Classic Villain/Antagonist Archetypes
With the next season of Roll with Advantage right around the corner, I have been starting to rack my brain as to who/what is going to be my antagonists for season two. So I have been doing a little bit of a character study on a large selection of villains and have been trying to dissect them to see what makes them tick. I have also been trying to come up with environmental entropy for the world that might promote drama. Boiling my studies down to a thousand or so words is a little tough, but I will cover what I found were my favorite villain archetypes and how someone could string them together in order to come up with a core concept for a villain hierarchy.
Villains v. Antagonists
It is important to note that a villain is not always an antagonist, and an antagonist is not always a villain. Because we know this fact, we can exploit it to create a story that has depth. An antagonist is just an opposing force to the protagonists, creating some sort of conflict in your story. This means you can have things like nature, machines, society, fate, etc. against your players to cause conflict. A villain on the other hand, is just some corporeal form that embodies and promotes the conflict that you are trying to create in the story.
My Top 5 Villain Archetypes
The following is but a short list of the several different villain types I found while doing my research. I will name examples of villains so that you might be able to do a similar study on those you are not familiar with. It is also important to note that some of these can fall under more than one category listed, I just picked a single villain that I felt best represented the category.
This villain is one that is always running from something or caught up in some sort of a jam. They tend to be a person that was degenerated by outside forces and now must do unspeakable things to survive and sometimes thrive. These characters tend to be lackeys for other, more powerful villains, and sometimes, they rise to power. Everything they do is driven by the need to survive either/both physically and socially. A great example of this type of villain is how the Penguin is depicted in the first season of Gotham.
The Femme/Homme Fatale
This villain is an extremely deceptive and dangerous one. They are usually very cunning, manipulative, and ruthless. They use their charm to seduce the opposite sex to get what they want. This is a great villain archetype for the narrative “shape-shifter.” These characters can be double agents who sometimes work with or against the protagonists. A great example here is Mystique from X-Men.
The Murderous Robot
This is an easy one to adopt for Dungeons and Dragons. The murderous robot is a construct that has a singular purpose, usually destroy. They are sometimes sentient, which can make them more lethal, and in turn more fun. A lot of times they accompany a villain that made them out of ignorance, and it isn’t uncommon for the creation to kill its master. Great character examples would be Ultron or Frankenstein's Monster.
The boss villain archetype is deceptively named but it makes sense after a little explaining. This archetype is usually the Big Bad Evil Guy’s number two person. They can be fiercely loyal or extremely koniving depending on what you want out of your villains. These villains like to be in charge and thrive on it, but something keeps them from taking the final step to becoming the true boss. Many times what holds them back are themselves, but sometimes it is out of pure oppression. They are extremely experienced and make formidable enemies. A great example of this archetype is Darth Vader.
The Master Mind
Finally we have come to the classic, the Master Mind. The master mind archetype I think can best be described as smart, powerful, manipulative and very dangerous. They tend to be the person “behind it all”. They come in many different like the genius lone wolf, the powerful crime boss, or the unremarkable neighbor. Great examples would be Mr. Glass from Unbreakable, Marvel’s Wilson Fisk, or my neighbor Jeff… ಠ_ಠ I’m watching you Jeff, you and your stupidly cool pool parties…
Anyways, so now that you know some of, what I consider, the major villain archetypes you can start creating a hierarchy of villains. This will give your characters something and someone always there to oppose. An easy way to do this is to start with your player’s first villain that they might encounter. Figure out who this person is, what drives them, then put a wrinkle in the villain. Make them subservient, or make them the thing that was actually blocking the true big bad from coming to power. Give these villains peers, this will build out the evil in your world and can give you ideas on how to move your players from villain to villain. It will create a network for villains to draw on if their underlings get wiped out. This can be a great way to create a situation primed for a power vacuum. A great example of this is the Goa’uld society from Stargate SG-1.
My Top 3 Environmental Antagonist
These environmental antagonists are meant to not only create entropy in a world but also reveal villains and other things that might hide right under your player’s noses. Here are a few of my favorites that I have seen in films, comics, and in books.
The Cyclical Event
This is an event that happens every so often. A good example of this sort of antagonist is a full moon in a werewolf setting. It could also be something like a disastrous event that happens only once every so many amount of years. I like to use these to uncover underground societies or to create general panic and this draws out the worst in many people the players all thought they could trust.
The society that players play in is a massive factor, and something that I think is overlooked a lot of times in tabletop RPG’s. Using Dystopian or Utopian societies and create pressure on people and force them underground. A great example of this is George Orwell’s 1984, the movie Equilibrium, and of course The Hunger Games series.
This is a really strong one. In this, you can use a prophecy, the will of the gods, or something on a similar scale, to show the players a future that is most undesirable. These can be stories of epic achievements in order to shape the future in a way that the players deem satisfying.
That is where I am going to leave it for this week. As always, thank you so much for stopping in and reading. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing topics like these. Check back in next week to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates and to let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about. Also, go check out Roll with Advantage! It is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that releases every Monday at 5 pm Eastern Time. We play, laugh, and have a good time playing a game we all love. Thank you for reading and if you enjoy these articles feel free to donate, using the button below, to the website to help keep it up and running!
― The DM