Thursday, June 9, 2011

Your Evil Character is an Asshole and Nobody Likes Him.


The latest doctrinaire chest-thumping match to come out of Blogaria is the question of PCs as heroes vs. PCs as freebooting mercenary sociopaths. No, there is no middle ground....just like ascending vs. descending armor class.

Perhaps you champions of the "no heroes" school of gaming have been blessed with groups of well-adjusted, advanced gamers who can handle playing a character who operates outside the normal moral spectrum or outside the definition of what some might call "heroic." I'm not sure where you're gaming, but it isn't anywhere I've ever been. My experiences, and the experiences of those disparate gamers with whom I have discussed this very issue, can be summarized pretty succinctly:

Your anti-hero character is a douchebag and the rest of the party yearns for his agonizing, horrible death.

The characters who are mercenary/"edgy"/Beyond Good and Evil are usually just gold grubbing dicks with no conviction. Parties of these characters waste entire sessions trying to figure out how to rob the town blacksmith when there is a nearby dungeon containing a vast wealth. They avoid adventures so that they can visit petty abuses on insignificant NPCs.

The characters who are blatantly "evil" are usually just insufferable assholes who verbally abuse all PCs and NPCs while committing random acts of violence and generally being more Snidely Whiplash than Darth Vader. Their master plan is usually something along the lines of secretly pocketing the 25gp amulet your party finds in the goblin's lair before the rest of the party can notice. Oh, you mastermind.

I will acquiesce that "heroes" and good-aligned characters are often huge douchebags and I can nary recall a game session where at least one good character hasn't done something that could easily be argued to be an evil act, but then again, I hate alignment and all that it entails. I have found, however, that when a game (or just a campaign) wears its "we aren't good guys!" attitude on its sleeve, what you tend to end up with is a game about feckless thugs who aren't even fit to be a real villain's henchmen. I find that things work out best when groups either own up to being good guys, or else they leave their moral intentions unstated. If I didn't have 19 years of personal evidence backing up this assertion, I wouldn't be posting it. If I didn't have countless gaming stories from conventions and friends and blogs, I'd be skeptical about what is, admittedly, a sweeping generalization.

...and yet, generalization though it may be, I have a Pavlovian response to hearing about games that go the "let's be bad/ambivalent" guys route, and that response is to get as far away from it as possible.

...and that's what diversity means to me.


  1. I refuse to play in games where the party can have evil aligned members because the characters all act like assholes. The evil player finds it hysterical while the rest of the players fume angrily because the asshole pockets extra loot and sells the other party members under the bus for a +1 sword and a candy bar and by the end of a 4 hour game session friendships are ruined and possibly felonies committed.

    Generally, mixed aligned parties have MAYBE a one night lifespan because the rest of the players refuse to play with the asshole character/player ever again.

  2. I think good/neutral parties work... I assume you are referring to opposites mixed in, right?

  3. -sigh again-

    Replace "(some game)" with "(some playstyle)"

  4. I'm not really into evil characters. I am into who do good things despite their moral ambivalence. Appendix N is a good place to go to understand this better.

  5. -sigh again-
    Wow, an exasperated sigh from one of the big OSR bloggers. I'll never wash this comment section again!

    All snark aside, you do have a point, good sir.

    Replace "(some game)" with "(some playstyle)"

    Yes, perhaps play style is a better way to describe what I've experienced. However, I believe that there are games that, by default, assume or promote a certain play style. For instance, original Hackmaster encourages a mutually antagonistic play style. The new DCC game straight up tells you what it's all about, and it ain't about heroes.

    ...and yes, of course you can play a high-combat Vampire game or a high-intrigue D&D game or even a game of original Hackmaster where the GM and PC group aren't trying to fuck each other over constantly, but there is a default play style, and when a game's default play style advertises something that has brought me nothing but frustration and misery, I avoid it.

  6. Zak, dammit. You have this habit. I don't even know if you are aware of it. You have this "Fuck what you think is right" attitude. That is well and good, but God forbid someone tells you that what you think is right is fucked.

    When that happens you usually resort to your tried and true, "Your opinions are based upon a morally subjective point of view and therefore irrelevant based upon my experience."

    You're a smart guy and all, but damn your imperious schtick gets old.

  7. I've had no positive experiences with villainous players. In most every case a neutral selfish character used his alignment or "that's what my character would do" attitude to derail the campaign by picking unnecessary fights or committing nerd on nerd crimes that resulted in bad feelings.

    I'm just not interested in catering to juvenile behavior. I did that for a while and it cost me some good players, as they could not stand the poorly behaved person at the table.

  8. "that's what my character would do"

    Ooooh, the "RPG Nuremberg Defense." As a GM, I never tire of it, I assure you.

  9. Oh, and I just got a text from Josh in my gaming group, who I think has said it better than I: "...fuck alignment don't be a douche and try to work together."

    Well played, sir.

  10. @anonymous

    Your impotent nerdrage is noted.

    If you would like to continue this discussion, here are the rules:

    and you know where to find me.

  11. So this is what it's like to have a typical OSR blog...

  12. Man, the fists be flyin' today in the blogosphere. It's like a crowded day at the beach. Dudes are yelling, throwing stink eye and calling one another out. I like it. ;)

  13. Well, christian, maybe if your evil character wasn't such an asshole...

  14. The problem isn't evil vs. good. Only if you play with immature dicks do you need rules forbidding immature and dickish behaviour.

  15. Harald-

    The thing is, I agree with you in theory. However, time after time, when the "let's be evil/amoral" card comes out, so does the cockish behavior. Disturbingly enough, I've seen this happen in players who are normally great to play with when "bad guy" types are forbidden.

    It also isn't strictly a matter of good vs. evil so much as it is "characters who kind of follow social mores" vs. "characters who don't." Look at Vampire: the Masquerade. I mean, all vampires are at least partially "evil" in that they drain the life from ordinary people to survive. In that setting, the Camarilla are the...I guess I'd say "less bad guys," in that they hold on to the Masquerade (don't blow shit up and kill everyone you meet) vs. the Sabbat, who fall squarely into the "fuck it, kill 'em all" camp. I have never, ever seen or played in a Sabbat game that wasn't a migraine-inducing waste of time. Likewise, I've never seen anything good come out of having an evil/determined asshole character in a party, nor have I ever seen villainous/amoral campaigns make it more than a few sessions before imploding. I have a hard time accepting that I have only ever gamed with people who are doing it wrong, or or who are immature dicks. Not to say that I haven't gamed with immature dicks, but they don't make up 100% of my experiences.

  16. Harald pt. 2-
    Broke the comment in half, sorry.

    Maybe immature dicks are the players who tend to gravitate toward evil/Sabbat type characters. Maybe someday I will meet a player who can pull of a compelling PC villain. I'm not holding my breath, though, and at this point I've been burned enough that I'm not really willing to cater to it anymore.

  17. There is the basic point that, because religion and morality are social engines meant to help groups of people work together, deliberately flouting them or playing opposite day with them should destroy people's ability to work together, if they were well designed to begin with. Or, to paraphrase Tolkien, "evil tends to screw itself up first because if you can't trust anybody you can never get your shit together."

    Yes. Putting "chaotic evil" on the table as an option was stupid, because it's basically a "fuck this game" option.

    I have been guilty of screwing up groups by deliberately playing, for instance, a very stupid character who could not be trusted with simple instructions. This is another kind of assholery and I am sorry for it. It taught me that any time, for any reason, you find yourself taking the Nuremberg defence, you have broken the social contract with your players.

    It was also an experiment. So maybe if your group wants to experiment it might be fun to set that up; say "we're going to play a strict sandbox for a few sessions: there is no story to screw up, you can do that to each other" and have special one-off characters and limit the damage.

  18. It's just occurred to me that there's a really simple slogan/policy for this, and it comes from online games:

    no griefing.

    No player-killing, no being a dick, no getting in the way of other people's fun. Screw up the game world if that's what you want to do as a group, but if one of your co-players wanted to talk to that NPC or return to that inn and you deliberately made it so they couldn't, that's not OK and you get exactly one more chance.

    ...of course if it's supposed to be a game of intra-party backstabbing, then sure, fine.

  19. So Ryan, are you a fan of 'you play lowly scallywags; get rich or die trying', adventure=caper games? I'm thinking of comedy of errors games like GURPS Goblins or classic WFRP.

    I agree with you that "I'm playing an evil guy" is usually just an excuse to let the player's Id run wild in-game.

  20. Has everybody here seen the Futuram episode "The Farnsworth Parabox"? The Professor invents this box that leads to a parallel universe and Leela goes into it. There she's accused of being the Evil Twin of that universe's Leela. When alt-Leela is sent back through to scout out the original Futurama universe the original Leela says something like "They're not evil. But don't be mistaken, they are jerks."

    That's what I reading off this "you're not a hero" malarkey. The Planet Express crew are normal people, capable of both extremes of human action. They can be heroic and self-sacrificing but they can also be venal, crass, greedy, lazy and stupid. What they aren't is super-heroes of the modern 4e variety. It's not "we're assuming you are douchebags", more "we're NOT assuming you are paragons of virtue and we're NOT assuming you are demi-gods".

    At least that is my take on it.

  21. Your Evil^H^H^H^HPaladin Character is an Asshole and Nobody Likes Him.

    I mean, really? Endlessly harassing everyone for not being "good" or "lawful" enough, hogging the spotlight with all of his publicly pious trips to church, killing party members because his magic sight said they were thinking about being evil. Total dick.

    richard is right. It's about griefing; demonstrating not character, but power over the other players. It can be done equally well with "good" and "evil" characters, not to mention the dogmatically "neutral". Well, that's not welcome at my table.

  22. Back when I played World of Darkness games I had a Human Hunter who ran into a Werewolf and switched gears from hunting vampires to hunting werewolves (which are supposed to be the 'good guys'). Happy sunshine hippie Children of Gaia werewolf? Yeah, he had a shotgun full of melted down silverware for that. Pentex shows up and tells him about all this weird science gear for fighting werewolves? Sounds awesome.

    So he'd have been a "Villain" in somone else's Werewolf: The Apocalypse game... and they might have even seen him as evil. But he wasn't a douchebag sociopath - he was just on the other side.

    What I greatly dislike about the "there's no objective good and evil" stuff people bring into gaming discussions is it's usually the onramp to "RPG as safe environment to roleplay antisocial behaviour". I guess that's better than chaving it up out on the street... but I've got no interest in running or playing in a game where I feel like I'm babysitting someone as they work out their personal problems via roleplaying.

  23. @Ryan: I guess there is an "elective affinity" between amoral games and assholery. It's not that they have to go together, but the veil is thin between them. They're in the same gravity well. Zak might not experience it, but others do.

    I think CE alignment is a direct appeal to assholery though. How are you going to tell the other players you're unreliable and your heart's not in the right place? CE pretty much says "the only reason I haven't killed you yet is I'm waiting for you to pick up more shiny."

  24. Sounds like you've never met "evil"; it's probably more reasonable than you think.

    1. Conan steals jewels from wizards towers and so shall I. Jewels are plot hooks all by themselves. Hassling the blacksmith is incompetent. (Unless he's charging too much for something we need, then we might as well kick him in the nuts and run off with his stuff).

    2. I'm not going to take any shit from cops in game. Unless the DM is cheating by giving them all class levels to keep us under control, they should be 1 HD creatures. Fuck them.

    But keep in mind: Evil is _never_ an excuse to go PvP. The party is mafia, and the other PCs are made men. Play nice with each other or the game can't run.

    The other end of the spectrum: Once, I had a DM insist I couldn't _loot a body_ because it wasn't "heroic". I was floored, and after that I decided I hated alignment a lot. This was back in the day.

  25. @Jeff- The vibe I have gotten from said malarkey has been more of a talk show "Whateva! I do what want! Y'all don't KNOW me!" type of feeling.

    @Joshua- I have had such a character at my table...good aligned, though not a paladin. I eventually told him he had changed alignment. Lucky for him, he wasn't a paladin..

    @richard- No griefing...I like that. It has, however, caused me to have some traumatic flashbacks to a MUD I used to play in junior high...
    I also agree on your point about elective affinity.

    @Stuart- Yeah, you would be the Evil Asshole PC if the rest of the party were werewolves. As I see it, you're a character who gets involved with the "my organization that I thought was good is actually no" type of plot. Still, this character is loads better than the usual "I want to torture and kill the barkeep because he wants me to pay for my drinks" evil PC.

    @Anonymous- With you on the Conan/jewel towers stuff, so not with you on the "fuck the po'lice" sentiment. Yeah, they are 1 HD creatures, but there are always more cops then there are you. Also totally with you on the mafia analogy; well played.