We had the opportunity to participate in the panel from Stephen Radney-Macfarland and Amanda Hamon Kunz on running evil campaigns at this year’s PaizoCon. They made some excellent points and shared a lot of tips with us. With a recent Adventure Path, and upcoming Horror themed ruleset, we wanted to expand on the ideas to those who might want some guidance before committing to the ideas behind it.
Crossing the Lines: Running Evil Campaigns
For years friends and acquaintances have held the idea of running (or playing) an Evil campaign up like a dark Grail of potential fun to be sought. GMs toy with the idea like a taboo to be teased and players often proclaim the black deeds they’d do if they only had the moral latitude. But before you charge off on black destriers consider the following:
- Consent: Yup. There is no way around this, if you want to run an evil campaign that starts and stays fun, you are going to have to map out some boundary lines. This needs to be a thoughtful discussion that is as candid as possible. Take the time to discuss possible triggers and motives. Make sure you are aware if someone has limits with certain actions, and if the objections are too frequent in your initial discussion you need to consider if you should run the game or suggest a player or players sit the evil game out.
- Rules Realities: The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game was designed with heroic adventuring in mind and the rules support this. Standard party metabalance for instance relies on a cleric that can heal. Many evil classes get dark echos of such abilities and unless a PC has Negative Energy Affinity, that isn’t going to be worth much on the healing front. GMs are going to need to be creative in gearing and supporting the parties needs for healing and other similar abilities.
- Content: Aside from a couple of Adventure Path’s, published content for evil-aligned parties is limited. Similarly, expansion and “splat books” tend to focus on rules-content that favors good-aligned creatures. Be prepared to spend a little more time preparing these aspects of the campaign.
- Motive: Making sure the PCs remain motivated can be particularly challenging for the GM of an evil campaign. “Because it’s the right thing to do” covers a lot of ground in the day to day of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. A GM has a lot of work to do to help the players flesh out their evil PCs to be consistently engaged in the dangerous work of adventuring.
With the darkside’s challenges above, it isn’t all that surprising that people never seem to get around to running the “bad guy” game. But don’t despair there are a lot of tips and tricks to getting good at playing bad. Here are a few recommendations:
- Grab the Reigns: Most evil campaigns need a firm, controlling hand. The GM needs to be able to motivate and unite the PCs more certainly than usually because of the inherent selfishness of the evil party and possible lack of morality. If you have Lawful aligned PCs don’t hesitate to use the influence of society to reign in when needed. If you have a more Chaotic balance, lean on religions, money or even more extreme mechanics like drug addiction or poisons.
- Bring Out the Bad Guys: Amanda and Stephen pointed out that while a good party opposes evil, the evil party might just well oppose EVERYTHING. From the first time you run it angels, metallic dragons, and other servants of good become antagonics. Demons, devils and the other baddies? Competition. Evil games get to fight everyone and romps through nearly any Bestiary page you want.
- Adapting Content: Value is value. If a good party would save something, an evil party might want to control it. By adjusting the “motive sliders” in established modules and adventures you can fit them to an evil game. Rescuing the prince becomes a blackmail hostage double cross. Freeing the captive outpost may mean a change of the official governance of the PCs choice. This procees is time consuming but still may be a better option than writing a campaign whole cloth for some GMs.
- The Redemption Issue: It is probably best to sort out the issue of possible redemption as early in the campaign. This will defintely determine limits or lack there of some many if not all of the PCs. Generally, this is a metagame determination that then gives guidance to players as to how far they may wish to take things.
- Rivals: Evil groups tend to cultivate rivals in a way some groups miss. GMs should seize the opportunity to mirror and ape the party if appropriate. Building intense rivalries in an evil game can be very satisfying AND motivating. You just might want to make sure the rival has a nice steady stream of new recruits…
If your group is up for the experience, an evil campaign can allow you to tell stories that you will share in no other way. Make certain you have buy-in and let the corruption fly! If your players aren’t ready for that or it feels like a bad idea, don’t worry, their is an infinite plane of heroic adventure still beyond.