As promised, Vanir over at StupidRanger posted is 1st part of a series on defining Evil in NPC.
His definitions of evil and the motivations that may lead a non-evil being to cross the line are spot on. A lot can be said on Evil and we actually have quite a few gaming books written on this. Chief among those for the D&D crowd:
- Book of Vile Darkness by Monte Cook. While written for 3.0 (or at the cusp of the 3.0-3.5 change). The fluff in that book is still very usable.
- The 2 Fiendish Codex (here and here) which are absolutely wonderful from a mechanics crunch perspective.
- Evil by AEG (Never read it)
So I’m not going to try to steal Vanir’s spotlight and will try to tackle believable evil NPCs from a different perspective. Since my initial post touched on the fine line a DM must walk when playing an Evil NPC (Schoolyard Bullies on one side and Clichéd laughable evil on the other) I want to make this exploration a DM’s challenge.
As my new campaign will revolve around some Fiend’s bid to corrupt and bring a material world to its knees, I want to have believable, intense evil characters that will trouble the PCs, even after they killed the bastards.
Since I returned to D&D with the release of version 3.0, I played a lot of Campaigns where the themes was based on absolute Evils. We played through the whole Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil adventure, we played through an adventure called the Demon God’s Fane (Yeah I’m one of those Monte Cook fanboys). I’ve even started playing one of the key Campaign Paths of the Ptolus book. But only rarely have I have had the feeling of playing truly evil characters. Except two clearly remembered NPCs, most of the bad guys felt more like bullies or worse: Incompetent Insane Cultists (boy am I sick of those).
So now I’ll try to inject all truly evil bad guys, even minor ones,with one or two evil traits: Selfishness, Disdain for other people’s well being, cruelty, big words, etc. I plan on bringing these traits forward in all parts of an encounter. I’ll chronicle this challenge in my future DM chronicles.
I think that to pull it off, I need to stop focusing on how I will roleplay the evil NPC and start focusing on the in-world details and descriptions of the NPC’s actions and consequences of evil acts. Torture Chambers filled with moaning innocents, panicking mothers screaming about their’s children’s whereabouts, The self-satisfied smirk on the BigBad’s lieutenant’s face even after death.
In fact Evil vs Player Character is rarely effective and can be a great source of resentment if abused. But Evil vs the environment seems to me to be easier to deal with. If I can find something outside of the character sheet that the player’s care about, it becomes material for exploitation, deceit and threats. If my players don’t care about anything outside of their character sheets well I might as well go back to basics…
Part one of the challenge: Make an inconsequential bad guy feel truly evil to the players even past its death. I have my scene prepared and will spring this on my players this Friday (They know to drop by here for hints on the game, sorry guys, this one is lame).
Looking forward to this.