So you want to be a Storyteller, Develop your Villains

What is a villain, and why are they important to our games?
 A Villain is:
  1. A character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot.
  2. The Person or thing responsible of specified trouble, Harm, or damage.
  3. A Character in a story who opposes the hero.

A villain often has these quality’s as well.

  1.   A deliberate scoundrel or criminal.
  2. Is the One blamed for a particularly problem or difficulty.

All good Hero story’s need a villain. So how do we make a great villain in our role-playing games? We must find an NPC that will leave a lasting impression on our players. Yet to make a lasting impression on our heroes we need to find ways to give that NPC depth and character so that he may become a villain. With most DM’s the default method is by frustrating their players. Using whatever method of escape he has prepared while tossing the players a stinging quip and parting shout of.

“Better luck Next time! You will never stop me as long as your one step behind me! Until then here are some goons for you to take your anger out on.”

While this type of villain is perfectly acceptable, this style of villain is very unsatisfying a villain needs to be more. It is actions that make a villain more than just a target that the players need catch up with. They are driven and focused in action. We want a villain with teeth, who is not afraid to face his nemesis on equal all be it carefully selected grounds.

In Movies, TV and Books were introduced to Villains in several ways. We see a much deeper in-depth development with them that often we fail to see at the game table. Why is that ? Because we do not give our villains enough time for the players to really begin to hate them, or better yet love to hate them. Lets take a look at a few examples of iconic villains.

Lex Luthor
LexLuthor1What makes Lex Luthor such a good villain? Lex Luthor is a charitable billionaire philanthropist that has funded several charity’s and helped rebuild Metropolis. He has one nearly single-minded goal to rid the world of superman for the sake of humanity. To Luthor Superman is a false god and needs to be exposed to the world. He is so much the opposite of superman in every way and holds him to the highest level of contempt. Louthor’s largest flaw is that he is willing to sacrifice humanity itself to rid the world of the one thing he hates more than anything.

Even with the Man of Steel’s powers Lex does not fear him. Lex understands his opponent and is willing to exploit any and all of his weaknesses. Hurting him because he knows Superman’s weaknesses. His Morality and his Humanity as well as his vulnerability to kryptonite give Lex ample chances to face Superman and gloat about his plans.

Darth Vader
Let’s look at Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. I am not going to get into the acting but the intent. Anakin turns to the Dark side for his own ends. He’s slaughtered children and is in a battle to the death with his mentor and friend. Even as the battle rages Obi Wan tryies to convince him he’s been deceived or tricked by the evil power of the soon to be Emperor. Yet at the point in the story Anakin is firm in his belief that it is in fact the ideals of the Jedi order that are the ones that are in the wrong and his cause is just. After all of this he still believes his view of how things are is the right one. He has now become the classic villain.

Walter White AKA “Heisenburg”
Most stories are about the hero’s journey. Breaking Bad was the story was about the birth of a true villain. Most anyone would understand and sympathies with Walter White and his situation that leads to his life of crime. Yet slowly as he slips from victim of the system to a prideful criminal we look on in shock and horror. In the end much like Anikin is gone and there is only Vader. Heisenburg becomes all that is left of Walter White. With no Jedi in the world of breaking bad to bring him to redemption death is the only thing that could bring his terror to an end. At his height Heisenburg was as pure a villain as they come.

Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger,I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No, I am the one who knocks!

I know your thinking but if give the players a chance to be face to face with the villain they will kill him. Maybe, but any good villain picks the time and place where he will face his nemesis. You as a Storyteller must play to your players characters weakness and exploit them. All the while personifying what makes your villain more than just a thug with power. In doing so also leaving the villain an out so that he may exit the scene what ever it may be.

Your villain must know the things that your players love and hold dear. As well as how to exploit those weaknesses for his own ends. So as a Storyteller you have to get into the heads of your players a bit. But hopefully with some good character back story & descriptions these soft spots in the parties armor are easily found.

 

 When creating a villain here are some simple Do’s and Don’ts

DO:
Portray your villain with single-minded determination to their end goal. Nothing will get in way of accomplishing this goal. not the players, not loved ones, nothing. This is not to say they will take unnecessary risks. They absolutely will not.Any Risk could mean not reaching the end goal and that is unacceptable. So they will gladly sacrifice a pawn to take a set back. Villains are always playing the long game. For them it is a marathon, where often the players are sprinting to stop the villain. By contrast the villain moves a steady calculated pace with their vision laid out before them. Remember your villain is the counter point to the
Do Not:
Make him a mystery. If you know nothing about your villain and your players know nothing about your villain then he is just an imposing stick figure in a really good-looking outfit. There is a place for the mysterious villain but they best serve as plot twists. I will get into t his later.
DO:
Make your villain stand out in a crowd. Either by way of action, appearance or personality. Villains by their very nature want to draw attention to themselves. They are the driving force of the actions the players are trying to stop and in some cases the architects of the plot. This does not mean that they will automatically show themselves as the villain in your story but they should not be afraid to deal with your players close up and one on one. When they situation best suits them.

Do Not
:
Let your villain be afraid of the heroes. This does not mean in any way that he should be more powerful than the players. Just remember the old catch phrase. Never let them see you sweat. Your Villain might be in dire straights but never forget he has a goal and he knows he will see his task through to the end. Nothing not even the players are going to stop this in his mind. This does not imply that he wont take actions to thwart the players at every opportunity. After all they are in the way of his driving need to carry out his goal. So they must be swept off the table. Your villain can not be suffered the chance that they players might succeed.
DO:
Remember that no matter how much your players hate your villain or the campaigns public view of them. More often than not your villain do not see themselves as evil. They will often view others opinions of them as unable to see the grand picture that only he can see. Be it twisted logic or fractured sanity that guides them to this judgment.Do Not
Never portray your villain as one that is so far beyond the players that they meta-game with the thoughts that they need to level before they can defeat your villain. Or worse yet, that they need NPC help to defeat him. This can be game breaking as well as make your players believe that you are playing a game of Us vs. Them. This makes for a bad villain all around and can not only hurt your story but your gaming group.

DO

Be sure your villain learns form his mistakes in regards to the hero’s. His end game matters too much to him to risk repeatedly allowing the players to thwart him. If one plan to remove the players from the equation fails. He will come up with something new. Keep your villain unpredictable in that regard. After all as the Joker would say “Where is the fun in that?Now I understand all of this is helpful but your asking yourself, How do I get my villain into situations. So he can do ANY of these things without the players cutting him down or dumping a clip of ammo into him and calling it a day. That my dear readers is on you for the most part. It will take careful planning. But when you pull it off it is very satisfying. Fear not I can give you a few tips that might set you on the right path.

Tips

  • When your players are having down time often you will have chances where the party is not all together. This is a perfect time to insert your villain into a face to face chat with many of your players.
  • Maybe he shows up in church where your Cleric or Paladin worship, Dressed as a Priest or even giving a sermon when they arrive.
  • Wakes a player from his warm bed in the inn where a player is sleeping.
  • In modern games maybe he picks up the phone or hacks into their computer and has a little one on one chat from the safety of distance.
  • They players are invited to go to a special event. One of the guests is the villain.
  • When Dealing with more combative types. He confronts the player and informs them that everyone in the restaurant has been poisoned by him. Warning the player or party that if they try to kill him, he will not give them the antidote.Lastly there is one other type of villain that stands slightly outside of what is talked about here and breaks some of the rules that is the Mysterious villain. Mysterious Villains follow most of the rules above but break the one cardinal rule. They are Mysterious and stay that way usually right up until the climax of the story. Often this is done in a few ways.Mysterious villain
  • Mysterious villains often are very close to the PC’s
  • Mysterious villains usually have a sub villain in play that the PC’s believe is the real villain.
  • Mysterious villains will show themselves in the last act or climax of their plot.
Here are a few links to Past Do you want to be a Storyteller Blogs.
The Blog that started it Here
And Part two Here

Tackling other GM issues Blogs.

Tackling RPG Cliches: Inns Here
Tackling RPG Cliches: Caravans Here
Tackling RPG Cliches: Quests Here

One thought

  1. You left out an entire class of Villain. The truly alien villain. Great Old Ones, shadow run dragons, sci-fi alien races…. The actions and motivations of these villains should be inscrutable at best, if not outright nonsensical to the party. these are some of the hardest villains for any storyteller to get right since by definition you can’t. Sooooo…..one suggestion: Henchmen! Think about the Borg. Faced with impossible task of writing from their POV. The TNG writers introduced Loquitus and the Borg Queen. Hybrid, Henchmen who could fill the roll of a relatable face who act in understandable ways to carry out inscrutable goals.

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