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Just Because He’s the Bad Guy Doesn’t Mean He’s a Bad Guy!
Writing a good villain can be as satisfying as writing a good hero, sometimes it can be even better because the moral code can take the back seat and you can really delve into their mind and make them as psychotic or brilliant as you like.
There is only one rule when it comes to writing a good villain; they do not think they are the villain, in their mind what they are doing be it, human sacrifice or a grand heist, they will know that what they are doing isn’t the right way around it, they may even feel regret for their actions but in their mind it is what needs to be done to satisfy their own goals.
In saying that; it turns out that tragic villains are my favourites, it must stem from watching Star Wars as a kid and seeing Luke trying to reason with Vader, who throughout the films has been this creature to fear, a destroyer and a heartless murderer. But when Luke finds out that Vader is his father, he begs him to change his mind because he felt that there must be some good in there like there is in him. Vader’s yearns for redemption but knows he’s too far gone. These types of villains are conflicted and I always love it when the players see this and try to reason with the villain.
When developing the basic personality I’ll look into popular villains like the aforementioned Darth Vader, Sherlock’s Moriarty, Ledgers Joker and Nico Bellic from Grand Theft Auto 4. I also refer to the dungeon full of bear’s scenario; where the hero goes in there to kill them so he can tell tales of his exploits, but to the bears the hero is a monster who has come to destroy their home. You sometimes have to write a better back story for the bad guy than the players do their characters just so you can add a human element to them.
That’s not to say that having a complex bad guy is the be all and end all, sometimes you just want someone outright insane; someone who’s methodology and plans go out the window and you roll up a bad guy or gal that relishes in the art of mass murder and destruction. These types of villain are perfect for short campaigns; they’re simple basic, strong and give the players something to chew on in the end game.
One of the most common villain tropes in a fantasy setting is the wizard/warlock who is bent on ruling the world with fear; it is a nice and easy one to do, plonk him or her in a big tower and have them send wave after wave of goon to try and slow the party down. After a while though, the same old wizard song and dance can run a bit thin. Having a character from a players past randomly turning out to be the bad guy is a good one, especially if you’ve been laying subtle clues through the entire game, it adds that classic Shyamalan twist to a plot.
Another way of making a villain is to play one and have the heroes be driving force out to stop you. How nefarious can you be? What are your combined goals? I’d personally love to run or play a villain plot line in the future; I’d love to see how I could throw a little drama into the mix.
Whatever you choose to be or do in your games remember that the villains ability and power is determined purely by how evil you want them to be, keep in mind that sometimes less is more but on occasion rending an entire city to ash is just as fun.