What makes the perfect villain?

Part of the beauty of a forum like this is the exchange of differing opinions and ideas. I thought I would start this thread just to see what grabs folks attention where villains are concerned. Don't mind if the discussion involves villains directly from Howards stories, from the pastiches or folks own creations for the RPG. Lets just see what works and what doesn't work...

For my part, I'll start with the human villain (sorceror or otherwise).

I like villains to feel dangerous. I do not like foregone conclusions. Even though we know Conan has to win - he often faces opponents who are superior in some sense and this is nearly his undoing on more than one occasion. I like the same feeling of superiority for the villains that my PCs must face - it breeds fear and engenders a greater sense of the heroic when victory is snatched against the odds. Often, the superiority is sorcerous (a good example being Amanar in Jordan's pastiche 'Conan the Invincible'. At one point, Conan is completely overpowered by Amanar's sorcerous knowledge. Moreover, the invulnerability enjoyed by Amanar is key to increasing the anticipation of future encounters).

I've rattled on for long enough now so, to sign off, villains should, in my opinion, be powerful and dangerous and should be played / written that way - avoiding showing their weaker sides (if they have one) until the crucial moment...
 

Faraer

Mongoose
The phoneme TH in their name. Patrice Louinet made a major breakthrough in Howard scholarship when he discerned his recurrent K/N, B/R and TH characters; this is going to be in his thesis.
 

Bombaatu

Mongoose
In my opinion, all of the most interesting villians have one thing in common: they do not see themselves as villains. They do what they do for a reason (rather than evil for evil's sake) and they believe themselves to be in the right.

Some (non-Conan) examples:
Lionel Luther from Smallville: Otherwise known as The Magnificent Bastard, he does all manner of evil, nasty things. But "it's just business", "I'm testing you","I want to make you stronger, son", etc.

Darth Vader: He knows he's consumed by the Dark Side, but for him, it's all about restoring order.

And from the Conan movie:
Thulsa Doom - "I am the wellspring from which you flow. Look at the strength in your body, the fire in your heart. *I* gave you this!"
 

Jason Durall

Mongoose
Bombaatu said:
In my opinion, all of the most interesting villians have one thing in common: they do not see themselves as villains. They do what they do for a reason (rather than evil for evil's sake) and they believe themselves to be in the right.

While I believe that these sorts of characters are infinitely superior for classic adventure fiction, the pulp genre generally lets villains be villains for villainy's sake. They delight in causing pain, in inflicting ruin on their enemies, and exerting power over those weaker than them. Confronted with innocence, they will try to subvert or corrupt it, or will enjoy causing it distress.

Thoth-Amon, for example, would probably describe himself as evil, if pressed. Most of Conan's greatest foes are straight-out amoral or have pretty much given themselves over to evil.

Even Thulsa Doom, despite his protestations, would probably 'fess up that killing entire villages for slaves and weapons, and that encouraging cannibalism, patricide/regicide, and human sacrifice to giant snakes aren't really the path to enlightenment.
 

Elfman

Mongoose
The perfect villian should be recurring.

He should always have one or more escape plans in place, and be prepared to cut and run the instant the momentum swings in favor of the PCs. Cowardly is definitely a theme among villians, but it should be used intelligently. I'm not saying a villian should run at the first sign of the PCs, but that he should be interested foremost in self-preservation.

And it is oh so satisfying for the players when they finally do manage to defeat the villians.
 

Faraer

Mongoose
I'm with Jason. Villains are evil; they delight in cruelty and destruction, exalt in enforcing their wills over those they see as lesser men. They do it because they want to and because they can. This villains-are-people-too stuff is (from a Hyborian perspective) postmodern relativistic tosh.
 

Bombaatu

Mongoose
Faraer said:
I'm with Jason. Villains are evil; they delight in cruelty and destruction, exalt in enforcing their wills over those they see as lesser men. They do it because they want to and because they can. This villains-are-people-too stuff is (from a Hyborian perspective) postmodern relativistic tosh.
Eh. To each their own, I suppose. For my money, the villain whose only motivation is wringing his hands together going "Bwu-haha! Aren't I *nasty*!" is boring.
 

Jason Durall

Mongoose
Bombaatu said:
Eh. To each their own, I suppose. For my money, the villain whose only motivation is wringing his hands together going "Bwu-haha! Aren't I *nasty*!" is boring.

Then you must find the villains from the Conan stories of Robert E. Howard quite dull, because they are rarely sympathetic or merely misguided.
 

Belkregos

Mongoose
hmmm,
is conan a hero?
well that is why i like him, he's no paladin,

but for my campaings, i like moral dilema, and the best villans i've presented are the ones that were once friends and allies of the players, and there is a reason to the havok he is creating,
 

tarkhan bey

Mongoose
I always find that a sneer,a pointed beard or a moustache and a penchant for dressing in black always makes a good villain,in short,Dave Wyndorff from Monster Magnet.
Historical characters are good sources, Vlad the Impaler renamed and repositioned as a powerful Brythunian noble using terror tactics to fend off the advances of Turans burgeoning empire.
Elizabeth Bathory,Hungarys blood countess is now the Witch Queen of Sigtona as per the ROK who lives on human blood(a vampire would be just too obvious IMO).
In this game IMO the big villains are instantly recognizable as such and it is their minions who carry out subterfuge and treachery on their behalf.
 

El Cid

Mongoose
I don’t believe that there is a perfect villain just as there is no perfect food. (Exceptions could be Spoo and Swedish Meatballs.)

If you are running a game, IMHO you need a wide variety of villains. Some are bricks with little or no intelligence. The smarter ones will let the idiots do the real fighting and more importantly, the dying.

To start the feast, you need the usual thugs and simplistic types for your fledgling heroes to learn their trade fighting.

Follow that up with links to one or more master villains who will be the major protagonists for your heroes.

The lower level fiends should have bosses and the bosses should have bosses. Like any good organization you work your way from the bottom to the top. Or to follow the feast analogy, you move from an appetizer, to the salad, then the main course along with the side orders.

Eventually, they will confront and hopefully defeat the master mind behind all the underlings that you have served up over the various adventures.

Any great villain should be intelligent, charming, difficult to eliminate and capable of surprising any hero.

Sidney
 

Orkin

Mongoose
Not specific to Hyborian villians, but Donald Pleasance, when playing villain Blofeld on the James Bond film You Only Live Twice said that he had a cat in his lap because he thought that a little trace of humanity makes a villain seem more frightening... I guess that when people find themselves identifying with a monster, they are scared.
 

bahmbatta

Mongoose
The idea of a bad guy just doing his job, like german soldiers in wwII, is very compelling to me. Take the issue of slavery for example it is handeled very differently depending on the refenerance point of the culture involved. We know its wrong as modern people...moraly from our perspective it cannot be justified. In the game though its different...maybe the upper class has deemed that all men are equal within the swing of their own sword but that is land owning men and definatly exluding women, but they still can't see that slavery is wrong. When you are brought up in a culture that excepts ritual sacrifice you don't see it as wrong you see it as appeasing the God who could kill you if you don't sacrifice the neighboring kindoms virgins... Just doing your job. People who are "evil" in the classic sence i.e. sold their soul to Set probly did so for a very good reason. Like they where starving, or had a body part mangled and needed it to be healed to do anything besides panhandeling, or in the faustian complex want to steal control in a world that controls them. Does a villan wake up and say Im going to kill a bunch of innocent people today...hell yah, but he does it to fill the void left in his soul caused by the tradgedies in his life. This isn't touched on in alot of the stories because of conan's referance point he doesn't care who is standing in his way or how they got there. He is going to accomplish his goals and pray to a God who doesnt care if he lives or dies. If the characters in your games are coming from the same referance point more power to you. There are alot of options out there though who would delve into the backgrounds of the people you set up to be in confrontation with them. A pirate ship crew could exploit a trade weakness that a sorcerer-king won't trade with the country of his birth that he is still afraid of because he was a child slave there. Weakness in characters add depth and make them seem more beliveable to me. It is usually the weakness that is the villan not the person.
 
The discussion between ‘irredeemable evil’, ‘evil for evil’s sake’ and ‘villains with real motivations / sympathy’ is an interesting one with reference to Howard’s Hyboria and the CONAN RPG. Whilst I agree that many of Howard’s villains are, indeed, irredeemably evil, I am not convinced that they necessarily indulge in evil for evil’s sake. For me, one of the attractions of roleplaying in Howard’s Hyboria is the mixture of fantastic, horrific and heroic with a rich and realistic pseudo-historical milieu. Essential to the verisimilitude of this setting is ‘grey’ morality. As we all know, Conan himself is far from saintly and certain of his activities are bloodthirsty or simply criminal. Nevertheless, his heroism arises from the way he responds to the world around him and to events that offend his crude but rigid sense of honour. He is all the more heroic because he is a ‘real’ person with ‘real’ character flaws and motivations. The same applies to villains. In my opinion, they are villains not because they set out to be evil but because they allow personal motivations to override other people’s freedoms (as even Conan does on occasion). Villainy becomes a matter of degree, with true Howardian villains simply occupying the extreme end of the spectrum. I think the Corruption rules accommodate this approach pretty well. I don’t think that this makes villains less evil. In a way, more so! Real people with choices (not alignments), who ‘choose’ to disregard others so completely in pursuit of their own pleasures / goals are simply far more frightening for me.
 
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