D&D 5E How would you conduct an evil campaign?

Herosmith14

First Post
So, this is an idea that's been rattling around in my mind for a while. A number of months ago a group at a FLGS I occasionaly go to started up an evil campaign. I wasn't apart of it, but I thought it was a fun idea. I eventually ended up thinking about how you would conduct an evil campaign, and by that I mean how you would handle the possibly clashing individual goals of the party. Of course you could just go for the old "conquer the world and divide it up" strategy, but that only works in certain circumstances, and, to me at least, seems rather uninventive. I was hoping you guys could give me some advice on a strategy I came up with to run an evil campaign.

So the basic idea is each character has a certain set of goals they need to accomplish in order to achieve there endgame, as well as some roadblocks that block the party as a whole, such as the good guys. You could evenly distribute ways of reaching goals throughout the adventure, such as having 4(one for each party member, not specifically 4) items or people dispersed throughout a dungeon or small adventuring area that would progress the scheme of each character.

Once all the major threats have been neutralized and a character has accomplished all of the prerequisites to their final goal, a player could talk to the DM, and, with the DM's okay, could "Endgame," or betray the party; their once-comrades now being the largest known threat to them. The DM could supply an NPC that would fill the same niche as the traitor(So as to not unbalance the party). The party and the traitor would fight (the traitor would presumably have summoned minions in some form) and if the party kills the traitor, the player in control of the traitor would roll up a new character, with a new set of goals to accomplish, and the campaign would continue until another player "endgames." If the traitor kills or otherwise defeats the party, the campaign ends and you could possibly start up a new one, with heroes instead of villains, and the point is to topple the victor of the last campaign.

One of the problems I see with his model is that it might unintentionaly encourage backstabbing through out the entire campaign, not just at the end, and could lead to a lot of mistrust around the table.

Any thoughts?
 

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aco175

Legend
I would not encourage an evil campaign unless you and your players are ok with it and have been playing for quite a while and know how to handle it. That being said, I find that a lot of good PC reasons for adventuring would be the same as evil PCs. The only major difference is the means and lengths they will go through. Some may resort to bribery, like many good people have done, and other means such as blackmail, torture, and theft. I would try and keep it out of torture, rape, and random murder just to kill someone.
 

Soul Stigma

First Post
My personal experience is that evil characters don't make good campaigns. One shots, sure, but that's about it. An "alliance" of evil characters is one of necessity, nothing more.

Think of villains in a normal campaign - someone has to be head honcho to have any real order, and that would mean other characters are subordinates. If not, if they are equals, then it's the sort of arrangement that lasts until one of them feels threatened or sees an opportunity to bring others to heel.

All of this is mostly due to the total selfishness inherent in evil alignments. The L, N and C prefix only tells you how they tend to go about that selfishness.

Anyway, maybe someone has a viable model that could work for an actual campaign. I'd sure be interested to see it, out of sheer curiosity!


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Oofta

Legend
As others have stated, I wouldn't.

Having gotten that out of the way, there are several options:

Delegate to the Players
Have the players tell you why they won't stab each other in the back in a session 0. They don't have to have a reason not to stab everyone in the back, just at least one other person and every person needs to be covered. So Bob won't kill Sue because she's his sister, Sue won't kill Tom because she secretly loves him and so on.

Just make sure no one is left out of the loop.

Overlord
Easiest is to just have an NPC be an evil overlord type who deals harshly with infighting. Goal of the campaign may be overthrowing the overlord so that they can take over, but until then everybody obeys the boss.

It's Magic!
The entire group is under some kind of magical compulsion/geas to not kill each other. They may not even know they're under a geas until/if they try to stab each other in the back.

Together we are stronger ... for now
Everyone needs the other members of the group in order to achieve their goals.

Anyway, those are my thoughts off the top of my head. I'd never do an evil campaign myself, it's not for me.
 

Soul Stigma

First Post
As others have stated, I wouldn't.

Having gotten that out of the way, there are several options:

Delegate to the Players
Have the players tell you why they won't stab each other in the back in a session 0. They don't have to have a reason not to stab everyone in the back, just at least one other person and every person needs to be covered. So Bob won't kill Sue because she's his sister, Sue won't kill Tom because she secretly loves him and so on.

Just make sure no one is left out of the loop.

Overlord
Easiest is to just have an NPC be an evil overlord type who deals harshly with infighting. Goal of the campaign may be overthrowing the overlord so that they can take over, but until then everybody obeys the boss.

It's Magic!
The entire group is under some kind of magical compulsion/geas to not kill each other. They may not even know they're under a geas until/if they try to stab each other in the back.

Together we are stronger ... for now
Everyone needs the other members of the group in order to achieve their goals.

Anyway, those are my thoughts off the top of my head. I'd never do an evil campaign myself, it's not for me.

Now the Overlord is an interesting concept. Still wouldn't be for me, but it would be interesting to watch them put up with each other long enough to overthrow their master, then watch the chaos that ensued once the power vacuum was up for grabs.


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D&D notoriously tends towards 'murdo-hobos,' anyway, and on one level an evil campaign could just embrace that. You're a party of bad people, wandering around doing bad things for fun and profit, no veneer of heroism applied. That could work with a CE party. Don't expect it to last long or for anyone to miss it when it's gone. ;)

D&D also tends towards railroady campaigns where you get sent on missions. Instead of doing missions for mysterious strangers, benevolent deities, or wise old NPCs, you could do them for a cult or despot or diabolic power. It's not quite as seamless as it was in 3e, with 'Team: Alignment' and everything, but still pretty workable. LE party is ideal. The idea of being magalomaniac villains out to conquer the world, or working together towards specific ends of some other sort also works well for an LE party.
 

TheNoremac42

Explorer
A lot of characters are murder-hobos anyway, so pretty much the only thing that would change is locale and types of enemies ;)

More seriously, I think it comes down to close collaboration with the players and deciding beforehand how the group dynamic and some story elements will turn out.

Maybe a group of heroes tried to take down a lich, failed, and are now his undead underlings sent out to the world to do his bidding?
Maybe they serve as the henchmen of a Bond-style villain and work to help him with his goals? What if the Boss's vision genuinely speaks to them? Maybe they have a really good dental plan?
Maybe the "antiheroes" join in a mutually beneficial alliance that wont need to necessarily end when their goals are reached.
 

Despite what others have said, Evil doesn't have to cause inter-party conflict (evil =/= selfish). Assuming you give the group a single goal, there is no more reason for backstabbing than in any other party. Some evil campaigns that work pretty well:

Servants of Tyranny
The party serves a lawful evil empire, where punishments for infractions are severe. Most of the adventures involve serving whichever master they currently have, with rooting out rebels (i.e. heroes) being a primary duty. A small amount of inter-party conflict might occur, but it should be minimal, because of the threat of punishment. Characters need not even be evil (LN and TN would be fine), but must accept they will commit acts of evil (or at least watch them done).

Blood Oath
Each of the PCs had an ancestor that made a deal with a devil, and now the devil wants his due. The PCs are given instructions via. dreams, a minor devil (imp?), a cult worshiper, etc. and must perform his evil will upon the mortal world. Failure to comply will cause not only pain to the character (start with damage, then other negative effects) but also the character's family. Again, characters need not be evil (and good characters make things VERY interesting), but forces characters to work together.

Mercenaries
The characters are part of a mercenary company that is known to have few scruples. Either have a large company that assigns adventures, or have the players agree on one PC that will be in charge. The party needs to work together, like any other, but the missions can be rather dark and evil. Potential for betrayal is higher, but shouldn't be overwhelming.


Side note: if you are going to run an evil campaign, make sure you and your players agree on acceptable levels of evil beforehand. I've seen this go VERY bad when someone takes things too far...
 


transtemporal

Explorer
Depends how evil you're talking. There are levels:
* "willing to steal, bribe, manipulate, threaten noncombatants or kill combatants to achieve mission"
* "willing to kill noncombatants either directly or by ommission, willing to torture, rape, imprison combatants to achieve mission"
* "indiscrimate killing, torture, rape, imprisonment of anyone for any reason"

I've played the first two and they're not that different from a "good" campaign but the third I probably couldn't stomach personally. Imagine the most unruly, volatile, disgusting outlaws of the wild west and thats pretty much what that group would be like. Plus, the PC vs PC fighting would get a bit boring.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
I'd run it much like any other campaign.
The pcs would have a mix of adventures that ranged from assignments from higher ranking NPCs, to jobs for hire, to personal goals, to random events.
I wouldn't be at all concerned about how they chose to acomplish thier goals.
PvP? I don't care. Wether that's a good idea is up to the players....
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
I played in an evil campaign in high school and it lasted for about 2 years. We had a great time. The key was that we all felt as if we needed each other to survive even though our characters would posture and intimidate each other at times.

It is really important for the DM and players to get the PCs to have a bond, even with an evil campaign.

Our DM did it by making us fear for our lives against even more evil NPCs, devils/demons, monsters etc. We ended up working for some "god", but after a while we found out that the "god" we worked for was really an arch devil using us with plans to sacrifice us in the end. Eventually we broke away from the entity, but because he was so powerful, we were never truly safe. All of this, and a tacit agreement to not kill each other kept us going.

Ultimately, as we were getting closer to graduation, the DM allowed us to push the envelop and become more belligerent with each other. This divided us into two groups and pit us against each other. It was an end game and it wasn't as satisfying as when we were playing cooperatively against the forces of good and evil.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
Having done this several times, to great effect, here is my advice. (In fact, I am a player in an evil campaign right now.)

First, there is a difference between someone who is evil and someone who is totally 100% evil all the time towards everyone, no exceptions. Encourage your players to create evil characters who can work with others and who WANT to work with others. Both fiction and history are full of evil people who had friends and allies just like everyone else.

Second, reinforce the above by giving the players a reason to work together. An evil patron is a good reason. But, good-aligned enemies are also a good reason. Or, give them a common evil goal: maybe they are servants of the same evil deity, or members of the same evil family (they want their family to rule the world; individual rulership isn't as important).

Third, aim towards cartoony evil. Rape and torture and mutilation are NOT fun. James Bond-villain death traps are fun. Mind-control is fun. Threats and coercion are fun. Betraying the good guys is fun.

Fourth, make sure they have enemies who are even more evil than they are. In my experience, players enjoy the freedom of playing evil PCs -- but they still crave that sense of righteousness that comes from stomping some :):):):):):):) into paste.

Fifth, talk to your players about all these things beforehand. Make sure they understand what you are going for and that they are on-board. Some players don't enjoy evil, and others don't understand that playing an evil PC is not an excuse for being a jerk to your fellow players.​

Personally, I think your idea of betraying the party in an "endgame" does not sound fun. The problem with PvP games is that they lead to too many secrets, and secrets can be toxic. I mean secrets between the player and a DM. It can feel very unfair, like the DM and the other player are engaged in a different game entirely, and you are cut out of the loop.

Instead, I'd do something akin to Survivor, where PCs vote each other dead. Or maybe take a note from The Mountain Witch, and have PCs throughout the campaign give each other "trust" points, which they then use at the endgame to stab each other in the back (whoever has the most points, wins). Or, just track Evilness throughout the campaign, and the evilest one rules over the others. It's hard to pull off, because you don't want the "losers" to feel cheated.
 

Xeviat

Hero
I've ran one evil campaign and here's what I did to have moderate success with it:

1) The player characters are the active party. Let them come up with their plans. Give them roadblocks and challenges to overcome to achieve their plans.

2) The antagonists are the NPCs who are seeking to stop them. Throw heroes at them.

3) Give them enemies. One fun element to evil campaigns is doing things that good characters would balk at. Evil characters will kill their enemies instead of bringing them to justice. They'll lie and cheat and steal.

And most important ...

0) Discuss your and your players' boundaries before hand. What's on the table? What's off the table? This is super important.

0.5) Discuss the tone of the game. Are you going for grim, gritty, dark, and realistic? Or are your players wanting to play mustache twirling cartoon villains?
 

CTurbo

Explorer
I've been very interested in running and/or playing an evil campaign. I think it would be different enough from the norm to be interesting. A lot of people seem to think that an all evil campaign could not work, but I think it could if done correctly. There obviously has to be SOME ground rules going in. Here are two critical things IMO-

1. All players and DM have to agree on what is acceptable and what is not. Typically, rape and detailed grotesque torture are off the table along with other few other obvious things.
2. Players pretty much have to know going in why they are going to be working together for whatever reason and agree to stick with it.

Here are 2 things that would kill the idea.

1. Doing something that's going to offend. You really need to know who you are playing with.
2. Having a CE player in the party probably wouldn't work. I'm assuming that a chaotic evil character would be a chaotic stupid character also known as a complete psychopath. You wouldn't be able to do random evil acts for no other reason than being an evil character. You wouldn't be able to take them anywhere or accomplish anything.

Here are 2 things I would do if I were running an evil campaign.

1. Have npc heroes in pursuit of the party just about at all times. The npcs would be a few levels higher at all times and would likely be an impossible fight causing the party to be "on the run" most of the time.
2. I would severely punish random acts of public obvious evilness... and by punish, I mean I would immediately throw some npc police/heroes at them to arrest or kill the guilty party member. This would hopefully help keep the party in check a little if needed.

Hopefully those to things would force the party to be careful in their actions. It wouldn't be logical for an evil party to just do whatever they want whenever they want without repercussions. The party would still come across and have to fight/run from/deal with other evil characters, beasts, etc... just as a typical hero party would. An all evil party would probably amass more wealth and weapons and such quicker than normal due to the nature of how they would procure them so encounters would probably have to be amped up a little after a few levels.

A quick note about torture. I would allow it in general. There is just no reason to get specific about it. Like, I would allow a player to say "I torture him for information" and have him make a roll with proficiency against the npc's Con score or roll a Con DC check for the npc to see if it succeeded. Again, there is no reason to get graphic about how the torture went down.
 

pogre

Legend
Lots of good advice here. The "evil" campaign I ran was not intended originally to be so, but became that quickly when we played a "no alignments" campaign. The PCs stuck together because they chose to be a group of family and friends. They had tons of skeletons in the closets and worked every session to keep each other out of trouble. A lot of the adventures ended up feeling a lot like an episode of Shameless.

I think mature players with a mutual level of trust is even more important in a game like this. Being honest about limits is important.

Some of the stuff that group did would not be acceptable at all at my current table.
 

Corwin

Explorer
One of my favorite go-tos for evil campaigns even has a recent super-villain campaign created in the same vein, by Savage Worlds, called "Necessary Evil". The PCs are bad guys. But they must come together to defeat a threat even more terrible than they are. In D&D, I've used stuff like, extra-planer invasion by demons, or whatever. The PCs might be evil, but the world, as it is, is still their home. Do they want it destroyed or taken over (by someone other than themselves)? Heck no. Common goal. Nasty tactics available to accomplish it.
 


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