Visiting the Archives: Proper Villainy, pt.1 — Evil 101

2008 October 15
by Stupid Ranger

One of the great series to grace the halls of this hallowed blog is Vanir’s “Proper Villainy” series.  Vanir does a great job of dissecting villainy into little bits of evil, beginning with this first part, which originally appeared here September 2, 2007.  Enjoy it again!

Proper Villainy, pt. 1 — Evil 101

As recently discussed on, villains add a great element to a campaign: an opposing force that the players can invest themselves in fighting against.

But what makes a really good villain? Let’s start with some basic concepts:

  • What The Hell is “Evil”, Anyway?

    I’ve never been real crazy about declaring alignment for characters. If you have a Lawful Good character and he’s homeless and penniless and he steals some bread to survive, does that make him not Lawful Good anymore? What about a man who kills someone in a jealous rage but is otherwise good? Is he now “evil” or is he still a good guy who made a horrible mistake?

    People are more complicated than that. “Evil” people are still people — it’s just that the way they view the world is a bit more twisted than most everybody else.

  • Nobody Is Born Evil

    Bad guys act the way they do because they’re EVIL, right? Well, sometimes. In a cartoon or a crappy movie, yeah. The bad guys are just bad and that’s the way it is. But a good villain probably didn’t start that way. Very few individuals would kill an entire litter of puppies and then go, “Man, that was great — I sure do love being evil!”. They had to start somewhere. And there’s a lot of ways to get evil, including:

    • Temptation

      It’s said that every man has his price. Somebody found this character’s price. They might have been offered money, or power, or anything — but whatever it was, the character wants it enough that he’ll do morally questionable things to get it.

    • Fear and Anger

      You get enough fear and anger together, and you don’t know what the hell you’re doing anymore. And in your head, committing horrible acts upon whatever you’re afraid of/angry with seems perfectly justified!

    • Sense of Duty

      This one may contain elements of the previous two. A character works for someone who asks him to do something reprehensible. He knows damn good and well it’s not right. So he’s “just following orders”. Not to say that a mistake flips the switch and makes a character evil all of a sudden, but if this character continues to do this sort of thing and starts thinking of this as “normal” behavior…. who’s to say?

    Note that in all three cases, the common theme of a desire and the willingness to do whatever is necessary to get it exists. It’s in the continued willingness to do evil that lies the heart of a true villain.

Next time, I’ll show you why it’s easier than you might think for a villain to do bad things. Until next time……

Also appearing in the Proper Villainy series:

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