Tuesday, March 6, 2012

March of Evil - Part II: Corruption and Falling

The popular theory is that nobody starts out evil. We're all born adorable, pure souls unfettered by this world which slowly acts to corrupt us. Tell that to the evil baby who keeps stealing the attention of that pretty lady on the train. I'm on to you evil baby, you and your schemes.

In any case today's blog is all about falling from grace, exploring the issue on both sides of the GM screen. As usual I'll be discussing this under the assumption of the Pathfinder, or 3.5 rule sets, but any game that makes some nod towards objective morality and alignment can adapt the advice and rules options below.

Letting the Bad In

Many GMs don't allow Evil Alignments (some also don't allow Chaotic Neutral, or Paladins), and their reasons are simple. These alignments and options have a tendency to be disruptive to group cohesion. Essentially the person playing evil will get frustrated as his party members constantly thwart his attempts to do evil, or the party will resent the evil party member for his acts of blatant badness.

So like all hot button topics in a game, the group of PLAYERS (GM included) should discuss what level and kinds of evil they are comfortable playing with. The following is a list of things to consider when allowing evil party members.

1) How evil? Having a character that is willing to torture enemies, or raise zombie minions is a whole magnitude of evil different from a puppy killing, baby eating, sexual predator. Basically choose your taboo topics early. If as a group you can agree to a line that nobody will cross then there's one disruption nipped in the bud.

2) How to deal with blocking? There will be times when the evil guy will want to do bad things, it's part of the fun of playing such a character. Whether it's pickpocketing a soul for sale on the black market, or setting fire to an orphanage, the player who is evil should be allowed to indulge occasionally without fear of being kicked from the party or constantly thwarted. Conversely a party should not have to constantly put up with a back-stabbing public nuisance that can't be trusted. Below I give some tips on how to play an evil character in mixed company (containing Lawful Good types as well as other evil types). I recommend that as long as the evil character's actions further the party's goals it should be allowed.

3) The Sudden Yet Inevitable Betrayal? Sometimes an evil character will get an offer he'd rather not refuse, betraying the party and placing them in sudden peril. Betrayals happen regularly in popular fiction and they are effective for a reason, being the guy who sells the party out to the BBEG can be a lot of fun, but should be used sparingly. My recommendation is that if your evil character does make a major betrayal strictly for personal gain, then at that point he becomes an NPC under the GM's control. You should have a back-up character ready for this contingency (preferably one who is less inclined to evil and betrayal).

The Renegade Option, or Playing Evil in Mixed Company

Okay so the group has agreed to let you play evil. Now's your chance to put together that mad necromancer, self-serving monk or demonic cultist you've been itching to play. Now lets start with a few ground rules for your character:

1 - Your first loyalty should be with your fellow PCs. If you're Lawful Evil - You have a code that you value above your ambitions. If you're Neutral Evil you see these people as useful tools for your long reaching plans. If you're chaotic evil, destroying stuff is better if someone cheers you on while you do it.

2 - The ends justify the means. Unlike the other PCs who have to risk compromising their morality, you can safely indulge in torture or deals with lesser evils in order to achieve greater ends. When playing in a campaign or Adventure Path, as long as you work towards furthering the plot then you can be an utter bastard, you're saving the world after all.

3 - Be polite, be professional, have a plan to kill every single person you meet. It does yourself and the party no favors if you act like a complete tool-bag to people who are offering your party quests, rewards or people you shop from. On the other hand, if anybody crosses you feel free to brutally, and efficiently murder them. Tell the coroner to put under Cause of Death: "Got in my way".

4 - Be indispensable. If you fill a niche the party relies on they'll be more willing to indulge some of your more annoying foibles. Some groups have trouble filling certain slots (healer, trap-finder or arcane caster I'm looking at you). Find the niche that your party lacks and then be excellent at what you do, the party might find it distasteful when you occasionally take blood samples from monsters you fight, but they'll let you get away with it if you can heal the hundreds of wounds they'll take across an adventuring career.

5 - Make a deal with the Paladin. If your party includes a paladin, then you'll need to hash things out early, I recommend a contract stipulating: A) You will commit no act of evil in the paladin's presence. B) You will not try to corrupt the paladin in any way. C) The Paladin won't ask awkward questions about your actions while not in the paladin's presence. D) The Paladin will not spend an inordinate amount of time trying to redeem you. This mutual non-aggression pact worked for a very long time for an assassin and paladin in my Curse of the Crimson Throne game.

If you follow the above considerations you'll have an evil character who doesn't attract the ire of your fellow party members or your GM.

Falling From Grace

Sometimes a player wants to undergo a corruption/redemption arc. Sometimes a GM wants to keep track of a player straying from their listed alignment. Often it can be difficult to keep track of a player's alignment especially from week to week. Mandating a sudden alignment shift can seem arbitrary and unfair to some players, the following is a simple method of tracking a PC's alignment shift using the all too fun: 7 Deadly Sins.

Each time a player commits one of the following sins give that player a Sin Point (make sure there's an obvious method of keeping track of Sin points on the player's character sheet). If a player accrues 7 Sin Points from any source their alignment moves one step further towards Evil (from Good to Neutral, from Neutral to Evil). The Taint of Sin never really goes away, and a character who commits a sin registers as an evil outsider equal to their hit dice for one hour after committing a Sin when seen under a Detect Evil spell. Doing good deeds does not wash away any Sin Points unless a character is committing an act of repentance. Such a penitent character will undertake a quest, or some act of personal sacrifice (following a Monk Vow without gaining any of the benefits for a full month (or session of game time), doing so removes one Sin Point (to a minimum of 1 sin). Alternatively they can be removed by the casting of an atonement spell. Gaining a full level without gaining a single Sin point also removes 1 sin point (to a minimum of 1 sin).

Lust or Lechery - If a character indulges in sexual talk or acts in such a way as to break the morals of their character/the church or perhaps is disrespectful to the object of their lust they may gain a Sin Point. (Don't be too heavy handed with this one, flirtation and banter shouldn't be discouraged after all).

Gluttony - If a character indulges too heavily in drinking or eating (being drunk during an adventure for example) the character may gain a Sin Point. (Don't be too heavy handed with this one, but if a character is trying to gain sin points by being a violent or mean drunk go for it).

Greed - If a character takes more than his fair share of the treasure, or demands payment for a deed from a poor man he is probably guilty of the sin of greed. This is particularly aimed at those adventurers who haggle on the price of their services when matters are urgent.

Sloth - If a character takes the easy way out, either by taking a deal with a devil or casting a spell with the [evil] descriptor he is committing the Sin of Sloth. Essentially that character is looking to take a short-cut like burn the dungeon down (risking property damage to nearby buildings) rather than going in and facing danger like a hero, or sending waves of zombie minions/demons etc to do the work they should be doing.

Wrath - If a character chooses a violent course of action when an obviously peaceful solution exists then they are guilty of wrath. Killing a village of cowardly kobolds might be worth easy xp, but if the kobolds are cowardly then how much of a threat could they have been? This particular sin is aimed at those characters who tend to execute prisoners without discussing it with fellow party members. Or those that tend to draw swords the second they don't like somebody.

Envy - If a character is jealous of his fellow PC's popularity, piety or treasure drop, or picks on his fellow PC for whatever reason he's probably displaying Envy. If a PC is racist towards elves, or dwarves or halflings and ignores or belittles anyone of such a race they are probably displaying envy (damn those pretty, pretty elves).

Pride - If a character treats NPCs like walking plot speakers, talks himself up and downplays the efforts of fellow PCs in the party then he's probably displaying vainglorious pride.

Other Methods of Gaining Sin Points: Destroying nature and natural creatures can be considered a sinful act especially if committed by Druids, Rangers, Barbarians or other nature based classes. Ignoring the tenets of a character's religion in character also counts as a sinful act. Breaking a code or vow as dictated by a class can also count as a sinful act at the GM's discretion.

A GM can give multiple Sin Points at once if a character commits multiple sins with one act.

Example: Shallo Graves, Neutral Human Necromancer, lusts for the bride of an NPC knight, so he uses a spell with an [evil] descriptor to create a group of skeletons to attempt to murder the knight. This act has Lust, Sloth, Envy, Wrath and Pride all wrapped up together. He gains 5 Sin Points for this particular act of maliciousness, possibly more at the GM's discretion.

In any case there is no perfect system for quantifying evil. The above is just a simple method of a GM and player to track their behavior from game to game and to act as a warning for players who chose to play certain alignments and have trouble sticking to it. The system can be gamed (commit 6 acts of sin and ask for an atonement badabing badaboom), but then if they aren't actually sorry atonement won't work. Essentially it's a trick that can only be pulled once, after that the PC needs to change their behavior and redeem themselves the hard way.

I hope you've enjoyed my exploration of the sinister path. On Thursday I'll cook up an evil NPC your characters will love to hate. Until then feel free to discuss this post either below, on my Facebook Page, or on This Thread at Paizo.com. Until then, feel the powah of the Darkside.

Your Dudemeister,

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