Making Villains with Style

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Making Villains with Style

Postby Gamskee » Sun Feb 18, 2007 3:09 am

I came up with this list for my Necessary Evil campaign to help people make better villains. However, I figure it might have some value for other people's superhero campaigns so I figured I'd put it up here.

Villainous Archetypes:

Some say that a hero is defined by his villains, but the reverse also proves true. Villains are often modeled around their heroes to a degree. Wolverine does not fight flying men with blasts, as although they would likely be able to make his day very bad, it isn’t very interesting. As such, villains often fit their hero in terms of powers, themes, and motivation.

The following examples can be generalized to archetypes, but are easiest to explain in comparison to their inspiration. While some ideas would be fun to pursue as characters to play, they may be prohibitively expensive or their extreme nature (Joker, Carnage, etc.) would make them ill suited to Necessary Evil play.

Spiderman Rogues Gallery: Spiderman villains often share a few traits. Most of them are quite mobile, allowing for grandiose fights across the city rooftops. Several of Spidey’s villains fly(Green Goblin, Vulture), a few leap(Lizard), a few swing just like Spidey, some climb (Doc Ock) and some even teleport (the Spot). The ground pounders that Spidey fights usually have other advantages to compensate for this like stretching (Hydroman and Sandman), powerful ranged attacks(Shocker), or enough invulnerability to basically ignore his acrobatic assaults (Rhino, Juggernaut). Many of Spiderman’s villains have similarities to Spiderman in that they are animal themed (Vulture, Rhino, Black Cat, Doctor Octopus, etc). Many of them derive several powers from gadgets, just as Spidey derives some of his powers from web shooters.

Many of Spiderman’s villains give him various forms of angst to add to his Pathos stories. Green Goblin makes things personal, Venom hates Peter Parker, Mysterio often confuses the real world as Spiderman’s inner worlds drive him ever crazier, Doc Ock shows the dark side of science gone wrong. These villains often force him into situations where he must damage his ordinary life to help people as Spiderman.

Spiderman’s villains often are cases of science gone wrong, perhaps showing Parker how lucky he is to have come out of his accident mentally sound.

EX) A good quick villain for Spidey to fight will have an animal theme, a movement power for rooftop battles, and perhaps remind him of current predicaments in his life. As Spidey currently feels torn in the Civil War conflict, between secret ID support/ registration support, a villain reflecting this comes along. Based on butterflies, he creates a cocoon and emerges changed from his normal self into a flying fiend, likely due to a laboratory accident. Leads life of villainy due to sporadic transformations and nearly being lynched by anti-mutant hate groups in hopes of a cure, unable to hold down a real job without revealing his monstrous nature. Still, despite his excuses, he is a jerk, believing himself the only one capable of creating a cure.

Wolverine Villains: Wolerine is a man with a sordid past of secret ops, war, and animalistic savagery. All of these things are reflected in his villains. Super soldiers (Cyber, Deadpool), spies(Mystique), assassins (Hand Ninjas, Lady Deathstrike), secret weapons (Omega Red), and savage monsters(Saber Tooth, Blood Scream, Mr. X) round out most of his gallery of rogues. Worth noting is that most of Wolverine’s villains share very similar powers to him, preferring melee combat, often having a healing factor, rarely being invulnerable(as his Adamantium claws would then have to either be worthless or dominant, depending), though often being excellent at parrying or dodging attacks.

Most of Wolverine’s enemies come from his haunted past.

EX) A decent wolverine villain must be able to contend with Wolverine’s fighting style in some way without just shooting him repeatedly from safety or completely overpowering him with strength and invulnerability or other powers that ‘cheat’.

As Wolverine’s past is already very crowded, this newest villain comes from Sabertooth’s past with a mistaken vendetta against Wolvie. After Sabertooth slaughters the Morlocks, a relative of one of them sees a picture of battle between Sabertooth and Wolverine using his ‘combat psychometry’, an ability allowing him to see past battles as well as channel the skills of a weapon’s former masters. This makes him dodgy, able to parry, prone to fight using a variety of melee weapons, and capable of studying ‘all of Wolverine’s moves’ making him a very dangerous opponent.

Batman’s Rogues Galleries
: Once again a case of the villain fitting the hero, Batman villains are, like Batman, generally normal people who have Superhuman motivations for living as they do, but unlike Batman, who uses the tragedy of his past to forge a bright future, these are shattered and broken minds, lashing out at the world. They often use the very human powers of training, intellect, and gadgetry to accomplish their goals. While not all are insane (Penguin), most of them are headed to the loony bin. Joker is a sociopath, Two Face a split personality, Poison Ivy preferring plants to people, Maximillian Zeus believing himself a god, Scarecrow obsessed with fear- the list goes on. Some Batman villains have powers, such as Clayface, Manbat, and Killer Croc, but these abilities are not on usually on a supernatural scale- they are more on the scale of large dangerous creatures. These villains often have propensity for traps and above all mental themes and hang ups. Jokes, clocks, riddles, coin flips, birds, fashion, fire, Zeus, Alice in Wonderland, puppets, toys, fear- they all take up a theme and run with it, crafting their deadly devices and ideas around these. Still, though some desire only revenge upon particular targets, most of Batman’s villains are criminals in a classic sense- they desire money and power, and will rob and kill to get it.

Ex) A theme is the most important element here, as the character is almost certainly a trained human with gadgetry, if some being quite miraculous. ‘Trains’- thus we have the Conductor, a man who uses several train like devices to commit his crimes, crashing through walls with his land train, using tiny little train track devices with explosives, cutters, etc. Fights with a shovel and a steam whistle that could cook flesh. Went insane after his train line was dismantled and he was fired and decides to take revenge by destroying other modes of transport- and making a profit in the meantime.

Superman Villains: Superman villains are perhaps the most varied and strange as he is usually more powerful than most of them, their only advantages being ruthlessness and intelligence. Superman fights a variety of colorful foes, including mad scientists (Lex Luthor, Toyman), Aliens (Lobo, Darkseid, Mongol), Robots (Cyborg Superman, Metallo), Clones/Artificial Entities (Doomsday, Bizarro), a few superhumans(Major Disaster, Parasite), and one goofy cosmic imp(Mr. Mxyzptlk). Of these, only Mxy is more powerful, while many equal him on various levels. Villains of Superman’s are generally there to push Superman’s psyche to the limit, threatening loved ones, people, everything, rarely being everyday criminals as they aren’t very interesting to observe in action.

Superman villains who DO physically threaten him rather than the world he protects are often designed with such a purpose, ‘cheatin’ to beat him. Conduit and Metallo both use Kryptonite, Doomsday is a Kryptonian superweapon that can adapt to anything, and Parasite just steals his powers. The motivations for superman’s villains are usually grandiose, things like world domination.

EX) A Superman villain can be almost anything, but must be capable of, if not harming Superman, being able to do harm to the things Superman loves without easily being prevented. Rune Carver is a magician that believes that as long as Superman is alive that there can be nothing more powerful because of the symbol that he is to the people. Thus, he uses his magical runes to enchant various weapons to combat Superman (allowing him to ignore his superhuman traits in accordance to them). Rather than directly attacking superman, he makes it a point to supply criminals with these goods, making Metropolis a harder city to keep safe. He wears a suit of magical armor and wields a variety of magical weapons when engaged in combat. Destroying Superman as a symbol is equal to the idea of physical destruction.

Flash Rogues: While some of Flash’s villains are on the order of Batman’s nutcases (Whisper), most are criminals who happen to have superpowers. While there are the Gorilla Grodds, The Dr. Zooms, and the occasional world conqueror, most Flash villains are in it for the cash. Flash villain powers occasionally work to cancel out his speed powers, such as the Turtle’s speed absorption and Dr. Zoom’s time control, many of them only have on power, often a gun or gadget- but it is a very powerful gadget. Captain Cold’s gun reduces things to absolute zero, Mirror Master can step through mirrors, create copies, or trap people in other dimensions, Trickster uses a variety of goofy gadgets, Weather Wizard uses a wand to control the weather. Many call Flash’s rogues weird, which is fair- they often force the Flash to use his mind to combat them rather than just his speed- but there seems to be a pattern of criminality and super science gadgetry.

EX) A lazy physicist creates a pair of gravity boots for a defunct space program. After losing all his funding, he stealsthe boots and uses them to commit crimes. The boots literally decide which way is down for a good distance, allowing him to fall up, climb walls and buildings, as well as sling people through the air at whim, while the boots protect him from any fall and ensure he lands on his feet.

Aquaman and Submariner, aka Aquavillains: While Namor and Aquaman exist on different power scales, their villains are still very similar in that they have to exist underwater and threaten the underwater world they live in. Their motivations can very from thug (Tigershark or Black Manta) to conqueror (Attuma or Oceanmaster). The powers these villains have are varied, with some like Oceanmaster or Orca being more than equal to the power of their hero, to scrubs that just happen to be villains underwater. These villains often tie in to the Atlantis mythos of the comics, but may also be scientific abberations like Jellyfish men, powered aquatic armors, clones, or anything that can fight beneath the waves. Movement powers invariably involve swimming at higher speeds than a normal human. Tridents and spears seem to be common weaponry.

Animal themes with aquatic characters are pretty common, Rays, Sharks, Whale, and other ‘dangerous’ sea life being popular.

Ex) An atlantean war machine developed long ago, Charybdis is a magical robot capable of spinning through the water and creating deadly water spouts and whirlpools. Due to recent magical activities, the robot re-awakened and went on a rampage.

X-Men Villains: X-Men villains are centered around mutants and individual characters, in general. Evil mutants are the most common, being people who gained powers for no reason at all and deciding to use them tyrannously, though some with more advanced philosophies of why. Mutant hunters of various stripes also exist, but are rare, especially when they lack powers. A few are not mutants nor mutant haters, but have a personal relationship with certain characters (Wolvie villains, Juggernaut). Still, mutant haters and evil mutants are the two main camps, with some aliens and cyborgs thrown in for spice. Most mutant villains have one power, usually not as good as the heroes but enough to be dangerous, such as Pyro versus Iceman.

Ex) Emilio Travers grew up in the rough streets of Los Angeles. When he developed the mutant power to shoot lasers by touching glass or crystals, he used it to rob stores as Glowtorch rather than help mankind and eventually joined some sort of evil mutant team. Most of his evil comes from a bitter anger at humanity for how he grew up, a bigot.

Fantastic Four Villains
: The Fantastic Four are explorers. As such, their villains come from exotic places and are usually somewhat alien to humanity. Annihilus is from the negative zone, Hatemonger from a microverse, Super Skrull is a space alien, while Mole man comes from a strange underworld. The other enemies of the FF are scientific rivals that hate Reed. The Wingless Wizard, the Mad Thinker, and Dr. Doom fit this archetype.

FF villains are often powerful enough singularly to fight the entire team by themselves. Many of them employ minions, like Moloids or robots.

Ex) A scientist living within the internet as a cluster of information, the Static Man becomes enraged when Reed creates an enhanced computational anti-viral algorithm, making it impossible for him to travel as he pleases through the internet. Fights to keep the internet ‘free’, especially for his own purposes. Manifests as an electric energy being.

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Re: Making Villains with Style

Postby Beleriphon » Sun Feb 18, 2007 5:23 am

Gamskee wrote:
Batman’s Rogues Galleries
: Once again a case of the villain fitting the hero, Batman villains are, like Batman, generally normal people who have Superhuman motivations for living as they do, but unlike Batman, who uses the tragedy of his past to forge a bright future, these are shattered and broken minds, lashing out at the world. They often use the very human powers of training, intellect, and gadgetry to accomplish their goals. While not all are insane (Penguin), most of them are headed to the loony bin. Joker is a sociopath, Two Face a split personality, Poison Ivy preferring plants to people, Maximillian Zeus believing himself a god, Scarecrow obsessed with fear- the list goes on. Some Batman villains have powers, such as Clayface, Manbat, and Killer Croc, but these abilities are not on usually on a supernatural scale- they are more on the scale of large dangerous creatures. These villains often have propensity for traps and above all mental themes and hang ups. Jokes, clocks, riddles, coin flips, birds, fashion, fire, Zeus, Alice in Wonderland, puppets, toys, fear- they all take up a theme and run with it, crafting their deadly devices and ideas around these. Still, though some desire only revenge upon particular targets, most of Batman’s villains are criminals in a classic sense- they desire money and power, and will rob and kill to get it.


All good points, but I want to mention one thing in particular about Batman villains. Most of his rogue's gallery, more than any other character, is the concept that the villains represent basic archetypes, as opposed to just themes. Captain Cold uses cold as a schtick to get what he wants, Mr Freeze it based around cold as a natural element of the world. Joker is a representation of madness in its purest form, Two-Face is all about the duality of humans, and Scarecrow is characterized by archetypal fear.

I suppose that in and of itself is a good piece of advice for villains. The Golden Bough by Sir James Fazer is wonderful resource for ideas. It involves basic concepts and archetypes that tend to appear in all cultures and religions. These would be things that are immediately familiar to most people, but often obscure enough to make for an original character.

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Re: Making Villains with Style

Postby tylrlsaa » Sun Feb 18, 2007 11:40 am

Gamskee wrote:I came up with this list for my Necessary Evil campaign to help people make better villains. However, I figure it might have some value for other people's superhero campaigns so I figured I'd put it up here.


Very interesting. Think I'll save this.
There are three kinds of lies.
Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

-Mark Twain

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Postby Gamskee » Sun Feb 18, 2007 2:14 pm

Beleriphon, you make an excellent point. While crazy does make the difference between a Batman villain and say, a Flash villain, Batman's villains insanity is often archetypal and often reflected greatly in their themes. I may have to go and edit my write-up later :)

Excellent feedback.

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Postby Beleriphon » Sun Feb 18, 2007 5:55 pm

Gamskee wrote:Beleriphon, you make an excellent point. While crazy does make the difference between a Batman villain and say, a Flash villain, Batman's villains insanity is often archetypal and often reflected greatly in their themes. I may have to go and edit my write-up later :)

Excellent feedback.


Oh, I contributed! Yay for me!

I'm glad you like the input, its something that I've been thinking about recently. A good villain is hard to create, and Batman's certainly started out as corny and silly but have since evolved into representations of archetypal concepts.

Also for those looking to get a copy of The Golden Bough Project Gutenberg has a nice, free, copy for you to read.

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3623

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Postby Wordmaker » Mon Feb 19, 2007 3:07 am

Nice thread! It can be tough coming up good supervillains, and you raise a lot of really useful points.

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Postby Brainbot » Sun Jan 06, 2008 10:33 am

Have you taken a look at less mainstream heroes? People who are 'teen' heroes, especially, have a different villain set: they have both adults AND other powered teenagers.
Post signing is for dweebs and lesser dorks.


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