Most Evil Utterances

 Posted by on November 8, 2010  Filed as: Better Gameplay?  Add comments
Nov 082010

Please welcome Jonathan Baldwin to the Stuffer Shack Crew…

Sometimes you really need your villains to stand out in the minds of your players. Since role-playing is, at its heart, a verbal exercise, this means spending a little extra time on your dialog.  You can describe the wicked fiend all you want, but unless you have pictures, your players are only going to remember what s/he says.

To get you started with some inspiration, here are a few of the best lines of dialog ever delivered by an antagonist.

“Welcome to my home; enter freely and of your own will.” –Dracula

The hospitable villain is a truly frightening force; if things are played right, the heroes won’t realize that they’re dealing with the Big Bad until they’ve already enjoyed his hospitality for some time.

“This is why only fools are heroes — because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice. Let die the woman you love… or suffer the little children. Make your choice, Spider-Man, and see how a hero is rewarded.”The Green Goblin, Spider-Man

It’s the oldest move in the playbook, and it’s still as effective now as it was then. Two outcomes, both bad for the PC’s, and supposedly there’s only time to pick one. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the heroes will be properly heroic and come up with an out. Sometimes that’s good – especially when the villain is a monster, rather than an intellectual giant. Sometimes, however . . .

How very predictable. I anticipated you would try to create a third, more favorable option.” –D.A.V.E., The Batman

It’s hard not to respect a good Xanatos Gambit; any villain smart enough to structure a plan in such a way that every possible outcome including failure works toward his goals is worthy of respect and recognition… or at least undying hatred on the part of the PC’s. Sometimes that’s good enough.

In a long campaign, this might work like pretty much everything Darth Sideous/Palpatine does in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Conveniently, as the GM, you don’t have to know all the possibilities ahead of time – you only have to be able to improvise if the players do the unexpected, and continue moving the plot forward. If you do it right, you look like a genius – or at least your villain does.

It should be noted, if you can ask, “But what if they do this?” and it would mess everything up, this is a Batman Gambit, which for villains is a plan which relies on the heroic tendency to behave in the most heroic manner, or otherwise assumes and manipulates a certain response based on known facts about the “victims.” Sometimes leaving a flaw in the plan on purpose isn’t a bad move. If the heroes find it, they feel great because they “outsmarted” the GM; if they don’t, you have something for your villain to monologue about during his getaway. Assuming he gets one.

“I can’t think of a morning I haven’t woken up with the thought of strangling you. That sanctimonious image of yours fooled everyone except me. Because I know evil.” –Lex Luthor, Public Enemies

This betrays a hatred that has completely distorted the villain’s perception of morality. To create this effect, operate from the assumption that the majority of antagonists aren’t card carrying villains and will develop some kind of rationalization that explains why they’re right and everyone else is the villain for trying to stop them. Create a villain who believes that he’s the hero of the story, trying to “save the world;” if your PCs are heroic sociopaths this can be easy, but for truly sanctimonious heroes the rationalization might take a little more work. Invariably, this kind of villain is the most interesting.

“No. I am your father.” –Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back

…or mother, sister, daughter, cousin, evil goatee sporting clone or alternate universe variation . . . even if the villain is lying (and let’s face it, they probably are), this is a great moment.

“You lose, Tony Stark.” –Whiplash, Iron Man 2

The villain has planned ahead so effectively that his own death is factored into an ideal condition for victory. Maybe the villain’s death is broadcast to the general populace and makes the heroes look like murderers. Maybe death unleashes the villain’s spirit to wreak havoc. Maybe death transforms him into a vampire. Alternatively, the villain’s death might just trigger the bomb and leave the hero with only seconds to evacuate the area.

“I did it thirty-five minutes ago,” –Ozymandias, Watchmen

…or any credible variation on the theme of “You’re far too late for it to make any difference.” This specific example is my all-time favorite – to this day, I can’t read this part of Watchmen without my jaw hitting the floor, even when I know that it’s coming.

There are far too many great lines to count, and these are only a few of my personal favorites. Have a favorite that I missed? Leave it in the comments!

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Jonathan Baldwin

Jonathan is a firm believer that the best way to make friends is to game with them, and that nearly any problem can be surmounted with a well rolled d20 and a sense of humor. Regrettably, his professors do not agree with him, which leaves him with the challenge of balancing his gaming habits with his studies. Profile Page / Article Portfolio

  11 Responses to “Most Evil Utterances”

  1. It’s interesting that I’ve spent several hours this past couple of days coming up with a cool concepts for my ShadowRun antagonists. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – I need to come up with something memorable for him to say at just the right moment.

    I just hope that moment comes…

    And welcome to the Shack!

  2. @Charisma: Hey, glad I could help. And thanks! I think I’m going to like it here. 🙂

  3. I would go one step further to say that ANY character needs a good line if you want him/her to be memorable. The heroes of the comic book tend to have pretty nifty one-liners too, but even an important NPC needs the extra flavor of a well crafted speech to stick in players memories week after week.

  4. @DiceGolem: That’s a very good point! Maybe I should cover the best heroic one-liners in a future article. Any NPC needs that extra something to keep the PCs from turning him/her into the trap detector for their next trip through a dungeon. . .

    Man, being an NPC is rough. I’m suddenly very glad to be the protagonist of my own story.

  5. @ Dice Golem:

    True, true. Oops, I have to go clean the garage. In the words of my little brother, I’ll be back.

  6. I think the prime benefit I gained from this article was not the one you intended. There have been a few times over the years where villians of mine never inspired the emotions I was hoping for, despite chewing up the scenery. But reading your article made me wonder if those failed villians failed because I was giving them the wrong kind of great villian lines; for example there was one I gave a lot of hospitble villian lines to, but the players never saw him as being hospitable, so the lines likely just felt out of place to them.

  7. @The Red DM: Actually, that’s a good way to read it. While it wasn’t what I was originally thinking of, there are a number of these lines that really only work well in certain situations – the hospitable villain, for instance, works best when the players have no reason to suspect that he is, in fact, a villain. Perhaps a prominant NPC who only later turns out to be the big bad after sending them on a few quests and letting them rest in his castle between missions?

    As an aside, Dracula stopped being a hospitable villain after the midway point of the book or so; after that, he’s almost a different beast entirely, offering Renfield power in exchange for blood, preying on innocent young women . . . sometimes that transition is as important as anything else. The important thing about that is to remember that the general headings aren’t always static – a villain who survives long enough can be more than one thing at different points in the story. The Green Goblin/Norman Osborn trying to be a father figure to Peter Parker, for instance.

  8. First of all, welcome to Stuffer Shack! Secondly, *great* references! particularly Iron Man 2. I have yet to see it, but the concept of the villain planning so thoroughly gives me goosebumps! It worries me that my GM has already read this article XD

  9. @Sus3an: Thanks for the welcome! And re: Iron Man 2: You’ll love it, it’s awesome. Really the hardest part of doing something like this is narrowing it down – there are just so many great moments out there, so many well executed schemes . . . how do you choose?

    As for your GM . . . well, no comment. XD

  10. What an excellent article, full of valuable flavor and villain-building material. Setting off sections using quotes is a brilliant idea. And it’s a great point in the comments about avoiding the static bad guy. PCs change, grow, evolve… why shouldn’t the antagonist?

  11. @Dixon Trimline: Thanks! I’m really glad you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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