Not in real life, in real life I do kind of frown on evil. In RPGs though, it can be possible to have a great session, or even campaign, while playing a character whose actions are demonstrably evil. We’re not talking about anti-heroes here, or characters that skirt round some of life’s moral grey areas, we’re talking about terrible people and the things they do. I know it might seem counter-intuitive, but I hope that by the end of this article, you’ll see what I mean.
One of my favourite characters from literature is a total bastard. A liar, a thief, an adulterer, a coward and a bully. He mistreats everyone in his life if he can get away with it, and would do pretty much anything if there’s a way he could turn it to his advantage. The person to whom I refer is Harry Paget Flashman. Not everyone will have heard of him, but he is the star of over a dozen novels, and first appeared in the classic ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’. Everything I just attributed to him is true, and he has done a whole lot more besides, but he’s still a great character to read about. On top of his multitude of character flaws, he was also charming and polite, knew how to seduce women, and flatter those who were his social betters. He had a gift for languages, was a skilled horseman and a great cricketer. And from a story point of view, his life was never made that much easier because of his deplorable nature.
True, he rose to lofty heights because he was often the sole survivor of high profile exploits, but he hated every moment of it until then, and suffered greatly at the hands of his enemies. The stories he were part of were filled with him being terrified for his life and in constant danger, but you ended up routing for the swine. So much of what happened was his own fault, and he made it worse with almost every action he took, but you still wanted him to survive, just to see what the hell he’d get himself into – and try and talk his way out of – next. I have read all of the Flashman papers, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the author sadly passed away a few years back, I would be excitedly looking forward to the next installment.
This kind of character can work wonderfully in role playing games too. Just think about being a GM of a game that involved a player whose character was actively antagonising the NPCs they met, always trying to get ahead, or just wanting to enjoy being in a position of power so they could bully those beneath them. As long as they understood that there would be consequences of their actions – if they don’t understand that, you might want to have a word – then you get to keep pushing them deeper into your intrigue and plots as people stronger and more capable then the PC keep getting their revenge on the braggart.
As a player it can also be great fun, and a challenging role playing experience all at the same time. Only once have I played what could be considered a true evil character, and that was mostly due to playing in a game which used alignments I want to go on record as saying that I’m not usually a fan of this kind of thing, much preferring to play characters that adapt their opinion easily based on a changing world. But my Lawful Evil cleric was a blast to play.
It was a world created by the DM, and all the PCs were playing dwarves. It was an insular monotheistic society, and as a culture we were realising we were not alone for the very first time. If you’re curious, we were being invaded by the elves. I had been wanting to play a cleric for a while, going down a battle preacher kind of route. When I was told it would be a monotheistic culture, I couldn’t resist. A stayed true to the letter of the law in everything I did, but made sure it benefited me without caring at all what it would mean to others. The poor were subjugated under my ministering, and I even took one of the other player characters as a slave because she had acted in an un-Godly fashion and sought redemption from her sins. All in all he was a nasty piece of work, but the other players put up with him, and were happy to have him on side.
There were two reasons for this. First, he was fighting on the side of his God, as were all the other players; if they towed the line, then they avoided my holy wrath. Secondly, I was charming as all hell. Offering praise where I thought it would serve me later on down the line, and making sure I was seen to be generous, as long as it didn’t actually cost me anything to do so. I would buff and heal the rest of the party when needed, just because it meant I had a better chance to survive. Come the final battle however, when all looked very grim indeed, I legged it. Just turned my back on the rest of them, and left them to their fates, cementing my place as the bad guy of the entire plot, as they died to a
man dwarf jack of them.
So you see, played right – and neither hammed up or just going for a pure psychopath - it can be great fun playing an evil character. Just be prepared to suffer the consequences of your actions, unless you’re very good indeed at covering your back. Very very good indeed.