Imagine Star Wars without Darth Vader, the Three Musketeers without Count Richelieu or the Hobbit without Smaug. It’s hard, isn’t it? Without a good villain an adventure struggles. Here are some tips on creating great villains quickly.
The two word villain
Remember the article on creating memorable characters with one word? Since our villain is going to be the most important character in the story after the hero we’ll go big. We’ll create them with two whole words. Today’s villain will be an evil space captain, so let’s start making her more interesting by choosing some adjectives.
I’m going to say she’s greedy and punctillious. And then I’m going to turn the descriptions of those characteristics up to 11. She’s greedy, so greedy she wants to eat everything and travels from world to world finding new things to eat. No matter how rare or precious an animal or plant is, she has to eat it. That feels like a plot, right there. And she’s punctillious. On her ship everything has to be ship shape. A single fork out of place at the captain’s table will drive her to distraction. She dresses immaculately.
Note that smart heroes could use either of these traits as weaknesses. Start a rumour of a new kind of creature she hasn’t eaten and she’ll come to find it. Make a mess in her presence and she might get distracted tidying up.
Make them distinctive
You’d expect a villain who’s greedy to be fat. But that’s predictable. So let’s make her thin, and perpetually hungry, with long grasping fingers and a mouth that can open incredibly wide. I think she probably looks human until she gets her victims alone.
Now this might be a bit too scary for a young child. In particular transformations from the mundane to the horrific are scary. A skinny alien with long fingers and a big mouth would be far less scary than our shape-shifting captain. You know what your kids will be OK with.
Give them minions
Good minions are reflective of their master’s personality. Our greedy, punctillious captain will never accept ordinary people as minions, they make too many mistakes. I think she has robot collectors that she sends out to gather new things for her to eat. I think I’d describe them as ‘thorough robots’ that exhaustively catalogue planets they visit in search for novel delicacies. Heroes who try to stop them risk being catalogued and collected themselves.
Show their power
It’s important for villains to be seen to exercise their powers to establish them as monsters deserving defeat. There’s a problem in role-playing games that if a villain turns up and starts doing evil things our heroes will try and stop them, and they’ll want a chance of succeeding, which could bring things to a swift conclusion. There are two ways around this
First – have them find evidence of villainy. A devastated landscape, the empty cupboards at the orphanage, the perpetual cloud that hangs over the city. In the case of our greedy, punctillious captain it could be a trail of extinct species.
Second – give the heroes something to do while the villain does something else. If the villain’s razing the city to the ground give the heroes something to save. Citizens who need rescuing from a burning building, a bridge on the verge of collapse, that kind of thing. The heroes get to succeed and the villain gets to look villainous. Job done.
Give them a lair
Villains have lairs. Frequently underground, almost always isolated and claustrophobic. Don’t let your heroes just walk up to a lair. Finding it and then getting there should be a challenge. Within the lair should be more evidence of our villain’s driving characteristics – in our case immaculately organised catalogues of everything she’s ever eaten.
There might be other challenges to overcome too. A particularly deadly kitchen, capable of cooking anything. A robot waiter. A particularly enthusiastic sommelier.
And there we go. One villain fit for a story. Indeed just by creating the villain we’ve created a whole story. Our heroes will be called in to investigate the disappearance of rare species. They’ll encounter frighteningly thorough robots that catalogue and take away species from planet after planet. They’ll track them back to a base where evidence of an overwhelming drive to consume is obsessively catalogued. And then there will be a showdown with the frightening captain.