It’s funny that I don’t consider myself a writer and I write these articles at least once a week, but I very much consider myself a game master. Keep in mind that I am definitely talking about creating RPG bad guys, but my process is based off of the books that I have read, movies, and shows that I have watched. I think there is a pretty good way to make villains that can really terrify your players.
Let’s start by saying there is more than one type of “intelligence”. To make things easier for me I am not going to try to identify all of them because it is really up to you all to figure out how your bad guy is special. I think I am going to analyze Ender from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and use him as my examples. No offense to Mr. Card, but I would pretty safely say that Ender was smarter than Card in different ways. Do not worry though because if you have not read Ender’s Game you can still get my point. Now I know what you’re thinking “But Nick the title says Villains!” Yup you have been click baited. Turns out you can do any NPC with these rules independent of if they are the antagonist or protagonist. You have been bamboozled.
The first step in making your bad guy is determining the type of intelligence. Ender was pretty smart conventionally, but his main type of intelligence was charisma with creativity being second place. Bean’s intelligence was strategy and also creativity. In any situation Ender always attracted exceptional people to him. In battle school Ender openly admits that aside from some original changes to certain processes, his real skill was finding the exceptional people around him and making them loyal to him. From there he turned their strength into his victories. This is pretty important because in the later books ender uses his intelligence to justify an extreme conclusion. Alright so you have your bad guy and you’ve picked out their intelligence. Next paragraph.
The next step is using a line of metalogic that is believable to a viewer that relies on that intelligence to get there. Let’s look at Ender again and see how this is the case. Ender is faced with an impossible situation by being forced into continuous wargames against an often unbeatable enemy with only his wits and the exceptional people he has surrounded himself with. Let’s start with the unbeatable enemy. We as the reader do not know the Buggers and most of their character is revealed later in the other books, but Card knows the Buggers and he knows what their motivation is. To drive his narrative Card has to draw a line from Ender knowing nothing, to Ender inherently understanding the psychology of an alien species. So Ender uses his super charisma powers and draws a line of logic. It starts with a video of the last Bugger war. He watches it and obsesses over it for years. It’s his obsession for years and he realizes that, through body language, that the buggers are a hive mind. He watches the forces move over and over again until he realizes that the spaceships are moving in the same way he would expect a human too with the individual spaceships flying around like arms and legs all protecting a brain. He uses this realization as a start to Bugger psychology and that understanding overall helps him defeat the entire species. So in Card’s case it was not hard to connect Ender’s super charisma to the information he needed to defeat his foes. So basically in way less words any GM can use table and campaign knowledge and give it to the bad guy in a way that is believable. Thrawn from Star Wars can tell what his opponent will do by judging their movements and creating a profile about them. Gandalf in Lord of The Rings uses wisdom to guess which people he needs to support and where he needs to be to oppose Sauron. Sauron uses cruelty and strength to unite a species of uncontrollable savage orcs and goblins to take over the world. What really makes it memorable is how you make them reach their conclusions.
Ender is a genius, not because he can look at a video and see that the Buggers are a hive mind, but because he looked at the same video that everyone on earth saw for nearly 80 years and drew a conclusion that no one else had. Thrawn studies art to get the feel for the minds of his enemies. Gandalf uses his vast wisdom to listen to the world in a way that no one else really can anymore. The point is that you have to find a both believable, and unique way to get to a conclusion. So if your party is planning to save an important figure and the bad guy gets there first. How did that happen? What observations were made? There’s a war and your bad guy has won every battle without a single soldier being lost. What are they doing? Are they using technology that they made? Is there a spell that only they can cast or understand? Draw the line and emphasize the uniqueness through storytelling.
I hope this article has helped someone write up a good bad guy. This is my first opinion piece that I’ve written since I started writing again so be sure to let me know what you think either in the comments below or through my Facebook or Twitter. Tell me what you want me to write about or just tell me about some of your bad guys that you have made GMing I will probably respond! Also be sure to check out my buddy Matt and Cole. They’ve been doing a lot of fun stuff with video games recently and they can use some extra follows (I’m in a few of those videos too. Like tonight at 9:30 central) Have a great week everyone and as always,