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I'd love to hear from you guys what you consider to be the best way to make the motive that drives the players to defeat the villain to be something personal and even passional.

I believe a villain has to have the following characteristics to be great

  1. Personal connection (not that he is close to the characters, but they'd have personal reasons to defeat him)

  2. He would have to cause fear everytime his name or actions are mentioned

  3. At the same time, he should be the most hated being in the campaign

  4. The players should want to stop anything they were doing if they had a chance to stop him or at least one of his plans

  5. He should give the players great satisfaction when he has his plans stopped by any means. Defeating him should actually feel like a victory, even if it a minor one, it should feel huge because he's THAT bad guy.

Do you agree with this list? Would you add anything to it?

Adding or not, how to make a great villain that makes your players and their characters actually wish to defeat him?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it is important not to conflate fears the villain with hates the villain. I fear boxing with someone very skilled, but I hate injustice and petty bigotry. I tried to give you a thoughtful answer along these lines below also. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Lexible Jan 19 '15 at 17:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ VTCing as you seem to be asking for opinions. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Jan 19 '15 at 18:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaAslanSmith The fundamental question that the title suggests would be a good, constructive one, but as written this is really asking for opinions. I think it could be fixed, but I'm not sure if the result would be what the OP is asking… \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 19 '15 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaAslanSmith I don't understand why this question is closed? This is really a question of dramaturgy, which is not really opinion-based. There are very distinct things you can do to create villains; ask any screenwriter. \$\endgroup\$ – Heilemann Jan 20 '15 at 2:03
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The villain is villainous because they do bad stuff™, but the villain is hated for other reasons.

  1. The villain does not have to be exceptionally evil/villainous (i.e. does not have to be trying to destroy The Kingdom/The World/The Multiverse), but give the players lots of petty reasons to dislike the villain. Some examples:

    • Let the villain make a habit of just barely beating the adventuring party at races or competitions for public acclaim by visible-to-the-characters-but-not-to-everyone-else cheats so that only the party realizes what a fraud the villain is, but all the NPCs think they are the cat's pajamas.

    • Let the villain accidentally thwart or obstruct the party's other plans (i.e. those not pertaining to the villain or the villain's plans) with callous and offhanded, as opposed to actively malicious, gestures.

    • Early on in their relationship, let the villain betray the party's trust, but make this betrayal be based on the party's own assumptions and expectations of the villain, rather than anything the villain explicitly represents/promises/agrees to. For example, perhaps the party members just assumed that the fellow tomb-robber they fell in with was going to share the loot, rather than leave them to hide in a side-chamber while their assumed ally went to "scout on the scary monsters"... gosh they seem to be taking a long time...

  2. Give the villain a few moral qualities that makes their motives and the party's motives alike on scrutiny. For example:

    • The villain may also be trying to "save the world."

    • If you play with alignment, make the villain the same prevailing or leading alignment as the party's.

  3. Make the villain smug and smarmy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for betrayal and smarminess. These are the two characteristics of every villain I've loathed as a player. \$\endgroup\$ – thatgirldm Jan 19 '15 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ One important part you mentioned but did not expand on was that the villain should take something the party thinks is theirs. There aren't many ways parties will hate some npcs more than if he takes 'their stuff'... \$\endgroup\$ – Mala Jan 19 '15 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for noting that the worst (best?) villains are the ones who are actually kind of like ourselves. Think of the Holmes/Moriarty thing; they're scarily similar, but one is evil, the other isn't. \$\endgroup\$ – Thane Brimhall Jan 19 '15 at 19:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ See also: Handsome Jack from Borderlands 2. \$\endgroup\$ – Cobalt Jan 21 '15 at 22:56
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I think the key question that needs to be addressed is do you want your players to hate the villain or your characters? If the players themselves find the villain depraved, they'll end up finding reasons why their characters should go after them. For example, I have a player that absolutely loves animals. Regardless of the character they play, if you mention harming an innocent beast of any variety their character will intercede whether it's the villain or even the party. So as much as I dislike meta solutions, ethical contortion can be a huge factor for players even subconsciously. When you say "Thog the Barbarian hates orcs, there's an orc over there" the players might get excited to be extroverted but they won't be terribly motivated.

The next thing you have to consider is how powerful they are without making the players think the plot device keeps cranking in their favor. The villain needs to be capable of his nefarious schemes, but it shouldn't just be a case of "Baron von Evil is here so we're getting worked over". If they are connected, then you whisper the name of the core villain they never find. If they are physically powerful, leave just enough survivors to keep the players on the trail but make it vicious enough that they might hesitate to take the villain head on. If they are a manipulative character, make sure to have a diverse network of NPC's so that the players can't easily see the moles just because they're at the forefront.

The players need to be able to take a victory that they value even if the villain still gets what they want. As long as the players are making smart choices, keep rewarding them because it has to keep the party interested and not avoiding an inevitable beatdown for whichever venue they choose to contend. After all "Almost got'em" is a great spur.

Lastly, don't make your villain a cartoon. If they're insane and/or have some strong quirks that go outside of societal norms, please play them but do not make them so outrageous it's hard to take them as an individual person. In the comments someone said "kicking puppies and torching orphanages" and it reminded me that while these are unforgivable actions, the players have no stake in these nameless actions and the villain has no motivation to do them with just these descriptions anyway. Formula that strong leaves a bad taste in players' mouths.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Kicking puppies and torching orphanages... \$\endgroup\$ – Korack Jan 19 '15 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for that - it brings to light an edit I need to make \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Jan 19 '15 at 17:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Korack Don't forget punching bunnies! (Frames 4 and 5) \$\endgroup\$ – Lexible Mar 1 at 17:46
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What matters is why your players hate the villain. If they hate her because she always manages to defeat the player characters no matter what they do, that's bad. An all-powerful villain really isn't much fun to go against. Let the players defeat the villain from time to time. Give them the impression they're making the villain work for her victories, but give her enough important victories that she is still a challenge. Have the heroes discover that some evil act they were investigating ties back to the villain in a previously unsuspected way, for example.

Next, have the villain's identity be kept secret for a long time. This works even better if the characters know the villain socially or professionally. Imagine a group of crime-fighting supers, mentored by one of the last generation's more popular heroes. They talk to their mentor, they hang out with her, and they ask her for advice. Of course the mentor is glad to help them take down other villains! They're probably in the way of her own grand plans. Imagine the players' chagrin when the identity of the villain is discovered, and her long-time disaffection and anger are revealed. They will be even more motivated to stop her!

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