I’m running a game for just one player, and he decided to make an evil Fighter.

I’m running a game for just one player, and he decided to make an evil Fighter.

I’m running a game for just one player, and he decided to make an evil Fighter. My issue is that I have a bit of a hard time being a fan of his character. Please help me out, are there some sympathetic evil protagonists in other media that I could check out to see if I can figure out what’s missing in this instance?

47 thoughts on “I’m running a game for just one player, and he decided to make an evil Fighter.”

  1. When you say that you have a hard time being a fan, do you then mean that you have a hard time finding ways to let him fulfill his alignment?

    In that case, can’t you just let him mostly fight intelligent monsters that will surrender, possibly bargaining for their life? In that case, you’re actually giving him a bargain; 1 XP or whatever they offer. If he’s also cruel, you can let him have both! Mwahahaha

  2. I’m having a hard time coming up with fronts and dangers to challenge Ajax the evil Fighter. It might be as simple as it feels like role reversal, where I’m used to the PCs being genuine heroes, and I’m throwing evil their way. However, I find her mostly despicable, and given that I wouldn’t root for her in other media, I have a tough time as a GM.

    Perhaps someone could help me with some interesting questions to get to the bottom of her evil, as I the why and how?

  3. If you honestly can’t see yourself being a fan of the player’s character, then why not tell them so. The GM is a player too, and the point of the game is for every player to have fun. If you’re not, or don’t see yourself enjoying this game, say so and try to reach some sort of compromise.

    Or, alternatively, let them be evil. And I mean really evil. If they want to run around murdering people, then let the. If they want to burn down the orphanage with the orphans still in it, let them. All the evil stuff they want to do, let them.

    But make sure to show them them consequences of their actions. Being “evil” when nothing happens as a result of the character’s actions is easy. Being evil despite seeing how much pain and suffering you’re causing people is hard.

  4. Christopher Stone-Bush I don’t think I agree with your last sentence. When players go into “evil mode”, it is usually because there’s a disconnect from the real world that allows them to think “these people don’t really exist.”

    I think the only way to show them consequences is to give them personal consequences. Next time they come back to a settlement, let there be posters everywhere saying “Wanted: Ajax, dead or alive, 10,000 coin reward”.

    Show them that Ajax’s evil nature isn’t tolerated by those in charge and let Ajax deal with that.

  5. Christopher Stone-Bush, I might have to go the route of that comprise, but will start with some questions to the character to see if I can find something to like.

    Your ideas of showing the consequences is good, but I just don’t find myself in the mood for that type of story. Sure, some villainous threat may perform such actions in my games, to the same disastrous effect, but then I’m a huge fan of the characters as they give said villainous types their comeuppance.

  6. I might be thinking too literally, but are you familiar with Sophocles’ play Ajax? Events of that play take place after the Trojan War. There is a dispute between Odysseus and Ajax, and the goddess Athena (who kinda looks out for Odysseus) tricks Ajax into thinking he is slaughtering his enemies (including Odysseus) but he actually is just slaughtering sheep. After that, no one takes him seriously and he ends up impaling himself on his own sword.

    If I were GM’ing a game where someone had a fighter named Ajax who was acting like a dick, I don’t think I’d be able to resist using that, even if it is a little heavy-handed.

    Specifically, I would have him face a foe that makes him delusional but he is not aware that he is under a spell, and have him face social consequences for his ruthlessness.

  7. Christopher Stone-Bush Your post came off differently to me. Mainly because of this part: 

    But make sure to show them them consequences of their actions. Being “evil” when nothing happens as a result of the character’s actions is easy. Being evil despite seeing how much pain and suffering you’re causing people is hard.

    Especially the last sentence made that seem like you thought Ajax would change their ways if she just observed how much suffering she was causing. Is that not what you meant?

  8. On the other hand, going through all that trouble to punish a PC, especially on a solo adventure, might suck all the fun out for both of you. I’m not sure.

  9. I see what you’re saying Kasper Brohus Allerslev. My intent was similar to what you said. As these actually are make believe people and situations, no player is actually going to feel bad for slaughtering them. (There might be some emotional bleed if the GM makes things real enough, but that’s different.)

    What I meant was the world has to react appropriately to the character’s evilness. This is really no different from normal, but instead of a positive reaction, the world is going to have a very negative one. We’re on the same page, I think, I just said things differently.

  10. Have you ever played the game Overlord or Overlord 2? In those games the protagonist is an evil fighter who uses minions to conquer the world. The enemies in that game are made up of the atypical heroes– though they have all been corrupted through some method. Either through gluttony, greed, vanity, lust or so forth, through the rewards of their success from defeating evil they too have become effectively evil and corrupted their peoples in the process. But it is all done in a very humorous way as well.

  11. andrew ferris and the plots for those games were written by Rhianna Pratchett, the daughter of a certain Mr. Terry Pratchett 😉

    But I agree, I definitely think getting inspiration from Overlord is a great idea! Good thinking!

  12. Christopher Stone-Bush I agree completely. The world should lash out at the character and try to punish her. If you want to play evil, chances are you want to deal with the repercussions anyway.

  13. I would be focusing on Ajax’s bonds… I’m assuming that since this is a one-on-one that she has bonds with NPCs? Push there. Find out what is really important to this character and make her hard choices around compromising those intentions. These choices can then be encapsulated into fronts. Give us the dirt on Ajax.

  14. I wonder what it would be like playing an evil character if evil was just the norm in a setting. What if the local village is run by an evil conniving jumped up despot and his underlings, bureaucrats and officials are craven backstabbing malcontents, and the barman at the tavern is a sadist, and the local trader is a slaver too, and the village church is tended by a vile priestess who keeps her flock in constant fear and penury, and the wilderness is populated by life-is-cheap rugged individualists who have no qualms leaving an injured comrade to rot if it’s in their interest. Concepts like glory, mercy, heroism are for children, historians or simpletons.

  15. Surviving as an evil character becomes a lot more difficult, I would imagine, without all the trusting goody-goody schmucks about – and also the character’s evil becomes a matter of degree. She’s more evil than some, but maybe not as evil as some of the others. What path is she going to tread?

  16. Evil ways of earning XP::

    ␣␣ Take advantage of someone’s trust

    ␣␣ Cause suffering for its own sake

     ␣␣ Destroy something beautiful

     ␣␣ Upset the rightful order

    ␣␣ Harm an innocent

  17. There are plenty of awesome evil protagonists in comics and fantasy, check out Elric from the Stormbringer books by Michael moorcock.

    Elric is actually identified as chaotic, as only a daemon worshiping chaos warrior can bring down the even worse chaos warriors.

    Or for a really evil protagonists, check out Mark Millars comic: Nemesis. It’s a world with no superheroes and the only guy in costume is this awful vilian that everyone wants to stop.

    I would actually prefer to run a fantasy campaign with evil protagonists as there motivation can be more personal!

  18. Alexander Gwilt-cox I never meant to arbitrarily punish the players, and telling them the consequences in advance lets the player rethink their course of actions to mitigate the consequences.

    It’s the difference between just letting the player cut down a citizen and throwing the entire city guard after them and telling them that if they do it under the current circumstances, then the entire city guard will be after them.

    No arbitrary punishment, just informed choices.

  19. A brutal move I like to make, when players go after innocent people:

    just let them do it. No dice rolls, no exp. Just say “the peasant’s blood sprays across the wall as he falls in a pathetic heap on the floor.”

    “what do you do now? “

    It’s much more tragic if murdering an innocent is inconsequential, it doesn’t justify the characters evil, give them satisfaction, or really help their cause, it’s just the simple banality of evil.

    Brutal and pointless. Your mileage may vary, but I find it brings home the reality of the characters action more, then the guard coming to get them. 

  20. Evil characters are tricky.

    When people play them in games, they’re basically farcical because they’re just vehicles through which they behave badly. No harm, no foul — I mean, its just a game after all… But it’s also just a joke. They all ought to have evil mustaches, so we remember how cool and evil they are.

    When they’re characters in fiction, they’re more nuanced. They have evil means but usually solid ends. Someone mentioned Elric. I assume Elric wanted things, and being evil was a tool to satisfy those wants. I’d point at the TV show Dexter. I’d point at Arthur Petrelli from Season 4 of Heroes or Linderman from Season 1. I’d point at several popular Western protagonists and antagonists.

    You need to get your player to give you your bearings on Ajax’s personality. What does Ajax think is best in life? What does Ajax want or need? What has been taken from Ajax? Who has been taken from Ajax? And if possible: reflect those answers back at Ajax and make them available with difficulty. With obstacles.

    And then if Ajax wants to make every obstacle bleed, burn them to a cinder, leave them mewling in the streets? That’s Ajax’s call. But then they’re a means to Ajax’s undoubtedly glorious end.

  21. Oh… My personal favourite motive: revenge

    “who is that you would most like to see suffer? “

    “What did the wizard Kormarath do to earn your hatred?”

    “… And what, you just going to let that insult go unpunished? “

  22. My two coins:

    I had a short campaign with three (two evil and one chaotic) players.

    The evil cleric went good, because the playr is an Elemental of Indecision.

    The chaotic druid stayed chaotic and looked after his agendas, which were autofuelling story seeds.

    The evil mage changed alignment condition, to be MOAR evil.

    The story involved a Comet bent on destroying the PCs continent, and  the Wizard’s School (the transparent Academy) which wanted to harnes the comet’s strenght to change the world axis and become the Magic Pole).

    Of course, the wizard had other ideas.

    They did not JUST commit acts of cruelty, but the group, as a whole, was very self centered and anti -heroic.

    So, firts, evil, in my exp. doesn’t necessarily mean Ultimate Cosmic Evil.

    Second, an evil PC can have IMO as many things he cares for, as a good one.

  23. Aha, I just thought of one evil protagonist whom I love, Doctor Horrible!

    Seriously guys, thanks a ton. I think the key here is that I need to ask Ajax a lot of questions, and you have really inspired me in this regards.

  24. Sympathetic evil fighters:

    – Caul Shivers (from Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold)

    – Titus Pulo (from HBO’s Rome)

    – Marv (in Sin City)

    – Riddick (from Pitch Black, etc.)

    I’m sure there’s more.  Go to tvtropes.com and search for “anti-hero” or “sympathetic villain.”  You probably won’t surface for a week.

  25. Haven’t seen any of those, Jeremy Strandberg. I know of tvtropes, but didn’t think to check there, thanks.

    We played tonight and it was alright, some questions helped, but once we got into the thick if things I found it hard to keep interjecting the action with questions.

  26. I’ve read Elric, and he doesn’t come off as evil to me, I even think they mention him being of chaotic alignment.

    Alfred Rudzki points out another reason why this evil character bugs me, she becomes a farce. The player has her kill anyone at any time just for the hell of it, because: evil.

    I am rereading the guide to DW, as I’ve found it much harder to GM than I had expected. I love all of its examples of 7-9 results. A 1 player game moves so incredibly fast too, and I must figure out a better rhythm, and manage to sneak in some questions during play.

    Overall, I’m feeling as the game delivers what it promises, that is the feeling of your first exploration of D&D. Very cool.

  27. Yeah, I think the key is to find the person in the character. Evaluate why they behave the way they do and what makes that their go-to method for achieving their aims. You’re never going to get an interesting character out of someone who’s just EVUL!!!11!!! because they have no actual center to them. But once they do…well, there are a lot of great villains and anti-heroes out there.

    I would disagree with the idea that the protagonist of Overlord is, though. It really wants to sell you on the idea they’re evil, but beyond having glowing eyes and adorable imp minions they aren’t inherently evil. They’re not ever required to do anything actually evil. They fight “heroes”, but they’re corrupt monsters. They can do bad things like slaughter innocents and burn people’s homes, but there’s neither need nor particular incentive and there’s a route through the entirety of the game where they’re actively helping out.

    I’d definitely read Joe Abercrombie for inspiration. Also K.J. Parker, whose protagonists are fully rendered human beings who are often immensely sympathetic and have largely understandable motivations and purposes that lead them to lie, steal, cheat, murder strangers and family alike, ruin nations, perform unspeakable betrayals, etc. Try novels written from the perspective of famous villains (or at least famous in some circles – I’m particularly thinking of P.N. Elrod’s I, Strahd; but there are plenty of others.)

    Consider shows like The Shield (Vic Mackey is a family man and career cop who’s very effective at keeping a lid on crime and providing for his family – by brutal violence, underhanded dealings, theft and drug sales, etc. And since police departments tend to frown on those sorts of methods, his efforts to keep under the radar escalate, and escalate, and his tower of cards keeps getting shakier…), Breaking Bad (a high school chemistry teacher dying of cancer sets out to use his knowhow to make a fast buck at the meth market to provide for his family; and it’s all downhill from there), House of Cards (the original, although the Netflix one is apparently good too – an immensely charismatic manipulator of a politician worms his way into power without a single real scruple blocking his way), etc.

  28. Evil is ascribing no inherent value to human (or in a fantasy setting, personal) life. That is why Hitler and Pol Pot are regarded as evil. I would find it difficult to be a fan of such a character unless he has some redeeming attribute. Ask the player what redeems him and play on that.

  29. Ah, the old “what alignment is this character” debate.  Let’s not go down that road. We’ll be debating Batman’s alignment next.

    Ultimately, Joachim Erdtman, it sounds like your problem your lack of exposure to sympathetic villians, but rather that your (single) player’s evil character isn’t sympathetic (or, arguably, even really a character).

    That’s a social contract-level problem you got there. Only way you’re really going to address it is to talk to the player at the person-to-person level.

  30. Jeremy Strandberg, yes, we did talk about it, but the player thinks that it will be great to find out if there’s more to the character than it seems. I’m still having fun learning the system, and am willing to give it another session. I must get in many more questions during the play, that will certainly help.

    When it comes to sympathetic villains, there are a number of villains that I like. However, only in the sense of seeing a hero kick their tail.

  31. My two cents from my experiences:

    Evil characters tend to be a phenomenon of teens who live vicariously through their characters. I guess in a sense it allows them to deal with urges and curiosities that they can’t (or shouldn’t) in real life. Not always, but often, older players of evil characters have the same motive, not having outgrown it.

    My experience with evil campaigns is that most of the time (there are always exceptions), they repeatedly lose/lack direction. They are vehicles of mayhem which are more fun for the players than the GM. Eventually, whether by outgrowing it or being tired of trying to GM it, I decided I’m supposed to have fun too, and thusly do not allow evil characters at my table. It’s not because I’m a goody-goody or think evil characters somehow lead to worse things – they simply rob the game of fun for me as the GM.

    Your mileage may vary, but it sounds like it won’t. Don’t be afraid to say you’re not having fun, anyway, if you’re not. On the other hand, if you manage to make a meaningful and memorable campaign of it, please share, as I’d be interested to hear about instances of it working out.

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