Worldbin: A Proper Villain

Every story needs a villain. Someone, or something, for the protagonist to struggle against, and ultimately overcome. In this post, I’m going to talk about designing a Big Bad, the most common type of Villain, and explain some of it’s idiosyncrasies. They can be the Evil Emperor, the Ruthless Warlord, the Omnicidal Nether-Horror, the Annoying Manager, depending on your setting and genre. If your story does not have a villain, then it is most probably a bad fanfic.

Note: The other 2 most common Villains are the Mindless Villain, and the Villainous World. The Mindless Villain is the Virus, the Zombie Outbreak, the Alien Invasion – an enemy that cannot be argued with, talked to, or even understood. All you can do is to defeat them before they defeat you. The Villainous World is a world in which everything – fauna, flora, mineral, you name it – wants to kill you. It’s either a Death World, and you are (perceived to be) weak, or it’s a (pseudo-)Intelligent World, which knows what you are doing, and doesn’t like that, so it tries to kill you. It may or may not have warned you first, though.

Anyway, back to the crux, or nub, or the piece. Designing a Big Bad Villain.

First of all, he must be Evil. Or Ruthless and/or Unprincipled enough to be hated, or at least detested by the Hero. Common ways of doing this are;

  • Hedonism. He’s a big eater, and only eats the finest pickled dove’s eggs on iceberg lettuce, grown on real icebergs. All fed to him by beautiful consorts, of which he has many. If they are also slavegirls, it intersects nicely with the next point, which is;
  • Slaver. He supports slavery, or at least treats his serfs like them. Even if they are indentured servants, and entitled to some legal protection, he doesn’t care. He’s doesn’t care about lesser people than him. This leads to;
  • Nepotist. He believes in Sovereign Power (Nobles have the right to rule because they are Nobles, and have the support of God) and sees all those without blue blood as lesser. He’s a bit of a dick, and may also be terminally stupid, having inherited his title or;
  • Homicidal. 3 Years Ago, he was 12th in line to the Throne. Now he’s King. Everyone that opposes him vanishes. If you try to rebel against him, he kills you, your family, your friends, your friends’ families, and the village you grew up in. He’s not a man to cross.

Secondly, he needs to have crossed paths with the Hero at least once, normally when he is rising to power, and the Hero is still young / is disillusioned / has taken up a life of prayer and meditation /is full of angst. (delete as appropriate) Whilst this happens, he does a completely, unambiguously evil act – killing their parents is the most conventional way of doing this. He might also burn down the lovely little idyll the Hero lives in, as well. Also, if the Hero has any younger siblings, he will either a) Kidnap them and force them into a life of servitude (if it’s a girl) or b) Kidnap them and indoctrinate them to become his lieutenant (if it’s a boy). If the Hero has any older siblings, they will give their lives to shelter the Hero, or give him time to escape. The Villain’s Henchmen might also rape, murder and pillage their way through the surrounding countryside, causing widespread death and destruction in their wake, just so you know that the Villain is Evil. Something you can play around with this here is for when, in the final showdown, the Hero confronts the Big Bad about the terrible event that he caused in the past, the Big Bad does not remember it, or considers it a small matter, or was simply an unintended side effect of a larger scheme. For the Hero, it might have been the most important day of his life. But for the Villain… it was Tuesday.

Thirdly, he needs a Plan. This is crucial. Every Villain needs a Plan. It can be as simple as “Kill The Hero”, “Rule The World” or “Live Forever”. Alternatively, it can be a multi-stage complex scheme in which countless projects weave together, culminating in a (seemingly) unstoppable nefarious strategy to “Conquer The Multiverse” or “Become A God”. Bonus points will be awarded if it appears to be one of the former, but is actually one of the latter variety. The Plan can allow for the Hero’s victory. He might defeat the Villain in the Western Marshes, but that was just a ploy to allow the Villain to succeed in the East! If this happens, remember – It’s All Part Of The Plan. That evil, evil plan which the Hero has to stop, for the sake of all Mankind! (or something similarly dramatic)

Now you have a Villain with the Hero knows, hates, and has a plan. Now you have to give him the means to carry this out. And this means that you have to give him some redeeming qualities. Take Julius Caesar. He worked to undermine the dictator Sulla, and participated in at least 2 coups. He arranged show trials in his career as a lawyer, and managed to get himself elected Pontifex Maximus – the chief priest of Rome, a position which gave him tremendous power. He became the governor of Spain, where he began to annex his Roman allies and expand his governorate. He managed to become Consul, and when he was declared an enemy of the state when the political tide turned against him, he marched upon Rome, caused the Roman Civil War, and disbanded the Senate when he assumed emergency powers, hunted down Pompey, his former mentor, and ruled until he was killed on the floor of the Theater of Pompey. The resulting power vacuum quashed any hope of Roman Democracy, and Emperor Augustus ruled after him, and the Augusto-Caesar line lasted until Nero. But them again, he strengthened the dying Roman Empire, got rid of the corrupt and inefficient government, and brought civilisation the most of Europe. So, it all balanced out in the end. (well, kind of)

Here are a lot of things Villains have, and how they could achieve it;

  • A Huge Empire. They are a statesman without peer. They can soothe old wounds between embittered countries in an morning, and have them pledging allegiance by afternoon. The bureaucracy he has set up runs smoothly, and everything ticks over like a finely-tuned machine.
  • A Devoutly Loyal Legion. These are people he has saved. They used to live in squalor, and were treated like filth. He might even have been one of them. But now he has raised them up from the slums where they used to live, and they are so, so grateful for what he has done to them. He might even have cured them of something horrific that caused them to be outcasts in the first place.
  • Monstrous Minions. This one of the easiest ones to answer. The reason you have hoards of trolls, orcs and swamp creatures under your command is simple. The world is a horrible place to live, especially in the outer regions, so you need personnel who can deal with those conditions. In the marshes, the Swamp Creatures keep the Empire safe. The Orcs patrol the Sunless Wastes, where their aversion to light is not a problem. Trolls defend in the Sulphurous Deserts, as only those hardy enough, or with significant regenerative capabilities can survive there for long. They have both. This is why, when they are drafted in to fight your peasant uprising, they are so ineffective. They have never been trained to fight on a field, in lines, or in formation. They have no idea what to do.
    Note: You can mix this one with the Loyal Legion one above, if you wish, as they work together very well.
  • His Evil Mines Of Evil. Everyone knows there was an obscenely advanced race that came before, of which the Hero has one of their fantastical weapons. The Big Bad has found a veritable treasure trove of Precursor Artefacts down in this mine, and send people down there to dig them out. This may be purely so he can use them for his own gain, or maybe it is for the good of the Empire, but either way, he’s getting them out of that hell-hole one way or another.

If you are going to make a good Villain, be sure to check out the 36 Stratagems, a Chinese book detailing 6 sets of 6 ruses to help you win. (In I Ching, six is the number of Yin that is associated with the dark schemes involved in military strategy. As thirty-six is the square of six, it therefore acts as a metaphor for numerous strategies) They detail the Stratagems for Winning, Dealing With The Enemy, Attacking, Causing Chaos, Gaining Ground, and When Near Defeat. They are invaluable when you need inspiration on how the Villain could deal with the Hero.

Also, there is the Evil Overlord List. It deconstructs the traditional Villain Clichés, and within it contains 100 Rules any competent Evil Overlord should follow. These include; not taking the Hero’s love interest as your consort, not assuming that the Hero died in that fall, not leaving people alive as an example to others, and never playing fair. Check them out. They’re both good reads.

Well, I think that covers most of the tropes and clichés commonly associated with Big Bads. Don’t hesitate to tell me if I missed any. Hope you enjoyed that.



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