What makes a good master villain? Well, there are a lot of things that make a good master villain. However, building a master villain for a game is a lot different from building a master villain for an actual comic book or fantasy story. But we’ll talk about that, too. There are always additional factors that one should be thinking about. We’re going to talk about these factors now.
1) Motivation: Why does the master villain want to do what he does? A master villain who wants to take over the world is going to have a truly grand motivation, whereas a master villain who wants to maintain control of his criminal organization is going to have a completely different one. Design the personality of your master villain carefully, or you may find that as your game/story suddenly goes off the rails as a situation which at first seems fairly simple has become impossible to get through. Plan ahead. Some people are proactive rather than reactive. If you can’t find a single reason why a villain would spare a character’s life, then that character should likely die. Sometimes, the motivation will hook into the final list point sometimes, it won’t.
2) Method: How does the master villain do what he does? Enough thought often doesn’t go into this. Many is the plan that has been shortcut by players/heroes by the simple expedient of reaching for a power cord and unplugging the infandibulator of the week. Some plans take a really long time to come to fruition. Some plans take only a few days. Be careful when describing the time frame of the plan of the bad guy. Sometimes if there aren’t enough delays that the villain puts in the path of the hero, the ending can be brief, anti-climactic, or worse, stupid. In some genres, you’ll actually want to do this. (Noir, Urban Fantasy, or Post-Apocalyptic Stories) In a superhero game, this really is not that useful.
3) Minions: What are the minions/allies that the master villain has at her disposal? Enough thought often doesn’t go into this either. Minions should be as entertaining to face as the master villain, especially since they’ll fight the minions a whole lot more than they’ll fight the master villain. Some minions should be more fearsome than others. One of my master villains has a lackey named Vorpality. When she shows up, the whole game changes, because everyone knows that if she beats you badly enough, your head will come off at the end of the fight. Keep things clever. Don’t have the bad guy use the same minions all the time. Vorpality loses her impact if she shows up every time the PC’s face off against the bad guy, unless you are the most powerful bunch of guys in the world. Minions should make sense, too.
4) Anti-Motive: WHAT? What the heck is he talking about? I have coined this term to talk about something that no one really talks about when designing bad guys, and all boils down to these two questions:
A) What is the thing that keeps the master villain from taking over the world from his living room? While battling the villain in his hidden lair is a time honored classic, who says the heroes are going to be there when he takes over the world from it? One of my villains (Vorpality’s boss) has to prove that superheroes are culturally and sociologically useless, ensuring that there’s going to be a big fight at the end of the story. If you’re building up to a huge battle, and everyone’s all pumped for it, you can’t let the adrenaline lapse. But more importantly, it justifies the characters presence in the story, especially if the villain would already have won by some other means except for the fact that the villain can’t just snap his fingers and win. This can be just about anything, from the above psychological desire to his love for one specific person who he can’t hurt, to the fact that his abilities only work every so often.
B) What if the villain doesn’t make mistakes? The classic assumption that villains are GOING to be stupid and make mistakes may work great, but it only goes so far. See above for characters being proactive as to why this can be a problem. Now combine this with part A above, and you’ll see why this is so important. Villains don’t necessarily have to have a classic “achilles heel” to be cool, but if your villain is smart, or ridiculously smart, he will have to be played and/or written according to his intelligence level. The smarter the bad guy, the more you as a writer or game designer are going to have to ask question A above.
Thanks for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving.