Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How do you Like Your Villains?

My schedule this semester means I don't really have much time to work on painting my models, much less getting games in.  So sadly I don't have much in the way of wargaming information to bring you.  No real theory I can tangibly grasp and reproduce for you on how I play warmachine or how you should.  What I can do is talk about my own Miranda because I've swung back around to the idea that I might be able to DM.

I'm trying to figure out how to tell a story with players and create a fun gaming experience.  I've got a taste for a good antagonist in any story, so I think I'll start building the world from there.  The best way I can discuss what I'm considering is to look at some antagonists I've loved in other media, so spoilers ahead.  But for anyone who's interested in RPGs and are willing to brave the spoilers, what do you like in your villians?

Now, as I see it there are serious and comical villains.  I prefer a serious villain as the antagonist of a campaign, but a comical villain can be endearing in their own way.  I put a lot of emphasis on the villain's role in the campaign because most heroes' stories revolve around defeating  some villain or threat to their world.  If that threat doesn't feel sufficiently threatening to the players, some of the motivation for the players is lacking.  There's value in RP and character interaction, my favorite part as a player, but most parties are initially tied together by their desire to overcome their antagonist.  In a second campaign or if the players coordinate in making up their backstories, characters can have some reason to be and stay together without a villain to defeat, but I digress.

The only absolutely necessary quality for a villain is that they have to be superior to any of the individual protagonists.  This comes back to providing a reason for the party to work together, but it also makes the end game more rewarding.  If the villain wasn't superior to the protagonist in someway, beyond horribleness, defeating them isn't as rewarding.  Khan from Into Darkness, I think did a good job of exemplifying what I mean.  Khan was stronger and smarter than Kirk or Admiral Marcus, so when shown opposite them, he seemed even  more powerful and threatening.  But like any non-Mary Sue character, Khan had a weakness.  He was arrogant enough that Spock was able to find a creative way to defeat him by outsmarting him.  I'm a fan of when players can find someway other than brute force to take down an opponent and making the villain superior to any of the individual protagonists helps promote this creativity

Another quality that I find makes a good villain is that they need to have a motivation beyond villainy.  A villain that doesn't have any defining characteristics outside of villainy can become cartoonish.  A good example is Dr. Wily from the Megaman games.  He always does the same thing in every game, delivering a monotone performance.  There's no drama in the story because it's always the same villain doing the same thing for the same bland reason.   Trying to take over the world just to do it isn't something that makes a villain a character.  It's the motivation that makes a villain into a compelling force in the narrative.  Let's compare Vincent Volaju from Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. Vincent had no regard for the lives of others and a plan to kill everyone.  Not the same "take over the world" scheme as Wily, but still clearly someone worthy of our protagonists working together to overcome.  Vincent was trapped in a mental state where he couldn't tell what was real or an illusion and turned to mysticism to release him from that state.  We've all had dreams that seemed real to us, so we can sympathize with Vincent's desire to free himself, even if we can't agree with his methods.  It opens the door for characters like Electra to look for a way to redeem the villain rather than simply killing him and I'm all for allowing players to have different ways of solving the puzzles I present them.

The last thing that makes villains my favorite is being a Magnificent Bastard: smart, genre savvy and able to manipulate those around them.  Heroes tend to be characters who are willing to get their hands dirty and put themselves at risk for what they believe in.  In contrast, these villains know how to use their allies and enemies to reach their goals.  They're hard to ever count out, even if they're dead, as they seem to always have planned one step ahead of our heroes.  They don't always win, but they'll always give the heroes a run for their money and have a damn good time doing it.  They don't reach the cartoonish levels of pure villainy, but they do enjoy what they're doing and are as unrepentant as the heroes.

So that's my thoughts.  I've tried to layout what I think makes a good villain, but I'm sure I've left out something vital.  I'm trying to craft a better world to go with the villain(s) than I did last time, but that's going to take some time to pull off.  Until then, what's your views on antagonists?  What makes you just want to fight one?


  1. i think all real villains should have a white cat to stroke and deliver great one liners everything after that is just gravy

  2. I kinda like the fallen hero villain because they start out with good intentions but then lose their way. it allows you to sympathise and identify with their character and makes it that much harder to defeat them because one can identify,sympathise, and fear becoming them.

  3. You're the second person to emphasize being able to sympathize with villians. I hadn't thought about that archetype, but it does remind me of one of my favorite villians.

  4. So who is your favorite villain?

  5. I agree with will. To take it a step further, you don't always have to sympathize with the villain and seeing the villain has human can sometimes be enough. To understand why the villain is doing what they are, why they feel it's important even if it's only logical to the villain.

  6. Not sure why it didn't post earlier, but I'd say it's Akio Ohtori. He combined the manipulative ability with superiority and a unique style. Admittedly, that style is "anything that moves," but he does it in a unique fashion.