The Villain's Handbook
December 25, 2005
More than a few people have applauded my characters as villains, and a
couple of people have come to me to inquire how to be one. I'm sure
that a lot of people have their own views on it, but I thought I'd post my
own since apparently people think there might be something to it.
For reference, my villains include: Aurian (Evil Archmage), Zaranthis
(Grand Inquisitor), and Elaseth (Grand Inquisitor)
This Handbook is dedicated to Caelik, my long-time friend who actually
enjoys the brighter side of evil (aka, good).
On a role-play game where you hope your characters will be more than
just two-dimensional knock-offs of an archetype, how is it that some
players are considered better at being bad than others? The answers are
simple and not particularly obvious, but here's a short, comparative
What Arch Villains Are Not (But "Vanilla" Villains Are):
What An Arch Villain Is:
- About their style of dress or grooming habits -
These things do not make villains on a role-play game because, to be
frank, they're usually archetypes used to fill in information for a
reader. For example, when we're watching a movie or reading a comic,
the guy in black and red is probably a villain. Sure, some of that comes
into play on a role-play game, but chances are that where you see it isn't
where true villainy lies - instead you're looking at someone with
fashion sense or a lack thereof.
- Obvious -
This is probably the reason that everyone who fits into the generic
description above is probably not likely to be an arch villain. It
works for Marvel Comics, but it doesn't work in real life. If someone can
pick out an villain by looking at them or listening to what they say in the
local tavern, chances are it's not a real villain. In fact, things
such as sitting in the local inn and insulting people frequently work
against would-be villains becoming "the real deal". The reason for this
become obvious as this article continues.
- Stupid or juvenile -
If a character comes off as stupid, more than anything else, they're
unlikely to be able to be a true villain. This is because being a real
villain requires the ability to convince people that they're at least
moderately reasonable. They also are not juvenile. They do not fit
into the mold of a child's idea of good or evil, because their concerns are
material and practical. Children see things in the light of 'good or
bad' whereas villains perceive the system as "this works" and "that
doesn't" to achieve my selfish goals.
- Alone -
Villains have friends, and frequently powerful friends. No person can
have the kind of impact that a villain does without people to back
them up or enforce their will. Alone, a villain (no matter how good they
are at combat) is fodder for a bunch of people who want to take him or her
- Inactive -
This isn't how often a person logs into the game or role-plays.
Instead, it's referring to getting things done. Villains do not sit around
let the world go by, they meddle. If something displeases them, they do
not let it be and irritate them, they fix it. They constantly work towards
some goal, and that goal, no matter the specifics is first and
foremost THEIR goal.
Tips And Tricks To Making A "Real" Villain
- A person with philosophy -
I suppose there's an argument about whether or not a villain is a
villain if they eat babies for breakfast, but a character that who does is
a generic villain without the real fear-inspiring bits. They're bad, like
they need a spanking bad, not arch villain bad. The real villain may have
this behavior, but it is unnecessary because the key to the sheer scariness
of a villain isn't their habits (especially if those habits are exercised
in private or in places where people are unaware of them). The players of
villains consider habits icing on the cake and get down to real evil by
explaining the mentality behind those habits and sticking with it in
they do. They've got a point of view, and that point of view is what makes
them capable of doing something like magery without fear, disgust, or
- Aware of the system -
If you look at the list of arch villains, most of them are notables.
They're in-your-face doing things other people think are awful and get
away with it time after time after time. They know the system operates
and no matter what they do, they don't step wrong. In almost all cases,
they have even integrated themselves INTO the system and use it to their
own advantage by enforcing it, making it more draconian and a rock-steady
base for their operations.
- Manipulative and selfish -
Villains plan what they're going to say and do. They have a feel for
where they are going and try to figure out what the next step is towards
their goal. They avoid getting into the typical rut of boredom. Their
mental conversations aren't as simple as "I'm a baddie. Let's see, ate a
baby this morning, took a leak on the knight's doorstep, scribbled some
graffiti... hmm, what's left for the day?" In fact, most villains
probably never even consider if they're good or bad. Instead, villains
are ultimately selfish, and rather than thinking about desires in terms
of personal characteristics, they think of things in terms of "does
this action benefit MY goal?" If their goal is filled, it's good, else it's
bad. Morality to them is entirely developed around the concept of their
- Sure that they are right -
An arch villain believes, no matter what, that they are in the right,
and their philosophy is sound. They have faith in their own morality. They
do not act against their own nature nor do they attempt to play into the
role of a villain because they want to be bad. Instead, they go about
their business with confidence in both their aims and their methods.
- Convincing -
Remember how villains are never alone? In order to gain supporters or
even just to make sure everyone has a reason to support them when the
time comes. Thus villains slowly gather people on-board and come to an
understanding with them. If they cannot make friends directly, they'll
get their hooks into someone by making sure the friends of their
target are on their side.
- A planner -
Villains think of the way people will react, what they're going to face,
or the possible outcomes of a problem before it occurs and make sure
they've got a viable solution on-hand. When no one knows what to do,
they'll generally follow the easiest path that sounds good and is put
before them, and villains make the most of it (with a bit of help from
skill #5 on this list.) Villains take the time to foresee events and
- Know the system. Know who is sleeping with who, know who the
power-players are, and know what will get you into trouble and what will
keep you safe as you go about your business. Identify other power-players
make sure you've reasons that they will, when push comes to shove, back
you whether they like you or not - and make sure they're aware that
backing you is in their best interest!
- Never, ever, under any circumstance, fight a battle you cannot win.
Whenever a conflict appears, evaluate it for: "Can I achieve my desired
goal?" if the answer is no, back down gracefully or even join the other
side! But do NOT fight a loosing battle. It will hurt your creditability
and your perceived strength.
- Have goals and have a philosophy before you begin. Add to it as time
goes by, but your character's core philosophy should be something they
will fight over and try to convert other people into believing. The
goals and philosophy should be somewhat personal, and absolutely rigid.
People don't change you, you change other people.
- Consciously evaluate what things you want and how to get there.
Evaluate what you need to get there and what you don't. Get the things
that you do and don't bother with the things that you don't. Be
proactive, and if the situation doesn't suit you getting where you want
to go, change it.
- Gather followers. Make friends. The loner character isn't a good
villain because they don't get the general pervasive power they need to
enact their goals. NOTE: It is not necessary for these friendships to be
one-sided or false, but they can be!
- Be willing to fight and enjoy conflict. If you're the type of person
that doesn't enjoy egging other people on or creating a scene, a villain
probably isn't the right type of character for you. They will be an
endless headache, especially once you're established and people make a
point of trying to knock you off your high-horse.
- Exercise patience. It's not really possible to be a villain overnight. In
fact, don't bother striving for villainy and just make sure whatever it is
that you are doing is something most people disagree with, then do it. Do it
well and then find something else other people disagree with and do it.
You'll be a villain in no time, especially if you're successful.
A lot of the villains we see are of the "I do bad things" type, but good
and evil really isn't that simple. Villains just aren't just about
"being evil", they're characters that create and stimulate conflict. A
three-dimensional person has a bit of it all in them, and villains should
be, above all, characters. Whether or not they're good or bad shouldn't
be evaluated by a conversation or style, but by their affect on the game
and other people.
With luck, this little guide should achieve its goal to improvevillains
by letting them see the perspective of a villain and imitate it. If one
of our historic villain doesn't agree with everything, they probably
agree with at least some of it, and any of it can help someone get
into the game and make a great villain that suits their needs.
About the Author
Ephera is the owner of The Inquisition, a Role-Play Enforced MUD. The
articles submitted to MudConnector were written for her MUD forums at
www.theinquisition.org/forums, but expanded for general Role-Play MUD
Villains cause conflict. Intentionally playing a villain does not
excuse you from the consequences of anti-social behavior. Using this
article to create a villain does not make the author responsible for
Additionally, this article was written for The Inquisition MUD, a role-play
enforced game. The advice herein may not be appropriate for all RP-
enforced games, though it is probably has some relevance for any.
Comments / Discussions about this Article
The Villain's Handbook - copyright © 2002 by Ephera - All rights reserved.
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