Content of the article: "Making Your Villains More Detestable"
TL;DR at the bottom
DISCLAIMER: Boundaries and triggers should be discussed in session 0 and throughout the game as well. This post is not an excuse to roleplay experiences people are uncomfortable with.
I think one struggle many DMs face is creating a compelling villain. Many DMs, including myself, have resorted to over the top "mwahaha evil scheme destroy world" villains that the party naturally understands they need to fight. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, other than the obligation to save the world and stop the evil, the party has no real personal reasons to want to take down the villain.
Of course, generally what DMs will do is endanger people close to the party to both demonstrate the power of the BBEG as well as motivate them to a quest of vengeance, but that is drawing more attention to the NPCs that the party cares about than the villain that the party should hate.
Instead, I offer a different approach: Give your villains realistic villainous traits.
My favorite example from my own game is a villain that one of my players involved in their own backstory. They had lost their parental figures and sought mentorship from a dragonborn that they eventually found out was behind the death of her grandfather. A questline brought her back to this dragonborn and she had to confront him about a job he wanted her to do.
Now, the easy way to create this villain would be to make them a traditional cold blooded murderer who wants nothing more than to kill everyone who gets in his way. This is fairly traditional villainy that would tune the party in to the idea that this guy is evil.
Instead, I made him more realistically evil: he was an expert manipulator and gaslighter. He offered to take her back in and to keep helping her be stronger. He pointed out that she was distancing herself from everyone else and told her just how much he cared about her. He made himself feel open, and in a talkback, the player admitted that it was so hard not to accept his offer. Now, the party despises him with every fiber of their existence, being protective of the PC when they talk to him, spamming the zoom chat with "fuck this man" whenever he shows up, and having physical reactions like covering their face or standing up when he talks to them, a response that even the BBEG of the campaign does not elicit from them.
They hate this minor villain so much more than anyone else in my world, and it all has to do with that trait.
By giving your villains realistic evil traits, it impacts the players as much as the PCs. These people strike a nerve with the players, who have perhaps interacted with these people in real life, and makes it so much more sweet to watch them fall. Their real life hatred is amplified in game, where they have the mechanisms and abilities to destroy these people.
Some other notable villains that I can think of that follow this pattern are Biz Glitterdew from Dimension 20: Fantasy High (Nice Guy), Mother Gothel from Tangled (Emotional Manipulation), and Umbridge from Harry Potter (entitlement/denialism). These villains are detestable not because of the things that they do (although those actions are fairly despicable), but because of the traits they exhibit that hit our brains and trigger a "fuck you" response, and you'll notice with these villains that they are often the most discussed villains in their respective fandoms BECAUSE so many people feel so strongly.
So, the next time you make a villain, try to incorporate more traits that make them feel genuinely evil and disgusting. Make them a supremacist or a narcissist or a chauvinist. Hell, just making a villain a Karen or a wealthy tax evader can elicit a raging response from your players.
Remember, boundaries are important. Never give villains traits that you know will trigger a player or put you on hot on r/rpghorrorstories. As much as having a compelling villain is, having fun is our number one priority, and we need to make sure that everyone is comfortable.
So go out, good luck, and lets make those players wanna destroy their enemies!
TL;DR Villains with realistic evil traits like gaslighting, entitlement, or narcissism are far more compelling to players. They are easier to hate because the players themselves have experienced these people in real life. Boundaries are still important, so make sure triggers and vetoes are discussed.
- WotC published adventure villains aren’t very compelling.
- How to Create a Compelling D&D Villain Part 1: Villains Die
- How to get your players to Open a Dialogue with a villain?
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