Jump to content

General Writing: How to Villain?


Recommended Posts

Hey there! Sierra here, I've been going through a long process of rewriting a campaign for Dungeons and Dragons and I've been stuck on making a real villain. One that makes the party's skin crawl, one that they can hate, one they can sympathize with, and cheer when the game comes to a close and victory is theirs. Do you have any advice? I'm looking for anything from personal philosophies, things you read/watched/or experienced, and your own ideas. I'm really curious how you guys create a compelling villain. 

Thank you for your time! 
I love you, ❤️ 

Sierra Zion

  • Love 1
Link to comment

It's all about knowing one of your players. Get one of your players to hate him, and the rest will follow or counter argue that they are not that bad. In my campaign there is a villain called Gideon, he is just a human warlock, but because of one single action, one player hated him and the rest followed suit. They don't have to torture them or be truly evil, they can just be someone who is the total opposite or goes against the morals of the party, and is dead set on their ways, it helps also if they belittle the party as well, really add that superior seasoning 

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment

Its not going to be easy compared to making a hero. While the gist of villain can be a mirror character of hero that exist to kill the hero from completing their quest, its not always so. For example a villain who share same goal as hero, but their way to reach there are conflicting which is why they clash with each other until they reach the finale. In order to make villain, one thing that you should consider is, of course, their motive. No matter how serious, sinister, or even ridiculous the villain are, if their motive are way too shallow, that's not going to work. Motive = core of every character role existence. Or at least to me. In order to do so...

  • Get to know your own hero : If you know the list of hero and their intention, its far more easy to make proper villain to stand against them. Villain MUST have something that tick with the hero presence. For simple example is the hero exist to save the world by destroying artifact, and villain exist to manipulate that power. Without knowing the hero purpose, there's chance your villain end up for a gag as their motive are not related and can be easily shrugged off. By all mean, know the good guys before making the bad guys, and keep each ideal in mind
  • Give the audience/player reason to love/hate : If you only have basic idea that villain only exist to kill and destroy the world, its a guarantee for a fail as it was as equal as plankboard character. Villain must have reason of their own action, not baseless act of compulsion. For example, the villain hijack the military network because they controlling people life but also use it to inject their ideal into people after they did so. It might seems heroic to save people from grasp of military but regardless it also wrong to put your own agenda inside people mind against their will which give the audience/player think if they should side with the villain who clearly has a just cause, albeit with unfair process for possible better future. Or give audience/player a reason to hate them, because they are on the wrong side and their ideal are against their own (hero). By all mean, make your villain think they are the savior with their own ideal and stick to it.
  • Enforce your villain : True villain stand on top of the mountain, unmoving, untouchable, until hero come to the picture. A villain must show their might most of the time to give message to audience/player that "They own this place" with assertive dominance. For example, the villain rule over a kingdom through power of darkness and has been seized over other Kingdom less than a day. That give enough impression that the villain is not someone that can be easily picked off, even though they look and act like such a goof. The purpose of this is to give a challenge to the hero character by finding out how to outwit the villain as they clearly not just adversary they can just hack through or talk their way out. Give the hero hard time, but make sure to give them a weakness ahead of time. Mary sue will not be tolerated!
  • Give them reason why they evil : As i said before, villain without context is a waste of time. By having backstory that sounds compelling, it would raise your villain value to the audience/player. The tricky part is, you have to make sure their reason are logical, connected to the universe. Having villain character that just evil because they want to is not exactly compelling. It would make them flat as plankboard. If you make villain only to end up shrugged off by audience/player in just one single appearance, this very reason might play the part. Compelling background could give the audience/player something to relate to themselves, giving them inner conflict between good and evil. That's what make a villain character are considered immortal in people mind as they voice their logical reason why they being evil as much as people hate how right they were. By all mean, make the villain reason as slap to the face to the hero for how blinded they are with their ideal.
  • The personality : Be it they good evil, chaotic evil, joker, no nonsensical, or straight psycho, you have to give character their own personality for people to remember. For example Yandere character. The reason why their personality stood up is how they can flip a switch at moment notice, giving the audience/player impression that the said villain is a ticking bomb and have to proceed carefully when they're around. Another example, if we really go for extreme, is Majima from Yakuza series. While not look like it, his personality as opposing force is something worth a note. While he's not there to kill you, he's there to give you hell, mocking you at every corner. A character that always underestimate hero every corner to give them reality check how vulnerable they are and give them inner conflict. Another good example is of course, Joker from DC Universe who had a solid motive and how he always downplay justice value to show audience/player that the injustice in this world is so bad its like a bad joke.

    Okay, i make up the latter part but you know what i'm saying. Personality is the way for audience/player to acknowledge their presence. Sometime, good/bad personality is not enough for villain. You have to go above and beyond such as twisted character that always grin seeing unfortunate event or cry over a dead flower.

That's the recipe how to make one. "But Elena! How am i act as one?" you might aske. So here's a small tips to make it easy for you to execute villain role once you're done making one.

  • Stick to their personality and never stray. Soften up at some scene is fine but don't forget the core personality they had. Unlike hero, villain is a complete character in the first place. They don't need much of improvisation as story goes unless deemed necessary.
  • Think yourself as them. Think what if the villain background story happen to you as you play the role villain. Tap those emotion and you might nail the personality value for the character
  • Don't shows up because you think it make you look cool. Always wait for right moment. Seriously, introducing villain too much would make them look like hassle than threatening. Especially if they just pop up, say hello, and bug out. Don't do that. Even joker type of villain didn't do that.

Huh, i did it again. Well you get your answer from me at least. Making villain is not easy as i said before. But you know what the most hard part is in making them? Finding a good name for them!

Good luck~

Edited by Elena Ichinomiya
  • Love 1
Link to comment

Thank you for your insight Elena, it's very useful. There's just so much to learn, and so many different opinions out there. I'll add your suggestions to my journal. ❤️ 

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
  • 1 month later...

For campaign villains personally I start at alliance. as the major villain of an entire campaign or even a large arc of the campaign Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil and Chaotic Evil create very different characters.

  • Lawful Evil

These are your autocrats. Dictators and tyrants who on a large scale bend societies to their whims and needs. They've a cult of personality around them that creates an eerie mood when your party has to face off against a beloved king who's in actuality a corrupt despot. Depending on the setting this is also a lot of devils like Asmodeus where they're evil on a cosmic scale, powerful entities that use souls as currency and a source of power are just plain evil, even if he and his minions are striking deals to purchase said souls. On smaller scales these are inquisitors, corrupt guards, powerful nobles. Where none of them may lead a whole country and might not be final villain worthy, for a short story as part of your adventure as they misuse the power the world has given them.

  • Neutral Evil

I like to play these characters based on the setting. Some are evil on a smaller scale, not so far gone that they cannot be swayed back onto a righteous path. Bandits and similar folk thrown to a life of crime. My general interpretation of these types of villains are that they're especially selfish, playing off of neutrality to law and chaos as something that only effects them as it benefits them. If the law benefits them then they'll take that advantage just the same as breaking it. This applying to not just written law but societal and cultural norms of an area. Depending on the content of your game something akin to a Fallout style slaver might fit this role. This example being that the majority of the wasteland is entirely without law and the slavery serving purpose even if it's just to make money from like minded villains. 

  • Chaotic Evil

Personally this is a category of brutes and many evil monsters. Whether carnage is an instinct, or just another notch on the belt of an entirely corrupt individual these are usually the most reprehensible individuals in the sheer severity of their actions. Warmongers, serial killers, demons and worse all find a home in this alignment. It's usually a bit unnuanced. The servants of malevolent beings or just the wholly opposed beings themselves who to their core live for destruction.

These aren't hard rules just ways I interpret it for villain building. Partly inspired by some 3.5e supplements (mainly paladin alternate class features to give them greater alignment flexibility which created one for each of the combined alignments). I use this as a base line along with comparing the villains morals to that of the world. Generally giving a character a noble goal but having the morals that they operate on be warped or entirely lacking in empathy is a very effective set up.

  • Love 1
Link to comment
  • 4 months later...

Let me write up some of my thoughts on villains in general, not just RPGs, and hopefully you will find some of it useful!

As a rule, I'm uninterested in seeing, writing, or RPing (as or against) a 'flat' villain, i.e. the cartoonish or fairly tale-like person who is evil, end of story. Now, I fully recognise that these have their place in some stories, and they can even be great fun in RPG one-shots, like in a tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top thing where the heroes are also exaggerated. But I find that it's a thin trope and for me, it wears out very quickly.

What, then?

To me, this falls back on a more general piece of advice I often give: very few things should exist in their story only for their own sake. If you want to create a story based around lots of action, or romance, or sex, or a dastardly villain, that's not a problem. But if that in itself is the main goal, then paradoxically, I believe you will have a hard time actually achieving it.

Why? Because in storytelling, things shouldn't happen for their own sake; but for the story's sake. In my opinion, creating an engaging story should always be your primary goal.

But how does that actually work? Well, since we're talking about villains, lets use that as an example.

Time to make up generic villain. Let's call him Roderick Villainburg. He's an archmage whose goals collide with the protagonists' need to find and talk to the last living dragon in the world. He, of course, wants to kill it. He shies from no methods to accomplish this, while the protagonists are bound by a stricter moral code, often leaving them a step behind. So at every turn, Roderick turns up and tries to thwart the protagonists, then disappears into the night, swirling his cape and probably giving off his trademark evil laugh.

Now, you could play him just like that, and the story may well be entertaining: "Damn you, Villainburg!" the protagonists cry, shaking their fists as he once again steals an important piece of the puzzle from under their noses.

Turning him into something more doesn't have to require a lot. You can get a long way by answering one simple question: why does he want to kill the last dragon in the world? The answer to that question alone can give the character lots more depth, particularly if you pick an answer and then brainstorm it. Here's my brainstorm:

  • Roderick has found out that if you eat a dragon's heart, you are healed from any illness and gain everlasting life
  • But he doesn't want it for himself; it's for his dying daughter, whom he loves above all things
  • The reason he loves his daughter so much is because she's his antithesis; a pure and good person
  • He has realised that the way he sees the world is cynical and dark, but he can't stop himself
  • Because every time he tried to be good, to do the right thing, someone he loved died
  • So now he's doing this one last thing not for himself but for his daughter, and in extension, the world
  • If she gets the heart, she can become what he never was: a good person who can change the world for the better
  • And because he loves her, he will do anything to get that heart -- including torturing innocents, sacrificing other people's children, etc.
  • He truly believes that the end justify the means, and being a nearly full-blown psychopath allows him to pursue that course
  • The only thing that still lets him feel a little bit human is when he's with his daughter
  • So when he's at her sickbed, he cries over her, but also over the things he has done during his attempts to save her life
  • Because right then and there, he knows what he's done is wrong, and that she would hate him if she knew
  • But then he goes back out there and the world darkens again, and he becomes the real Roderick: the villain

Brainstorming is GREAT! Just write. If it turns out bad, you have a delete button. But often something will spark and potentially explode (like it did for me, just now), and soon you have a three-dimensional character. The above isn't exactly an innovation of storytelling -- in fact it's a bit of a trope as well, but that's fine; just try to make the trope yours. And one thing that's great about running RPGs is that you don't really have to care if you copy tropes or even parts of stories wholesale -- no one is coming after you for stealing ideas. And as long as you tweak the formula a bit, people likely won't notice anyway -- that's what most stories are anyway: tweaks of other stories.

Now this might sound like you have to plan a lot ahead and have all your ideas about who your villain is before you even start, but that's not true. You can explore these ideas as you're writing/playing, and develop and adapt them along the way. If you're writing, you'll have plenty of chance to set everything straight as you revise and rewrite. If you're a GM, my advice is just to always pretend like you know what you are doing, and when you get some good new ideas about the motivations of your villain, just start playing them out -- while also trying to make it fit with their previous actions. You will often find the story that has already been told can be fit many more molds than you might expect!

I hope that's helpful in some way! If you have any thoughts, I'm happy to discuss.

Edited by ETValkyr
  • Like 1
Link to comment

And now I've marked the entire forums as read so I don't necro any more topics (particularly not with page-long replies). 💀 😁

Edited by ETValkyr
Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Recently Browsing   0 Dreamers

    • There are no registered users currently online
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue. Read our Privacy Policy for more information.