How do you handle evil?

Well how do you handle it?

  • I'm okay with players choosing any alignment.

    Votes: 30 42.9%
  • I think players who choose an evil alignment are edgelords/wangrods.

    Votes: 11 15.7%
  • I don't understand how a player can make an evil character with in my campaign.

    Votes: 8 11.4%
  • Evil? I think evil is so fun I've made evil campaigns set in mostly evil worlds.

    Votes: 8 11.4%
  • I throw up my hands at alignment because the players are all murderhobos anyways.

    Votes: 6 8.6%
  • I just don't find evil all that fun.

    Votes: 38 54.3%

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
When discussing this subject in different places, I've heard all kinds of responses. But the weirdest of the common responses is that playing evil characters is bad, and if you want to play an evil character you are a bad player.

It's really the most bizarre thing. I mean they do understand that the DM enjoys RPing villains, right? It's a fictional universe for Pete's sake, the players all already are something they could never be in the real world, and their characters also often have beliefs and motivations that they themselves don't have.

We have this weird segment of the D&D culture that appears to think either playing an evil character means you want to cause trouble, e.g. steal from the party, and that PvP is inevitable or your character leaving the party is inevitable. Or, they think that you are interested in playing an evil character because you want to RP a lot about stabbing people's eyeballs or routinely RPing other gruesome or edgy stuff.

Have we really become so pigeonholed into oversimplified ideas about alignment that we can't divorce our preconceptions about D&D from the way we understand villains in literally every other fictional media we're exposed to them with?

Villains are so interesting because they're doing wrong, everyone can see they do wrong, but they're still people. They're every bit as three dimensional as the protagonist. They have just as much reason for their worldview and ethics as the protagonist.

It's not satisfying to fight a villain for no other reason than that's the encounter you were given. The protagonist has to have real convictions about his/her actions and say "damn it, I'm going to stop you because you're wrong".

Somewhere along the way we've stopped short of that super cool and satisfying aspect of fiction, and turned villains in tabletop role-playing games into "that villain is so repulsive he must die". The villain is a caricature built to get a rise out of you, to provoke a visceral reason by doing very nefarious things.

It's incredible to me how most avid lovers of TTRPGs are big into fantasy fiction, but they don't really seem to like villains (except perhaps when they enjoy hating a villain), and especially hate the idea of a villainous party member. Villains are literally the bread and butter of fantasy and a big part of what sets the genre apart.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Have we really become so pigeonholed into oversimplified ideas about alignment that we can't divorce our preconceptions about D&D from the way we understand villains in literally every other fictional media we're exposed to them with?

Some folks like paying differently than you. That's all. It has nothing to do with being pigeonholed in anything. It is about wanting a different experience at the table.
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
Some folks like paying differently than you. That's all. It has nothing to do with being pigeonholed in anything. It is about wanting a different experience at the table.

Really I wouldn't be half as perplexed about how people in the D&D community have portrayed evil characters and people who play them, if they were less concerned with that and more concerned with stating that that's simply not something they would enjoy in their own campaign.

The problem is that there are droves of people who have declared to myself and others that there is something wrong with people playing evil characters or the campaign more prominently focusing on evil. They often will say that the person must be morally bad. And even more strangely they will also more often than not say "how could someone enjoy RPing an evil character".

This leaves me scratching my head and thinking: what? The DM roleplays evil characters basically every time D&D is played. One would assume that the DM also visibly enjoys doing so.

So really the main crux I was getting at is: why are villains, and evil, vilified and hated in a way that they weren't before? And what is it about evil characters that makes so many players not even consider the possibility (or rather the brute fact) that there's more to it than mustache twirling and making things unpleasant?
 

payn

Legend
Some folks like a game thats white hat vs black hat. Its that simple. The PCs are supposed to be the good guys. Its a style preference. Some folks dont want white hats mixed with black hats either. They prefer the conflict outside the party group and dont want to waste their time with intra party conflict.

Thing is, most RPGs dont bother handing out hats like D&D does. It is easier to roleplay in the traditional sense because there is no category foisted on characters. In the past, doing something evil had mechanical impacts too, which are largely gone now, but the legacy cuts deep with D&D. Which is why you have really weird discussions about how to be a good assassin or a good lich instead of just being them. Its not really an issue in TTRPGs other than D&D in my experience.
 

payn

Legend
The problem is that there are droves of people who have declared to myself and others that there is something wrong with people playing evil characters or the campaign more prominently focusing on evil. They often will say that the person must be morally bad. And even more strangely they will also more often than not say "how could someone enjoy RPing an evil character".
I havent seen this at EN world. Is this a twitter reddit thing?
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
I havent seen this at EN world. Is this a twitter reddit thing?

Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, even lots of YT content creators. A prominent example would be the channel Nerdarchy on YT. They appear to think there's some kind of problem with evil and anyone enjoying RPing it.

Some folks like a game thats white hat vs black hat. Its that simple. The PCs are supposed to be the good guys. Its a style preference. Some folks dont want white hats mixed with black hats either. They prefer the conflict outside the party group and dont want to waste their time with intra party conflict.

Thing is, most RPGs dont bother handing out hats like D&D does. It is easier to roleplay in the traditional sense because there is no category foisted on characters. In the past, doing something evil had mechanical impacts too, which are largely gone now, but the legacy cuts deep with D&D. Which is why you have really weird discussions about how to be a good assassin or a good lich instead of just being them. Its not really an issue in TTRPGs other than D&D in my experience.

Now the white hat, black hat stuff, that makes perfect sense and I can get behind that. But when you play for twenty years or more the same stale fantasy tropes and the same stale ideal of "being an adventurer is about heroism" gets old once you've played in a million bog standard campaigns.

You're also spot on about D&D not being like other RPGs in the sense that it hands everyone hats from the start. The rub is that many people who play D&D have awfully strange misconceptions about what mixing black and white hats entails. As you've mentioned and everyone else does, they think it means PvP.

The weirdest part to me is when you stop to think how "good" the good characters really are, if they are only willing to work with people who fit into their worldview. Is that character truly good or only as good as the shallowest interpretation of their ideology?
 


it is likely the nature of being given hats and the assumption that being heroic involves killing evil that leads to pvp.
I more struggle to define evil properly as believe me I honestly have tried and part of me died in the attempt so how would we even know what a non-cartoon evil would even be like that you could role-play without feeling dirty?
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
Villains - in fiction, unfortunately not in the real world - are narratively supposed to lose.

Why would you want to play the losing side?

And if you DO want to always play the losing side...welcome to the DM'ing club!

Are they? Sure, in a cosmic "in the end good wins" sense, but how many stories involve villains that are plainly winning?

Let's take Tolkien for example. There are whole periods in time, hundreds, even thousands of years long in which the bad guys are winning. Melkor/Morgoth wins so much and for so long that the Vanyar have to come over and deus ex machina him away.

Heck if villains never won then how could there even be villains? And wouldn't it be just as fun to win as a villain?
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
it is likely the nature of being given hats and the assumption that being heroic involves killing evil that leads to pvp.
I more struggle to define evil properly as believe me I honestly have tried and part of me died in the attempt so how would we even know what a non-cartoon evil would even be like that you could role-play without feeling dirty?

Easy. Enjoy lots of good villains in fiction and apply what you've learned to your own villain characters.

You make it sound as if it isn't absurdly easy, and fun, for DMs to RP evil NPCs. There is a player at the table who has fun role-playing evil most if not every single time the game is played.

It's funny how people contextualize that with "well but the DM is supposed to do that they are the DM".... Ummm they're still RPing evil and enjoying it, how does that make a difference? Lol. It's so confusing how people don't get this.

The whole point of it is exploring a character that is totally foreign to you. If D&D was just populated with people who think and act more like average people then there wouldn't be much point in playing, would there? You can act out real life just by living.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I can't vote on your poll because none of the options align with my views. It is a little odd to me that you are dragging in views from YouTube, Twitter, and other social media instead of engaging in conversations happening here. I really don't see folks on ENWorld calling people bad for playing evil characters.

Personally, playing an evil character just isn't fun for me. I've tried it before, and it just felt like rubbing against sandpaper the whole time.

When running games, I create narratives and hooks based on the characters. So if there's an evil character, I will create interesting dungeons, towns, and NPCs that hook them into the game.

However, I'm not really interested in running an evil game. It's honestly just not very fun for me to run a game for characters who want to act like villains. Pure personal preference there.

On the other hand, I enjoy running the villains because I know they're going to get trounced by the characters! Evil, though, is rarely the motivating factor for villains. They usually act through a desire for power, greed, or pure dismissal of mortal life. That's usually seen as evil from the viewpoint of the characters, but more importantly it has to be seen as antagonistic to the characters' goals.
 


Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
I can't vote on your poll because none of the options align with my views. It is a little odd to me that you are dragging in views from YouTube, Twitter, and other social media instead of engaging in conversations happening here. I really don't see folks on ENWorld calling people bad for playing evil characters.

Personally, playing an evil character just isn't fun for me. I've tried it before, and it just felt like rubbing against sandpaper the whole time.

When running games, I create narratives and hooks based on the characters. So if there's an evil character, I will create interesting dungeons, towns, and NPCs that hook them into the game.

However, I'm not really interested in running an evil game. It's honestly just not very fun for me to run a game for characters who want to act like villains. Pure personal preference there.

On the other hand, I enjoy running the villains because I know they're going to get trounced by the characters! Evil, though, is rarely the motivating factor for villains. They usually act through a desire for power, greed, or pure dismissal of mortal life. That's usually seen as evil from the viewpoint of the characters, but more importantly it has to be seen as antagonistic to the characters' goals.

Thank you for mentioning that glaring problem with the poll. I've fixed it and people can now say that they prefer not to play with evil PCs.

It's fair for you to criticize me for mentioning this viewpoint I've been exposed to a lot when it's not really a thing here. For clarity's sake though I am not only new to the site but have been bombarded with talk like that on various platforms for years, it's been to the point that just because I run non-traditional campaigns sometimes I couldn't feel comfortable sharing about the campaign with other D&D players.

You're not the first who I've read saying they never enjoyed playing an evil PC. I agree that it's definitely not for everyone and what's most important is all of the players having fun, and less important is catering to myself or another player who fancies the idea. It's not like any of us will fail to have fun with a good character.

It's also really cool how different DMs enjoy running baddies for their own reasons. I love playing villains because I can use them to challenge the players on the most fundamental level. The villain isn't merely a thing to be repulsed by and get some visceral reaction from, they force the PCs to have authentic convictions because they're directly opposed to them.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I allow evil characters. But I generally discourage it for new or inexperienced players. There's also certain type of tables were I won't really allow it. But if I know that I have mature players that already have a few roleplay experiences under their belt, I allow it.

The thing with evil characters is that people immediately think of the supreme evil type of characters. Characters that torture, hurt and deceive other just for the sake of doing it. That's certainly one definition of evil. But evil is very much a matter of perspective, and from my point of view, I always viewed evil as something that's utilitarian.

A well-rounded evil character does not mind doing immoral things to achieve his goals. It doesn't mean he'll be mean to everyone, or spit on people, or disrespect them. But when an opportunity that many would not seize presents itself, evil character seize it. The character might even feel bad about it afterwards, they don't enjoy doing it. Or maybe they do, or maybe they don't care.

There's many type of evil characters, and the most played one out there is the least interesting one. It's the type of evil that's also boring for villains; being evil for the sake of being evil.
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
I allow evil characters. But I generally discourage it for new or inexperienced players. There's also certain type of tables were I won't really allow it. But if I know that I have mature players that already have a few roleplay experiences under their belt, I allow it.

The thing with evil characters is that people immediately think of the supreme evil type of characters. Characters that torture, hurt and deceive other just for the sake of doing it. That's certainly one definition of evil. But evil is very much a matter of perspective, and from my point of view, I always viewed evil as something that's utilitarian.

A well-rounded evil character does not mind doing immoral things to achieve his goals. It doesn't mean he'll be mean to everyone, or spit on people, or disrespect them. But when an opportunity that many would not seize presents itself, evil character seize it. The character might even feel bad about it afterwards, they don't enjoy doing it. Or maybe they do, or maybe they don't care.

There's many type of evil characters, and the most played one out there is the least interesting one. It's the type of evil that's also boring for villains; being evil for the sake of being evil.

The way you describe uninteresting evil sounds the same as the issues with a player playing a lawful stupid (incredibly shallow lawful good) character. In both cases I would say that they're not real examples of either alignment.

The players are normally good because they believe in the commonly accepted good. The villains aren't evil because they're evil, they're evil because there are other things more important to them than the "common good". And what's a super crucial and interesting element is that the players sometimes will be presented with situations where their own convictions conflict with the common good.

Good doesn't feel good and evil doesn't feel evil unless there's real weight behind how characters think and what they do. What passes for "evil" a lot of the time any more resembles "natural evil", e.g. the xenomorphs in Alien.

The main thing tripping people up when trying to handle this while making stories is they can't see the separation between "natural evil", which is hideous to look at because it reflects how cruel and uncaring the world can be, and "villainous evil" where you're supposed to be troubled by how relatable a heinous person can be. The former is impersonal it dehumanizes. The latter is deeply personal it makes people think about what being human means.
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
I don't allow evil PCs, regardless of system. Evil done poorly is just silly, evil done well is disturbing.
So when the DM does evil... Is it silly? Or disturbing? And it just sucks either way?

Does the DM have magical D&D playing powers that allow him to portray villains in a fun way and the players not?
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
At this point, I tell players in campaigns I run that they should be "mostly altruistic, willing (if not eager) to be heroes, and able to work with the rest of the PCs." I don't want to deal with inter-party conflict, and I strongly prefer to center stories around non-villainous motivations. There's nothing wrong at all with wanting to play an evil character--while I discourage it, I don't outright disallow it, so long as they fit the rest of my requirements--but I don't much care for it, at this point, either as a player or as a GM.
 

payn

Legend
So when the DM does evil... Is it silly? Or disturbing? And it just sucks either way?
All of the above? Out of context you cant really say.
Does the DM have magical D&D playing powers that allow him to portray villains in a fun way and the players not?
No; who is saying that? It is difficult to cross the streams. Most games go white hat vs black hat. Some flip the script and run evil campaigns instead. Doing a mix is difficult, but not impossible.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
We have this weird segment of the D&D culture that appears to think either playing an evil character means you want to cause trouble, e.g. steal from the party, and that PvP is inevitable or your character leaving the party is inevitable. Or, they think that you are interested in playing an evil character because you want to RP a lot about stabbing people's eyeballs or routinely RPing other gruesome or edgy stuff.
It's not that weird. Many of us have seen it and seen the justification "Well, I'm just playing my character. That's what he'd do." and players having used an evil or CN alignment to do so. It doesn't have to be that way at all, but it is a thing that's been out there and that leaves a lasting impression.
 

I'm okay with players playing any alignment. In fact, in my experience, people that are playing Lawful Evil tend to mesh well with the party.

Now, in the last few games I've run, I've asked players to play young go-getters that want to see their home/world change for the better. So while that doesn't exclude evil alignments it does push the players towards the Good end of the spectrum.
 

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