Ancient Scroll’s Secret Room: What makes evil *really* evil?

Welcome back my dear readers!

Han Solo

Recently I grabbed my old 1st Edition Warhammer book, jumped over a few pages and found the alignment section because one of my friends asked what type of characters I like to play. My answer? Scoundrel. Then he asked “Like Han Solo?” And I said: nope, more the “devil on your shoulder” type… So today, we’re going to think about being evil…

What is evil? According to Wikipedia, “evil” is “the violation
of, or the intent to violate, some moral code.” Really? I don’t think so. In my opinion, far from it.

I like Warhammer because it offers some short descriptions & examples of alignments.

  • Good stands for “natural order, peace, and beauty”, “duty and hard work”, and “learning”. Boring? Yes!
  • Evil stands for “avarice and materialism,” “crime and immorality,” “self-glorification”, and “violence.” Stupid? Yes!

I write about Warhammer, but this view is typical to many fantasy RPGs.

By these descriptions if you boil it down, to play a “good” guy, you probably love My Little Pony or The Care Bears. Obviously this is a bit crazy!

Being good is about being generous. It’s about rising above those all too human behaviors like pettiness and greed. It’s about being able to sacrifice your own comfort to help others. It’s about not judging them solely on points of law but to see them as human beings with all the defects that includes. Being “good” is to be above all of this and to shine for brief moments when others are ready to go with mob rule rather than thinking to a logical conclusion. Being good is the ability to climb those inhuman peaks and empathize with your fellow man.

But being good as a PC doesn’t mean playing a boring wimp. It’s about being able to forgive in that moment when the angry, bloodthirsty mob is ready to carry out the will of the people over due process. Being good also means being a rebel! Yes, a rebel! Like Jesus was or Gandhi – being good can take amazing courage in the face of intolerance and adversity.

David Prowse as Darth Vader in The Empire Stri...

Image via Wikipedia

And what about being evil? Is it all about materialism and violence? Come on people! Evil is about being hooligan (or a Wall Street CEO)!

Think about REAL evil… When I say that, what comes to mind? You might think about the Devil. The geeks among you might think “Darth Vader!” (or about that new Conan movie).

Was Darth Vader materialistic? Did he simply seek opportunities to commit a crime because he wanted to? Heck no! Being evil is about undermining the beliefs of ordinary people, not robbing banks!

Being evil is not about forcing somebody to rob a bank. It’s about convincing somebody to HELP you rob a bank. Small difference? Nope. Huge one.

To be clear… Imagine a PC going to a tavern. What can he do? Start a fight? Sure. But is he looking to get into a fight himself or does he simply love a good riot? What would an evil PC do? He’d convince another PC or NPC to start the fight with that dwarf at the end of the bar and then watch the fireworks…

For me, being evil is about using somebody’s weakness and exploiting it. Little problems blow up quickly and can sometime become horrible mistakes. Being evil is about manipulation. Convincing somebody to do something the wrong way. Evilness is discrete and hard to spot. An evil PC will encourage other PC to do things they do not really want to do, but they might have thought about doing. Manipulation. Corruption. Breaking the rules. These encompass what “evil” is to me. Coming back to the Bible for a moment, Satan wasn’t doing anything bad by himself – he was just offering different options. He was playing on the emotions and desires of other people. Imagine your best friend, the person you trust to discuss all of your dilemmas with and help you make a choice. That’s the perfect place for someone evil to take advantage of a moment of weakness.

So remember my fellow gamers – being good or evil is something exceptional. It means your PC takes a higher or lower road than the average person. As such, it can be a big challenge.

What do you think about this? Tell me. Next time I want to discuss my approach to “law” and “chaos”!

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6 comments to Ancient Scroll’s Secret Room: What makes evil *really* evil?

  • Interesting view, I have always been of the opinion that being evil is the willingness to do anything required to achieve their goal. I discussed evil on my journal here for a more complete discussion.

  • Fitz

    Once again, Robert has managed to inspire quite a conversation over at Reddit on this topic.

    @Sean Holland – That’s definitely one flavor of evil. I’m personally not under the opinion that there’s only one flavor. I believe that manipulation is just one flavor. “Whatever it takes” is another. Psychopathic or sociopathic behavior aside, there will always be as many types of evil as there are types of good. Of course I don’t think you or Robert are suggesting that evil & good are black and white. 🙂

  • Hm… Was Sandor Clegane good or evil?

  • forged

    Very interesting post. For me, defining good or evil is something easier to do as
    a beholder of the action taking place than the person doing the action. Using the example Sean pointed out, a person following the ends justify the means doesn’t necessarily make him anything more than driven to achieve their goals at any cost. However, someone watching those actions could well believe them to be unacceptable.

    I find that I when I create adversaries for players, if I just keep in mind that their opposition seldom thinks of themselves as being in the wrong makes it a lot easier to figure out what they are likely going to do to achieve their goals.

    When putting a personality in a system like D&D that has alignments … I first figure out what makes them tick, and then look to see what alignment closest fits how they are going to be perceived. I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to do it though.

  • Juggernaut1981

    My own view of evil has been about self-interest versus generosity.

    An evil person will stand up for someone being persecuted under the law, if it will serve their self interests. My favourite evil scumbag is Iago from the play Othello. Nothing more than a few words here and there, ensuring people turn up at the right time to view things badly and so on. All so he can get what he wants, the job, the power and the woman. The Evil person will do a favour, just so they can collect later… the classic “I got a deal you can’t refuse…”. Honestly, Breaking Bad has a whole cast of evil characters. I don’t think I can claim any main character in that show except for the FBI agent and the Disabled Teenager are “Good” the rest are fairly evil. Plus there is the classic temptation leading to more temptation leading to ‘down the rabbit hole’.

    When I create NPCs, I basically want to know how self-interested they are. This will externally appear as their level of evil. The amount they plan, organise as opposed to taking the opportunities that come past as they do is their level of “Lawful” vs “Chaos”. The long-term planning manipulators who play people like chess would be my Lawful Evils. The opportunistic scammers, who sieze what comes past (A bit like Ferengis in Star Trek or Looters at a Riot) are my Chaotic Evils.

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