Now that we’ve had a bit of introductory discussion about Evil, let’s move into the most intimate placement of Evil in a game: within the Character.
An interesting comment was made regarding whether or not an Evil character knows that what s/he is doing is wrong. Are Evil characters simply misguided?
The idea of “misguided” is actually a crucial key in developing the background to an Evil character. We are the sum of our experiences, good and bad. For a character in a game, there is a dividing line between their experiences: all that will come from roleplay, and all that came before and made your character who s/he is. Just like real people, well-developed characters had things occur in their pasts that changed them forever. And, also just like a real person, the characters’ perceptions of these events in their pasts usually makes all the difference. Creating a compelling history of how a character wandered down a darker path gives a character a sense of realism. And really, it’s realism that makes an Evil character frightening. To see traits you have yourself magnified, to see how easy it could be to slip away from the Light.
Playing an Evil character presents certain challenges. For one, chances are you can’t make your intentions known. Troupe play tends to require a certain amount of togetherness, and face it… if you’re serving a dark overlord and running around with a paladin bent on making the world safe from jerks like you, chances are you’re aware that honesty is not your best policy. So that presents a challenge to act true to your character’s intent, but not end up as a meat ornament on someone’s lance. For two, chances are your character is not much like you. Anytime you play a character that’s not like you, it can be a stretch to get into the role. Worse, because of the need to keep your wicked wiles on the hush-hush, you tend to be forced into a playing a character not like you with required subtlety. Let me tell you, subtlety when you’re trying on an ill-fitting character is hard as hell. I will also say that the best Evil characters aren’t the wild megalomaniac ones. They’re the ones that are finessed to the point that you find yourself emotionally or mentally wound up with them. Nothing is quite so evil as making someone abandon their own ethics in favor of yours. Except making them love you.
I have played one Evil character in my life, and it was some of the most rewarding roleplaying I’ve done. My character was a Doppleganger, and it was an obvious suicide mission. The GM warned me that my character was likely going to die once her cover was blown, but we’d see how far we could get. I had someplace to lead the party, a certain thing to filch out of the pack items, a relationship within the party that I had to wither in order to make it work. Everything I did in the game was calculated to my ends, I lied when I needed to lie, I found ways to pass their truth tests, and there were some close calls. However, I did manage to get the party to where they needed to be to get their asses kicked, and I did, indeed, get killed by one of the other characters when I revealed myself.
Perhaps I shouldn’t smile so much looking back at that game, but there is a certain satisfaction of watching betrayal hit the faces of people you’ve been gaming with for months. One person was so angry at me they had to leave the room, one almost cried. The one who had to kill me called for a break so he could “deal with it”. The entire party (once they survived their encounter) was radically shaped by that betrayal. They didn’t trust ANYONE after that, and that in and of itself tarnished their ethics and ideals. Once you’ve been used, it can become far more easy to be corrupt and to use others. I guess the interesting thing to me is that people STILL remember that game and that character, even better than I do.
I’ve only touched on a couple of challenges with rping an Evil character, but I’m attempting to prompt discussions, not write dissertations. So I’m interested in hearing about others’ experiences with playing Evil characters, the challenges you faced, what you enjoyed about it or not.
And if you’ve never developed or played an Evil character, I invite you to give it a try if the situation presents. It will challenge your character creation skills and your actual non-mechanical rping skills. You might even develop an appreciation for why “wicked” means ‘incredibly cool’.
Oh, you do had me until this line.
â€œwickedâ€ means â€˜incredibly coolâ€™
I don’t think I’ve ever played any memorable evil characters as a player. As a GM, I have been reminded of some evil-but-sympathetic characters – (Callistratus, the head of the Covenant of Y’Draig Goch – Prodigy, the 15 year old technological genius in $uper$ – a nameless operative of Cloak Division in SLA Industries) – all who caused immeasurable trouble for the players. Some, like Callistratus, would just do evil things and then convince the players about how it was for the greater good, some, like Prodigy, would sell superhero technology to the highest bidder and Cloak – well, they were all just complete fuckers.
My most memorable evil “character” would have been in a D&D game. He was only ever in it for the money.
My current character in KinnyGraham’s DG game is of questionable morality. He used to be an interrogator for the OSI tracking down stolen US munitions in Kuwait and Iraq. When asked to interrogate someone he replied “I don’t think I could do that to an American.” He seriously considered killing the interrogation suspect when they found out that his dreams/emotions were summoning a Byakee. And there’s more. Little comments here and there that make people think he doesn’t really like anyone….
He’s a deeply troubled character and I think the guys in the game made some reference to whether I’d be able to follow it up, should he die. Michael said I’d have to play “the brother”. Personally, if Kruse dies I’ll be opting for a totally different character. Someone light and fluffy. Rather than a bed-wetting loser…
I really enjoy playing characters with an evil bent. Mostly I think it’s because I enjoy having secrets from other characters. Like I mentioned in my comments in “Evil Part 1”, evil is very relative.
In a fairly recent D&D game, I played a character who as an escaped slave from a snake-god temple (pick your favourite religious evil-doings, and these guys probably did it) in the middle of a remote desert nation.
In his head, he wasn’t a slave – he felt like he’d committed the most horrific sin in the world by running away from the temple (he had been selected for sacrifice, and had discovered he didn’t want to meet his god just yet). He also had an extremely strict set of moral codes – what was right and what was wrong were emblazoned across his psyche. The thing is, human sacrifice was right. Slaying enemies of the temple was right. Self-scarification was right. Some other races were an abomination.
Enter the rest of the party, who came from regular, well-watered, Tolkien-esque fantasy land. The clash of culture was so great, that they all assumed my character was an assassin, or a thief or something else unsavory. In reality, he was just a warrior. His alignment? Lawful-neutral.
I remember Prodigy from Matt’s $uper$ game. There were other villains-who-really-could-be-misconstrued-as-heroes and vice versa. My second character in that game was very law-abiding, to the point that he actually “betrayed” the rest of the team (who were a little more vigilante) to the proper authorities.
In my (oh-so) humble opinion, the more shades of grey there are in the moral spectrum, the more opportunity there is for roleplay, both in-party and with NPCs, and the more opportunity there is for character growth.
Matt: You touched on a couple of things I’ve discovered about playing Evil characters.
(1) Your comment “My most memorable evil â€œcharacterâ€ would have been in a D&D game. He was only ever in it for the money.” Too many evil characters have little depth and a singular driving motivation. It probably states something about my tendencies in rping that Evil characters without depth are going to get manipulated by me the minute I find their leverage point.
(2) Your comment about wanting to play something light and fluffy. There is a heaviness about playing an Evil character that I think a lot of people might not realize/want. It’s pretty sobering.
Aidan: The discrepancies in interpretation regarding someone else’s alignment makes me want to ask the question “How necessary is it to assign an alignment by name during char-gen?” Evil would appear to be utterly subjective from the characters’ standpoint. And if it’s subjective from the characters’ standpoint, then who decides ultimately what is Evil and what is not? The GM? And if the GM decides, what is influencing the GM’s standards? And in the end, does it matter at all?
Do you recall back in the day when the DM would force an alignment change because you weren’t acting up to his interpretation of “True Neutral” or “Chaotic Good” or whatever. Keeping to your alignment (decided before you started playing and before you knew what the adventure was about) was seen as essential to “good roleplaying”. The DM would act as if he was so disappointed in us…..
Then again, back then we had no idea what the terms meant.
I’m very much of the opinion that alignment only belongs in D&D, and even then just for historic reasons 🙂
I much preferred the “alignment” system in the Palladium games. They were much more realistic. They had Principled (Good), Scrupulous (Good), Unprincipled (Selfish), Anarchist (Selfish), Aberrant (Evil), Miscreant (Evil), and Diabolic (Evil).
But now I’m showing my age…
I remember that system, mostly from TMNT and Other Strangeness. The good thing about that system was it was more a suggestion of how to roleplay the character in a given situation – not a bad starting point for your otherwise 2-dimensional mutant crocodile.