In my time as a DM and as a player, I have played a variety of characters. I've probably played more character archetypes than anyone else in our group (partially due to Spenser being the DM) and with those personalities come the myriad of alignments they must fall under.
As a DM, I've dealt with a lot of different players. At different times during its lifespan, my D&D groups have been anywhere from 3 to 11 players large, and with those numbers comes the inevitable onslaught of bad roleplayers who insist that they are chaotic neutral. The group rolls their eyes as he executes another captive, and one snotty player insists that he isn't CN, he's EVIL.
But what, truly, is evil?
Welcome to my new series, "For the Darker DM", which will deal with the less heroic side of tabletop gaming. This week, we'll start with a simple discussion on what, exactly, evil is and how you can work it into your BBEGs
For many people, evil is simply the execution of immoral deeds, and the frequency of such breaches of morality is what determines neutrality or a lack thereof. Many DMs make the mistake of using random acts of violence/terror and expect it to carry a sense of weight with their players. Many players who have decided to play miscreants also feel that in order for them to maintain their evil "status" it's necessary to commit evil every now and then, or they will fall back into neutrality.
Evil is deeper than actions. It's in the motivations, and the significance of immoral acts. Murdering a woman is a terrible thing. Murdering a pregnant woman is even worse. Neither of these acts, however, make the murderer evil. If you try even a little, you can imagine a situation where a good character might commit these acts.
Consider, however, murdering your brother's pregnant spouse so in his depression he will turn back to the drugs that she helped him break his addiction to. Imagine that you are his dealer, and it becomes signifigantly more difficult to imagine a good person committing this act. That's because the crime was both a terrible act AND had selfish motivations that simultaneously abused the trust of a loved one, as well as his own well being. These actions were not only committed with full knowledge of their consequences, but as anticipated results.
In crafting your evil villain, it is important to impress on your players exactly how evil he really is. If you've decided that you want him to be genuinely dark, it's important to create crimes for him that hit the players hard. Killing a pregnant woman right in front of them for no reason may seem like the sort of action that will cause your players to realize his malevolence, but all it serves to do is give them a reason to be violent towards him (and players will jump on most chances to be violent). Instead, craft a crime that is relevant to your players. Some ideas include:
- Make Them Choose - The average player will realize by now that this guy is the one they're supposed to stick the sharp end of their metal stick into. By creating a crime where the players have to choose between chasing him down and rescuing innocents (or loved ones!), you will not only craft an evil act but also you will cause animosity between your players and the bad guy, even on the meta level.
- Provide False Hope - Craft a crime where it becomes obvious that the players can do nothing to save the innocents, but make it keenly obvious that the bad guy set up the scene to provide the illusion that it was possible. The characters will not only feel guilty for failing to rescue the innocents, but a good deal of anger towards the baddie.
- Take Captives - Assuming that your party doesn't also want to kill innocent people, taking captives is an easy way to sculpt evil into your enemies. A quick knife held to a small girl's throat and the heavy implication of a readied coup de grace can go a long way - especially if he does escape.
- Do It Out of Spite - It is best if the main BBEG's plans do not actually involve the PCs in any way, other than to account for the fact that the PCs want to stop him. Perhaps set up his crimes to specifically target loved ones that the PCs could not protect (because they were trying to stop him) can create the dilemma that their actions are causing more harm than good - a completely unfair sentiment that inspires doubt and hopelessness.
Next time, we'll take some of these lessons and apply them to a particular bad guy and see what we can come up with.