January 25, 2017

Playing Evil Characters

Comments from the Thumb: "You're as cuddly as a cactus, you're as charming as an eel..."

There is something to be said for the nearly absolute freedom of choice you get when playing tabletop games. Sure, most campaigns tend to follow the standard “defeat evil, save the land” shtick, but in no way does that restrict you in character creation. You can just as easily play a lawful good paladin as you can a chaotic neutral rogue or a neutral evil warlock. Oh, what’s that? You’re not allowed to play an evil character? Your DM thinks that will interfere with the story? I fail to see how, unless your goals align with the antagonist’s. Even then, that might actually make for an interesting twist. Personally, I really like playing evil characters in “good” campaigns (“good” here meaning “not evil”). So I figured I’d give my two cents on how to effectively play an evil character.

Evil ≠ Stupid

Too many times I hear about the evil character that does terrible things for no discernible reason, simply because their player thinks that’s what evil characters do. You don’t have some quota of villainy you have to fill each session. I’ve heard of evil characters sneaking away from the party to sate some bloodlust or steal gold from a nearby lord’s mansion. I’ve heard of them turning on other players because one player has a magic item that they want. But hey, just because you can do something…
     D&D is a cooperative game. Maybe certain characters would turn on the party for no good reason, but the expectation when you are playing is that, for whatever reason, everyone generally has the same ultimate goals of completing quests and murdering anything with more than 4 limbs. To oppose or obstruct that goal serves only to irritate the other players. We like to call characters that do this “chaotic stupid” or “stupid evil” depending on where on the spectrum they lie.

Evil ≠ Heinous

Some characters might be the scum of the earth. They might have a fetish for kicking puppies, or a sick fascination with torture. That is totally something you can roleplay if you want, but it isn’t something that evil characters necessarily have to do. I once played a neutral evil witch character (our own Witch base class!) who traveled with a mostly good-aligned party for a time. My motivation for joining them? I was a con artist seeking my next big score. I’d have sold them out without question if offered a better deal, but because they were the most profitable option at the time, I got myself hired on. I didn’t have to murder or steal or oppose the party in any way to be palpably evil. I just had to roleplay a manipulative bastard with a knack for screwing people over and laughing at their misfortune.

One Evil ≠ Another Evil

Maybe your evil sumbitch makes it all the way to the BBEG’s fortress of doom with the rest of the goody-two-shoes party. Are they suddenly obligated to turn on the party, or risk an alignment shift into neutral territory? NO!!! Maybe you have other motives for killing the archlich than ridding the kingdom of his evil. Maybe you want him out of the way so you can garner power unopposed. Maybe you run some black market trade ring and his hordes of undead have been killing your clients on the road. Maybe you just hate undead. You don’t have to be good to do good for evil reasons.
     Here are some examples of evil characters you could reasonably play in a good campaign without breaking the narrative.

Jonathan Percival (Lawful Evil)
Jonathan is a human Paladin (Oath of Inquisition) and a member of the Inquisition (of whatever the dominant religion in the setting is). He, like other inquisitors, travels the land in search of heresy and crime to purge. He, unlike many inquisitors, revels in serving violent “justice” to those he believes deserve it. This justice usually involves gruesome torture, sometimes to learn information, but usually just as punishment. In any case, it always ends in the execution of the prisoner.
     Jonathan carries an ornate silvered greatsword called Penance, which he uses mercilessly in both battles and interrogations. He is fanatically devoted to the church, and he truly believes that any heinous actions committed in its name are justified by their outcomes.

Wilhelmina Black (Neutral Evil)
Mina, as she is known by her “friends”, is a craven, selfish, opportunistic human Rogue (Thief) who lacks empathy and cares only for her own well-being. Her standard mode of operation involves ingratiating herself with a well-off adventuring party and reaping the rewards of their success. If the party looks to be in dire straits, Mina will often sell them out for a final score before moving onto a new party. Her actions have spelled the deaths of dozens of adventurers and caused her expulsion from the Thieves’ Guild, but somehow she always manages to survive.

Argax the Black (Chaotic Evil)
Argax is a black dragonborn Barbarian (Brawler) / Monk (Way of the Dragon) with a great love of pummeling his enemies to death with his bare hands and a fanatical reverence of all things draconic. He worships the dragon goddess Tiamat, speaking her name as a mantra before and after battles. A disgusting creature that revels in filth and blood, he often takes “trophies” from particularly worthy opponents, usually in the form of a finger, tooth, horn, or other body part. He keeps these trophies in a gory bag within his adventurer’s pack, which always carries the smell of rotting meat. On occasion, he will even eat the bodies of his humanoid victims.
     Argax is extremely dim-witted, but he makes up for it with his sheer brawn. In an adventuring party, he serves as a fast, frontline damage-dealer. As long as the party keeps him fed and shows proper respect to both himself and Tiamat, he will remain a powerful ally.
     Argax as described here was inspired by a member of our gaming group’s former PC of the same name. To read more about his misadventures, click HERE. In honor of what has become one of my favorite characters of all time, I have written detailed instructions for a 5e adaptation of him, shown below.

Argax the Black
STR:15 (17 with racial bonus) DEX:12 CON:14 INT:8 WIS:13 CHA:10 (11 with racial bonus)
Race: Black Dragonborn
Classes: start with Barbarian (our very own Brawler subclass), alternate that and Monk (Way of the Dragon) until you have 3 levels of monk, then keep leveling up in Barbarian.
Background: Acolyte (Argax is an acolyte of Tiamat)
Skills: Athletics, Intimidation
Ability Score Increases: 1st ASI is split between STR and WIS. Next two go into CON, last goes into STR. Don’t bother with feats.


  1. I actually had a lawful evil necromancer, who was with the party because the BBEG was your typical baby eating bad guy of an archlich, and that he was giving other people in the necromancy craft a really bad reputation for being overtly evil and scary...causing angry mobs, when my necromancer "just wanted to raise a family in peace".

    1. "Raise a family in peace..." I saw what you did there. Nice.

  2. I have to say I find playing am evil character exceptionally difficult... I'm either not evil or stupid evil.

    1. Agreed. Anything in between just ends up being a compassionate and caring evil, or just a really violent nuetral

    2. See, I tend to have the opposite problem. I can't make Good characters in good conscience. Adventuring lends itself to not-Goodness, like the wanton murder of anything Other. So pretty much everything I play is Neutral or Neutral Good, unless I'm playing a semi-pacifistic Goody-Goody.

    3. I have a lot of trouble roleplaying neutral. It's like acting without stage directions; I guess I just need some impetus to get started and a strong alignment helps with that.

    4. Depending on the neutral you're talking, I find neutrality pretty easy to do.

      LN=mechanical and bureaucratic
      CN=rash and selfish
      TN=logical, impartial

      I've always seven true neutral as borderline sociopathic.

    5. Not necessarily, Thumb. TN may not act according to their consciences, but that doesn't add up to anything close to sociopathy. Somebody who is just more concerned with protecting themself, or even their close friends/family, tends to be TN, or close to. I'd put sociopaths as closer to NE, as they don't have any of the loyalty that Neutrals often do.

      Also, some TN people might just be tired of Good vs. Evil, or whatever, and just don't want to bother with that. That's very much a True Neutral mindset.

  3. I love this, evil being my favourite alignment to play out. Not many people realise that evil does not mean henious or bloodthirsty. I played a NE bard(fiddler of mad god, thank you for that masterpiece) / old God warlock. We played rise of Tiamat with my primary goal being to prevent the rise of Tiamat otherwise there would be no rule of my over lord. It was awesome

  4. I'm actually going to re-play a CE paladin/sorcerer soon, who simply has absolutely no conscience and doesn't care at all about laws, but also isn't sadistic or treacherous- Nietzschean/Randist, you can say.
    This article sums up pretty well the "party evil" character which most players seem to have trouble with playing.

  5. I had a great neutral character (Binder/Monk). It was easy because he was very sagely and his drive was to pursue knowledge for knowledge sake. He was so oblivious to right and wrong that it was simple to play. Not much compassion for the living, interest in the now, or care for personal gain of power or wealth. Usually saving people happened due it somehow inconveniencing his pursuit. Could probably argue it was selfish and he was neutral evil...

    1. I've built a binder for a game I might be playing in, haven't gotten a chance to play him yet. Went changeling for the race. Should make things interesting

    2. That does sound interesting. Change skins and roles as easily as clothes.

  6. The best question I can think of regarding evil PCs is, "Why do you want to play an evil PC in the first place?"

    I need this question answered because if the answer is, "Because I want to play a murderous cretin who fireballs the plot hooks, attempts to rob his party members, or just because I feel restricted and bored with playing nice characters," that's not sufficient.

    Considering that evil tends to be less reactionary than good, an evil protagonist tends to have some reason for doing something that goes beyond "They're going to hurt people."

    Therefore, the best approach, from my perspective the best way of going about it is to explain the character to the DM and work with everyone else at the table to make sure that, especially OOC, there's no confusion or bad blood. Designing characters that play nicely in a cooperative environment, regardless of alignment, is of utmost importance if you don't want to get kicked from the group for being a jerk.

    I also try to ask myself if what I want REALLY requires being evil. Playing an evil character comes equipped with the idea that you're willing to hurt others to better yourself, which can easily turn off other players, DMs, or even myself, which can hurt my chances of playing them, period.

    A wizard who wants an army of servants, good food, massive arcane power, a nice lair to summon spirits, genies, elementals, and the occasional demon or devil, craft golems and magical items, and achieve immortality could very easily work as True Neutral, and evil or not, explaining that motivation to the rest of the players before play starts could inspire a fun campaign about obtaining our own dungeon.