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!