A Guide to Villainy
"I'm not a great roleplayer. I'm only as great as the roles I've played with others." My Own Writing
If you (generic) ask others how to play a villain, there can be several answers. Some would say don't bother, that it's a character role entirely too hard to fill. Others will say they're easy to play, but impossibly hard to get taken seriously. While an entirely third group might ask Villain or Antagonist? All three play a role in the character creation process to varying degrees.
As the player, it is up to you to decide the ilk of your prospective Villain. I prefer to use the term Villain because a character does not have to be evil to be an Antagonist. A misguided Hero can be just as dangerous as any world threatening villain. Acts for the "Greater Good" can be truly heinous.
Don't worry about a name to start. A character's name is not always a reflection of their nature. Focus on where it is you want them to go. Are they a great manipulator, working behind the scenes and sewing discord and subterfuge? Does he/she/it even realize what it is they're doing? The type chosen helps to answer questions like this.
There is the Mastermind, the villain that treats everything like pieces on a chess/game board and maneuvers others for their own gain no matter who is hurt. Example: James Moriarty. This is the sort of villain that could rule the world from a wheelchair.
The Repressed Nature is just as old as the Mastermind. The character isn't necessarily evil, but something occurs and brings it out; usually a traumatic experience. Example: Mr Hyde, The Green Goblin, Harley Quinn.
The Quiet One. This is the kind of villain that can lead an unassuming life, raise children, hold a dead-end job, even vote regularly and hold not a single criminal charge. Yet they have...compulsions, to commit heinous acts that have been with them since near birth. Example: Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy.
The Juggernaut is the sort many like/want to play simply because it's nice to say your character is an unstoppable force of nature. However, any character can wear this mantle, Hero, Villain, or Anti-Hero. Comes down to what makes them an unstoppable force because unstoppable does not mean without weakness. Example: Jason Vorhees, Michael Meyers, The Hulk, Apocalypse, Doomsday.
There are other types, but these four are good starting points to work with.
Now that you have an idea for the type of Villain you want to show off, its time to consider how they got that way. There isn't any textbook or singular approach for this part. It is entirely up to you as the narrator of their story. However...there are options. Bet you didn't see that coming did you?
This is where you develop their history. Villains are made more often than born. The Monster wasn't really evil, though it did commit evil acts to preserve its own life; it was Victor Frankenstein's obsession. There's no right or wrong options at this point, just keep in mind what their Achilles Heel might be.
What makes your character a Mastermind? Did they spend 15 years in a prison sharing a cell with a con-man and a chess-Master? Did they grow up in the shadow of a relative or sibling who was a great military strategist? Are they simply obsessed with Tsun-Su and the Art of War? Or have they lived a life of Aristocracy learned manipulation from court intrigue. The Mastermind type takes years to become what they are, and tend to have deep histories. Example: Edmon Dontess, JigSaw.
What was the catalyst to send your character's Repressed Nature over the edge? Were they one of the heroes catching the bad guys and it led to the brutal death of their family? Did they come home and find their girlfriend stuffed into a freezer? Did a Mastermind come along and show them a whole new world? What series of events finally made them snap?
The Quiet One offers a little more leeway than the others simply because this character can literally be anyone. A mail-man, a door-to-door salesman, a freight driver/pilot, even the middle-school cafeteria lady. It's just a matter of figuring out what their compulsion is. Do they have some bizarre fetish and it escalates to a serial nature? Maybe they collect dolls and that hobby isn't enough, they suddenly desire real dolls
Lastly...the Juggernaut. As asked above, what makes this character the beast they are? Genetic Mutation? Perhaps an experiment by the Mastermind went wrong? Are they a Repressed Nature that refuses to die after being stopped in life? Or was it merely an unfortunate series of events beyond their control?
The type chosen helps to build upon the history you want them to have and is the most crucial part.
Type Chosen? Check.
History Concept? Check.
With those two out of the way we’re on to the fun part of the character creation process. The next step involves the character’s skill sets, abilities, and….
As you may have noticed each section refers to the previous ones. This is just my way of showing how they constantly relate and inter-play within the character design. Type and History influence the character style. A highly militaristic background lets say, twenty years, means they will dress conservatively. Their hair will be worn close-cropped, well trimmed, and will fall in-stride to a cadence without realizing it if they hear the sound-off even as background static. These are habits that would have been ingrained to them over many years.
The character’s style determines their thought process, playability, reactionary habits, and offers additional insight to how they view the world at large. A character’s “style” isn’t just how they dress or what Modus Operandi they follow, but also a further reflection of their personality. Are they outlandishly flamboyant? Does she dress like a stripper? Is their idea of “self” conservative, but their plans/murders highly complex? Do they suffer from Gender Confusion? Each of these relates to their personal style and outward attitude. Joker wore a purple suit and lived up to his name while being a Mastermind. There is also Bane, just as intelligent as Joker if not more, but because of the Venom he is classified as a Juggernaut. Norman Bates is an example of a character who is between Quiet One and Repressed Nature.
Strip away the type, and all but key elements to their history, you’re left with who the character is on the individual level. The type of person they are at the core. While Merits and Flaws also attribute to their style and give other players something for their characters to use as a foil, there isn’t a need to go insane with them. Make sure it’s a character you’re going to be able to play…consistently. Be honest, a character that is constantly introspective and mopes is going to be depressing for you…and the players/characters he or she interacts with. Conversely there is such a thing as a character that is too extroverted, and you’ll read about other characters looking for the “Off" button.
The two listed previously are not negative aspects to a character. Some players enjoy that sort, and that’s fine. Just make sure it’s something you, as the player, will not grow tired of playing. There are character types that are what I call ‘High Energy”. This means it takes a lot of your own physical energy to play them, and at the end of a night or play-session, you feel literally drained from keeping up with your own character.
The skills your character has are directly related to their history. If they were never in the military, how do they know what an AR-15 is? Where did they learn to fight? These questions determine multiple aspects. Say you want your villain to be a master at Hand-to-Hand combat. Well that can take at least a decade to achieve depending on method. If they were in the military, realistically this could only take 7 years. Basic training, specialization choice, specialize training per choice, etc.
A Quiet One working and attending a college? It takes four years to achieve the rank of black belt, dependant on martial style. Then another year or two to make the next black belt degree as it is all similar to going to college. First Black belt rank is your Bachelor’s degree. Second degree is your Masters and third, fourth, then fifth are your PhD levels.
Continuing with the martial aspects of the skill set, this doesn’t mean they are actually going to be an able fighter. There are second and third degree black belts that could not fight their way out of a bar brawl simply because their years of study might not have covered that scenario. Sparring is one-on-one, tournaments are one-on-one. A fight in a bar is drastically different. It is the individual against all of their opponent’s friends. They are not fair, they are not honest, and they always end up on the ground just like 90% of any other physical conflict. If where your character studied/learned, did not cover multiple assailants, they won’t be able to handle multiple assailants at once because its only in the movies that the opponents come one at a time. Your character would scramble to isolate the horde into one-on-one confrontations. These are just my thoughts on them derived from my own years in studying Shoto-Khan.
When choosing the skills of your character it is often in the best interest of the player to research them. The more you understand the skills and abilities of your character the more effectively you can describe what they do, how they do it, and the multiple effects it can have within the scene. The other side of researching the special skills of your character helps with Out of Character cooperation. Say your character is a Mage and he’s been casting spells for 50 years, he, she, or it is going to have an extensive repertoire of spells. Compile an exact list that would be within their spell book or grimoire with the specifics of what each does. Not only does this give your magic user actual limitations in their spell capability but also helps coordinate with other players the course of a scene. A character that hasn’t had formal study may not have the same level of control as one who entered an apprentice ship. The visual and somatic components of spells, if the character requires those, also add to the difficulty level in playability. A few D&D books do wonders for playing a mage in an online setting. If you want to go the distance, pick up a Spell Compendium, Player's Handbook, and other such texts. They're great source material.
As a player, the research and compilation aren’t necessary, but they can be nice little touches to help you flesh out what your character can and cannot do. If they’ve never been in a fist fight and aren’t a “fighter” type, the first time they punch someone, there is the high likelihood they’ll break their hand.
Abilities are the capabilities of your character that don’t always require extensive training. These can be innate, even supernatural. Are they able to walk or phase through solid matter? How long can they keep the power active? Is it their whole body or just one limb at a time? Maybe they have multiple unique abilities or none at all. Like their whitey-tight wearing counterparts, a good villain (pun intended) can play to their strengths and fortify their weaknesses. Just keep some level of exploitability in place.
Well that's it for me! Hopefully this provides some food for thought and helps with the arduous task of character creation!
Loreli wrote 1307 Days Ago (neutral)0Great Topic!