Player Advice: How to Play An Evil Character in a Good Group

Most adventurers are stalwart defenders of justice and the common folk. A few, though, have darker hearts and motivations. Luckily, done right, there is room for both types in the typical adventuring party.

By V Shane

By V Shane

 

Almost every gamer I’ve met over the last 30 years has played an evil character at some point. Sometimes whole campaigns are based around the concept of an evil party. Normally, however, the party is predominantly good and only one or two of its members are evil. This can create challenging, but immensely rewarding roleplaying experience for all involved. (In my own Borderland of Adventure campaign, for example, one of the most enduring characters has “questionable morals”).

For my money, the best example of an evil character in a good group comes from Dragonlance. While Raistlin didn’t start off as evil, as the campaign developed his dark nature slowly asserted itself until he finally fell into darkness. Even then, though, his companions didn’t turn on, and kill, him.

If you want to play an evil character in a predominantly good-aligned group, remember the following:

  • You Still Need Friends: Just because you are evil doesn’t mean you don’t care about the people around you. If you are adventuring with friends (or even relatives) you’ll make as much effort to keep them safe as any good character. You might even make a greater effort than your fellows as finding understanding friends to adventure with when you are evil can be difficult.
  • You Can Share Your Friends’ Goals: Just because you are evil doesn’t mean you don’t want to defeat the rising ancient evil, kill the marauding dragon or sack the temple of an evil god. You can have the same goals as your friends, but crucially while you might share the goal but have different reasons for doing so. Perhaps the temple your friends want to sack is dedicated to a rival god of your own patron or the rampaging dragon threatens your home or loved ones.
  • You Need to Work Harder with Plot Hooks: Most adventures are written to work with good-aligned PCs. Most plot hook expect the PCs to want to help save the village, slay the dragon or whatever. As an evil character, you’ll need to work harder to justify your character’s involvement in the adventure. Sometimes this can be as simple as accepting payment for your services while other times you’ll need dig deeper into your character’s motivations and personality.
  • You Have to Modify Your Behaviour: You might be evil, and your friends might accept that. However, they are unlikely to accept your constantly torturing prisoners, murdering innocents, breaking the law or openly worshipping fell powers. If you must do these things, it’s best to do these off-screen or away from the party.

Help Fellow Gamers

Have you played an evil character in a predominantly good adventuring party? Got any tips? If you do, leave them in the comments below and help your fellow players play their evil characters better!

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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46 thoughts on “Player Advice: How to Play An Evil Character in a Good Group

      • My first game ever I played a lawful good paladin dwarf with 2 of my friends playing true neutral and chaotic neutral. It pretty much came down to my character trying to reason with a dragonborn and some crazy tentacle creature (psionic I believe?) They were willing to do good deeds because there was money to be made.

    • Be defeated mentally. Be complicit to an extent. Try to help where you can but your character is just that damn scared of disobeying the others.

  1. Actually this works for whatever alignment in which you are the minority: be the subtle, gentle, voice of pure reasonableness. “Oh, we don’t need x, y or z.” “No one will notice.” “I did that out of mercy.”

  2. One of my favorite characters was evil. The party ended up pretty tightly knit. We never betrayed each other. We even, eventually, started a city of our own. This character’s favorite word was “extortion.” There was no one outside of our party that I didn’t consider extorting.

    At one point we had been sent to gather these dangerous magical artifacts. Everyone who had possessed them died gruesomely. I made a lot of gold off of making sure no one in X guild received one of them. Only had to destroy one group before the others payed up. I even split the spoils with the rest of the party (Implicating them as accomplices).

  3. Playing an evil character requires a bit of maturity, else it devolves into random acts of slaughter. As you mentioned in the article, the evil character need not be opposed to the general goals of the group. Indeed, he or she can be the antihero, who will not hesitate to achieve those goals through methods that the other party members would not use. The presence of such a character can provide the opportunity for roleplaying, particularly regarding the question of the end justifying the means.

    • Exactly, maturity is the key to playing an evil character. I made the mistake once of allowing a player I had qualms about to play an evil character. It eventually came down to them hunting him down when he grabbed the item the party was after and tying him up, but after that what to do with him was in question. It almost broke my group up.

  4. I once played a Chaotic Evil Carnival Barker and his whole thing was he was an extreme and dangerous hedonist. However he had a set of rules or more a hierarchy of people. Basically there was “People” (carnies), Paying Georges (folks who had bought tickets and therefore safety), and Georges (literally everybody else). His rule was that if any Person asked something of him he would do it without question and he would do whatever he could to make the other People in the party happy and comfortable.

    He also expected that any “request” he made had the same level of follow through but he was a really fun character.

  5. I once played a dark character, a revenant assassin, in D&D 4E for 17 levels. I played him as the “quiet and brooding” type; never the diplomat, he would just hang in the background and act as sort of a hired gun for the group, thus avoiding conflicts. His secret goal that he would have revealed to the group at epic level play was to assassinate his own evil god and supplant her as ruler, something the good-aligned group would have, at least unwittingly, supported.

  6. Being lawful helps as you respect order and the hierarchy of the party, village etc. the marauding dragon is bringing chaos and disrupting trade. Remember May sociopaths are charming and very nice on the surface they want to be liked even worshiped they just do not return that affection.

  7. The key to playing Evil in a Good group is to not play Stupid Evil. Don’t wantonly go on killing sprees. Don’t be the damn kleptomaniac rogue that compulsively steals from the party. Don’t kick puppies just because you’re trying to be eeeevil.

    Remember that just like Evil doesn’t mean “I have to be a dick to everyone I meet”, Good does not mean “Everyone gets along”. Anyone who’s been in more than one or two games has a story about a group of good characters that just couldn’t get along, because their styles were far too different.

    Evil, in the end, is basically selfish. You can go on 90-95% of the quests any good character can, but your motivations and methods will be different from theirs. While a good character can say that kicking down the doors of the Temple of Elemental Evil is something that has to be done because of , an evil character may do the same thing because they’re being paid, because they want revenge on someone, because they are trying to gain power, because they want to weaken a rival power, or simply because there’s probably a lot of awesome loot in that temple.

    Remember that there are different kinds of Evil, even Chaotic Evil. While being the crazed ork berserker will get the party to kill you quickly, you can often have a lot of fun playing a more Succubus-style CE, where the character is manipulating the party for their own ends. Just like there is more to LG than Lawful Stupid Paladin, there is more to CE than Stupid Evil Serial Torture/Murderer.

  8. My favorite is back from AD&D – – – a Fighter-Cleric whom everyone thought was a slow-learning fighter. When the whole party would get in trouble and need healing, he would reveal that it could be had – – — – for a price. Usually not money.

  9. In the real world, even thoroughly evil people have folks they like and enjoy associating with. They understand that they need to moderate their behavior in order to get along with such people, even if they consider them dangerously naive or stupidly scrupulous.

  10. Advice on keeping going might be useful here…

    I’m playing a “diet cola of evil tm” character in a primarily Neutral-ish group using Pathfinder for a Greyhawk campaign (the 3.5 expanded Tsoj conversion). We do have one “nominally good” “Paladin” though… (more _Lawful_ than Good: Detect Chaos in the Gordian Knot Space Marine stylee…)

    My Archaeologist(Bard) character has a “tweaked” homebrew element as part of her background, using some of the Fetchling stuff to create an equivalent of a Greyhawk mirror-person (or descendant of a human and Nerra who was shapeshifted at the time – that sort of flavour), whilst also being blackmailed/Geased by a certain demon-prince’s sister to get certain juicy Names out of a certain book (I can’t give too much away, just in case other friends find this as it’s supposed to be secret…)

    So far, all I have had to do is *not act* when the “nominally good” character mentioned above decided to execute the kids in the “village of the mad short mutants” (_supposed_ to be a paladin but he’s so close to falling it’s untrue), and chainsawed a demon-brat’s “Charming” mum when the N Gnome Druid pointed out “it’s her that’s been casting stuff…”
    There has been an incident where it is lucky the NE Barbarian has missed the “Paladin” while Confused (chaos version of Holy Word?) that we as players (as the player has admitted) *know* that the Paladin will just turn around and hunt the PC responsible to death, who (by no fault of their own) has just hit him….
    …my PC dislikes him due to him being played to the hilt as an arrogant xenophobic donkey with a stick up his butt, which is making it so easy to just _let_ him Fall (she has *Info* that the weirdness of the place is attracted by falling Paladins and priests of Zagyg, and also knows that all missing parties with Paladins in them have had their Paladins’ souls end up in the Abyss… };> )

    The only thing my PC cares about (apart from not dying) is her half-brother and has slowly gone down increasingly dark paths to get what *Information* she needs to buy his release (although his soul’s pretty much already sold by this point so it’s more of a buying the last of his living years to not be in captivity…).

    If the other PCs don’t twig (or care), she’s going to keep “sauntering vaguely downwards” through slow corruption of her psyche, get to _like_ working for her new Boss, and all that implies… but if one or two PCs figure out her secret, and care enough to work on her redemption… well, it would be touch and go… depending on how far she’s gone by the time they work it out, she may or may not betray the party so as not to be hunted down by her Boss…

  11. I think that really the important detail is frequently pushing toward self-interest over altruism rather than just killing puppies at every chance. Some players take “evil” to mean “complete psychopath with no regard for consequences.” I only allow an evil PC at the table if the player recognizes the difference.

  12. I played an evil cleric once. She was fun, my favorite saying was “Sure I can heal you just not spontaneously.”

  13. It sometimes helps to be Lawful Evil, since lawful characters believe in working well with other to accomplish goals, & believe in following rules, as well as chains of command. The fact that they also believe in working their way up the chain of command can make for interesting role-playing opportunities. A great example of a Lawful Evil character from literature & movies is Cardinal Richelieu.

  14. a friend of mine played a whole campaign as a doppelganger (this was kept a seacret (along with many other things)). the whole idea with the character was that he wanted power and money, and saw us as potential targets. Now while he wasn’t the only evil character (i was a damphir), was he the one who ultimatley paralyzed and killed all of us. He then took my shape and walked away, ritcher, and more powerfull.

    So you don’t neccecarely need to do as V Shane here says, if the story allowes it could you very well be an evil character in hiding, just waiting for the right moment to strike.

  15. I have played an evil character in a good party many times, and it always worked best when I played inept evil. Sure I occassionally did bad things or at least attempted to, but the party basically just casually stopped me. To be fair this was primarily in more comedic campaigns. In the more serious ones I’ve generally only played evil when my character naturally progressed that way due to the plot. Or once just for kicks. But I guess what it really boils down to is if you play evil in a good party; first make sure the GM is okay with it (sometimes they’ve even planned out things with me where I get to betray the party), then accept that the party might kill you at some point, and don’t get upset if they do.

  16. I like to play evil characters, and most of my d&d characters are evil.
    My favorite character was a lawful evil necromancer, who was one of the protectors of a chaotic good princess NPC, with an evil emperor for father. My character loved the revolutionary girl, and was ready to die to make her the empress.
    Most of the party was good. D&D 3.5.
    Our shaman, barbarian/cleric, asked once how to animate dead people, because many of the soldiers that were helping us died in a battle. The answer “what you are saying is horrible, this people trusted us and you are ready to desecrate their bodies, when we have no need right now. I will raise the dead of our enemies, and make some ghouls even, but I will not fail the trust of our men”.
    Later a paladin joined us and we have a conflict. The group supported the evil necromancer.
    We have a large army of undead for our last battle, against the emperor forces. And I raised all the dead of a city to fight against his demons.
    The last scene required one of us to sacrifice himself, to save the world. And the necromancer did the sacrifice. “I fought for a world that don’t need someone like me”.
    I loved it, so the other players.

  17. I play mostly evil pc in good parties. Best pc motivator advice is that your character must realize the big picture. Everyone good and bad will line up to smoke you once you gain power and no matter who you are ya cant fend them all off. These do gooders you have rolled with will be the only trust worthy 911 calls you can get. Also, you will always need things….these guys will have resources you can tap. Finally….the coolest part is when you help them smoke thier evil rivals, you can snatch all the stuff they wil not touch

  18. when I played D&D as a Neutral Evil Assassin, my motivation was selfishness and greed – the end is justified by the means – it is not always easy but, as you have stated, some thought and preparation needs to be put into it . My approach has usually been to misrepresent or disguise my true personality from other PCs, with the approval and co-operation of the DM

  19. Motivations for the last evil character I played were simple….. put as many people in his debt as possible to ease his eventual rise to world domination. Village elder wants to hire the party to rescue his daughter for the ogres? Sure no problem… just don’t forget who risked life and limb for a paltry reward to help you. We’re sparing those prisoners? Sure just give me a minute to remind them who held their lives in his hands yet chose to spare them, never know when I might need some inside info about something to balance those scales, or a secret door into a lair left unlocked just once, hmmm? That lawful good cleric needs a relic recovered? I’d be delighted after all magical healing can be soooooo expensive, or perhaps he has a library containing a dark secret you’ve been researching.(what’s that? Vecna’s scepter was buried where?!?)

    • Not to mention that relics are never the only thing in the ancient vault. “He’ll tell us about a lost cache of stuff worth storing in a secured vault, and he only wants one thing from it? Score!”

  20. My greatest off-color moment came when we stumbled upon a man ready to end his life. I simply laid a sword at his feet and left the room. I never had to kill him to get his stuff that I wanted. Best CN move ever

  21. I made a fire wizard teifling around the age 0f 100. He was lawful evil. He had a code, but it was quite unusual. Arakom HATED adults. It was a hate born of time spent observing society at large. Not all adults were bad, but the majority were rotten, and he had no trouble turning one to ash. But children? Arakom loved kids. All races, all kinds. He loved that their innocence and minds were full of wonder and purity. Any time we visited a village or town, Arak could always be found performing acts of prestidigitation in an orphanage or in the streets, surrounded by young street urchins. Let him find out a child was being abused…and the whole city might burn. He was awesome to play and he drove my dm crazy lol. The players just didn’t know what to think of him.

  22. Sometimes being the evil player let’s the group be more flexible. Capture a bad guy who won’t talk? You get to be the bad cop.

    Defeat an enemy? Deal the killing blow *and smile*. Or *cry *

    Leave no witnesses to your inquiry, but don’t tell the other players.

    Steal what the group needs. Kill the guard on your way if necessary.

    Bribe cheat lie and steal behind closed doors for the greater good.

    Be ruthless when diplomacy fails.

    Greater good focus, lesser evils on the way.

    Finally: ends justify means.

    • I was an LE necromancer in a good aligned party. They got so much mileage out of my very existence in interrogations. “If you don’t tell us what we need to know, we’ll have to let you go. Our mission is too important to be delayed by you for long. But he knows that you have information that will help us, he probably managed to get his hands on your blood from the battle, and we can’t watch him every second of the day. We will not aid him or countenance what he might do, but we need him for our mission, and there’s only so much we can do to stop him. Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if he didn’t care enough to look for you?”

  23. The webcomic ‘Order of the Stick’ (set in a world based on DnD 3.5e) has an evil party member in a group of good aligned characters, if anyone’s interested in reading how it plays out in that setting however it’s probably not the best way to actually play an evil character as the rest of the party is constantly annoyed by the evil member’s actions.

  24. I played a cultist that worshiped the “‘Reaper of the Reputations” (Norgorber) in our Rise of the Runelords game. During the time he was alive; the character helped to give the cult a stronger presence in Sandpoint. One of the main things he did was to help claim an area (already part of the story, but re-purposed thanks to my “politicing” in character) that the cult could use (for meetings & overall worship) without the locals knowing about their activities in town.

  25. The funniest evil character I had was a Neutral Evil Psionic in 2nd Ed, specialised on mentalism powers. Always acting as spokesman and negociator for the party, we always ended with the upper hand in negociations, but sometimes, we ended doing morally questionable quests and errands, which I justified to the group being for the “greater good”, which usually meant for my pockets or other personnal interests.

    By the end of the campaign, I had successfully did many Psychic Surgeries on every party members, without them knowing (during guard round at night), which mainly consisted of sensory links and a permanent dormant mind control on the warrior and rogue, just in case someone found the truth and I needed someone to defend me, good times.

  26. I used to have a dark wizard named Jarlaxle, based on the figure of Raistlin. It was very challenging to play him, because the other party members has a problem with the being evil issue. Eventually it pays off, they get used to it and i could do all this things you just mentioned here, and have a wonderful experience with it. It was a very powerfull wizard, one of my two most loved characters in roleplaying (I also played CoC), and i still remember the epic moments of every new adventure. Good old times

  27. One of my favorite evil archetypes is the self-justifying monster. Think John Cussack’s character in Gross Point Blank; an assassin who willingly kills people for money, but justifies his “moral flexibility” by claiming he has “scruples” and that the people he’s hired to kill generally aren’t nice people. I’ve played several evil characters in this vein, from the ones who delude themselves to the ones that invariably call out the good members of the party- what’s the difference between a guard hiring your group to kill a group of bandits and a mobster hiring me to kill a rival gang? Makes for interesting moral questions with the paladin.

  28. Let us all remember that Dr. Doom would be a lawful evil character. And in the past has worked with characters of good to achieve goals important to him

  29. Seems far more glamorous to play evil, everyone wants to play evil. In a world with far too much evil as it is, I prefer to see players step up and do something good for a change. If only it was “cool” to be the good hero more so than the evil one.

    In any case I offer a lot of D&D for kids at my store and while popular with the kids, it is also unbelievably popular with the parents (we fill 32 spots for four sessions with unique players every week within minutes of announcing them) due to the fact that the players are always cast in the role of the heroes, no matter what. We have over 150 players in the “Heroes of Hawethorne” campaign at my store and sessions fill within minutes of announcing them. Boys and girls ages 6 to 16 joining us weekly for fun as the heroes and parents happy that I can include valuable life lessons in every session.

    I admit I have played an evil character in the past and even have one of my all adult groups playing in a “Bad Humanoids” campaign as antagonists to the “Heroes of Hawethorne” but I do think we should glamorize good a little more in our games.

    The world needs a few more heroes in my opinion.

  30. This is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart, but in my experience, the situation is reversed. Most of the gamers i meet nowadays prefer neutral(read I’ll always choose selfish so I’m really evil) or evil characters, and I’m often the only one playing a good heroic character (which in fairness is the only type of character I usually want to play, which annoys ppl that prefer neutral to evil character because they feel I restrain them). I think I’ve asked this question on ur blog before but, an I the only one that’s noticed this? Is the rest of the world a wonderland of righteously good characters while I languish amongst table top sociopaths?

    Other than that, the article gives good advice that can be applied to any similar situation. If ur good at an evil table, or evil or neutral in a good party, u just have to kind of find a reason why ur character needs this particular group of ppl. Often DMs will drool over a chance for the interpersonal drama that comes with (reasonably) clashing alignments. Evil party wants to destroy the ancient relic of a good god? Have the one good character have a secret that he’s received visions from the god that the church of his religion has been corrupted, and the relic must be destroyed. Good party trying to slay an evil dragon? Maybe the evil dragon owes the one evil character money for a service once rendered, or the evil dragon killed the evil character’s brother. It’s actually not that difficult to work out if everyone at the table is really invested in making the game and the story really work.

    • We’ve dabbled with evil characters on and off during the years. We tried an evil campaign once, and the levels of violence, torture and mayhem were breath-taking. That said, we’ve moved away from evil characters again. A couple of our players love the heroic aspects of the game and we’ve had a surfeit of paladins in recent years that has somewhat stymied the appearance of evil characters at the table.

      (That said, Kara–from my Splintered Star campaign–was a very intriguing neutral character virtually destined to fall into darkness; sadly, she died before we could explore that part of the campaign).

  31. Great advice! Have a campaign coming up where one player is gravitating towards nefarious deeds and this will help us both! 🙂

  32. Be evil, but don’t be stupid about it. You know the value of image. Act and play the hero, but by all means do evil. Just do it discreetly, and don’t get caught. Your image as a hero will be a shield.

  33. As soon as 5th edition D&D came out, a DM friend re-reun keep on the borderland (was pretty easy to adapt). We were a large party, so I decided I would play a (neutral) evil mercenary type.
    The core of the group were a lawful neutral dwarf fighter and a tur neutra ldruid, but we had a fair share of goodies. Long story short, a classic situation developed: while most of the members were either dying or badly battered by hobgoblins, my character, that had just picked up a ring of invisibility from a slain rogue, poured oil on the youngling hobgoblins and menaced to torch them should the goblinoids hurt the party any further. The DM decided I was a credible treat, and the hobgoblins decided I would do it, so we were allowed to escape. Of course, they pursued us. I thought, has I torched the little roughnecks anyway, they would have wasted time rescuing them, but that is where my evil character drew the line: an evil act like that is justifyable, but a purely sadistic one, like burning the cubs even after their parents agreed to let us go (eve when you knew they would then pursue) was too far fetched. In this way, balancing “evil” actions and refreining from unsuble wanton destruction, my companions (of all aligments) ended up looking at my character’s deeds as a “last card” to play when all else fails, essentially an extra option. Hypocritical, you might argue, but it worked very well in the campaign. Of course, we had no paladin…