Villains. Without them, what’s a hero supposed to do? Han Solo needs his “wretched hive of scum and villainy” to be discovered in. The Dread Pirate Roberts wears a mask and at best will kill poor Westley in the morning. And who else is going to cut a man’s heart out with a spoon than the Sheriff of Nottingham? Robin Hood is just a homeless guy who likes camping without him.
As GMs and storytellers, we know our villains have to be there. Whether it’s your PCs who are the villains or heroes fighting against villainy in your worlds, that interplay between good and evil – that *conflict* between opposing viewpoints – is very important to crafting compelling stories at and beyond the game table. But what makes them compelling?
These are the questions that cropped up this week when I saw a recent e-mail from RoleplayingTips.com detailing a method for creating campaign seeds (for more check out the recent blog post and be sure to sign up for the newsletter!). And what’s the first step of the four-step process? Having a “Rat Bastard Villain” with a goal. It got me thinking about how to craft villains with goals. What goes into such a beastie?
For me, it boils down to a cool origin, a simple goal, the method used to achieve the goal, the role of the villain in the overall plot, and the core emotion felt by the villain during this process. Sounds a lot like a collection of random tables, doesn’t it?
Some of the options might include:
- Origin: Family tragedy, personal tragedy, childhood trauma, accident, etc.
- Goal: Save lost love, save the world, destroy someone or some group responsible, gain ultimate power, etc.
- Methodology: Force of will, gather army, build tools, use science or magic, etc.
- Core Emotion: Love, hate, surprise, fear, etc.
- Role: Obstacle, competitor, hidden threat, or catalyst.
Grabbing some d4s, let’s see what we come up with:
(Family tragedy/Save lost love/Build tools/Surprise/Obstacle) This one sounds a bit like Victor Fries (Mr. Freeze) from Batman. Perhaps a gnomish tinker who lost his family to a dragon attack has been constructing steampunk exo-skeletons to rescue his daughter from the beast. Unbeknownst to the PCs, the dragon they are sent to gather an item from has a bit of a dual nature as a dealer in magical items and a beast to the smaller races, causing all sorts of trouble for gnomes and halflings out of spite. The gnome is surprised that the PCs would want to deal with such a creature and actively tries to get in the way, sabotaging their mission at every turn.
- (Accident/Gain ultimate power/Use science or magic/Hate/Catalyst) Here we have a mad wizard with an intriguing possibility. Perhaps he was performing experiments on the fringe of known magical practices and had an accident caused by an unwitting villager who interrupted at a critical moment. The accident did two things… First, it horribly disfigured him. Second, it gave him some new abilities to harness a form of elemental magic – perhaps fire. With his newfound abilities, he is on a quest for legendary items that might allow him to increase his abilities. As a newly made monster, he may seek other items to give him a better visage in public (through illusion or other methods). But ultimately he hopes to destroy the village who caused his accident in the first place. He thinks destroying the village will be cathartic and cause the change in himself to get over the event…
- (Personal tragedy/Destroy someone or some group responsible/Gather army/Fear/Hidden threat) Once there was a mild-mannered dwarven miner whose love was killed in a mining accident. Afraid and alone, he began an effort to gain support among his fellow miners to overthrow the manager whose outdated practices led to the accident. He may resort to violence, but ultimately wants to destroy the man responsible and ensure that such accidents never occur again.
These are three VERY different villains. With more options in the tables, I can see this method generating some quite unique story-driven and villainous (both minor and major) NPCs to play your PCs against…
What do you think? Worth investigating further?