In Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and so many other TTRPG games, you can choose between good and evil, and choices are why we play RPGs, right? We can do (or try to do) just about anything in D&D, so is it “okay” or “fair” for a DM to refuse to let a player create an evil character?
There are a lot of DM’s out there that would say, “yes, it’s my game and I can set it up any way I want!”
I’m going to go on record right now and say that I am not one of those DM’s. I don’t believe that the game belongs to the Dungeon Master, it belongs to everybody. That being said, it’s the DM’s responsibility to ensure everyone is having fun. Evil aligned PCs can make that a little difficult. Let’s look at the pros and cons of letting evil into the adventuring party!
Players can make a character they really want to play.
Not every table allows its players the opportunity to create a character. Some DM’s handout player sheets at the beginning of session 0, but most games don’t run this way. Typically, players get to write a back story, figure out personality quirks, flaws, bonds, and that whole right side of the character sheet.
I don’t want to disparage DM’s or game tables that hand out characters at the top of the campaign. Everybody plays their own way. However, if your players are going to put time into crafting a character they know and love, they’re going to want to pick the alignment. It’s part of developing the personality that they’re going to be embodying for the next few sessions, weeks, months, years!
The ability to freely pick their alignment helps aid in the crafting of the personality they are about to write and play.
Conflict between characters (not players) can make things interesting.
You can’t have an interesting story without conflict. Another layer to the overarching plot of the game can come from game character dialogue. Let’s say you have a Paladin and an Assassin Rogue in the same party, one good one evil. How do they work out conflicts between each other? Will they let a prisoner go, or execute them on the spot? Will they defile the crypt of an ancient warrior in order to retrieve her sword, or will they go on a quest to prove themselves worthy of the weapon?
These could be interesting debates and personality clashes between good and evil party members. Allowing players to make evil characters allows them to dig into the role-playing aspect of the game.
D&D isn’t all about leveling up and chopping off that bad guy’s head. Players want to play complex and interesting characters. Evil is, at very least, complex and interesting.
A whole world of plot hooks makes itself available to evil characters.
Dungeons & Dragons has been about good versus evil since its publication by TSR. A lot of really good stories have come out since then. And there have been a few stories (mostly by indie creators) that centered around evil characters, but not many.
Having a character, or characters, work through missions while harboring evil intent within their hearts gives both the DM and players an opportunity to explore new territory. It just hasn’t been done very much. Again, I’m not saying that it hasn’t been done at all, it has. But if you were to put good-centric campaigns and evil-centric campaigns on a giant scale, the scale would, obviously, tip towards good.
Mixing things up provokes creative thinking.
People (players) generally want to be good.
Character conflict can be a lot of fun and is a good catalyst for creating interesting role-playing moments. Player conflict does just about the exact opposite. Most people want to be the good guys. If you have one player that is being particularly dastardly and evil, it may throw off the role-playing rhythm for the other players.
Let’s go back to the Paladin and the assassin example for a moment. After the adventuring party wraps up interrogating a bandit Captain, the Paladin may be inclined to take the bandit to the local authorities. What will she do when the rogue assassin then decides to stab the bandit in the neck? “Dead men tell no tales!”
It might be very well in character for the Paladin to attack the rogue assassin; despite him being a member of the adventuring party. He’s shown his true colors, after all. But the player might not feel comfortable suddenly attacking another player’s character. Now the Paladin can’t get into the role-play. She’s not playing the character true to form because she doesn’t want to be rude.
This can end up killing the mood at a fun and exciting game session.
They don’t know the difference between evil and insane.
Most people aren’t evil. Sorry if you’re a cynic, but let’s face it. We don’t live in a world where at any given moment you might be shot to death because you have a crooked smile. We have a society and rules for a reason, people want to be good. People see movies about heroes triumphing over villains. There aren’t very many movies about villains beating the odds and then whoopin some good guy ass.
That’s why most people don’t know how to be evil. They haven’t seen it in stories, never really thought about it in daydreams, and they generally don’t have much experience being evil. So what ends up happening? They do what they think evil people do, kill everybody! And now you have the birth of a murder hobo.
Most DM’s are pretty experienced playing evil characters, myself included. After all, we play all the evil characters. All the villains, all the henchmen, all the malevolent forces from beyond human comprehension, that’s what we do.
Most DM’s will tell you, villains can’t all be insane. Sure, one here or there is fine, but the majority of them need more substance than that. They have to be smart and conniving. They have to lie and manipulate. The best villains don’t even really look like villains until they betray the party and kill a lovable NPC. If a player hasn’t DM’d before, they may not be familiar with writing or role-playing evil, and as a result, they end up going on a killing spree. That kind of behavior normally gets the character or the whole party killed.
Not fun for anybody.
Being evil is F%#&ing hard!
Aside from the difficulty associated with role-playing evil, dark and sinister characters face a lot of challenges. Now, of course, this can be mitigated by world-building and DM style, but the world the game is being played in probably looks down on evil, a lot!
An evil character is going to want to do anything they can to achieve their goals. They don’t care about morals, right and wrong, or who ends up getting hurt. That last one can end up biting them in the ass. If you screw over a kingdom, a town official, or any NPC of means and power, they’re going to come gunning for you. That just makes sense. Most of the time, that helps players remember that there good. There are consequences to being evil.
DM’s will handle evil conduct differently depending on their style and the type of campaign they are running. However, you murder the high priest of the temple, and you better believe the paladins are going to be filled with righteous rage. It’s easy to put yourself and your party into a bind when you’re playing an evil character.
At My Table
There are a lot of ways to handle this situation, and I don’t think anyone’s come up with a “one size fits all” answer to whether or not players should be allowed to be evil. Generally speaking, at my table I allow only experienced players to attempt evil characters. First-time or green players get a hard no.
I also allow players to change their character later on if they’re not feeling the one they’re playing now. That’s a controversial decision in and of itself, and one I will probably write a blog about later. However, there are too many issues that can arise from an inexperienced player trying to take on the challenge of an evil character. It can cause a lot of conflict between players, not characters, and that will kill a table faster than an Ancient Red Dragon.
A highly experienced table, on the other hand, knows how to handle character drama while keeping it out of the real world. Most veteran D&D players also know that playing an evil character offers a lot of challenges. In fact, that challenge is why some veterans want to play a conniving, mustache-twirling, naughty boy/girl. They’ve been playing for a long time, and they want to up the challenge.
Ultimately, I suggest any DM faced with a player wanting to write an evil character to take a second and think it over. Don’t just say no (or yes) out of hand. There’s a lot of opportunity here, and a lot of risk. Think about the player, the table, and the campaign, and try to figure out how it will all fit together.
All the art found in today’s post came from the talented Athena Victoria. Her work can be found at Discombobi.com. I highly recommend taking a look at her site.