Sometimes, you just have to be the bad guy. Whether it’s an NPC foil to write or a swan dive into villainy as a player, the dark half of the story is never far from the table. When your turn towards evil has come up, you can take a moment to consider how to make it one towards quality villainy.
My First Villain
Think back to the first villain who honestly scared you. For me, there’s one that comes before all others.
He doesn’t ring a bell? Let’s take a fast stroll down memory lane. In 1988, I’m a cartoon loving little kid sitting in her mother’s lap, watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Judge Doom captures a sweet little toon shoe, and lowers it slowly into a substance he’s discovered can harm toons. It struggles, but is soon nothing but a colored smear on top of the “Dip.”
I had my hands clapped over my mouth the whole time. Doom wasn’t just a scary guy with incredible authority, he murdered a toon. It’s pure visceral horror for a child. I saw him as the embodiment of evil. Killing that toon was as easy for him as asking for the time of day.
Think back to your first villain. Think back to the first character that made you experience fear and horror. That made you utterly convinced that evil existed. We fear and hate villains for many reasons, and some of those might make you squirm to contemplate. Still, you have to dig deep. The villains you find down there, the reaction they bring out in you, that’s what you want for other people when faced with the villain you put in front of them.
“Protagonists and loved ones are the wadded-up pieces of paper the baddie is throwing at the wastebasket to kill time.” –Logan Bonner
What Villains Do
Villains don’t just indiscriminately nuke planets (hi, Vader), or program supermodels to kill (oh, Mugatu!); they can make the life of their enemy go from sunshine and rainbows to a veritable living Hell. When you create a villain, or suddenly finds your hands full with one, how they react is as important as tactics and resources. The leader of a gang may respond differently to pesky do-gooders than a well-off, corrupt politician. Do they react out of anger to the people that get in their way? Fear? Do they go straight for the source, or wait for things to escalate? Are they content to scare off the competition to their master plan, or do they prefer a campaign of violence against the loved ones and allies of their foe? With some villains, it’ll develop naturally through the course of play.
Yet others can require pre-scripting to give you the confidence and surety required when you step into that skin; the moment when you become a villain.
What story is your villain the hero of?
Heroes have a set of goals we can easily rattle off. Rescue the kidnapped heir. Save the Kingdom. Get together (or back together) with their One True Love. Become the master and not the student. Kick the ass of the people opposing you. Go on a quest or exciting adventure. Make the world one they want to live in.
If we pull from the life story of one of my favorite movie villains of all time, some of those are goals of villains as well. Imhotep, in The Mummy movies, is a simple Egyptian Priest with some goals. Stay together with his sweetie, make the world the sort of scary ass Paradise he’d dig living in, and wipe those damn adventurers off the face of the earth. Imhotep is the hero of a story where he and his true love, persecuted and killed, must overcome death and some assholes stealing their shit to make a new life for themselves.
If you’ve got a favorite villain related memory to share, leave a comment or drop me a line.