What do you think of when you hear names like, Cruella DeVille, Melificent, Jafar, Scar (other than I can only seem to think of things Disney rolled out…)? They are memorable villains! Who can forget how awesome that fight between Prince Philip and Melificent was when she turned into a dragon? Who can forget the epic fight between an all-powerful sorcerer and a simple rogue? Who, in their right mind, can forget the voice of Jeremy Iron as Scar, his claws in that of Mufasa, leaning in and saying “Long live the king…” while throwing Mufasa to his death?!
What was it about these horrible people that made them so memorable? They had depth and motive. Melificent was evil, but wronged for not being invited to the party for baby Aurora. Jafar was eager to take power over the sultan and take the throne for himself. Scar was similarly motivated, but desired the rulership of the Pridelands to be the ultimate revenge for his brother taking what he believed to be his birthright.
So, how do you build these villains?
Remember how we were building the adventure? Let’s go back there. Let’s say that our adventure is exploring a dungeon with a long buried treasure. Of course there’s going to be plenty of monster encounters, traps, puzzles, etc…You’re an expert now in building encounters, right? Right! But what’s guarding the final treasure room?
This encounter is what is commonly referred to as a BBEG: Big Bad Evil Guy. Of course it doesn’t have to be a guy, but this is the term generally used. The BBEG is the “final boss” of the adventure. In our adventure, depending on the level of the party, it could be as simple as a mummy, or maybe as dangerous as a lich or demilich! The sky’s the limit on this.
One of my favorite movies is The Incredibles. The final villain in the first movie is absolutely awesome, if you think about it. It’s a kid who felt wronged and hurt, who turned that hurt into anger and revenge. His whole goal was to eliminate Mr. Incredible. Also, if you look at it, Mr. Incredible was responsible for creating Syndrome!
Let’s dissect this further. Syndrome obviously had an intimate relationship with Mirage, who turned on him when Mr. Incredible threatened to kill her during his capture. This shows the ruthlessness of Syndrome even in his personal relationships when it comes to his revenge plans. Further, you can see how Syndrome, although he makes the occasional blunder (like making the robot AI too smart), he shows himself to be an insanely smart villain. He planned and executed the death of several of the super heroes. He lured Mr. Incredible to his capture. His technology sales created a mass fortune, enough that he purchased an island, built a huge and elaborate base, and had a personal army/security force at his beck and call.
Then there are his flaws: he believed his plan unstoppable. He monologues enough to nearly be defeated by Mr. Incredible. His arrogance at his belief that his technology was enough to do what superheroes could do. These are all flaws, and some of them fatal.
There’s another school of thought on villains. That of the good guy who is following a path because he truly believes what he is doing is right. I’m not talking about that evil witch “Professor” Umbridge of the Harry Potter universe. She was absolute evil incarnate, and frankly, worse of a villain than that of Voldemort. Fight me if you think I’m wrong. No, I’m talking about those antagonists that believe whose goals are directly opposed to that of the protagonist, but who, themselves, are not “bad guys.” These are awesome and memorable antagonists, because it combines the need to ensure the party’s goals, with the moral and ethical dilemma of defeating a good person. Why are their goals different? Who knows. Maybe it’s a Boromir situation, in which they are taunted by the magical artifact.
Sometimes, and this is a great adventure and even campaign plot, the party are inadvertently the bad guys! One of my favorite episodes of Puffin Forrest involves the party working for a mysterious person, who has tasked them with finding some magic crystals. The only problem? This figure was the BBEG, and the party was inadvertantly putting together his ability to rise to power again!
Then there is this story (beware, wall of text):
I know it’s a little blurry, but hopefully you get the idea. Sometimes the BBEG can be the best good guy.
Personally, I love these kinds of BBEG. The ones you think, “Hmm, I think he has a point…”
When I play video games, especially the ones like Mass Effect or Fable, or even the Fallout series, when I play an evil character, they always have a single virtue (conversely my good characters have a flaw; for example, my good character had a wife in every town, where my evil character was faithful to his wife: Lady Grey). This helps give more depth to the villain.
The other thing I give my villains is a memorable “voice.” Maybe it’s an accent or way of speaking when I, as the DM, speak for him. Maybe he’s got the accent of a Bond Villain. Maybe he’s more “Dr. Evil.” Whatever the case, make your villain’s dialogue unique.
One Villain, the Emperor from my (in)famous pirate campaign was voiced by the player who played him. Beforehand, however, we discussed his cadence, his speech pattern, all of these things when he unmasked himself as the primary villain of the campaign (sort of). Great villain.
So, go out, make a villain, and make him/her awesome!
Until next time, dear readers!
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