I normally stay away from endorsing anything not in the gaming industry, but I’d really like it if everybody reading watched Lucifer.
Not because it’s the first show in a long time to meet or exceed my expectations in plotting and characterization. Not because it has a balance between episodic and long-term storytelling I just don’t see any more in a world of heavy-handed myth arcs. Not because the writing is snappy enough to keep me entertained but not so consistently acerbic that it strains credulity. Not because it almost entirely dispenses with the tired “behind the veil” trope where characters keep each other in the dark to manufacture drama. Not even because it has one of those affably evil characters I love so much. I think these are all good reasons, but it would be a stretch to discuss any of them in the context of a tabletop gaming blog.
I want you to watch Lucifer because it has an overtly, unabashedly chaotic evil character in the party, and yet his presence doesn’t ruin the show’s storytelling or character dynamics. It makes them.
Evil characters don’t get a lot of play, mostly because DMs ban them outright. They’re unpredictable, they’re hard to motivate, they cause intra-party strife, they’re disruptive, they derail plots, and so on. Any DM can list a dozen reasons why a hypothetical evil character run by a hypothetical player would cause hypothetical problems in a hypothetical campaign.
That is, they do until you look at each of those worries and consider what they actually mean. The character isn’t actually unpredictable, or hard to motivate, etc. The character is something created, maintained, and guided by a player. Really, DMs aren’t worried about evil characters per se. They’re worried about a disruptive player using an evil character’s alignment as an excuse for intolerable behavior, and they’ve convinced themselves that’s the only reason to play one. An evil character is a sign of a bad player, thus evil characters are banned. Q.E.D.
They are, of course, wrong. An evil character managed by a decent player is no more problematic than a good character, and a good character managed by a disruptive player is significantly worse than any evil character. Evil characters are a storytelling tool that can be used to improved a campaign or abused to harm it like any other.
Consider the character Lucifer. We don’t doubt he’s evil; he says it to anybody who will listen. He’s self-serving, vindictive, capricious, narcissistic, lazy, spiteful and any number of colorful words we use to describe evil characters. In the episodes I’ve seen he’s started a public brawl among innocent people, traumatized or assaulted surrendering enemies, kidnapped suspects, and encouraged people to kill each other. He’s also broken into the house of a party member, refused to participate in the plot, and insulted his allies more times than I can count. He’s exactly the sort of character who’d be banned from a regular campaign on principle.
But the most important thing about him is that he obeys Law 4: he desperately wants to be in the party and solve problems with them. He may not go about solving crimes the same way the police might, and his methods work outside their comfort zone, but he’s still working toward the same goal. Lucifer is a character whose player has found a motivation for him (going on exciting adventures) that differs from the rest of the party’s (catching bad guys), but since he has the same end he’s as easy to motivate as anybody else. He’s unpredictable in a way that feeds into the story instead of derailing it, and he’s irritating to the other characters without necessarily being irritating to the players because positions himself and acts as their ally, not their enemy.
Full disclosure: there is an episode where Lucifer sees a case, decides it’s boring, and wanders off. But I would argue this isn’t the character’s fault any more than it’s the DM’s. The murder was boring, and Lucifer is not motivated by boring things. The DM knew this and still had a plot around a boring murder. This is no different from a character motivated by justice refusing to raid a dungeon, or a character motivated by greed refusing to save children from the burning orphanage. It’s a jerk move, yes, but if everybody is clear at the onset about their goals and motivations, it’s the DM’s job to find plots that work with them. In this case, the murder occurred during the theft of Lucifer’s possessions, and once he found this out his motivations were met and he went at it as full-bore as in any other episode.
I’ve run games for several evil characters. I’ve often said I don’t need to run an evil-only campaign because my players tend to run evil characters no matter what their character sheets say. In fact, the Tower Campaign ended with three evil characters, a character who did as much evil as good, and a character who shrugged and let them all do whatever. The long-term ramifications of letting three-and-a-half evil characters ascend to godhood with no good characters to balance them out was not lost on me. The point is that my campaigns don’t fall apart. In fact, the least successful campaign I’ve had in a long time was the one where I required all the players be good. It’s as though character’s alignment doesn’t determine the health of the campaign or the story or the table, the players do.
But no amount of anecdotal evidence or impassioned logic will convince somebody who’s absolutely certain evil characters are untenable. That’s why I want everybody to watch Lucifer, to see an evil character work in a functioning party. And also because I really like the show and I’m terrified it’s too weird to exist for more than one or two seasons without a little more support.