Roleplaying the Hidden - Playing a true "evil" character

The very first character I ever playing in a MMOG was a Dark Elf on EQ's server Xegony, back in, as we say, the day. She belonged to a Tier'dal guild which had been around since EQ beta (if you can imagine that). They were lawful evil, who never believed what they were doing was evil in the first place. They were religious zealots and extremists - essentially, they could be anyone - they just happened to be Dark Elves, which automatically gave them the "evil" moniker.

Throughout gaming I have taken what I learned in that guild and applied it to different areas. As a matter of fact, I'm so good at playing "evil" that I have often tended to make people very very angry when they realise my character isn't what she seemed to be (thus pulling wool over the eyes of their character who was supposedly all knowing and all seeing). It was because I wasn't blatant; and people are so used to "evil" being blatant they're somehow capable of making the right decisions all the time.

But in my presence as an evil character, the right decision is more than often the wrong one...but only if you're standing on the wrong side of my ambitions as an evil character.

Role-playing evil and doing a good job of it is very difficult. Too many people set up evil guilds or create evil characters which in all honesty are nothing more than idiotic thugs without reason nor purpose - anyone can be a thug, only a true master can role-play being really evil.

Evil is not being mean, nasty, rude or confrontational nor does it require you to steal, maim, kill, pillage or generally act like a jerk. Anyone doing those things all the time would quickly become ostracized by the community in which they live.

Unfortunately, the majority of folk being "evil" are actually just being downright annoying and bordering on harassment in my own experience. Like it or not, Alliance and Horde are essentially good thinking beings (not too sure about the undead of course). Evil people should therefore be in the minority - carefully manipulating things behind the scenes to further their own desires.
- World of Warcraft player


The above is unfortunately very true. I cannot count how many times I've seen "evil" guilds spring up in the most unlikely places, with the most unlikely characters solely because people believed they could somehow bend all the rules possible in order to just be jerks to other people (roughly the same amount of people who are playing a evil race or character as a loving, happy, misunderstood character that would rather be raising bunny rabbits). I have seen people claim to "turn evil" in PvP groups and start killing everyone they're grouped with in order to loot their bodies, falling back on the "I was possessed by a demon and turned evil!" rationalisation.

One of the reasons I play an evil character so well is I never, and I mean NEVER, let on my character is evil. There is no giveaway; no maniacal laugh, no babbling in a insane "cute" way (has anyone ever met someone truly insane? they're not cute believe me). No sharpening of daggers in a corner, no sneer, no smirk. Granted, my character class may be assassin because it says so on my character profile (and there is nothing I find more annoying than someone who just seems to KNOW my character, who is sitting at a table in a robe, reading a book, is an assassin - can we PLEASE do away with any class labelling in profile?). But does being an assassin make them evil? Everyone assumes so...therefore, they completely ignore the fact that my very demure, seemingly considerate priest has been manipulating several people at once to her own ends until they're at each others' throats.

Men are so simple and yield so readily to the desires of the moment that he who will trick will always find another who will suffer to be tricked. - Machiavelli

There are always going to be people who walk about as half-demon/dragon/succubi with huge wings and forked tongues...walking around in a city unscathed. It's boggling, but it happens - trying so hard to be seen as EVIL they practically have a neon sign above their heads. However, there is much skill and enjoyment to be had in playing a character which no-one is aware is actually evil. No hint via race, no hint by having black eyes, or forked tongues or loads of money and power. This is the manipulator-type of evil, and I'm good at it. This is where the spying comes in, the manipulation of two rival guilds into destroying one another, and even bigger events in question.

This however should always be played responsibly; it requires being able to gauge who can handle you coming in and embroiling them into the storyline, and who is going to powerplay suddenly knowing you're evil and striking a pose saying "I am too powerful for you, get thee behind me". We'd like to think we're capable of spotting evil and having nothing to do with it...but if you honestly look at day to day occurrences, the fact is there's "evil" going on all around us; corporate companies using cheap labour/child labour, wars being fought as an excuse to get the resources from another country. Of course, this is all veiled several dozen ways so we don't actually SEE the big picture, but it's there. We just allow ourselves to be tricked into believing it isn't.


Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage. - Machiavelli


If you're lucky, you can find someone to play your counterfoil to your evil character, the one who knows he's being tricked in some way, but because the offer is so good...so hard to pass up, he does it anyway - will said person pay the price? Possibly, maybe even probably. But even the greatest, strongest king or queen, even the wisest sage, when shown opportunity, will take it.

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The Alignments of Evil: here are the definitions as per Dungeons and Dragons - there's often a lot of grey area when we start talking about alignments, but I have made my own personal notes in bold.

Lawful Evil

"Dominator"

Lawful evil is the methodical, intentional, and frequently successful devotion to a cruel organized system.

A lawful evil character methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his personal code of conduct (which are frequently his laws, as this alignment tends to only work for people in positions of power) without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He's comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He is loath to break promises, and he is therefore very cautious about giving his word unless a bargain is clearly in his favour.

This reluctance comes partly from his nature and partly because he depends on order to protect himself from those who oppose him on moral grounds. Some lawful evil villains have particular taboos, such as not killing in cold blood (but having underlings do it) or not letting children come to harm (if it can be helped). They feel these personal morals put them above unprincipled villains but also know that they are protected by the orderly, systematic structure they exist in. An example of a lawful evil organisation would be a cult practising human sacrifice and torture, with a strict code of conduct, strict system of heirarchy, but evil practises.

Many lawful evil characters use society and its laws for selfish advantages, exploiting the letter of the law over its spirit whenever it best suits their interests.

Some lawful evil people and creatures commit themselves to evil with a zeal like that of a crusader committed to good. Beyond being willing to hurt others for their own ends, they take pleasure in spreading evil as an end unto itself. They may also see doing evil as part of a duty to an evil deity or master.

Lawful evil is sometimes called "diabolical", because devils are the personification of lawful evil.

A tyrannical ruler who drafts the rules that call for the suffering of many, but then must obey them himself is lawful evil. A greedy land baron who allows his people to starve in a famine when he hosts lavish feasts is also lawful evil. Essentially, they are people or groups who have strict orderly codes or laws, but those codes ultimately cause the needless suffering or death of others.

This is my preferred style of evil, mostly because it is so strict, so apparently RIGHT on the surface and nearly accepted, that you can see it anywhere. And I'm not thinking knee-jerk fundamentalist religious groups either; I'm thinking any large corporation, any multimillionare, any incredibly successful business which is usually standing on the backs of its underpaid, understressed workers. The worst thing is - most people just accept that's the way the world works. Chilling, isn't it? Because of its rigid rules and strictures, it's sometimes very difficult to play, but it is precisely being limited to a "box" which makes the challenge of playing something so foreign to my very nature so enjoyable.

Neutral Evil

"Malefactor"

Neutral evil is pure pragmatism without honor and without variation.

A neutral evil character does whatever he can get away with. He is out for himself, pure and simple. No tears for those he kills, whether for profit, sport, or convenience, and he has no love of order and holds no illusion that following laws, traditions, or codes would make him any better or more noble. On the other hand, he does not have the restless nature or love of conflict that a chaotic evil villain has.

Some neutral evil villains hold up evil as an ideal, committing evil for its own sake. Most often, such villains are devoted to evil deities or secret societies.

Career criminals, particularly those who harm others for money, such as hitmen, are the most obvious example of Neutral Evil.

Here is where assassins come in. I have seen assassins played who had no real desire to be assassins...they tried to play it that they were neutral or even neutral good - but the reality is, if they were truly such good characters, wouldn't they have stopped accepting money for ending lives? There's a lot of scope for playing the slightly tortured character in this role, but it's one that's difficult to keep going. Still, worth a try.

Chaotic Evil

"Destroyer"

Chaotic evil is power without control, selfishness unfettered by any law.

A chaotic evil character does whatever his greed, hatred, and lust for destruction drive him to do. If he is simply out for whatever he can get, he is ruthless and brutal. If he is committed to the spread of evil and chaos, he is even worse. Fortunately, his plans are haphazard, and any groups he joins or forms are poorly organized. Typically, chaotic evil people can be made to work together only by force, and their leader lasts only as long as he can thwart attempts to topple or assassinate him.

These characters will commit any act to further their own ends. Chaotic evil is sometimes called "demonic" because demons are the embodiment of chaotic evil.

Many serial killers would fit this description, as would indeed most of the more violent and reckless criminals found in the worst sorts of places.

My opinion here - this type of character shouldn't be played in a roleplaying scenario. There is no reason anyone would let a serial killer live in a game unscathed. It's again the "demonic" walking-about-with-batwings scenario. Play a chaotic evil character and you will probably find yourself labelled very quickly for being a griefer. I'd avoid this one.
 
So how does one actually go about playing an evil character? Well, a character honestly is like setting up any other, although as an evil character you do have to realise, first and foremost, one thing: you are responsible for your own actions, and should be equally responsible enough to handle the repercussions of your actions. Evil characters who are caught are more than likely put to death in the real world - fantasy is no different. If you perform an "evil" action, then do so understanding there will be repercussions.
Accept that as part of being an evil character, and create your character accordingly. If you go about being a jerk, then your plausibility is gone.

- Do some research. Evil does not consider itself to be evil; opportunistic, yes, driven, yes, wanting to get itself ahead at all costs, yes. If it steps on other people, then what of it? The world is a harsh one, deal with it. As you may have noticed, I use a lot of Machiavellian concepts and thoughts when constructing an evil character; evil organisations are actually incredibly well thought out and abide strictly to their rules, because they have to if they wish to survive. Just running rampant yelling "Mwahahahaha" is not how a true evil guild works. Look at Tier'Dal sociecty, Druchii society, or Dune's houses, and you'll get a glimpse at what I'm talking about here. Rigid structure, with the penalty being death.

- Don't be obvious. The strutting character with giant bat wings and a demon's hooves and tail walking around a village street unscathed is just entirely too unbelievable to work. If such a creature walked into any village, the alarum would sound and said person would be put to death, plain and simple. People who aren't even remotely evil but have "not like us" traits are already viewed with mistrust, so obviously walking about with demons at your shoulder and a hundred weapons on your body is going to draw entirely too much attention to your character. As an evil character, you're already hunted down by both good characters AND other evil characters who don't want you in on their action. Be subtle.

- Evil characters can be the unsettling character in the dark hood and gloves sitting in the corner (though the AMOUNT of characters I've seen sitting in corners always makes me wonder just how many corners a room actually has!). Give your character a bit of an unsettling touch may tip off others that you're not quite above the level, dressed all in black and so on. But remember: Saruman wore white. Sometimes creating your character in a non-obvious way gives a lot more fun to things.

- Give your character a long term goal: "To conquer!" Well yes, that's anyone's but conquer what exactly? And how? And through what channels? Conquering would require serious planning - perhaps infiltrating a guild or faction, working through the ranks through intrigue and blackmail, getting to second in command and planting the poison in the ear of the guildleader, and so on. It's something which would require dedication and time, and brings me to the next point.

- Know where to draw the line. Yes, I know, there is nothing more annoying that everyone on the planet somehow just guessing you're evil and suddenly not having anything to do with you, as if they're completely incapable of ever making a mistake or doing something wrong. People like to think their characters are infalliable. At the same time, there are people I have really, totally torqued off out of character because they finally realised my character was manipulating theirs and they were offended and angry at being "tricked". They didn't congratulate me for playing my own character so well that they had no idea - they were angry because their character was no longer "perfect" and completely pure white, or not as smart and brilliant and all-powerful as they thought (and people did try and point this out). There are ways to get round this and make sure you don't tread on anyone's toes, and one of the ways I've found are listed below:

I start a thread on forums saying "I am creating an evil character.
Chances are you will NOT know who it is, or that they are evil. This
Character is a manipulator and will probably get you drawn into various machinations and plots. If you are interested in interacting with this character, please let me know and we'll discuss how we can put it into play" . If it's an individual, great, we just get on with it. If it's a guildleader, we establish first and foremost that the guildleader is the only one to know, ic and ooc, what is going on. Most roleplayers understand this and will roll with whatever is going on, plots, intrigues and all - but this takes a special, mature type of player who understands that IC is IC, and OOC is OOC.

I join a lawful evil guild of people who understand what lawful evil is - which is NOT just a rabble of people ranting at "goodies" and laughing maniacally. More often than not, I can tell which type I've joined by whether or not I'm allowed to shut off the guild-tags over my head (and there have been a few who were more than happy to allow that so I could play with more freedom, rather than the usual practice of being possessive of my characters as more the guild's and less my own). These people already have an idea of what playing lawful evil is about, have a strict code of conduct and may have some guilds to play up against already lined up to make things interesting. I then infiltrate another guild - with permission - and do what I do best.

When things get TOO nasty and people are taking it too personally, I drop the rp story and thread like it was something hot. No roleplay is so involved, so serious, that it's worth continuing if people are getting angry or offended. It may be irksome that people can seperate the two, but it's still not my call. Responsibility for one's actions again.

Know where the limits are to being "evil". There are some things so distasteful to me I refuse to roleplay them (rape/anything to do with children being the top two). There's a point where it gets too realistic, and one has to wonder what sort of person would find such a roleplay "enjoyable". Know the limits of tact, and stick to them. Don't push them. Just because I play an evil character does NOT mean I am one in real life - many a time, when my character did or said or created something, I would stare in absolute shock and think "Good grief, I can't believe I just did that..." It's amusing to access that part of one's Id, but I know for a fact I'd never go out and do any of these things in actuality (in real life I'm pretty anti-establishment and liberal).


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I imagine this is all still rather nebulous, as playing evil is more of a "concept" than a strict guideline, but perhaps my "little work" (Machiavelli again!) will assist when it comes to playing evil and playing it successfully.
 
Trillian said:
One of the reasons I play an evil character so well is I never, and I mean NEVER, let on my character is evil. There is no giveaway; no maniacal laugh, no babbling in a insane "cute" way (has anyone ever met someone truly insane? they're not cute believe me). No sharpening of daggers in a corner, no sneer, no smirk. Granted, my character class may be assassin because it says so on my character profile (and there is nothing I find more annoying than someone who just seems to KNOW my character, who is sitting at a table in a robe, reading a book, is an assassin - can we PLEASE do away with any class labelling in profile?). But does being an assassin make them evil? Everyone assumes so...therefore, they completely ignore the fact that my very demure, seemingly considerate priest has been manipulating several people at once to her own ends until they're at each others' throats.

Very interesting post, Trillian! Well thought out. One of my 4 regularly played toons is an evil villian and I try to play him exactly this way.

Although, I think this evil roleplay you describe is perfect for the 'intelligent evil mastermind' but not for the evil thug or henchman. The evil genius is the exception as most evildoers out there are are the common braggarts who are noticibly evil. They relish in their outward appearance and the fear they inspire in others.. They want others to know they are evil.

I was watching the original 1950 Treasure Island last night for the first time in many years. Captain Long John Silver was exactly this sort of evil you described. All of his treachery was dubious and hidden completely by his outgoing, friendly personality. While his crew of pirates were of the more the 'common' evil type. Openly evil. Snarling faces, brash personalities, and unkempt appearances.

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P.S. My EQ character was on Xegony also! The only EQ server on which I played.
 
Ok, now you got to fess up which guild you were in on Xegony!

There's much to be said for the typical jerk-of-the-evil variety...but as you said, that type is rather dime a dozen. It's very common. It can be done, but quite often it sinks into that "I'm EVIL MWAHAHAHAHA" area which is just bleurgh. That seems to fit along the neutral-evil area in my head, and I have played that, though it's not subtle enough for me.

Thanks for that though - Captain Silver is a great example. Even Jack Sparrow - this is perhaps why they're loveable.
 
Trillian said:
Ok, now you got to fess up which guild you were in on Xegony!

Geez.. so many mmorpgs.. so many years ago now... I played from day 1 for a year. Paladin (duh). We were based out of Freeport. Dragon-something? Circle of-something? Circle of Light? Maybe that was it.. but I was in a DAoC guild (alb-percival) called 'Circle of Power,' so maybe that is confusing me. ......... The guild was really big that first year, but started faltering near the end of my association with them. *flog self*
 
Although this is a great post. I can't relate to playing an evil character. The one thing that bothers me about it is that it seems MMO's always put them in depressing low lit areas.

I tried to play one in EQ2, Dark Elf. The area was so depressing that I could only play for short periods. It got to the point that I decided to do the "Betray Quest" because I ended up liking the character so much. Once I completed that quest and saw greenery and sunshine I knew I had a unique and somewhat rare character. That was the pinnacle of that game for me. Got him to level 34 before quitting because there was nothing else to strive for imho.
 
Jaraeth said:
Great post, it makes me wonder how many folks can pull off something that well.

~ Jaraeth
Quite a few actually! I've belonged to several guilds who stuck to this sort of codex. The problem is so many people (usually younger people - don't shoot the messenger here) think playing evil just means cackling and being offensive, which isn't the case.

The point about Freeport in EQ2 is a good one. That was "evil" overplayed. Just as the "good" side was also rather overdone - that black and white sort of good/evil is how people have gotten used to playing the roles. However the fact they got Christopher Lee to do the voice of Lucan was entirely too cool NOT to want to rp there!
 
Yes, if you hung around the statues of Lucan long enough, they'd start to move, and to speak, then give you a buff. Christopher Lee made a great Lucan. I don't know who they had do Antonia Bayle, but she was the SOLE reason I decided not to play Qeynos side. Her voice was annoying.

Anyway, I've derailed my own thread. However, Christopher Lee is another example of how evil is done well...unsettling voice, nothing mindbogglingly evil about the man, it's his PRESENCE that rocks.
 
Trillian said:
I don't know who they had do Antonia Bayle, but she was the SOLE reason I decided not to play Qeynos side. Her voice was annoying.

Heather Graham did the voice of Antonia Bayle. More than her voice is annoying. :)
 

Rics

Cadet
What a great post :) I've only one thing to add, though it's not as deeping profound as the previous information posted...just a simple tip that can make RPing an evil character a little less stressful.

A lot of times players on the recieving end of an evil RPing character confuse in-character rude/evil/jerk/etc, with ooc rude/evil/jerk/etc. If players are taking things too personally it's a great guesture to PM them something friendly so they understand you're not such a bad person ooc. All the evil characters I've RPed have been well loved by evil and good alike because everyone knew it was just my character.
 
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