Black, White Or Grey? Creating An Uber Villain.


Just an intersting thought I had as I have been looking at creating a true villain for my D&DN game as we're looking at starting again but going beyond the predesigned adventures. Personally I like my villains to be somewhat realistic and only the most insane of them want to do things like destroy the world or create an undead horde. MOst of them want more mundane things like power, wealth or whatever.

 An old 2nd ed book whose name eludes me also had a villains of every alignment section I have loved using ever since. Some of my NPC Paladins have been over zealous in persecutng the PCs in various ways althoguh to be fair they have been doing things like smuggling or whatever. Generally my villains have feelings, emotions, drives, and goals much like a real human. I like interesting TV show characters like Dexter Morgan or watching "good" characters in shows such as Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy become "evil" as a consequence of their decisions.

 I also try and have my villains interact with the PCs in social stuations where violence is not an option either through social pressures or situation. For those of you who have seen James Bond movies you probably know what I mean. Another time Mr Bond.

 For example I am still using a house ruled verison of Pathfinder for my home games set on a sister world of Gloarion where I have recycled some of my 3.5 material. IT is kind of a low magic world whre the Red Mantis (LE assassins guild) are simialr to the Sith in Star Wars and they have hunted down most of the arcane spellcasters (Bards are ok) and the gods are dead (hard to find divine power source, think DarkSun). One of the PCs who was a sorcerer used arcane magic in public and sure enough sooner or later a Red MAntis assassin came calling. The assassin failed and was beaten down to low hit points and surrendered.

 The PCs interogated the assassin and I randomly assined a gender to ere and the sorcerer fancied his character as a ladies man. He asked how hot the assassin was so as a joke I made a 1st ed comliness score roll (3d6) and I got a 17 which revealed that the assassin was actually a very attractive young lady under the ninja suit. A bit cliche perhaps but I did roll it randomly. Having some fun with this I madde here the sister of a NPC they had already interacted with. After interrogation and a few knowledge rolls later they hhad determined that the guild only wanted to kill the Sorcerer but if they killed the assassin the guild woudl come after all of them. The guild has a reputation of keeping its deals as well so they negotiated a 30 day grace/truce period with that individual assassin and let her go. Several times over the next 30 days they encountered her in social situations but they had a truce which was respected by both sides. After 30 days they never saw her again.

 Fast forward a few months later and the PCs are on a boat. Sure enough the Sorcerer is walking around and the assassin strikes again almost killing him. The assassin isalso traveling with her sister who has aided the PCs. Capturing her again they hand her over to the captain of the magical boat to deal with who is a custom race of this world. He invites them along to her interrogation which is actually a torure session where she is drugged to enhance the pain. The players were actually a little uncomfortale at this point (I didnt go into any great detail on the torture session just that it was happening and involved drugs and long pins). However most of them were good aligned and as a consequence of their actions a foe of theres was being tortured. After on the ship came under attack and the assassins sister rescued her.

 The PCs saw here being helpedsemi unconscious towards a life boat and they had to make a choice between revenge/stopping the assassin or saving some other NPCs from maraudering borders. They chose to save the NPCs and after the battle was over the life boat was long one so Viveka escapes again to fight another day. This creates an interesting RP situations for the players as they seem to be enjoying it. Most of them at a persoanl level do not mind the assassin. She is pleasant to be around, they have worked with her briefly in a scial encounter during the 30 day truce period and she doesn't hate her target to kill at a personal level. She is jsut doing her job as such and being LE she also kept her word. She isn't trying to seduce any of the PCs despite being very atractive and in the social encouters they ahve had the Sorcerer has enjoyed her company even dancing with her when she was disguised during the 30 day truce period.

 The PCs might suspect she is manipulating their emotions but then again she has been very honest with her intention to kill the sorcerer for the crime of being a sorcerer. The assassins more or less keep to themselves, do not openly want to rule the world and do not go around torturing babies, pillagi and raping or worshipping archdevils as the assassins god is apparently dead.

I'm a big fan of skill checks and the like which is why I'm not a fan of D&DN skill system but I think I may have done a good job with this particular "villain". She isn't a psychopath but is an assassin, she seems to have something resembling a hobby (she enjoys dancing), and is somewhat realistic. I'm going to see how it plays out and I'm not sure if the PCs will get around to killing her off but I will give them various options for earning dark side and light side points and see where it goes. The CE bwa ha ha stereo type villain I prefer not to use except maybe in a dungeon or something similar where they find an evil alter or something.

 I;m also building up to the big reveal with the worlds Yuan Ti/Serpent Folk actually using human sacrifice to prevent an even worse fate for the world. Thats how I like my villains.Relevent to the story/world and with a nice shade of grey.

 

 

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

Zardnaar, I'm starting to think you lost a bet with someone and can't post on the forum in anything less than a small essay XD
My two copper.
 It doesnt seem that long when typing it up.

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 



 An old 2nd ed book whose name eludes me also had a villains of every alignment section I have loved using ever since. Some of my NPC Paladins have been over zealous in persecutng the PCs in various ways althoguh to be fair they have been doing things like smuggling or whatever. Generally my villains have feelings, emotions, drives, and goals much like a real human. I like interesting TV show characters like Dexter Morgan or watching "good" characters in shows such as Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy become "evil" as a consequence of their decisions.



Firefly was like that.  Good guys who weren't all that good. 

I also try and have my villains interact with the PCs in social stuations where violence is not an option either through social pressures or situation. For those of you who have seen James Bond movies you probably know what I mean. Another time Mr Bond.



I love this, too.   
Some of my favorite villains of all time are the ones who are doing wrong for what they believe is right. Like a Paladin pushed a little too far and has become a tyrant, cleansing all the "evil" he sees in mens souls. Or the more popular example of Anakin skywalker's journey to the dark side. He didn't straightup say "I'm going to be evil". He just did what he thought was right, and that just started to fit the evil profile a little more each day.

You really get to see good and evil as perspectives instead of black and white. That, in my opinion, is what makes a truly compelling villain

Edit: Ozymandias from Watchmen is another great example.
My two copper.
Everyone loves to argue, but nice flavourful discussions get no love
My two copper.
My favorite villians are the ones that once you find out all about them, you realize what they are doing isn't that bad after all. The greyer the better. I've had an entire campaign, which was supposed to end,  continue because the players, once learning of the bad deal that this poor sod was dealt, decided that it was actually the powers that be that were corrupt, and decided to excise them instead of killing my BBEG.

It was awesome.
I believe that the 2e book is the Complete Book of Villains, a great sourcebook that I have been able to use in other editions as well.

That being said, I prefer to have my villains have a specific overall goal in mind, without them becoming too comic-book-supervillain-ish. A method that I use, and would recommend, is for DMs to use Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs to map out the major villain's goals, needs, and back history. When I structure the villain using this, I (and my players) have found the villain to be more realistic, and even more nefarious.  

Just roll some dice.

 

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Yeah I think that was the book. Had a blueish/grey cover IIRC.

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

I have had drastically different villains. It is almost cliche for me to have a "villain" who is secretly doing something bigger and more important than the PCs realize. I flip it around sometimes and have an ally who is actually the sociopath pulling strings.
...Which means a villain stereotype is a twist.
I am in the process of introducing a number of morally questionable individuals to my game. A Knight Researcher who is trying to understand/stop the alien menace (people getting sucked into his realm of existence). Very upstanding gentleman. Dissects the aliens to understand them better. But, he and the other knights, truly do believe that those who are "invading" are plotting evil. (Examining xenophobia and racial prejudices with a sense of moral superiority)
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
I like to have my bad guys run the gamut from complex and interesting to one deminsional cacklers.  One piece of world fluff that I use a lot is the idea that black magic decays someones character and eventually turns them completly crazy-evil.  So an enemy might start as a pragmatic villian or even a good guy and eventually devolve into a power mad classic evil sorcerer.
Yeah, another cool villain twist was Fable 3. In the end you find out that the villain you thought was a villain was just trying to look out for the greater good against something far more nefarious. Awesome twist.
My two copper.
I've rarely had the main badguy Villian. In fact only one comes to mind and that was a pirate game, well privateer game, I ran back in 2nd edition. I have had Villians enter into and out of games. The best one being a drow wizard in Forgotten Realms whose primary goal was to create a better drow race. One of his more successful crossbreeds was what were refered to as Displacer Drow. They were catlike drow, with the barbed tentacles on their backs, claws and the leg structure of a feline. He was a pragmatic businessman-type of character who pursued the party until they became a bad investment. The party was even approached by him in regards to a nialistic lich that was a threat to all life. The lich was a one dimensional undead badguy that was collecting the bodies of the enemies the PCs left behind.
It just seems like something that hasn't been done much by me. Which I find a little odd looking back on the many, many, many games I've run over the years.

Also, I recently came across this article by Rich Burlew, of the Order of the Stick, on developing a villian.
After reading some of the epic spells in 3.5, I realized several things. First, some high level spells are weapons of mass destruction, with one (Deplorable Word, found in the SRD) being capable of disintegrating a planet. Second, any wizard of an appropriate level could research one of those spells in a matter of months. Third, any wizard could be goaded, blackmailed, or mind-controlled into researching and using those spells. Every high level wizard in the world was a doomsday device just waiting for a handful of evil bards to push them over the edge.

So I built a character with the intent of disabling all wizards. If they were good and rational, he would sit down and explain to them the danger of their ways, and if they were evil maniacs he would kill them. He would start by hunting them down personally, then later found an organization to do the same. Their hunters would hunt wizards directly, while their mages would go around the world blanketing regions in permanent anti-magic fields.

This character's ultimate destiny would be to create an epic spell of his own that would detect young wizards and plant nightmares in their minds to discourage them. If they continued their studies, the nightmares would grow stronger. If they persisted long enough they were clearly insane, so the spell would give up subtlety and just destroy their minds. At last, the world would be safe from apocalyptic accidents.

Then I realized that I had built Cthulhu as the lawful good guardian of forbidden knowledge. So I named the character Riley Lethe, deciding that his followers would have a secret base called Ry'Leth deep in the elemental plane of water. It would be guarded by trained fiendish giant squid.

Sadly, our GM moved out of the country before any of this could happen. If I ever make a campaign, this might end up in the background.
This character's ultimate destiny would be to create an epic spell of his own that would detect young wizards and plant nightmares in their minds to discourage them. If they continued their studies, the nightmares would grow stronger. If they persisted long enough they were clearly insane, so the spell would give up subtlety and just destroy their minds. At last, the world would be safe from apocalyptic accidents.



Wouldnt it be ironic if a nightmare plagued Wizard was the one that was "goaded" into wanting to research a Spell of Mass Destruction.

Mmm, sweet irony.

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I like villains of all stripes.

One recurring "villain" storyline I've been planning for my next big campaign is really exciting to me. At a relatively low level the PCs run into a lawful good paladin of similar level to themselves. He's the noble heir of a certain domain, but not yet the ruler. He's a great guy. Honest, loyal, friendly, fun at parties, etc. And it's completely sincere. He will make multiple appearances throughout the campaign, and as I expect a mostly good aligned party, he will likely become friends with the PCs.

Then, before too long, there will be a scenario where he finds a good deed coming back to bite him. A possibility is accepting a bandit's pleas for mercy, only to later find that the bandit he allowed to live fouly murdered innocent people--perhaps even ones he knew. This starts him down a path of questioning his beliefs. The PCs will be there for many of these moments, but will only be able to guess about how he actually deals with them and what goes on between encounters with him.

I see him becoming gradually dissillusioned with "lawful good" as he comes to see the ideals of mercy as really just allowing evil to go unchecked. He'll slide into a lawful neutral character who honestly believes he is acting in the best interests of his people. He's in a state of moral confusion still, and he is tempted to commit acts that the PCs wouldn't approve of to protect his domain and try to cleanse it of criminals who prey on the innocent. I image a scene where the PCs might try to talk him out of doing something that's "crossing the line" (and if they try, they'd probably succeed).

Eventually, I see him becoming harsher and harsher in trying to impose security on his citizens (quite sincerely worrying about their welfare at the start) until eventually he pushes the line into lawful evil. He still believes he is doing what is right, but by this time outright rejects the ideals of Celestia. He feels like the lawful good heavenly ideology is flawed and useless, and can't really keep people safe and happy. Only a firm hand and eradicating those who prey on innocent people can.

At the same time, he truly still sees the PCs as his friends (unless they've turned on him--the goal is to keep them from seeing the full extent of his descent as long as possible). If he lives long enough (darn PCs, never know what they'll do, lol) he'll eventually find himself entering into an agreement with devils and becoming an anti-paladin. The kicker here is how they sell it to him. Basically, their premise is that the power they are offering isn't "evil" (which he despises), but is merely power. Sure, a lot of beings use it for evil ends, but he can do whatever he wants with it. They won't try to pretend that they aren't evil--he would know better. They'll just try to convince him that, since he no longer has access to the power he received from the heavens, they're offering him access to another power source to do with as he wills. He buys it, gains unholy powers, and probably a fiendish steed of some sort.

What I would love to see happen, assuming the story follows my prefered path (so, it's iffy, I'm not going to railroad my players) is that finally the differences between him and the PCs come to a head. He's planning on doing something they just can't countenance, and despite his fondness for them, he can't let them stop him. During a climactic scene, the devils make some sort of appearance or manifestation of their power that is instigated by his involvement, and it demonstrates how truly evil what he has become a part of is. He has a Darth Vader moment and turns against the devils. His evil steed ends up turning against him, which probably cues the PCs in as to what's going on (assuming they've managed not to kill him yet). The goal would be that he assists in defeating the evil, and then abdicates his domain, spending his next few months or years wrestling with what he's done and trying to return to the good path. The most satsifying result for me is if it goes more or less according to plan and he eventually returns to lawful good.

The last of my favorite villains is the "Unfathomable villain". It's the villain that's so big, so enormous in scope, that it's hard to immagine what you could do to even hinder it. I'm not talking about size, although it might actually be big. I'm more talking about the sheer scope of their intentions or plans. My best example? Reapers from Mass Effect. For a long time they just seem like this unknowable, unfathomable threat, and it seems there's nothing you can do.
My two copper.
Zardnaar,

Sounds like you do great work as a DM.  In my experience, I can say this for villains: unless the group plays a long session or daily, your villain had better be somewhat transparent.  I mean, the clues your characters find should be pounded into them over and over and over.  There are very few subtleties that work when you're merely giving verbal clues.  So I find it best that the players know who the villain is, learn his backstory several times, and see his motives on an almost encounter basis.  Even if it means adding little magical elements like an ooze dying and leaving an acid burn of the villain's trademark.

Of course all this I find true, until I run a mystery.  Then, the players had better be at their sharpest.
This character's ultimate destiny would be to create an epic spell of his own that would detect young wizards and plant nightmares in their minds to discourage them. If they continued their studies, the nightmares would grow stronger. If they persisted long enough they were clearly insane, so the spell would give up subtlety and just destroy their minds. At last, the world would be safe from apocalyptic accidents.



Wouldnt it be ironic if a nightmare plagued Wizard was the one that was "goaded" into wanting to research a Spell of Mass Destruction.

Mmm, sweet irony.


That's the nice thing about lawful good characters. They're cute and pleasant when they sit around in paradise singing hymns, but as soon as one of them tries to do something good and lawful, you've got a slew of people who get shafted by the plan's blurrier details.

This character's ultimate destiny would be to create an epic spell of his own that would detect young wizards and plant nightmares in their minds to discourage them. If they continued their studies, the nightmares would grow stronger. If they persisted long enough they were clearly insane, so the spell would give up subtlety and just destroy their minds. At last, the world would be safe from apocalyptic accidents.



Wouldnt it be ironic if a nightmare plagued Wizard was the one that was "goaded" into wanting to research a Spell of Mass Destruction.

Mmm, sweet irony.


That's the nice thing about lawful good characters. They're cute and pleasant when they sit around in paradise singing hymns, but as soon as one of them tries to do something good and lawful, you've got a slew of people who get shafted by the plan's blurrier details.




Yes, who would have imagined that unleashing epic magic designed to drive people insane was not a good act. 

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This character's ultimate destiny would be to create an epic spell of his own that would detect young wizards and plant nightmares in their minds to discourage them. If they continued their studies, the nightmares would grow stronger. If they persisted long enough they were clearly insane, so the spell would give up subtlety and just destroy their minds. At last, the world would be safe from apocalyptic accidents.



Wouldnt it be ironic if a nightmare plagued Wizard was the one that was "goaded" into wanting to research a Spell of Mass Destruction.

Mmm, sweet irony.


That's the nice thing about lawful good characters. They're cute and pleasant when they sit around in paradise singing hymns, but as soon as one of them tries to do something good and lawful, you've got a slew of people who get shafted by the plan's blurrier details.




Yes, who would have imagined that unleashing epic magic designed to drive people insane was not a good act. 


Pfft. I wanna see YOU try banning nukes when anyone can make one out of bat guano and cobwebs. Tongue Out
Pfft. I wanna see YOU try banning nukes when anyone can make one out of bat guano and cobwebs. 



I always thought that the LG response to that would be to make sure your nuke was the biggest and smelliest ball of bat guano and cobwebs possible so that you can threaten to detroy the multiverse unless they stop trying to destroy the world.

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Pfft. I wanna see YOU try banning nukes when anyone can make one out of bat guano and cobwebs. 



I always thought that the LG response to that would be to make sure your nuke was the biggest and smelliest ball of bat guano and cobwebs possible so that you can threaten to detroy the multiverse unless they stop trying to destroy the world.


Aaand the secret is out. The world is ruled by the shadowy holy paladin order of the exploding bat poop. All hail the sacred flyer, worshipful muncher of bugs and excreter of divine droppings.
I like all three types of "villains" and varying shades of each. 

The devout knight who persues the party relentlessly after they are framed for an act that they did not commit can be quite effective(especially if prior interactions with the knight were quite friendly).  It can lead to encounters where the PC's want to avoid killing him/her(if the party is good) or they are forced to kill the knight.  Not really a "villain". but an adversary nonetheless. 

The character who is blackmailed into acting against the party, although not actually wanting to is nice at times

The evil general who dupes the party into meeting with his king, draws the guards away to deal with potential intruders in the courtyard, and then kills the king and blames the act on the PC's(because those between him and the throne lay dead and he is next in line to the throne).

That elite group of mercenaries contracted to kill the players is effective.  On their part, it isn't really personal but merely business.

Even villains who misguide the party for their own benefit can be fun, if their benefit causes substantial detriment to the party, others, or both.

In a campaign, I find it kind of nice to have villains of the shades of black, white, and a myriad of different shades of gray. 
 One can "redeem" a villain in several ways and not with just an alignment change.  A LE autocratic despot might be preferable to the next option which is even worse.

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

I have all sorts of different villains.

Some are people stuck in unfortunate circumstances, some are just crazy, others are crimlords or corrupt politicians, some have let power go to their head, some manipulative and conniving.  That's one of the things that my players like about the games I run, is that the villains are rarely clear cut.

I have been running a game (or rather a series of games set in the same setting, time progresses onward) in which the party have encountered a crazed cannibalistic nobleman, a fallen paladin who seeks to fix society through conquest, a doctor who contained a plague through violent euthenization, a murderous sociopathic child, a smooth-talking and charismatic crimelord....  The list goes on.

And half that list ended up becoming their allies if only because, in this world, some options are simply better than others. 
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