Roleplaying the Villain


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    Join date : 2012-10-07

    Roleplaying the Villain Empty Roleplaying the Villain

    Post  Murrbella on Thu Feb 21, 2013 3:52 pm

    My friend, Solanaceae, an accomplished roleplay villain on Rift, put this together and I thought it was great!

    We have a lot of new members, some of which like to go down the road to villainy or at least contemplate it. I thought that I would share some advice on playing a villain (at whatever level) that I’ve gathered over my 25 years (or so) of running games of varying nature. It will hopefully be useful for new role players and old veterans alike.

    If you’re wondering why I’m posting this one now – well, some people have heard unsettling rumors about Solanaceae – in time they won’t be just rumors for those newer people. I’ve a new storyline that I’m tinkering with and will be “testing the waters” so to speak to see where it can be taken.

    Love to hear feedback and additions. I have a lot in my brain and tend to miss things


    Roleplaying the Villain in a Jaded World

    Roleplaying the bad guy, or the evil villain is one of those fun things to do sometimes. Whether it’s just for a change of pace from being the hero, to being an anti-hero or just being able to say “I’ll do whatever I feel like and take over the world” it’s fun for a variety of reasons. Playing a truly wicked character and doing it well however gets harder and harder – at least if you want to go beyond the cutout evil villain or the ultimately “cheesy” bad guy. The trouble is people, especially online, become more and more jaded over time. This of course makes it really easy to get caught up with trying to “one-up” the last evil thing that people saw. At one point in pre-history, murdering a random stranger would have had shock value. It would have been undeniably evil. Now to “be evil” you have to commit genocide, eat babies or take some extreme method of murder like having lovers be forced to kill each other or be eaten by demonic spiders. And the response you’d likely get after the fact in the retelling of the story is an uninterested “meh, saw that already – not impressed”.

    What does it take to play a villain that the audience will step back from and think – oh wow, now THAT was evil? Here are my guidelines that I follow when playing my darker characters. Adopt what you will and disregard the rest.

    Context Matters

    “People need to feel attachment to feel emotion.”
    Actions will only gain the perception that they were truly villainous if they are done within the proper context. Killing off a character, an enemy, a faithful companion, will be plain at best if there’s no attachment to the victim among the audience. If the audience has no emotional tie to the victim they feel it was nothing more insidious than watching Darth Vader killing off miscellaneous rebel soldier #64. Over 41,000 people – men, women and children – died in 2012 in the Syrian Civil War and public reaction in North America is mild at best. 20+ children and teachers die in a school shooting and it’s the most horrific thing to happen in years prompting immediate government action. Context matters.

    You need to create opportunities for your actions. Build emotional ties to the victims of your plot. Make the victims matter. Online this is harder because there is no “real connection” to miscellaneous characters – players need to be involved.

    Motivations - I’m Not Evil

    “Know your goal and how far you’re willing to go to achieve it.”

    Good villains very rarely perceive themselves as evil. They see their actions as necessary to achieve their goals or the goals of their master. Their goals may or may not be viewed as evil in themselves, protect the village, save the princess or bring peace to the kingdom – but their methods are. When devising plans and stories focus on the goal first then devise the method. The villain is often the villain of the story simply because they are willing to do morally questionable or downright wicked things to achieve their goals. “The village was spared a famine by sacrificing one villager to a demon.”

    One other device that’s often overlooked is that “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. The villain may have begun their path meaning well, being as ethical as the stereotypical paladin. Somewhere along the path they slip and realize that the ethical approach won’t meet their goals. Perhaps they realize their opponents suffer from no such moral limitations and they’re using those morals against them.


    “Advertising your evil plans gets you killed.”
    Evil begins and acts subtly. People go through life mostly trying to get along with others. It doesn’t mean that groups won’t behave in a hostile manner to other groups, but on the smaller scale, people prefer to get along with their neighbors or at least not try to kill each other off. The insidious villain isn’t going to wear a label that says “evil”. They are cautious to reveal only what is necessary and gauge who they reveal information to. Convincing others to go along with their plan is slow and subtle. Getting people involved in seemingly innocent activities and building trust is essential.

    Sometimes trust is no longer possible to attain. Once people perceive you as a villain it’s difficult or impossible to establish trust. That doesn’t mean that you can’t convince people to go along with your plans. Necessity is the next best thing to trust – sometimes you need to convince people that you’re right and even though they don’t otherwise trust you they need to go along with your or worse things could occur. You frame yourself as the lesser of two evils.

    Slowly guiding otherwise good people further down the path they have set out until the point that once the people involved realize they want to get out, they’ve already gone too far to turn back. Being a successful villain requires a good deal of patience.

    In short, saying “muahaha, look at my evil awesomeness” is a quick way of telling every do-gooder to come and smack you.

    Vulnerability and Limitations

    “God mode sucks for everyone involved.”
    As much fun as it sounds to be the all-powerful, invincible destroyer of worlds there are very few things that annoy people or cause them to lose interest faster than an invincible bad guy (or good guy for that matter). The villain needs to at least have the reasonable possibility of failure or death. If you’re really evil and truly wicked, people are going to want to either redeem you or destroy you. If that’s not possible prepare to be bored.

    Likewise you should not be able to do everything and anything just because you can imagine it. Stick with a few things that thematically fit the character and work within those constraints. Your own goals should make you work to achieve them too – you feel the sense of accomplishment when you succeed. Batman defeats his enemies with his skill, his mind, advanced preparation and the occasionally gratuitous spending spree. Superman flies up the bad guy and says “Got Kryptonite?” followed by an “I win” if the answer is no. Be like Batman.

    An addendum to this is that your plots shouldn’t include gaping flaws in them just for the sake of creating vulnerability. Your plans should be sound and should heroes find a good way around them that should not require divine intervention or deus ex machina, they should be able to thwart them. If you leave the hero trapped in an unescapable situation, all alone with your nameless henchmen and assume that everything will work in your own favor – well, it’s your own fault when they escape and blow up your base.

    Adaptation and Planning

    “Be flexible. Fix goals not plans.”
    Set goals and understand motivations. Don’t plan the script. This is good for RP in general, but particularly important for villainy. Villains in RP tend to guide the story while heroes tend to react to events. It is in the nature of a villain’s plotline that heroes try to foil their plans – not everything goes as anticipated, and that is a good thing. If you’ve planned too far ahead it’s easy to lose that planning to a successful hero or inevitable betrayal by your wickedly beautiful assistant that would never in a lifetime turn on you for the handsome hero. It’s also easy to become frustrated and try to overcompensate with some strange new powers that were previously unrevealed.

    Understanding what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re willing to do to get it is far more important than having a fully fleshed out master plan. Other players inevitably come up with something that you didn’t anticipate and you need to adapt anyway.

    Seeking Permission

    “Play well with others”
    Be aware that not everyone is necessarily comfortable with going along with your storyline, actions or plans. If you are planning to do something that might be outside another players comfort zone, ask them before going off and doing something. Saying you stab someone in the throat, control their mind or plan to engage in some form of perversion is not cool – unless of course they give you the go ahead. This also keeps you from “God-Modding” (Google that one if you’re not familiar with it).

    RP is a Team Sport

    “Making everyone’s experience memorable.”
    You know what they say about RPing alone right? The essence of RP is interacting with others. You’re not the only one with plans and goals. Good role-players get into character, understand their motivations and provide opportunities for others to get involved. Great role-players make everyone else around them look good while doing it.

    Villains may be the driving force behind grand, sweeping storylines, but it’s the heroes who are in the spotlight. Be able to step back from your character and allow everyone to shine in the way they need to. Let heroes be heroes and be a damned wicked villain in return.

    Don’t feel compelled to “win”. Role play isn’t about winning, it’s about stories. A good storyline makes the events worthwhile along the way and the finale is something special. In the end though, everyone has fought, suffered loss and achieved something. Everyone is greater because of it.

    Now all the demons look like prophets
    And I'm living out every word they speak

      Current date/time is Tue Apr 23, 2019 3:22 pm