Sunday, April 5, 2009

Either You Die the Villain or You Live Long Enough to Become the Hero

I don't see morality in black and white. To me everyone has a reason for what they do often to them that reason is justified. This worldview permeates everything I do, my politics, my writing, my sense of justice, and my gaming. Some players struggle with the games I run because the villains are not clear cut bad-guys, especially the ones at the top, and often the challenge in killing them isn't the formidable power that they have, but the moral quandary that's presented once the scope of their plans are laid out before the PC's.

Along with Burn Notice, Farscape is a show that I find continual gaming inspiration from and one of the reasons for this is that I love how they do villains. Every major villain in Farscape that survives inevitably helps the protagonists at some point later. Even the minor adversaries have been known to be useful from time to time. I've always enjoyed the standoffs during grudging alliances and I've even let my heart strings become tugged at as a former villain redeems himself in an act of martyrdom. To me it seems like a more complete victory than a simple bullet to the cranium for the heroes to actually convert the villains to seek redemption.

On the flip side often allies can be duplicitous and self serving even as they aide people. Good people have been known to do bad things for good reasons, and often a person who becomes too good becomes so egotistical that they ignore the small sufferings in their pursuit of the higher good.

I've found these grey moralities fascinate me. My favorite character to play was an egotistical drug addict with enough chips on his shoulder to file diamonds, but his redeeming quality was loyalty and that he stood up for the little guy. My favorite villain NPC was a Scorpius clone from Farscape. A corrupted god who had two forms, one a mass of writhing maggots and the other a sleezy man in a white suit. He was a corruptor and a manipulator, exalting his adversaries as heroes as he undermined their goodness and slowly steered them towards his own ends. The players hated him because he messed with their heads, and I loved him because as much as they hated him they often did what he wanted anyways.

It would be my hope that my best villains inevitably come to redeem themselves. Or at the very least if they're killed by the protagonists that the do-gooders eventually come to continue their old adversary's "good" works out of necessity.


  1. I was setting up a villain (a thief who had become the spiritual leader of a group of goblins--sort of an APOCALYPSE NOW thing)to be a sort of redeemed ally later, but my players decided they'd rather slit throats than discuss matters. This is the problem with playing with a green group: they don't understand that when you let people live, you advance the storytelling.

    Oh, well.

  2. @Kevin: I used to put investment of time and love into NPC villains, statting them up for multiple appearances and that sort of thing, but these days I don't make assumptions like that. Exalted (my game of choice) is sometimes quite fickle and tricky so sometimes you have to resort to GM fiat if you want a particular badguy to survive to see a round 2. Usually if I want a villain to survive to do some real damage, I keep them the hell away from the PC's and do work from behind the scenes like a mob boss. I figure most evil overlords would operate this way.

  3. Helmsman -- Mad Brew Labs, At-Will and The Core Mechanic are starting a series on Villains that will last for a few months (one or two posts a week on the topic between the three blogs). I'll shoot you an email as a followup; maybe you would be interested in contributing.