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In the first article in this series we discussed a villain’s motivation and the importance of these characters to any story. In the previous article we covered how to display villainous power, how to make villains feel challenging without making them impossible to defeat, and what to do after they have been defeated. In this final piece in our Villains series, we will discuss different types of villains, using descriptions to enhance your villain, and a few tips on how to roleplay your villain.
I could write an entire blog series on villainous archetypes (and maybe in due time I will). However, today I am going to discuss some of my favorite archetypes, why I like them, and how to use them to the best effect. So without further ado let’s jump right in.
The Zealot – The first villain archetype I like to employ, I call the zealot. This is a character that is obsessed with a personal mission, a religious crusade, or perhaps justice itself. This villain believes that their cause is just and they are in the right. They will use any tool, no matter how brutal, to shape the world around them. They mercilessly impose their own perspective(s) upon those who do not fit into their view of the perfect world. This villain acts as a fantastic foil for self-righteous heroes and reminds players what happens when righteousness isn’t tempered with compassion. When using this villain, the players can be the target of the zealot’s ire or be asked to work for him without knowing his true intentions.
The Sympathetic Villain – The sympathetic villain is a character that has a goal or a cause which the players can understand, relate to, or even agree with. This includes characters who do terrible things to protect their loved ones or have been manipulated to do evil things. The main constant is that while the villain may not be a bad person, their methods are unacceptable. This is a great way to give your players a chance to be merciful to a villain that they relate with. It also gives players a chance to redeem a worthy adversary. However, be careful not to make all of your villains sympathetic. Some villains may not be redeemable.
The Monster – This kind of villain’s actions are filled with wrath and malice. This character could be an escaped science experiment, an intelligent beast, or your run-of-the-mill psychopathic killer. The defining characteristic is that the monster fundamentally lacks humanity. They are unapologetic and do whatever they want regardless of consequences. They treat people like objects or resources to be consumed. When using this villain, where they came from or how they came to be is of little consequence. The players must deal with the problem of the here and now or it will consume them. This villain is designed to be a frightening contrast to the players.
The Organization – This villain isn’t really a single villain but a group of them. This could take the form of an assassin’s guild, a shadow government, or even a super shady mega corporation. This villainous group has no shortage of manpower, influence, and resources. The Organization offers characters who enjoy dealing in the shady underbelly of society a worthy adversary. This organization could be dedicated to eradicating the players, interested in recruiting the players, or have nefarious intentions that go against the players.
The Mastermind – Behind many plots there is a villain who is pulling the strings. These villains are very patient and reveal themselves only when they are prepared to do so. They are often well connected and have many resources at their disposal. The defining characteristic of this villain is their meticulous plots. These plots depend on the villain’s goal and can be decades in the making. This villain works from the shadows using dead-drops, intermediaries, blackmail, and fear to advance their goals. I recommend using this kind of villain if your players enjoy conspiracies, spies, and espionage. It is extremely rewarding for players to cut through layers of treachery and deception to finally find the man behind the curtain.
Now that we have talked about some of the different types of villains, lets discuss how we really bring them to life: by describing them! A good description of your villain will bring them to life in the player’s mind. Physical descriptions of your villain can further enhance some of their qualities. You can describe their body or their build to underline their physical strength or even their method of intimidation. Are they really tall? Do they have bulging muscles? Are they swift on their feet? You can also add to your villain by describing their facial features. What do their eyes look like? Are they cold and calculating or gleaming with malicious intent? Do they have a devious smile? Or perhaps they have a deformity or a scar that tells its own story and helps to further personify their character. However you choose to describe them, just remember that physical descriptions really do reinforce exactly who your villain is and how your players will perceive him or her.
When role-playing your villain, it is important to consider their personality. Is this person confident or are they timid? Are they loud and boisterous or are they soft-spoken? Do they have an accent? Do they use polysyllabic words to make themselves feel smarter? How do they feel superior to the players or inferior? Are they angered easily or are they level-headed? By asking these questions you can find what your villain sounds like and properly communicate with the players. I usually practice role-playing my villain long before I bring him to the table. My biggest piece of advice on this is to be consistent. If your villain has an accent or a deep voice make sure you are speaking with it. My next piece of advice is to show don’t tell. Use hand gestures, props, diagrams, and pantomime to bring the character to life.
This concludes this section on villains. I hope you enjoyed it. Now get out there and use your new-found knowledge to build better bad guys!
Karington Hess is a lifelong gamer whose passions for hospitality and all things game-related led him to Ravenwood Castle, where he served as an Innkeeper before joining The Malted Meeple. When not pouring beers, crafting milkshakes, or teaching boardgames, Karington can be found behind the DM’s screen, weaving intricate stories for his fellow gamers.