Author Topic: DM/GM 101: NPC-ing the Bad Guy  (Read 941 times)


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Offline Lord Palatine

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DM/GM 101: NPC-ing the Bad Guy
« on: May 16, 2013, 09:05:20 PM »
As I've mentioned in a previous article, its tempting to look at the bad guy and write him off as like that because "Dude, he's the frickin' bad guy." That's a pretty easy trap to fall into these days, because if we really face facts that is what our society is doing these days. We're peeking out of our gaming retreats to see a polarized world that demonizes others based upon their political or religious or whatever views. Basically what I'm saying is that people are becoming really bigoted, but that's a theme to pursue in another sort of board entirely.
By the way, for the purposes of clarity, I say Bad GUY in this article because if I say bad guy people think Snidely Whiplash, whereas if I say Bad GIRL I have to pause and wait for everyone to peruse their spank banks for the appropriate character to visualize, and from that point on its pointless to try and discuss anything. Hey, you! Poindexter, reroute the blood back to your skull, we still have ground to cover here!
The simple black and white view of the world doesn't actually work in reality or gaming. Sure, it gives you something to rail about over badly made coffee at Starbucks with those that think just like you, but it explains the actions of neither. When it is time for you to DM or GM a game you have to purge your thought processes of these worthless preconceptions and look at your gameworld with clarity and honesty. People don't do anything just because they are evil, they do something because they can justify it in their own minds. True, there are some that do evil things because voices tell them to, but they are a whole different category of villain.
Consider some examples...
Darth Vader, bad guy, hatchet man for the Emperor, scary and needs an inhaler. The thing about Darth is that he isn't strictly speaking evil. There are different kinds of evil, and if you were to look at Vader through a lens that would show you exactly what sort of evil you'd find his alignment is Lawful Evil. He does what he does because he's trying to build or protect a certain type of society. In his case he's biding his time and building his power until one day he can overthrow the Emperor and one day rule himself and bring law to the universe. In many ways lawful evil is the most benign of evil because it has to follow laws and traditions, but its the most insidious because since it follows the law it blends into society and allows the bad guy to appear to be part of the normal work-a-day world.
Everyone likes to throw up Hitler, there's even Godwin's Law which states:
"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches."
Its also called playing the Nazi Card, and is closely related to playing the race card, its a way of trying to make a person in a discussion look like a bad person by leveling an accusation that doesn't really fit, but it saves a losing argument if the person who has the card played on them lowers themselves to take the bait. But, we digress. Hitler began in a Lawful Evil alignment, but over his years in power he slipped across the spectrum into Lawful Neutral. He could follow the law or do whatever he felt like with equal facility. One minute he's smiling at children playing in a bunker and the next he's poisoning his favorite dog to make sure he won't suffer needlessly when the time comes for his suicide. Law Evil might be considered conniving and fiendish, but how do you classify someone that seasons lawful evil with a healthy dose of wackadoo? Neutral Evil? Till the very end this type sees themselves as the law, but their will becomes the instrument of making and enforcing laws. When that happens, sneak out of the bunker and leave the wackadoos to fend for themselves.
In order to run a convincing baddie you need to make them a fully realized character. The person has to be a believable person because there's something a little spookier about dealing with someone like Professor Moriarty, who can blend into any situation than Michael Meyers or Jason Vorhies, masks and machetes are definitely evil but seriously, who is going to line up to follow their master plan?
Perhaps one of the best examples I can come up with for a good villain is the Count of Monte Cristo. He's looking for vengeance outside of the law, or by twisting the law to his own ends, so he's acting in an evil fashion, but he has full justification in his mind for why he's doing what he does, and though he has pangs about those destroyed by his plans but does not relent. The Count/Edmond Dantes is relentless in his goals of making those that hurt him suffer for it, but whether he's a good or bad person really depends on which side you favor.
That is the ultimate mark right there, in order to be a good bad guy the villain has to appeal to their followers as being right and worthy of following. People don't follow caricatures, and they don't follow obvious freaks. On the other hand, they will follow freaks that can hide their freakishness until its too late. If Hitler started in the bunker people would have said "Screw that!" (in German) and left him to his own devices. Good villains need charisma, they need a plan, and they need goals they can sell to their minions.
"Lets go kill everyone!" really doesn't say "Follow me!"
"Lets take over and amass power and wealth so we can impose our will, which is superior to the corrupt and weak system we have now, and save our people from ignominy," now that is an agenda that can and has been sold to others. Throw in some catchy slogans and some cleverly vague promises and you can rule the world!
Make your villains someone that should be scarily easy to follow and you'll have a villain that's going to be a real challenge to thwart, and the satisfactions of beating them will be that much sweeter in the end.


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