Reverb Gamers: Shades of Grey

Question #11: Have you ever played a character that was morally grey, or actually evil? Why or why not? If yes, did you enjoy it?

If you believe that you have played a character that is purely good, I would like you to study some philosophy, even just a little bit. The only people who think they can even define purely good are thoroughly deluded. Of course, you can play a character who is deluded.

That out of the way, yes, I've played plenty of characters who are greyer than white, some worse than that, and some who are outright evil. Strangely, some of the outright evil ones are regarded as some of the "best" as far as the safety of worlds goes.

The major conflict in my campaigns has always been law against chaos, because it's so much more interesting than good against evil. And to make things more interesting, particularly within the Planescape cosmology I use, I've always portrayed lawful evil as being the most... effective of the classic D&D alignments, with chaotic good following swiftly on its heels.

So it follows that some of the most notable characters are evil. Let me illustrate a few...

Mazaqual is a pit fiend. He runs a chocolate shop in a small but well-connected Prime city, on a world noted for its planar connections. He does a side trade in information, and most of the time, doesn't charge for it. On the face of it, Mazaqual's only real evil is his persistence in using liquorice as a flavouring for some of his goods.

On the other hand, other fiends defer to him, even the tanar'ri. The sphere of Davon suffers far less than it otherwise might from planar intrusions because it's known as "Mazaqual's World". So what's going on here?

Mazaqual is ancient, even among fiends; three billion years old. And he never died in the first place - he was a mortal summoner and demonologist of such skill and power that over time, he became a pit fiend. He worked his way up through the hierarchy of Baator, eventually emerging at the top as one of the Nine Hells' first absolute monarchs. And then, after a few million years of ruling hell, he stepped aside, in order to focus on his own home world; his "garden". Davonian history since has been the story of Mazaqual's subtle guidance, pressing it bit by bit into a form he likes, and which entertains him. It's not clear if he bows to the gods, or the gods bow to him. Certainly, he's more powerful than some of them - but he remains, in effect, a mortal, and comes and goes through Sigil as he wishes. He rarely intervenes directly in the growth of cultures or civilisations, although he "plants" and "prunes" from time to time.

From the point of view of anyone dealing with him on a day to day basis, Mazaqual is a benevolent guardian of the world. This assumes, of course, that you are not a member of a culture he's "pruning", or someone looking to damage his world, or topple him from his control of it. In that case, he will take the most efficient possible route to remove you from existence, and feel no qualms about it at all. It is, after all, his world.

So from that point of view, Davon is a world where the evil overlord won, and has continued to rule.

On a lesser scale, there's Irichallanak. His brother became a god; he got stuck in the body of an ancient green dragon he killed. Of course, godhood has plenty of problems, and having a draconic body isn't at all a bad thing, particularly when you can shapeshift anyway. These days, he's the king of a mid-sized, mildly impoverished kingdom, and second in command of a league of kingdoms that stretches across the continent. He's the kind of ruler who embodies Machiavelli's thinking, with the additional wrinkle that if Machiavelli had lived in his kingdom, well, Machiavelli would have had a nasty accident, and his books would never have been published. No sense in helping out the opposition. Irichallanak considers fear an adequate tool of state, and uses it often. He's also conscientious about eliminating threats, and indeed, often does so without actually notifying his allies. They might bring in tedious things like process, or the notion that thinking about something isn't equivalent to doing it.

He has the mild foible that he has an intense dislike of slavery. Peculiarly, this has brought him into conflict with his allies more than anything else - although they seem to have been careful never to get on his wrong side in other areas. He's also the one they look to when there's something unpleasant that needs to be done - information to be got out of someone, for instance.

So, do I enjoy playing these characters? Oh yes. Very much so. Neither of them - nor indeed, many of the other evil characters, be they allies or opponents - is evil for any purpose than a pragmatic, straight-froward approach to existence. They know they're evil, as such things are defined and measured. They don't much care about that designation, as long as the job gets done. So there's nothing in there that's difficult to comprehend.

I think it might be a lot more difficult, to be honest, to play a really good character.

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 23, 2012 12:41 PM

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