The Evil That Men Do
It may not seem like there is a great deal difference from one type of evil to another, but the subtleties are there and deserve investigation.
Any time you get a group together, politics kick in. Some people are popular, some aren't. The same thing goes for orcs, kobolds and gnolls. Some people have the power or knowledge to get things done, and can get valuable goods or services through exchange (or extortion) . If you've got a tough group of PCs, you need to give them a challenge worthy of their powers. The most obvious way to do this is to throw bigger monsters and more potent spells at them, which works well enough some of the time. But the other way to challenge them is with smarter monsters – monsters who are organized and have enough sense to properly employ their numbers.
With chaotic evil, the unifying factor is “fear of the big guy” (just as with chaotic good, the unifying social factor is “desire to look out for the little guy”). Chaotic evil has a reputation as “the eeeeevilest evil” because the big booty-trouncing red dragons and unspeakable demons from the Abyss were chaotic evil. Maybe there's a connection, but it works in the other direction. Big Red isn't powerful because he's chaotic evil. He's chaotic evil because he's powerful. When you can win any argument by saying “Hey, talk to the 14-die breath weapon,” there's not a lot of incentive to be organized or reasonable.
Chaotic evil is lazy evil: It gets things done in the simplest possible way. Chaotic evil can also be considered “efficient evil.” Coveting your neighbour's house? Conk him over the head and move in! Don't like adventurers creeping in your dungeon? Waste 'em! Nothing troubling you at the moment? Take a nap! Like every other alignment, chaotic evil types tend to hang out together because they understand one another. These groups don't have a lot of rules or formal structures. The boss is the boss because he gets things done and is strong enough to bend others to his will. The underlings want to be in charge, and one of them will probably get ambitious enough to attack the leader eventually… assuming the leader doesn't crush him first.
A society based on violence and poor impulse control has some built-in limits to its size. No matter how powerful the leader is, his number of followers is limited to those he can personally awe or bully. If those followers eat to live (as opposed to demons, who only eat for the fun of it), the number is far more limited, because chaotic evil types don't have the patience to farm or the organization skills to make slaves do it. Basically, chaotic evil groups are like biker gangs in those old 1950s scare flicks. They're tough, they're mean, they're unpredictable, they ride in and seize what they want, but don't stick around because they really can't. Once they've stolen whatever they can carry, there's no reason to stay. There's off to the next town ripe for the picking.
Individually, chaotic evil beings tend to be the toughest because they're most likely to do crazy stuff like fight to the death or meet a massed charge with a massed charge. Their tactics tend to be built around mobility, surprise and overwhelming offense. But because they burn twice as bright, they last only half as long.
These problems only get amplified in a society where everyone's looking out for number one, and there's no states or implied punishment if you successfully kill the boss. Chaotic evil gangs tend to scatter when the leader dies, and if you negotiate with underlings it doesn't take long to find someone who'd love to slit the chief's throat – if he thought he could get away with it. As individually tough as they are, chaotic evil societies are among the easiest to take apart. Methodical patience and a willingness to play inevitable factions off against each other can be the party's greatest allies when dealing with such groups.
All the problems chaotic evil societies have are not problems for lawful evil. Chaotic evil is the cycle gang who kicks down your door, steals your stuff, burns your house and deep-fries your puppy dog – then leaves. Lawful evil is the faceless bureaucracy that seizes your house through eminent domain laws, confiscates your property with a court-ordered foreclosure, puts your puppy dog to sleep because it wasn't registered, and then offers to rent your old house back to you at a reasonable rate. Lawful evil is organized. Violence is the last resort, after it's tried blackmail, bribery, threats and devious back room political maneuvering. Chaotic evil hates to back down from an open fight. Lawful evil hates open fights: it would much rather sneak into your bedroom, cast a sleep spell on you to make sure you're really out, then put a pillow over your face. So much tidier.
Lawful evil societies have far, far greater potential for longevity and growth because they're based on obedience, order and deferring gratification. Where chaotic evil wants it now, lawful evil wants it all, and if it has to wait ten years to wear you down, it's got a clear calendar. It's simple to take down a chaotic evil society: you just kill the boss. (This may not be easy, but it's simple.) Rarely is it that straightforward in a lawful evil society, because the structures of the society are what make it evil. Cut down one corporal in the army and another comes straight out of the military academy to take his place. Lawful evil might have a few noteworthy individuals who serve as champions and leaders, but they don't rely on them the way chaotic evil does. You can hack a few branches off, but the tree is still there.
For instance, imagine a society that holds that “Only old male humans are worthy of respect.” If you fall outside those three categories it's okay for an old male human to rob, enslave or imprison you. If you've got one of those traits, you're better off than those with none, and if you've got two you're almost a citizen – but not quite. The old male humans have got a good thing going, so they support the system. The old male elves and dwarves are second class citizens, but they're still better off than young women, so they can't complain too much. But if you're a young halfling woman, you better not show your face in public because you have no legal recourse for anything anyone wants to do with you.
Conquering a lawful evil society is no picnic because they plan, organize and obey their superiors. Lawful evil societies are built on the idea that individuals are tools. There is nothing unique or special about any particular hobgoblin in the army, so the strategies and tactics of the lawful evil mob are based on the idea that any individual can do it. They tend towards fortifications, siege engines, phalanxes and defensive technologies like shields and armor.
Unlike either chaotic or lawful evil, the neutral evil organization both respects the laws, and tries to find a way around them. There is structure, but it is loosely created and even less adhered to. The ideal situation for a neutral evil 'person' is one in which he can convince the opponent to abide by the rules – the the wile, breaking them himself. They are hypocrites, two-faced dealers that provide a back-drop for their gains, and then destroy their own rules whenever it becomes troublesome to deal with them.
In many games, the neutral evil character is rightfully described as 'Neutral Me.' Their number one goal is not simply to acquire power, or riches, but to grasp anything that they desire. After they have gained it, they may as well forget about it and move on – once its usefulness is finished, or the thrill of the acquisition is gone. Chaotic evil wants it now. Lawful evil wants it all. Neutral evil simply want it, and will go to any lengths, including patience, outright bartering, or even working with a good party to get it. The neutral evil villains do occasionally keep their word and stick to contracts – when it is in their best interest.
Where you can trust chaotic evil to rampage, and lawful evil to tyrannize, you just can't trust neutral evil to do anything. They even break their own rules. Unlike chaotic evil, they have no problem with impulse control – they can machinate with the best of them. Unlike lawful evil, on the other hand, they have no desire to organize or conform, and can adapt their plan and their nature as suits the situation.
While this can make for an extremely powerful individual, neutral evil societies are rare and short-lived. People with neutral evil tendencies rarely care enough to gather in groups, unless the payoff is rich. They almost never create established communities, or form organized and structured government systems – what would be the point? They would all ignore it, machinate the rules, and eventually destroy the society they had created. A neutral evil individual prefers to find an existing society and abuse its laws and systems for their own gain, all the while pretending to adhere to their structure. This allows a neutral evil to have an advantage over the indignant residents, who actually do follow the laws and rules, and won't see the neutral evil's plan coming until it's too late.
Then, after the neutral evil individual has taken everything he wanted, he moves on and finds another society to exploit. Good, evil, beneficent or malevolent – it doesn't matter, so long as the neutral evil gets whatever he was searching for.
The occasional small neutral evil society that does form must have some other reason to stay together. Family units, parasitic creatures, or other systems where the group is more powerful than the individual can work, but only so long as all parties know that they would not be better off alone (or if they could not exist apart). In such circumstances, the leader is often the individual who can manipulate the others into supporting him, or whose personal ability outshines the others. Even so, he should always be aware that the rest of the society is looking for ways around his command, and to “slip the bonds” of his control.
Conquering a neutral evil society is a laughable prospect. First, they aren't organized enough to “conquer”. If you march in and claim the area, they will certainly agree with you – and then quietly assassinate your generals, commanders, and whoever else needs to be removed in order for you to leave them alone. Ordering tithe or obeisance from a neutral evil group will bring you a great deal of polite lip service, at least until such time as you realize their shipments of grain were poisoned, and now your peasants are dying by the score. Neutral Evil doesn't need pride, and it doesn't need to be “respected.” It isn't going to fight you face-to-face, and it won't burst into a rampage of chaotic slaughter when you trigger its anger. It will smile politely, bow, and then stab you in the back when you least expect it. It will find your weak link, and exploit it. The dagger in your back might be held by your dear wife, convinced that you are a shapechanger, or even from your closest friend. The worst part is that the neutral evil individual has most likely convinced these people that they are doing it “for your own good.” All behind the scenes, of course, and carefully ignoring only the rules that would constrict his actions.
Background: Coming Soon…
Game Notes: Coming Soon…
Role-playing Tips: Coming Soon…
//Crazed, Insecure, Letch, Loyal, Manipulator, Savage, Selfish & Zealot archetypes are on their way.
//Due to a hard drive malfunction I've had to start over with the unfinished archetypes (Damn you Windows and your BSoD :x ) Anyway, might have half of them done by tomorrow evening - will post whatever I've got done by then regardless.
Wow, completely forgot about this, aha! Once I've settled myself back in, perhaps you shall see evil wandering the streets of Narfell! Mwhahah… As such, also expect a new PC.
Background: Some people fit into any type of situation; from a seedy bar to an elegant dinner party. You feel at home everywhere. Your social skills are put to sinister uses as a Chameleon, allowing you room to hatch your own fiendish plots without reprisal.
You may have developed these skills in any number of ways. It could be the result of a survival mechanism, which allowed you to avoid trouble and stay sharp. Perhaps you were taken under the wing of another Chameleon. Perhaps you were always confident. Regardless, you have the charm (and quite likely the looks) to not only fit in, but also get your way.
This social aptitude allows you to initiate any number of evil plans, which generally only you benefit from. Where the Manipulator is someone who has subordinate, and works from behind several layers of protection, you're more of a loner and prefer a more hands-on approach to your work. If the job needs to be done right, you feel you are the only one qualified for the job. This does not mean you must do everything. Quite the opposite. In fact, the effects of your charm can often convince others to perform tasks which they might normally never do, and you, of course, delight in these occurrences.
Game Notes: As expected, Chameleons possess extremely strong social skills. A Chameleon has as much skill in Persuade as they do Intimidate, Bluff or Perform. Characters of this type also has a modicum of skill in disguising themselves as well. Altering your physical appearance may just be as important to your plans as any other social grace. As Chameleons are sometimes loners, they may need strength to back up their silver tongues. However, never showing what you're holding is an important talent that keeps people guessing. Chameleons favor words over swords any day.
Role-playing Tips: Chameleons can be tough to play. It requires you to alter the mood and personality of your character often. This can be a rewarding character type to play, however. It easily gives you a memorable role to step into each session (i.e. "remember when I summoned dire wolves to eat the guards?". As expected, a Chameleon fits into the party easily, by altering his personality to fit (or disrupt) the group dynamic.
Chameleons, often have their own agendas, though, and this can interfere with the rest of the group. Chameleons tend not to be strong fighters, ans so may choose to parley at any cost, or flee with the hope of getting their revenge later.
Background: Physical force, domination, cruelty. This is t he language of the Brute. You enjoy being cruel. You relish in seeing others cower before you, obeying your demands out of fear. Unlike other evil types who enjoy this same type of domination from a distance, you like to make sure you are the one who is dispensing the cruelty. That personal feedback is hard to capture any other way, and the feeling is intoxicating. You prefer to keep your victims alive, so that they languish in humiliation. Death is sometimes necessary, but humiliation is so much better.
Your past is not pretty. You likely suffered on a personal level while growing up. You may have been the recipient of abuse, or simply witnessed excessive amounts of aggression and hostility. You realized, early on, the only path to survival was being stronger than those around you.
Not the most socially adept, you make up in brawn what you lack in brains. If you do not like something, you destroy or at least dominate it. There is little to fear from something you've ground under your boot.
While violent by nature, you do have a (somewhat distorted) moral compass. There are some things you find repugnant, and refuse to do. While they may not stop it from happening, you wont participate in or instigate the activity. This bent moral compass also provides you (some) respect for others treated similarly.
Game Notes: Brutes are not very smart or quick-witted. Most of their physically attributes, particularly Strength, are high. They choose feats that augment their combat abilities. Skill are usually more direct nature. Subtle skills (Bluff, Animal Empathy, Open Lock, etc.) take a back seat. Some skills, such as Intimidate are important to the Brute, however, who needs to hold his ground as a fear-inducing threat.
Role-playing Tips: Some Brutes may only be one step up from mindless killing machines, but most are a few steps above that. In fact, it would mean a short career in villainy without some restraint from brutish tendencies.
While not social butterflies by any stretch, Brutes know when they are being insulted and when they are outmatched. Some Brutes also like to play dumb, to lull their eventual foes into security or overconfidence.
Brutes do not kill outright. Rather, they prefer the feeling of power they received from looking down on a subdued, living foe.
As mentioned, Brutes do have some moral compass, or their own sense of honor. While they will most certainly kill, there are some things they simply will not do, or consider too taboo even for them. It is also this compass that allows Brutes to fit reasonably well into a character party with little difficulty.
A brute may have a problem with hurting kids, or some hang up that stops them from desecrating a banner or church. It is up to you to determine his own morality.
Background: Long ago, you were wronged. Someone slew your family, wiped our your village, usurped your king, desecrated your temple or something equally offensive. Regardless of what happened to you, you took the loss hard. So hard in fact that since that moment, the unquenchable fire of vengeance has driven you. A nothing having to do with those that wrongs you is now guilty by association and must suffer in the same way you did, or you simply destroy it.
Avengers are the most driven of individuals. They focus all their energy on their one task, never giving a thought to much else, let alone what they will do if they actually accomplish their task.
As befits their situation, avengers tend to be loners, unless they can find (or coerce) others that share a common cause with them, even if it is from a different perspective. Avengers put much of their energy into making sure they are ready for the moment, whenever it may come, to square off with those that wrong them and extract their final vengeance.
Avengers also take a long view. Though their vengeance is hot, their path toward that final confrontation can be long. Many feel this is done to let those that wronged the Avenger know that their end is coming. It may be a ways off, but it is coming nonetheless.
Game Notes: Avengers suffer socially. Nearly all their energy is devoted to the physical aspect with high Strength, Constitution and Dexterity scores. Skills that allow the Avenger to gain the upper hand are also favored. Hide, Persuade, Move Silently, Spot, Listen and Lore skills are good choices. Combat-oriented feats are the best choice for Avengers as they need that physical edge.
Role-playing Tips: Avengers are not necessarily gruff, unapproachable individuals, but they most certainly are focused. They tend to be loners, as it is unlikely that they can find others who feel as passionately as they do about their cause. Avengers are not stupid however, and easily join up with a party of adventurers. This is especially true if it helps to further their mission and goals. At the very least, an Avenger can tolerate the party. How long the Avenger stays with the group is another mater altogether.
You should determine what happened to the Avenger in his early days, and work out major points in the background. Having every detail laid out might actually take some fun out of the gaming. Leave some room for you to improvise as the campaign progresses.
Now that you've established that you want to be evil, you need to determine exactly what sort of evil you are. Granted there are some character classes that dictate the style in which you player that character. In those cases, you have a compulsory brand of evil. But there are those of you that want to be an evil fighter or rogue, with no desire to move into one of those evil prestige classes. Since you are here, you must want something more than to merely menace the local townsfolk.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Nothing here prohibits you from combining traits from several of the personalities listed below. These are guidelines and the first step into your journey towards true evil.
You may notice there are no evil overlords, megalomaniacs, or tyrannical dictators on this list. This is intentional. For starters, none of these archetypes are 1st-level characters. Your career of villainy starts at the bottom and before you can lead an army, you'd best learn how to organize a small band of brigands. These archetypes are purposely obtuse to leave the room of growing your character in your hands.
Each description begins with a background for how and why evil behaves the way it does. This is meant as an inspirational springboard, look into your own past and decide why you're insecure instead of brutish. The game notes tell you how your personality translates into actual game rules. Remember, these are not hard and fast rules, so just adopt a specific archetype that fits. Finally, there are role-playing tips. You know why you are the way you are. How does that translate during interaction?
These personality archetypes are suitable for nearly all character classes.
Heroes can make the best villains.
Well, okay, being a hero and a villain at the same time is impossible for a sane character. But few things are as chilling as a villain who used to be a hero. And fear can be a villain's best friend.
However, when the idea of the Fallen Hero comes into play, the most important question to ask is why. What has convinced a hero that all the nonsense she was fed by the forces of good was a lie? Villains can be terribly persuasive, but the vast majority of heroes ignore their sensible explanations and wade in, swords or spells flying. Why did she listen, when most other heroes wouldn't?
Some Possibilities Include:
Betrayal: If someone abandoned the hero at a critical moment, the experienced may have shattered his faith in good. This is especially true of heroes who place great stock in trust between friends. A villain who recruits such a former hero might find him short on loyalty and honor, but long on rage and pain. Fallen heroes of this type make good throwaway weapons, but rarely have staying power. The few that manage to give endurance to their bitterness as utter terrors as enemies, as they have given up hope for hate. They tend to be chaotic evil, driven as they are by fury and madness, but a clever villain can coax them into any alignment.
Broken: Even heroes have their limits. If a villain has enough time, patience, and sheer ruthlessness, he can simply torture the hero into submission. This is a very risky scheme, of course. Even if the hero doesn't escape, other heroes are like to come charging to the rescue. On one hand, a broken hero is highly unlikely to tun against the villain for a long time, if ever, without the help from other heroes. Broken heroes tend heavily towards lawful evil, serving the master without question. On the other hand, somewhere beneath the fear and subservience is likely to be a lot of hatred, and if the enslaved former hero can kill the villain, there may be a new warlord (of any evil alignment) in charge.
Cowardice: While this isn't a likely fate for a true hero, some more neutrally-aligned adventurers aren't as brave as their comrades. All it can take is one moment of failed courage to push someone teetering on the edge into evil. Such a 'villain' probably isn't very villainous, having decided to be worthless rather than aspire to anything, but is both dangerous and unpredictable. A Fallen 'hero' of this variety is likely to be neutral evil, only looking out for themselves.
Love: Love isn't just for heroes. Opposites attract, and a great hero and epic villain are as opposite as it's possible to get. While many such affairs end in tragedy, sometimes one character decides to make the leap and join the beloved on the 'other side.' While, annoyingly, this usually results in a villain's conversion to good, occasionally a hero will make the 'sacrifice' of becoming a villain. Fallen heroes of this type tend to be the same alignment as their beloved, but both villains tend towards lawful evil. Villains can love, but even evil characters require trust to love.
Magic: There are plenty of ways that evil can be forced on a hero in a magical world. The infamous helm of opposite alignment is the best-known method to turn a hero into a villain, but there's plenty of other ways of literally changing a hero's mind. The problem with this sort of 'Fall' is that it's artificial. Heroes and deities tend to be very forgiving of this sort of thing, so long as the forms are followed when the 'victim' recovers. In the meantime, however, the new villain tends to embrace evil as completely as a hero cherishes the ideals of good. Alignment is usually the exact opposite of the former hero's, though a powerful villain can theoretically force any alignment on a hero.
Revenge: Revenge can create heroes, but the powerful emotions engendered by wanting to destroy one's enemies are so easily nudged into more thoroughly evil impulses… at the right moment. A hero driven to kill 'the enemy' might find that other villains don't sound as misguided as they used to. In fact, a villain who can deliver the murderer of a hero's family might find that the most trusted ally possible is a Fallen hero. Such heroes tend to be lawful evil, never quite accepting the idea that they've crossed the line. They maintain fragments of the old code of honor but are willing to do things that would make 'real' heroes ill.
Welcome to the dark side.
On the other hand, there are those rare few villains who are actively evil as a philosophy. In many ways, these are the most dangerous villains, since convincing them that what they are doing is wrong is effectively impossible. They know that what they're doing is wrong. They don't care.
The ideas of good and evil are based on means. Two men can be utterly dedicated to healing their nations and freeing them from the power held over them by other countries. One uses peace, charisma and sheer will, and now the name Gandhi is all by synonymous with love for one's fellow man. Another uses hate, rhetoric and force, and now stomachs turn around the world churn when people hear the name Stalin.
When someone rejects the idea that there are unacceptable means, they are in effect embracing evil. They may not call it that (see Who Says We're Evil? for some of the many possibly justifications), but a few villains are honest about what they are. They tend to define evil evil. For example, unless you've been under a rock for the last twenty-odd years, you're familiar wit ha villain who wears all black and wields a glowing red sword. He casually chokes those who fail him with a gesture, he serves an emperor while scheming to supplant him (well, until the final act anyway) and he scares the living daylights out of most of us. He is, for all intents and purposes, the anti-paladin, the knight dedicated to darkness. He makes no excuses and no apologies in the course of his duty. He even takes a perverse pleasure in going about his work. Sure, he 'redeemed' himself in the end, but until that point, he fought to crush all hope and freedom. Why?
Because he could.
It's all about perspective. Someone who is capable of being evil without being deluded about it can do things that no one else can. Such people might be honorable, but it is specifically so that others are able to trust them. The only limits they impose on themselves are the ones that serve them. While a villain who feels the need to justify his actions to himself might balk at some things, because then he'd be 'just as bad as the monsters who hurt me', the honest one can smile as she holds her victim's head under the water. Is someone in your way? Kill him. Did that beautiful countess laugh at your proposal? Capture her. Should the Wand of Power be yours? Steal it. When you're evil and you accept it, you are truly free. All things are possible.
And ignore that empty sensation you think you feel growing in your heart. That's just a lifetime of ingrained platitudes trying to interfere with your destiny. The truly evil have no friends, no love, and no real companionship, but they can literally have anything else. Is it worth the price? Only someone capable of true evil can say.
There are, on occasion, those who truly believe themselves evil, accept it, and even revel in it. But most villains don't consider themselves evil. After all, good and evil are usually defined by the means used to reach the ends. Consider this: these definitions change over time. If a group of well armed strangers arrived in a modern city, found the local mob headquarters, and cut down everyone inside, how would society react? Would they be given rewards, accolades, perhaps the key to the city… or would the police hunt them down at least as avidly as the criminals they killed? Would the public call them good or evil?
Here's another example. Imagine you could bring back all the greatest geniuses and heroes of the past... for a price. You could resurrect King Arthur, Leonardo Da Vinci, George Washington, Confucius, Joan of Arc, Einstein, and a thousand others like them, all given a common language and a full understanding of current events. All you have to do to bring them back is kill one person for every person you restore. The only limits are that the victim has to be biologically human and functioning independently. Whoever asks this shows incontrovertible proof of the offer.
Would you do it? Remember, you can choose anyone as your victims, possibly hunting down the most vicious murderers in the world or finding those in great misery and ending their lives. In exchange, the greatest of all those who have changed the world for the better would be brought back to do it again as a team. Is that evil?
In the d20 system, evil is defined as being harmful to others. But good characters routinely slaughter others in their homes for being evil. If the long-term goal is benevolent, is a conqueror really more evil than such so called “heroes”? Even in the highly mechanistic fantasy worlds that form the system's origins, most evil forces have some sort of justification for their actions.
For that matter, it's even possible to have a mixed party – members who are both good or neutral and evil – without having the members turn on each other. The important point is the motivation of the group. If the king is greedy and vicious, and killed the families of two different party members, one could have dedicated herself to protecting others, while a second may have sworn to live his life for revenge. There are shades of good and evil, and groups with the right shades and desires can get along without too much friction. Avoiding antagonism entirely between good and evil is impossible, but a common cause can keep the party members focused and away from each others' throats.
The biggest problem with an adventuring party that includes good and evil members is that the methods of the evil characters will, by definition, appall the good ones. If the heroes freely turn a blind eye to the activities of their evil colleagues, they're not only hypocrites, they're cowards as well (This, of course, makes them prime recruiting material.) On the other hand, if an evil character is adventuring with the more typically self-righteous heroes, she'll either have to suppress her desire to deal with the common threat more expediently, or carefully hide any activities that her traveling companions would disapprove of.
Another matter is that, as previously mentioned, what is permissible in the name of good changes over time. If a hero from the distant past stealthily slits the throats of those he deems guilty, and this was part of accepted justice in his time, does his alignment change from good to evil?
What it comes down to is, people almost never do something unless they feel that they have some sort of right to do so. As discussed previously, that justification may be anything from claiming that the world will be a paradise when the villain is done (and the suffering of a few people is a comparative drop in the bucket) to the strong prey on the weak, no matter what anyone says, but a few people readily accept the idea of hurting, enslaving, or killing others simply for enjoyment.
So what does all this mean to the budding warlord or mastermind? An easy question that has no easy answers. How do you sleep at night when you burned entire villages to the ground, or keep nobles chained in your dungeon of horrors, or crush a helpless enemy's throat in your fist? This isn't as simple a matter as motivation. Anyone can want to throttle someone for being amazingly annoying or terminally stupid, but not many actually give in to that desire. It is evil's very definition to be able to cause suffering with little remorse. Most villains can justify the suffering they cause in one way or another. Knowing how your character can accept the things he does in achieving his goals is a big step in understanding what makes him evil.
There's a thin line between having heroes staring in fear at you and grimly planning to cut you down. That line is called style and all the best villains have it. The thing is, style is hard to define, doubly for a villain. In most cases, what will mark you as a stylish villain differs from culture to culture. Desert nomads whose heroes show no mercy won't be impressed if you let them go, no matter your reasons – they'll just re-equip and come after you again, noting your stupidity. On the other hand, heroes from an empire steeped in honor will be struck to your devotion to your methods and will treat you with respect at the very least.
A few things will always stand out, however. Even the most heartless villain cultivates a valuable social resource – flair. Going about your business with a certain panache impresses even those who hate you: if you're wealthy, for example, know all the best wines, or have an artistically designed prison instead of the stereotypical blocks of stone with chains hanging out of them; if you're stealing the crown jewels, leave a chilling calling card, like putting the heads of the guards you decapitated in a certain pattern; and a stunning wardrobe is an absolute must for the would-be conqueror of the world. Even if you're plotting in secret, you can always have a special mark or signature to let your victims know that they faced an unbeatable foe. When the princes walks into a room and sees the spider drawn in blood, or your nemesis barges into your recently abandoned warehouse and finds only a dagger thrust through a rat – again – they will know that you are one step ahead of them.
Another way to leave an impression is subtlety. Anyone can beat a prisoner bloody, after all. If all you're going to do is pound on things, you might as well be a hero and cut your way through an army of orcs or some such drivel. But it can be so much more satisfying to watch that legendary paladin go pale as you hold up the ring his beloved never takes off.. And think about how the wizard will react when her mighty spell fizzles around her, and you smile as you point out the edges of the anti-magic field she walked in to.
Mere viciousness may shock adventurers for a moment, but the unknown will throw a chill into the most stalwart hero's hear. So when the courageous band of wanderers burst down your door and demands that you show them the haughty princess, sure, you can have your guards drag her semi-conscious brutalized form. But think of the looks on their faces when, instead, you ask their indulgence, and have your latest dancing girl entertain them. Then, when their patience runs out, smile, and have the girl lift her veil covering her face. Of course, it's the broken once-haughty princess, Of course, they'll be horrified and furious. But they won't know how you did it, and one moment of confused terror is worth a thousand executions.
The difference between the epic master villain and the small-time hood is the ability to think big. Anyone can aspire to become the leader of the local Thieves' Guild. It takes something more to plot the control of an entire kingdom's underworld. Gangs of brutish thugs can control city blocks, but only a warlord with the charisma and vision to put a mighty army together can sweep across continents. The least apprentice can conjure a bit of air or flesh to slash as a wandering do-gooder, while only a master wizard can patiently put together legions of undead to bring darkness and despair to a green and pleasant realm. Heroes may rail against the horror you've unleashed, but even they'll be impressed with the dedication and thought you've put into your plans. More to the point, big plans are harder to disrupt, simply due to the inertia that drives them. If you're clever, you can even compartmentalize your schemes, so that dispersing one legion in your army or stopping one assassin will only be a minor annoyance. The rest of your army or killers will be able to proceed unchecked, since the heroes can only be in one place at one time. Of course, this will force them to come to you, but at least it will make your enemies more predictable.
Finally, let's face it, even heroes are disgusted with villains who fold as soon as something goes wrong. The dedication to working evil in a big way can also include the resolve to keep fighting when a scheme fails. This doesn't mean clinging stupidly to a ruined plan, of course. You didn't put that escape tube in your main chamber just to fight to the death, now did you?
You didn't build an escape tube? That was foolish.
Regardless, a truly epic villain always comes back for more. Even if you're in one of those annoying planes where good always triumphs over evil, you can always get your own in. The hero may stop you from conquering the world, but she never ousts you from your own keep for long, and you can always kill her boyfriend in revenge. Fight for victory until a plan is no longer tenable, and if it comes to that, be certain to have numerous escape plans. The heroes may have foiled your plan, but at least you'll have the comforting echo of a hero's frustrated cries to remember as you build anew.
And, of course, in most planes it is possible for evil to triumph. Live life with panache, make your plans great, keep the heroes guessing, and never give them the satisfaction of seeing you give up. Even if you feel the urge to go over to good, do it in a big way. No one is impressed with wishy-washy evil.
This is an important question.. Town guards are a silver piece a dozen. Noble kings are just doing their job. Heroes, when you get right down to it, don't seem to need any more justification than me good, you bad. But if you're going to be more than just another forgettable cutpurse, you need to know how you ended up enjoying the cries of your victims and the crunch of your enemies' bones beneath your steel.
Three basic ways of understanding evil can be followed from the three evil alignments. While not all evil characters will stem from one of these three paths, some element of them is in the vast majority of villains.
Most people are ignorant fools, and I know what's better for them than they do.
Look at the world, and what do you see? Chaos. Hatred. Stupidity. Millions of people willing to kill over shades of skin colour, or a few inches of boundary on a map, while greed kills millions more through hunger and disease. If someone with the will and the power crushes those who allow this in the name of some absurd concept called freedom, it may be evil, but which evil is greater?
The seductive path of the lesser evil leads to Lawful Evil regimes, which are perhaps the most powerful form of evil. Good people may cringe in their homes while jackbooted sadists march triumphantly in the streets, but everyone has food on the table and the carriages run on time. Villains with a superiority complex can easily imagine running the world better than their lessers.
There are two types of people in this world. Those who inflict pain, and those who suffer it. I know which I want to be.
Why are people so fascinated by powerful monsters? Dinosaurs, sharks, badgers, and lions all mesmerize us with their strength and viciousness. Who hasn't wished to be ferocious or invincible? Is there anyone who hasn't been hurt and wished that they could avenge themselves without fear? Of course not. All it takes for Chaotic Evil to take hold is the understanding that either you're hunter or you're prey. And who's to say it's wrong to enjoy the fear in your prey's eyes as you prepare to strike them down?
In the end, everyone finds a way to take that they want. I'm just honest about it.
Lawful Evil and Chaotic Evil find excuses for what they do. Not these villains. Neutral Evil is all about you, you, you. Who cares about some starving peasants? What kind of fool worries about looking tough? It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, friend, and if you're not looking out for Number One, you're wearing bone underclothes. The world doesn't care, and neither do people, no matter what they say. This sort of evil is convinced no one really cares about anything except themselves, usually through painful experience. The only smart choice is to do the same.
So how smart are you?