Statblock Tango: Creating Villains The Players Love To Hate
Greetings and Salutations Nerdarchy Readers. Today I found myself listening to a musical and the thought occurred to me that these girls are villains that you love to hate. The iconic, amazing, titular characters that are more known than the protagonist that wishes their downfall. So many game masters wish to create these villains, these beings of such charisma that they stay with the players years later. That goal, that level of entertainment achieved by the like’s of Tim Curry, Jeremy Irons, and Christopher Lee. That is the goal we wish to leave our players with, and I hope to arm you with the tools to do so by walking you through the creation of a villain I created so potently charismatic that he still gives the player who dealt with him most shivers at the sheer mention of his name.
The Formula for evil
The formula for evil is based in rudimentary English, in those questions we all learn and live with every day. Collectively known as the “The Five W’s and One H”. Though I feel it is much more weighty to see them in long form. For to create a villain is as simple as (WHO+WHAT+WHY+WHERE+WHEN)*HOW=Villain. Though the order does not matter in which you answer, the important part is to be able develop a personality by knowing the character from all facets.
Though I am sure you will find it hard to believe it is that simple, I encourage you to start creating a villain alongside me as you read. Keep your wheels a turning and never stop creating, you won’t be disappointed.
Who is this villain?
The first step to creating any villain is to figure out what this villain is themed, what makes them a villain. To do this, you generally want to stay away from a one dimensional villain who just “smashes things and is really strong”.
Aim for something simple, multidimensional, but definable and expandable in such a way as to make it complex as you answer the formula. Choose a title, a theme, or something that you can keep in the back of your head to begin this villain. This is just a guiding light, or path, not some jail cell you must keep you villain in.
For mine I always had this image of someone calmly jaded and intelligent so early on I started calling him “The Detective”. I ask myself another “who” question with this. Who inspired this character? I like to pick three inspirations to plant the seeds of a personality.
The detective started getting a personality immediately when I pictured him as Sherlock Holmes, and the modus operandi of Jack the Ripper. Right away I pictured him out spoken, and each movement as unique as possible in it’s flamboyance. Images of a tall dark haired man in long coat, a sardonic eternal grin on his face sprang to my mind.
What is it that makes it a villain?
You simply have to do something bad to be the villain, here is where you can figure out what that is. For The Detective, I decided he kills people, en mass, and let’s say he uses a straight razor.
Potentially one dimensional but a murderer can have many facets. What about this crime makes him special, charismatic, and memorable? This is the caveat that most forget entirely, but not you faithful Nerdarchy reader, you are far too clever to forget such a detail. What separates the crime from others?
It is the relationships the villain forms with the protagonist that makes his crimes so heinous and visceral. It is that bond between Simba and Scar that make’s his betrayal so tragic and iconic. If it was just a hyena or an accident it would be the circle of life, moving on, no biggie. That bond is what is needed to be formed so the players realize this is not just another random monster.
For my villain, I chose that he picks a victim and stalks them. He forms a bond by becoming intimately aware of the victim. He never harms the victim and in fact, he protects them when he can through his job as a constable. Oh look, we stumbled upon a profession beyond the thematic.
What this villain does is he picks off those the victim cares about one by one, he makes sure the victim is first upon every scene and even goes so far as to slay those the victim runs to for help. Now the villain has a bond, and is uniquely memorable.
Why do the villains do what they do?
Here is the time to define the motives for your villain. For this section I will site comics, as they have very easily recognizable iconic villains that match what I see as common motives. Is the villain just insane and wants to watch the world burn like DC comics’ Joker?
Is he seeking to fix a justifiable wrong in the world through illicit means like Batman’s foe Mr. Freeze? Is it jealousy over being passed over in favor of another such as Dr. Doom or Loki from Marvel? Perhaps it is a little simpler, and they just want to get paid like Domino, Deadshot, Bullseye, or even Slade Wilson.
My personal favorite is the religious zealot, someone who believes what they do so devoutly that they will commit any act to accomplish this deed like Apocalypse’s Darwinist beliefs. Much more interesting than “I dunno, revenge and stuff.” that I had heard from some people designing a character.
Now for the detective I decided his motives were out of spiteful jealousy, he lost his family to murder and hated anyone who still had close ties to loved ones. He would make them feel how he felt, and then he wouldn’t be alone would he?
Course if they could not accept him as their only friend, then, well he would just have to get rid of them and start anew. I also chose at this time he has a swagger of someone who views himself as above all else. He was flamboyant, twirling his foppish hat and rolling it along his arm to catch it with his fingers.
Where is not just a matter of villain placement on a map, I say unto thee faithful Nerdarchy reader, you must ask where you want the villain to hit the player. If you want a heroic response, hit his morals. Make his sense of right and wrong call for the end of this villain’s ways.
Perhaps it is simply the logical solution to a problem for a player to deal with the villain. The villain is actively opposing the player and simply must be dealt with. Though cold, hitting the mind is effective way to cause confrontation. Perhaps you wish the player to hate the villain, and hit him in his heart.
Like John Doe of the movie “Se7en”, you drive the player to hate the villain on such a visceral level that they wish to attack the villain of their own passionate volition. There is also the possibility to hit their heart in such a way as to make the player understand and sympathize with the villain. To feel for him, and almost root for him. That is the tricky part in life, as sometimes the good become corrupted.
For the detective I chose to make the players hate him, fear him, and wish for his destruction with every fiber of their being. He picked a player, in fact another man of the law, and he made him feel the pain he had lived with for years.
The victim would catch glimpses of a shadowed or masked figure that would always greet him with a personal nickname unique to each victim. With this victim he would ask in a cockney accent, “Ello coppah.” A phrase the player cringed at by the end.
When is a question following form and function, not so much in that it defines the villain, but in this it defines the plot. If you learned that Hanz of Disney’s Frozen within the first few times you see him, you would view him as nothing but a common thug and not a villain.
To paraphrase Edmund Kean, “villainy is easy, timing is hard”. As a game master, you are telling a story and need to consider when is the ample time to have your villain strike, when to drop a clue, and when to use a red herring.
I hear you devoted read, “Oh great and handsome Nubz, what is a red herring?” A red herring is a clue or event that deliberately misleads the audience away from the relevant or important issue.
The case that actually springs to mind in this case is that amazing summer from my youth trying to figure out who shot Mr. Burns and all the misleading clues only to find the dastardly villain was an infant defending her candy. When you reveal the villain for a confrontation, or even the final confrontation, should be a high point and have all the weight of a climax of a story in how it leaves your heart racing, emotions high, and breathless.
For the detective the player had been robbed of his wife, his child, his mentor, his partner who was his boss and his best friend. He has been driven to extremes, hunted by this unseen predator. A suspected perpetrator hunted to a far away land and put down only to be surrounded by the foreign land’s army and taken prisoner. He felt relief even as he had been tortured and beaten, after all he had killed his family’s killer, or so he believed.
Like when, how is a question that forms the story more then the villain though not in the way you might think. How big of an impact should the villain have on the players lives? How often should he appear? Should it be something that happens over the course of days, a game of cat and mouse ending in a duel to the death?
Perhaps a season long manhunt ending in a climactic battle? Perhaps a lifelong investigation to find the head of a Machiavellian plan that has hung like a shadow over them in every move they made like some game of chess?
You simply have to decide the duration of the villain.
Though the question of duration is not the only one to answer. If he survives, how does he get away from an encounter? Does he leap through the air in a blur of purple pants or maybe he uses trap doors? The game master has a lot of power and leeway in this and I do not doubt you can find something fun and exciting in this.
The final how to answer is how they will die. We all remember those iconic deaths. The rooftop death in “The Crow”, the satellite drop from Goldeneye plus resulting explosion and half a hundred other amazing deaths. The end is as important as the beginning, as this is the part they will talk upon for ages to come. Don’t neglect this part, as the villain you put this much effort into deserves no less.
For the detective, well… Let me just drop a bit from the last scene he had been involved in.
“Xander, you find yourself thrown into the fighting pit again. The den of evil that you have spilled blood in every day for you know not how long. Ready to fight for your life again?”
“Yeah I got this. Going to make a break for it while everyone is looking at the challenger.”
“Alright, you bare witness to the crowd’s chanting and the drums pound with such a fierceness as to set your heart beat in time. The high red doors open, your vision briefly drawn to see the challenger. That one that draws the crowd’s love as much as you their ire. You see with a swagger of walk and familiar flourish in how his hat is twirled down his arm into his finger tips. Looking up from his bow you see the face of your supposedly murdered partner as he addresses you, “Ello Coppah.”
At this point the player had that startling realization of who else had access to his life and his family? He felt the anger rise as he knew the killer had been right there the entire time. Able to mislead or lead him as he wished, his most trusted confidant and in many ways his brother. That villainous wretch who caused every bit of pain in his life was before him and the crowd was cheering for him to kill him. He could see the path to freedom as the horses dragged the last combatants away. He could have his freedom if he just put one foot before the other.
With a glare and flash of anger replaced by cold determination the player rolled the dice and screamed the name of the villain who changed his life forever like it was not just a battle cry so long and intense that the crowd silenced in comparison, but a weapon to cut his adversary like he had cut so many in his life.