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TTRPG Tips: How to Make a Bad Guy

What is a bad guy?

It’s important to note that in almost all instances, villains in literature are proactive and

heroes are reactive. For example, look at how Batman doesn’t act until Joker has already

made his move. This is because villains must be portrayed as the aggressors to function

correctly in any given narrative. What must be remembered is that the act of aggression is

only seen as such by the victims. The shark from Jaws didn’t really do anything wrong in

terms of natural behaviour, but as it was eating humans, it was the perceived aggressor.

I personally prefer to build a game starting with the villain, due to how they are technically

the driving force of a campaign. If they didn’t exist, the players would have no need to take

up arms.

The Types of Villains

Villains can generally be grouped into the following categories:

● The Beast

● The Machine

● The Fanatic

● The Embodiment of Evil

● The Mastermind

● The Bully

● The Henchman

● The Obsessive

● The Anti-Villain

Each type of villain has its pros and cons, and different ways to function in literature, and

many can overlap with each other as you will see traits of one category in another.

The Beast

The Beast is one of the most simple, yet effective, villain archetypes to use well. They’re

traditionally an animal that are “overstepping their boundaries” and infringing on human life

and settlements.

The Beast has no motivation other than survival. It needs to eat, sleep, breed, and breathe

just like any other species in existence currently. If you want to be realistic about it, the Beast

would flee if it felt its life was in danger most of the time. They want to survive as much as

you do. They aren’t vindictive, and they won’t seek revenge. If you would desire to use The

Beast in your game, ensure that you emphasise that they are just a creature doing its own

thing. Acts of aggression are territorial, predatory, or in defence. The Beast cannot be

reasoned with. Try convincing a bear not to eat you, it won’t work.

Examples from fiction include:

● Bruce from Jaws

● The Xenomorph from Alien

● Parasites from Parasyte: The Maxim

● Dinosaurs from Jurassic Park

The Machine

The Machine is very similar to The Beast. They’re simple, effective, cannot be reasoned

with, and very easy to use in TTRPGs. However there are some differences between them.

The Machine follows orders exclusively. It has no consciousness of its own.. It does not

relent, and has no sense of self-preservation. They are generally at the behest of a larger

intelligence or hive mind that overrides their instincts. This is what makes them so

dangerous, as you could remove limbs and it would still keep attacking and fighting,

remaining fearless as they have only their orders.

If you desire to use the Machine in your game, ensure that they’re entirely objective in their

nature. “Seeking Player. See Player. Eliminate Player.”

Examples from fiction include:

● Ultron from Avengers

● The Cybermen from Doctor Who

● Nazi Zombies from Call of Duty

● The T-1000 from Terminator

The Fanatic

The Fanatic is also sometimes referred to as “The Holy Warrior”. These villains have a cause

or belief and will stop at nothing to achieve that. Think “the ends justify the means” and you’ll

be on the right track. They see themself as almost a god-like figure and the one to bring

about a “necessary” change in the world. They will achieve their goal regardless of the

bloodshed or destruction in their wake.

These villains are quite tricky, as they are most effective when their cause can be

understood and empathised with. Someone wanting to enslave the world in a show of

dominance isn’t always going to cut it. There needs to be a purpose and drive.

If you desire to use the Fanatic in your game, first consider their cause. The more

sympathetic and believable, the better. Maybe you could even convince your players that

they are right.

Examples from fiction include:

● Thanos from Avengers

● Viego from League of Legends

● Stain from My Hero Academia

● Pain from Naruto Shippuden

The Embodiment of Evil

The Embodiment of Evil (henceforth referred to as EoE) is the most common villain found in

TTRPGs. They generally have little backstory, character development, and their motivations

aren’t profound. Though giving them a backstory can be great and character affirming. They

run the gamut from cold and calculating, to moustache-twirling and cackling. If you picture

the old movies with a damsel in distress tied to a train track, you can bet the EoE is the one

that tied them there.

There are ways to subvert this trope as well, and they’d still fit the archetype. They could

desire to be evil and just fail, or even help the heroes unwittingly.

If you desire to use the EoE in your game, you don’t need to consider a greater reason.

Potentially consider their backstory and how they became the way they are, but that isn’t

necessary if you don’t want to. The hardest part is making them entertaining. If you can

make them an antithesis to the status quo or the heroes themselves, then definitely do that.

Examples from fiction include:

● Sauron from Lord of the Rings

● The Joker from Batman

● The Wicked Witch of the West from Wizard of Oz

● Darth Vader from Star Wars

The Mastermind

The Mastermind is the intellectual rival to the heroes. Hatching schemes, laying traps, the

Mastermind is the big planner holding each individual piece in the chess game. Traditionally

an evil genius who seeks power, control, and more often than not, money. Character

development isn’t incredibly necessary either, as the only factor that needs to be highlighted

is their superior intelligence. The Mastermind is often paired with others on this list (The

Machine and the Henchman), as their physical capabilities are normally ineffectual. They’d

rather outsmart and outplay their opponents outside of combat.

If you desire to use the Mastermind in your game, it’s likely best to give them an army or

some form of subservient entity to do their physical work. Overcoming this villain directly

lends itself to roleplay scenarios well, so if your party is geared to that, this may just be the

villain for you.

Examples from fiction include:

● Lex Luthor from Superman

● Hans Gruber from Die Hard

● Black Zetsu from Naruto Shippuden

● Mr. Wilford from Snowpiercer

The Bully

The Bully is a simple, straightforward antagonist that just wants to hinder the heroes as

much as possible, usually just because they find it entertaining, but it could also just be for

the sake of it.

The Bully may come with a backstory as to why they are as mean as they are, traditionally

it’s attributed to parental neglect, abuse, or coddling. They can also be as deranged as you

need them to be for the function of the game. Do you need a villain to steal your players’

glory for a quest? The Bully works. Or do you need a villain to carve their name into

someone’s stomach? Again, that’s the Bully’s flair.

If you desire to use the Bully in your game, just make them mean for seemingly unnecessary

means. The idea of “doing something bad because it’s funny” is eternally relevant and

happens everywhere in fiction. Anything from hazing to literally taking candy from a baby.

Examples from fiction include:

● Eric Cartman from South Park

● Henry Bowers from IT

● Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

● Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons

The Henchman

The Henchman is normally in service to another category on this list. They do as they are

told and generally are cannon fodder for the heroes to deal with at constant intervals.

Functionally they behave as the sidekick, and though individuals in this role can have

personalities and characters, it’s ultimately not necessary.

If you desire to use the Henchman in your game, make sure you have a bigger villain giving

them dirty work to do. Make them as competent and threatening or as ineffectual as you like,

either way, they will not be the focal point of your game.

Examples include:

● The Stormtroopers from Star Wars

● The Death Eaters from Harry Potter

● Oddjob from Goldfinger

● Simon from The Walking Dead

The Obsessive

This is a new-ish category of villain that I decided to include, as it doesn’t strictly fit into the


The Obsessive is a villain that is devoted to the heroes to an unhealthy level. They have this

hyper-idealised vision of the heroes in their head and that vision is either destroyed or

changed after meeting them. This villain would work great for a later chapter of the story

when party members are approaching or have celebrity status in the world. Their entire goal

revolves around targeting the hero for destruction.

If you desire to include The Obsessive in your game, backstories can be negligible, as all

that needs to be evident is that their devotion to the hero is unhealthy and causing harm to

people around them.

Examples in fiction include:

● Annie Wilkes from Misery

● Hisoka from Hunter X Hunter

● Syndrome from The Incredibles

● Seto Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh!

The Anti-Villain

The Anti-Villain shares properties with the anti-hero in that they do acts that are commonly

associated with their counterpart, or have redeeming qualities.

The Anti-Villain in most narratives is given a redemption arc, and though that may not be

possible in TTRPGs as the players tend to decide the finer strokes of what happens, they

can provide great conflict for party members to deal with.

If you desire to include The Anti-Villain in your game, the big factor is that you have to make

one or more facets of their personality likeable, redeemable, or admirable. So maybe the

Anti-Villain is a cold-blooded killer but he would do anything to protect a child? It’s very basic

but that kind of thinking is a way to have a graded scale of villains.

Examples in fiction include:

● Negan Smith from The Walking Dead

● Magneto from X-Men

● Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter

● Garou from One Punch Man

To Summarise

The biggest takeaway from this is that villains are still characters, and they should be treated

as such. Even if they are a mindless drone, you can create a character for them with the

atmosphere around them. Make the villain fun, and interesting, and the narrative of your

game becomes more than just a few dice rolls; it becomes a story people get invested in.

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