This is the third in a series of posts on linking stories to games. Readers may want to read my two previous posts to put this into context.
Game designers don’t seem to have much difficulty in coming up with meaningful choices for good-aligned characters. Creating dialog options and story endings for evil PCs, however, has been something of a challenge. Few game designers seem to understand how to come up with evil options that aren’t petty and nonsensical. Because of this apparent lack in designing well-thought-out evil options, I’d like to tip the balance by sharing a few insights on creating them.
The first thing to understand is that evil manifests in different ways. Serial killers are not the same as spree killers, and both are completely different from terrorists, even though they all kill large numbers of people. What differentiate “evil” people from each other are their methods and their motives.
For example, spree killers don’t go on a rampage for no reason. Over a long period of time, something ticks them off. Perhaps it’s a long-standing frustration over being socially rejected at the school they go to. Maybe it’s the hurt that they have suffered through years of verbal abuse from co-workers and customers at the postal service. Whatever the reason, these people have been simmering in their own stew for years until finally they explode in a murderous rampage that ends with the spree killers’ capture or death. Often, the targets of their attacks are the kinds of people who, in their minds, have been oppressing them for years. There is method in the madness of spree killers, and more importantly, there are motives behind their seemingly random acts of violence. It is unfortunate that some people who just happened to be in their way get killed as well.
Note that a spree killer’s suicide, which sometimes occurs at the end of his rampage, is as much an indictment on himself as it is a way to escape the justice and retribution of others.
Here’s another example of an evil person, one who does not stoop to killing. A powerful noble may balk at murdering her enemies because it goes against her values. Nevertheless, she is vengeful toward those who oppose her and will use the criminal justice system to send her enemies to jail. She’ll dig up whatever dirt she can find on the targets of her ire. If none can be found that is sufficiently damning, she will manufacture the evidence and bribe “witnesses” to the crime. The thrill of the hunt tingles throughout her body as she lays out the web that will ensnare her victims. With the influence and resources at her disposal, it is not wise to get on her bad side. This noble’s methods – and to a certain extent, her motives – are different from those of a spree killer, but both may be considered “evil” just the same.
This noble is a master of manipulation and deceit, but there is a price to be paid for her sins. She is forever uneasy at the prospect that she might one day be caught or, worse yet, have to face trumped up charges from someone who beats her at her own game. Each person she unjustly sends to jail fuels her paranoia, causing her to see intrigue and betrayal where there is none. Her anxiety might make her careless someday. Perhaps then, she will be reunited with the very people she has sent down the river.
Those are just two examples of “evil” people. There are many more that writers and game designers can come up with. If you’re fishing for ideas, just read the papers, and try to identify with the people you read about to see what made them do the things they did.
The next thing to understand is that if you want to offer player characters evil choices that make sense, you’ll also have to provide them appropriate motives in the game. Allowing PCs to go on a killing spree just because they are evil is inane. If murder is an option for your PCs, you may create one or more NPCs that can tick the PCs off. Over time, the abuse that evil PCs receive from these NPCs will eventually provide the motive for them to exact vengeance.
If you want to go the extra mile, provide different methods for PCs to manifest their evilness. A killing spree is one option, but it isn’t particularly creative. Logically, the keepers of the peace should be mobilized in large numbers to take down spree killers, so you may want to script this event in case a PC goes on a rampage. (Incidentally, a good reason for not encouraging PCs to run amok in your game is that there should always be large armies and bands of renowned heroes that are ready to take down spree killers.) A better option may be to allow the PC to plan the perfect murder, one that cannot be traced back to him. Alternatively, digging up dirt and manufacturing evidence to frame NPCs can be fun if done right.
Finally, consider that any truly evil act comes with the anticipation that what comes around goes around. Those who spread hurt and pain may not admit it, but the fear of having to pay for their sins will always be with them. For example, street thugs with their extortion rackets will be on the lookout not only for cops but also for other gangs looking to muscle in on their territory. It is often the case that those who prey on others will themselves be preyed upon. Game developers may take this into account by scripting in appropriate consequences for the evil that PCs do. They may also reveal the evil PCs’ descent to ever-increasing levels of paranoia, angst, or self-loathing through the dialog options that are open to them.
Next up is a brief example on making an interactive story. Hopefully, this example will clearly illustrate what I’ve been trying to say since my previous blog post. Stay tuned.