Ground Rules For Evil Characters

So you have a player who wants to make an evil character. You’re not new to the Internet; you’ve heard horror stories before about D&D campaigns being derailed and parties broken up because of an evil character wouldn’t stop making a mess of everything. Maybe you’ve got a horror story or two of your own. You want to support the player’s freedom, but you also want to make sure that the party doesn’t constantly succumb to infighting and stall out the campaign you’ve written. How do you find that balance?

Many Dungeon Masters simply say “No” to this request, and you would be well within your rights to do so. If you are open to having an evil character, here are some expectations that we suggest making clear to the player to preempt any possible alignment-based conflict. Feel free to direct your player(s) here to let them see that these suggestions come from veteran Dungeon Masters with almost 20 years of experience managing party dynamics.

Be A Team Player

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a collaborative experience that works best when everyone cooperates and acts toward a common goal. If you want to play a lone wolf willing to betray your friends for a shiny coin (or even a not-so-shiny one), go and play a single-player video game. You will lose fewer friends that way and spare the Dungeon Master a headache. Characters should all be able to trust each other and cooperate. If your character is uninterested in holding or respecting the party’s trust, make a new character.

Likewise, your intention during character creation should not be on ‘wrecking the DM’s game’. If you can’t respect the hard work that goes into putting together a session for everyone’s enjoyment, then don’t bother coming to the table.

You Must Do The Extra Work

It is your choice to play an evil character, so it is up to you to come up with motivations that allow for your character to go along with the party. Most characters can be enticed to embark on a dangerous quest for non-selfish reasons, accepting payment as offered but otherwise using their abilities in defence of the innocent, of civilization, or even of the world for no reason other than to prevent the suffering of others. That’s not to say the DM won’t come up with hooks for the party, only that most of the characters will gravitate towards actions that can sometimes seem selfless.

If your character would normally cut a deal with the villain, you need to figure out what motivations you can leverage to keep your character on the side of your party—not the DM, not the other players, you. If you can’t handle that pressure, make a new character.

Alignment Isn’t A Compulsion

Having an evil alignment is not being compelled to kick puppies, steal from widows, murder random strangers, or otherwise pursue homicidal behaviour. Rather, you simply lack compunctions about performing certain acts under the right circumstances. Perhaps you are a professional assassin who is willing to kill for money, as long as the target isn’t a child, a pregnant woman, or whatever else contravenes your personal code. Perhaps you are a knight from a long armigerous pedigree who doesn’t care about the suffering of peasants, viewing them as chattel to be exploited, but who will go to lengths to defend the honour of a noble maiden. Perhaps you are not above sabotaging the property of your rivals to ensure that your endeavours succeed, such as committing or commissioning arson on your competition’s warehouses, carts, or ships.

Remember, as well, that most evil people aren’t evil for the sake of being evil. Rather, they justify their actions with such sentiments as “they had it coming” or “it’s for the greater good”. Only creatures like fiends, which are born from the essence of evil, are incorrigibly corrupt. If you want your character to be evil simply for the sake of being a public menace who will likely bring the campaign crashing down around him through compulsive malfeasance, make a new character.

Evil Doesn’t Mean Stupid

Picking the pocket of the duke in your private meeting, cheating at dice in a public game against the city’s chief legal official, dropping your trousers in front of the lord’s daughter… there are innumerable examples to be found of utterly moronic behaviours that players have pursued with their characters under the flag of ‘evil’. All are bound to end badly if you try them, and it’s not going to be the DM’s fault.

If your character is going to be the personification of your id, make a new character.

Don’t Steal From The Party

This was technically already laid out in the first heading (“Be A Team Player”), but it’s so important that it bears worth including twice. Nothing, nothing at all, will drive a wedge in the party faster than one character pilfering or hoarding another character’s share of loot. You might think, “my character is selfish and would keep all the treasure”, but what you will say is, “Everybody, I found all this gold over here!”

If you can’t handle your character sharing the loot, make a new character.

Putting It All Together

Playing an evil character isn’t more freedom, it’s more responsibility. You may have to contrive your character’s reasons for joining an adventure, sharing a bunch of treasure, or not taking an action that would disrupt the campaign. In many ways, the worse the character is, the better the player has to be as a person; a selfish player with a selfish character is a recipe for disaster.

If you want to make a character that is a professional sociopath hellbent on wrecking the campaign, go and do an evil playthrough of a single-player video game. Don’t ruin everyone else’s good time. D&D is a collaborative game, not a platform for your narcissistic fantasy. Be a team player or don’t play.

Taylor “Ipsimus Arcanus” Reisdorf is the lead writer for Dungeon Master’s Workshop. You can follow him on Twitter and on Facebook, and you can support more articles like this by becoming a patron on Patreon.

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