Bad Guy Characterization 3: The character of pure evil

+Aaron McLin made a comment on my previous post noting that if you actually have (say) a plane of elemental evil, where evil is a real, tangible thing, then working through the “they don’t think it’s evil” thing doesn’t work. From the comment feed on G+ Tabletop RPGs:

That, I think, depends on how you want to set up good and evil in your world. In my game world, evil people understand themselves to be evil, because they deliberately set out to be that way. But I’m also working under the idea that good and evil are objective moral stances, rather than tactical considerations. Which is something that one can do in a purely fictional world. – Aaron McLin


I still think there’s room for my characterization, though, with a slight modification: that the “bad guys” must basically be able to self-justify what they do. If Evil is their thing, then they’ll be happy doing it, keep doing it, and be easily motivated – “It’s what I do, Mr. Prichard.”

This isn’t some deeply psychological angst thing. Critters do what they’re motivated and rewarded for doing if they can. If there is a deep conflict within or without about what they’re doing, it’ll stop absent an external force.

So let’s look at Evil as an objective moral stance.

Evil by the Numbers

Looking at the key questions posed yesterday, we have:

  1. Vision: What is our “bad guy” trying to make the world look like in the future?
  2. Values: How the bad guy and his minions are expected to operate.
  3. What is the bad guy trying to accomplish. In McChrystal soldier-speak: “What does winning look like?”
  4. How do you plan to accomplish your mission? “What do we need in order to win?” 
  5. Specific action plans needed to get what you need to win, and then accomplish the mission. This is the who, what, where, when, and how.
  6. “How do we know the tactics are succeeding? Quantify that our strategy is working? In short, how do we keep score ?”

For something of identifiable, true, objective evil, the nice thing about the questions is that you can jump immediately to the first and last. What does the future world look like, and how do we measure it.

Lots of answers here, but I’ll throw one down: The vision for True Evil is a world/universe where suffering and despair are maximized. Reasons for hope are raised but continually crushed. This is not noble suffering – Paksennarion enduring days of torture and remaining true to her faith – but ignoble suffering. That’s important.

The way I see it in this case, ignoble suffering is sort of like entropy – it’s a quantity that can be “measured” or sensed by whatever is at the root of objective Evil. This is probably a source of magical power, too – it gives Dark Sorcerers and evil undead reasons to do the things they do as well.

So the vision of the world is one where freedom and striving to make things better – the stuff Superman stands for, for example – are not unknown, but known to be pointless. The nail that sticks up is efficiently and cruelly hammered down, but there is no contentment or satisfaction from not sticking up.

OK, that that hits Vision. Values for the Minions of Evil are likely wrapped around “whatever it takes to maximize suffering.” This will be directly reflected in the metrics of the world in question, where the more the cruelty, the higher the reward. It explains the “make all those beneath you suffer” mentality that never seems to quite turn against the Big Bad Evil Guy the way it should. Sure, the “Trusted” Lieutenant betrays the BBEG . . . but only to set himself up in power, not to bring down the whole structure and have a bake sale and a hug-in instead.

So winning for a particular BBEG will be a situation where he/she/it has as many people under his boot as possible. Policies and influence will be set up to be capricious, arbitrary, and capable of giving the illusion of hope, while still ultimately disappointing. The other side of that is that one person’s hope might be fulfilled . . . but only in a way that crushes the spirits of others. This sets up a situation where the only behavior rewarded is naked power seeking.

OK, then you get down to plans – strategy (what do we need) and tactics. You probably need access to, or actual, power. If it’s a ruling class or noble elite, you’ll want to infiltrate it. If there’s a justice system or taxation system that is somehow independent of the ruling authority, you’ll want to corrupt it. And if there’s a stalwart band of protectors – paladins or other do-gooders – you definitely want to deal with them.

But remember – despair. So sure, you can kill the paladins, but that’s likely the last resort. Torture is better, but only if you can make them recant their faith. Turning one to your side is best of all. While the suffering of the population must be real, having the leaders bewitched (not “real” despair, and presumably the objective moral plane of evil knows the difference between real coffee and decaf) might be one of those places where you give a little to get more.

Parting Shot

In any case – I’ve managed to throw down something that seems to hang together reasonably well. It explains “evil” races (it’s all in the metrics!) pretty well, and forced me to consider the cosmology of Evil in a manner that allows me to set up a hierarchy of strategy, tactics, methods, and values that while still scenery-chewingly stereotypical, is understandable and self-consistent.

It also plays ridiculously well with classic fantasy tropes, which is all to the good. A Theory of Evil shouldn’t invalidate previous classics, should it?

The questions that are asked using the method I described yesterday – thanks to the McChrystal Group for the structure – helped me bang out a useful cosmology and motivation structure for your classic Evil Menace in less than an hour of structured thinking – and much of that was exposition for the point of posting about it.

I can (and will!) do the same thing for my bad guys in Alien Menace – but I won’t post about them, because if the Good Guys can understand the Bad Guy’s strategy, they can interrupt the initiative and momentum of the plans and actions. “We stand now at the turning of the tide . . . “

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