Last week I talked about how I wanted to expand my writing abilities by dabbling in moral dilemmas and creating antihero characters. Although it was fun throwing tricky situations at my otherwise squeaky-clean heroes, I wanted to take it further. I wanted to go darker.
This was mostly due to the fact that my friends would tease me all the time about never being able to make a villain. I’d since proven them wrong with characters like Seris and Marcus Foraza (members of a supervillain organization and psychopaths if ever there were some), but I’d never really explored making a truly human character–someone just as much gray as black and white. Someone who was a mixed bag of good and bad traits.
As it turned out, the perfect opportunity strolled my way when one of my friends announced he’d be running a Warhammer 40K Dark Heresy roleplaying campaign.
For those of you unfamiliar, Warhammer 40K prides themselves on being as “grim-dark” as they come. It’s a science fiction setting in which a human Empire lords over much of the known universe. The Empire is mired in millennia of bureaucracy and religious institutions to keep the populace in line. With the Dark Heresy roleplaying game, the mysterious Inquisition is front and center, ever on their quest to wipe out heresy and rebellion against the God-Emperor.
So I knew this was the perfect platform to launch my new antihero.
I really wanted to stretch myself, so as I said last Thursday, I wanted to make a character nobody would want to be–or be around. How far could I go before nobody in my party would like this character? Would I even be able to handle playing a character so corrupt?
I decided that Cassius was going to be a dirty cop, a corrupt official whose thirst for power had finally caught up with him. He was a product but not a victim of the oppressive government. He sought power to obtain freedom, yes… but he had no qualms about doing horrible things to get that freedom.
He was a violent man even long before the “fall” that would land him in prison. Though he didn’t lay a hand on his wife or son, he gained a sick pleasure out of brutalizing the criminals he worked so hard to hunt down. Some would think he teetered on the edge of sadism.
But tracking criminals and bringing them to justice wasn’t enough for him. Cassius was sick of his family being cogs in the endless Imperial machine. So he began pulling strings, offering bribes, making threats–anything he needed to make connections and rise through the ranks. He wasn’t alone, of course; nothing this ambitious could be obtained by one man. He had a partner… but it was this one man he trusted the most who would prove to be his downfall.
At some point, his partner betrayed him. Cassius didn’t care why; he didn’t try to understand. All he cared about was making the man suffer for backstabbing him.
His partner sold him out, told the authorities all the things Cassius had convinced him to do and painted himself as the victim. Cassius naturally received the far harsher sentence. And while he toiled away on the toxic prison world, he bided his time.
He made more connections. He subdued himself to hear all the whispered secrets he’d need to eventually build a hidden empire of power even within prison, among the other inmates. The prison underworld had a king, but everyone knew who the real man with power was–Cassius. They called him “The Regent.” And they knew it was only a matter of time before he took over.
But what he wanted more than a crown of refuse was his revenge. And with his newfound power, many years later, Cassius finally enacted his vengeance. He made his former partner suffer every kind of calamity imaginable… and then Cassius killed him.
When Cassius began the roleplay, he had already enacted his vengeance. There was no revenge plot to follow. He’d already gone through his arc. And now, when his life felt a strange vacuum of purpose, he was recruited by the Inquisition and taken out of the prison to become a new kind of hunting dog.
Cassius was loud and brazen and downright offensive to the rest of the party members. He was regularly talking down to the men and flirting with women (all except the cybernetic “Tech-Priest”; he wasn’t into gadgets and actually had some respect for her calculated efficiency). He immediately took charge of the investigation, whether the others wanted him to or not.
He was the kind of person I can’t stand. And yet I didn’t get tired of him. I didn’t hate him. I didn’t throw my arms up in the air and go, “Nope, that’s it. I can’t play this character any more.”
And while the other player’s characters certainly didn’t like him… they didn’t despise him, either. They were actually more than willing to let him lead many of the missions, and one in fact actually found he could relate to Cassius–being branded an enemy of the Imperium and possessing power that the government considered dangerous.
Now admittedly, I’m not sure how much of a success this experiment has been; mostly because more recently, Cassius has been becoming more of a relatable character and less of a horrible person. But the really interesting thing is, that wasn’t even my doing. It wasn’t as if I started to make him more of a likable person because I couldn’t stand him or because I was slipping into my old habits. What actually started altering Cassius’s character… was another player.
Dying for answers? I know, right? I was dying to give them, too. Check out part two here.
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