A Quick & Dirty Guide To Creating Great Villains

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0026

A Brief Word From Johnn

A hearty welcome to all new subscribers, and a big thanks to all current subscribers for sending in your villain tips. I’m designating June “Villain Month” and will be using and posting your tips on the web site or in this newsletter throughout the next few weeks.


P.S. Please forward this issue to any gamer friends who would enjoy it and find the information useful. The more readers and tips the merrier!



STEP 1. Assign Your Villain a General Power & Success Level
STEP 2. Give Your Villain Some Strengths & Weaknesses
STEP 3. Give Your Villain an Objective & a Point Form Plan

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STEP 1. Assign Your Villain a General Power & Success Level

Don’t go through your character creation process and try to roll-up your villain. That takes up precious planning time. Instead, give your villains an overall power/success level to use during play.

For example, I am giving Mordius The Black an 80% success level in my campaign. Any time he tries something I roll the dice and give him a base score of 80 on d100.

Keep track of what skills & abilities your villain uses during play (I use index cards) and you’ll have your villain fully created in a few sessions without sacrificing your precious planning time.

(Thanks for the tip Delos!)

STEP 2. Give Your Villain Some Strengths & Weaknesses

Strengths and weaknesses are important because they make all your villains realistic and different from each other.

Here are some example categories for strengths & weaknesses:

  • Behavioral (intimidating stare, flinches easily)
  • Physical (incredible strength, poor vision)
  • Mental (always cool, genius, fear of snakes)
  • Political (Emperor is ally, merchants are openly enemies)
  • Economic (healthy bank account, poor credit)
  • Social (people never suspect him, nervous around ladies)
  • Military (large, well-trained army, poor general)
  • Family (mother is Queen, must protect his sons)
  • Special (spells, the force, intuition)

STEP 3. Give Your Villain an Objective & a Point Form Plan

IMHO, this is the most important thing when creating your villain. With a goal and plan on paper you suddenly have direction for your campaign, ways the characters can get involved and a great tool for GMing on-the-fly.

You can plot out a villain’s plan at any time. But I do mine after determining strengths & weaknesses. I find it easier to create unique plans when I know more about what a particular villain can and cannot do. Otherwise, every plan I make starts to sound the same: capture and kill the PCs then conquer the world!! 😉

Start with the villain’s objective in mind, then work backwards to the present campaign day. Try to have 3-10 steps in your plan. Fewer steps make it hard for you to act on, more steps can create too much work for you to do.

For example:

  • Build a powerful army
  • Find a general
  • Establish a base of operations
  • Raise 100,000 gold pieces
  • Steal the money, find magic items and sell them, loot tombs and graves
  • Trick a group of mercenaries/adventurers into doing the stealing/finding/looting.

Hmmm, seems like I’ve got a good campaign in the works there just by quickly creating a villain and his evil plan.

Here’s a special challenge for you now: quickly create three villains using these three steps, then mesh all their individual plans together into a timeline for one grand, multi-threaded campaign!

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four [email protected]

Reader Tips

Here are some more tips based on last week’s issue: 8 NPC Parley Tricks — RPT#25

From Django D.

Here are some other tips:

Local colloquialisms. Your character may be from a different world, nation, etc. Each area may have its own words and phrases. Grok? I smurfed so.
Mannerisms. Your PCs will remember that NPC who was always coughing and hacking and ‘rummaging’ up some phlegm. Watch out that your characters don’t become too cartoon like as the players may not take a certain NPC seriously.

Your fellow players. Nothing else can help a character come to life more than having your fellow gamers acknowledge your efforts. Characters who may be from the same area may talk the same – having both players talk with the same accent or use the same phrases will greatly enhance the interaction with these characters. And remember, characters who share the same accent won’t think they have an accent…

Swearing. In a game I’m in, the religion of the empire follows a god named Chal. One of my characters yells “Son of Chal!” when he’s swearing. I think I did it to see if anyone was paying attention…”