I Don't Make Villains!


It irks me to no end when I open a fantasy-based game or scenario and find a necromancer as the chief villain, or even an archdevil. You see, the more I look at fantasy and sci-fi, the more I see the same baddies. Sci-fi is full of villains that assimilate and evolve, and fantasy always assigns hell to pay and blame for every little insipid deed. I've since come to an epiphany about my game mastering.

I tend to not find any good, or rather bad, articles on the subject of good villain design (See also Unstoppable Villains --Morbus Iff). It irks me to no end when I open a fantasy-based game or scenario and find a necromancer as the chief villain, or even an archdevil. You see, the more I look at fantasy and sci-fi, the more I see the same baddies. Sci-fi is full of villains that assimilate and evolve, and fantasy always assigns hell to pay and blame for every little insipid deed. I've since come to an epiphany about my game mastering:

I shouldn't be making villains.

Yeah, you heard me, I don't make villains... anymore. I don't use a villain, I use something completely different: an antagonist. I don't create someone who is evil, I create someone who has a opposition to the opponent.

My favorite examples:

  • The Denizens of the Grey Area: These are the NPCs who are not as random as one would think. They have their own interests, and their interaction changes based on whether or not the PC's interests and the Denizen's happen to affect each other.
  • The Confused and Misguided: Truly, truly a great way to bother the lawful good. Should you try to convert him, try to disarm him, or try to do him in? How do you deal with him? Is he too dangerous to survive? Does he merely need a good talking to? These are the kinds of characters that will raise an opponents chest hair.
  • The Rivals: These guys are catalysts for all kinds of scenarios. I mean, c'mon, do your PCs really think in this massive world they're the only team of ragtag adventurers? Let's face it, some twit razing a village is pretty normal, but the other guys' thief swiping an artifact from you to sell it to the king who begged you to find it for him really makes you mad. Start a turf-war!
  • The Traitiors and Conspirators: If you have alot of chracters with political or religious affiliations, it's always interesting to go for a dark conspiracy from within the order. Nothing screws up paladins and clerics from when they have to choose between their personal morals and the will of their superiors. Great for gritty character developing situations. As for treachery, Arkelias and a few other folks have covered this brilliantly.

What're yours?

I have a fairly high level sorceress antagonist whose only purpose is to find some way to bring her husband back from the dead. Not like a zombie or anything; back like he was when he was slain.

Of course, he just happened to be killed by one of the PCs, so this sorceress has a greater animosity against the group, and whenever their paths cross, she makes life very difficult for them. In one instance, she completely tarnished the name of the bard in the group (his reputation was his most prized asset!), and his ability to network and find information was substantially reduced.

Although I rarely use her as a primary villian, she is a force to be reckoned with... someone the PCs need to remember is still out there, even if her one, true goal is the revival of her husband.

One day, her goal and the PCs goals may actually run parallel... time will tell!

In my current campaign, I'm setting up the PCs to choose between the lawful evil "enlightened despot", who was really good at running his city, and a chaotic good conqueror, who's really bad at it.

Ahahahah - that one sounds entertaining.

It's a darned good point, Theo. Fantasy and Sci-Fi, for all their endless possibilities, too often end up playing the same tunes over and over again.

As straight-up villains go, I absolutely adore a cultist. It's the CoC player in me. I find a lot of times, players just want a bad guy they know is a bad guy. "Let's go get those guys!" they shout - and they go charging off. And when your enemy is totally insane, trying to bring back the Old Ones or perpetrate who-knows-what wickedness on innocent folk, you don't have to wrestle with what to do with him.

But I like to use antagonists, as well - and I like to use a good mix of NPCs that could go either way. If they play their cards right, the PCs could gain an important friend. If they bungle their approach, they could gain an implacable foe. But they might be able to redeem their initial clumsiness, or conversely to alienate their one-time ally.

I don't use alignment, so people in a rival country (to use one example) may have goals opposed to the PCs'. I've had players try to turn their opposition to these characters into crusades, and I've had to explain why they cannot do so. It's not that the rivals are evil. They're just working at cross-purposes to the party's.

My favorite antagonists?

  • The Bureaucrats. They're not evil - far from it, they represent the mechanics of ordered society (this is analogous to Aubri's LE, capable ruler above). But they do all kinds of things PCs hate - collect taxes, blindly adhere to laws, and sometimes even arrest well-meaning characters.
  • The Ingrates. This is probably a subset of your "confused and misguided." These NPCs don't understand that the PCs have done anything to help them, and actively resent the PCs' interference in their lives. For example: the PCs discover that a village is plagued by demons (yeah, I know, demons again) emanating from the villagers' "lucky statue." When the PCs destroy the statue, they've saved the village - and earned the abiding dislike of the villagers. Another example: a group of innocents has chosen a Very Bad Place to live. The PCs discover that the area is cursed, possibly even lethal, but the innocents consider it their home. The more the PCs try to convince the villagers it's in their best interests to leave, the more resentment the PCs will engender.
  • The Mole. This isn't so much a traitor, as in Arkelias' article, as a spy the PCs know or suspect is among them. I once planted a "friendly" NPC among the PCs who was a spy. As it happened, she had no particular motive to work against them, but she was a spy and they were pretty sure of it. When she started trying to seduce the party's wizard, they were doing mental cartwheels to figure her out. They couldn't get rid of her because they needed her help - she was a cleric and had a lot of useful information - but they didn't trust her at all. They were jumping at shadows. They wouldn't tell her anything. They took great pains to keep her away from the wizard. In the end, they realized she was more or less harmless because she worked for one of their allies. But I got many sessions of high entertainment from the misdirection and their resulting mistrust.
  • The Crusty Local. This NPC is good-hearted (or good-aligned, if you use alignments), but has taken an instant dislike to the PCs for whatever reason. He may have a good reason for doing so, or he may just be a curmudgeon. Regardless, the PCs could profit from his help and goodwill, but they just can't get it. He works against them in small ways, causing the other locals, who trust him, to clam up at all the wrong times. The PCs can't rightly kill him - he hasn't done anything wrong, really, except be a jerk to them. But they suffer whenever he comes into the picture.

What fun. I could sit around trying to think up antagonists all day! Thanks for the effort, Theo.

I like to use a variety. I view RPG villains like I do comic book villains...there should be a good number of them and they should all have their own agenda.

So...yes, I have lich's and devils as villains. Here are some others that are less "typical."

A mercenary pirate whom the PC's have never gained the upper hand on. Romani is a greasy rat and always seems to come out on top. They've taken on Acererak the Demilich and won...but haven't gotten the upper hand on Romani.

A wererat who was sorta left for dead. He survived and wants revenge on the PC's. He was humiliated and wants to make the PC's pay.

A halfling assassin who murdered one of the NPC's. The wizard of the party turned Baltoda into a toad for his efforts. He's still a toad and probably won't come back...but one never knows.

A sleazy city guard who had a lot of underhanded dealings with crime organizations. When he got involved in slave-trading...he got killed

Runs a slave trade service...still alive...but used to own 2 of the PC's.

A few NPC's have turned stag and joined the bad guys -- so they're not well liked and have history with the PC's

And, of course, there's Moloch.

When I played Car Wars in high school, it was pretty hard to justify the world being overun by rcs and such so I had to modify the sword and sorcery crowd to fit my game. Car Wars actually set a GM up pretty well with ideas: gasoline was rare, gangs had much more power than they do even today, a grain blight made food a treasure in itself, the US and most of the rest of the world degenerated to city states and life was cheap. Wait, life is cheap in all RPGs. Anyway, I had my players earning money in gladiator style deathmatches, earning a living as hired guns (THEY were the hirlings!), rescuing team mates from prison, rescuing kidnap victims from their captors, and a whole slew of other hired gun missions. They played The Men With No Names like Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti western days, killing for money and running away when the time was right. Seldom did they actually confront the foozle in charge.

Man, that sounds like fun. I love Car Wars. I was thinking of running a Road-Warrior-style "Chassis & Crossbow" campaign for my next RP setting this summer, and reading this makes me want to do it even more.

I have the original release of DuelTrack, the rulebook that introduced the use of gas powered engines in CarWars. Reading the explanation of how internal combustion engines worked in CW makes them sound an awful lot like the hybrid engines of today. Maybe the future according to Steve Jackson is coming true? Chassis & Crossbow rules were included, let me know if you areinterested.

I remember Dueltrack! I might still have a copy of it...but if I've lost it, I'd definitely be interested in acquiring yours. Let me look around.

I'm going to run my C&C campaign using GURPS rules, but I'll be using a lot of Car Wars source materials all the same.

If you are unable to find your Dueltrack book make me an offer. I don't play the game anymore and don't plan to either so I have no use for the book. It is in ok condition, I have made quite a few pencil marks on some of the charts and for some reason I colored in the drawings with colored pencil. All the pages are present and readable. I also have the 1st AADA vehicle guide if you are interested. That boo is in the same sondition as Dueltrack, some notes written in the margins and some drawings colored in.

A couple of other "villians" who are not villians

1) The Proud. This character is normally a noble, known for their upright stand upon things and potentially being a heir to be. If this character gets "passed by" for honors and positions they assume are his own, he will get bitter about it. Thus he will start things in motion that ensure he gets his proper due. Sometimes these things get to be questionable... as they will do a great harm... that they can sweep down and solve the problem.

2) The Great: There is a quote, "Good men do what they can, Great Men do what they must." Sometimes that includes things that most people would feel are wrong, bad, and may even be illegal. Thus we have a person in the halls of power who "gets things done for the good of us all" without letting their superiors know about it. So people might first think the Person In Charge is the culprit, but it is actually someone doing things in his name for the good of the state.

3) Vigilantee: He thinks he is doing the world a favor, removing all these "negative elements" who have "played the system" and "abused the safeguards in the system" who are guilty, but the careful legal system or their social position have them them unaccountable for their crimes.

Interesting. How exactly did you work Igthuk into the story in the first place? When (During character creation? Beginning of the story? Middle of the story?)? I'm always thinking of expanding my Homegrown RPG's world, and introducing an island with a slave-trading ring sounds interesting. I don't want to copy you directly, but more like figure out who two work a similar concept into my story.


I'm not a rare flower
Nor am I a shiny treasure box
I'm just your average gamer girl
Who has a bit of power

I GM for the boys
I write up a set of rules
To make sure they keep a reign
On all their spiffy toys