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Hot Button: A Touch of Evil

I apologize for the almost exclusively “D&D-ish” nature of today’s Hot Button, but I think it definitely deserves addressing. It’s a question that also comes up in other games that have similar distinctions (such as Palladium’s alignment system or Star Wars Light Side/Dark Side distinctions).

Do you allow evil player characters in your standard campaigns?

I mention “standard” because I’m sure all of us old-timers can recall at least one “evil PC campaign” or even a “cuthroat campaign” in which evil PCs were expected. These are exceptions. What I’m interested in is whether, in the context of a normal campaign, you’d bat an eye if one of the PCs wanted to play a lawful evil (or evil, in 4e parlance) fighter in a party of mostly good or neutral PCs.

AD&D 1e almost seemed to encourage evil characters, as the assassin, a core (sub)class, required an evil alignment (although you couldn’t have a paladin and an assassin in the same party). Again, most of us old-timers have probably played, or at least been in a party that included, an anti-paladin. Subsequent editions of D&D and other RPGs actively discourage evil characters (in all of the Star Wars games I’ve been a party to, going to “the Dark Side” meant that you lost your character).

So that’s today’s hot button. If you are presented with an evil character concept, do you dismiss it out of hand, allow it with conditions, or allow it as a matter of course? If you have allowed an evil character into your campaign, did it have a significant impact (good or bad)?

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47 Comments To "Hot Button: A Touch of Evil"

#1 Comment By nblade On August 4, 2008 @ 9:07 am

Generally speaking, I don’t really like people to have “evil” characters. Of course alignments in games are bit fake anyway. To be truthful many characters are somewhat amoral in general outlook. I don’t normally allow “evil” characters. I will listen to the player to see what he has in mind, to see why the “evil” character might actually be helpful to “good” minded players. If they have a really really good enough argument, I may let them play the “evil” character.

#2 Comment By Sarlax On August 4, 2008 @ 9:23 am

I’m fine with an evil PC in the game, even if I’m basically going for the standard heroic game. In a roleplaying game, a great part of the fun can be in making a different kind of idea work.

One thing to keep in mind is the Evil does not automatically mean they cannot cooperate with the party. An evil character can have motivations that happen to match with the others during their adventures – becoming more powerful, collecting treasure, eliminating the competition, etc.

An evil PC may even have a motive identical with that of the others. Maybe the arc of the campaign is the restoration of the old royal line. An evil PC might be a part of the family, who wants to reinvigorate his line and take vengeance on all his enemies, while the other simply believe the land’s petty warlords need to be stopped to give people better lives. Both want to eliminate the small robber lords, but they have different feelings about what they’re doing.

#3 Comment By Micah On August 4, 2008 @ 9:26 am

Unless there’s an OOC desire to bring the character toward the side of good (or at least neutrality) then it’s disallowed. Evil characters are usually just a burden to the other players.

#4 Comment By GeeksDreamGirl On August 4, 2008 @ 9:32 am

I love how Sarlax explains it. You can definitely have two characters with the same end goals, but totally different motives.

#5 Comment By farfromunique On August 4, 2008 @ 9:35 am

When someone brings a new character to one of my tables, I usually ask for a brief character concept. If it sounds “fishy” (IE, “I like to kill, mutilate, steal and kill”) I ask their alignment. If it’s evil because that way they get to do evil stuff, I prohibit. I tend to frown on evil characters, in general, feeling that if you’re evil-for-the-sake-of-evil, there is nothing that you cannot accomplish just as easily as a good or neutral character, with the exception of screwing up my plot (that’s easier as evil).
It’s a rare case that I’ll let someone with an evil PC in. It has never worked out well.

#6 Comment By Luke On August 4, 2008 @ 9:37 am

Interesting you ask. I played a Warhammer Fantasy RPG campaign in which one of the PC’s was an Evil necromancer pretending to be an Amethyst Wizard. It was very interesting campaign, since that character always had ulterior motives for doing things. At the beginning other PC characters (but not the players) were oblivious to his true nature, but eventually they all begun to suspect something.

But by then it was to late – we were all implicated in his schemes, and have been seen traveling and fighting alongside him. Which would probably be enough for some crazed Witch Hunter to convict all of us as his accomplices which of course happened. So for good or for bad we were stuck together, all working to conceal his terrible secret and try to scrape by and lose the crazed group of righteous fanatics tracking us.

It was interesting, and since all players were in on the idea from the beginning we just had fun with it. It also worked because Warhammer lends itself to this type of dark and gritty fantasy in which the main antagonist can be a lawful, righteous zealot, or priest and the good guys can be bunch of morally questionable types with shady past – and this would still be considered a “normal” campaign. 😛

#7 Comment By Cole On August 4, 2008 @ 9:54 am

As a GM, I do not mind evil characters, if anything, I enjoy when someone acts in a malevolent manner but most of my players do not. They argue that in D&D the party needs to function almost like a machine, if you allow someone to act against the party members or against the party goals, it destroys that balance, making a standard party of cleric, sorcerer, fighter, and rogue useless.

#8 Comment By Scott Martin On August 4, 2008 @ 10:37 am

I’m not fond of evil characters if the campaign hasn’t been designed for it, but I’d allow them in either of two circumstances.
a) The evil PC is proposed during group character creation and the other players buy in to it. If everyone is excited by the duplicitous companion and wants to see it played out– which will probably come about only if the player makes it sound fun for everyone– then that’s a good character. OR
b) If the evil PC freely gives me (as GM) some kind of leverage. I’m not going to go to the effort of crafting a personal reason for the evil PC to join every plot– if they can’t buy in to the group’s plans without my catering to them, they’re a poor match. If, as Sarlax suggests, they have an ongoing reason to stay with the party [say, an evil Vizier questing with the good deposed heir to the throne, hoping to get “their liege” on the throne so they can exert their influence], then I’ll go with it.

#9 Comment By Target On August 4, 2008 @ 10:39 am

Not a big fan of alignment, and consequently no longer play an alignment based game. However back when I did:

I always insisted that the players play compatible types. If I could be convinced that an evil alignment would work, I would allow it. However, I found as a DM I wasn’t terribly good at designing a campaign for a mostly good/neutral party w/ one evil character.

#10 Comment By MadBrewLabs On August 4, 2008 @ 10:40 am

I threw alignments out the door a long time ago (about 2nd Edition D&D). I allow my players to do whatever they wish, but they should expect consequences for their actions.

However, D&D is much better when everyone is working with each other, so if player begins to disrupt other players’ ability to enjoy the game, then they just might fall victim to a “random encounter” with something particularly nasty that has its fill once the troublesome character has been chewed up, or they could be hung from the gallows by dawn.

#11 Comment By brcarl On August 4, 2008 @ 10:52 am

For me, an evil PC/NPC is a being that values their own goals over everyone else’s. They will pursue those goals no matter the cost to others, even if it means taking others lives.

Given that definition, I’m against evil PCs on principle. I have no interest in exploring or experiencing people pretending to be (playing) psychotic, anti-social, or otherwise disturbing or un-trustworthy characters. I fully understand that others may find this kind of play invigorating or stimulating — just not me.

#12 Comment By GeeksDreamGirl On August 4, 2008 @ 11:02 am

@ BRCARL – I totally agree. In our Eberron campaign, I played a Drow Scout. Her motto was basically, “What’s in it for me?” If she didn’t see how something was going to be useful for her, she didn’t care about it. She had a twinge of good in her, but just enough to keep her from killing her party members (because they kept her alive, they were useful).

#13 Comment By Fang Langford On August 4, 2008 @ 11:07 am

I can’t really say how this would work with D&D (esp 4th) mission-based play, but I think an evil PC can add a lot of depth to a game…sometimes. Like Sarlax, I will not brook an evil PC whose only goal is to do what he wants, when he wants, no matter who gets hurt. (They usually expect a certain amount of script immunity for these actions ‘because the GM said it was okay’.)

My usual requirement is an insight into the motivation towards evil. If it shows areas that may be exploited to turn them; if it shows a genuine reason or goal for specific acts of evil; If the player is interested in enhancing the atmosphere of the game more than acting ‘as his character would’; I seriously consider it.

I should go on record as a GM who never, EVER, uses anything remotely like a plot going in. My talent is shading players’ action as symbolic/theme relative and consistently raising tension until a ‘climax’ occurs based purely on what the players have done. Hindsight makes it a story or plot, but there is a complete lack of script going on the whole time.

#14 Comment By LesInk On August 4, 2008 @ 11:43 am

In general, I find I greatly discourage evil characters in normal (good) parties. If a player pushes it, I will allow it but only after giving them my indemnification clause, “If you take that character in the game, it is going to be alot harder — especially if the party finds out your true motives.” So, in a way, I see it as something an experience player can handle, but an inexperience player cannot. In the end, the evil characters are usually killed quickly by the other players for betrayal, disloyalty, murder, or thievery. If the player comes crying to me, I give them no special cover referring back to the indeminification clause.

The key question a GM has to ask before letting such a character in is, “Do I want to risk assassination attempts between characters and other forms of non-cooperative events?” The sideline events could end up been too distracting.

However, like others have said, if there is a good plot element that the character fills or the character has a twinge of good in them, they can survive and (often) be a very enjoyable experience for the whole party.

#15 Comment By Rafe On August 4, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

In a group of all Good or Unaligned with good tendencies, having an Evil character is usually a liability. It’s hard for the good players not to meta-game in that they know that Joe is playing an Evil Human Fighter. I typically say “You don’t have to be Good but you need to progress towards being Good.” So I don’t mind someone being a little pragmatic (for lack of a better term) so long as they won’t be straying further down the path towards evil. A character with a bit of darkness or apathy who begins to lean towards good often makes a more memorable character than someone who starts off good.

I use Leon (from “The Professional”) as this example. He’s not Good but he certainly goes down that path and, because he does, we like him a lot more than had he been more of a do-gooder initially.

#16 Comment By Swordgleam On August 4, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

I think it depends a lot on the maturity of the group. Some people want to play evil characters so they can steal from party members and otherwise be obnoxious. Other people want to play evil characters like the examples that have been mentioned – to add more depth to the campaign, working smoothly with the party despite having ulterior motives.

My last party, I didn’t have a specific plan, so I let them make their characters first. This was tri-stat, so no specific alignments or classes, but they ended up being more or less an assassin/mage, a decidedly evil, power-hungry mage, a mage-y assassin, and a former assassin who was now a monk trying to restore good to a lawless world. So we had one character who was pretty close to LG, and then LE, CE and CN.

Luckily, their opponents were more evil than they were, so everyone was happy – for the most part. They generally used the monk as the moral compass of the party – “Would it be wrong to kill our helpless prisoner? I can’t tell. I’ll ask the monk.” He was surprised whenever they actually listened to him, but he put up with their lack of regard for human life because they never outright killed innocents in front of him, and they were his only powerful allies in his struggle to clear his school’s name. He could do more good overall by sticking with them, using their help, and mitigating their evil. (The “lawful” part applied mostly to his own actions – he had a strict moral code, but quickly gave up enforcing it on others.)

Of course, hanging out with a group like that did eventually blur his own morals. I remember the party’s surprise when he finally snapped and killed an opponent who’d been rendered helpless. He did pull it together in the end, though – when they found the guy behind it all, the monk chose to leave him disgraced and alive rather than killing or even harming him. The LE-ish assassin/mage, who hadn’t had nearly as much personal trouble from this villain as the monk, decided to do a favor for his friend. The villain woke up the next morning as a slave in one of the worse brothels of a nearby city.

#17 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On August 4, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

If the game follows the traditional “team vs. GM” paradigm, then an evil character really doesn’t work in a good party. You may work with people you consider “evil”. You may even choose to hang out with them. But would you want to rely on them in life-threatening situations? If you were a soldier or a cop, would you want someone like that in your unit? I sure as hell wouldn’t (says the ex-soldier).

On the other hand, if the game follows the PvP or LARP model, and intraparty conflict results in Good Times, then an evil character or two (or entire party) is all kinds of fun.

There’s not a sharp division between the two paradigms; it’s very possible to have a campaign be somewhere in the middle, although I prefer playing in and GMing the former. For that reason, I don’t like to play with or run games with evil characters.

#18 Comment By vanir On August 4, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

I think the problem certain people have with playing evil characters is the same problem they have with playing paladins. There’s only three alignments to some players. Good, retardedly good, and retardedly evil.

Most PCs are good and work together. Everybody has an asshole paladin story where some player did something kinda morally questionable and the PCs got into a fight. And players who would do that would also have an evil character pick everybody’s pockets every night just because he could, even if that PC was rich, and kill at least two puppies every morning before breakfast.

So yes, I would allow evil characters in my campaign. I also advocate having some players spayed or neutered.

#19 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 4, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

I’m not against having evil PCs in a game that I run. I’m fine with the party being mixed morally.

What I don’t like is when the evil PC player gets pissed at me for having the good NPC authority figures take notice of the evil PC’s actions.

I’ve never had players of good PCs complain about the bad guys planning an assassination attempt against the PCs. I don’t know why, but it hasn’t happened to me. I think the players take it as an acknowledgment that their PCs are making a difference. That the PCs are being heroes and threatening evil.

Yet I’ve had the players of evil PCs accuse me of metagaming or picking on the evil NPC when I’ve had the cops/guards/local order of paladins/whatever decide to try and bring the evil PC to justice. Now if the challenge is of the appropriate level for the PC what is the difference? Bad guys trying to kill good NPCs because they are hurting the business of evil doers is acceptable, but good NPCs trying to eliminate an evil PC is wrong? Sorry, but if you do something vile and evil the resident good guy is going to notice unless you cover your tracks somehow. And even then the good guys are going to do an investigation.

As for crimes committed against other PCs that is up to the players on how it should be handled and I as the GM should only intervene when it threatens the fun of the group. The same is true of the paladin type player who makes his or her PC’s morality a burden for the group.

I’ve had players who were excellent playing evil PCs. They enhanced the game and didn’t do the stupid “I kill everyone I meet and rob any goodies because I’m evil” bit (which is fine if you don’t mind the good NPCs coming after your ass and it doesn’t hurt the group’s fun). It can work, and it should be an option available to the players IMO.

#20 Comment By Knight of Roses On August 4, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

“Evil for Evil’s Sake” is not playing evil, it is just being a jerk in my experience. My definition of evil? Simple, the ends always justify the means. But the character still needs to have a goal in mind, no end goal, no reason to be evil after all.

So, as long as the other players are cool with the character concept, which is pretty much true of any character, sure, go ahead, play ‘evil’. But remember ideas have consequences.

First note, I no longer use alignment in my games as a general rule.

Second note, having played an ‘evil’ character in a campaign, it would strike me as hypocritical not to let a player in my campaigns do so (not that anyone has asked to).

#21 Comment By Grogtard On August 4, 2008 @ 7:10 pm

@Knight of Roses: I agree with you.
A good player can play an evil character in a group and it can be fun. A jerk will be a jerk no matter what alignment or other moral compass the character may have.

#22 Comment By MadWilly On August 4, 2008 @ 7:15 pm

I allow evil pcs if the player promises to get along with the group. Of course his actions as well as any pcs actions will have consequences.

#23 Comment By Menexenus On August 4, 2008 @ 8:39 pm

When one of the original PCs died in my Age of Worms campaign, the player and I (as DM) agreed that his new character would be lawful evil (unbeknownst to the rest of the party). However, I made it clear to the player that he would have to play his character as evil with a lower case ‘e’. To me that means, being a rat bastard who is willing to kill whoever it takes to get the job done. It does *not* mean killing your party mates in their sleep because they looked at you the wrong way.

The player in question actually pulled this off quite well. However, the other players eventually figured out the new character’s alignment, and at that point I basically had a rebellion on my hands. The other PCs stopped trusting the new character (even though they had trusted him many times before) and the players complained to me that they couldn’t justify why their characters would continue to associate with someone who was evil.

After trying to keep things together for a while, I eventually saw that the stress that was being caused by having the evil character in the group was making the game less fun for everyone. So (with the consent of the player involved) the evil character got killed off and that was the end of that.

That was my first (and probably my last) experiment with evil PCs. In hindsight, my advice is don’t allow evil PCs unless everyone sitting at the table knows about it beforehand.

#24 Comment By Scott On August 4, 2008 @ 8:54 pm

I don’t really use alignment.

I have no problem allowing evil characters, though.

I just refuse to allow jerks and the utterly insane. Randomly beating up old ladies isn’t evil, it’s just foolish and sidetracks the game, and I won’t put up with that.

I also don’t allow party infighting. Roleplayed arguments are great, as long as it’s kept IC. If it comes down to open combat, assassination, stealing from other PCs, and so on, that character’s out. He’s an NPC, and probably shortly a dead one.

I make both of these things clear to my players at the start of the game, and I’ve rarely had to intervene. And never twice.

Chaotic neutral tends to be far more problematic as an alignment in my experience than lawful evil, exactly because so many people choose to play it as utterly insane.

#25 Comment By Swordgleam On August 4, 2008 @ 9:16 pm

@Scott: I think that people who play chaotic neutral that way, mostly do so in reaction to DMs who’ve told their previous NG/LG characters, “You can’t do that. It’s against your alignment” one too many times.

There are people who will always be jerks, but I’ve found that playing insane CN is more of a reactionary thing.

#26 Comment By tallarn On August 5, 2008 @ 12:55 am

I agree with what’s been said above – evil characters can be fun in a good group, if everyone is smart enough to play them with the party.

That said, in my 4e game I’ve set it out from the start that this is a ‘heroic’ campaign – so no evil characters yet. I may end up running an ‘evil’ campaign, but that will be more freeform and not based around published adventures.

#27 Comment By Sektor On August 5, 2008 @ 4:16 am

In my current campaign, I’m keeping the alignment “behind the screen”, and have replaced it with the Taint system (from the ‘Heroes of Horror’ source book).

My players don’t choose their alignment anymore, they just play their character. I keep track of their actions and adjust their “current alignment” if necessary, so that this info can still be used for alignment-based spells and such.

However, I also don’t like players who play evil as an excuse to screw around, and to that extent, the Trait system mentioned above works pretty well. What it does is, whenever a character does something that is “horrifying” (like killing his first enemy, killing his first friendly, entering an extremely evil-suffused place, …) they get a taint point. Gathering taint points gives negative effects (either physical or mental) on the character. This kind of scares them out of doing too much evil stuff, though they’re still allowed to do some questionable act every now and then.

#28 Comment By Virgil Vansant On August 5, 2008 @ 7:26 am

I usually don’t allow evil characters in my game. I think this stems from running games way back in middle school, when some players decided to “be evil for the sake of being evil” as Farfromunique and Knight of Roses called it. However, as my players have gotten older and wiser and I know how they role-play, this has changed a bit.

I now have one player that is definitely playing a non-good character in my current campaign. His character thinks the world needs to change, and he feels he’s the man to do it. Aside from this and some haughty arrogance, he works pretty well with the rest of the party. He wants to help them take care of the big baddies because he knows that these villains stand in the way of his vision of a perfect world. But at the same time, he’s looking out for himself and his ideals first. I’m not entirely sure where it’s all going yet, but as one of my players wrote in their plucky character’s journal: “He may prove to be a danger some day, but old friends driven by cruel fate to be enemies is the stuff of epics!”

#29 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On August 5, 2008 @ 8:25 am

My problem with evil characters lies not in the concept of evil characters but in the way most of them are played. ie: moronic.

If your “evil” PC is the type that rides into town, froths at the mouth and frinks the blood of babies at the tavern, then it only makes sense that he’s going to be hunted down and slain as an abomination.

If you’re playing an evil PC with more than 3 brain cells, you know how important it is to not look TOO evil. W/O the support of the community, life is harsh and with obvious evil comes lawmen and bounty hunters.

Evil’s fine in my campaign as long as you have a brain or a handler with a brain.

#30 Comment By Sarlax On August 5, 2008 @ 9:55 am

However, the other players eventually figured out the new character’s alignment, and at that point I basically had a rebellion on my hands.

This is very unfortunate. It strikes me as the players mistaking alignment for an allegiance rather than a description.

It sounds like the lawful evil PC was playing as a ruthless, disciplined jerk. Now, imagine if Ruthless Discipline was an alignment. Would the other players assume their fellow PC was an enemy? That he cooperates with all the other ruthless jerks they meet? Of course not. He’d be an asshole, perhaps, but one who works with the party.

#31 Comment By Sarlax On August 5, 2008 @ 10:32 am

If you’re playing an evil PC with more than 3 brain cells, you know how important it is to not look TOO evil.

One of those unattributable statistics people tend to pick up floated into my head when I read this: 4% of people are sociopaths.

So why don’t we have millions of serial killers in the U.S.? Because that’s not at all what a sociopath is. A sociopath is just a person without social conscience; they don’t empathize with others. They don’t, however, automatically hate others, but simply don’t think of them as intrinsically important.

A sociopath (or evil person) is still intelligent and can navigate through a community without getting imprisoned or killed because they understand the consequences of antagonizing people. Sure, they don’t *care* if someone’s feelings are hurt or if innocents suffer, but they won’t go out of their way to cause harm because they’ll get locked up for it.

D&D (and other RPGs) don’t focus on this kind of passive evil because it usually doesn’t make for interesting stories, even though it’s easily the dominant kind of evil that exists. Just like good and neutral people, most evil people aren’t walking around with heroic powers. Most evil people are in D&D are butchers who sell spoiled meat or gate guards who “forget” to tell travelers that the fee for crossing the bridge was reduced. They’re just mundane people who take advantage of others, but aren’t extravagant about it. It’s also unlikely that any given evil person has an actual motive to cause suffering – it’s just that they advance their own interests without consideration of others.

For PCs, evil could simply be just that. Even if they have greater aspirations, the consequences of their actions need not be “suffering for all mortals.” Think of a villain like Doctor Doom, who brought such prosperity to his home nation. Or Spike from Buffy (Season 4+), who worked with the Scoobies, doing good, even though all he really wanted to do was violence against demons.

#32 Comment By Swordgleam On August 5, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

@Sarlax: That reminds me of a discussion a friend and I were having, about how in D&D, there are several evil deities, but in the real world, there aren’t any religions (composed of more than a few people, at least) that are devoted to doing evil.

We figured that that must mean there IS more of a reason to be actively evil in a D&D-type world. In fact, probably one of the most powerful reasons of all: laziness. You can worship a good god, pray, do good works, and eventually get some power. Or you can sacrifice a few infants, make a pact with a god of evil, and get tons of power right away. A lot of people that don’t have any particular urge to spread evil on their own might suddenly find themselves at the head of an army of kobolds if easy access to nearly unlimited power was the reward.

This probably applies mostly to NPCs, but I can see it applying to PCs, too. One of them was too afraid of failure, so he took the easy route. Or he had some sort of vendetta that he needed to see through, and a good god wouldn’t lend him enough power. He started down the road to evil as a means to a good end, but now he’s afraid to give up the power, because he knows how much harder it will be to get power in any other way. That applies mostly to religious types or spellcasters, but it could also work for another class, if the “power” were in terms of contacts and access to equipment.

Whew. That was unexpectedly long. But writing it has given me some ideas…

#33 Comment By Sarlax On August 5, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

… but in the real world, there aren’t any religions (composed of more than a few people, at least) that are devoted to doing evil.

There are few in D&D world, too. The DMG in 4E suggests that the gods whose religious principles are to actively pursue Evil itself are scattered and secretive, like Tharizdun’s. As thought exercise, read the divine entries in the DMG without the word “evil” or similar tainting words. Try Bane:

“Bane is the god of war and conquest. Militaristic nations of humans and goblins serve him and conquer in his name. Fighters and paladins serve him.”

He commands his worshipers to:
– Never allow your fear to gain mastery over you, but drive it into the hearts of your foes.
– Punish insubordination and disorder.
– Hone your combat skills to perfection, whether you are a mighty general or a lone mercenary.”

He doesn’t sound explicitly evil unless you add the word “Evil” in his description. He actually sound like a perfectly decent war god who could be at home in any great empire’s pantheon, whether Roman, Aztec, etc. Asmodeus is a god for tyrants, Gruumsh an Ares-like god for barbarians, Tiamat a god for those seeking riches, etc.

Even though there is a whole set of gods that are themselves evil, their faiths largely aren’t Pro-Evil, but simply lowercase ‘e’ evil. These deities are probably all prayed to at one time or another by every decent human in the D&D world. Knights might offer prayers to Bane that their troops stay disciplined. Prison guards probably offer regular praise to Torog. Everyone with an embarrassing secret probably prays to Vecna that it remains secret.

#34 Comment By Fang Langford On August 5, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

You guys have mixed up two things.

First, you’re missing the whole point with ‘evil’ D&D races. Most of the time, those races listed as ‘evil’ aren’t being evil to their members. Orcs don’t rape and pillage their own villages after all. In that context, ‘evil’ races are more well called inhumane or anti-human-elf-dwarf-etc.

Second, from a lack of knowledge you are completely mischaracterizing a polytheistic religion. I don’t mind; it’s normal enough. Gods in pantheology rarely have singular devotees. In almost any case, a person will ‘worship’ whichever deity holds sway over the matters at hand. To use a familiar example, a sailor would ‘worship’ Poseidon while at sea and Ares while in battle. The idea that anyone outside of temple-keepers would worship a single deity was ludicrous back then. I mean…one deity? Whatareyou nuts?

Fang Langford

#35 Comment By Sarlax On August 5, 2008 @ 3:08 pm

I’m not sure who “you guys” are, but there’s something that needs correction. Evil races run the range in D&D. Here’s a bit about orcs from MM 4E.

“Orcs … are savage, bloodthirsty marauders. They plague the civilized races of the world and also fight among themselves for scraps of food and treasure. They love close combat and plunge furiously into the thick of battle, giving no thought to retreat or surrender.”

You’ve also got races like the drow that are almost entirely turned in on themselves, to the point of murdering their twins in the womb. On the other hand, some races are outwardly focused, like githyanki and mindflayers – they don’t battle each other.

Whether or not they fight each other or only other races, they are still, on average, evil. Not evil in the “your culture is different from my culture” way, but in the “you have too much fun torturing infants” way. Mind flayers fully cooperate with each other but are still sadistic brain eaters. Githyanki seek to conquer and enslave other intelligent creatures.

As far as polytheism goes, my statement earlier that “These deities are probably all prayed to at one time or another by every decent human in the D&D world” indicates recognition that polytheistic people offer prayers to different gods at appropriate moments, not singular-fixation prayers to only one god.

#36 Comment By Swordgleam On August 5, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

@Fang: But many polytheists are henotheists. For example, while Odysseus might offer prayers to Zeus on the appropriate occasions, Athena is clearly his patron god. When he needs something, that’s who he asks, unless another god would clearly be offended by being left out.

While many people living in a polytheist society worship all the gods, most great heroes (and villains) tend to be henotheists. They have one patron god, whom they worship and serve above all others. To mix settings, a cleric of, say, Ares would probably offer a brief prayer to Poseidon before going on a lengthy sea voyage, but their daily devotions would always be to Ares, and they would sacrifice at his temple first.

#37 Comment By Joey On August 5, 2008 @ 11:31 pm

As a general rule I allow my players to take any alignment that they want. I always remind them that if one is a Paladin and one is an Evil character one of them will be remking a character within 5 minutes of starting the campaign.

#38 Comment By Fang Langford On August 6, 2008 @ 8:12 am

@SwordGleam: Quite true! I was just breaching the concept for the monotheists reading. A common mistake made is they don’t even understand what henotheism is. Thanks for elaborating on this issue!

#39 Comment By LordVreeg On August 6, 2008 @ 8:39 am

Fang has the Polythjeistic thing in hand. People pray to the God that deals with their current issues, though they might have a family or even a business patron.
Though we don’t use an alignment system in Celtricia, I have kept score behind the screen. Which is fun. And What comes from this is that more than half of the PC’s of the setting (and that is over a hundred) have been what might be called by the black-and-white crowd ‘evil’. Self-interest, enlightened or rationalized, is often realistic.

#40 Comment By penguin133 On August 7, 2008 @ 8:18 am

I have no objection to Evil characters per se, but they must have some kind of honour at least, ie. I have had arguments with players who thought of the rest of the party as perambulating prey? You – meaning the evil character – must not steal from the other players (Though if you can find a way to CON them, but politely, it is acceptable, for instance if you can get them to gamble with YOUR dice!) – and you may not use poison, torture or betrayal in the presence of a NON-Evil PC., nor may you backstab them!? I’ve never really used Alignment play, though it could make life interesting; but behaviour I consider needs to be kept track of? I do liike the idea of henotheism, the examples I think would very much apply; a Pagan would sacrifice to the god/dess of whatever applied, the Seagod or Luck etc, depending on his present undertaking, danger or enterprise, whatever he might currently need help with; though his main loyalties would lie with his specific Patron deity, whome he might ask to intercede with some other deity on his behalf? Another thought for instance is that Alexander the Great considered HIMSELF a God or demigod, but insisted on sacrificing to every local God he encountered? The Vikings also had no objection to sacrificing or professing belief in their own Norse or Germanic deities while being at least nominally Christian, depending on who was currently in charge?! A final point, that Pagan deities were considered to be all too human, with fallibilities and feelings of their own, jealous, capricious and not in the least altruistic, Alignment as such is a purely arbitrary means of considering their influence in our RPG world?! Again it boils down to behaviour, if your Patron God, in the person of your GM., thinks you behaved badly as your character or otherwise, better duck! Self-interest is great, even normal, but to backstab your buddies, poison friends, steal the treasure and escape, then expect to return to the same campaign as the same character, “I’m Evil, it is what I DO!” Maybe you are an NPC in disguise.

#41 Comment By Sarlax On August 7, 2008 @ 10:23 am

I have no objection to Evil characters per se, but they must have some kind of honour at least, ie. I have had arguments with players who thought of the rest of the party as perambulating prey? You – meaning the evil character – must not steal from the other players…

Think of Jayne Cobb in Firefly. He seems pretty evil and is largely motivated by cash. In “Out of Gas,” it’s revealed he joined up with the Serenity crew because it paid better and he got his own room.

Jayne’s evil appears often in the show, and, in one episode, it drives the plot. Except for that one episode, Jayne being evil doesn’t really interfere with the “adventure.” His evil actually positively drives another adventure “Jaynestown,” in which he’s a hero for an (evil) act he performed that the town thinks was done for their own good, and it explores his character in a very cool way.

In “Ariel,” the episode in which Jayne betrays the “party,” evil certainly is a problem. If these events had occured in an RPG, these events could be explained by two possible sequences of events:

1. Jayne’s player is a prick who used his evil alignment as an excuse to cause trouble and score cash. The GM decided to control this, so he had the NPC confederate turn on Jayne and another PC threatened to kill Jayne because he was irritated with the player’s antics.

2. Jayne’s player and the GM decided together that it would be cool to have a story that explored Jayne’s evil and its consequences, discussed it with the group, and everyone decided to give it a shot.

I think its #1 that makes many people ban evil PCs in a group, but #2 possibilities could make for a very fun game.

#42 Comment By Kaelbane On October 11, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

Even playing in games with no alignment as such, I have a “The player characters are good guys. Thus, in AD&D1 terms, all PCs must be either either Lawful or Good, and they can’t be Evil” policy.
That’s who I make worlds for. There’s enough evil in real life, capital and lower-case e. It doesn’t inspire me. It isn’t fun. It sucks.
Imagine a game about raping the loopholes in the financial markets for your personal gain. “My character is a Lobbyist, but he’s just trying to pay the bills…”

#43 Comment By Oblivion_Necroninja On November 19, 2008 @ 7:48 pm

I’ve got a (4e) D&D group where I’ve got one Chaotic Evil character. The reason I allowed the player to create a Chaotic evil character was this: he wanted to be chaotic, and neither Good nor Unaligned seemed to “fit” the kind of character I knew he would play. I allow chaotic evil because, without Chaotic Neutral, it’s really the only alignment for people who want to play characters that are borderline insane.

#44 Comment By penguin133 On November 20, 2008 @ 3:46 am

IMO that is the only trouble with Evil, a truly Evil character who loves it for its own sake has to be at least borderline insane; barring the profit motive or someone who is trying to gain power, etc. None of those really fit with the motives of a PC? They are far more suited to an Enemy! PCs more or less have to be some kind of Boy Scout unless they can find some sort of rationale for why their supposedly Evil character would be working with good guys and trying to save the World? Basically, what’s in it for him? I suppose the Arch-Enemy might be his worst foe?

#45 Comment By roamer On February 7, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

I am fine with Evil Characters of any of the alignment varieties within that sphere of the weal. As long as it doen’t wind up becoming a pvp setting within the group. An example of a good campaign i played in my pc was Lawful Evil, in a mostly good group. His motivations for being with the party were to eliminate the various robber barons terrorizing the masses for 2 reasons: 1) as logn as he operated nominally within the range of his fellow company member’s morales he would be viewed more as a hero, adn thus win the hearts and minds of the masses.2) once all of the robber barons were taken care of, it would create a power vacumm from which he would step foward and assume the riens of power. In short by working with the party( for now) he elimnated his compitetion. Gaining him closer access to the current leige of the realm, which afforded him a better chance to plunger the assassin’s dagger into the king’s heart and back.

#46 Comment By Naberius On March 23, 2009 @ 10:26 am

I have less of an issue with evil characters than I do with “good” characters.

In my experience, many players choose a “good” alignment during character development, and either 1) forget about ethics and morality altogether or 2) rationalize PC behavior as “good” simply because their alignment is designated as “good”.

#47 Comment By GiacomoArt On April 16, 2009 @ 7:42 am

During her college years, my wife played in a D&D group where alignment served only one function: when a new player was introduced to the game, he would be asked what alignment his character was. If the answer included the word “evil”, he never got invited back.

Myself, I had given up alignment as a bad business before I even met her. As role-playing tools go, it’s a sledgehammer in a pottery studio. It serves no real purpose beyond giving Character-A a canned excuse to kill Character-B, and can lead to all sorts of in-fighting and hard feelings as the game participants argue back and forth about how the vague abstract concepts apply themselves to concrete contextual actions.

There are plenty of reasons to role-play a character with a dark side – an anti-hero – but as soon as you apply the word “evil” to your own character, you’ve stopped trying to get inside his head and the whole thing turns into a self-conscious farce along the lines of “Dr. Evil” (Austin Powers) or “Doofenschmertz Evil Incorporated” (Phineas & Ferb). Dark & gritty? Okay. But I would never run an “evil” campaign, nor allow an “evil” character in any game more serious than “Toon”, period.