For the past few months I have been running a D&D campaign with my friends. The previous campaign came to an abrupt close due to some high rolling on my part and some critical mistakes on theirs. Once that happened, I gave them an option to either start a new campaign as good-aligned characters, or one of evil. They chose the ladder.
The setting was planned and adventures written. Our first session was one of daring escapes from a prison for the mentally unstable followed by their involvement with a local mafia-style gang. The next few adventures proved to me how the perception of evil is heavily skewed by the media, such as that of movies, and how my party sometimes teetered on the bring of anarchy.
How is evil, evil?
Half a dozen sessions into this campaign, I decided to reflect upon the contrast of evil in our world versus that of what my players are doing. An evil person in the world will, either proactively or accidentally, do minor misdeeds such as steal an item from a store. On the chaotic spectrum you have people with limited morals who use intimidation and brute force to hurt people or get their way. The classic example of this is a member in a gang whose sole job is to fight other gang members or destroy property or, more recently, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. On the lawful side of things are the people that work within the confines of the law to get away with theft. An example of this are those shady store owners who manipulate their credit card machines to copy use input. Some would say that those with copious amount of money use their influence to manipulate our laws; that is considered evil.
The influence of the media
As consumers, the media effects us greatly. My players are from a generation who’s identity is heavily impacted by the media through TV, the Internet, and video games. When someone like that is asked to play an evil character, doesn’t matter what evil alignment they choose – lawful or chaotic – they will always lean towards the chaotic side. When asked about evil, the first thing that they would relate to would be the chaotic evils from TV and video games. The Joker from the Batman series is a good example. Sufficed to say, this makes managing evil rather difficult since chaos will ultimately lead to anarchy.
Catering to evil
The first problem I encountered while preparing the campaign was finding material for adventures. All published adventures are written towards a good-aligned party where sympathy for the unfortunate may grab the interest of the players, and thus involve them in the adventure. Evil characters are a bit different in that they may not have sympathy for the situation. As an example, a good and lawful Paladin might find that it is his duty to help a village over come some danger, while an evil character could easily lie about it, take the gold and go back to doing whatever task suits them. A proper way to involve an evil party is to cater to their sinful behaviour, such as their greed or lust for an object or power. I’d recommend using the seven deadly sins in an adventure hook to lour the party to an adventure. This may not always work, so be prepared to have the adventure be ignored or derailed.
Once the adventure has begun and a plot hook was successful, the players will want to proceed through the story using unlawful actions. Instead of asking or buying items, they will steal and murder. If they encounter the Big Bad Evil Boss at the end of the story, they may want to recruit him or become part of his organization rather than eliminating him (that is, unless this boss doesn’t threaten a common interest of theirs).
As noted above, regardless of what kind of evil your players become, it will have a moderate-to-high degree of chaos. At some points your players will end up doing something that impacts the party negatively (such as stealing from each other or lying about things). General distrust will lead to working against each other. This kind of attitude is toxic and may result in frustration or the dissolution of the party. I’ve learned that in order to keep the party together, you, the DM, will need to establish rules of cooperation.
When you start the campaign, have the players help create the world. The very first session should be character creation where the players talk (out loud) about their character’s background, interests, flaws, and goals. Encourage that the players should influence the decisions of other players during this period. It will establish a sense of ownership in the party as a whole. Once that is done, the players should come up with reasons and a story of why they are together. I would recommend the creation of a guild or some sort of binding element that each player feels the need to supervise. The reason being is that all players have a vested interest in advancing this gimmick, which causes them to cooperate.
Also, talk to your players about how evil works. Explain to them that evil doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a terrorist organization, hell-bent on destruction and murder. Rather encourage other forms of evil, such as theft, bribery, infiltration, and so on. Things that produce results through interaction. Moreover, talk about the different types of evils that are in the world today, citing evil lawyers, evil corporations, how the mafia works, and so on. Explain to them that casting a fireball into a shop is random and evil, but only the Joker from batman does that. For the sake of self preservation, a character should not invoke the wrath of the city guards or the Batman.
As a side note, it would be interesting to create a Batman-like figure in your story or a party of good-aligned investigators that are always on the tails of your party. A common (and persistent!) enemy is always a good thing.