Evil is a difficult topic to discuss. Evil characters are often misunderstood and cast as the villain in stories, but they possess many of the same qualities that make heroes so compelling: bravery, honor, selflessness. Additionally, Evil can also be more nuanced than simply being cruel for cruelty’s sake. It can instead be unrelenting ambition or obsessive revenge. Evil alignments exist on a spectrum from chaotic evil (the most malevolent) to lawful good (the most benevolent). Roleplaying games where players use an evil alignment and roleplay villains offer unique insight into the minds of these complex characters.
In this third installment of this three-part series, Jared Emanuel, explores how to leverage RPG game mechanics of alignment to create an evil character with well-rounded thoughtful room for growth as the story unfolds. Finally, Jared will address ways for GMs to incorporate evil characters into their games without them being cast as antagonists or worse yet, hollow copies of more complex villains from film or literature.
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Introduction: Let Me Tell You an “Evil” Story
“I say we rob the bank.”
The words echoed around the table, sending a feeling of excitement through the small group of people. Marcus looked around at his friends and nodded, eyes glinting with greed. “Alright, but who will do it?”
One of them spoke up: “ooh, ooh! I’m good at this game!” There were some laughs from around the table as they all caught what he was implying—the character sheet for this game was loaded with skills that made it perfect for robbing a bank.
Marcus smirked. “I bet you’re also great at talking your way out of things too.” He turned to face the offender. “Do you think you’ll be able to make up a good story?”
A few of the other players laughed and all eyes turned to the offending player. “Hehe, I guess we’ll find out next week…” came his reply as he prepared to roll some dice.
“It’s settled then.” Marcus paused for a moment before he continued. “You draw straws or something; the rest of us will provide the distraction.”
An Evil Alignment Overview
At its core, an evil alignment is defined by a willingness to take whatever action it needs to reach some desired goal. Evil characters are defined not by the goals they set for themselves but rather by their actions. There is no right or wrong way to play an evil character. There is only the path you decide to walk, and that may vary depending on which Evil alignment your game uses.
A lawful evil character lives by an order of authority, while a chaotic evil character embraces randomness. The neutral evil character finds themselves in between these extremes. Evil characters can have strong morals or they can be amoral, and what constitutes an Evil action can vary between characters.
Here we’ll explore why playing “evil” is an great option if you and your group are up for a challenge!
The Struggle is…Self Imposed?
People make choices in life. Some people don’t understand that by doing these things, they can harm others. But you have a choice. There is an obvious illogic to not understand how your actions could hurt others. But we all have choices to make in life. It is good when we make important decisions from knowledge, logic and compassion.
But sadly, some people choose not to do this. Sometimes a person will choose to put themselves above other people, and intentionally harm the community.
Evil by its nature is self absorbed and eventually self destructive. Good people will forgive a few transgressions. But a point will be reached when the tyrant must fall, the dangerous beast be hunted, and the criminal punished. Evil is terrifying to contemplate when you consider that most people view themselves as the Hero (or Victim) in their own story.
The following prompts can be used to accelerate a character’s destruction or grow and become partially redeemed. Always discuss with your table or GM before introducing evil Player Characters. It is also important to learn what subjects are off limits before you play.
The Struggle of the Lawful Evil Hero: Strong vs. Weak
The Lawful Evil Hero uses everything they can as a weapon to keep themselves in control. The glitter of gold, the written word, shouted lies, knowledge of dark secrets, and the manpower of the ignorant masses. The people in charge use these things to stay in charge.
Through the proper application of their strengths, vast empires can be built (both criminal and legitimate). If a strict hierarchy is obeyed, then the Lawful Evil Hero hopes to comfortably position themselves somewhere at the top.
Trust is a scarce resource among the Lawful Evil, but this does not mean they do not lack vision. Betrayal is a risk the Lawful Evil character must be wary of, and sloth is a weakness.
The Lawful Evil character is perhaps the easiest of the Evil Alignments to grow or redeem. As they pursue more power they may grow to heights undreamed of. On the other hand, a moment of weakness can cause their overthrow, propelling them to bottom, forcing them to begin a bloody path of vengeance to the top once more.
Perhaps the most rewarding direction to go in, is one of recuperation and mercy. Just like the Lawful Good counterpart, the Lawful Evil Hero will grow when they begin to question the values of their society. Looking at the world from a different perspective will make it easier for them to develop Good, Neutral or Chaotic tendencies.
The Struggle of the Neutral Evil Hero: Hunter vs. Hunted
Some must die so that others may live. This is the necessary evil that pervades nature. The wolf must eat the sheep, for that is what they need to survive. Laws transform this evil into a legitimate process. The wolf becomes the sheep dog, and gets a portion of meat in gratitude for its service.
Law can be tyrannical or just, but they both attempt to sanitize the blood on our hands. Neutral Evil Heroes never got the memo. They must hunt because they are still the wolf. The wolf hunts because it needs to. The blood is what they need to survive: Death for life. And this makes them dangerous to Law abiding folk.
Some monsters hunt too aggressively which gives them a reputation for being dangerous. Though the hunter always carries danger on their back, they become hunted when they are seen as more of a threat.
The Neutral Evil Hero can grow when they stop running. Redemption comes with service to a greater cause. Learning how to live and love with a small pack of friends. The loner becomes a protector.
In this instance they shift towards Good or Law. But, the opposite can occur when they grow to deeply resent society and become more antagonistic and Chaotic. This may happen when they lose the thing that was grounding them into a positive Alignment.
The Struggle of the Chaotic Evil Hero: Reward vs. Punishment
Oftentimes the news will report horrible crimes, forcing us to ask ourselves: Why? Why would anybody do that? It can be terribly confusing and frustrating. As macabre as it sounds, the criminal must have acted that way to achieve some sort of reward.
A distressing thing to think about is that the rewards the Chaotic Evil Character expects, are not obvious. The satisfaction of a fulfilled desire is perhaps reward enough. An effective way to achieve your desires is by communicating. Confusion reigns when people don’t communicate their desires. But, confusion reigns when people try to communicate their desires all at the same exact time.
The Chaotic Evil Hero doesn’t care about any of that, but only cares about the imaginary reward that they have invented. Even the threat of punishment is not enough to curb some of the worst behaviors in our society, but there is usually a reckoning. Evil is illogical by its very nature. Chaos is confusing by its very definition. Therefore this is probably the most difficult Alignment to role play in a satisfactory way.
Is a purely Chaotic Evil character worthy of redemption? What punishment is there to fit such horrible crimes? A Chaotic Evil Hero can only grow if they realize the horrors they have committed at their own hands.
A Chaotic Evil character’s horror must be doubled when they realize that perhaps the greatest punishment for them is to continue existence with the knowledge that there is nothing within their power to fix what they did. But perhaps they can, if given the chance, ally themselves with people that are trying to stop people like them. The shift into any Alignment feels appropriate, once they pick themselves up from that rock bottom feeling.
Evil characters are often the most interesting and compelling. In this article, we’ve discussed how to use Evil alignment in rpgs as well as tips on how Evil alignment can be used best. We hope that you found our advice helpful and will consider Evil for your next gaming character! If you have any questions about Evil or want help creating a new Evil RPG Character from scratch with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We would love to hear from you!
About the Author
Jared Emanuel is a hobby enthusiast that loves high fantasy, science fiction, and everything in between.