Welcome back to this insidious blog series! Over the course of five articles, we’re chatting about the need-to-knows of building and running evil campaigns for 5th edition! So, swill your blood chalice while you grin maliciously because we’re in for a wicked ride.
What is an evil character?
So, you want to make an evil character! But how do we accomplish that in 5th edition, a game that is mechanically built almost exclusively for heroism? There is a lot more than mechanics to consider when crafting a character that can successfully play in an evil campaign. Player characters have to be multi-dimensional to be interesting. They need just as much going on from a roleplaying perspective as a mechanical one. Like good-aligned characters, evil characters have goals, morals (yes, they do), desires, and fears. Building these elements of your character is a little more challenging than standard character creation. You need to have actionable ambitions that don’t make your GM and fellow party members want to tear out their hair in frustration. With these thoughts in mind, let’s discuss a few things every awesome evil character needs:
- A reason (or multiple reasons) they are evil. Were you raised in an evil society? Do past experiences shape your proclivities? Are you transformed in some way? Are you drawn to taboo practices or beliefs?
- A strategy for interacting with non-evil society. Do you have a façade that conceals your true nature? Do you avoid major settlements and towns? Is your appearance intentionally frightening to dissuade strangers from speaking to you?
- A measurable goal. Do you seek to resurrect a dark god? Are you searching for the secrets of immortality? Have you sworn to assassinate every living member of a noble family?
- A reason to join an adventuring party. Do you need others like you to protect you from harm? Are you searching for like-minded thinkers to help pursue your goals? Are you lonely and simply looking for somewhere to belong?
An evil character designed with those four things in mind will likely be a successful addition to an evil campaign. It is important to have these answers and share them with your GM and the rest of your party. Evil characters that don’t have firm answers to these questions tend to be chaotic murder-hobos that aren’t exciting to play or play alongside. Keep your motivations strong throughout a campaign, and you’ll always have something to inform your actions.
Throughout a campaign, we should also note that one or more of these answers might change as your character grows or achieves their goals. Whenever this happens, either choose new answers or assess if it might be time to retire that character in favor of a new one. Evil characters often have dramatic goals, and sometimes achieving that goal means an end to an adventuring career. If you find yourself in a position where it simply doesn’t make sense to keep playing your evil character, work with your GM to develop the next steps. After all, it could be very exciting if the party cleric finally does ascend to dark godhood, then becomes the party’s new patron!
Building a Backstory
A critical component of designing an evil character is brainstorming a compelling backstory. In standard campaigns, it’s pretty easy to get away with nebulous answers like ‘I adventure just because’ or ‘I want money,’ but those vague answers simply don’t work for an evil character. Adventurers don’t just turn evil overnight. There always needs to be a compelling reason why your character is evil. Having this reason firmly in your mind helps to inform the roleplaying challenges you must face as an evil character running around the world. Evil characters who are evil ‘just because’ are never going to succeed in an evil campaign, because there is no meaningful way to motivate such characters. So make sure to spend some time developing the frame of your backstory (during session 0 is a great time to do this), and make sure to run your ideas by your GM before play. If you need a place to start, here are some basic questions any player should be able to answer about their evil character:
- When did your character first become evil? Was there a specific triggering event?
- What is your character’s definition of evil? Does your character consider themselves to be evil by their own standards?
- Why does your character continue to be evil or commit evil acts?
- Does your character ever regret their actions?
Answering these questions at the beginning of a campaign is an excellent way to inform your goals and roleplaying choices.
Grim Hollow Advanced Backgrounds
If you have access to Grim Hollow: The Campaign Guide consider selecting an “Advanced Background” for your evil character. All of the background options can easily work for an evil character, and having a profession gives you a perfect anchor point for how you conduct your evil business. If you find a background you like but aren’t sure how to make it work for your backstory idea, discuss options with your GM during session 0.
When building evil characters, it can be helpful to keep familiar tropes in mind, particularly with your first experience roleplaying someone villainous. Taking inspiration from famous villains and incorporating elements of their personalities and stories is a great way to ensure your character concept works in a larger narrative. There are many different approaches to ‘evil,’ and you should choose one that seems interesting and not too restrictive. After all, you don’t want to back yourself into a corner by choosing a character concept that is too specific or hard to justify as a character. If you are struggling to figure out an evil character, here are some popular tropes for each base character class:
Evil barbarians are violence incarnate. A barbarian’s rage-fueled abilities and brutal combat prowess easily translate into evil.
- You have been trained to conquer, and one day you shall take your rightful place as a warlord.
- You are a champion of a war god. Every life you take is a glorious sacrifice, though some kills are more worthy than others.
- Your rage controls you, and it drives you to kill whether you mean to or not.
Evil bards weaponize their charms, manipulating others with ease to achieve their own goals. A bard’s talents are ideal for subtle machinations and extravagant indulgence.
- You seek riches, fame, and beauty, and it doesn’t matter who you have to hurt to get what you want.
- You are the right-hand of a politician, and you intend to poison their decisions only as long as it takes to grow your own influence.
- You seek others to manipulate and indoctrinate them into your cult of personality.
Evil clerics are the agents of evil gods or individuals who wish to claim godhood for themselves. A cleric draws power from faith, and faith in the darkness is just as prevalent as faith in the light.
- You are the emissary of a dark god, paving the way for their imminent arrival.
- You resent the gods’ power and intend to claim it for yourself.
- You believe it is your holy duty to purge a particular type of creature from the world.
Evil druids embody the most extreme versions of ideals common to all nature-worshippers. An evil druid’s powers make them well-suited vessels to inflict nature’s fury on the civilized world.
- You seek powerful artifacts to help orchestrate acts of ecoterrorism.
- Your mission is to open portals to the elemental planes to drown the world in primordial wrath.
- You are the embodiment of primal fury and hunt humanoids for sport.
Evil fighters are trained to kill whoever stands in their way efficiently and ruthlessly. A fighter’s talents make them ideal sell-swords, henchmen, or champions in the fight for an evil cause.
- You travel the world, selling your skills as a professional killer.
- As a consequence of a dark bargain, you must kill one hundred noble souls to save your own.
- You are a thug who undertakes missions for a crime syndicate.
Evil monks have embraced evil virtues and honed their bodies to become a weaponized vehicle for such philosophy. A monk’s talents make them ideal assassins, spies, and cultists.
- Your mission is to spread the dogma of evil across the land.
- You seek dark lore and secrets so that you can learn transcendent knowledge.
- You are an assassin trained to quietly murder politicians who stand against your beliefs.
Evil paladins are the heralds and generals that rally the legions of darkness. A paladin’s charismatic and martial abilities make them ideal leaders for evil factions.
- You seek powerful magic to help issue in the apocalypse.
- You have taken the law into your own hands, and you slaughter those guilty of whatever transgressions you decide they have committed.
- Your mission is to recruit allies to rally to your evil god’s cause.
Evil rangers are the servants and scouts of forces that crawl from the wilds to engulf the world. A ranger’s mobility and survival skills make them ideal agents, messengers, and seekers for evil forces that wait in remote corners of the world.
- You seek lost tombs and buried temples to recover secrets on behalf of those you serve.
- You travel the world scouting for ideal locations to unleash primordial slaughter.
- You stalk and kill those who have dared to hunt your wild friends.
Evil rogues are agents of evil factions or the ultimate enforcers of greed. A rogue’s stealth and deadly combat skills equip them to take whatever they want whenever they please.
- You steal holy relics to sell to those who would see them desecrated.
- You are an artist with your knives, and humanoids are your canvas.
- You con naïve and desperate communities to add to your growing retirement fund.
Evil sorcerers are fueled by the destructive magical forces that surge within them. A sorcerer’s explosive powers make them destructive harbingers of chaos and mayhem.
- Your monstrous blood demands regular sacrifice.
- You can bring an end to the magic that controls your life but only by performing evil acts in the name of a dark entity.
- You have been ostracized your whole life because of your dangerous magic, and it’s time to make everyone pay for treating you that way.
Evil warlocks have relinquished everything they have to feed their desires. A warlock’s charisma and insidious spell list make them ideal cult leaders, evil heralds, and infiltrators.
- You traded your soul for the power to garner political influence.
- You are secretly the agent of an evil creature and twist the minds of those around you to suit your patron’s purposes.
- Your patron tricked you into a pact, and now you must trick others into service to free yourself.
Evil wizards crave the power to dominate creation itself. A wizard’s knowledge and versatility make them ideal scholars of dark magic and candidates for self-imposed evil transformations.
- You study taboo and dark magics in the name of progress.
- You are questing for a way to live forever to continue to grow your power, and you are willing to pay any price.
- You travel the world capturing ideal test subjects for your evil arcane organization.
Often, people feel obligated to play an evil character a certain way, which inevitably leads to getting stuck in a rut. It is important to keep in mind that evil characters, just like good characters, constantly change, grow, and wrestle with moral obligations. A good hero might be devasted after a compulsion to murder someone. And similarly, an evil hero might be devasted after a compulsion to save someone. The struggles mirror one another, and being consistently evil should feel as much of a struggle as being consistently good. Characters who perform helpful acts, save people, and slay hostile monsters, can still be evil. It’s the reason WHY they do things that makes a character evil.
Character arcs in evil campaigns are often more complex than character arcs in standard campaigns. Wrestling with your goals, wrestling with your party’s goals, and struggling to maintain your evil practices in a world full of goodie-two-shoes is likely to cause constant conflict. You should embrace such conflict. It is one of the most interesting reasons to play in an evil campaign!
Evil characters work best when they have rich tapestries of history, goals, and motivations to draw from. Half the challenge of an evil campaign (and half the fun) is figuring out from game to game what it means to be evil and to continue to do it with style! If you consider all the advice above, you’ll be in an excellent spot to bring your evil character to life. So, happy hunting!