I recently talked about what makes a villain work in the context of an RPG campaign. Today I’m going to talk about three different types of villain. The next few Fridays I will give specific examples of the villains, ready to be dragged and dropped and possibly re-skinned (painful!) for your 4e games. In the spirit of “The New Breed” , we’ll lay out some basic background and psychology for :
- The Well Intentioned Villain
- The Nihilist Villain
- The Faustian Villain
The Road to Hell…
Humankind must be forced to serve the planet instead of its own appetites. Ra’s -Al Gul, “The Demon’s Quest”
The well-intentioned villains motives are on the surface altruistic. This sort of villain proclaims to fight for high-minded concepts such as truth or justice. The claim to fight for the environment. Somewhere along the way, the implementation of their goals becomes twisted. Proclaiming to fight for one thing in theory, in practice they become powerful forces of destruction and tyranny.
What truly motivates these villains is hubris and megalomania. They become convinced that they are the only ones who can see the world as it truly is and truly needs to be. They believe the world starved of integrity. The well-intentioned villain starts admirably but ends monstrously. Whether he/she gets closer of farther from their goals, the initial motivation fades into their megalomania more and more, until only a monster remains.
In your campaign, the well-intentioned villain can start out as an ally of the players. He and the players share a common goal. It doesn’t take too long however, for the PCs to see where they and the villain diverge. When the final moment of divergence is revealed, the previous bond of shared goals mutates into a bond of loathing. The villain will see that the players do not have the guts to “do what must really be done”, and will seek to destroy them.
The Heart of Chaos
Don’t talk like one of them, you’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak–like me. They need you right now. When they don’t…they’ll cast you out. Like a leper. See, their morals, their code: it’s a bad joke. They’re dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. You’ll see, when the chips are down these civilized people will eat each other. –The Joker, “The Dark Knight”
The nihilist doesn’t want to rule the world; he wants to destroy it. But even destruction is not enough –this villain wants the veil of civilization ripped away. The nihilist believes that the world is naught but power and savagery. All else is pretense, deluded artifice that stains all life. If this villain weren’t so crazy, he’d almost be well-intentioned. Trying to explore this villain’s inner world is as futile as it is hazardous to one’s health.
The nihilist’s madness is infectious. He has a wide array of minions and henchmen, unified only in their belief in this madman’s ideals. the nihilist works to break the world down from the inside as well as the outside, so his agents can be found in all stratums of civilized society, putting up a facade of normalcy until they they are beckoned by the call of their chaos siren.
In your campaign, the nihilist brings madness and corruption. The nihiilist allows you as a GM to be equally crazy in hatching his plots and schemes –the crazier, the more in line they are with this villain’s goals.
A Pact By Any Other Name…
- In the end, you are exactly–what you are.
- Put on a wig with a million curls,
- put the highest heeled boots on your feet,
- yet you remain in the end just what you are.
The Faustian villain is not a bad person. Well, they didn’t start out bad. But there was something that this person wanted –power, love, fame, talent –that he/she wasn’t likely to get on their own. Despair weighed upon our villain’s soul.
A creature from another world approached him and offered a deal. The faustian villain got at long last what he desired, but to keep it, he must serve the ends of this strange visitor. What does the visitor want? Access. It wants into this realm, full of juicy , weak mortal beings to devour and enslave, cities to raze…is that drool? It gets so excited sometimes.
In service to his patron, the faustian villain must do his biddings, making progress towards these alien ends to keep what he has gained. This character is in many ways to sympathize with, and sometimes he can even be a friend. In many ways the villain is unwilling, andi f he can subvert his patron’s wishes without arousing his anger, he will. But in the end, the faustian villain can no more refuse the visitor’s will than she can refuse the gifts she has been given.
In your campaign, it is important to show the players both sides of this villain. He can chat quite eagerly with them, and engage them as friends and comrades…but in the end he is simply going to have to place them in soul crucible to be eaten by monsters of the Far Realm. Sorry! The faustian villain is one of the easiest villains to build empathy/sympathy for, even as he works towards the destruction of the world.