I’m in a bit of a dark and morally ambiguous mood, so what better time to talk about evil PCs? Campaigns with characters of less-than-stellar life choices aren’t uncommon, but I wonder how much more popular they would be if they didn’t… well… sometimes go catastrophically wrong.
Any gaming group can fall apart for dozens of reasons. You probably know what these are so I won’t list them. The issue is that campaigns with evil PCs – even when all the PCs are evil (mixed alignment groups have even more difficulties to overcome) – is that there are different definitions of ‘evil’. And some have the potential to crack your group wide-open.
Consider Penguin and the Joker. Penguin wants to build a criminal empire, manipulate people and get filthy rich. The Joker also wants to manipulate people, but mainly wants to burn down everything. For the usual inscrutable reasons, they decide to team up as part of a party.
So far, so good. Now, what happens when they meet some gangsters who have information and who work for a potential ally? Penguin turns on the charm, tries to flatter or bribe or intimidate the information out of them. Nothing too heavy, though. There’s no point turning a potential ally into a definite enemy. The Joker disagrees. He tortures them for information, kills them anyway, then sets fire to the nearby ganghouse.
There’s nothing particularly evil about that – a group of PCs of any alignment will have characters that approach things these ways. But what about when they want to buy weapons from a merchant or hire mercenaries or stock up on supplies from irrelevant NPCs? Penguin will know that the attention of the town guard hurts his plans. The Joker, again, disagrees. Bring on the town guards. All the more people to kill.
Soon the party can’t go near any settlement or talk to any tribes. Everyone knows they can’t work with them. Even radical anarchists need to trust the guy next to them. The plot stalls, Penguin’s plans fail and the party is reduced to dungeon crawls with no roleplaying.
The details vary, but I’ve seen this happen with parties of good/neutral PCs (never at my own table, of course). At least with these PCs, the players can be slapped on the head and told to cut it out. But “hey, I’m just being evil” is a pretty good defence when you are supposed to be, well, evil.
This issue stems from character design. If there’s no plot, there’s no issue, but Jokers will kill all your NPCs and destroy all your villages. If you want the party to have a goal (and PCs, especially evil ones, need a goal to keep them together) then characters built on the line “I want to kill everything with my own two hands” won’t fit. They can’t.
The usual rules of PC backstories apply. In addition, it is vital – vital! – that they have a solid, specific motivation. Maybe they want to conquer the world. Maybe they want to destroy it. It doesn’t matter, it just has to be something to make them say “hmm, this NPC is worth something to me alive”. Oh, and also: “nah, maybe I won’t betray the other PCs at the first opportunity.”
I’ll end the article here. Haha, just kidding, you’re reading Rulewalker, after all. Have some example evil PC backstories, ones that that allow them to function in your world rather than break it.
Grugnar the Vicious’ tribe was passed its glory days. Frequent conflicts with other tribes had left them weak and stretched thin. Large game animals were fewer these days as civilised societies encroached on their ancient hunting grounds.
Faced with such threats, Grugnar knew the tribe couldn’t afford internal conflicts. He also didn’t care. He poisoned the chieftain and killed his son in a duel, seizing power for himself. The elders who refused to submit were driven away or executed.
Grugnar’s tribe was battered and bruised. It faced its darkest hour. But the only thing that mattered was that he was in charge. Yet, it wasn’t enough. There were other tribes, other lands, other enemies all outside his control…
Motivation: Power. Grugnar wants strength, allies and weapons to conquer his rivals and destroy the encroaching civilisations.
Tilnik lived a simple life. She tended to the flame in the lighthouse while her husband sailed the seas. To pass the long hours she dabbled in the arts. First in poetry, then music. In time, she began to perform simple, trivial magic with these arts.
One night – yet another spent alone, following her duty – she became overwhelmed by sudden, vicious jealousy. Knowing that her husband’s ship was approaching and convinced he was having an affair, she extinguished the flame. Her husband and 12 other sailors died as their ship plunged upon the rocky shore.
Since that night, Tilnik has been tormented by his ghost. Her music, once a source of joy, induced sorrow and illness in those who heard it. Famines and suicides spiked after each performance. She knows this, knows that she is responsible… and yet still she performs, hoping for a release from the sins of her past.
Motivation: Madness. Tilnik initially tried exorcisms to remove her husband’s ghost. Now, she seeks stronger magic, something powerful enough to lift the curse she placed on herself.
Sunnar was bought and sold often in his childhood, though never at a good price. Neither strong nor smart, his best use was as menial labour. This changed when as a young man a warlord, desperate to make up numbers in his army, handed him a sword and prepared him for war.
He was scared, more terrified than he had ever been. Escape from the camp was unlikely as patrols were frequent, yet surviving the battle was even more unlikely. In desperation, he prayed. Unknown to him, something listened.
To his amazement he survived that battle. And the next one. Convinced it was his prayers that saved him, he dedicated himself to his new master – the God of War. The more he learned of his patron, the deadlier he became. And with each kill his devotion grew…
Motivation: Destruction. Sunnar dreams of starting and fighting in a grand war as testament to his faith.
Blueleaf chose her name from the great Alalar trees. Many species prized Alalars for their edible fruit, strong timber and distinctive blue leaves that could be brewed into revitalising teas. She pities these species; Blueleaf knows that such exploitation is blasphemy. These trees were blessed by ancient nature spirits. Each one defiled subtly corrupts the natural order of the world.
So-called civilised folk never listened. That’s why she burns their villages, kills those who trade in Alalar products and ensures that no one dares defile another tree. Not on her watch.
Motivation: Protection. Blueleaf seeks an end to the exploitation of this one aspect of nature, by any means necessary.
Riol would have made a good soldier, if not for his total lack of respect for authority. He worked as a mercenary, usually alone, occasionally with others if the pay was good. It didn’t take long for him to develop a reputation for being effective and detached. No matter the job, whether it was guarding a caravan or killing a priest, he showed no hesitation or remorse. And if the law got in his way, that was bad luck for the law…
The only blemish on Riol’s reputation was his only love: money. He had been known to flip sides and betray employers for the right price, not to mention his fondness for stealing everything not bolted down.
Motivation: Greed. In between jobs, Riol would research valuable treasures and to what he could to acquire them. One such opportunity has presented itself – lucrative enough to accept the need for help.
Taffini’s parents were merchants, city-folk. But they still knew the old ways – one of the oldest traditions alive, in fact. She got her first taste of blood magic at eight; by the time she hit puberty, she had mastered the basics. Her mind and body grew strong, fuelled by a constant supply of blood. First rodents and animals, then goblins and kobolds. By the time she turned 18 it was people, one every few weeks.
A lifetime of experience and millennia of tradition said that sapient blood was more powerful than animal blood. But Taffini wanted more. If elven blood was so exquisite, what about dragon blood? Or the blood of a god? She intended to find out.
Motivation: Addiction. Taffini needs blood – both to consume it and perform ancient rituals. The usual blood doesn’t excite her like it used to, though. She wants to take her blood magic to dangerous new heights, consequences be damned.
The God of Storms teaches us to celebrate the fragility of everything. Every city, creature and natural feature can be flattened or swept away without warning. Storms are the ultimate destructive power.
Harmony reveres storms, the manifestation of divine will. Her fighting style emulates the worst of weather, aiming for maximal chaos and collateral damage.
These days she has a target for her wrath. The king has commissioned mages to control the weather. The ignorant subjects celebrate this blasphemy, enjoying the sunshine and fertile farming land at the expense of their souls. Harmony intends to save them and restore the natural order. She will stop these mages and bring back the thunder.
Motivation: Devotion. Better that the kingdom be destroyed than to continue to damn so many souls.
The sweetest meat is that which you hunt. That is how Tyro was raised – a bow in hand and a beast before him. It was a simple existence and one he hated. Animals were easy prey – too easy. He yearned for a challenge, for sweeter meats.
As it turns out, most civilisations frown upon cannibalism. Tyro wasn’t surprised by this. What really surprised him was the fanaticism with which the Cilean Circle hated it. Mysterious and powerful, the Cileans were famous for opposing evil of all forms but especially the consumption of sentient flesh.
Tyro is now a hunted man. The irony was delicious. Almost as delicious as Cilean flesh – by far, the tastiest thing he had ever encountered. The craving for it was strong but, luckily, there was a ready supply of would-be assassins coming after him.
Motivation: Survival. Tyro has a bounty on his head. But even when not dealing with murderers, he still needs to eat.
Pickpocketing was a victimless crime. Given the choice between starving and believing that nonsense, Ophelia chose the nonsense every time. Still, it’s not like she was in it for the riches or anything. It was just a way to make ends meet.
Her father didn’t seem to mind the lifestyle she had built for herself. The fact that he was in a similar line of work probably had something to do with it. She respected him – he had taught her the ways of the street since birth, after all – but they weren’t exactly close. They kept their distance, never working the same city.
No one was more surprised by Ophelia’s reaction than she was when her father was arrested. She was furious. She tried bribing the town guards at first. When that didn’t work, she moved onto threats of violence. Then actual violence. Within a week she had murdered a sheriff – her first kill. It wasn’t her last.
Something else was going on here. Her father wasn’t in the normal prison system and there was no record of him. He had disappeared and the authorities had something to do with it. Well. If she killed enough of them, someone would eventually talk.
Motivation: Loyalty. Ophelia is searching for clues about her father. This quest has exposed a bloodlust, a fondness for killing that she never knew she had.
Milly never had any ambitions. Her small village hardly nurtured such behaviour. Though the tales of the adventurers who passed through town and stayed at the tavern excited her, that life belonged to others. Or so she thought.
The first sign were the dreams of flying. They were oddly peaceful… at first. Then they started to fill with terror – other people’s, never hers. Sometimes she could see the look of fear as she slashed with her claws…
The second sign was her hair. Overnight, it went from strawberry-pink to the black of death. Her nails grew fast and sharp, as did her teeth. Even her skin started to feel rough…
Strange figures started arriving in the village, pledging themselves to the dark shadow swirling inside her. Milly didn’t want this… and yet a part of her did. This life felt hollow and meaningless, as did the lives of her friends and family. Something powerful stirs inside her, its murderous ambitions both terrifying and exciting. She never expected any of it. But clearly these mysterious strangers did.
Motivation: Control. Milly’s black dragon ancestry is yearning to manifest itself and rebuild its ancient cult. Milly herself wants to repress this side of her, a fight she knows she is losing.
The undead have always been a problem. A serious, yet manageable one. That was before the Bonelord raised an army ten times larger than any necromancer before had. It took five years of fighting and the wealth of kingdoms to reach a stalemate. Every year the dead are beaten back, little by little. No one knows how to deal with this threat except through bloody attrition.
Well, Felemi knows. The opposite of death is life. The opposite of Shadowfell is the Feywild. Which is why, after losing her family to the endless horde of dead, she swore eternal fealty to the Green Baron. He granted her power to face the undead. All she has to do is help crush the incompetent kingdoms of the Material World and bring about his reign. A fair trade – after all, those kingdoms would fall before the Bonelord anyway, right? Really, she’s saving lives.
Motivation: Revenge. Felemi hates the Bonelord for taking her family and the mortal kingdoms for allowing it to happen.
Wyckel is an old soul, quite literally. His current body is just the latest in an endless and meaningless parade of birth, life, death and, somehow, reincarnation. There was no escaping it. His fragments of memory stretching back eons felt the same as him – confused, frustrated, angry at the multiverse. Really, he was just tired. Sick and tired of an existence even death would never end.
As far as he was concerned, the next step is a reasonable one. Such a long, if fragmented, view of history gave him certain insights into the true nature of things. There were rituals he knew enough of that were powerful enough to destroy everything. Everything. The world, the gods, space and time. Relief from existence.
Of course, such a ritual required artefacts of incredible power. Acquiring them wouldn’t be easy, but Wyckel wasn’t concerned. He was painfully aware that he had all the time in the world…
Motivation: Annihilation. Wyckel has lived enough lives to only want one thing – an end to it all. A true, final death where he can rest. If that means wiping out reality, so be it.