I've talked about Villains on this blog before and it seemed to go over well both times. Today I want to talk about Villains a little bit more, and the emphasis is going to be a bit more on that second post than the first. Villains are awesome to have, good villains can make a bad game good and a good game great. More to the point though, a good villain defines and exemplifies aspects of the hero that they go against, which is why it can be so important to custom tailor your villains to your NPCs. Today, I want to talk about that.
The Rogues' Gallery
Almost any conversation about good villains will go back to Batman, and for good reason: the man has some amazing villains. Look at the majority of Batman's iconic villains. You have Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Two Face, The Riddler, and even some new ones like Bane and Hush. Almost all of Batman's villains resonate with him in a way that other super heroes just don't pull off. Sure, you occasionally get the markings of a great pair (Sabre Tooth and Wolverine had this for a while), but almost every one of Batman's long running villains resonate with him in that special way. How do they do it? Basically, they all represent one aspect of Batman's personality, only magnified and exaggerated to an almost ridiculous degree.
What This Does
This does several things for Batman all at once. One, it gives a variety of different types of stories that can be told. An adventure against the Riddler is going to be a lot more cerebral than one against Poison Ivy or the Penguin, but that isn't all that it does. Each of these characters shows us a way that the character could have gone, is fighting to not go, and could at any moment fall into. Don't believe me? Take a look at each of the villains. Riddler is the detective gone to an insane degree, leaving clues and traps that have to be solved more mentally than physically. Two Face represents the dual nature, with the darker more beastial side constantly threatening to take over. Poison Ivy's obsession with protecting plants is very similar to Batman's obsession with Gotham City. Penguin is a business man - albeit not the best of late - and shows other ways that things could go. Joker is unique in that what he defines primarily seems to be the limitations that Batman has to enforce to not become the things he fights. In other words, Joker represents the raw madness trying to escape at every crack and seam.
This is one of the hardest things to pull off in a game. I've been GMing for over 15 years and I think I may have pulled it off only once successfully, but it is a powerful tool that can make things amazing. Forgetting Batman, you can find it in almost any other long running series too. Holmes and Moriarty are probably the second best example, though that is more a mirror image than a specific aspect of the character.
But How Do I Do It?
To do it you're going to need your PCs to have made strong characters with multiple facets. Observe the character for a while, talk to the player about them, and see what the player sees in the character. Then choose one of those aspects and magnify it to a ridiculous degree. Even positive traits magnified in this way can become great tools for villains. A character who is faithful, can come across someone who is completely fanatical. A character who plans things out can come across someone who plans EVERYTHING out, multiple times and ways. The important thing is to just crank whatever aspect you take to eleven, and then play it out and see what that does to the character. Be sure to play it up when facing that character(s) too btw. You want to show the similarities, and the differences.