View Full Version : DM Help I would appreciate help with villain flaws and secrets

2016-02-15, 01:03 PM
Hi Everyone,

I was thinking that one of the aspects that many GMs fail to take into consideration when designing their villains is giving them flaws and secrets; yet I believe those are very important aspects if you want to create compelling villains that feel alive, breathing and human.

For example Lord Shen from Kung fu panda 2

He doesnít just wants to take over china for the sake of it. The fact is that he is hurt because he feels that his parents never felt proud of him, and also he never performed remarkably in kung fu (which added to his frustration) and thatís why he intends to create a weapon that renders kung fu useless.

Or Lionel Luthor from smallville

The reason behind his research and interest in paranormal and strange phenomena, is because he has cancer and modern science has proved unable to cure his illness.

Also, his tyrannical, Machiavellian and monopolist practices with his business, is in fact a way to try compensate his failure as a family man and the hate that he knows his son feels for him.

My question is, which other flaws and secrets could make an interesting villain, and how would you setup an event so that the PCs realize that weakness and can use it to harm the villain in a way more profound than simply confronting him in combat.

I know itís not an easy question, thatís why Iím looking for some help.

Thank you

2016-02-15, 04:27 PM
I think this ultimately comes down to treating your villains as people. Most people (that I know) wouldn't raise an army of undead to conquer a city, so what makes someone choose that course of action? He or she might feel that such a drastic action is their only recourse because of outside influence or manipulation by a third party. Maybe they feel they're doing their country a service by eliminating a significant threat to the throne.

Often in fantasy, villains kill a lot of people and work a lot of evil in the world before they're stopped. The key to figuring out why is to stop thinking of the villain as a villain (for a bit) and instead ask, "How could Jack, the merchant's son, ever think this was the only way to solve his problems?" Once you have that answer, you have an interesting villain.

Once you have an interesting villain, you should know a little more about him and you can incorporate people from his life into the game. Maybe Jack served as a scout in the same army the party kinda-sorta works for, and they run into his former CO who has a few stories about a kid who "had a lot of anger in him after what [insert race, religious grip, and/or country here] did to his family." Let the party get to know him the same way they get to know each other- through the story they build.

2016-02-15, 07:17 PM
Take a look at this (http://www.giantitp.com/articles/rTKEivnsYuZrh94H1Sn.html), created by none other than the Giant himself. It's really helped me design my villains in the games I run.

Before designing elaborate backstories, there are two things you should consider:

1. How much are you going to tell your players about it, and more specifically, how?

2. If you make your villain too sympathetic and well-developed, your PCs might empathize or even try to sign on with her/him, and then the villain ceases to be the villain.

The Fury
2016-02-18, 10:38 PM
Y'know villain creation/development threads like this one were part of the reason I was curious (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?476117-Hey-remember-that-one-villain) about player response to well-developed villains. Though in the end, (speaking strictly in the context of RPGs of course,) sometimes all a player really needs to know about a bad guy is that they're dangerous and need to be stopped. For that matter, sometimes all a villain needs is to have wronged the player characters in some way-- Hey, vengeance is a simple motivator but it's an effective one!

Anyway, as far as actual practical advice let me say that any secret that a villain could have shouldn't be required to beat them. The fact is, sometimes players miss details and don't put clues together exactly right. Just as an example, maybe they found the diary and the ledger of reports and were meant to conclude that the villain was trying to buy her mother out of slavery. Instead they concluded that the villain was involved in slave trade on the side and was therefore doubly bad. If the players did reach the correct conclusion though, they probably could exploit what they'd learned.

2. If you make your villain too sympathetic and well-developed, your PCs might empathize or even try to sign on with her/him, and then the villain ceases to be the villain.

Minor semantic quibble-- If the PCs empathize with and sign on with the villain, they do not cease to be the villain. Though the PCs do cease to be the heroes.

2016-02-19, 08:11 AM
One option is to let the villain develop his villain status over time, rather than introducing him as a bad guy.

He might start of as a neutral party where the PCs get to know the character. Only after they've gotten to know the villain, his flaws and secrets, does he either "turn to the dark side" or "is revealed to be the big bad evil guy". Players are generally not interested in getting to know villains, they're more interested in making stab holes in the villain.

Of course, for the players to get to know any NPC you'll need to focus on roleplaying heavily, which means not only bringing the NPCs out to life with characterization/"funny voices", but also the same from the player side. All parties will have to make an effort.