A few years ago I was asked to sit on a panel discussion at a local convention in the Bay Area of Northern California. The topic of the panel was “What Makes a Great Villain?” The forum went amazingly well and it got me to thinking about the ideology of villainy as a whole…
What makes for a great Villain (notice I use the capital “V”)? Three things immediately leap to mind:
- Etiquette, and
What is better than a Master Villain who stands there gloating while the hero is descending into his Boiling Deathtrap of Doom™? Absolutely nothing. In every culture there is opposition where Good pits itself against the forces of Evil and often times it is the Villain who gets his (or her, let’s not be biased) just reward in the end, but it’s during that interim BEFORE they get caught that is the most pleasurable for us, as game masters.
What makes playing the bad guy so much fun is the sheer audacity that you can conjure by taking the mantle of Villain. Not just villain, but “Master Villain”. The imagery invokes a force that simply must be reckoned with by our heroes for they have no choice in the matter. Since the weight of playing the Master Villain falls upon the shoulders of Game Masters, and in the rare occasion Players, I have taken this opportunity to compile a ‘quick and easy’ guide in the formation of a Master Villain, along with a few reference books to get you pointed in the right direction for World Domination.
Making the Grade
As stated above, I find that the three elements in capturing the essence of a Master Villain are having the intelligence to concoct (and carry out) diabolical schemes, the etiquette to ensure that even when being faced with your most hated enemy the icy composure you have so diligently constructed is never compromised, and finally having the style and grace to look good while doing the most heinous of deeds. Remember, just because you’re a Master Villain doesn’t mean that you still can’t get the girl.
In the end, what makes for a memorable villain is the ability to breathe life into the villainous persona. Anyone can accomplish gratuitous violence and gore, but it takes a cool hand (and even cooler head) to cause the Hero to look foolish in front of his comrades, and that is what the villain really wants.
I briefly discussed the elements of Master Villainy, but let’s delve into each to give us a better understanding of what makes our bad guys so bad.
Perhaps the ultimate weapon in the Master Villain’s arsenal is the vast resource of knowledge that is obtained and absorbed during the Master Villain’s rise to power. Let nothing go to waste and be sure to retain the slightest bit of information that can be used in a future endeavor. Who knows when it might come of use? The weak link in the Hero’s armor is the fact that they think themselves immune to anything the Master Villain throws against them. While that may be true, it cannot be said for those that the Hero associates with; colleagues, relatives and even lovers make for grand bargaining chips when the fate of the Free World is on the line.
Tips and Tactics:
1.) Make hiring subordinates ensure they can hit the broad side of a barn. There is nothing worse than shelling out good money to the local mook union only to hire the dregs from the gene pool.
2.) Fight Dirty. Why stick around in the middle of a fight when you have your villainous mob to handle things for you? Dog pile on the Hero, it’s only fair.
3.) Think before acting. Nothing disrupts a well-laid plan like letting your emotions take control. In order to stay on top and not get caught you must weigh every action against the possible reaction from your opposing force.
Another great tactic in the fight against Good is making the Hero look like a buffoon. Like in the Bond movies of old, the master villain knew how to handle the suave, debonair Englishman spy. They simply invited him into their midst. The mistake that James Bond’s nemesis made was the fact that they became complacent and overconfident; two sure-fire ways to get caught or killed, thus ending their grand scheme for world conquest. There is nothing wrong with being sociable with the Hero; after all he is just like you, only he’s working for the ‘other’ side. Be pleasant, inviting and warm. Being a hero doesn’t have the perks that a Master Villain does: good food, fine wine and drop-dead gorgeous women, so be sure to pamper your opponent. Once he’s lulled into a false sense of security and thinking that you’re not “evil, just misunderstood” that’s when you stomp him in the dirt like a narc at a biker rally.
Tips and Tactics:
1.) Always treat your opponent with Respect. Even though the two of you may not like each other, you have to admire the tenacity of the Hero for continuing the fight, futile though it may be.
2.) Treat the Hero’s companions better than the Hero does. The quickest way to gain an upper hand is by having the Hero’s own people side with you. Treat them like real people, not like ornaments. Sidekicks need love too.
3.) Never be blatant. Innuendo and subtly are the two keys to ensuring that your point is made without becoming insulting. Let the Hero resort to vulgarities, it only shows how beneath you he really is.
The development of the Master Villain could not be complete without making sure that he stands out from every other nasty piece of work that the hero (or heroes) have faced beforehand. What sets him apart from them? Simple, how he presents himself. It’s evident in the way he walks, talks, looks and carries about his plans for the complete and utter subservience of mankind. The Master Villain is witty and charming while still being able to convey his lethality in a passing glance. Do not mistake grace for foppishness, or a genial attitude for friendship. Technique and refinement give the Master Villain yet another useful weapon against the forces of Good. As the old maxim says, you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Tips and Tactics:
1.) Be daring. There is nothing that says you have to be boring, so make your mark! Evil for Evil’s sake is a crutch, find a goal and carry out your plans in style. Never be predictable, that leads to capture.
2.) Never be afraid of going ‘too far’. Some of the best Master Villains are known for their sense of style. Moriarty, Grand Moff Tarkin and the Joker each had a distinct stylization to their personas. Find what works for you and go for it.
3.) Always leave a good-looking corpse. One of the greatest lines ever used was: “No one could have possibly survived THAT!!” And much to the surprise of the hero group, several months later the main villain returned to wreak revenge upon those that would have killed him. The reoccurring villain theme is a staple in any game; the trick is pulling it off in style.
After everything is said and done with, and the hero and villain punch the time clock at the end of the day, one thing remains the same: The Master Villain is what You make of him. There is nothing greater than having your PCs build up the reputation of your own creation, turning him (or her, again, let’s be fair) into their very own ‘boogeyman’. Just remember to keep notes of what they say, who knows when it might come in handy.
The books that follow are staples of my personal library, if you do not own them, I urge you to at least hit the web and research them. Enjoy…. and good luck ruling the World!
Sun Tzu; The Art of War; Shambhala Dragon Edition (Wikipedia, Amazon)
Machiavelli; The Prince; Penguin Classics Edition (Wikipedia, Amazon)
Shakespeare; Richard III, Othello, The Tempest; Oxford Edition (Wikipedia, Amazon)
Greene & Elffers; The 48 Laws of Power; Penguin (Wikipedia, Amazon)