Evil Players

@Mentalburnout on twitter today proposed the question to players and DM’s about how they feel about evil parties, campaigns or characters in your games.  I thought about this question having run a few games with the odd evil sort in the party and the one successful campaign I ran with the nefarious players of ill heart.

I want to discuss the lone player who has decided that his character is in fact evil and how it can impact the game.  These types are not always your stereotyped character who just want to steal and kill everything in sight but a well thought out character who’s goals may well fall in line with the other characters.

As a player running an evil character you will face a number of challenges.  Your first challenge will be to hide your darkened heart from the party and hope there is no paladin in the group.  You will need to explain your personal goals to the DM.  Perhaps you are trying to achieve something as easy as an elevated rank in the city or town.  Power is everything to you.  Try to make it believable and not just that one character who only wants to steal and causes other players to eventually turn on you and either kill you or force you to flee.  This defeats the purpose of building a character if your only goal is disrupt the other players and game play.

I’ve had these disrupting types in groups and they don’t last long.  I’m reminded of their lonely existence every time I see a posting of a “Looking for Group” by the same person over and over again.

Background is everything and the more time you spend on developing this the better off you will be.  You could work for a local trading company that is trying to get the upper hand on trade and enslave the region.  You could be a crazed wizard whose only love in life is the devotion to becoming more powerful and defeating others who might want to stop you.  These are just a few ideas and you are encouraged to create that one character who can easily adventure with your party and not be the jerk who constantly attempts to ruin everyone else’s gaming experience.    Create a character that can blend into the party and/or use the party to achieve your life long goal of power.

The campaign takes a lot of work for the DM.  You must sit with the players and have them explain their goals to you in detail.  What is their end game and how do they expect to achieve it.  This should be the first night with them explaining the background of their characters.

There is careful balance when running a terror filled “Evil” campaign.  There are times when a player may turn on the party.  This can lead to a game ender.   The other game ender is when they begin the slaughter of to many innocence towns folk.  Now they are hunted and a few low level characters are no match for the experienced ranger.

You can still have them wandering around dungeons searching for artifacts to obtain their merciless way to power or strictly just for the adventure time, since adventuring is still the best way to gather loot and valuables.

One of the most interesting things about having that dastardly group of malcontents is that allies can also be enemies.  That is correct!  Everyone is not your friend and will hunt you down or use you to meet their own evil designs.   There will be no short supply of foes in the evil campaign.  So basically in theory the whole land is out to get them.   You might want to inform them of this before they decide to embark on their reign of destruction.

As a DM you will need to come up with a series of encounters that introduce the players to their new world.  Think, now they work for the opposite side of the law and will be a part of the Thieves’ guild or local tyrant doing the biding of a master rather than trying to save the world from the array of nasties that plague the land.

It requires a bit of practice but you will get the hand of it.  Just think opposite and that every action will have a reaction.  Player will learn very fast that stealing from town over and over again will start the pointing of fingers at them.  A bad rep can close a lot of doors very fast.   You will see how fast they change when they are not allowed in town any more or that good group of adventures starts to track them down.  Having a paladin for a foe can be most unpleasant.

I think one of the best turn of events I’ve ever had was when I took all the evil characters the players created and turned them into NPC’s for a good campaign the following year.  I laughed as they encountered themselves a year later.

The evil adventuring parties I have run have been a ton of fun when done correctly.  Something to keep in mind is that they are normally short lived.  Use them as break in the campaign.

The creation of the adventures will be an excellent part in your DM advancement of being that awesome person where everyone wants in on your group.  There is nothing like having a waiting list for your group.  Running the group will also provide you with a new array of ideas.  Players are the greatest source of enlightenment.


The Story Unfolds

Most Dungeon Masters have a story to be told. We spend countless hours drawing maps, creating exciting NPC’s and mastering the plot of the story we wish to share with our loyal players who show up every week to see what you have prepared for them.

There are lot of us that put the players on a train and head them down the tracks of an exciting adventure built for 4. Along the adventure track the players will have numerous stops. These could include a night in the tavern listen to stories and gather rumors and intelligence for what is on the next stop. Rumors of a nasty band of Orc that is ambushing locals along the path to the next stop are often included.

It would be nice if all game sessions started and ended on the same adventure track, but as we all know, they don’t. The players make choices and decide on things as a group that are not always in line with what you had in mind.

What we forget is that the players often bring to the table their own story. The player’s background could have included that they are looking for a long lost relative or ancient magic ritual book. So while that one player is slowing convincing the others that they should head south to help them find their lost relative you quietly begin crumpling up the notes you had made earlier that day in a silent fit of rage.

Many years ago as a young warrior, I too tried to enlist my fellow adventurers to help in traveling to a different city from the one we were currently on course to arrive at. I never would have thought that our Dungeon Master had spent the better part on the day planning our night according to where we had decided to travel to last session.

The entire party agreed to travel to the different city within 5 minutes of us sitting down for a night of monster slaying and eradicating evil form the realms. Once we came to our decision we announced to the DM our change of plans. He was sitting in silence, the kind of awkward silence when you think you’ve upset a parent but not really sure what you have done.

After a brief moment of that awful silence our DM responded with “If you travel there you might regret it”. I’m thinking if we don’t travel there we might regret that also. Our party discusses our options and now the other city is sounding even more exciting. What could we possibility regret? We stood by our decision and announce our intent. Our DM  looks at us with cross between an evil grin and perhaps a slight resemblance to a child who just dropped their ice-cream cone on the ground.

To give you the short version of our night, we were soon attacked by some not so friendly Hill Giants, which proceed to slaughter our mounts and causally bring us down to a group of Monty Pythons version of running away. Our disgruntle DM looked up from the screen of doom and smiled. “I told you it would be regretful.” We decided to go back to the original plan to avoid any further confrontation which seemed to make our DM extremely happy.

This scenario can be applied to many instants where the players have one plan and the DM has something different in mind. This becomes more of a reality when dealing with an adventure you have purchased. It can be frustrating for a DM who saved up a few dollars to purchase the latest adventure booklet with the players in mind and they decide to do something different or constantly get side tracked. I will discuss purchased adventures at a later date.

If I get side tracked on purchased material I might be ambushed by giants again.

I like to plan my stories like anyone else. It takes imagination and some creative thought to come up with new and exciting adventures every month but it is something I really enjoy. Over the years I’ve picked up a few things that have helped me run my games.

The first thing that helped wise up was reading. Each adventure story really kick started my own creative thought process. I could name a dozen authors that helped fill my imagination cup with countless ideas for NPC’s and epic quests that would lead my players to greatness.

There is huge difference between reading or writing a story and playing one out with a group of random heroes. When playing one out you are not the sole author to the story but rather a facilitator. This means you are there to plant the seeds and perhaps add a few challenging hooks and see how it plays out. I call it the adventure tree. How the tree grows is not always up to you as the author. You only planted the seeds and kept it watered with sprinkles of gold and magic. How it grows is mostly up to the players.

Once I discovered the secrets of the adventure tree I’ve the used it in every game I’ve run. It’s really not much of a secret when you think about. To offer an example how it works picture a real tree. Maybe something similar to a giant oak. You need your players to climb the tree. At the base of the tree there are perhaps dozens of roots which can be a starting points. Each root can have its own story. Once you have your players begin to climb your nefarious tree of doom the players will soon discover hundreds of branches. All these branches could represent the decisions they make along the path to glory.

You might think that you need a hundred different ways to help the players reach the top before they get too lost in the vast ever growing tree of awesomeness. This is where real planning takes place. You have to think on the fly often having your patience tested to the max.

Be calm and carry a big map.

Nobody knows your players better than you. This is where you change from having a firm plan of the night to an array of notes and possible outcomes. I have often approached my sessions like a game of chess. If the players move to the other town I will move my ogre there as well. I set up encounters with the idea that I can place them anywhere and steer players without directing them. It’s takes a bit of creativeness to be able to load severely different possible outcomes but with practice it will come naturally.

My suggestion is start building an encounter and NPC library. Doesn’t’ have to be huge a collection but enough to cover a variety of options. Think about the various branches of your tree and plan for those. If you don’t’ use one or two ideas save them for later. Coming up with a ways to steer your party to where you need them can be a bit of a brain tease. I would suggest trying to keep it simple.

Simple helps the game move along without the extra frustration level of you the DM building to the point of releasing your wave of Giants. As an example, one the easiest ways to get a group of players heading the direction I need them to go is have something stolen from them. All trails lead to the tree top. It can be that simple, and you would be surprised how much value that spell book has that just went missing.

The best advice for building your tree is don’t limit yourself. Each branch can be its own adventure and story. That humble group of players might toss an ax into your plan and you need to be prepared for it. There are times when the ax has been tossed and I have taken it to a whole new level. A new story begins to unfold and begins to take shape and you roll with the swing and start tossing your seeds on the ground once again.

Dungeon and Dragons doesn’t have an end. It has a beginning and then stuff happens and more stuff and suddenly your tree begins to grow.