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The Evil Campaign
Posted By Walt Ciechanowski On April 29, 2009 @ 12:01 am In GMing Advice | 14 Comments
Time to dip into the Suggestion Pot to see what’s cooking….
BladeMaster0182 writes “I was wondering if you guys had any advice on running an evil campaign. They’re a different monster than good ones (since evil characters are likely to kill each other.) What is a good way to keep it going? Some ideas I had were have them be apart of the same race or order.”
Good suggestion, and one that pops up every now and then in my gaming circles. Properly run, an evil campaign can be a fun change of pace. Improperly run, an evil campaign can quickly degenerate into disaster. Here are a few things that you need to consider:
The Nature of Evil
Before designing an evil campaign, you need to establish what is meant by “evil.” Not all evil characters are mustache-twirling maniacs that will stab anyone that turns his back. Some may have codes of honor, a twisted but altruistic purpose (“I wish to end the possibility of war by creating and demonstrating the ultimate weapon. Unfortunately, 20,000 people must be sacrificed for this greater good”), or battling inner demons.
Some possibilities include:
* Members in good standing of a Sith-run Empire
* Fortune-seeking supervillains
* A Machiavellian group of vampires doing what is necessary to survive
* A wartime military unit of criminals offered an opportunity to wipe their records clean
* A secret society dedicated to manipulating world politics to achieve a true utopia
It’s important to note that most characters that would be classified as “evil” by an objective observer wouldn’t consider themselves evil except in the most black and white campaigns. At worst, they may consider themselves selfish and some may even believe themselves to be “good” based on their own criteria.
Set Clear Boundaries
Make sure that your players understand how far you’re willing to allow “evil” actions or backgrounds. There are likely subjects that you or a player may consider taboo. Nothing will grind your game to an awkward halt when you or one of your players suddenly takes the game to an uncomfortable place.
Evil characters need strong reasons to work together. While a good motivation is desireable in any campaign, it really is the glue that ties an evil party together. The motivation must be strong enough for each of the evil characters to temporarily set aside their own ambitions.
Some motivations include:
* Self-preservation – A powerful lich leads an undead army into the southern kingdoms, threatening to turn everyone, including the evil PCs, into mindless undead servants. Only the combined might of the evil PCs have a chance of stopping them.
* A Threat to Order – Sure it was fun robbing banks and making superheroes look foolish. Then the aliens came, and they didn’t care whose side the people in tights were on (see Necessary Evil, a Savage Worlds supplement, for more information on this theme).
* By Your Command – The evil PCs may answer to a higher authority, be it a god, a superior evil NPC, or even a good NPC (building on the criminal military unit theme). This higher authority sends them on the quest.
* Reward – The evil PCs have taken on a mission due to the promise of a great reward. This filters into some of the other motivations, but can also stand on its own (perhaps a Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven homage where the evil PCs are hired to stop another threat that couldn’t be bought.
* Revenge – The campaign Big Bad hurt the evil PC in some way and she wants payback (this works well in conjunction with other motivations).
* Redemption – Yes, Virginia, there are evil PCs that are looking to redeem themselves and the current situation might be just the ticket. Like Revenge, this one lends itself well to including a PC that may not be swayed by the main motivation.
Strong Story Arc
Evil PCs often need a compelling reason to stick together or the group will quickly fall apart. Strong story arcs focus the motivation and keep the evil PCs feeling that its better to stay together than to split up. A string of unrelated or only loosely related adventures will often not be enough to accomplish this.
Occasionally remind the evil PCs of why they’re working together. Perhaps an evil NPC refuses to join them (or strikes out on her own) only to die horribly at the hands of the enemy or picked off in the dark of night.
Expect PC Conflicts
There’s an underlying assumption in an evil campaign that the PCs aren’t simply good guys wearing black. They are flawed creatures whose flaws tend to flare up at the wrong times. While a strong motivation may keep this in check, it won’t (and shouldn’t) work 100% of the time. Expect the occasional betrayal and party in-fighting.
As a result, you should also expect a regular rotation of PCs. Trust among evil PCs is flimsy at best, and one wrong move could get a PC banned from the group (assuming that he wasn’t killed outright). So while you need a strong story arc, you should also ensure that your arc allows for regular replacement of PCs.
Evil campaigns work well as one-shots or short campaigns. It’s harder to keep an evil group together for long before the conflicts begin. As I said above, an evil campaign can be a fun change of pace; just be prepared to do a bit more work to keep it together.
How about you? Have you considered or run evil campaigns? What advice or questions do you have?
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