Thursday, December 1, 2011

DM Advice - Running Evil Campaigns - Part I

Whether cheesy villains out to get the hero at any cost, reformed criminals, thugs and cutpurses or antiheroes eventually as a DM your group is going to ask you if you will run an ‘evil’ game. Wait! Have not I been saying that gaming is a good thing about heroes versus evil? Yes. Well then how could I possibly write an article about the benefits of an evil campaign? Good question, glad I asked it.

To start with, after you are done coughing down your pizza or spilling your drink, you will want to ask the first obvious question to your players. “Why do you want to play an evil game?” The answers may shock you.”I want to play a cool class I saw in the book.” “I have always wanted to see how the other side lives.” “Cthulhu made me do it” “I had a bad day at work.” The answers can be as varied as the people are in your group. The reason you want to know the why is so that you can work on the how.

If they want to play an evil game just so they can bash the garbage out of common townsfolk then you might want to consider letting them blow off some steam with a dungeon crawl in the game you are in. Honestly, those types of evil games while fun at first get boring rather quickly for the DM and eventually for the players as well. Though if this is your cup of tea (evil tea that it is) you should ignore my advice and play slaughter the common folk with your group. You will not hear me complaining.

The purpose of the game is to have fun right? Right. With that in mind what is more fun than a game of antiheros? We recently played a game with antiheroes in which the players were bad guys working for other bad guys but who were equal opportunity bad guys. By that I mean that the organization of which they belonged pretty much was out for themselves and although they were ‘lawful’ by name they were more chaotic in the actual operation. This type of game can be a lot of fun. You could develop a very good storyline where the players are building their base of operations and have a take-no-prisoners approach.

In our Against the Heroes game the players actually played against their other characters. This campaign was an alternating Tuesday game that was ran to show the continuing story-arc of the Nightlord Saga that the players were involved. We all had a good time playing the game to the climax where the players delivered the sword of Kings and helped save the world from a worse evil.

The backdrop for such a game is just as important as the story that you are telling. An evil game set in the middle of the Harper’s lands might be much more challenging than an evil game set in Zhentil Keep depending on how it is ran. The key to location is to make sure there is lots going on to keep the players entertained.  I remember some of Bob Salvatore’s books such as the Halfling’s Gem set in the politically intriguing Calimshan. I have been lucky enough to have players that are flexible to want to play both good and evil games but are good hearted enough to not want to go slaughter everyone just to slaughter them. In a place like Calimshan this is very important because the evil boss is not such a nice guy and players can find themselves taken out by their patron just as quickly as they can find themselves taken out by their enemies.

As you can see, evil games can be more than just kill the peasant and burinate the village. They can be about redemption and about survival but most of all they should be about adventure! In part II I will discuss some possible archtypes that work in an evil game and some that do not and why as well as give some ideas for story arch that might be just what your black hearted gamers want.

Have you ever been in an ‘evil’ game? How did you like it? What was your favorite part about it? Do you agree that location is important?


  1. I have played in several "evil" games. The variety of what we considered an evil game matters though. I mean, in Amber, where everyone is effectively a selfish, paranoid, immortal demigod it's kind of hard to tell who actually is Evil.

    We ran a Star Wars game where we were part of the Empire and it was exciting for a while but we turned out to be more Lawful than Evil in that game so it may not have really qualified.

    But every attempt I've had at playing an all EVIL game ends in the party killing each other. Which is exactly how it should end. And quickly.

  2. @morrisonmp - Good point! The environment and the social conditions of the game also play an important role. I guess I am a sucker for redemption stories. Heck even when I played VTM I liked to play the 'good vampire' as opposed to devil worshiping kindred. Then again, as a storyteller I did enjoy running those uber bad guys.

  3. The only drawback with playing an evil character. Unless the gamemaster is allowing you to play a truly evil character (no, I'm not talking about your example of slaughtering townsfolk) I'm talking about the type that would happily kidnap the local Baron's daughter, put her up for ransom. Then, when the do-gooders show up, happily kill them or force them to do something for you, in exchange for freeing the Barons daughter (yes, you become your own ABC quest giver, its sad I know). Otherwise, you become effectively a store brand diet coke version of evil. Never amounting to much more than becoming a lackey or if your lucky, an elevated henchman.

  4. The characters I play are not Bad....

    They are just "Drawn" that way

    - - - Jessica Rabbit

  5. @Ladyskunk - I agree but we did have a good time playing the against the heroes game and you guys were well into working your own thing and just doing deeds for Galan.

    @Indy - What if they are erased?