How would you play a Villain?

Lady White

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So I got a question for everyone mainly to see how others would do this, and also for some advice on the topic but:

How do you guys and girls of Iwaku play the role of a Villain?

I won't go into the details of why I'm asking this question but to summarise, I don't particularly have a lot of experience playing the bad guy of a fandom or of a story, especially when said character has some story or lore not shared on the internet on either their game or on their wiki. Plus I've been told a few times by separate people that playing a Villain requires certain aspects or writing styles. Can anyone pitch in with their thoughts to help a fellow Roleplayer out? I'd like to try expanding further into that domain with some tips and advice before delving in again.

The Mood is Write

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Hm... While I don't play canons, my general advice for writing villains is to always, ALWAYS remember their goals and motivations. This is the biggest thing, and usually these motivations and goals stem from some deep-seated need of theirs (this link is super helpful for me).

Once you have their motivation, it comes down to how far the character is willing to go. This drive of theirs should not lessen unless something happens that alters their world view in a major way.
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One Who Tames

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Oh boy. I like this one.

Unfortunately, The Mood is Write nailed the best technical way to design a villain already. I'm going to just talk for a bit, though, and see what happens.

I've played the generic "bad guy" a couple times as a favor to a friend. That involved sending some minions to mess with the heroes, subversion and setting up a climactic final fight. I wasn't being super serious with it but everybody seemed to have fun. Well... the person who asked me to play the bad guy had fun. Everybody else sort of died or quit.

I don't usually write straight villains. Being bad for the sake of being bad is boring to me. My bad guys tend to be of the Hans Gruber variety; somebody who wants something, has the means to get it and has a relaxed or a-typical moral code. I also greatly enjoy simply writing out the opposing faction and aligning my players against them through practical means. There are not often true villains in my games.

Of course, I say that and then remember some really bad characters I've cooked up. Seeing as some of this is difficult to quantify, I can give you some examples.

The fixer for one of my games is, by all accounts, prime bad guy material. His goal is to destabilize a government and he is using the players to pull off seemingly unrelated missions that move him closer to this goal. He protects his people and outfits them with all the good shit to do the jobs but he is an agent of chaos in this story. By extension, the players are his evil minions. You could run a campaign against the team and it would end up being a classic good against evil scenario. The players don't expressly know they're working for the "bad guy", but they also don't know that the people running the government are just as bad in their own ways.

There isn't really one prime way to build a villain. However, I find that the best thing you can do to set players against a villain has much less to do with their personality and much more to do with having an impact on the party. As an example, I played a Deathwatch game where my antagonist recruited the party to track down a planet that had just recently been revealed from the warp. Along the way, the party started to doubt the necessity of completing this task. So, he ended up betraying the party and endangering some of their brothers while at the same time ensuring they could follow him. When the party caught up, they were orbiting the target planet. He ended up giving the honor and glory of dealing with the planet to them while also setting them up for some very good rep with the Imperial Navy. Yet, at the end of the campaign, three players swore death or revenge against him.

The impact there was, I believe, a shot to their pride. They had been played by my Deathmarine and were not having it, no matter what the outcome ended up being.

Another character I set up recently for my ongoing game is a straight megalomaniacal ass with delusions of grandeur and, sadly, a position to match. The party ended up splitting between a guard team escorting a caravan and an emergency team transporting two wounded members. The emergency team arrived at the nearest city and sought a healer for their two wounded members. The leader of the city set himself up as the king of the land and said he would only heal the two wounded people if he was given one of them as a slave (one was a hot she-elf and the other was a super useful mage).

The "King" was a self-important, flamboyant ass. His first impressions made the party want to attack him on the spot. His demands, curiously enough, didn't phase the players more than his mannerisms (my players probably aren't good people).

A few days later in RP time, the other half of the party was ambushed just outside of the city by mercenaries who were working for the King. He was actively raiding his own incoming caravans to take his own people as slaves and steal their goods. So now the party isn't going to be paid what they were promised and half of them are badly hurt and in jail while the other half have to figure out how to extract them.

Admittedly, I'm probably also not the kindest GM.

One character, whom I designed to be an unlikable bitch, ended up finding a small fan club with my players. She was the Silver Lady and was the mercenary the "King" hired. When the King expressed interest in their guide (a timid beastkin ranger), the Silver Lady spoke up, said she had already been branded and called her a whorespawn. Miss Silver has the storybook beauty of a Disney princess but is ripped like she tears people in half as a hobby and walks around in armor with a greatsword. So far, everybody likes her - and that's even after she attacked the other half of the party.

I guess I really don't know how to make a good villain? Although, I've been told by one of my players that she was surprised how much they disliked the Silver Lady, which made them like her as a character. It was flattering but also confusing to me.


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The two above me give some solid examples and tips. So I will just walk you through my own approach. When writing a villain (but also when I’m looking at a villain) I like to ask myself the following questions:

- What is their definition of good vs bad. What does their morale scale look like?
- Do they care only for results, or do they also think of the consequences?
- Do they believe their hands to be forced because of the situation? (Justification, ethical philosophy, entitlements).
- Do they see themselves as the messiah returned, or the crucifixion of Jesus?

To me asking these questions helps me figure out the behaviour of the villain will be, or what motivates them to behave like that. Having decided on their goals and motivations will lay down the foundation, but asking what makes them tick, move, and what their overall mentality is like will help think of the gray areas between. Everyone can agree that murder is bad, but is it the result or the act that horrifies them? What exactly about murder is it that they define as bad?

The second question focuses on the path of their decision making. Do they consider what is ‘good’ for the mass (public) in their actions to reach their goal, or do they gladly burn the world down if that is the price for their goal(s)? I like to read up on theories of ethics and philosophy for this, but that is just an extra.

Three focuses on their background. What brought them to the point where they put their thoughts into action? How did a belief turn into a goal and motivation? Do they believe that the world has doomed them into this role (negative self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps?), or (and here we come to four) do they view themselves as the sacrificial lamb that is needed to change/shake the world? (think Lulu of Code Geass, V from V of Vendetta). Or maybe they don’t see themselves as another ‘gear’ in the grand spiel, but see themselves as the end-game, the hero of the narration that shall introduce an era of glory (messiah complex).

Shortly put: ‘what role does your villain see themselves in?’

One Who Tames

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I don’t really think you need to change your style to be an antagonist. Then again, I see my villains as just antagonists; the poor sop opposing the party. Maybe whoever said that was thinking of a Disney bad guy, ie. redheaded Shitler from the star fails saga. Then again, I guess some people don’t like having relatable aspects in the person they’re trying to defeat.

A fun twist is to turn the tables around and frame your players as the antagonists, Die Hard style. Seen from that light, I end up finding many of the self-riteous, inflexible, moral busy-bodies who end up being player characters to be quite jarring.

My point is, you can make anybody a bad guy without making them an insufferable ass. Try experimenting with normal characters you tend to play but giving them a moral, philosophical, financial, etc. reason to oppose the party.