Monday, May 8, 2017

Plausible Villainy

Making a villain can be hard. Well, just making a bad guy isn't hard, but making one who is believable and resonates with your players can be. Today I want to talk about that, and give a tip or two on making a villain that's more than just an antagonist.

One Bad Day...
The idea behind a lot of villains is that they could be anyone, just on the other side of a particularly bad day. To make villains this way, you first make the villain as a normal character. Who were they? What were they? Now, put them through the worst day ever. Maybe a King's bodyguard not only fails to save the King but is framed for the murder and now can't go home. Perhaps a Sailor falls afoul of a cruel pirate that tortures them and leaves them marooned for dead

Die A Hero Or Live Long Enough...
The Dark Knight put this line out in the public, and it's a good one. The idea here is that as times change - or as the fight goes on - the Hero becomes less of a hero. Perhaps they keep escalating their methods until their brand of justice is too extreme and they become the villain themselves. Perhaps the time changes and what they stood against is now good and that makes them evil.

Batman is an easy example for this - what with the movie and all - and it's one the comics explore a lot. At what point does Batman become the villain? He's basically assaulting and maiming people for what are, in many cases, minor crimes or crimes that don't deserve that kind of beating. Yes, he stops supervillains, but he also does a lot to other people as well. What if he went even further? What if he was killing them like the punisher? What if he took control of Gotham completely?

What if a hero like Superman stood for the Greater Good and the good of the state, then found themselves in a place that valued the individual. Their movements for the greater good, and the sacrifices they were willing to make for those things, now flies in the face of what is considered good. yes, things 'work' but at the cost of sacrifices made.

Extreme Methods
And then there is my favorite. The villain that would be a hero, except their methods are extreme...but perhaps necessary.

This villain sees a problem with the world, and they know how to fix it. Just, the fix is a little brutal and no one will love them for it. That's ok though, they have the strength of conviction to do this where no one else would.

Perhaps a world will die soon due to overpopulation, and so the villains plan is to wipe out a large portion of the population so the world can survive. Obviously no one is going to sign off on the mass murder of millions, billions, or trillions of people, but that's ok. This villain will  handle that.

It's more fun though when the problem and solution are things that the players - if not the PCs may even agree with. A corrupt kingdom with a corrupt ruling class. The answer? Kill them and take power - if only long enough to restore the power to the people. Only, can the PCs let a tyrant who is assassinating the ruling class succeed, and what about all the other problems that come up in the chaos?


  1. It makes me think of that advice "Everyone is the hero of their own story". Which I think is a good starting point for many villains, they are not doing this to be evil but for a goal, which may or may not be a noble one, but their methods . . .

    1. One of my favorites is "I just want to be free." I mean, who can argue with that goal. But oh my the methods that can be justified.