Way of the Wicked
Allignment and Playing an evil Character
Let’s be honest — campaigns focused on evil characters have pitfalls that never trouble heroic role-playing games. There is a reason why most players prefer to be the good guys. If you are not careful these pitfalls can tear your game apart. Let’s tackle fie of the most common perils: The proactive nature of villainy; The problem of minions; Inter-party conflict; The dangers of being too evil and the inherent banality of being bad for no reason.
Th fist pair of problems we can solve with a well put together villainous campaign. Honestly, these are the pitfalls that the author hopes he has handled. Still, you should be aware they exist.
The second pair requires intervention on the GM’s part. These are problems that are solved by consistent action throughout the entire campaign. The fifth and final problem needs to be tackled in character creation. Evil campaigns can be tricky but hopefully with a little thought and preparation they can be manageable. Never doubt there are great payoff. After years of pretending to be the heroic farm boy forced to fight the evil empire, it is a welcome change to be the dark lord. Within the course of this campaign, the characters will get to do wicked acts they’ve never gotten to do before in an RPG.
And there will be no one to stop them this time!
Pitfall #1: No Rest for the Wicked
Here is a critical difference between heroes and villains — good can afford to be passive, evil cannot. Good characters may only strike out on an adventure when their homes are threatened. Evil never has that luxury. To be evil is to do evil acts. And that means villains must have a plan.
This can be difficult in a fantasy world. Concocting a worthy evil scheme requires information that the players do not know. Their characters may well know how a typical castle is laid out, but it takes a lot of preparation to fully convey such knowledge to your players. And you never know what will strike their fancy and what course they’ll pursue.
The “Way of the Wicked” campaign answers this challenge by providing the players with a pre-made plan devised by an NPC. [Spoiler] has crafted a conspiracy to bring ruin to the kingdom of Talingarde and give its rule to the followers of Asmodeus. This is a complex plan (it needs to be to provide twenty levels worth of challenge!), but it has a real chance of success. Every effort has been made to make the PCs critical parts of this plan.
No doubt the PCs will want to tweak the plan to serve their own personal villainous goals. This is fine. More than fine, this is encouraged. It will take effort to see this plan through to its conclusion, no doubt, but then there is no rest for the wicked.
Pitfall #2: The Trouble with Minions
A common problem with playing masterminds is over-reliance on minions. Why should the PCs endanger themselves when they can send minions to do their dirty work? The problem arises when minions start doing everything. It’s boring to watch retainers have all the fun.
On one hand, thematically we want our villains to have followers. In “Book II: Call Forth Darkness” we will present optional rules for building your own villainous organization. What must be avoided is over-reliance on these followers. We want to keep the player characters in the thick of the action. Here’s our solution. This adventure path is a six book exploration of things that minions cannot manage. If there is a problem that can be handled by simply sending a few mooks – great. Handle it that way. Be assured, those problems are not the major quests of this campaign. Minions will never [spoiler] . Send all you want, they will fail. All they’ll accomplish is warning the good guys. And besides, the PCs don’t receive experience for deeds their minions accomplish without them. Enforce this rule and that alone should be enough to keep our villains in harm’s way.
Pitfall #3: Us against the World
There is no doubt that the most common trap of evil campaigns is character versus character conflict. The typical scenario goes something like this: one character manages to slay or dominate another and the defeated player takes this downfall very personally. The defeated player then gets another character and so makes this new PC with only goal in mind — revenge! Maybe the GM at this point realizes that things are spiraling out of control and intervenes to reverse the defeat. Suddenly the victorious player feels cheated. Why should a brilliant plan not be allowed to succeed? Out of character squabbles and petty backstabbing become the rule and that is no fun at the gaming table. Th result, more often than not, is that the campaign falls apart.
The source of that problem must be stated clearly: it is a rare gaming group that can handle intense inter-party conflct. It is too easy to forget that the competition is between characters instead of players. Recognizing this, the “Way of the Wicked” campaign helps you avoid this pitfall by unifying the players in a common cause. They may be ruthless villains out to destroy Talingarde by any means at their disposal but they are not out to destroy each other. From the very fist encounter of the game, they must work together or face
death and imprisonment. And later [spoiler]. Emphasize this fact: the PCs have only each other. The nation of Talingarde is their enemy. Their mysterious benefactor, [spoiler], clearly has his own agenda. The other knots are more rivals than true allies. Who can they trust? Who can they rely upon? The answer should be clear — each other. Branded and thrown together, the players must realize that their characters are in this together. Even if they are rivals, they still need each other. Emphasize this unity again and again and you will greatly decrease the likelihood that interparty conflct will destroy your campaign.
Remember, it is them against the world.
Pitfall #4: PG-13 Villainy
Every gaming group has norms of acceptable behavior whether they realize it or not. For example, graphic descriptions of torture are rarely welcome. Still, there may be a compelling reason why villains need to torture someone. And why shouldn’t they? Thy’re villains after all. But if this is allowed unchecked, it is very likely that lines will be crossed and that the campaign may degenerate into out-of-character arguments about what is acceptable. The solution is to allow the action but to keep the descriptions and details in the realm of a PG-13 movie. A great example of PG-13 villainy comes from the most famous space opera of all time. The black clad villain about to interrogate the princess strides into her cell. “And now, your highness,” he announces, “we will discuss the location of your hidden rebel base…” The movie then cuts away with a close up of a fearsome flating torture implement sporting a cruel hypodermic needle. The cut is the important lesson. Who knows what the villain did to the princess? Was she threatened, beaten, drugged or worse? Doubtless. But the movie doesn’t dwell on the specifis and neither should your game. Instead, roll an intimidation skill check and perhaps a will save. Thn cut back to the villain emerging from the cell.
“Her resistance to the mind probe is considerable,” our villain was forced to admit. Failure.
Even the greatest of dark lords have their bad days.
Pitfall #5: on a Mission from god
Evil is banal. What does that of recited cliché mean? The dictionary defies banal as “drearily commonplace and often predictable; trite.” That is a fair criticism of evil, especially of bad guys who consciously think of themselves as evil and senselessly pursue a diabolical scheme for no reason save for sheer wickedness. So let us avoid that trap. Let us give our villains motivation beyond the senseless pursuit of evil. In the author’s personal experience, the best villains are the ones you sympathize with and maybe even quietly cheer. Tht
is exactly what this campaign is all about. “Way of the Wicked” is about openly rooting for the bad guys.
The rulers of Talingarde have been foolish — they have suppressed the worship of a powerful and vengeful god. By persecuting the followers of Asmodeus instead of merely stigmatizing them, they have brought religious war to their island.
The PCs are at the center of that war. Thy didn’t start this conflct, but they might very well win it. Thse villains begin the campaign as an oppressed minority who has been trod upon by the so-called forces of good. By campaign’s end, they will write their vengeance in blood.
That is a motivation beyond banal, pointless villainy. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the only motivation for this campaign, but it’s a solid starting point. Let’s give another example. Samuel Havelyn is an example of a villain with a motivation. He could have been a faithful priest of Mitra if it had not been for the unrequited love of Bronwyn. After she rejected him, he could have still turned aside from this dark road if only his father had sympathized with his son’s loss and consoled him. Instead, the old man just laughed. Ths a villain was born.
Try to encourage every PC to fid a similar sort of motivation as they are being created. Every PC starts as a criminal, true enough. But why did they turn to crime?
When could they have last turned back? And now that they cannot, whom do they blame for their scars?
What must be done to Talingarde should not be banal wickedness for its own sake. Your characters are on a mission from Asmodeus. Vengeance will be theirs.
Just be sure to know why