Proper Villainy, pt. 3 — Fear and Loathing in Lothlorien

2007 September 9
by Vanir

Greetings, evildoers! In the last two installments of Proper Villainy, we discussed what makes a villain tick. Now it’s time to talk about some good practical evil you can even do in your own backyard.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD)

More than any battleaxe marinated in the blood of the innocent could ever be, FUD is the true weapon of the villain. Villains need to keep people afraid to have power over them. This goes for villagers, kingdoms, kings, soldiers — and even heroes.

  • Fear

    A gang of criminals could terrorize a village demanding protection money. Together, maybe the villagers could defeat them. But they burn down one guy’s house to make an example of him. The others, fearing they are next, capitulate and give them the money every time they come by. This is how terrorism works. The goal is not to destroy a building or assassinate someone — that could be handled discreetly, perhaps with a surgical strike. The goal is to freak people the hell out. Make them worry they’re next, make them paranoid, make them wall themselves in. And when you’ve scared them that badly, then you can do two things. You can make them dance to try to avoid whatever they’re scared of, and since all their attention is focused on that, you can do something else now that they’re not looking anymore.

    Now, granted, it might not be so Machiavellian as that. That gang terrorizing the village probably doesn’t know any of this. They just know how to scare people to get their money. Different villains use this in different ways – some might be much more subtle than others.

  • Uncertainty and Doubt

    Fear’s best buddies, and they dovetail very nicely with each other. Part of the reason the gang could terrorize the village is because they’ve managed to convince them somehow that they can’t fight back. They can’t prepare, they don’t know when the next attack is coming, and for that matter what the next attack will be. They don’t have weapons, they’re just farmers, stuff like that. When you’ve destroyed someone’s confidence in themselves and their allies and friends, then you can control them.

    It’s absolutely critical that villains facing heroes do this job very well. They must either shake the heroes’ confidence in their ability to win. This can be as simple as deliberately killing off the healer first and letting them know he did that on purpose. Alternatively, they can get the heroes by the balls somehow to prevent them from acting. For instance, casually mentioning that the place wired is to explode if they kill the villain. It doesn’t matter if it’s real or not, they’ll wonder if it’s such a good idea to be here instead of swinging swords. Either way, the heroes are (hopefully) left shaken and unable to do their jobs — giving the villain power over them and possibly the advantage that spells doom for the pesky do-gooders.

Make Them Love To Hate You

As a DM, you should use FUD in two primary ways:

  • To advance the plot.
    Kick things off with a little evildoing. Let the bandits raid the village. Kidnap the princess and use the ensuing FUD clutch the entire nation in your taloned grasp. Scare the hell out of everyone, and give the PC’s no choice but to come try and stop you.
  • To engage the players.
  • You need to instill fear in the players (notice I didn’t say player characters) to make them do something to stop this madness. Get them involved by doing something nasty to someone they know – or one of them. You can do this while advancing the plot, or seperately — just do it. And while you’re at it, make them afraid enough of you that they’re worried about facing you because then the real horror will begin. Nothing brings excitement to a battle like a sense of danger and desperation. If you can make the players a little scared, for them there will be no quarry more satisfying than your villain.

Next Time

We’ll continue our journey into the depths of evil by discussing some of the problems you may face (both players and DM’s alike) when playing evil characters. Until next time!

<evil laughter>

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