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Rigley Rambles: On Villainy
#1
Hello friends,


I’ve spoken fleetingly to many about my view on villains, but I thought perhaps I would lay out a comprehensive list of my musings on this subject.

Who knows? Someone may find it helpful. To clarify this up front, I'm not attempting to speak about any existing characters, nor do intend to offend you if you disagree with my assessment here. This is only my opinion.

What makes a villain?

Indeed, what does make a villain? Their base? Their followers? Their look? These are all accessories to a character; they enhance when applied correctly, but if they are the definition of your villain then it’s only a shallow display. Instead what defines a villain (at least in my eyes) is their back story, mainly; why are they a villain? Have they been wronged in the past? Do they see their cause as righteous against a sinful world? Do they seek ends to justify a greater cause?

It isn’t just the back story though, but the motive—what has caused them to answer their problems in this way? One does not simply wake up and decide to declare war on the world (we’ll get to that later), so what specifically drove them down this path? The amount of sympathy your villain’s intentions and back story can garner will tell you how effective a character they will be; people gather in droves to bring down evil such as the scourge. It is a villainous faction which requires no thought; just killing zombies. There isn’t much thought needed, as they are blatantly irredeemable. To provoke a feeling other than anger towards an antagonist though is something which requires skill and tact, on the other hand.


Some Subtlety

This is a big one. Your villain is only as threatening as his appearance is a tenet seemingly embraced by many; just as a hero’s worth is usually assumed by his armor. When it comes to a villain though, there is something to be said of their appearance.

Let’s look at two rather contrasting examples.

[Image: the_evil_knight_by_justaman78.jpg]
SKULLS, I HAVE THEM.


This is what many would consider to be a villain. They see the skulls, the armor, the… black. This is a villainous knight, right?

But…

Does this invoke any fear? Nah, it’s just a guy in armor who’s looking at you with a rather unhappy scowl. There isn’t any fear invoked here, but it looks cool. Instead of respect out of intimidation this character will get it from his appearance. The Lich King of Warcraft operates on a similar principle; By the time he appeared in Wrath of the Lich King and you saw him decked out in armor, he was little more than a big bad dragon. A big bad dragon with skulls on him. And personally I never found him very intimidating; he was very in your face, prancing around in front of you and talking big. That leaves me with less of the impression of a plotting and powerful villain and more with that of a guy who has a lot of bark, but no bite.

Let’s look at some counter examples now.

[Image: 0_The_Slender_Man-s480x360-88443.jpg]


Slenderman is a good example of subtlety in an antagonist. If you’ve watched any of the videos featuring his mythos, you’ll know that you don’t see him much—at least, not clearly. His design in and of itself wouldn’t be that creepy either though, now would it? Long legs and arms, no face, in a suit. It’s more like a mannequin that someone forgot to fit the clothing for.

But when you see him, there is an instant tonal shift. His presence is foreboding, and he doesn’t need to say a single thing to make it so when he appears. He is unnatural and often in the shadows, affecting the protagonists without even needing to make his actual presence known.

But you could make the argument that just him being unnatural removes him from the argument; he's more of a monster, right? Well let's try something else...




Another example, though this one is even moreso. Javier Bardem isn’t unnatural like Slendy up there, and in this performance he doesn’t even have an intimidating getup. It’s something you could see anyone wearing. If you saw a man walking around in it on the streets you wouldn’t bat an eye. What sells the villain is how he speaks; even without a weapon out he gives a sense of danger. He even drops the menacing act at the end, and doesn’t even do anything to the man.

Of course, it bears to put forth that an appearance-based character –can- work, and quite well, even. Intimidation affects a character though, not a player—they may be apprehensive that you’ll kill their character, but your character itself is just a dragon. A really cool looking dragon, but you’re still just another dragon for them to fight and or avoid. The characters which can actually evoke an intimidating aura though are the ones which are remembered.

In short, you don’t need to parade your villain about as such; scarcity can speak wonders. Sometimes the smaller achievements are more known than the greater.


On a separate note, watch the speeches, and try not to ham it up. Epic dialogue comes as it will, but speeches seem stilted, as does the obligatory appearance of the villain. Why don’t they just shoot the bad guy when he walks in front of them and talks a bit? Is your villain really able to take the damage from the band of adventurers assembled before him or her?

No? So please stop acting like it. Command from the shadows, or command alongside your goons. Don’t assume that everyone is going to stand and listen, because it just isn’t natural for them to do so. The desperate hero is not above losing his own life to take a fatal blow to the enemy’s figurehead, and always assume this to be possible.

It's also worth mentioning that not every villain need be intimidating; just so much that the heroes know that he's prepared to do what he must to see his goals through to the end-- especially if it means the taking of a life.


A Plot

Look at your villain, or the one you wish to consider for purposes of this exercise if you do not have one. What is his plan and goal?

Now do they make sense, or is he trying to take over the world?

[Image: 1098754220_f.jpg]
NYORK!


See, that just doesn’t fly. It’s at this point where even a good villain can fall prey to common tropes. It isn’t bad to have aspirations of great villainy like this, but it should hardly be the cornerstone of your group. Perhaps you wish to create disorder for a society rejecting you? Bring down trade routes and cause an outpost to suffer? Gain wealth? Gain objects of power? These are much more attainable, because they don’t rely on your own (comparably) small gang of ruffians going toe to toe with the armies of the Horde or the Alliance. As powerful as you would like to be you just won’t be on the same level with the standing army of any Horde or Alliance faction, so don’t set yourself up with plans which are bound to fail. People may think this is a bad restriction on the villains, but there are only so many people who could take such a powerful stance before things just become silly.


As is the way of the evil group though, there is a certain thing to consider here: The eventual end. Does your group have an ending? Is it defeated before its true evil plans can be brought to fruition? By no means does a villainous group need to be set on failure, but if you are to plan something large, know it will likely end poorly. This is part of being an antagonist, though; you’re usually going to be the losing side, though you can go out with a bang.

It is possible to stay in the game, though; a group whose plots can never feasibly reach fruition (as in, a goal which would take years to work towards) can sustain themselves off of such a thing. Something to stress is that regardless of your plot if you are affecting something other than your guild it is best to speak with the GM team; retcons are never fun for anyone involved, and it is best to know your intentions are approved before passing forward with them. I can’t stress enough that those who wish to double-check their events plausibility should send it to many GMs, if not just the entire content team; some people don’t check their PMs that often, or may be away unannounced.

Speaking of groups…


Power

Yes, power; another thing which many associate with a good villain. When it comes to this though I again refer back to the former video posted; was there a gang behind him when he was speaking to that cashier? Did he have a giant gun, or fireballs flying out of his eyes? Nope. Just words. While power is good to back up your villain with, it isn’t something which must define their importance. In a separate track of thought though, sometimes the lack thereof can make a better figurehead. A weak man who’s charisma has gained him a following of strong minions, or an elderly warrior with a group of trainees; their feeble nature compared to their allies makes them feel stronger by comparison; that they command such respect to bring this force alongside them.

It is important though that you remember subtlety though, if you do choose to go this route; to expose your villain in anyplace in which they are not protected won’t lead to their longevity.

Back to the original topic though, while power can be a good addition, it is yet another accessory to a character. Don’t rely on it to have your character taken seriously, because it’s worth remembering that other people may consider themselves just as great. This is especially true for those making new villains, as power is usually something which is taken for granted in establishing as a pre-existing quality.

The best leaders are not always mighty wizards or great muscled knights; sometimes it’s a politician commanding his followers, or a spiritualist speaking a perversion of the spirit’s will. It is important to remember as well that while villains are good to showcase at times, spontaneous battle with them is not always so true. If you wish to fight with them, plan something out with your opponent, and fight where there cannot be a chance for intervention. On that same note don’t toss your main big bad out into the adventurers and expect him to always fare well; instead save the battle. Excessive exposure to a villain, whether he wins or loses a battle, diminishes the buildup. A villain which has not personally done battle with the group builds a degree of anticipation; that if all of the trials they have faced so far have bowed to his or her will that there must be legitimate concern to face their puppet master.



I’m sure I missed some things, but maybe some of you who bother to read this will find some of it helpful. As you might have guessed from my amount of thought on the topic I’m actually developing a plot for after Khaz Modan; but, more on that at a later date.
[-] The following 11 users Like Rigley's post:
  • Cressy, c0rzilla, Esthrunil, Cassius, hiddengecko, Beltharean, Caravan, ImagenAshyun, Kirabo, flammos200, Kira13
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#2
A great guide that will be taken to heart, but I'm not sure if this is the place for questions or not but... I had one that pressed to me during the whole time. What if, but still? What if a player can't seem to harness those skills, such as the talking, or stealth? Does that mean he'll have to be deprived of a certain RP experience? I'm assuming for players who wish to act as villains, just to make it clear.

If this is a stupid question, or does not belong here, please just inform me!
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#3
Oh, no! I love questions.

If you can't harness stealth or other attributes that doesn't necessarily mean you can't play a villain; just don't be expecting it to be taken with the same amount of gravity given to other villains.

There are a few kinds of bad guys, and people play them well depending on their own talents.

You have the kind I'm pining for above; intricate, plotting, subtle-- These guys are what can evoke some true fear and respect from both IC and OOC.

On the other side there's a brute force approach to villainy present in a monster; blunt, quick to violence, and usually not involved with much of the plotting. These guys don't invoke fear because, let's be honest-- when you watch a slasher film do these villains cause fear?

Not really; well, they should for the characters, but for you they're just a shark. A big, mean killing machine which just comes up to you and chomps you in the face. That can be scary, but you can avoid a shark. Just stay out of the water or, in RP terms, the place these villains are. With the other villains though it isn't so easy. They're less of a shark and more of a hunter; they can't be evaded, because unlike the shark they're actively hunting. They plot, scheme, whathaveyou in ways which affect everyone, not just whoever happens to be in striking distance at the time. Even if you aren't directly attacked by them you hear about their exploits.

...Hoping that made sense.

But no, just because you or I have issues putting these traits in characters doesn't mean we shouldn't play villains. Granted I don't think it would be wise to play something you find yourself unable to fill, though; it just isn't as enjoyable. If you want to play a shark, make a shark, basically. Don't try to overextend yourself and if you do, try to do so with a group of friends who can help to guide you the right way with your experiment. Heck, I know I've done that in the past.


I'm hoping that answered your question, but if it didn't feel free to respond again, as I do tend to digress and I certainly can become confusing the more I type on a subject, heh. That goes for anyone else; I'd love comments, and I'd love to talk back. That's kinda the point of this blog, or so I say.
[-] The following 1 user Likes Rigley's post:
  • flammos200
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#4
A thoughtful guide on a topic that I love written by a man that, by happenstance, has an opinion that runs contrary to my own?

Challenge Accepted!
[Image: B2hmvU1.gif]
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#5
Thanks for the post, I found it quite illuminating and clear. I would be curious to see, though, what you think of villainous-goons. That is, characters who feed off of the villain. In my opinion, these characters can either make or break the villain depending on how their relationship with the villain is presented/maintained.
"My country is the world, my religion is to do good" - Thomas Paine

"Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died." - Jorah Mormont

----- Characters -----

Spoiler:
Dulcius Seregon - Mage/addict with a tendency to bore others.
Daedre Seregon - Low-born noble with a cocksure behavior.
Edric Luven - Cautious lowlife Human who will do anything for quick coin.
Sandor Deramore - A former Alliance military commander turned lost Undead soldier.
Ranzbert Spoznotch - Tad-insane Gnome Warlock with a passion for potion making and research.
Elizabeth Drakos - Stern and assertive zealot.
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#6
(09-26-2011, 03:22 PM)Rosencrat Wrote: A thoughtful guide on a topic that I love written by a man that, by happenstance, has an opinion that runs contrary to my own?

Challenge Accepted!

Please elaborate?

(09-26-2011, 03:57 PM)Schorse Wrote: Thanks for the post, I found it quite illuminating and clear. I would be curious to see, though, what you think of villainous-goons. That is, characters who feed off of the villain. In my opinion, these characters can either make or break the villain depending on how their relationship with the villain is presented/maintained.

In terms of the goons I would usually consider them an asset. Personally I believe that at the very least a singular villain should be capable of -invoking- fear or at least apprehension, even if he or she is unable to back it up in the context of the situation.

And I don't necessarily mean all villains must evoke fear, as I may have worded it earlier; to put it in a different light I believe that the heroes must be able to look at this man and know 'he will do what he must'. This person may not snarl or brandish a giant sword, but you know he will carry through with what he sees is necessary, even if it means going through you and anyone else unfortunate enough to block his path.

Going back to the minions though I would call them more effectual to the villain when he relies upon them. Is the villain a schemer and a recluse? If so his minions will be just as important as he is, since besides his plans all you know of him is who he sends after you. The bigger they are, the more respect people will garner; if these monsters are willing to bow to this mastermind, then he must be dangerous. This is a good use of the shark that I mentioned earlier. The mastermind essentially lets them loose where he sees fit, putting method to the shark's madness. Instead of a big brute wrecking things he's now a big brute strategically wrecking things, and to those ends he is more effective because of it.

Relying too much on the minions can cause an issue as well though, to be fair. I've seen some RPers characterize the minions so much that by comparison the big bad seems bland and underdeveloped. This could be from actual lack of attention (since he'll get less screentime anyways) or it could be a mistake in thinking that your own mental description of the villain will somehow get into the other players' heads. Show, don't tell- talking about how deep and mysterious your villain is doesn't work if in actual RP scenes the most he gets is a name drop.

I hope that answered your question!

...I'm not sure if it did!


Thanks anyways.
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#7
(09-26-2011, 04:59 PM)Rigley Wrote:
(09-26-2011, 03:22 PM)Rosencrat Wrote: A thoughtful guide on a topic that I love written by a man that, by happenstance, has an opinion that runs contrary to my own?

Challenge Accepted!

Please elaborate?

I will write a guide in response. I had already, actually, but then it got a bit...Miffed so I'm dawdling while I get my motivation back.

While I think the guide is nice, there are some gaps along the lines that Psycho outlined.
[Image: B2hmvU1.gif]
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#8
(09-26-2011, 05:09 PM)Rosencrat Wrote: I will write a guide in response. I had already, actually, but then it got a bit...Miffed so I'm dawdling while I get my motivation back.

While I think the guide is nice, there are some gaps along the lines that Psycho outlined.

I'm not sure if I would say gaps so much as differences in thinking and opinion. I've seen your own take on villainy, and I respectfully disagree. But that's just our opinions on the matter, nothing which either of us can press factually upon one another.

Not to discourage you writing a guide (I don't really know if you would call this one; it's more of a collection of my musings on the matter), in fact I would likely read it. I just think the difference is in our perception of the topic.
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#9
The only real problem I have with the guide is your basis for judging the suitability of a ‘villain’. In the case of a movie or book, you are quite correct that the most successful mainstream villains (There are cases of villains and antagonists who rely on loss of agency and antagonistic activities to inspire dread and hatred, such as Nurse Ratchet and Anne Wilkes) are those that inspires fear.

In the case of role-playing, however, people who want to make villains should be encouraged to find the type of character that they are most comfortable playing. A good villain does not necessarily need to be manipulative, cold blooded and subtle to the point of being an invisible shadow. By all means you –can- play them, but one does not need to make one to be a successful villain.

I believe strongly that a competent individual who understands the limitations of their villainous profession and who can feel comfortable in their chosen archetype are the truly great villains.

However, for common style event villains, your musings are spot on. Villains who are made like those you describe above are quite fun for events.
[Image: B2hmvU1.gif]
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#10
(09-26-2011, 05:37 PM)Rosencrat Wrote: The only real problem I have with the guide is your basis for judging the suitability of a ‘villain’. In the case of a movie or book, you are quite correct that the most successful mainstream villains (There are cases of villains and antagonists who rely on loss of agency and antagonistic activities to inspire dread and hatred, such as Nurse Ratchet and Anne Wilkes) are those that inspires fear.

In the case of role-playing, however, people who want to make villains should be encouraged to find the type of character that they are most comfortable playing. A good villain does not necessarily need to be manipulative, cold blooded and subtle to the point of being an invisible shadow. By all means you –can- play them, but one does not need to make one to be a successful villain.

I believe strongly that a competent individual who understands the limitations of their villainous profession and who can feel comfortable in their chosen archetype are the truly great villains.

However, for common style event villains, your musings are spot on. Villains who are made like those you describe above are quite fun for events.

Heh, funny enough I don't recognize your two examples there.

I never stated that I thought that everyone should be forced into this archetype; in fact I stated the opposite, that villains of other types are just as good. What I do comment on is that we see a sore few subtle characters and far too many over the top, Saturday morning cartoon esque characters; Which is fine, but for many people that just doesn't work for them. It takes them out of the experience instead of immersing them deeper, and when every villain is doing their deeds just to watch the world burn and get a few laughs, or finds themselves compelled to monologue or parade around before their foes, then people don't really have a choice; you're almost forced to interact with these villains since they are so prevalent, and if the comic-book esque stylings grate on your nerves then you are left in a state of complaints and frustrated grumblings instead of happy and engrossed in an RP.

So I don't think that we should all be forced to have subtle villains, because god knows you can only take so many emotional tugs before it makes you feel tired-- but it would be good to see some, and at least have some variety in the evil we assist and or combat.

Quote:By all means you –can- play them, but one does not need to make one to be a successful villain.

So pretty much that, and I'm pretty sure I stated it a few times.

[quoteI believe strongly that a competent individual who understands the limitations of their villainous profession and who can feel comfortable in their chosen archetype are the truly great villains.

However, for common style event villains, your musings are spot on. Villains who are made like those you describe above are quite fun for events. [/quote]

Again, the first bit is something I swear I paraphrased at some point.

With the second point though I wouldn't say that people RPing villains like these should constrain themselves to RP, though. You can very well play a subtle villain and have him exist in RP-- in fact, it can make him more effective. To have a character so nefarious and scheming walking amongst the everyday masses can be a very effective quality.
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  • flammos200
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#11
This is relevant to my interests.
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#12
Eh. I've been mulling around an idea for a villain in my head for a while, but he'll have to wait 'til Cata, so yea.
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