(“Night on Bald Mountain” by InternetGhostPig)
I love writing villains. In many stories the bad guy is my favorite character because they tend to drive the plot forward and have the most compelling aesthetics and ideas.
In RP, I put a lot of time into creating a worthwhile villain, and have a few basic suggestions to keep in mind so they’re more than just a one-dimensional punching bag for the heroes. These are only my opinions (and it’s not a comprehensive list – obviously other factors come in) to help folks make their own.
Disclaimer: By “villain,” I don’t mean an anti-hero or a troubled (or troublesome) player character. I define a villain as a character that is created solely to challenge player characters within the bounds of a storyline.
Before, I’ve mentioned a tendency to ask “Why” for everything when making a character. In villains it’s just as important. Why are they trying to take over the world? Why are they focusing their energy on tormenting this one person? Never have a villain single out an individual or a group for no reason. Make that reason one that anyone can understand under certain circumstances (especially if they were put in the same situation themselves), or it has provenance: an origin that can be tracked.
Most villains don’t consider themselves evil. They rationalize and justify their actions, just like anyone does. They think that they’re doing the right thing for the right reasons, and are willing to subjugate certain ethics and morals in order to achieve their goal.
Give the villain the power to harm the heroes. If the protagonist a cop, a sample villain would be their boss. They have the power to remove that hero from a certain assignment, change their credentials, or even fire them (of course, with good reason. Never just because they don’t like them). Give the villain the power to affect real damage and consequences, or else they’re nothing but noise.
In an RP setting, the tricky part is convincing the heroes that the villain possesses those powers, and can impact them. Both sides risk slipping into godmode territory if there’s a disagreement on who can do what, so communication and trust is key. The heroes can get little victories along the way, but the villain’s overall plan should advance in a believable manner.
Villains might drive plots, but in the end they’re losers. They’re there for the heroes to defeat – maybe at an extremely high cost – but they have to be let go. There has to be a resolution. I struggle with this because I fall in love with these characters and don’t want to stop playing them. One notable villain of mine ascended to a protagonist role, but that’s rare, and they had to be replaced. Redemption is also an interesting resolution, but again, it has to be believable.
It’s just as satisfying to me, playing the villain, to see the good guys win, and watch them change and grow due to the trials put in front of them. Ultimately, that’s my personal goal when creating a bad guy: To stretch the possibilities of the heroes, push them to their limit, and see if they can look into the void and stay good.
If they can’t, you’ve just created your next villain. Have fun!