I’ve written previously on the problems with including evil characters in a group dynamic. Today’s article is something a follow-up to that, spurred by a recent discussion with my regular RPG group. And the issue I’ll be focusing on is the problem of the Edgelord character type. Two things first. One, my RPg experience tends to be more fantasy based than SF, but they cover a lot of the same themes. Secondly, I won’t be naming nay of the people involved, but I have played with multiple groups over the years, both as games master and player, and every single one has included an Edgelord at some point. Sometimes it’s played for laughs, usually it’s played straight. Either way, it’s rarely any fun for the person running the game, or for the other players.
Now, there’s a few things to know about me. have a dark sense of humour, I love gore and dark themes (hunting a serial killer through a haunted mansion assaulted by the undead corpses of his victims? Yes please), I even listen to heavy metal. In many ways, I am something of an Edgelord myself when it comes to running campaigns. Yet this is the one character type I utterly despise.
You see, an Edgelord is, by their very nature, not a team player. Having a character who is surly, or who does not fully trust others, that can be a fun thing to roleplay. But having someone who refuses to talk to the other party members, or just stands and watches, that’s a lot less fun. If the party are having a drink together having completed a mission, and one of them sits in the corner eyeing up the exit, then that person is missing out on a lot of roleplay, at the same time as making the others uncomfortable. Note how the Edgelord is spoiling the fun for themselves as much as everyone else. They may start to feel left out of the fun the other players are having, and act accordingly. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that can ruin an entire campaign.
Let’s take a step back. just what exactly makes a character an Edgelord? Well, for a start, talking in a growly ‘I’m Batman’ voice and wearing black even on the hottest day of summer are clues, but neither of these is enough for me to label someone an Edgelord. For me, it comes down to a few things. An evil alignment is always a warning that a character is not a good fit, unless you’re insane enough to be running an evil campaign. In the end, it comes down to edges.
Playing a character with an edge can be great fun. Maybe they’ve recently been betrayed, so have difficulty forming new bonds. Maybe they are dead-set on exacting vengeance on an old foe. Or maybe they don’t like showing their face due to some horrific scars. Any of the are a good edge that can create a nuanced character. But only one of them. The Edgelord will typically load these up on herself, one trauma after another. They become such a bundle of edges that you can cut yourself on their character sheet.
But the biggest giveaway of the Edgelord is that they allow these traits to interfere with the rest of the party. When other players are having fun fighting goblins, the Edgelord is looking for a way to maximise their edges. There’s a constant need for them to outdo themselves, leading to more and more ridiculously ‘edgy’ affectations. This is where the perpetual black fashion sense comes into play. They will allow harm to come to their allies because ‘my character doesn’t care about these people.’ And yes, that is roleplaying, you inhabit the persona. But you have chosen to make a persona that does not gel with the rest of the party. The Edgelord is no longer playing a cooperative RPG, they have created a mini-campaign in which they are roleplaying to themselves.
So how do we stop Edgelords? My tactic is as brutal as it is effective. An outright ban on edgy characters. I’m careful with uses of shadow magic or forbidden technology. Yes, it cuts off some of the options players may be used to, but it’s the only way I’ve found that has any success.
The alternative is to allow Edgelords into your campaign, and hope you can fix them. Give them chances to heal from whatever trauma the character faces. betrayed by a former lover? Then give them the chance to fall in love all over again. Trouble trusting friends? Point out the party of adventurers who have turned up to have fun together. of course, the Edgelord is often built in such a way that these acts seem out of character. If so, just tell the player to retire the character and start over. In the end, Edgelords are damaging their own experience of RPGs just as much as they damage everyone else’s.