Sick, Twisted Villains?

Samloyal23

Explorer
You are writing a story or game adventure, what is the nastiest thing you would let a villain do? What vile deeds have your characters committed? Where do you draw the line? What is taboo in your writing?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I tend to create what songwriter Tom Smith would call, "villains with professional pride."

I think it also depends on what you, personally, find horrific. The major antagonist for my current game is more than willing to start an interstellar war to get what he wants. If allowed to act upon his goals unchallenged, millions to billions of sentient beings will die in fire and pain. But sexual depravity or body horror? Causing pain for the sake of pain? That is far beneath him.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
As already stated by others, I think the bright line for me is any type of sexual assault. That's not appropriate.

For the most part, I tend to run more intellectual villains. However, unlike Umbran, I will have campaigns or villains with a Cronenberg-style "body horror" theme, if it is appropriate for the campaign, and that has been telegraphed in advance to the participants.
 

Longspeak

Villager
Villain in my game did his own eugenics experiments by secretly placing additives in pharmaceuticals his company made, in an attempt to make a literally super super race. This was the origin of supers in my setting, when the experiment went "wrong" and all sorts of people began to develop powers instead of "the right people." He then spent years trying to "correct" his mistake, which brought him into conflict with the PCs. He went to jail, where years later they discovered he was still running things, and when he made another major play, one PC - his "impure" granddaughter - decided enough was enough and broke his neck.

So then his preprogrammed AI nanomachines tried to continue his work, pitting heroes against friends and family who had been controlled, several of whom tried to leverage their own lives to make the PCs stand down... or in one case just to punish them.

THEN, when I let a friend run a session where I was the player, the same villian from a parallel dimension entered ours and tried to kill all those who'd stood in his way in his world, so he could start over in this world.
 

Longspeak

Villager
Regarding sexual assault... I've used it in the past, and don't anymore since having some things explained to me. But even when I used it, it was never the Big Bad. It's a low and cowardly thing that's beneath even my most evil villains, and so the perpetrators of such are worthless nobodies there to be dealt with, not important baddies.
 

Janx

Adventurer
I read an interview with Jim Butcher today, and a question about him doing horrible things to his characters.

He noted that he got a lot of letters that he better not hurt the cat, Mister.

He pointed out that loss of a pet is common for many, and that for the escapist fiction he writes, he wouldn't inflict such a real world tragedy on his readers.

I think that's a decent goal, aim for something fantastic, not mundane that real people experience.

---
Personally, I've been doing far more writing than gaming in the last five years. My current bad guys scaled up from targeting a single person for cyberbully with deep fake technology to targeting the hero with it and expanding into meat-space with massive drone attack terrorism with fake evidence to scapegoat another group.

I've constrained myself to transform real world threats/issues to be more monsterous. It has the problem of touching on stuff somebody HAS experienced while hopefully raising awareness ala "holy crap that can happen?" It's a work in progress. The book ain't done, and I may figure a way to shift it to even more fantastical.
 

Eltab

Adventurer
Hannibal Lecter or Jason (Friday the 13th) would about do it, if the villain is a loner.

If the PCs find the initial plans for Operation: Final Solution, the plot of the adventure is going to be "stop him before that machinery is ready / set in motion"
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I read an interview with Jim Butcher today, and a question about him doing horrible things to his characters.

He noted that he got a lot of letters that he better not hurt the cat, Mister.

He pointed out that loss of a pet is common for many, and that for the escapist fiction he writes, he wouldn't inflict such a real world tragedy on his readers.
Would that he applied that logic to having his protagonist mack on his apprentice.... :/
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Would that he applied that logic to having his protagonist mack on his apprentice.... :/
You mean the apprentice he was tempted by but even when she was interested in him he didn't do anything with? He never chased her.

Are your problems that he had impure thoughts that he worked hard not to act on? And succeeded?
 

Dioltach

Adventurer
Ben Aaronovitch has his villains do some pretty horrific things. Burning people from the inside out is pretty bad, and fermenting their insides too, but probably the worst is what happens to Larry the Lark in Moon over Soho: his bodyless head is kept alive for decades in a deserted building.
 

Samloyal23

Explorer
I'd stay away from rape. it's become rejection bait as editors/agents are tired of it. For a % of readers/players it trivializes a trauma they've experienced.
Yet this is a crime that happens commonly in the real world and in True Crime dramas. It seems like an issue that should be dealt with somehow in fiction...
 

Aebir-Toril

Is lukewarm on the Forgotten Realms
I stay away from sexual assault or sexual violence, but, as these are villains, most everything else is on the table.
 

Samloyal23

Explorer
I read an interview with Jim Butcher today, and a question about him doing horrible things to his characters.

He noted that he got a lot of letters that he better not hurt the cat, Mister.

He pointed out that loss of a pet is common for many, and that for the escapist fiction he writes, he wouldn't inflict such a real world tragedy on his readers.

I think that's a decent goal, aim for something fantastic, not mundane that real people experience.

---
Personally, I've been doing far more writing than gaming in the last five years. My current bad guys scaled up from targeting a single person for cyberbully with deep fake technology to targeting the hero with it and expanding into meat-space with massive drone attack terrorism with fake evidence to scapegoat another group.

I've constrained myself to transform real world threats/issues to be more monsterous. It has the problem of touching on stuff somebody HAS experienced while hopefully raising awareness ala "holy crap that can happen?" It's a work in progress. The book ain't done, and I may figure a way to shift it to even more fantastical.
If art does not make you squirm now and then, make you even have some trauma, is there a point to it? Art should shake your soul once in a while.
 

Janx

Adventurer
If art does not make you squirm now and then, make you even have some trauma, is there a point to it? Art should shake your soul once in a while.
The problem as I said, is it became over-done. When editors reject stories because it's yet another rape-fest, usually written by somebody who doesn't know enough and it's written to shock you, yet again...

That's poor art. It's not now and then. And it starts normalizing rape as shock value entertainment with no consideration for the sizable population who've experienced the real thing. It's not like writing about airplane crashes, which happens to a very small minority of people. Since 70% of readers are women, listen to the customer.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Yet this is a crime that happens commonly in the real world and in True Crime dramas. It seems like an issue that should be dealt with somehow in fiction...
Art can approach the issue, in general. That does not mean all mediums and genres of are good places for the subject.

There is a problem that you cannot do the issue justice in a 40 minutes of screen time in a crime drama. And, you will not be handling it well when five minutes later you are worried about whether or not you cleave an orc.

For purposes of this thread, you'll notice that the focus is on the villain, the perpetrator - what depraved things do you have your villain do to signal that the villain is evil? "See? The Count is Evil. He raped someone!" This is the #1 trite approach to rape in fiction - using it as a flag for "this person is bad" - like the trauma is a convenient way to quickly slap a label on a character.

This isn't addressing rape in art. It is using rape as a tool to make things easy for the artist.

If you want to deal with rape in art, having the focus be on the perpetrator is unlikely to be effective, or artistic
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Depends on the venue. I mostly only DM for a group I've been playing with since 5e came out. While almost nothing is off the table, I don't often go into graphic detail.

For example, in my first homebrew DnD campaign, I took the bit of lore from the 5e Monster Manual in the "Orc Crossbreeds" section of the Orc entry but interpreted it as orcs using rape to perpetuate their race.

How this came up in play would be that a village was raided by orcs, who killed everyone except women of child-bearing age, who the characters had to rescue. There was no description of acts and the word rape never was used, but it was pretty obvious why they only took the women and it gave an evil for heros to vanquish.

While I have no problem running a scenario like this in my home game, I would never run this scene at a convention or a game with new players I didn't know well.

With my home game, if I go to far or touch on something that makes a player uncomfortable, we know each other welll enough that they will either call me out on it on the spot or will talk with me afterwards and I can course correct going forward. That's not really possible in a short game with strangers, especially as some topics may effect people far more strongly than they would my regular group of friends.
 

Eltab

Adventurer
If art does not make you squirm now and then, make you even have some trauma, is there a point to it? Art should shake your soul once in a while.
This can be done well, or done poorly. Most often it is done poorly.

Doing it well:
Have you ever seen, in the margins of a history book, the painting of Napoleonic-era French soldiers shooting some Spanish peasants? Probably the text nearby explains that the Spanish rebelled when Napoleon dethroned their king and tried to put his brother on the throne of Spain. The French Army was sent to crush the rebellion, but it did not succeed.
If ever you get a chance, visit the Prado (National Art Museum) in Madrid. The original of that painting is on display. From seeing it in the book, you might think the painting is about "typical painting" size, maybe 2 feet (2/3 meter) on the long side.
It is actually life size.
I recognized it immediately at first sight from across the room. I was stunned at the added effect when the scene did not have to shrink down to share a page. The Spanish peasants changed from 'subjects of a painting' to living people.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
To be sick and twisted, a villain must upend, subvert, pervert, or offend the natural order. For that to happen, there must be a natural order.

And that order must be something your players are emotionally invested in. So your work starts earlier. Much earlier. In a safe space, surrounded by people they like, with the day to day squabbles of neighbors and relations, and the visiting of distant friends. Perhaps with a big party and an inside joke. A little mischief and a lot of music. A hint of possible romance.

Your sick, twisted villain has to go be bad somewhere else for a while, while your players keep returning here for respite. And then, when it comes time for your Villain to BE sick and twisted, they (or their hench) gotta roll up and turn the place upside down. Maybe even kill a friendly farmer and his dog.

So how far back do you start? How much love do you need to create? How thoroughly unrelated to your villain does this treasure have to be? One famous example begins, “Concerning Hobbits.”
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
When I create a villain, I try to avoid themes that make my players physically uncomfortable. So no sexual violence or torture. Instead I try to get them emotionally invested, as @Bawylie just said. I try to get them angry about an injustice that the villain committed against innocent people.

For example: I had a ruthless pirate captain, who threatened a local baron with severing the arm of his young daughter, if he did not tell him where the townsfolk were hiding. The players met this armless daughter, now a baroness, and learned how she lost her arm. And this made them hate the villain so much, that they would do anything to catch him alive and bring him before her. They wanted to see justice served to him, despite it being but a footnote in the story really. Making the players care on such a powerful level is key I think.

But I think you also need to be able to follow this up with a satisfying ending. How does the villain end up paying for his crimes? Does he simply die in combat, or are the players given a chance to choose a fitting punishment for him? A strong pay off is key to any effective villain. And also with the pay off I tend to lean more towards poetic justice and not towards gore and torture.

In the case of the pirate captain, the players allowed the baroness to pick his punishment. She ended up telling the pirate captain what happened on the day he took her arm. She told him how her father had hidden the townsfolk away in the local well, where they would wait in absolute terror as he and his men ravaged the town. And then she told him that he and his men would spend the rest of their lives in that same well, with no food or water, and no one would ever hear about them again. The baroness understood that the reason the villain was to cruel, was that he wanted to be known and feared. So what better punishment to leave him to rot in that same well, and have him be forgotten completely?

I like my villains to be memorable, and for my players to be able to recall them for years to come. I want them to remember the crimes of the villain, and how they ultimately met their end. This can be poetic justice, or a hilarious death, or tragic. But it has to be memorable.
 
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