Speak to me of EEEEEEvil!

One of the reasons I love Ars Magica is everyone in it is fairly grey in moral terms. The only entities truly called evil are the Infernal, everyone else is "just folk." That's the kind of game I like where alignments don't exist beyond social/moral constraints. But...

I was brainstorming ideas for a covenant for the Vanilla Project. Then I was reading Iberia again. I may be one of the few that really, really loved Iberia. I enjoy combat, martial exercise and opportunities for magi to flex their muscle beyond political arenas. After all, it's what we all dream of right? To drive our enemies before us and hear the lamentation of their women? I was looking over some notes I had written for a planned Iberian/Provencal game where the players were the covenant of Jaferiya. Since the plotline of Iberia is so well-known, I figured just to steal the covenant and make the Shadow Flambeau a more widespread group. After all, the best enemies are those rogue and renegade from the Order itself.

But then I got to thinking last night... after mucho cervezas... what about just evil? What if the players WERE the Shadow Flambeau in Jaferiya? How fun would that be? No need to hide being an Infernalist from the group, taking advantage of that whole realm of powers! Plotting on a massive scale against the Order, the Church and the Almohads. Breaking the Code time and again. A truly nefarious evil and sinister plot enacted by player characters! Sometimes you have to turn the cup over to look at it in a new way.

So my question is, has anyone ever played a truly evil magus? Not your power-obsessed politician or the creepy necromancer or anything like that. Those are standard magi in the Order and I love that the Order just smiles and says "hey, we don't judge!" But I mean E-V-I-L. You had a master plan, a sinister plot, you drowned kittens as part of your rituals, you stole children from candy (yes, you read that right) for payment on supernatural bargains. And I don't mean the ever-present "dark-cloaked in appearance" lame, garden bad magus that tries to get into every PbP game. I want to hear about LEX LUTHOR!

Even better, has anyone run a Saga expressly dedicated to Evil? To Infernalism. To serving the Old Ones who demand release from the twisting depths? Not power-hungry politicians but all out, "hey we're gonna take over France with a reanimated King Richard and lead a crusade against the entire Order of Hermes" evil.

And if you're thinking... "Well, I had that one character. She was a nasty piece of work, I wonder if she qualifies..." Trust me, she doesn't. You KNOW evil. If you have to convince us, then you weren't EEEEVIL enough. No Diet Cokes of Evil here. I want Skeletor, I want Rasus, I want the Dark Order of Nasty Bloody Magi Who Think Hunchbacks Must Be In Every Lab...

You may begin :smiling_imp:

It may not be answering the exact question posed, but I once played in a saga with a single, simple alteration of the canonical ArM5 material: the only supernatural realm active in the world is the Infernal.

Faerie does not exist. Magic does not exist. The Divine exists, but only in the afterworld, for those with unstained souls (technically it also exists in this world, by allowing the soul of each man and woman to tell right from wrong -- but that's the extent of it). All Auras and regiones are Infernal. All supernatural creatures are Infernal. All supernatural abilities are Infernal. There are some people who theorize that there are really four Realms, but it's just a lie that only the ignorant and the deluded believe. The Gift is the False Gift, and the Vengeful Powers Flaw is common. The Order realizes that the source of its power is tainted, but rather than give up that power simply has the Oath in place to limit the negative repercussions of bringing such evil to bear upon the world. Of course, all wizards (whether Hermetic or not) are inherently damned, and training an apprentice means bringing the child to damnation too.

Even though none of the magi in the saga was evil in the sense of stealing children from candy (but see training apprentices, above), they all knew they were bringing evil into the world and into their soul with every act of "magic" they performed. It was a somber and very, very dark saga.

Evil for the sake of being evil is really boring. Ars is best when it's asking Why? Why is the character evil? What caused him to be evil? Almost every evil character that is worth playing (the archetypal bad guy) has some interesting back story that describes how they were evil.

True evil, scary evil is knowing you were once good, and that the choices you've made are evil, and then continuing to make similar choices.

I'd also have to say most evil people/characters, of any real intelligence, don't think they're evil. Petty evil is mostly about expedience and perhaps a bit of a thrill. Deeper, more profound evil, evil that seeks to subvert order and virtue, or evil that seeks to perpetuate itself is much like a sickness IMO.

There was a somewhat recent storyline in the Avengers (Civil War story I think) where Spiderman is talking to the other Avengers who were now fugitives from the law. He basically said, how do we know now that we're not villains? Captain America asked what he meant.

"Well think about it. How many villains do you know actually think they're evil? Doctor Doom doesn't. Magneto doesn't. They break the law for their cause, isn't that what we're doing? And they think their cause is worth it, just like we do now. Just throwing that out there."

But the best villains turned to evil for what they thought were good reasons. One of the most evil villains in movies would be the Emperor, but even he did it partly out of a desire to throw down what he saw as a corrupt and hypocritical society and force for good (the Jedi).

Dr. Evil type evil is almost impossible except for the Infernal, and when you see how the Infernal is treated in Ars (being unale to use any virtue at all for example) makes pure evil not very rewarding.

From a narrative standpoint, one of the big things about characterization is "consistent inconsistency". ie,

The assassin who has a "no woman, no kids" rule.
The virtuous man who is has a 10 year affair.
The irredeemable sociopath who gives regularly to charity.
The control freak that can't control his children.
...and so on.

One of the things about the Infernal is that they can't have those inconsistencies of their base nature. Sure, they can APPEAR to have them, but it's all a lie. As such, the Infernal works best (IMO) when it's a human being that's evil, and thus has the ability to make that choice to be evil, (as Jonothan.Link said) and thus can have those inconsistencies.

I am obliged to note that, as we write this, Lex Luthor is SAVING THE WORLD alongside Bizarro, Captain Cold, Catwoman and Black Adam in the pages of DC's "Forever Evil."

The OP is talking about "comic book evil," and, as others have noted, this "evil" is not very realistic and, frankly, not very evil. The reason Spider-Man and Cap can have a debate about Dr. Doom and Magneto is that villains in that mold have, over time, become sympathetic characters who want to "take over the world for its own good." And we can totally tell those stories. Shakespeare did it in Julius Caesar, so it's damn well good enough for us.

But there is real evil in this world, and it's not comic book "evil." I'm talking about shit which, when performed, makes a character unsympathetic: child molestation, torture, human experimentation. I should add murder to that list, but in America at least we have become so inured to physical violence that casual murder is, as often as not, played for laughs. It is only if the victim is a child or a pretty girl that an audience seems to react. We did have a critically acclaimed and very successful television series based on a serial killer protagonist, after all.

You want to see real evil, go watch "Prisoners," and watch Hugh Jackman torture a mentally disabled guy for an hour. And that is about as sympathetic as you're going to get, because Hugh Jackman is an incredibly likeable guy and that whole movie is set up to give him plenty of reasons for torturing an innocent person.

I'm running a Saga right now with a batch of Infernalists NPCs in it, and normally they'd stay off camera, but one of the PCs has gone in with them. So now I have to describe their activities, and the leader of that group has brainwashed a 13-year old girl into having sex with him. Ok, that shit's evil. I don't like writing those sections of the game. I hope it ends soon. Lex Luthor would not do that, because that sort of thing is indefensible.

There's not many people who would want to roleplay realistic evil. And that's a good thing.

There are a couple kinds of evil:
One is the crazed "Greater good" type. This can actually have cool grey areas. At what point do you redirect the train from the many people to the one person? Lex Luthor wants to sacrifice babies to power his Mana Generator. Every baby saves X people. How big does X need to be?
Two there is the "insane". A lot of time writers will change "Greater Good" types into this. Lex Luthor's Mana Generator is actually letting cosmic horrors into the world! Each X is negative! One thing about this is after Supes stops him they could even go out for a drink afterwards! "I know you thought it was helping people, but is was actually a complex ploy by cosmic horrors!"
Three is general selfishness. Every baby Lex Luthor sacrifices gets him 1,000,000$ dollars! This is the plain evil one.
Four is distorted morals. Lex Luthor thinks catgirl babies are subhuman and therefore its perfectly reasonable to sacrifice them! This one is interesting because if we look at our own world nigh everyone dead for more than a decade goes here. We will in a few hundred years. Are we evil? Were they evil? This is probably one of the more believable ones, and one that the Order falls to. This is a group that goes around enslaving children.
Five is ickiness. Doctorcomics points this out.

Murder is pretty clearly worse than any of the first three. (Murder is by def unjustified). Now to be fair the first two are never justified. The third is justified under controlled circumstances. (What do you think medical tests are?) But in all honesty the reason why we hate them is because they are icky. Sadly this is what most of our morals actually are. We are willing to pull the level to kill one and save ten, but not push the one into the way of the train.

Anyway, the Order is pretty much evil. You are allowed to kill innocents if you fill out the right paperwork. They are pretty much the evil league of evil.

To go back to your original post, one of the things you were looking for would be campaign ideas for evil characters.

There is no alignment system, the closest thing might be personality traits, so advising characters about taking strong yet tragic personality traits might be a good way to get them started. Plenty of people are good, but their passions get the better of them, Greek tragedies are full of such stories. Also taking certain Story flaws would be a great start to getting a PC on the road to evil. Anakin Skywalker had both of these issues; strong passion and very personal history with other evils (slavery and ruthless aggression towards loved ones, ie the Sandpeople). In trying to stop or prevent those things from happening again he was more than willing to actually engage in them.

Finally, diabolism. I'd steer them away from being actual diabolists. It's more interesting and heroic if they in fact hate diabolists and the Infernal. There could be many motivations why. They might be horrified by them and seek never to became entwined with them (them being Demons and Diabolists). They might hate them, Diabolic Upbringing would be an ideal Flaw, this character's evil could be wrath as he ruthlessly avenges his troubled childhood. Pride: "No one controls my destiny! Not God and certainly not the fallen slaves of God!". This is a character that thinks he can do what Lucifer never could and is determined to prove it. Or finally, and this one is rather villainous and interesting, this character seeks to out do them. Perhaps some of the corrupted Tytalus thought they could 'out Devil the Devil'. So they'll act evil and corrupt but for their own ends, seeing this as a game, and depriving both angels and devils of their prize is his victory.

Power and freedom to act as they chose would be a common motivation for pretty much all of them, and the power and freedom that a Hermetic order wizard has is very tempting. So this could be a workable campaign setting and covenant. The PCs are all magi with say a certain 'moral flexibility' and strong goals. They'd still be faced with moral and legal quandaries that are present in Ars, but their solutions might be more interesting. That I could see as a workable campaign, just not sure how long it would last.

Even Sauron was a good guy, at first.

Have one of them learn the art of ablation. Now they don't deal with demons. They eat demons for breakfast.

This is actually the evilest thing I've ever heard. And, considering all of the other responses, you win the thread!

(cough This thread was not debate what is evil... but examples of evil in your games.)

The infernal-realm-only would also help rationalise a little of the "why magi don't rule the world?" question too. I like it.

Generally speaking the good vs evil has never been a theme I've taken from the Superhero angle, and always derived from the NPCs and PCs motivations. To some people the various mistreatment and killing of others is a non-issue because their perception allows them that latitude. By example a lich-like npc took a PC under his wing to divert him to supply beings to drain essence from.

After the villain's reveal the PC was faced with a range of choice on what action to take, and that PC decided that the benefits of the power he could gain was more important to him than the deeds which were needed for extended life. I was surprised, and I think it was a real turning point for that character. The rest of the group really didn't like the choice the player made, but it created a tension in the game which we unfortunately didn't get to see through to an end. The PC's choice was certainly evil.

A while ago I ran a confession session in game. The 2 characters implicated in the scene told a lot of things to the priest, but FORGOT (yes, forgot, not hide) to mention that they had killed more than a dozen men each. They were bandits et al, but they had massacred them. And it did not occur to the players that this was a capital sin. This has to do with RPGs and violence in general IMO, and our immunization to violence through TV and cinema (in most action movies violence is used to solve almost any problems with expediency), but I was quite surprised. In any case what they said generated the need for a peregrination anyway.

Evilest IMS would have been to go to rescue an innocent child kidnapped by another hermetic magus, talking to the guy instead and settling for two rooks of vis provided by the other hermetic magus instead of rescuing the child that was to be used in a ritual. That created a ruckus in our troupe despite the fact hat it was good roleplay on the character, that was greedy as a major flaw.

I like a lot the idea of ezzelino. Truly evil. Quite similar to Cathar beliefs.

Interesting idea - it sounds like the logical extension of the "your troupe must decide for itself if magic is inherently sinful or not". If magic IS inherently sinful, then it's not really a stretch to say that all all magic is not only sinful, but Infernally corrupt as well. (Kind of like the difference between a venal sin and a mortal sin.)

Although, question - did holy hedge magic exist (a la RoP:D), or was it really "No, all forms of supernatural manipulation outside of True Faith are sinful."

ArM saga that was evil? No. The infernal saga discussed above is one that I can apprecate from a game design standpoint, but I would never play in it. Or the covenant of Infernalists. Or similar. Why? My confession is below...

I actually ran a D&D game (stop hissing!) with a wizard that was a truly evil recurring bad guy. I had the motivation developed to be evil. I had his actions played out in game. If he was a stew, he was made with blood, feces, and tar with deseased cockroaches added for texture. He wasn't the man in black. He wasn't the sociopath that liked flowers. He wasn't Voldemort or even Heath Ledger's Joker. He certainly wasn't Vetinari. He was not insane since he knew what he was doing, why he ws doing it, and why others objected if they discovered his actions. He never lost completely. He "won" frequently early on with the PCs happy to have thier skins (they grew cautious, determined, and focussed as a result). There wasn't a sympathetic bone in his body except in the magical sense and there was not a line he would not cross if it stood between him and a particular objective. To make the character work, I had to go places in my mind that Tarantino and his ilk have not yet brought to film. I felt dirty playng him every time and, quite frankly, the fact that I came up with him scared me.

I understand that good stories need conflict and that to have a plausible world you have to have bad people for whatever "bad people" means. I get that sometimes people, due to lack of imagination or fortitude, energy or guidance will make a choice or series of choices that will hurt people -- directly, indirectly, or collaterally -- along the way. I can play and run those characters as needed, when needed. They are villians, but not wholly bad. But that wizard? I'll never play any character like that ever again.

To repeat, I felt dirty playing him every time and the fact that I came up with him scared me. Even now, I can't even speak his name.

Evil or basically the normal existence of women through out a few thousand years of human existence? I know it sounds cad to say but that seems just about par for the course in Ars and medieval paradigm.

I think this causes a problem in Ars as well. Our morality was not their morality. And the Divine seems to have endorsed the morality of THOSE times not ours. The Divine desires that humans follow the teachings of the religion, not our current take on what is moral.

A man could buy his wife at 12 and force her to procreate immediately and there were no recourse as long as the religious regulations were met. There was purchasing of slaves which had few injunctions about who you could take or how to treat them. And as for torture or such... gods love a good bleeding. Though seriously, what Divine included religion of this era has sins involving torture? I might have missed them, but they seem lacking.

When dealing with the Divine I would say any gamer will have difficulty putting into play the morality of those centuries.

(In our table top game, we have something of a morality conundrum. A mage has shown up and has essentially threatened a covenant magus member into handing over his daughter. The NPC magus claims he is the father and has put forward that the girl has no rights under the Code of Hermes to be protected by her father. The story gets pretty repulsive and by modern era seem vile and gross, however for those times? It is not uncommon for parents to sell children... and all the NPC wants is to treat her well, educate her, and then have his own Gifted son procreate with her in attempt to make many Gifted grandchildren. The fact he speaks of buying a 11 year old girl for her womb is astoundingly offensive to modern sensibilities, but when talking about Evil it doesn't even get a notice from the Infernal.

Well that is unless the NPC magus has a issue with Pride or Greed or something.)

I totally agree with porti.

Endeed its a mistake to blend inter age morales.

The 13 Yo, in that age, you could just qualify her as normal ( maybe even h**ny)
That is (was) not evil.

As "Kult" StoryGuide I am... :
I would tellyou that kidnap children from candys and make stew with feces ist disneychannel...

Make a town belive that must sacrifice a pure virgin underage to preserve the croops.. Its nickelodeon...

Make a mother slay one of her children to feed the others, and make her think that its on her... Thats naughty

Run ars magica pure evil...??? Sure???

Just how old was Isabella of Angoulême (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabella_of_Angoul%C3%AAme) when she married John Lackland?


The argument that evil is all relative is well known and I understand it very well. I will not attempt to refute it here in a forum post.

Instead, since we are all Ars Magica players, I will refer to a useful bibliography on the subject of evil in the middle ages, our mutual shared interest.

For my money, the best reference out there is Jeffrey Burton Russell's four volume "History of Evil" series of academic books, published by Cornell University Press. These are books of history, not theology. In particular, the first chapter of Volume 1, "The Question of Evil," masterfully addresses the question of relativistic interpretations of evil and the counter-arguments thereto.

For our purposes as Ars Magica players, the key volume is "Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages." Russell also did a fifth book on the topic which is something of a summary of the first four.

Evil in Ars is an interesting topic. In roleplaying in general too.

I once played an evil mage in a DnD game, one of my favourite all time characters. He was polite, urbane, charming, loyal to his friends and looked down on wanton cruelty as pointless and wasteful, not to mention rude. He was also the acolyte of an evil god in whom he truly believed and he did his best to spread the faith, destroy rivals and so on. Using the alignment system he could not be anything other than evil, even though in demeanour he was usually lawful good.

In Ars, by contrast, my players are very wary of the infernal and my few attempts to lure them with it were usually but not always resisted. In my current saga we have a character who is exceptionally proud (lion heartbeast) who strives to kill anyone that he feels has insulted him. Mercy, accepting a yield or finding non-violent solutions to issues rarely appeal to him. Needless to say, this deeply annoys the other characters and has given him a reputation with the local people (whom he is sworn to serve) as something of a nutcase. Not evil, but thoughtless arrogant and violent. It becomes hard to tell which is which.

One of my previous Ars characters was an evil necromancer, he delighted in acting cruel, creepy and mysterious and often prefered to kill difficult people and sort the problem out with his necromantic spells. Not a nice guy at all, but very scared of the infernal and a greta foe to it too.

We have never played the infernal as the force of evil, only A force of evil. To my mind, the infernal is an external force of evil that seeks to tempt and corrupt and has a particular focus, but humans can be evil quite easily without the infernal. Allying to the infernal must always be a choice, an accepted offer. Essentially the character must know they are damning themselves and do it anyway, rather than end up damned because they were a vile person.