Deranged Cackle Optional: D&D Villain Personality Types
This article was a guest post written by Paul, my old man. He’s been a DM for over 35 years, and have created thousands of NPCs over that time. He’s written articles before about Dungeons and Dragons for this blog (such as “How To Flesh Out Your Role Playing World” and co-author on posts such as “Is It Possible To Have A Completely Non-Violent RPG“) and it’s always awesome to have one of his D&D articles going live on the site. I grew up playing his campaigns, so it’s cool to see now how he put those together.
Dungeons and Dragons is a game of vast diversity where the only limitations are the imaginations of the DM and his or her players. This massive scope means that no two sessions are the same and even if you go through the same scenario with the same players it will play out differently every time. It’s the endless permutations of characters and the environment in which they are operating that makes the game so compelling.
However, there are threads of commonality which appear in every scenario – the most obvious being that all D&D games have a bad guy. In this article we’re going to explore the D&D villain and even provide a couple of “off the shelf” baddies the time-pressed DM can lift and adapt.
Let’s start with some clarifications. Firstly, Hollywood has a disappointingly high percentage of male villains with female baddies often being reduced to positions where they support the main villain like Gazelle (Kingsman) or change sides at a critical moment to save the hero such as Pussy Galore (Goldfinger). D&D players are more enlightened and there’s nothing that makes world domination and the slaughter of thousands of innocent people exclusively male tasks. Unfortunately phrases such as “himself or herself” and “his or her” don’t read cleanly so alert readers will find that the gender of the villain changes at random through this article.
Secondly, we’re not talking here about the boss monster style of villain which is usually the ugly beast with most hit points in the last dungeon chamber you get to. Monsters aren’t really villains unless they have the capability for abstract thought and anything that attempts to rend PCs into their component meat joints simply because that’s what instinct tells it to do is outside the scope of this discussion.
Finally, while the dictionary definition of villain implies an evil person in the D&D universe the villain is simply the antagonist for the PCs. Villains may be neutral in alignment and evil PCs may require a good villain.
The Different D&D Villain Types
There’s no universally accepted classification system for villains but it seems they can be categorised by a small number of binary traits:
Covert [C] .v. Overt [O]: The covert baddie works behind the scenes and may have a veneer of respectability, often appearing to be a good guy until the last moment. The overt villain is openly the bad guy and doesn’t try to hide it. In fact, the overt villain may actively trade on her reputation. It’s important not to link this trait to charisma – it’s not necessarily true that the bad guy skulking in the shadows is necessarily charisma-bereft while the more overt villain will be able to charm the birds out of the trees – covert Jafar (Aladdin) was charming but secretive while the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin Hood) is usually portrayed as unlikable but very overt.
Knowing [K] .v. Unknowing [U]: The knowing baddie knows what she is doing is wrong but does it anyway. She may even agonise about it, only taking the “bad” route because it’s the only one which will achieve her goal. The unknowing baddie doesn’t see any wrong in what she’s doing and in the extreme may regard her actions as beneficial and worthy of thanks. The other option for the unknowing baddie is an extreme psychopath like the Joker (Batman)
Personal [P] .v. Delegative [D]: The personal villain does his dirty work himself. This could be because he lacks followers, doesn’t trust the followers he has or just likes hurting people. Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) is a typical P-type villain. A delegative bad guy has minions to do the bad deeds and remains aloof like Professor Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes). A “do it myself” type P villain is likely to have fewer followers than a more embracing type D and some thought needs to be given about where the minions come from. Are they trusted family retainers, hired hands kept in place by fear or like-minded idealists who see the villain as the best way to fulfil their own personal agendas?
Focused [F] .v. Random [R]: The focused villain is true to their goal and only performs their evil deeds if they support the attainment of that goal. The random villain is far more indiscriminate and is nasty to anyone, sometimes for no reason whatsoever. This trait maps to alignment with chaotics more likely to be in the random camp than lawfuls. However the truly random villain is rare, if only because the more people you fight the higher the odds are that someone will get the better of you. More likely is the pseudo-random villain who has an aversion to a particular group (like Cruella de Vil who was anti-dalmatian but not necessarily against any other spot-free canine breed). In addition, a highly random villain is somewhat unbelievable and no way covert.
The four traits should help the DM flesh out the baddie’s motives and modus operandi. For example a CKDF villain will covertly manipulate from behind the scenes using trusted minions or henchmen to insulate himself from the evil deeds he’s perpetuating in pursuit of his goals while an OUPR villain will be the opposite – out in the open with no attempt at concealment for his evil deeds which he performs pretty much as the whim takes him. Compare Emperor Palpatine with Darth Vader – devious plotting from the first and personally choking anyone who gets in the way from the second.
There are sixteen possible villain types (any similarity between this classification system and the work of Myers-Briggs is completely intentional by the way) although some may be unlikely in certain scenarios. As an example, the OKDF school of villainy is personified by the Godfather – a good model for the master of a thieves guild operating in Waterdeep but not so hot in frontier scenarios which lack many of the trappings of civilization.
Now all the DM needs to do is answer a couple of simple questions and the villain is all ready to be the nemesis of the PCs.
Type F villains need a goal, or set of goals. This can range from wanting revenge for a wrong (or a perceived wrong) to a straightforward desire for a shedload of gold coins. The DM needs to consider what happens if the villain achieves her goal or whether she already has and just didn’t know when to stop. There aren’t many villains who achieve their goal and immediately dust themselves down and go back to their day job (“yesterday I was Zorg the mighty, scourge of the Dwarves and sworn killer of the clan of Whitestone and today I’m just a gravedigger with a lot of Whitestone Dwarves to bury” – you just know that’s not going to happen).
How a villain funds their activities also needs consideration. Is this a family fortune being squandered on some evil scheme or is there a legitimate business interest that’s funnelling funds into the baddie’s purse? Does she need to steal or extort the money or do sympathisers provide for her needs?
Finally – why does the villain interact with the PCs? There are as many backstories here as there are DMs but the most common tend to be variations on the villain perceiving the PCs to be a threat or the villain wanting something the PCs have (whether this is a real physical something or just information). An increasing desire to “get even” with the PCs as the campaign progresses can be a powerful plot driver – think of M’Lady de Winter (Three Musketeers) for example.
Three Bad Guy Examples
And here are three for you to lift along with a set of core stats. As usual, DMs should feel free to change any details they wish to improve the fit with their own scenarios
Ruminous Vane is a human thief who runs a moderately sized thieves guild. Originally sold by his parents as an apothecary’s apprentice at the age of six, the quick witted Ruminous soon tired of working all day for someone else’s benefit and started to sell poisons on the black market which naturally brought him to the attention of the local thieves and assassins. Recognising “talent” at the age of ten he was recruited as a runner and shake-down specialist for a thieves gang where he quickly rose through the ranks to master poisoner. It is rumoured, although not proven, that not everyone who stood in his way died peacefully in their bed.
Ruminous has a small close circle of trusted companions who have been with him a long time and a far wider circle of minions who do his bidding in exchange for money and a good time. Minions who cross Ruminous usually contract food poisoning which may inexplicably become fatal if their attitude doesn’t rapidly improve. Ruminous himself has been taking tiny doses of various venoms for a long time to build up immunity and it is rumoured he is immune to the effects of all poisons – which isn’t true but he encourages the sentiment.
Ruminous is driven solely by his need to prove himself, something that stems from his parents getting rid of him in his formative years. He equates this with having money and people to do his bidding and now has a large quantity of both. He is open to flattery and his close inner circle sometimes use this to their advantage. Although incapable of genuine affection, Ruminous nevertheless is a good person to work for and generously rewards fidelity, obedience and genuine effort. Most of his minions are therefore exceptionally loyal, unthinkingly following his commands without regard to the outcome.
Ruminous is an OKDF type of villain – he’s open about his position and fully aware that what he’s doing is against the law (although he justifies lawbreaking to himself in a number of different ways). Most of his work is done through his minions and he is focused on gaining money and personal prestige. Acts which don’t either result in a profit or some kind of recognition just aren’t part of his plan.
From a gaming perspective, Ruminous is a rogue with a +4 bonus on all saving rolls against poison. He is not a very effective fighter but has a deep and expansive knowledge of toxicology which has served him well. He has no family although this is not true of most of his minions (in fact, he’s godfather to dozens of their offspring).
HUMAN ROGUE (THIEF)
STR 17 (+3) DEX 20 (+5) CON 18 (+4) INT 14 (+2) WIS 14 (+2) CHA 18 (+4)
INIT +5 SPEED 30 PASSIVE PERCEPTION 15 PROFICIENCY +3
LVL 8 HP 75 HD 8d8 AC 17 (studded leather) ALIGN NE
Proficient skills: Acrobatics +11 Deception +7 Intimidation +10 Perception +5 Sleight of hand +8 Stealth +11 Expert with thieves tools
Uses a range of daggers, usually poisoned, either in hand or thrown – +8 to hit d4+5 damage + poison effects
Ichora “Elfbane” Gazak
Ichora is a half-orc fighter who nurses a pathological hatred of elves and their culture. This stems from an elven raid on Ichora’s clan in which many half-orcs were slain including several of Ichora’s siblings. Although she survived the slaughter, Ichora carries several scars from light wounds she received from elven blades on that fateful day. Since then she has ruthlessly hunted and destroyed elves and elven homesteads, sometimes working alone and at other times with other survivors of her clan.
Ichora’s hatred of elf-kind extends to their friends and allies and she has slaughtered humans, halflings and even dwarves who she believes to be friends of an elf or even sympathetic to their ideals. On the other hand, foes of elves are her “friends” and she will do everything in her power to avoid hurting them or their interests.
Ichora has heard of drow but has not yet met one. While theoretically she should slaughter drow as happily as she kills off their tree-dwelling relations this has never been put to the test. Ichora has recently learned that the leader of the raid on her clan village was called Gil Silverhelm, son of the elven noble Alas Silverhelm, and this has fueled her hatred to the point that other races who share the surname are regarded as fair game in her blood bath.
Ichora is a OUPR type of villain, making no secret what she sees as her righteous quest to wipe elven-kind off the face of the globe. She uses two large axes and magically reinforced scale mail. While she has a reasonable charisma and can be almost charming when required it is rumoured (but not proven) that she drinks elf blood after each slaughter which augments her strength. Alternatively she could just have a strength of 18.
HALF-ORC FIGHTER (BATTLEMASTER)
STR 20 (+5) DEX 16 (+3) CON 20 (+5) INT 9 (-1) WIS 8 (-1) CHA 13 (+1)
INIT +3 SPEED 30 PASSIVE PERCEPTION 12 PROFICIENCY +3
LVL 8 HP 92 HD 8d10 AC 18 (magically reinforced scale mail) ALIGN CE
Proficient skills: Athletics +8 History +2 Intimidation +4 Perception +2 Survival +2
Uses a +1 battleaxe in each hand +9 to hit d8/d10+8 damage. Also carried 4 javelins +8 to hit d6+5 damage
Cheeda is a half-elven orphan who now works as a lady’s maid in a large manor house where she is the companion and confidante of the lady of the manor. Cheeda therefore hears a lot of information about a lot of people which she isn’t averse to selling on or using for blackmail purposes.
As secrecy is essential to her schemes she uses trusted intermediaries as go-betweens and will never reveal information which is potentially damaging to the family she serves. This isn’t due to loyalty but simply because they’re her meal ticket. That said, Cheeda gets on well with her mistress who she panders to in order to keep up the flow of information. In return her mistress, and by extension the whole noble household, has a very high opinion of her and would defend any allegations against her until the evidence was overwhelming.
Cheeda’s information has destroyed many people, albeit indirectly, and there are certain to be unpleasant repercussions should her identity become known to any of the victims. That said, she is always at least two steps distant from any of the people who are harmed by her information and her intermediaries are so well paid that they’re unlikely to squeal. Her actions have amassed her a small fortune and she has told herself that she will “retire” when she reaches a certain financial target which she believes will give her security for life although she enjoys what she does and is unlikely to cease her activities once her target is reached.
Cheeda is a CKDF type of villain, highly secretive and presenting a completely false image of propriety and virtue to the world – think of Judge Turpin (Sweeny Todd). However, she’s hugely scheming behind the scenes with a network of minions to do her bidding in return for seriously generous payouts. She keeps the minions unaware of each other’s identities in order to protect herself and enforce loyalty although each minion is aware that he or she isn’t the only person Cheeda deals with.
Cheeda is frighteningly intelligent – she’s far brighter than the family she serves – and can weigh up the value of information she hears and route it to the most appreciative recipient. She also has a high charisma score which helps to keep the underlings in line.
HALF-ELVEN ROGUE (THIEF)
STR 13 (+1) DEX 17 (+3) CON 14 (+2) INT 17 (+3) WIS 12 (+1) CHA 15 (+2)
INIT +3 SPEED 30 PASSIVE PERCEPTION 14 PROFICIENCY +3
LVL 6 HP 45 HD 6d8 AC 15 (no armour but +2 ring of protection) ALIGN LE
Proficient skills: Athletics +4 Intimidation +8 Investigation +9 Perception +4 Persuasion +5 Religion +6 Stealth +9 Expert with thieves tools
Uses a dagger, usually poisoned, either in hand or thrown – +3 to hit d4+3 damage + poison effects
So there we have it – a personality breakdown of villain types in Dungeons & Dragons and how to use them to create fun bad guys. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.