What is it with Intwischa staffers and evil this month? Is it the lure of the forbidden? The dark promise of power? The top-notch medical plan? Ever since our 100th post, we seem to be a little obsessed with promoting scum and villainy. And who am I to argue with success? Just in case your key campaign villain (or ‘antagonist’ for you politically correct readers) needs some methods for his madness, consider the following nefarious schemes that could work in just about any system.
Why don’t we start off with the simple, time-honored philosophy of ‘might makes right’? From the jack-booted march of the Third Reich to the dread hordes of Sauron, nothing says evil mastermind like forcing your way to the top through unchecked military aggression. History, literature, mythology, and theology are all rife with leaders who used their martial might to enact their will on a city, a nation, or even an entire continent. (I’m looking at you, Napoleon.) It doesn’t take a master strategist to steamroll over the unassuming populace of a neighboring state; just lots of guns, swords, magic, orcs, elephants, guys in white plastoid armor… You get the picture.
I believe a quote from my good friend Dennis Leary sums up the effectiveness of this approach: “We got the bombs.” Touche, Mr. Leary. Touche.
The path of armed aggression can be closely linked to, but is not dependent on, another philosophy of effective antagonism: Take office, then take over. Many leaders who are viewed as despots, dictators, or just plain devilish reached the heights of their evil enterprise through political plotting and masterful manipulation of municipal machinations. (Maybe I need to add excessive alliteration to this list after we finish here.)
As truth is so often stranger than fiction, let’s run through a quick roll call of historical figures who could be said to have followed this path: Napoleon, Hitler, Julius Caesar, Mussolini, Muammar Gaddafi, Pol Pot, Senator Palpatine, Kim Jong Il- just to name a few. Even the Left Behind series and The Omen blame the Antichrist on political office. And if we can’t trust Gregory Peck as to the source of true evil, what good can possibly be left in this world?
Using intrigue, influence, and complex webs of deception and double-cross the puppetmaster is unseen but unparalleled in sinister schemes. This path to villainy takes a superior intellect and unending patience, for if the puppets realized that they are being controlled the plot is unraveled and the villain undone. However, if your antagonist can sow seeds of fear and mistrust successfully, and cultivate those seeds with a silver tongue and iron will, soon the protagonists turn against each other and bend beneath the crushing weight of their own gnawing insecurities.
While the Elected Evil is a figurehead that desires both approval and absolute power, this twisted path weaves an often unseen tapestry of betrayal and doubt that eventually crumbles event the stoutest faith or the firmest loyalties into utter chaos. Judging from cinematic depictions of villains who proved fairly successful at this strategy- Othello‘s Iago and Cardinal Richelieu from The Three Musketeers are icons in this field- a carefully manicured goatee can’t hurt your chances either.
Step 1: Steal a powerful leader. Step 2… Step 3: Evil! Rather than following a master plan of getting one’s self elected, or working to control and coerce the existing leadership, your villain may choose to let science do the work for him by creating a dark double to impersonate the target of their plot. Once the doppelganger has assumed the position of power, the villain can really set his schemes loose. This impostor may be an organic creation (like the dastardly Dark Phoenix), a carefully trained copy (brilliantly demonstrated by Dominic Cooper in The Devil’s Double), or even a robotic construct (a la The Great Mouse Detective).
You can laugh all you want at the inclusion of a Disney movie in a post about evil plots, but that Ratigan was on to something. Replacing the most powerful monarch in all of Europe with a mechanical dupe that he controls? Priceless. Of course, it wouldn’t be too hard to pass off a robot as a British royal. But I digress…
An infernal bargain with a powerful yet nefarious being from beyond time and space certainly yields immediate results. What that sudden influx of power will do to a villain may be a matter of concern a week or two later, but it’s almost impossible to deny that devilish dealings get results. Just ask Francis Dolarhyde of Red Dragon fame. Doctor Faustus got a play, an opera, and even a novel out of his infernal contract. While Anne Rice’s Lestat was pretty powerful before his deal, he really upped the ante after meeting Memnoch. Even musical villains draw on this theme, putting a devilish deal center stage in Damn Yankees.
While your villain doesn’t have to negotiate directly with a hellish agent per se, an evil entity of some kind should certainly represent the other side of the bargain. If you want to make your campaign especially complex, you could have your villain’s vile actions compelled by his bond, even as he attempts to rescind or abandon that same agreement.
All that sticky planning. All those campaign buttons. Who has the time, let alone the fund-raising experience? If you’re going to commit all your resources to a singular evil goal, why not invest them in a machine that can enslave the human race or destroy the home planet of your most hated royal rival? I mean, did you see Leia’s face when Alderaan exploded? Who can argue with anguish like that?
If you can’t afford your own space station with a planet-smashing laser beam, an engineered plague, a nuclear holocaust, or even a weather control ray may be within your villainous grasp. You might make like the Mandarin and use ten mini-machines of mischief. Heck, even Dr. Frankenstein managed to cobble together his very own monster of mass destruction. Perhaps you’re in the market for a cursed idol or damned book written on pages of human skin? All this and more can be yours, if the Price is Right!
Oh come on! You look me in the eye and tell me Bob Barker isn’t pure evil straight from hell.