Hey gamers, I want to talk to you a little bit about evil campaigns today.
Why? Well mainly because I went through a bit of a row with my gamers this weekend and I want you to be able to learn from my mistakes.
Campaigns with evil PCs can be fun, but they put a lot of extra weight onto the DM because my number one thing when it comes to my games is I make the world realistic. Not “there is no magic” realistic but “actions have consequences” realistic – and this is true of my good campaigns too. If you neglect the NPCs they aren’t going to help you. Fail to warn the peasants about the incoming orcs? Dead peasants. Steal from a crime boss, there’s going to be an assassin around one of the next corners, or maybe the next two if you upset him enough.
The same should be said of evil campaigns, sure you can push limits, but expect the limits to push back.
First, I recommend only trying this with a group of experienced role-players. It can be very difficult to correctly articulate the thoughts and feelings of people who would normally be considered criminally insane, and as such I think experience is important in this matter. Even most normal campaigns have a twinge of evil in them if you consider the morality of the adventurer profession.
Second, make sure you have an established reward/consequence system. I don’t mean “kill the thing get the other thing” I mean, if you raise a bunch of undead in a nearby cemetery and the town guard finds out, they’re probably going to try and stop you. They might even call in reinforcements in the form of a paladin or two. This can be the bane of a “good” aligned group as well, especially one that happens to get a little over zealous going after corrupted officials or dispensing vigilante justice – local lords don’t take kindly to people upsetting the natural order of their serfdom. A dynamic and responsive world is the heart of table top RPGing. If you just wanted to kill one thing to get better loot, there’s dozens of videogames which are going to be a much better use of your time than sitting around the table with your friends.
If you’re planning on running these sorts of evil games, you need to decide on how you’re going to structure the story. Evil, for evil’s sake, is not a story and will get boring quickly. Look to the lawful evil communities which have become powerful antagonists for your do gooding heroes. The Drow Matriarchy, the Cheliaxians, The Great Efreeti society and the City of Brass, The Red Wizards of Thay – they may be evil, but they follow their own laws and woe to those who break them. This can actually be a perfect way to fit evil characters into a ‘do gooding’ campaign. Drow are constantly besieged by their enemies, other Drow included. The Red Wizards struggle to maintain their dominance and Devil’s are persnickety allies at best.
Then you need to decide how you want the game to progress. Are they evil overlords pulling all the strings? Are they lieutenants to something bigger, or are they dramatic personae who are the Byronic antiheros just looking for someone who understands their need for revenge and perverted justice?
All of this is stuff that needs to be worked out ahead of time otherwise its going to lead to headaches further down the line. Trust me.
There’s one last thing you need to be aware of in evil campaigns. Evil things can happen. Those distasteful things which are only allude to in anything rated PG-13. I usually run my games somewhere between PG-13 and R rated, unless there are extenuating circumstances or I’m building a scene. My non-fantasy genre games tend to run a little darker, especially the Call of the Cthulhu, but you need to decide for yourself where the limits of what you’re running are going to be. Pushing these limits can be fun, but you need to understand that some things will make people uncomfortable and that shouldn’t be your end goal. If it is, please just go back to being an internet troll. I recommend handling these sorts of scenarios like Hollywood. Where two people go into the bedroom, and then it cuts to the next morning, we all know what happened, but it can go unsaid. I find this the best way to handle the most distasteful acts.
Anyway thanks for letting me get that off my chest and goodluck if you ever try a similar endeavor.