Thursday, July 9, 2015

Villains: Making It Personal

When you play a superhero game, there are the villains who are puzzles and villains who are personal. (Okay, there are a couple of other kinds, but they don't start with 'p'.)

Puzzle villains are the ones you have to figure out--once you know that they're secretly plants that are vulnerable to Round-Up, it's session over. They can't come back unless they have new powers because otherwise someone will just go to the hardware or garden store.
Personal villains have a stake in what they are doing. They have an emotional need to do it. Victor Fries wants his frozen wife back. Norman Osborne, at least early on, was as much about his feelings for Peter Parker as his lust for power. 
This is something that Batman: The Animated Series was brilliant at, by the way: most of their adversaries had the kind of emotional hooks you could use multiple times. Other animated series have used it since then. You can certainly have mercenary villains who will split as soon as the projected profit drops--they're a nice palate cleanser, if you will—but it's good if the villains care.

A villain can care for lots of reasons. (Movies provide a good sampler.)
  • He or she is getting back at all the people who laughed at him.
  • He needs the parts or money to get that operation for the sick loved one (Dog Day Afternoon with superheroes?)
  • She's on a vendetta against anyone who went to her high school
  • He wants to get even with the other crooks who stole his share of the money (Payback).
  • She needs to be proven right about some scientific theory that they all laughed at (but where fixing the immediate danger puts the world at risk if there isn't a danger).
It's even better if the emotional hook is tied to the heroes, in hero or civilian ID:
  • The villain is jealous of the hero.
  • The villain is getting back at the hero because the hero refused his offer of friendship or mentorship (Spider-Man).
  • The villain and the hero know each other's secret identities, and one can't reveal the other without being revealed...but their drives or Qualities keep putting them in conflict.
  • The villain wanted someone the hero is dating or married...and having discovered the secret identity, is going to humiliate the hero identity.
You know your heroes. Make it personal to them.