How many times have your PCs cut down an utterly forgettable one-dimensional villain? Giving a villain a decent, believable motivation is so much better than having them enact their terrible schemes simply because “they are evil.”
Such folk are the result of lazy design and should never appear in a diligent GM’s adventures. A villain’s motivation offers the PCs a great chance to understand what drives his scheme (and perhaps to gain some advantage or insight for their inevitable confrontation). Consider using one of the motivations below for your next sinister villains:
- Excitement: An adrenaline junkie, this villain is doing what he is doing for kicks. He may find planning, implemented, escaping and so on exciting.
- Justice or Retribution: This villain wants justice for a perceived wrong against his person. His actions stem from a deep desire or need for retribution against the person or persons responsible for his woes. I used this hook for the villain in Retribution – Raging Swan’s first ever product.
- Selfish; Feels Personally Entitled: The world owes this villain a living – he feels personally entitled to take whatever pleases him whenever he wants. He lusts after material gain and has a complete disregard for others.
- Poor Self-Esteem: With a low opinion of himself, this villain seeks to gain the respect and recognition he craves through his evil, nefarious plans. This villain normally enacts plots that are easily attributable to him – how else, after all, would be gain the recognition he so desires?
- History of Abuse: This villain has been abused either mentally or physically and views such causal, wanton violence as normal. Alternatively, given he has suffered, he might have a need to make others suffer as he has done.
- Social Acceptance: If a villain comes from an evil culture or family, he may be enacting his plan to gain acceptance from those important in his life.
- Mad: The villain could a schizophrenic manic depressive or have one of any number of other mental conditions. Ironically, his madness may hold the key to defeating his scheme.
- Religious Or Political Convictions: Driven by unshakable religious or political convictions, this villain is one of the most vile and intractable. Often working at the behest of a “higher power, ” he may be mindlessly following dictates or working toward his goal to improve his standing in an organisation. These villains are often fanatics.
- Love: A villain in love might be truly evil or may simply be carrying out his love’s desires. Such folk make for interesting opponents. If the PCs work out what is going on, they have a chance at redeeming or manipulating the villain.
- The Greater Good: Sometime a villain works toward what he perceives to be the greater good – he just does so using vile, abhorrent methods. Such a villain may be waging a war of extermination against a particular race or culture. Alternatively he could be working to destroy an object or place because it has the ability to release an ancient, forgotten power with the potential to unleash unparalleled destruction upon the world.
- (Delusions of) Grandeur: This villain has decided he is the best person to rule the “little people.” His scheme is the way he plans to achieve this goal. He may, or may not, be right.
On a final note, it’s always better if the PCs can work out – at least once the dust has settled – why the villain acted in the way he did. Even if this revelation leads to another mystery – perhaps a greater villain – it gives the adventure context and helps ground it in your campaign world.
Help Fellow GMs!
Tell us about the villains in your campaign. Why did they do what they did? Let us know their motivations in the comments below and help your fellow GMs run better, more believable villains today!