How to Build an Villain Using “How to Be a Villain.” pt. 1

For the last 6 years or so I have had the book “How to Be a Villain” on my shelf; mostly as a funny display and conversation starter. For the most part it works, when some one sees it next to my “The Zombie Survival Guide” they will often say something funny about my taste in books. But this week while on a short (3 hour) road trip, to my old home city of Seattle, I discovered that it can be far more than just a funny book lampooning the trappings and tropes of the common cinema/literary evil villain. This book is a fun starter guide for designing a reoccurring arch enemy for your players in any RPG. I’ll walk  you through chapter by chapter.

For this Friday’s free post I am going to create a new villain for my Dresden Files RPG, it could easily be used in my Dungeons and Dragons game as well.

Chapter 1: Getting Started With the Forces of Darkness

The book starts off with a basic introduction to evil and its many forms. The first useful section in chapter 1 is choosing an evil name. There is a very small but fun name generator included in this section. It’s a simple three column list which asks you to choose one name from each column; mixing and matching names until you get one which has the feel you are looking for. Our new villain for today will be “Duke Beast Heart” now this is just his evil name. Those who don’t know of his criminal or evil intentions might know him by a more mundane name such as Carl.

This is a concept which I think DM/GMs could easily co-opt, start with this basic list from the book and then expound on it until you have a full page of interchangeable titles and names. It might come in useful if you have to introduce a new foe on the fly and you are not feeling all that creative at the time.

Right next to the name generator is, what I feel, one of the most integral components of creating a villain: “Evil Branding”. I don’t think DM/GMs spend enough time giving their villains enough personal flair to make them stand out from the other mundane enemies which they face through out their campaigns. Other than having more power and making appearances though out the story they are often as vanilla as everyone else.

I play in a 4th edition D&D  game where in the current villain is heavy into theatrics. Every thing she does is over the top and must be done with a certain amount of style. This often angers the players as she flaunts her victories and even in her escapes makes us feel like fools; we will remember her.

Under the branding the author suggests a few options to help your villain make their mark.

  1. A Slogan: It is explained as 3 to five words which sums up your evil ways in an intimidating fashion. This is very much akin to the “aspects” of the Dresden Files RPG. The book gives the example of “Mercy is not an option!” I think I’ll use that for our Duke Beast Heart.
  2. A Jingle: I’m not a jingle guy but I do know that theme music for a villain can help the characters feel the mood and presence of a particularly bad dude. Taking a page out of the SlyFlouish play book I would recommend choosing a song from a CD and playing it every time the players interact with the villain. For me I’ll use Track 4 from the Wrath of the Lich King sound track.
  3. A Trade Mark Gesture: Perhaps your villain laughs and throws his/her cape in a wild style before he fights. Perhaps they leave a calling card at each scene. Gimmicks always help distinguish true villains from vanilla law breakers. Count Beast Heart will howl at the moon every time he exits a scene or begins a battle.
  4. A literary Legacy: Placing your villain in lore and story before your players ever interact with them is a great way to build a bit of fear in their hearts. One tip for doing this is dropping stories or rumors of a evil being who does great evil in a campaign prior to the campaign in which they appear. While your players are dealing with one villain start building up their next.

So now we have have Duke Beat Heart for whom “Mercy is not an Option”. When he enters the room eerie music plays and he lets out a blood curdling howl. Your players are all looking at each other saying “Is this the guy we heard about weeks ago? The one who did *blank* to the *blank*?” Only one chapter in we have a foe who stand out like a sun rod in a perilous pit. The angry orc captain has got nothing on our Duke.

next up is Motives, I’m not going to list them all out here; you need some reasons to read the book. I have selected from the list Insanity. Our evildoer has, after years of exposure to magic from beyond the gate or the far realm, gone insane. He no longer cares about money, power, or any other trappings of the mortal life. The Duke is now haunted by visions of a twisted reality and he now yearns for one thing, making this world just like his twisted visions.

Chapter 2 Discovering the Methods of Your Mayhem

This is all about figuring out how your villain goes about doing his villainous deeds. What method does our Duke use to bring his madness to fruition? The first section of the chapter is focused on selecting an evil occupation, not their day job (in most cases) but more their “night” job; heroes often have civilian jobs, so does evil. I have selected for our villain “avatar of a supernatural creature beyond all comprehension”. Something had to drive our Duke insane, a creature beyond all comprehension might just do the trick.

Next up on the recipe would be Evil Objectives. All of the usual susspects can be found in this list: world domination, power, money. This is something which you have already partially decided when the motives are selected. Someone who wants to destroy the world might not really be interested in world domination; no world no domination. So some attention needs to be paid to the villains motivation while selecting this goals.

The Duke is a prime candidate for Wide Spread Misery as his goal. His objective to meet that goal will be Unleashing the great old ones. Perhaps they are cousins to the power which has driven him mad.

So at the end of part 1 of How to build a Villain we have Carl by day some mundane member of society by night Duke Beast Heart, the howling insane villain who is bent of unleashing the power of the Great Old Ones to bring suffering to the world. All at the behest of a super natural creature which is beyond all comprehension. Not bad for a days work, hell it really only took me 5 minutes to put that all together. I’ll take the Duke over random evil wizard guy who just wants to rule the world.

Look for part 2 next week where I’ll cover: Tools of the Trade, Minions, and Costumes.

T.

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