Top 5 Bad Guys Who Wouldn’t Work in an RPG

I don’t know about you, but I generally love bad guys. I’ve never really worked out why, but I always wanted Darth Vader, Jason Vorhees, Sauron or whoever else to win. Just to see what would happen.

It’s probably why I like being GM so much – I get to play the bad guys and find out what happens.
Consequently, I try and use my favourite fictional characters in different guises. Many of them are tropes, but they are also good inspiration. There are some of my favourites which just don’t work though.

So, in the spirit of presenting varied reading, here is my top 5 list of entertaining fictional characters who wouldn’t work in an RPG.

5 – Q (Star Trek: TNG, DS9, Voy)
Q is both the first and last enemy encountered by the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D during in Star Terk The Next Generation. His role remains a mystery throughout TNG and is only explained in the excellent finale, All Good Things… He makes return appearances in DS9 and Voyager, expanding the lore regarding his race but in much more sympathetic roles.
Why He’s A Bad Enemy: Omnipotent, all powerful, able to manipulate the entire universe at a whim and a mischievous temperament to boot: Q’s powers read like the power trip of a bad DM and render him nigh on undefeatable.

4 – Darth Maul (Star Wars: Episode I)
The weakest character in the most reviled of all 6 Star Wars films, Maul existed solely to look badass on PR material and provide the deus ex machina to give Obi-Wan a chip on his shoulder. He had nearly no lines and about ten minutes of screentime.
Why He’s A Bad Enemy: The ultimate two-bit looser bad-guy. As he stands, he only exists to be killed. No background, no development, nothing.

3 – Frank-N-Furter (Rocky Horror Picture Show)

Transsexual alien with his own cloning project, ghoulish servants and one hell of a clothing line. Amazing singer.
Why He’s A Bad Enemy: Not too hard to use in a sci-fi setting, but I dare you to use him in your next D&D campaign.

2 – Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal)
A egomaniac serial killer and cannibal, Lecter is one of the most memorable horror movie characters of the 80s and 90s. Despite being a mass-murderer, he actually manages to retain the role of anti-hero rather then all-out villain.
Why He’s A Bad Enemy: Lecter spends most of his screen time helping the FBI and not that much actually being a bad guy. When he is a bad guy, he takes it to a whole new, charming level, which, quite honestly I don’t think can easily be conveyed in an RPG.

1 – Scorpius/Harvey (Farscape)
Scorpius and Harvey, his counter-part implanted in the head of main-character John Crichton, are very possibly the best sci-fi enemy of all time. Scorpius is creepy and unhuman on his own (despite being a forehead alien), Harvey adds to this though some of the best black humour which has ever graced the small screen. Harvey causes Crichton to slowly loose his mind, his ship and just about everything else in his life.
Why He’s A Bad Enemy: You want to try inserting a character into the mind of a PC? It’s a great idea in theory, but in reality it’s impossible without the GM practically controlling the PC.

Let me know if you have any idea how to work any of these guys into a campaign 😉

14 thoughts on “Top 5 Bad Guys Who Wouldn’t Work in an RPG”

  1. re: hanibal
    i actually disagree on this one, though your points are well done. i ran a dark heresy campaign wherein the group chased down a heretic who ended up being their on inquisitor. this concept, of having the villain known by the consequences of his actions but not his presence, is i think totally viable for a D&D/RPG campaign.

    re: harvey
    the D&D campaign i play in has a version of this type of character, ala the 6 that baltar sees in BSG. its about 80/20 miss to hit, but when it works, its just hilarious.

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  2. Regarding Scorpius/Harvey: I submit that not only could this be done, but there is at least one game built around the premise that *every* PC has something like this in place. White Wolf’s “Wraith: the Oblivion” assigns each player not only the PC they’ve created, but the role of another PC’s “shadow-side”. Yes, it’s complex. Yes, it’s risky. Yes, it requires considerable maturity on the entire game group’s part. But if the group can handle it, then it can be an amazing gaming experience.

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  3. Regarding Hannibal Lecter: Quite a few film-noir stories paint “the last guy you’d expect” as the big villain at the end. Not every GM is up to the challenge of providing a series of red-herring NPCs while giving the PCs the appropriate clues about who Keyser Söze really is, but that shouldn’t stop them from at least trying. And besides, if one of the PCs is willing to actually play the Roger Kint role, it makes for a very memorable evening of play.
    I consider this particular story arc of this webcomic an excellent example:
    http://www.weregeek.com/2008/10/24/

    Perrin’s last blog post..Newbie tune

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    1. This is why Q is at the bottom. I can see how he can be used, and easily so, but a lot of his hallmarks are also things that can be seen very negatively by players. As I mentioned, there is also the problem of that kind of character being a vehicle for a GM power-trip.

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  4. Regarding Dr. Frank-N-Furter: His whole reason for being is to fly in the face of cultural norms. It’s not that a GM *can’t* use him or someone like him in a standard-issue D&D campaign, IMHO it’s more to do with how to set up the cultural norms for the D&D campaign that such a character could mangle. For example, briefly imagine a D&D culture where trolls are regarded as barely-tameable wild creatures, something like how they are portrayed in the Harry Potter books. Dr. “F” might respond by wearing clothing that makes him look like a troll (perhaps made from troll-skin leather for double-“ICK!” points).

    The real challenge is in crafting the “made-up” cultural norms so that they’re sufficiently “D&D-like” that they don’t break the player’s suspension of disbelief, while still generating an emotional reaction in the players. “Spiders of the Purple Mage” (a story in one of the “Thieves’ World” books) describes a culture in which the members must coat themselves with butter at all times; not all players might see it for the symbolism it is (performing an act that flies in the face of logic because it is ancient tradition) and the emotional impact might be lost. Still, no harm in trying…

    Perrin’s last blog post..Newbie tune

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    1. I have to be honest, your making far better arguments for Frank being a bad bad guy then I did 😉

      I have to say, your idea of Frank dressing up in troll skins does remind me of the Buffalo Bill character from “Silence of the Lambs”. Not a bad thing of course – Bill was a genuinely scarey horror character – I’d hate to face off against him.

      Disclosure: If you don’t mind, I would like to use the idea of a D&D enemy which dresses up in the skins of it’s foes for my previously mentioned “Undying Allegiance” adventure.

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  5. Regarding Darth Maul: Yes, he’s essentially a throwaway nasty, designed mostly for marketing purposes, at least in the theatrical release of “Phantom Menace”. However, IMHO this is a case of a good tool put to insufficient use. Darth Sidious introduces him to the Trade Federation as his apprentice, and the Expanded Universe materials indicate that Maul is not only capable of mowing down legions of non-Jedi opponents without breaking a sweat, but that he also functions as a nearly-unstoppable hatchet-man, assassinating various high-ranking figures. Whether he acquired relevant information about his targets through Sidious’ information networks or his own, I suspect that it would be a mistake to dismiss him as “merely” a vicious “Fast Villain”, if I’m using the proper termionology.
    He could easily be translated into a D&D campaign, especially if the big villain who controlled him failed to recognize the threat that the PCs represent before they could be easily eliminated. Start off using him as the unidentified agent directly responsible for various deaths or disasters. The PCs investigate each adventure, accumulating levels/feats/etc. and eventually figure out that all the adventures are the aftermath of a single person: Darth Maul (or whatever new name the GM uses). It’s most effective when the GM plants clues for the PCs to use in calculating just how badly overmatched they would be if they ever faced Maul toe-to-toe… at least, initially. If the *players* are good and scared by Maul, then the GM is using the character properly. Meanwhile, Darth Sidious’ grand plans require that Maul not bother with these pesky adventurers until they become a viable threat to Sidious’ long-term goals. Sidious could reasonably expect to have a stable of lesser agents to deal with annoyances that don’t warrant Maul’s personal attention (whom the PCs stand a chance of defeating and from whom the PCs can harvest valuable XP/clues/tools/etc.)

    Perrin’s last blog post..Newbie tune

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  6. Skin-wearing enemy: Not a problem, please feel free to use it! Depending on just how far you wish to take the concept, you might want to pick up “Skinwalker”, from 12 to Midnight Games. Alternately, if the players are animal lovers, just having a villain wearing the still-furred leathers of important animals might work just as well.
    My point was just that IMHO the value of Dr. “F” having the behaviors and clothing he did was for a particular kind of shock value. A D&D character might get the same result if he was a male elf wearing, say, female Dwarf-style clothes, or an unusually intelligent Bugbear who shaved his fur in patterns reminiscent of a Warforged’s seam-patterns, or what-have-you. It’s a challenge, especially since the GM has to set up the cultural expectations in the players as well as the PCs… but the payoff can be well worth it.

    Perrin’s last blog post..Newbie tune

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  7. Terrific post. You make a pretty good argument for each of them, and there’s some of those I wouldn’t use for exactly the reasons you state. A few catch my eye…..

    Darth Maul certainly deserves an award for being the most anticlimactic badguy, ever. So much hype, so little airtime. That’s a lesson how not to use a villain. “I’m cool. I’m awesome. I’m on all the posters. Oh. I’m dead.”. Next!

    Q wouldn’t work in most campaigns, but I’ve used omnipotent reality warpers in my superhero campaign a few times to good effect. Guys like Q, James Jaspers (from Captain Britain) and Mr. Mxyzptlk make excellent superhero villains because they take cleverness and trickery to defeat rather than combat prowess. Not a villain to throw at your group on a tired Friday evening though!

    Here’s a few more that would be hard (but not impossible) to use as villains:

    Mega-corporations such as the Tyrell Corporation from Bladerunner. They might make for compelling storylines, but having a global faceless organization as the foe just makes life hard for the heroes. That’s why movies and literature always have a single figurehead at the top who the heroes can defeat, thereby (and totally illogically) crush the entire corporation within 10 combat rounds.

    Sauron. A Mega-corporation by another name, except the guy at the top is just a huge flaming eye. Usable as a plot device more than anything where the heroes are given a quest (ring, volcano, drop) which will somehow end his reign. This is great if you want a villain who is more of a malevolent guiding force than a hands-on bad guy. Punching Sauron just isn’t an option.

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  8. >Darth Maul certainly deserves an award
    >for being the most anticlimactic badguy,
    >ever. So much hype, so little airtime.
    >That’s a lesson how not to use a villain.
    >“I’m cool. I’m awesome. I’m on all the
    >posters. Oh. I’m dead.”. Next!

    Sadly, Darth Maul subsumed this role from the previous title holder in this same franchise, Boba Fett. Witness his anti-climatic demise in “Return of the Jedi” for another example in the same vein as Darth Maul of “Bad Guys Who Wouldn’t Work…”

    For other villains from movies who do not work well in RPG, one could also list “Legend”, “Labyrinth”, “Never-Ending Story”, and Ghoser from “Ghostbusters”.

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