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Motivation

Page history last edited by Nick 10 years, 8 months ago

 

 

VILLAINOUS PLOTS

Every great villain has a clear agenda, a strategy for achieving it, and a clear reason for carrying it out. This section is designed to help you build your villain’s objectives, motives, and plan of action, which can form the foundation of a single adventure or a whole campaign. Remember, even minor, one-shot adversaries want something, and they usually have a decent idea of how to obtain it.

 

OBJECTIVES

When selecting a villain’s objective, think on a grand scale: Whether he seeks vengeance, love, immortality, or something else, the decision you make here will inform all other choices about the character. The sample objectives described below are broad and flexible so that you can adjust them for your needs.

 

Immortality

Death, I shall defeat you.”

No one wants to die, but most people accept the inevitable and direct their attention to the here and now. A few, though, rail against the unfairness of it all and become obsessed with their own mortality.

A villain whose objective is immortality wants to transcend the limitations of his form and become godlike. This desire might manifest as a frantic effort to halt the aging process, or as a quest to improve the body so that it is no longer affected by age. Many such villains end up making desperate pacts with fiendish powers, dabbling in forbidden knowledge, or setting aside their souls to embrace undeath.

Example: Mageryn Sollestan (LE female human cleric 5/rogue 2/blackguard 8) is a visually striking woman obsessed with beauty. In an attempt to stave off the inevitable effects of aging, she bathes in the blood of innocents.

 

Love

Don’t you understand? I did this all for you!”

Love might seem like an odd objective for a villain, but love is a powerful force, especially when it is unrequited. To win affection, villains might go to great lengths—demeaning themselves, compromising their values, and setting aside what’s in their best interest.

This objective can be used in many ways. The most common approach is to have a villain do whatever it takes to maintain someone’s ardor. For example, a villain in the thrall of a succubus might commit horrific deeds to keep the demon’s interest, ultimately sacrificing his soul.

As another option, a villain can desire someone that he cannot have, such as the spouse of another character or an individual whose situation or vows make reciprocation impossible. The villain might be driven to slay the other’s lover or destroy the institution that blocks his advances.

Example: When he returned to his woodland village to wed his childhood love, Maiavel (CE male elf scout 7) discovered that his wife-to-be had married another. Enraged, he plans to murder her husband, a diplomat who is mired in tense negotiations with a nearby human village. If Maiavel succeeds, he could plunge his idyllic community into war.

 

Power

I have crushed my enemies and driven them before me. My word is law. The fate of all rests in the palm of my hand.”

For many villains, the ability to decide life and death, control the fates of others, and do whatever they like is the greatest possible goal. Villains who strive for power usually do not care how they acquire it, only that it becomes theirs eventually. Some such villains seek military might, creating unstoppable armies; others cultivate political influence in order to seize control from within the system. For some evildoers, true power lies only in the mastery of magic—whether arcane, divine, or some other type. Villains who have such power can defy reality, travel the planes, and perhaps confront the deities.

Example: King Herbert (NE male human aristocrat 8/fighter 4) has learned from his spies that a neighboring nation has discovered gold in a mountain range within its territory. Coveting the newfound wealth, the king sends out agitators to spread rumors about an impending attack on his own realm, hoping to rally the populace behind his plan to invade the other nation first.

 

Recognition

They’ll never ignore me again.”

A world of heroes, monsters, and high adventure offers many chances for fame and glory to those with the courage to take them. Recognition also allows a villain to achieve a number of other objectives. For example, widespread notoriety enables a villain to live on in the memories of future generations, granting him a sort of immortality. Recognition also brings power and influence. People look to heroes for guidance and look upon villains with fear and loathing; the ability to inspire such strong emotions is power of a different sort.

Ambitious villains seek accolades for their achievements and push themselves to perform more and more audacious acts. Nefarious leaders might start wars to establish their legacy, and thieves might infiltrate the most heavily guarded palaces just to be able to say they did it. These villains carve their names into history, and for them, that is enough.

Example: Embittered after being passed over for the post of temple patriarch, Father Gordon Bernwell (LN male human cleric 12 of St. Cuthbert) plots to discredit his rival and usurp his status so he can take the seat for himself.

 

Vengeance

They’ll all pay for crossing me—each and every one.”

Most people can sympathize with the need for revenge. Reasonable beings find themselves wanting vengeance at times, burning with the need to punish others who have wronged them, but most overcome this impulse and continue their lives peacefully.

When vengeance is a villain’s objective, she cannot move on. Everything she does feeds her desire to get back at people whom she blames (rightly or wrongly) for slighting her. However, the pursuit of revenge rarely ends well. Villains who strive for vengeance are capable of deplorable acts in the name of justice. Their rage and frustration colors everything they do, and their single-minded fixation enables them to justify nearly any deed that brings them closer to satisfaction.

Example: Anna Orbald (LN female human fi ghter 7) purchased a sword from a shady dwarf shopowner in a nearby city. When she used it to defend her sister from bandits, the cheaply made blade shattered. Anna’s sister was dragged away and never seen again. As a result, Anna has sworn that she will not rest until every weapon merchant pays for her loss.

 

Wealth

Gold is power.”

People attend school, work at jobs, and move from place to place hoping to secure the comfortable life that they believe they deserve. With wealth comes power, influence, security, recognition, material possessions, and other benefits. On its own, the pursuit of wealth is not necessarily an evil objective.

However, it becomes villainous when someone hoards wealth no matter what the cost. He might work his peasants to death, paying them a pittance for the crops they produce. He might steal without a care for the consequences. He might shatter a nation’s economy so that he can divert gold to his own coffers. A villain of this stripe will break agreements, betray allies, and sell out friends and family for a few bags of coin.

Example: Vidon Hammerstone (LE male duergar fighter 9) buys slaves from the drow and puts them to work mining mithral in his tunnels. He drives them mercilessly because to him the value of the ore far outweighs the value of the lives he wastes.

 

MOTIVATION

Now that you have chosen your villain’s objective, the next step is to determine why she wants to achieve that goal. Your villain’s motive reveals a key component of her personality. On their own, objectives are morally neutral, but they become sinister when wicked motives are attached to them.

The motivations described below are just some of the many reasons why villains want what they want. For each motivation, an example shows how it can put a particular objective into context. If you want further options, consider drawing on Heroes of Horror, which offers a variety of motives for truly deplorable villains.

 

Achievement

Villains motivated by achievement have a need to excel. They hold themselves to a higher standard, striving to be the best they can be at everything they do. The means to that end, no matter how despicable, do not matter.

Example (Wealth): A thief breaks into the local headquarters of the wizards’ guild and steals a dangerous artifact to prove his skill to his peers.

 

Coercion

Some villains are coerced into striving for a particular objective. For example, a villain might follow orders because it is his job to carry out the commands of his superior. Also, possession, curses, evil items, and other forms of magical compulsion can force a character to act against his will. Fear is a closely related motivation. A villain might commit evil acts to save the life of an imperiled family member.

Example (Power): An aggressive cult of fanatics threatens to kill a wizard’s daughter unless he tears open a portal to the Far Realm.

 

Conviction

A person guided by her convictions does what she thinks is right and condemns anything that deviates from her beliefs. Villains motivated by their convictions believe that they have a moral imperative to achieve their goal. Typically, this motivation masks a deeper impulse, such as envy or hatred, that a villain might wish to deny.

Example (Immortality): A healer researching a cure for a devastating disease forges a pact with a devil to extend her life span so that she will have more time to finish her work.

 

Discord

Villains who are driven by discord resent institutions that they consider to be oppressive. By attaining their objectives, they can plunge the established order into chaos and revel in the resulting freedom and confusion.

Example (Vengeance): A bard who was outlawed for speaking out against the king vows to shatter the monarchy and break its hold over the land.

 

Envy

Envious villains pursue their goals because they want what someone else has. They might try to gain similar fortune for themselves, or they might seek to take a prize away from the target of their jealousy. A villain who envies another individual’s wealth will not be satisfied by finding his own riches. To him, victory can be achieved only by stealing or ruining the other person’s valued treasures.

Example (Recognition): Fed up with the successes of a rival group, a party of evil adventurers plots to smear the characters’ good names.

 

Friendship

Rather than building affiliations through honest means, villains who are motivated by friendship coerce and abuse others, forcing companionship through fear. Although the friendship that results is not authentic, the villains accept the illusion of camaraderie. Other villains are so desperate to please that they do terrible things to earn the notice of the person they wish to befriend. Of course, these villains seldom realize that their actions just drive that person farther away.

Example (Recognition): Eager to secure an apprenticeship with a famous archmage, a young wizard conspires to steal a potent artifact from a vault beneath Boccob’s temple and bestow the gift on the one he wants to be his master.

 

Guilt

When characters fail, they must deal with the consequences. Feelings of frustration, anguish, and guilt drive many to attempt to correct or atone for their mistakes. Villains motivated by guilt might have made an immoral choice, failed a loved one, or set in motion a series of events that led to disaster. To make up for their part in the outcome, they overcompensate and try to fix whatever went wrong, often making the situation worse.

Example (Vengeance): When a bodyguard failed to stop an assassin because he was drunk in his quarters, he swore off ale and began to brutally attack anyone who he believes played a role in the conspiracy.

 

Hate

Whether they hate a person, a country, or a whole race of creatures, villains motivated by hatred are implacable and intolerant, capable of dreadful acts in pursuit of destroying the object of their disgust. They aim to do maximum violence to their hated foes, and they might go so far as to commit mass murder or genocide to achieve their ends.

Example (Power): A fanatical and charismatic cleric strives to gain a position of stature within her church so that she can use her institution’s resources to stamp out rival faiths.

 

Lust

A villain motivated by lust covets something and is driven to distraction by her desire to acquire it. Lust often implies a physical attraction to another being, but it also includes base greed.

Example (Immortality): Believing that elves hold the secret of eternal life, a power-mad warlord musters his armies to conquer the natives of an ancient sylvan forest so that he can graft their flesh to his own.

 

Madness

Insanity allows villains to pursue the most unlikely goals and commit the most horrific atrocities. A villain driven by madness might have delusions about the outcome of his objective, or perhaps he works toward the goal for no particular reason at all.

Example (Immortality): A disturbed beholder captures and petrifies half lings so that he can memorialize them forever.

 

Order

In the face of terrifying monsters, ambitious criminals, and countless other calamities, some believe that the only solution is to impose absolute order. These villains try to force their views on others because they are convinced that they are right.

Example (Recognition): To prove the necessity of order, a cleric of St. Cuthbert secretly provokes a tribe of hobgoblins into attacking his city. When the citizens start to panic, the priest emerges as a leader, arguing that only his draconian policies can protect the people from the invading monsters.

 

THE VILLAIN’S PLOT

With your villain’s objective and motivation in place, it’s time to hatch the details of his plan. At this point, you might not have developed any statistics for the villain other than his Challenge Rating and perhaps his race. That’s fine—let his class, feats, spells, and magic items serve the story, rather than the other way around.

This section gives you the basic elements for building your villain’s plot. It is not a crash course on adventure design or a discussion of the merits and flaws of linear adventures. Instead, these guidelines are intended to help you organize your thoughts when creating scenarios and villains. It is up to you to fill in the blanks.

 

SPECIFYING THE GOAL

Your villain has an objective and a motivation. Now, use them to determine exactly what he hopes to achieve. Be specific: If the villain wants immortality, choose the precise form—will he become a lich, seek a place in the court of Asmodeus, extend his natural life, become a deity, or pursue some other strategy? Remember to consider his motives, which will guide you through the many options and help you settle on the perfect choice.

 

CONSEQUENCES

Before delving into the specific steps of the villain’s plan, decide what is at stake if the PCs fail to stop her. The potential consequences will compel them to become involved in the first place and will ensure that they continue to fight the villain throughout the adventure or campaign. The possible outcome should be significant enough to pose a real danger to the world; it might even threaten the setting’s very existence. Consequences that dramatically alter a setting can serve as the basis for future campaigns, giving you the ability to start over with new heroes striving to right the wrongs of the old.

 

SCHEME

At last, it is time to map out the villain’s scheme and choose the steps he will take to reach his objective. As you flesh out the details, keep in mind the basic components of great villains. The plot of a one-shot villain should have relatively few steps, since the character will not survive long enough to reach his ultimate goal. A recurring villain’s scheme can be more complex. As a rule of thumb, a one-shot villain should be able to attain his goal in the space of a single adventure, but a recurring villain might not reach his goal until the end of the campaign.

One way to design the villain’s scheme is to work backward. State the goal as if the villain had already achieved it, and then, moving in reverse, write down each step that he took to reach that point. In the process, you might come up with several different ways for the villain to achieve his objective. For now, choose one path and keep the others in reserve. If the PCs thwart the villain in the early stages of his scheme, you can switch to one of the other plans.

 

RESOURCES

With the scheme mapped out, you are ready to outfit your villain with the appropriate materials. His resources might include minions and lackeys, magical power, political influence, a particular class or prestige class, a feat, ranks in a specific skill, or a magic item. Make a list of everything that the villain should have. These resources become the building blocks for creating the villain’s statistics and forming his organization.

When the list is finished, set it aside for now. Later, when you generate the villain’s statistics, return to the list and use it to guide your decisions.

 

ADVANCING THE PLOT

The trickiest part about running a great villain is advancing his plot. Over the course of a campaign, the player characters should have plenty of chances to ruin the villain’s plans. Their successes can spell the villain’s doom or just set him back temporarily, forcing him to find another path to his goal.

The objectives of one-shot villains are immediate, so you might assume that the villain has been working toward his objective in the background the whole time. When the PCs come onto the scene, they can stop the villain at a crucial moment and put an end to his scheme.

Recurring villains require a bit more finesse. From the moment you introduce one into your game, he is working toward his goal. Even when the PCs are busy elsewhere, the villain keeps advancing his plots; the trick lies in gauging his progress behind the scenes.

The Encounter Level of encounters in the lowest or starting plot element should be 1 or 2 lower than the party level, while the EL of encounters involving the climactic plot element should be commensurate with the highest level you expect the characters to attain while the villain is active in the campaign. As the average party level rises, so too does the villain make progress toward his goal.

 

Advancing the Villain

A one-shot villain appears and dies in the space of one adventure, but a recurring villain grows with the player characters, attaining higher levels as they do. You can advance the villain at the same rate as the PCs, but that means that he improves regardless of their success or failure. Instead, consider advancing him based on the PCs’ accomplishments. At the conclusion of each adventure, look at what the party achieved and its effect on the villain’s scheme.

If the PCs failed to complete their mission or stop the villain’s plans, the villain attains two levels for every level attained by the PCs during the adventure.

If the PCs thwarted the villain’s plans but did not set him back significantly, the villain attains one level for every level attained by the PCs during the adventure.

Finally, If the player characters set back the villain’s plans significantly, leaving him in a worse situation than he was in at the start of the adventure, the villain attains one level for every two levels attained by the PCs during the adventure.

 

PORTRAYING A VILLAIN

Although the decisions you have made so far allow you to draw some conclusions about your villain, they paint an incomplete picture, revealing nothing about how to roleplay the character. To help you understand how the villain behaves and what he is like, this section offers sample occupations, personality traits, and behaviors to make your scoundrel stand out.

The “Typical Classes” sections in the discussions that follow mention many standard classes that are presented in supplements. Those classes and their sources are as follows: archivist (Heroes of Horror), ardent (Complete Psionic), beguiler (Player’s Handbook II), binder (Tome of Magic), crusader (Tome of Battle), divine mind (Complete Psionic), dragon shaman (Player’s Handbook II), dragonfire adept (Dragon Magic), dread necromancer (Heroes of Horror), duskblade (Player’s Handbook II), favored soul (Complete Divine), healer (Miniatures Handbook), hexblade (Complete Warrior), incarnate (Magic of Incarnum), knight (Player’s Handbook II), lurk (Complete Psionic), marshal (Miniatures Handbook), ninja (Complete Adventurer), psion (Expanded Psionics Handbook), psychic warrior (Expanded Psionics Handbook), samurai (Complete Warrior), scout (Complete Adventurer), shadowcaster (Tome of Magic), shugenja (Complete Divine), soulborn (Magic of Incarnum), soulknife (Expanded Psionics Handbook), spellthief (Complete Adventurer), spirit shaman (Complete Divine), swashbuckler (Complete Warrior), swordsage (Tome of Battle), totemist (Magic of Incarnum), truenamer (Tome of Magic), warblade (Tome of Battle), warlock (Complete Arcane), warmage (Miniatures Handbook), and wu jen (Complete Arcane).

 

OCCUPATIONS

A believable villain has a life, a means of income, a network of connections, and a function in your setting. Occupations reflect the villain’s place in your world and help you add another layer of complexity to his character.

 

Academic

An academic villain is a brilliant mind, an erudite scholar, and an expert on a variety of subjects. These villains include wizards, sages, professors, and others who have an extensive education and devote time to the pursuit of scholarship.

Academics thirst for more knowledge, more influence, or the ability to continue learning without interference from others. Some academics become evil through exposure to forbidden lore, while others enter into infernal pacts to gain power in exchange for their immortal souls.

Typical Classes: Archivist, ardent, binder, cleric, shadowcaster, truenamer, wizard, wu jen.

Example: Perceiving the inherent dangers of certain religions and their adverse effect on society, Jasper (LN male human archivist 12) confiscates the holy books of all faiths to assess if their teachings might threaten the structure of his community.

Portraying the Academic: Speak eloquently, formally, and with precision, and go to great lengths to explain yourself. You might correct characters who cast spells, lecturing them on the proper methods of spellcraft.

 

Agitator/Fanatic

Agitators are revolutionaries and rabble-rousers. They question the status quo, campaign for a variety of causes, and exult in the discord they create. Whether the targets of their diatribes are politicians, nobles, priests, or the inequitable woes of the commoner, agitators are adept at riling up the people and spreading confusion and chaos.

More often than not, an agitator does not care what cause he champions, as long as people listen to him and rally to his side. Villainous agitators travel from community to community, looking for problems and controversial subjects. When they find an issue to push, they stand on the steps of a temple or a government building, hand out pamphlets, and shrilly denounce whatever it is they oppose this time.

Sometimes an agitator believes so strongly in his mission that he can no longer tolerate other points of view, and anyone who disagrees with him becomes the enemy. He stops championing the cause of the day and becomes consumed by his cause, transforming him into a frothing, intolerant bully.

Typical Classes: Bard, beguiler, cleric, crusader, favored soul, marshal, sorcerer.

Example: Ralda Renforth (CN female half-elf beguiler 8) travels from village to village, questioning the right of the privileged to rule and filling the heads of commoners with treasonous talk. She initiates riots and general upheaval by calling for the redistribution of wealth and the destruction of temples and marketplaces. In short, she puts a torch to the tinderbox that is the social structure of a community. During the commotion, Ralda slips from house to house, stealing any valuables she can grab, and then sneaks off to the city for a life of excess. When her money runs out, she travels to another village and starts again.

Portraying the Agitator/Fanatic: Pepper your speech with inflammatory remarks that are designed to set people at each other’s throats. For example, gripe about how priests want nothing but the hard-earned coin of the working class, or denounce elves for keeping secrets from humanity. Blame everyone and everything for all the troubles in the world.

 

Assassin/Bounty Hunter

Assassins kill and bounty hunters capture, but both are in the business of tracking down prey. They develop many of the same skills, including stealth, combat ability, and a streetwise nature. These professionals care little or nothing for their victims—a job is a job.

Characters in the business of killing for money are evil by definition, but bounty hunters need not be. In fact, some bounty hunters believe that they are doing the world a service by taking dangerous criminals off the streets. They become villains when they cannot or will not question the nature of their job, especially when it’s clear that their quarry is innocent.

Typical Classes: Beguiler, duskblade, lurk, monk, ninja, psychic warrior, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, soulknife, spellthief.

Example: Hyrum Shent (NE male whisper gnome RS ninja 5/assassin 5) takes nearly any job, no matter how unsavory, because he craves the thrill of the hunt. Unsavory governments hire him to bring in political enemies, fugitives, and sometimes random citizens—rulers find that spreading fear makes it easier for them to maintain their iron grip on the populace.

Portraying the Assassin/Bounty Hunter: These villains are professionals. They might enjoy their work, but they are all business all the time.

 

Criminal/Spy

Most villains are criminals of one sort or another. Whether they are murderers, thieves, extortionists, or counterfeiters, they profit by defrauding others. Many pursue their line of work because they believe that honest jobs are for suckers, and they view other people as marks, dupes, and victims.

Spies can be considered criminals, too. They are thieves of a sort, but instead of pilfering coins or goods, they steal information. Spies might serve foreign powers, evil religions, or anyone with an interest in a particular subject.

Typical Classes: Bard, beguiler, duskblade, hexblade, lurk, psion, rogue, spellthief, swashbuckler, wizard.

Example: Wensly Phelps (CE male maenad EPH lurk 6) works the marketplaces of a large city, picking pockets and cutting purses. Unlike some thieves, he does not target only victims who look like they can afford to lose a few coins. He steals from everyone he can.

Portraying the Criminal/Spy: Criminals are accustomed to looking over their shoulders and often are nervous or skittish. To roleplay this trait, talk quickly and assume a tense posture. Look around frequently, and glance back over your shoulder every now and then.

 

Cultist/Priest

Though cults and religions differ in size, they are similar in many respects. Both groups serve what is believed to be a divine entity. Both groups have authority figures who claim a deeper understanding of that entity. And both groups teach that devotion to the principles of the organization will improve the lives—or the afterlives—of their members. However, in the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game, cults and religions tend to be separated by a major doctrinal distinction. Religions follow the edicts of deities, while cults serve lesser powers of a suspicious or sinister nature.

A villainous cultist or priest has beliefs that are at odds with those of the player characters. The villain might honor the same god the PCs do, or a different deity that is noted for being good, but her methods of worship or her interpretation of divine will conflicts with that of the party. More commonly, villainous cultists and priests serve evil deities or fiend lords, such as archdevils and demon princes.

Typical Classes: Archivist, ardent, binder, cleric, crusader, divine mind, dragon shaman, incarnate, paladin, shugenja.

Example: Reinia Trent (CE female human aristocrat 2/ cleric 3 of Graz’zt) lives a double life. In public, she is the beautiful wife of an influential noble and enjoys wealth, a massive estate, many children, and the envy of every other woman in the city. But behind closed doors, Reinia is the high priestess of a cult that venerates the Six-Fingered Hand. She and five other women regularly gather in the cellar of her sumptuous home to perform dark rituals to their dreadful master.

Portraying the Cultist/Priest: Keep foremost in your mind the deity or being you worship, and strive to exemplify its will. Invoke the name of your power in regular speech, make strange signs, and quote sayings from your holy (or unholy) book.

 

Merchant

Merchants are masters of commerce and trade. They have connections in most large cities, giving them a long reach and the means to monitor the PCs’ activities. A merchant can be anyone from a small, one-man outfit to a powerful prince who controls massive trade cartels, putting him on par with the mightiest of kings.

A villainous merchant uses his wealth, contacts, and power to acquire more of all three, which he then bends toward his ultimate goal.

Typical Classes: Bard, beguiler, hexblade, psion, rogue, swashbuckler, wizard.

Example: By day, Ferben Nackle (NE male gnome fighter 2/rogue 2/illusionist 2) runs a legitimate business selling curios and alchemical goods. By night, he is an infamous drug lord known as Bishop, pushing all manner of addictive poisons into the poorer sections of the city.

Portraying the Merchant: Everything is for sale—it is just a matter of settling on the price. Show off your wealth by offering to buy the PCs or their equipment, and throw a lot of money around.

 

Noble/Politician

Courtiers, nobles, knights, monarchs, and other aristocratic villains are born into their positions. Most already have plenty of wealth and power and might pursue villainous objectives out of boredom. Occasionally, aristocratic villains find themselves in danger of losing their status or facing destitution, and they resort to distasteful means to secure their place at the top of society.

Political villains are active in a community’s government, whether that means working with or against the local rulers. Bureaucrats, politicians, terrorists, and other such villains derive power from exploiting the public. Some enjoy a special status in the community, and many have a number of supporters who believe their every word.

Typical Classes: Bard, beguiler, cleric, fi ghter, knight, rogue, samurai, swashbuckler, wizard.

Example: Sir Tybalt of Crois (LE male human knight 13) is known for his brutal methods of handling prisoners. He dismembers his captives and mounts their heads on poles as a warning to those who dare stand against him.

Portraying the Noble/Politician: Depending on the situation, try to come off as arrogant and haughty, quick-witted and slimy, or both at the same time. Insult those who are beneath you, and ingratiate yourself to those who are above you or on the same footing.

 

Recluse

Not all villains can assimilate into civilized society. Some flee the structure and societal demands of cities to live without condemnation or judgment in the wilderness. The most heinous villains have no choice in the matter and must eke out a rugged existence far from the law.

This occupation can also include villains from other lands or other planes of existence. These foreign characters might live alongside the locals, but they stand apart because of their strange appearance, manner, or customs.

Typical Classes: Binder, divine mind, dragon shaman, dragonfire adept, dread necromancer, druid, monk, psion, ranger, scout, swordsage, wu jen.

Example: Calara the Foul (CE female human rogue 3/druid 3/cancer mageLM 4) fl ed to the sewers when she enraged the head of the local assassins’ guild. Her time spent hiding amid the effluvia, rats, and diseases has left her . . . changed.

Portraying the Recluse: This kind of villain has a hard time communicating with others. Speak awkwardly, in terse phrases, in a heavy accent, or in a language that no one understands. If the character is a true hermit, you can remain silent, keeping your head down as if intimidated by contact with other people.

 

Savage

At home in the wild, savage characters are comfortable far from civilization. They include druids, rangers, trappers, and other characters with wilderness occupations, but they also encompass strange and monstrous creatures that fundamentally oppose all things good and virtuous. A savage character might become a villain to keep civilization from encroaching on his unspoiled lands. Alternatively, he might have been forced into exile due to a hideous or unusual appearance, making him a villain who lashes out because he is misunderstood.

Typical Classes: Barbarian, binder, druid, ranger, scout, sorcerer, spirit shaman, totemist, warlock.

Example: After a band of orcs destroyed his people’s hive and scattered the survivors, Ixot (LE male abeil MM2 ranger 8) has taken it upon himself to seek revenge on all humanoids.

Portraying the Savage: Be aggressive, violent, and destructive. Try to deal with every situation by breaking things. Talk in a loud voice and speak in simple phrases.

 

Soldier

Born for warfare, a soldier is a trained combatant who makes her living with her sword or her spells. This occupation encompasses foot soldiers, cavalry, officers, and warlords. Most soldiers are martial characters, but this occupation is also appropriate for combat-oriented spellcasters.

Villainous soldiers could be jaded mercenaries, war-weary officers, or embittered generals tired of inept governments. These characters often have military allies, and if they are not in charge of a force, they can rely on the support of their fellow troops.

Typical Classes: Crusader, duskblade, favored soul, fighter, healer, knight, marshal, paladin, psychic warrior, ranger, samurai, scout, soulborn, warblade, warmage.

Example: Kastya Rathra-da (CE female githyanki psychic warrior 10) leads a force of githyanki onto the Material Plane to prepare for an invasion that will capture the world for the Lich Queen.

Portraying the Soldier: Pay careful attention to the battlefield and always keep an eye out for strategic advantages. Keep the odds in your favor by preparing for the PCs’ arrival as comprehensively as possible.

 

PERSONALITY TRAITS

To help you portray a villain, give her some typical villainous personality traits that reveal facets of her nature. These traits determine how she might act in any given situation. Choose at least two traits, and select one to be dominant. For a twist, consider giving a villain a contradictory trait as well—a little depth will prevent her from appearing to be a stereotype.

In the brief discussion that follows, each contradictory trait is defined immediately beneath the typical villainous trait to which it applies.

 

Arrogant

Proud, vain, and full of self-importance, an arrogant villain shows a blatant disregard for the feelings and wellbeing of others. She spends a lot of time talking about herself and her achievements. These villains are often lawful.

Humble: Shy and unassuming, a humble villain feels herself to simply be doing the best thing. She is motivated by deep-seated beliefs and strives her utmost to contribute to this grander goal. She might be a faithful lieutenant of a higher villain or truly dedicated to a god or a cause.

 

Avaricious

Covetous and greedy, an avaricious villain plots to acquire items that belong to others. She takes risks to steal, and her mind is usually on what she can gain from any situation. These villains are usually chaotic.

Generous: A generous villain steal, kills, and does horrible things in order to acquire wealth, but then does not hold fast to these gains. The villain’s family, friends, and even acquaintances are showered with gifts. Servants are paid well. Charities receive large contributions. Stolen artwork might be donated to museums. A generous villain glosses over murder, torture, theft, and other crimes and thinks only of how an acquired item or money would make a perfect gift.

 

Cruel

A cruel villain derives pleasure from the suffering of others. Sadistic and merciless, she causes harm and pain merely for the sake of doing so. As might be expected, cruel villains are always evil.

Kind: A kind villain feels that what she’s doing is a service for her victims. She might be an assassin who murders people because she believes that “life is pain” and by killing them, she’s sending them on to a better place in the afterlife or next life. A kind thief might believe that wealth makes people miserable because they focus only on money. By financially devastating a rich family, the thief gives them the opportunity to reassess their values, rely on each other, and become better people.

 

Duplicitous

Duplicitous villains are liars, cheats, and traitors. They honor no alliances or bonds of friendship and use other people to serve their needs. Duplicitous villains are always chaotic.

Trustworthy: A trustworthy villain’s word is her bond. Such a villain might promise to aid someone in acquiring a powerful weapon. She also might sell the information about the weapon’s whereabouts to a rival organization, if she never promised not to tell anyone else about it. Or, if the agreement is simply to help someone get the weapon, once that obligation is fulfilled, she then might try to take it from that individual. Devils are the ultimate example of this personality trait in a villain. Trustworthy villains are always lawful.

 

Envious

Incensed by the success of others, envious villains belittle the accomplishments of everyone around them, while secretly wishing to achieve the same things for themselves. Envious villains are often evil.

Complimentary: Generally self-confident, a complimentary villain hands out praise when it’s deserved. She’ll compliment the rogue who bypassed the traps she used to protect her hideaway. She’ll exalt the fighting expertise that took out her guardian golems. If she survives to face the PCs again, she’ll cheerfully set up harder and harder challenges to protect herself, while admiring the PCs’ tenacity.

 

Gluttonous

Gluttonous villains consume more than their share and hoard treasures to deprive others of the chance to enjoy them. They frequently stockpile food, drink, and wealth, but they can also hoard resources or the attentions of a companion. Gluttons are always evil.

Moderate: A moderate villain blends easily into society. Without grand passions or vices, she lives a fairly ordinary-seeming life. She doesn’t hoard wealth, get drunk, or flaunt her talents. Her coworkers or neighbors assume her to be a simple clerk. She is perceived as boring. Searching her home reveals nothing unusual or exciting. She is never the topic of gossip or bards’ tales. Only when committing crimes does she step outside this seemingly faultless and mundane life.

 

Intolerant

Intolerant villains refuse to accept the customs, values, and beliefs of other people and choose to persecute them for their differences. They might react to someone who is dissimilar with malice, laughter, or violence. Intolerant villains are always lawful.

Tolerant: A tolerant villain benefits from diverse groups of lackeys and hirelings. She recruits folk from a variety of races and allegiances. It is in her employ that a half-orc warrior leads a band of gnolls supported by a human cleric and a pixie scout. As long as the folk she uses are loyal to her and her cause, she doesn’t care who they are or where they come from.

 

Lascivious

Fueled by sexual desire, lascivious villains are driven by bodily impulses and ardent for physical gratification. They speak in innuendos and double entendres, and they are aggressive in matters of the flesh. These characters are often chaotic.

Chaste: A villain who focuses on chastity eschews sex and physical pleasure. She avoids lewd speech and provocative clothing. In extreme cases, she seeks to remove all potential temptations from her world, perhaps assassinating anyone who so much as seeks to flirt with her.

 

Mad

Mad villains might have any number of mental ailments, ranging from paranoia and delusions to psychotic behavior. Their erratic and sometimes hostile actions can repel others quickly. Mad villains are usually chaotic.

Logical: A villain who relies on logic is consistent and sensible. Dispassionate and unemotional, she makes decisions based on facts and information.

 

Manipulative

Manipulative villains exploit and use people. They let others take risks on their behalf, coercing them with false promises and lies. These villains are usually evil.

Direct: “Here’s what’s going to happen . . .” is the typical approach of a direct villain. She’ll tell you exactly what she wants, what she expects of you, and what happens if you succeed or if you fail. Direct villains tend to be lawful.

 

Nihilistic

Nihilistic villains defy social conventions, having little use for custom or proper behavior. They actively oppose anything they deem to be tradition, and they mock people who seem shackled by convention. Nihilistic characters are usually chaotic.

Traditional: Traditional villains fall into two categories: those who value the status quo and don’t want any significant changes in society, and those who want to return society to an often illusory “golden age” of long ago when life was so much better.

 

Obsessive

Once an obsessive villain latches onto an idea, she will not let go of it easily. The object of her focus might be a pattern of behavior, a phrase, or a goal. Obsessive characters are always lawful.

Capricious: Nothing holds the attention of a capricious villain for long. Ever active, she starts many different schemes and launches a wide variety of endeavors, but sees very few through to completion. She gets bored easily and changes plans by whim to add variety and spice.

 

Slothful

Slothful villains are rarely motivated to do much of anything. They spend their time lazing about, letting their lackeys and servants attend to them. If they manage to cook up a scheme, they rely on their minions to make it happen. Slothful villains demand that their orders be carried out and thus are usually lawful.

Organized: Meticulous and hard-working, an organized villain prioritizes tasks and gets the job done. A heist involves careful planning, accounting for all possibilities, and setting up contingencies. Such villains prepare for both the likely and the unlikely. An organized villain is rarely surprised.

 

Vain

Consumed with appearances, vain villains spend much of their time perfecting their looks and those of their servants. They pay close attention to small details and never present themselves unless they are flawless. Vain villains are often lawful.

Modest: A modest villain doesn’t draw attention to herself, her body, or her wealth. She wears simple clothing and gear and little or no jewelry. Often, modest villains in charge of an organization favor uniforms. The emphasis is on the group and its accomplishments. Individuality is downplayed. Modest villains generally use “we” instead of “I” when talking about deeds.

 

Vindictive

A vindictive villain never forgets a slight or lets go of a grudge. Whenever someone crosses her, she visits the same offense on them tenfold. Vindictive villains are usually lawful.

Forgiving: A forgiving villain rarely moves against her rivals or unruly subordinates. Any punishments she metes out are mild. For instance, if one of her underlings attempts to assassinate her, she’ll overlook the transgression, perhaps banishing the person or even just letting the offense go if the would-be assassin apologies. Forgiving villains rarely last for long on their own, but a forgiving mastermind with a vindictive or protective second in command can have a very long and prosperous career.

 

VILLAINOUS BEHAVIOR

Many villains have signature techniques that serve as hallmarks of their wicked nature. By assigning an idiosyncratic behavior to your villain, you evoke her whenever the PCs come across one of her victims. Feel free to choose some of the sample behaviors below or come up with your own.

Habits: Adultery, betrayal, cannibalism, cheating, deviance, drugs, fiend worship, fiendish pacts, idolatry, lechery, lies, neglect.

Minions: Aberrations, animals, constructs, demons, devils, dragons, goblinoids, magical beasts, monstrous humanoids, orcs, plants, undead.

Tactics: Ambushes, arson, assassination, assault, blackmail, bounty hunting, bribery, burglary, deception, disguise, duels, espionage, fraud, gambling, genocide, impalement, kidnapping, looting, murder, paralysis, poaching, rebellion, seduction, slander, slavery, smuggling, sniping, stabbing, stalking, terrorism, tyranny, warfare.

Techniques: Blinding, branding, crucifixion, decapitation, disfigurement, dismemberment, drowning, executions, flaying, garroting, hanging, massacres, mutilation, sacrifice, scalping, stitching, suffocation, torture, whipping.

Tools: Acid, charms, droughts, electricity, evil magic, illusion, monsters, petrifi cation, plagues, poison, psionics, puzzles, storms, traps.

 

Roleplaying a Villain

When the player characters encounter a villain, they should have the sense that she is more than a collection of numbers. A villain should be special, scary, and thoroughly dangerous. Her capabilities, spells, minions, and environment can help make the point, but in the end, it comes down to roleplaying.

Expressions: Body language, facial expressions, and hand gestures can make your villain stand out. You do not have to be a trained actor—just come up with something distinctive that the villain might do, and then do it. Coughing, drumming your fingers, or darting your eyes around the table are subtle but important expressions that bring a villain to life.

Catchphrase: A classic villain might have a trademark phrase—such as a battle cry, a prayer, or a curse—that is distinctive and memorable. This catchphrase should be keyed to her personality and motivations. A villain driven by greed might declare, “I’d buy that for a gold piece!” whenever she sees something she wants. Similarly, a villain driven by vengeance might scream, “For the blood of my sister!” before charging into battle.

Props: Props can be extremely helpful when roleplaying a villain, especially if you do not use them too often. Props give the players a visual cue that something important is about to happen. When you put on a hat, wear a monocle, or light a candle, you separate the villain from the foes of more mundane encounters.

 

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