Saturday, March 14, 2020

Making The Lone Evil Character in a Good Party Work

"Hey!" the man called from his cell. "Hey! Take me with you, blast your eyes!"

The Companions stopped, and looked at the figure held behind the iron bars. He was tall, thick in the neck and shoulders, and with scars running along his knuckles. The mark around his neck said he'd been hanged at least once, and the brands across his arms marked him as a bandit, a thief, a pirate, a deserter, and a murderer. His eyes were dark, and there was an air of palpable violence around him.

"And what need do we have of a man like you?" Ceradil asked, folding her arms and glaring.

"Do you know who I am?" the man snarled.

"You're Harkon Vale, the Bloody Maul," Koran said, frowning. "The Oaken Hunters brought you down."

"Only because those curs I ran with told them where I'd be, and got me good and drunk." Vale grinned, showing yellowed teeth like a mangy wolf. "You seek them. I know you do. These so-called Shadow Lords. I know where they are, and how you can lay them low."

"And why should we trust you?" Ceradil asked.

Vale laughed. "You shouldn't. But I want them to know it was me that did this to them. For that chance, I'll follow whatever laws you want. Or break them, it's all the same to me."

"I have an idea!" We're not committing murder. "I no longer have an idea."

When You're The Only Monster

While a lot of the previous entries in this series have been executing specific concepts in particular ways, this one is going to be a lot broader in scale and scope. Because evil isn't restricted to certain classes or characters; evil is the madness in your method. And when you're the only one at the table actively choosing to be evil, you can feel like the square peg in the round hole.

Which is why I'd suggest keeping some of the following strategies in mind. Also, if you haven't read it yet, be sure you check out 5 Tips For Playing Better Evil Characters, as it will lay a solid ground work for avoiding problems while ensuring everyone still has fun.

Method #1: Have A Code

There are rules to this game.
There's an old saying that of all the evil alignments, lawful evil is the easiest one to work into a campaign. Generally speaking that's because lawful evil characters may still have a capital E in their alignment box, but they'll act in ways that are predictably awful, and which can be managed. To use a comic book reference, Iron Man will work with Dr. Doom if their goals and ends align, and Tony knows that when Victor gives his word he will do what he said.

Adopting the broad strokes of this and applying them to your evil PC are one of the easiest ways to make them more palatable for a group that may not share their methods and tastes, but who are nominally on the same side. It may even humanize them in some ways, and make them into characters who happen to be evil, rather than an evil alignment being their sole defining feature.

For example, the necromancer who creates undead to fight their battles for them is constantly dipping their soul in wells of black power. But do they have standards for who gets turned into undead slaves, and who gets buried with respect and honors? Do they offer an equal trade, like The Taskmaster Necromancer? Or do they only use the bodies of creatures who lack personhood, as with The Veterinarian Necromancer? These standards and codes of behavior don't erase their evilness, but they do make it clear they have rules that they follow, and often those rules are what allow them to work as part of a team.

Lastly, if your character is very lawful evil, they could even swear an oath to serve a cause. This binds them to certain codes of conduct, allowing them to still maintain who they are, but to meet their companions halfway.

Method #2: Have a Minder

Tywin said help, so I'll help. But I won't like it.
If you've read the books or seen the show, you know that "Ser" Gregor Clegane is an absolute monster. He's committed every heinous act in the world, and he enjoys reveling in abject wickedness whenever he's left to his own devices. It's probably one reason my character conversion for The Mountain has been so popular among Pathfinder DMs looking for bad guys.

However, when Tywin Lannister tells Clegane to do something (or just as importantly not to do something) the Mountain listens. Because Gregor might be a waking nightmare, but he knows which side his bread is buttered on. Tywin could take away everything he has, and cease protecting him for his "fun," and he wants to make sure that doesn't happen.

A similar situation can greatly help an evil PC slide into a game without ruining the experience for other people. The minder might be a fellow PC who holds the reins to the evil one in some way. For example, say the evil character is a bodyguard for the duchess who is the party's bard, and he has to do as she bids him. Or perhaps the cleric has hold of a spiritual enchantment that can literally paralyze the evil PC with agony if the command word is even thought, and the evil PC has been given to said cleric so they might attempt to reform them... or at least use their strengths for good causes.

If none of the other players want to get in on that action, though, you can often work with your DM to provide some kind of minder for your PC by using NPCs or NPC organizations. Whether it's your noble patron, the knightly order who grants you at least partial immunity while you fight for them, or the church who overlooks your "zeal" when it gets out of hand, keeping on your minder's good side can often let you play your character without also trampling on the rest of the table's fun.

And if you're looking for inspiration on this one, I'd recommend checking out:

- 100 Nobles to Encounter as well as A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families (for patrons)
- 100 Knightly Orders (for organizations)

Method #3: Keep Things Subtle

Somebody murdered the baron? Shame. I'll send flowers to his widow.
Nine times out of ten the major reason that evil characters cause problems in majority good parties is that they do their deeds right out in the open. Whether it's the evil cleric who performs some blasphemous rite in front of the paladin, or the assassin who openly brags about the fortune they made murdering innocents for coin, that sort of thing just causes problems.

You need to be subtle with your evil... at least with the really bad stuff.

That isn't to say you have to be good, kind, or nice all the time, but save those line-crossing moments for when there's no one around to see them. For example, if your scout is actually the servant of an evil church who performs rites of torture in graveyards, maybe don't describe all of that in loving detail to the rest of the table? Bring it across in little ways that make people suspicious, but which gives you plausible deniability. If the party finds a body, have this character point out how they died, and get specific with what they know (the killer used a wire garotte instead of a rope, for instance, and it likely had wooden grips instead of a noose as you could tell by the cutting and pressure on the neck). Or have them talk about the organization of a particular assassin guild, perhaps a rival they're trying to sabotage on behalf of their church.

Keep in mind the advice I suggested in Reveal Details About Your Character Through Flavor-Based Skill Checks. You don't need to show up in black armor covered in skulls. Draw it out, and let the party learn about you as a character before they realize they've been dancing with the devil this whole time. Because once they know you as an ally, and they've come to rely on your skills, it makes it more likely they'll keep you around. As long as you swear to be on your best behavior, of course.

Lastly, Don't Mistreat Your Allies

The major mistake I see in most contentious PCs, but especially in evil ones, is that players use it as an excuse to be a jerk to the rest of the table. The rogue steals everyone else's gold, the gnome plays really mean practical jokes, the barbarian acts like a bully, and so on, and so forth.

Don't do that. You don't have to be bosom buddies with everyone at the table, but at least aim for grudging respect, or workplace politeness. You want people to work with you, and for that you need to be a team player. That will go really far in making sure everyone else thinks your character is neat and interesting, instead of getting annoyed with your actions.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned For More!

That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts. Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a dungeon master.

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my most recent collection of short stories The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

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