Warning: The material presented in this article is of a sensitive nature. If discussions of evil, trauma, mental disabilities, abnormal psychology, dictatorship and oppression are offensive to you, reader discretion is advised.
By reading this article you will:
- Learn about the shared characteristics of dictators and psychopaths
- Learn how to portray ‘evil’ characters in your role playing games
In my profession, I work intimately with diagnosed individuals of some of the scariest disorders you could imagine. I won’t go into too much detail, but there are times when I don’t know if the person sitting across from me wants to hug me, hate me, or wear my skin to a birthday party. As a psychologist and a subsequent gamer, the notion of ‘evil’ fascinates me.
In 2011, neuroscientist, James Fallon Ph.D., presented at the Olso Freedom Forum on the relationships of shared traits among dictators across history. Based on his research, dictators share behaviors that align with Psychopathic Disorders. (See here)
‘They are usually charming, charismatic, and intelligent. They brim with self-confidence and independence, and extrude sexual energy. They are also extremely self-absorbed, masterful liars, compassionless, often sadistic, and possess a boundless appetite for power…’
To me, this sounds just like Negan from the Walking Dead. After a fellow gamer, Stretch, pointed me to a video on Bacon Battalion RPG’s page about how to play evil characters (See here), I realized I wanted to get into the mind of a psychopath and write a Negan worthy primer on this topic. This is a step by step, hard and fast primer. The Google+ community gave some great advice, like ‘Make sure all the players are on board’, ‘Don’t be a total d!&*’, and ‘’Evil’ doesn’t mean kill babies’, but I wanted to give more. If you want to play like a real psychopath, like Negan, follow these steps:
Step 1: Build Trust
Playing a psycho is about the long game. If you are going to get into a position wherein you can start reaching your evil goals, you need a foundation of trust or ‘trust’. The biggest mistake players make when trying to be ‘evil’ is that they think it means acting nonsensically; with no moral compass. No successful dictator or psychopath makes decisions for the Lulz. This kind of behavior will cause your teammates to hate working with you and start working around you. You need your PC’s to believe in you, trust in you, and ultimately depend on you (we will talk about this later). Be the first to sacrifice yourself or jump into the fox hole. Your party will think that you are building trust, when really you are building obligation. Do this by:
- Taking all the hardest jobs and not complaining about it
- State that successes are because of ‘we’ and failures are because of ‘the world’
- Instead of ‘I attack the goblin’, state ‘I can’t let that goblin hurt you, someone needs to protect us’
Step 2: Don’t be ‘Evil’
Now this sounds weird, but let me explain the crux of how to be the most evil person in the game.
Being ‘evil’ is not about the pain you inflict on the world or the pain you inflict on the party. Being evil is about the pain you cause the characters to inflict upon themselves.
Here is the secret. Don’t tell anyone this part. Really internalize this. Being evil is about the pain you cause the characters to cause TO THEMSELVES. Anyone can murder a sleeping village. If you have no moral compass, then it is mechanically easier than if they could defend themselves. But, causing the PC’s who love you, trust you, and depend on you mental trauma is hard. Getting them to murder the helpless village takes time and work. This cannot be done if they see you as anything less than an upstanding citizen. There will come a time when you turn the screw, turn the corner, and flip the switch, but you need to do it when the rest of the party doesn’t even realize it happened. Do this by:
- Slowly plant seeds that the ‘other’ is to blame for the world’s problems
- Be patient. This will take multiple sessions
Step 3: Manipulate the circumstances so that you have something they ‘need’
All RPG games will have some McGuffin or item of power. If you can make it seem like you don’t want to wield One Ring, do it. Even better than crucial items are positions of power. Think Negan and Rick. Moreover, think of how dictators start revolutions. They can either pay mercenaries to fight for them or they can convince a population of reasons to fight and just keep the money. If you can get into an authoritative role AND have an item of power, you’re golden. Do this by:
- Taking on the ‘burden’ of wielding the item of power, so that others are safe
- Do remarkable things for the party, villages, cities, governments, and figure heads for obligatory favors
- If you cannot find something the party ‘needs’, convince them they do; ‘It’s the only way’
Step 4: The soft switch
Now is when the tides change. Now is the time you start cashing in all of those friendship, trust, and love tokens that they didn’t even know they owed you. You must posit a plan of action that logically makes sense, even though it will come at a moral price, i.e. slaying younglings at a Jedi academy. This is delicate and when you are most vulnerable as the evil PC. You cannot force the other PC’s to do something; they must believe that they are the ones to do it. This is the secrets to con jobs. If the pawns think you are pulling their strings, it is all ruined. The pawns must not even know they are pawns. If you can manipulate them to do the dreadful thing, (whether they feel bad or not / if they actually believe they are acting justly) you’ve won. Do this by:
- Highlighting and fabricating what will happen if the PC’s doesn’t act
- ‘There is no other way’
- Ask leading questions like ‘How do you want me to distract the guard so that you can stab him from behind?’ or ‘What do you need from me so that you can sneak in without getting caught?’
- ‘It is for the greater good’, ‘We need to protect our families’
Step 5: The hard switch (optional)
Blackmail. Hard and simple. You can now blackmail the other PC’s. This the hard switch. In step 4, the PC’s may feel dissonance or openly disagree with you. Now, they are about to flat out hate you. The best part of being evil’; you don’t have to care about their feelings. Your evil PC manipulated, conned, lied, and snaked your way into having all the cards. You have the item of power, you have the position of power, and you now lose the burden of ‘caring’.
I believe the best way for you to initiate step 5 is through role playing. You have built up to this one dramatic moment; the reveal. Until now, the party would have no reason to suspect that your PC is evil. This is when they get to see just how evil you really are. Role play it like this: Suggest a drastic plan of action; PC openly opposes you; get the PC to speak to you in private and deliver your evil speech, something like:
You’re not going to do it? Oh, sweet pea, you will. And here’s why: I own every card. I own dealer, the table, the chairs. Hell, I own the company that makes the goddamn cards. As long as you still have love in that pathetic heart of yours, I own you, too.
Embellish as needed, but the idea is clear. Explain how your leverage over everything has lead you to rise to power, ala Negan. Have this conversation, in game, with only that PC, but let everyone at the table hear it off camera. I say this step is optional because you could have stopped at step 4 and no one would have been the wiser. You could secretly snicker to yourself about how you manipulated everything, but what is power if not absolute?
My parting comment is of caution. Playing an evil character in this way is vindictive, at best. At worst, you run the risk of damaging yourself, friendships, or others. The danger that comes with playing an ‘evil’ character is that players at the table may feel that you lied to them, presented yourself in a dishonest way, or they may feel manipulated. Even if you have a discussion with your members before hand and are aware of your alignment as ‘evil’, ‘bleed’ may be a factor. I do not and would not promote a person to use these techniques in a subversive way at or away from the game table.