Hell of an August is drawing to a close so it’s time we wrapped up our discussion of Lawful Evil. Last article, I waxed poetic about how cool it was to walk the straight, narrow, and Evil. This week, I thought it might be fun to create a Lawful Evil villain from the ground up. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide to creating a villain. It’s more a walkthrough of the type of thought process that I go through when coming up with important characters in my games.
First off, we’re talking about a capital-V Villain here, as opposed to a mook. This sort of exercise isn’t really necessary for something that just serves as an XP bump on the way from 1-20. Ideally the type of NPC that’s going to come from this will serve as a recurring adversary or continual menace for your PCs for at least an adventure or two.
The first thing I like to start with when I make villains is Alignment. Normally this is a really involved thought process beginning with motivations, emotions, background, past events, and so forth. But we don’t need to worry about that right now. Because we’ve already settled on Lawful Evil. (Note: for a REALLY awesome discussion on general villain generation, check out Rich Burlew’s article on Giants in the Playground. He puts it more eloquently and succinctly that I ever could).
So lets get a few of the basics out of the way first. Let’s make our villain human. First because Humans are most relatable as a race and because most campaign settings are humanocentric. Honestly, race is probably the least important thing here, but whatever. Secondly, I flipped a coin for gender and landed up with female. I think I actually prefer that because there aren’t many good examples of awesome female characters with depth and development in fiction. Let’s save ability scores, class, and level for later. I want to know who our villain IS before I worry about what she can do.
A large part of figuring out who a character is relates to flavor of alignment. As I touched upon last week, when it comes to Lawful Evil we need to know a couple of things. Firstly, what TYPE of Lawful. And secondly exactly HOW Evil? Answering these questions can prove an excellent way of building up our villain’s background.
Let’s say that our villain leans more towards self control rather than controlling others. She’s disciplined, follows a code of conduct, or has some strongly held held personal beliefs. Maybe some combination thereof. So I’m thinking, perhaps she was nobleborn, or grew up in a strict religious sect. Maybe even both. Well. That’s easy. In keeping with this month’s theme, let’s say she’s a scion of the Thrice-Damned House of Thrune.
Next, how evil is she? Given that she is a daughter of the evilest house that rules the evilest country on the face of Golarion, it’s a safe bet to say she’s at least a little bit evil. She’s probably above things that she might see as weaknesses like love, compassion, or empathy. She might even be incapable of these things. Or at least beyond the capacity to think of softer emotions as things of merit.
Speaking of emotions, emotions are a really useful way to suss out the particular nuances of alignment and what it means to a character’s personality, motivations, and potential development. Take the Powerpuff Girls for example. You’ve got Blossom who is marked by her leadership and determination. Bubbles who is eternally optimistic. And Buttercup who is the embodiment of aggression. Easy character design without stereotyping.
For our villain, we’re looking for a primary driving emotion that summarizes who she is and what drives her. Given that she’s a scion of Thrune, it’s a safe bet to say that her emotional keyword is Ambition. She’s been born into a family that advocates the seizure of power through the forfeiture of the immortal soul. No price is too great for the acquisition of more power. She’s been raised to value power, resourcefulness, and drive in a family where if you’re not actively acquiring more influence then you’re passively losing it.
The next question I want to answer is how does our villain interact with the PCs. Well, it shouldn’t be too far a stretch to assume that goody-two-shoes like the PCs might very well (whether intentionally or not) foul up the machinations of a group of Asmodeans or Thrune loyalists. And given House Thrune’s reputation for brooking no dissent, it wouldn’t take much for House Thrune to send someone like our villain to take the PCs to task.
And what magnitude of a threat is she? Well, we’ve already decided that she’s not just a low level thug. But that doesn’t preclude her from being someone’s minion or lieutenant. Given that we already know who’s on the top of the hierarchy of House Thrune it’s also safe to say that she’s not calling the shots. So, perhaps she’s an enforcer of sorts. A representative of her House that is called upon to deal with important or sensitive matters. She holds the authority of her station but may not be privy to the true inner workings of House Thrune.
So now we’ve got a decent framework. We’ve got a female noble, born to the most powerful and influential family in Cheliax. She’s loyal to her House and her nation (which are one and the same in her eyes) but she’s motivated move beyond her station, to climb the ranks within House Thrune, aspiring perhaps, to even be Queen?
There are a few directions we can go now. As I’ve mentioned before, a great way to flesh out a character is by taking a look at motivations and limits. So, towards that end, we’ll be answering a series of questions.
What are her goals, both short and long term?
Motivations! Motivations! Motivations! Real people have wants, needs, and desires. Believable characters need them too. Also, it’s important to realize that while the narrative of your game as a whole should center around the PCs, our villain’s initial narrative and motivations might not. Sure, once their paths cross our villain will eventually focus the PCs. But it’s important to develop your NPCs stories independent of the PCs until such a time where it becomes relevant to tie them in with one another.
So what does our villain want and need? The easy answer is more power and influence. That’s what House Thrune is all about. More minions, more servants, more, more, more. So that’s long term. Short term? Follow the orders of her superiors, earn accolades and/or recognition. Surpass said superiors, maybe even inherit their position. Potentially this means that she might have to deal with the antics of the PCs, so confronting and defeating them might well be on her list of immediate goals.
What resources does she have at her disposal to accomplish these goals?
Now I guess we have to talk about stats. Throughout this process I’ve been bandying back and forth between a martial-type character and a caster. I’ve already decided that our villain is amongst the lower ranks of family within House Thrune. The third daughter of a distant cousin perhaps. Just enough of a Thrune to bear the name. I imagine, that with an upbringing within a family so closely tied to the practice of devil-binding that she’d grow up to see that as one of the more expedient ways to power. So her learning to be a full arcane caster appeals to me. But perhaps, because of her distance in relation she hasn’t been able to benefit fully from her House’s wealth and influence in her rearing. So she hasn’t had the most complete of arcane educations and so has hard to rely on her physical talents.
I guess what I’m getting to in the end is that she’s a Magus, a class that is near and dear to my heart. She’ll wield a mace (because that’s Asmodeus’s thing). So flavor-wise it’d make sense for her Strength to be relatively high. She’s an arcane caster so she has higher than average Intelligence. And she has all the advantages of a person of her social station, which is to say thousands or perhaps even tens of thousands of gold worth of equipment, hirelings, and henchmen.
What sort of limits does she have?
Characters are more interesting and believable when they have weaknesses, flaws. Limits are a way of thinking about what our villain won’t do, can’t do, or is afraid of. Limits can be tied to her background, or a lack of experience in a particular area, or an emotional or physical response to something that would make her less threatening. For our villain I think I’ll go with something simple like a phobia. Specifically, I was thinking that she’s hemophobic. The sight, thought, and feel of blood unnerves her. For whatever reason, blood has always bothered her. The severity of her reaction would depend on the experience. And what that means in game terms might vary from no effect, to being Sickened or Nauseated, to flat out losing actions.
Does she have a contingency plan?
Villains should always have a backup plan. They might not necessarily be good or effective backup plans. But they should have them. In my experience, the best and most memorable villains recur again and again to give your players fits. Fortunately for us in this case, our villain has access to arcane spells, which exponentially increases her options compared to her pure martial counterparts. Spells like Fog Cloud, Spider Climb, and Invisibility at low levels, or Dimension Door and Teleport at higher levels function as great ways for her to escape if things go wrong for her.
So now we have the makings of a believable villain that can be slotted into a game. She’s got a few quirks and personality traits that make her stand out from your average enemy. But she’s not so overdeveloped that you’ll feel like you wasted a ton of time and energy should your PCs end her in the first encounter. But should she survive she’ll certainly have room to grow in your games. I hope my little thought exercise has proved useful, or at the very least entertaining. I’m curious if people are interested in more of these design type articles compared to the theorycrafting I usually do. Let me know what you think in the comments section below!