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© 1998-2001 Dru
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Guidelines for Villains
There's one golden rule
that every villain should keep in mind: "Don't piss off the adventurer."
If villains could just keep this in mind, they'd probably get away with
a lot more. But in the movies, in books, in comics, and in roleplaying
games, the villains just keep forgetting this one fundamental guideline.
There they are, almost at the peak of their power, and they go out and
do something really stupid that ... yes ... pisses off the adventurer.
And then the adventurer has to pull his or her swords or guns out of the
closet, blow off the dust, strap them on, and go out villain huntin' again.
And you know who wins in that fight. Well, OK, in cyberpunk the bad guys
might win, but in most genres, the villain just doesn't have a prayer.
Prince" covered this issue pretty carefully hundreds of years ago,
back in 1515, but cinematic and RPG villains keep making the same mistakes
over and over. Maybe the stilted 16th-century language is a little too
complex? Let's review Machiavelli's rules one more time, translated into
1. Don't spend more
than you can afford, because you'll piss people off when you have to stop
spending to conserve funds. Folks get used to being spoiled and get cranky
when it stops.
2. Don't kill a person's
family without making it look good first (with trials, appeals to justice,
all that). And don't mess around with people's stuff, like their car and
house, either. That's personal.
3. Behave like you're
religious, even if you aren't. Don't say things that will ruin your reputation
as a "nice" boy or girl, no matter what you're thinking or doing.
4. Let others do your
dirty work for you. Keep your own hands clean and always preserve plausible
5. Keep your word to
your allies, or else you'll just have two sides mad at you. Keep your
underlings happy and entertained so they'll think you're great.
6. Show respect to your
underlings but keep them dependent on you so they don't get cocky.
7. Avoid flatterers.
Yeah, it's fun to be flattered, but they're worthless and they'll turn
on you at the drop of a hat.
Pay a lot of attention
to the second rule there. That's Machiavelli's ordering—I'd make
it the No. 1 rule, myself. How do you piss off an adventurer the most?
Hurt a member of his family or trash his house or lands. Just rewatch
almost any action-adventure movie if you doubt me. "The Patriot"
is a vivid example. Ol' Mel woulda just kept minding his own business
if his son hadn't been shot down and his house burned, all right before
his eyes. Talk about your stupid villain tricks....
Now, Machiavelli's rules
are basic outlines for successful villainous behavior. Actually, they
were originally meant for "princes"—kings, queens, popes,
emperors, presidents, Congresspeople, etc. But they're broadly applicable
to any villain. For their use in corporate life, check out the book "What
Would Machiavelli Do?".
Still, the devil's in
the details. Once that adventurer has been pissed off, what do you do
then? Others since Machiavelli have helpfully developed a set of rules
for the Evil Overlord.
Much more detail-oriented, this is a good guide to behavior after one's
villainous cover has been blown and the adventurer is on your tail. (Villains
should check out the evil henchman's guide, too, to make sure one's henchmen
aren't getting too uppity. Remember Machiavelli's rule six, above.)
A villain might also
benefit from checking out Sun Tzu on the Art of War. Especially glance
over his comments on Weak Points and Strong—every adventurer has
a weakness. But don't get stupid and assume that weakness is the adventurer's
family or beloved belongings. Uh-uh. Those are actally strength drains
on the adventurer—added burdens that the adventurer must deal with
before being able to strap on the weapons and take off in pursuit of bad
guys. Take these burdens away and the adventurer gets stronger ... 'cause
s/he gets mad. So don't mess with the family and furniture.
How can a GM use this
advice? If you want your villain to remain safe for a long time, pay attention
to these guidelines. Your adventurers may know the individual is a certifiable
bad guy, but they'll have a heck of a time proving it ("Oh, but he's
such a sweet man—goes to church every Sunday and even paid for the
Junior League's fireworks display!") ... and they won't have much
personal motivation to go after the villain. On the other hand, if you
want your villain to immediately become adventurer-bait, break these rules
and watch the adventurers come running!
originally written August 31, 2000
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