parts) in which I played two characters. I had trouble playing the first one because I hadn’t though enough about his motivation for doing anything – in the end, I felt like he was just an NPC that I was playing, so Matt and I agreed to ‘write’ him out of the story. I put a lot more thought into why my second character chose to go down the superhero path (aside from having fantastic powers – he could have been a villain, after all). I had a much more enjoyable time playing him.

    My real reason for bringing up the supers game is that one of the other players had created a fantastically detailed character called Atomic III, the 3rd in a line of superheroes from one family. His character was a superhero for a few reasons: family business, he had ‘teh skillz’ and because he believed that supers had a duty to protect those without powers.

    Interestingly, that duty started to become a resentment and eventually a dislike for superhero work, till he ended up becoming a villain. The interesting (and relevant) point is that at all times, Atomic thought he was doing the right thing – he never thought of himself as a villain, even as he used his awesome magnetic powers to rip an underground train out of the ground and threaten to kill the occupants if we didn’t back off 🙂

    I have way too much more to say on this topic. I think I should stop though.

  3. mabmorrigan says:

    No, I think you’ve just made an incredibly valid point. And it’s absolutely going to dovetail into today’s topic regarding the challenges of playing an “evil/compromised character”. When I get around to writing it. *whistles innocently*

    One thing that someone told me once is that to any ethical choice there are three legs: right knowledge, right intent, and right action. It’s like a three-legged stool. If any one of these things is missing, things can go horribly awry. Often, evil compromised characters are lacking in one or two of these CONSISTENTLY.

    Their motive might be good but the way they enact their motive might be grossly wrong — one might say that Matt’s paladin from an earlier comment thread wasn’t much of a paladin after all. His motive was obviously good, but his actions?? If you have the wrong information and haven’t taken the steps to “clear it”, you could end up doing a world of damage. If you have the wrong motive, and so on, and so forth. So basically, I’m supporting what you’re saying. Motive doesn’t necessarily have EVERYTHING to do with it. And from an evil/compromised character’s perspective, yes… they probably believe they are a paragon of the very virtue that is making them damnable.

    *happy sigh* Ah… nothing like good thoughtful stuff first thing in the morning.


  4. matt says:

    I think my Paladin was perfectly justified. He knew who the baddies were (right knowledge), knew the only way to save them was skewering (right intent) and set about it immediately (right action).

    I sound like such a fanboy, but watch The Illusionist for an excellent example of a good, moral but compromised character.

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