Motivating evil parties

23 posts / 0 new
Last post
In my experience, it's pretty straightforward to create a goal and motivation for a party of heroic (henceforth used to mean non-evil rather than levels 1-10) characters. Heroic parties tend to follow fairly predictable behaviors: They want to protect innocents, find glory, and smite evil. However, the evil parties that I have experience with tend to be much more self-centered and less likely to take adventure hooks that they don't have a personal stake in.

In one instance I had the party be subservient to a greater power, but this ended up being problematic as well because the players tend to want to follow their own agendas rather than that of some dark master. It's also hard to ask for loyalty from characters who are not expected to demonstrate that quality. I managed to keep them mostly in line with that with threats of violence from their overlord, but I doubt that I would take that path again DMing a new party of evil characters as it ended up feeling a bit limited and constraining a lot of the fun that can be had with an evil party where the players are allowed to take actions not normally deemed acceptable.

Another idea that I have explored as possible motivation is revenge. What seems to happen is that this works well for a while, but the self-centered evil characters that I've gamed with have a tendency to abandon revenge in favor of self preservation when things start to get tough.

A problem that I have encountered with both of these approaches and in general is that evil parties tend to have more group conflict. In the first approach we had a character who was fiercely loyal to the overlord NPC and the others were less convinced that following this character. Some inter-party conflict is fine, but when every hook turns into an hour long debate then it feels like wasting time, especially when some of the players just sit back and wait for the argument to end.

So, I suppose in summary: How does a DM go about keeping a party of evil characters on more of a story arc when they are more likely to refuse plot hooks and be in conflict with each other? Any other advice from DMs who have run successful evil campaigns would also be welcome.
Thanks!
One thing that helps is if the PC's have reasons to stick together or trust each other other than alignment.  Siblings, shared membership in a persecuted race, a functional need (like for a healer or a mage), a mutual hatred for elves, or a an epic villanous plot that they all want to make happen. 

Additionally I would ban chaotic evil in evil parties other than maybe for 1 character.  LE, NE, CN, NN, LN can funtion well together under the rigth circumstances, but CE especially as a majority alignment is a recipe for disaster.

I played in a campaign a number of years ago that went evil during session four b/c the DM told us to build characters for a war campaign and at the end of session three we still hadn't had a decent fight.  So we decided to start our own war.  One PC wanted to rule over all orcs (she was 1/2 orc), another wanted to free his fiendish ancestor from the nine hells, another wanted to become a deity of magic, and my character (the cleric/dread necromancer) wanted to become emperor of the world.  We decided to work together and all but the magic deity guy were able to attain our goals by the end of the campaign.  And we were well on the way to finishing his plot arch when the DM burned out.  He tried for an epic TPK for the final session, but we managed to crush the last gasp of the 'good guys'. 

I needed the orc as a meat shield for a long time and after that her armies were a real handy addition to completing my character goals.  The magic guy was our main transportation system and he and I fortified towns and raised huge armies of undead.  And the fiend descendant was a 1-man assassination squad who also crafted most of our magic equipment.   We spent the entire campaign session 4 onward at war with the governments of the setting.  In the end, we won.  And our party was eerily popular with the general npcs b/c the PC's did things like build orphanages, schools (to house and train future minions), and temples of healing.  And we stopped the world war that had been ongoing by defeating each of the nations ourselves.  It was by no means easy, but it was a fun villainous campaign b/c we all trusted each other, relied on each other, and were fighting with a unifying set of goals.
Got a little experience with this due to my party and one of my players in particular, though they is more morally dubious than evil.
If the arc is heroic in design make the villians plans bad enough and world ending enough they they have to act, maybe give them a clear and visible taster of the end result if possible, the first adventure of my demon summoning/freeing arc had the Zyggtmoy cultists already half destroying an amulet which housed part of the demon queen's essence causing the entire surrounding area to begin to decay, particularly the crops which were due to be harvested soon.

Another option is to give them what they want and in the case of a full evil party what the majority of them want, providing all players goals are met of course, if not so suggest either out of game explaining that the party just isn't working or in game finding a way you can marry up the various goals under a single banner or shared outcome.
If one wants to rule a kingdom and another wants a powerful item the kingdom has said item and the only way to get the item is defeat or near defeat the kingdom, or the item might be a key to defeating the kingdom that will take some work and group effort getting in the first place.
Your players, providing they are mature enough and have enough time before the end goal, with luck should work out their differences and come to some mutially benefitual agreement even if there is money/land/power sharing involved at the end of it, if not and a charater is the 'I will rule all and alone' type maybe forcibly retiring said character and making him an end villian at some point in the future.
I think that part of the problem is that a lot of groups tend to turn to evil parties when they feel bored, directionless, powerless, and unmotivated already, and things tend to deteriorate from there.

Theoretically, the same sorts of things that would motivate a "good" party would motivate an "evil" party, especially since the classic motivations for a "good" party include such classic altruistic motivations as breaking into monsters' homes, killing them, taking their stuff, and returning to town to brag about it and brow-beat the peasants into giving you whatever you want.

In practice, however, what really seems to motivate evil parties is a need to have some unscripted impact on the world, a voice that the DM doesn't permit them to have, choices that aren't on the railroad tracks, an opportunity to express their disillusionment and dissatisfaction, a chance to do something different and work out their frustrations with the limitations of a normal game of D&D.  If they aren't happy with what they get, they tend to escalate the behavior they think will get what they want until they either get what they want, or things break down completely.

What that means is that in a typical game with an evil party, behavior tends to start off being a protest and cry for help, and then spirals out into increasingly sociopathic and disruptive behavior while the DM desperately tries to keep things focused and under control while players kill off key NPCs "for laughs", ignore plots, set fire to important settings "for no reason", and so on - while the DM's best attempts to keep the game on track or to ignore the protests just makes things worse.

Good luck, I hope your group are among the rare exceptions to this!
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I've said this many times on this forum.  I said it just a moment ago in another thread, and I'll say it again here, because I honestly believe it to be true.

Evil campaigns can and do work if everyone involved is honest with themselves and each other about what evil really is.  A hero is a reactive character.  He solves the crime, corrects the injustice.  A villain is proactive.  He commits the crime, perpetrates the injustice.

If your players want to play evil characters, then hold them accountable for the evil they do.  I don't mean punish them or force consequences on them.  I mean to expect them to initiate the action themselves.

You said it yourself.  Evil parties don't respond to adventure hooks.  You're right, so don't give them hooks.  Don't give them an antagonist.  Don't give them an opening action.  Don't prepare anything.  If they want to be evil then the onus is on them to actually do something evil.

Like YronimosW said, they are trying to have a voice of their own, an impact on the world that isn't artificial or handed to them by you.  They want an honest character, not a drone.  Don't fight it.  Embrace it, but the only way you do that is by putting the control in their hands.  Then, after the fact, start introducing heroic antagonists that come along to solve the crime that they committed, correct the injustice.
Sleeping with interns on Colonial 1
First, stop doing plot-based adventures. That means no more hooks. NO. MORE. HOOKS. (Everyone could benefit from that advice, not just DMs who run evil games. Because HOOKS ARE LAME.) Do location-in-motion adventures. This means you create a closed location - an island, a dungeon, a dark valley, etc. You populate it with groups of creatures that are pursuing their own goals which are either bad for the world or bad for the PCs or both. Those groups are not necessarily friendly with each other and sometimes their goals conflict.

You put the PCs in the middle of it and ask them what their goals are in that location (see below). Then you start with an action scene and let the players run the rest of the show. As their goals come into conflict with the goals of the other groups of creatures/NPCs, a good story will be created completely on its own.

Please note this is not advocacy for "sandbox" design. Sand is boring. It just lays there until someone pokes it with a stick. A true location-in-motion adventure has stuff happening regardless of what the PCs are doing unless and until the PCs interfere or intervene. Then it's just a simple matter of the DM honestly portraying the repercussions with an eye toward The Cool. "While you've been over here stomping chitine, the bullywugs are nearly at the grippli village and will be eating their tiny cousins tonight unless you can somehow catch up to them and stop them. What do you do about that?"

As has been noted, evil PCs in particular are proactive. This kind of design gives you enough prep and structure to let them do just that, though it works great for heroic PCs as well. Finally, make it clear at the outset that while the PCs in the party don't have to be friends, they do have to trust each other just enough to work with each other to accomplish their goals. How that fits together is up to them and is best described during a Q&A session between everyone at the table.

EDIT: Because I thought it was particularly relevant, here's an example of how the PCs' quest on a treacherous island (the location-in-motion) in one of my games is going. This is a direct quote from one of my players comparing the original goal to what has been created out of thin air as they went about their business and helped me build the world through shared storytelling: 

so, keeping score, we started out at "go down the temple, get the artifact, and get off the island"

now, we're at "find a way to reverse the effects of a peacockatrice bite, stop the pirates from killing the wart mother, bring the head of flycatcher to the wart mother so she will remove the porwigles, investigate the flycatcher's ship, investigate the meteor crash site, find a way to fix the crashed ship so Gish can get off the planet, establish trade relations with the Grippli, and find some way to get off the island without getting killed by the Crapaud"


 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I actually had just replied to your posting in that other thread, Gaius, to say I didn't quite understand it, but that I'm very interested in learning more.

It's interesting, because, in a way, it sounds like this works by providing the Evil PCs with the platform to act as DMs:  they take over directing the story, choosing the plots, guiding the action.

Which I think would work in a similar way to having a rotating set of DMs bring a constant flow of fresh air into the game.

So, taking a break from DMing and letting someone else take over for a while would certainly address the problem of unmotivated evil parties venting their frustration with the status-quo. 

But, giving the evil characters a pro-active rein on the game can be an alternative way of rotating the DM role... and might work with non-evil characters, and resolve other sorts of problems that would normally be fixed by getting a new DM (DM burn-out, for example.)
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
...and Iserith is adding a couple more pieces to the puzzle: 

Those plot hooks are a carefully-controlled set of politically-correct options that actually limit choices, the sandbox is boring.  If Evil Characters are, indeed, a reaction against an approach to DMing where the players do not have interesting options, then providing more uninspiring plot hooks or a lifeless sandbox will naturally only make things worse.

What the players are actually saying when they say "I want to be an evil character for a change" is that they want to have an interesting impact on the world, they want control, they want to guide the action and see big and exciting things happen.  If they have to set fire to the town and kill the guards to see a horde of screaming angry victims charge out and do and say interesting things, they'll do that, and if something boring happens instead, they'll just keep trying until they find the magic lever that does cause interesting things to occur.

These players want their friends to say: "Thank goodness you did that, and caused something cool to happen - we needed that.  You are an awesome addition to this storytelling team!"



And I'll certainly second what Gaius says, too, about evil campaigns working out.  They certainly can, as long as the group dynamic is healthy.  Evil Parties and characters become the problem they are reputed to be, unfortunately, because they tend to be one of the more common solutions players reach for when something else is going wrong, and most of the stories we hear about Evil Campaigns in "What's a DM to Do" are requests for help when things have gone wrong, and players have turned to Evil as a solution and things still don't work out.  If there's a problem to report, it started before the evil characters were created, and aimless, unsatisfied, "sociopathic" evil PCs are a symptom of a bigger problem....
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
That is one way to look at it.  By brainstorming their evil scheme the players do absorb a significant amount of responsibility for creating the world.  For instance, say the players want to use an orphanage as a recruiting ground for the future thugs of their gang.  Well, the orphanage didn't exist until they suggested that they'd like to have one for that purpose.  Now, poof, there it is!

We do this already with typical character backstory, typical session zero mumbo jumbo.  But those things usually only pertain to the specific character or cross section of PCs and where they came from.  The difference in an evil game is that now we're starting to talk about things the PCs haven't necessarily interacted with yet.  Now we're getting into the arena of building the location.  In this case you do end up with the DM yielding a lot more influence and control over the details of the setting to the players.

The point is that the setting reacts to the players, whereas typically the players react to the setting, which is essentially what iserith is advocating.  I think we're approaching the idea from the same angle.  It works for all games, but it usually isn't the default that groups start from.  So actually calling it an evil campaign can help you "practice" this approach, by providing a concrete motivation for trying something new.
Sleeping with interns on Colonial 1
Excellent advice in this thread, so I'll just repeat a point of view that I've heard in regards to actors who play evil characters: The villain is the hero of his own story.

This is not to contradict what gaiusbaltar said, because I agree that villains generally are proactive. This is mainly additional weight to convince you to ditch alignment, or at least think about it a different way. The most interesting villains don't actually think of themselves as evil. They think of themselves as imposing order, balancing the scales, freeing society, etc. They simply have the will to do things that others don't.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I can't help but feeling like exciting things are happening every time I log onto this site - I see things I take for granted from a new perspective all the time in this forum, and its always cool how seemingly disparate points of view can intersect in interesting ways and turn out to be more familiar than I expected.

I've been thinking of that idea for a while in terms of reminding DMs that "the players are part of the storytelling team, and should never be left out of the process...."  I felt like that was a great and revolutionary idea when I thought of it, but these independent ideas expand that advice in ways I would never have dreamed of on my own, and I'm nowhere near the first person to have tought of it.

Things like this always gives me food for thought, and cause me to look back and re-examine my own ideas in a whole new light.


And yes, if I haven't already said it in this thread, I'll +1 to what Centauri said:  toss alignment out.  Alignment is a poor, poor, counter-productive substitute for roleplaying an interesting personality.
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
'The point is that the setting reacts to the players' 


Yeah, that's not-so-much an evil campaign as an open-ended one.  I've run a few of those, but it takes far more work than some of the more traditional styles of play. 

Rather than prepping a series of adventures or plot arcs you have to be ready to run with nearly anything the PC's do as a quest line.  Thus usually have to have a lot more material at your fingertips.  I don't recommend it unless you are willing to take meticulous notes and come up with information on the fly.  That said, it it a style that I enjoy running and playing in.

My current campaign is very much a plot-based 'good guys' one though.  Heroic destiny, fulfilling prophesy, all that... and the players seem to really be enjoying that as a change of pace from open-ended.  Partly b/c open-ended tends to make it harder to give each PC a chance to shine in some ways and partly b/c certain types of players do dumb stuff if given several open-ended campaigns in a row.

The players went from a pirate crew in the last open-ended campaign, to destined saviors of the nation in this more ummm prepared one.  It's not that the players have no choices, they could ditch the main quests and strike out on their own if they want to, but if they do the villainous plots will keep progressing while they are away.  Also I should clarify, rather than focusing on 1 major plotline I usually do 3 major plotlines to provide a variety of choices as well as giving the campaign world some depth.  Over time these may involve hundreds if not thousands of npcs and monsters.
That is one way to look at it.  By brainstorming their evil scheme the players do absorb a significant amount of responsibility for creating the world.  For instance, say the players want to use an orphanage as a recruiting ground for the future thugs of their gang.  Well, the orphanage didn't exist until they suggested that they'd like to have one for that purpose.  Now, poof, there it is!

We do this already with typical character backstory, typical session zero mumbo jumbo.  But those things usually only pertain to the specific character or cross section of PCs and where they came from.  The difference in an evil game is that now we're starting to talk about things the PCs haven't necessarily interacted with yet.  Now we're getting into the arena of building the location.  In this case you do end up with the DM yielding a lot more influence and control over the details of the setting to the players.

The point is that the setting reacts to the players, whereas typically the players react to the setting, which is essentially what iserith is advocating.  I think we're approaching the idea from the same angle.  It works for all games, but it usually isn't the default that groups start from.  So actually calling it an evil campaign can help you "practice" this approach, by providing a concrete motivation for trying something new.



Yes, that's it, though I think the setting rolls along on its own even if the PCs don't cause it to react. That's the difference between sandbox and location-in-motion. And any excuse to get people to move back to this way of doing things is just fine by me. I think this is a "rediscovered" design process, one that was lost around 2e when plot-based adventures hit the scene hard and set the tone for the next 20 years (unfortunately). I've written plenty of plot-based campaigns. It's only when I started to go back to location-in-motion design that I saw what D&D can really do. Really, what it's meant to do and 4e plays particularly well in this design because of its more abstract nature.

We've forgotten how good it can be, I think, if we just stop writing the story before we sit down to play. Done right, it writes itself and there are all sorts of interesting side effects like player engagement and improved group dynamics.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

'The point is that the setting reacts to the players' 

Yeah, that's not-so-much an evil campaign as an open-ended one.  I've run a few of those, but it takes far more work than some of the more traditional styles of play. 

Rather than prepping a series of adventures or plot arcs you have to be ready to run with nearly anything the PC's do as a quest line.  Thus usually have to have a lot more material at your fingertips.  I don't recommend it unless you are willing to take meticulous notes and come up with information on the fly.  That said, it it a style that I enjoy running and playing in.



I would refer to this as "sandbox," which is definitely not what I'm advocating though I admit it's a fine line. When I refer to a location-in-motion, I'm thinking in fairly small terms. A campaign world itself wouldn't be considered a location-in-motion. But the mysterious island, sinking temple in the swamp, or the dark forest would be. It's a little more finite and manageable. When you're done with one location-in-motion, you move onto the next one.

A location-in-motion is good for evil characters because they can go in there and run amok however they like, making deals, killing rivals, subjugating indigenous populations - go nuts. As Yronimos has pointed out, "playing evil" really means "I have more narrative control." If you give them that narrative control by default through the structured freedom of location-in-motion design, the urge to be evil goes away in a lot of cases.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

There's a ton of great advice in this thread, thanks a ton guys. To clarify my problem in particular: my players are intionally playing evil characters with my permission. It's not a case of turning evil from boredom or lack of power. That said, most of what I've read here is still useful.
As long as they, as players, remember that this is group thing, you should be fine as far as group dynamics go.  Evil characters often team up for survivability.

The hardest thing to remember is that all actions have consequences beyond the immediate. 
For example:  Sure, that rogue just managed to steal a gem from the jewelry store, but it will be noticed later.  A simple divination may be enough to see who did it. 
Next time that character is in town, the guards may notice him and have a 'few questions' if he would be so kindly as to follow them.

Just as good guys get famous as they adventure, bad guys get infamous.
There's a ton of great advice in this thread, thanks a ton guys. To clarify my problem in particular: my players are intionally playing evil characters with my permission. It's not a case of turning evil from boredom or lack of power. That said, most of what I've read here is still useful.



It's not really the DM's job to motivate the players.  That's the players' jobs.

And for them, motivation is easy.  Whether we like it or not, we are all, at one time or another, "evil characters" - we lie, cheat, steal, fail to keep our promises, throw strangers or coworkers or even friends and family under the bus to save ourselves, and so on.  Sometimes we know right away that what we are doing is wrong, and choose to do it anyway because the motivations to do evil things are powerful and difficult things to ignore.  Sometimes, we do evil things because we've convinced ourselves or have been convinced that it is the right thing to do.  Sometimes, doing the right thing is just too difficult or unappealing.  The motivations for evil characters are easy - they are everywhere, and in fact, there are so many of them, that entire religions, governments, philosophies, systems of law, and so on have been built up to try to suppress or eliminate those motivations:  a great deal of human effort, energy, concentration, resources, and lives are consumed every second in studying and trying to control or eliminate the motivations of evil people.  The cynics among us will freely suggest that coming up with motivations for being evil people are far, far easier and more natural to us than coming up with motivations to be good people.

If the players are at all excited about and interested in their characters, and if the characters are three-dimensional, well-rounded, and detailed, then the players should be coming to the table each game session pre-loaded with their own motivations. 

The players should be motivating their characters, and providing you with enough of their characters' motivations to help you fuel your plots and stories.

For whatever reason, your players are not doing their job, the job they started when they told you they were really excited about the idea of playing an evil campaign, and wanted to do that.  That's an out-of-game problem:  you should stop the game, sit down out of character together, and finish the job of figuring out who those evil characters are, what causes them to be evil, what their motivations for doing the right things are (yes, even evil characters want to do the right thing and have people who love them and look up to them and say "he's just misunderstood", "she's not really a bad lady, when you get to know her", "he makes the trains run on time", "he always seemed like a nice guy, but kind of quiet", and so on!)  Find out what hobbies and interests they have besides kicking the dog.  What the weaknesses are that drive them to do evil things, and how those weaknesses make them feel about themselves.  What ambitions, hopes, and dreams they have, what they see themselves doing if their own weaknesses didn't keep getting in the way, and so on. 

If you can't figure out any motivation for the characters, it's because you either didn't pay attention to the players' character sheets and the information they provided to you during Session Zero while brainstorming together on their characters, or the players didn't provide you with anything to work with.

You don't seem like the sort of DM to ignore the players, so my money is on the players failing to give you anything solid to work with.

Get those players busy making characters, instead of digging through a library of splat books looking for the most optimized munchkin-bait.  If the players are truly unmotivated and directionless, they need to start doing something different: do their part in creating characters, rather than a collection of combat stats with "Chaotic Evulz" stamped on the top.  Once they understand who their characters are and what they are underneath the generic black hat, the motivations should be easy to come up with, and you should have mountains of material to work with in creating your storylines, NPCs, and so on.


[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I don't want to quote all of that, but I think you've hit on some critical points. I think the players were coming to the table without thinking about why their character might be construed as evil by most people and what motivates that. This is probably mostly my fault really, because the evil campaign that I'm currently running began as a one-off role reversal session just for kicks on Halloween but the players liked it, so it continued.  That is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed, and getting more clear motivations from the players should clean up a lot of my problems in creating situations that provide interesting choices for them.

With that in mind I still think that the players could easily and justifiably create characters that may make that difficult, thus making the rest of this thread still valuable.
I don't want to quote all of that, but I think you've hit on some critical points. I think the players were coming to the table without thinking about why their character might be construed as evil by most people and what motivates that. This is probably mostly my fault really, because the evil campaign that I'm currently running began as a one-off role reversal session just for kicks on Halloween but the players liked it, so it continued.  That is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed, and getting more clear motivations from the players should clean up a lot of my problems in creating situations that provide interesting choices for them.

With that in mind I still think that the players could easily and justifiably create characters that may make that difficult, thus making the rest of this thread still valuable.



It's not entirely your fault: it's a group effort, and as players and DMs we've all been there before - I know I wasn't immune to it as a DM or a player, and that in both cases I wasn't acting in a vaccuum

I'm not sure why it is, but with evil characters in particular, it's so easy to forget that characters are representations of human beings (even the non-human characters), rather than simply shadows of mood, atmosphere, and style.

Then again, good, neutral, chaotic, and lawful characters fall into the same traps, too, but for some reason it's sometimes harder to see it happening in some alignments than it is in others, perhaps because the good alignments tend to swim with the current of traditional heroic fantasy storytelling more than against it. That doesn't stop "Lawful Stupid" and "Stupid Good" style gaming from surfacing anyway, but by the nature of the game, it's the evil and chaotic alignments where it's naturally more obvious.


Or maybe I'm way off track tonight.

In any case, encourage those players to put a human face on those villains, because, when they are at their best, the villains are a reflection of who we are, what we aspire to be, and what we hope for, as much as they are a reflection of what we want to avoid and what we are afraid of or ashamed of.
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
Power. To paraphrase Frederic Forsythe (The Dogs of War), power is the real reason behind most things. In the novel, the main character states that in a capitalist economy money is power, while in the communist world military strength is power. Evil characters would likely be motivated best by the chance to gain more power, whether it is money to buy stuff, or greater spellcasting, or whatever.

Another poster commented that sometimes the group wants to play evil so they can be proactive, because 'heroes' are usually reactive. I have had the problem of Dm's not letting me be proactive when playing the good-guy hero, not letting me get information to do things or plan things out. If the players are basically saying 'I don't want to do the dungeon crawl of the week, I wanna plan out and launch an attack on the evil army' then DM's should pay attention, because its a sign of dissatisfaction.
Wow, tons of great stuff in this thread. Especially in preparation for next season of D&D Encounters. The thought of running an evil campaign in the scripted environment of Encounters has been nagging at me. Of course I haven't seen the campaign yet, but it definitely helps to be able to tell the players, "We're doing an evil campaign this season. Each of your characters has a set of goals, and I would like you to think long and hard what those goals are (within the setting of the campaign). Let me know what those goals are, and we'll see if they're feasible within the constraints that WotC has given us."
Wizard's first rule: People are stupid.
The evil party I'm in (we're a blend of evil and neutral) "plans" many good deeds (such as slaying other monsters), but not without rewards.  In example: We had to clear a silver mine full of kobolds.  We enslaved the kobolds and took over the mine.  Originally we had planned to kill them, but this was much more profitable.

Evil doesn't mean you have to hide in a lair or commit injustices as your primary goal.  Just let it be a valid option if it's in your favor.  
For a less scripted campaign where the players have greater control, ask the players what they plan to do next near the end of each game session.  Even if that means the final fight is delayed to the next session, because they took to long debating options.  This allows you to prepare for the next adventure, while the players are driving the story.

Example:
Near the end of the night the players are about to start what might be the final battle where they intend to kill the evil wizard.  The DM asks them a few questions.  1.  "If you do not kill the villian, are you going to continue to try to kill him, or give up and do something else?"  2.  "If you kill the villian, what do you want to do next?"


If they spend to much time debating, you still need the answer tonight, even if that means the final battle is delayed until the next gaming session.  This allows you to prepare appropriate encounters, while the PCs direct the story.


You can provide some story hooks, and should have a few ideas ready, just in case the party doesn't know what they want to do next.