You can be the bad guy, just don't be that guy.

Everyone gets tired of being the hero sometimes.

There’s no point denying it. Sometimes you just want to be the bad guy. People always want to try their hand at being a Sith instead of Jedi, or test how far they can stretch their Renegade habits before they start losing party members. The whole point of role-play is to try being something you’re not: getting to test some darker water, and play around with the extreme ends of our morality. In video games it can be as easy as murdering a few townspeople to see what would happen, then reloading to a previous save with no harm done. In the world of tabletop, going off the rails is a bit more permanent.

So how do you be a bad guy without being that guy? Since tabletop is all about endless possibilities, and being able to do or be whatever you please, how do you find a balance between what you want, and what’s reasonable? Playing an evil character can very quickly uproot every intention of a game, and if not handled carefully, ends up killing the game entirely. My goal here is to provide you with some simple guidelines so you can be as evil as you want, without prematurely ending your campaign.

Art provided by Wizards of the Coast.

Art provided by Wizards of the Coast.

First things first, you have to survey your play group. Really take a step back and look at what’s laid out ahead of you. What’s the nature of the campaign? What are the other players making for their characters? Is this a righteous group of good aligned paladins ready to smite any evil that cross their path, or a scrappy group of new adventurers just finding their place in the world? If it’s the latter, this might be a perfect chance to do some evil, if it’s the former, maybe consider sitting on that concept for another game. If you’re really set on being a villain, consider that telling the other players might end better than a last minute secret betrayal. Who knows, maybe you’re whole group is chomping at the bit to play on the dark side. Evil loves company.

“But Kate,” I hear you saying, “the whole reason I want to be a bad guy is so I can betray my friends, and reign supreme as the ultimate badass at the table.” To which, I must ask, have you considered DMing? Seriously though, if that’s the whole reason you’re making an evil PC (player character), maybe you should consider the unforeseen consequences. The guy who rides with the party only to kill them in their sleep, and make off with the loot (you know who you are) isn’t likely to get invited to the next game. The sort of things that players praise DM’s for, they hate other PC’s for. It’s a bit unfair, and definitely unjust, but worth taking into account before you do the deed. More often than not, player on player combat kills games. If you’re really, really, really set on it, then at least give your DM the courtesy of knowing it’s coming. They put a lot of time and effort into building a campaign for you, don’t sign it’s death warrant without giving them a heads up. If a DM can plan for it, they can put things in place to keep the campaign going. If you actually want to play your bad guy, this is worth doing. This isn’t to say there’s not a time and place for a brutal betrayal, but consider who you’re betraying. With the players suffer more, or will the DM?

In the end, if you just give your DM a bit of foresight, it will likely end up better than if you just did it on your own. I can’t stress this enough. Keep your DM in the loop. If you’re open about your dark intentions they might be able to tip you off on some cool information, or underground organisations that want to support your goal. Who knows, you could end up a secret agent for something even darker than what you’d intended. Additionally, if your GM gets that washed out exhausted look, and begs you to just keep your shit together for one game, maybe, you know, give it a rest for a bit. There will be other opportunities if you’re willing to cooperate and compromise. If you’re not, well, I did warned that you might not get invited back.

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself why you’re character is evil, and what makes them so. If you don’t have an end goal in your evil deeds, and are just doing it to add some flavor or chaos to your play group, your character is going to fall flat at best, and be instantly discovered at worst. Elaborate dark and broody backstories aren’t always the best answer, and can put you on a very narrow path when it comes to reacting in game. Whereas common human traits like selfishness, greed, and cowardice can provide endless opportunities for some sleazy roleplay. Traits that often don’t come with any sort of explanation. You don’t need a reason to be a bad guy, but you do need a goal. Is it riches, fame, or self entitlement? That's up to you, but if you put the effort into figuring that out before you start, you’ll end up with a character that’s more dynamic. Grim, edgy characters, who stare into the distance waiting for someone to ask about their tragic backstory look awesome on film, but are incredibly boring to play. If you’re only going to be evil because it suits your characters aesthetic, you might be building a character that isn’t going to do you any favors.

In all my years of tabletop gaming, I’ve encountered my fair share of evil characters, some of them being my own. It can add a great new dimension to a party when one of the PC’s has no reservations about burning down a village, or executing a prisoner. For one of my current games we’re all evil. The whole seven person party is on team dark side (I pity our DM). It can definitely work, and  be a whole new type of fun apart from being the crusading hero. I encourage you to give it a go sometime. Stretch your character creation muscles in a new direction, and see how far you can reach.