The Drow are an evil race. This is a fact. The overwhelming majority of dark Elves live and thrive in evil societies, and are led by the most evil of their ilk. Yet no matter how often I’ve repeated this most players who create Drow PCs choose to make them good, or at least not as evil as you’d expect them to be and it drives me crazy. I realize that this is your character and that you can ultimately determine their outlook on life as you see fit, but you’re ruining the best aspects of being Drow by making them all good. Play evil! Relish in playing evil!
All of this grief surrounding good rebel Drow adventurers can be traced back to Drizzt Do’Urden. What most players forget is that Drizzt Do’Urden is not your typical Drow. This is a big part of what makes him so endearing to his fans. The early books in the Legend of Drizzt series constantly juxtaposed Drizzt’s atypical behaviour and misaligned morale compass when compared to the overwhelming majority of other Drow. Practically every other Drow you meet in Salvatore’s books is clearly evil.
There are two reasons I think I’ve seen so few evil Drow during my gaming experiences. The first is the aforementioned Drizzt. People read about him and want to emulate him. OK I get that. But come on, it’s already been done (to death). Why recreate one of the most popular characters in Forgotten Realms lore when you can create a character so much more interesting and so much more Drow. Think about it, if not for his physical appearance you’d never know Drizzt was Drow. So if you’re going to play a Drow play them right.
The second reason I think people shy away from playing evil is that they don’t really understand how to make an evil character work. The imagined stereotype is that if you’re evil you’re going to kill everyone you meet, rob them blind and desecrate their corpse. Although these are certainly the acts of an evil creature this isn’t how most evil characters behave. Drow society has thrived and is still one of the most powerful and dangerous societies that inhabit any game world despite the fact that practically everyone is evil.
Evil characters can still have friends and families. The real distinction between good and evil usually comes down to selfishness. Evil characters will more often than not do what’s in their best interests. Period. They’re going to do whatever it takes to get what they want and to thrive. If that means killing someone then they will, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll try to kill everyone. The War of the Spider Queen series is a great read for many reasons, but it’s an excellent example of how an evil party can work together to accomplish everyone’s goals. When betrayal happens (and it does, frequently) the rest of the party takes it in stride. They’re angrier that they didn’t see it coming than that the character betrayed them for their own self-interests.
One of the most important distinctions between good and evil characters is boundaries. Good characters follow the rules and don’t break the law because they believe that to do so is wrong. They understand that the rules are there for a reason or at least they respect the powers that put the laws in place enough to trust their judgment. Evil characters only follow laws for fear of punishment if they’re caught. If they believe they can circumvent the rules and avoid punishment for doing so (usually by not getting caught) then they’re more likely to consider a course of action that is unlawful or forbidden. This is not to say that they’ll feel compelled to break the law, but they’ll certainly consider that possibility if it will get them what they want. Good characters generally see the law as a wall and try to find another way to accomplish their goals within the defined boundaries. Evil characters rarely let such boundaries get in their way.
Getting a party with evil PCs in it to work together all comes down to motivation. Evil PCs will certainly betray their allies if they have a good reason to do so. It’s up to the DM and the other PCs to make sure that there’re is an even better reason for not doing so. Finding a common goal certainly helps. As long as everyone is working to accomplish the shared goal and as long as everyone realizes that each member of the party can contribute something useful in accomplishing that goal, evil PCs can work in a traditional D&D party.
For example, the Drow Rogue may not like the party’s Dwarven Cleric but as long as they both seek the same goal it’s beneficial to both to work together. The Drow will keep looking for ways to better his own situation while the Dwarf will contently keep a watchful eye on the Drow knowing that he will eventually betray the party. However, until the party accomplishes their greater common goal, the Drow Rogue in this example will likely behave. He knows that if he acts in a way that will upset his current allies they’re likely to turn on him, booting him out of the party at best or killing him at worse. However, as Drow are usually manipulative the Drow Rogue may sow the seeds of descent within the party convincing the others that the Dwarven Cleric isn’t the only leader out there and they should consider bringing on a different healer if the Dwarf becomes disagreeable.
With the upcoming focus on Drow throughout Wizards’ 2012 product releases (see The Drow Are Coming!) we’re probably going to see a lot more Drow PCs populating our games (especially during public play). As I already mentioned above, players can give their PC any alignment, but I implore you to at least consider the possibility of playing your next Drow PC as evil. I think you’ll find that it opens a lot of interesting role-playing doors and will make your gaming experience a lot more exciting.
Do you think that there are too many good aligned Drow PCs? By letting everyone play good Drow does it belittle the racial choice? What are your thoughts on playing evil PCs in general? Do your players equate evil with fanatical murderer or do they understand the layers and depth that evil characters actually possess?