16 Jan GMing Lessons #8: Why the Best Villains are Optimists!
Villains are generally portrayed as dark, brooding, nasty individuals, with few redeeming traits. After all…they’re bad guys right?
Well it might strike you as strange, then, that the very best Villains are optimists!
And they have to be! Think about it – every time their careful plans are undone by a pc, they have to rapidly adapt, change tack, and keep going. They lose minions, they lose henchmen, they lose their favourite monsters and their gorgeous succubus…and still, they have to keep those plans rolling!
Normal people would just give in under this relentless tide of loss. Your standard, run of the mill bad guy would just throw down, knowing the fight was lost, and go out in a blaze of defiant glory. But the truly excellent villain wants his plans to succeed. Everything else can fail – but not his end goal!
And this makes him a hopeless optimist. Think about it – the guy must have slogans chiselled into his wall from Muhammed Ali, Schwarzenegger and Stallone, “Never give up!” “You can live YOUR DREAM!” “Failure is NOT an option!” “Nothing’s going to hit harder than life – so get up and keep swinging!”
That would make for a pretty funny scene if the pc’s ever came across his “motivation room,” plastered with all these quotes.
But on a more serious note, the GM can think about it this way: the really awesome bad guy sees a silver lining in everything. There’s always an angle. Always something he can do to bring success from disaster.
In one of my recent games playtesting Myths of Khoralla, the bad guy was a screaming genius, and an eternal optimist. There were a few layers to the story, but it went a bit like this:
A rebel Tuathan (tall, non-human race), who was a powerful sorcerer, had an army of demons and other brutal creatures hiding in the hills. He had been deposed from his position as lord of the local area, and had a grudge with the others there.
During the course of several games, it became apparent that he was stirring things up between the other Tuathans, and the Urdrosh (another race, tall, blue-ish skinned), who had been occupied by the Tuathans for some 50 years or so.
There were several skirmishes, where the rebel’s troops were illusioned to appear as Urdrosh, and attacked the loyalist Tuathans, making tempers high, and so on.
The protagonist (an epic Vithrim Eagle Rider) meanwhile had uncovered all of this, and during a great 3-way battle, had also discovered that there was a bigger bad guy behind the rebel. This bad guy we shall call the White Ghost.
In any case, plans were perfectly in place for the Urdrosh and Tuathans to destroy each other. The White Ghost then killed the Tuathan lord in his castle, and kept his daughter prisoner, so she could marry the rebel and cement his claim. The rebel would be under the control of the Ghost, and so more plans could carry on.
However, in the midst of all this, our hero steals into the fortress, spirits the girl away, uncovers the Ghost’s presence, then goes back and kills the rebel leader, who had been illusioned to appear as a priest amongst the Tuathans the entire time (and so had manipulated their lord and orchestrated the whole thing). Not even the player character realised this until he killed the guy… woah!
So now, apparently the White Ghost’s plans have been totally foiled! His puppet is dead. The local lord is dead (who was easily manipulable), and the girl has been saved by the hero. The war is finished, and an uneasy truce reigns.
But the Ghost is a real optimist. Meh! thinks he. That rebel was too much trouble anyway. Way too hard to control. The girl is weak in her newfound position. The pc is hated because he killed the Tuathan champion (tore him up with his eagle), and the Urdrosh are hated too…and the pc is on their side!
Oh, ho ho! So much chance for chaos and anarchy. And what does this Ghost want? Well…I’d better not say, because my player is sure to read this. But suffice to say that the moment he’s dealt a bad hand, he merely decides to change tack, and carry right along. He doesn’t even feel annoyed…because everything is still working towards his plans.
Such a bad guy is very hard to defeat. Because he can disappear when things go wrong, and continue to manipulate events behind the scenes – and because he’s always got a backup plan. Life is hope, hope is life!
So the next time you have a super bad guy, make sure he’s ready to retreat and start anew. There’s nothing more scary than having a whole bunch of enemies somewhere out there, with unfinished business with the player characters. Particularly those who can manipulate, control and dominate with impunity!
Enjoy your gaming!
Oliver R. Shead
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