Thursday, 11 February 2010

Four Pillars of a Genuine Big Bad Evil Guy

I'm not a huge fan of uber-powerful supervillains. You don't really need a bellowing voice, a throng of minions, blazing red eyes, an eight-foot tall frame and a spooky black costume to be a truly nasty Big Bad Evil Guy. The key elements are rather:

Sheer Malice

"I am the Elder King: Melkor, first and mightiest of all the Valar, who was before the world, and made it. The shadow of my purpose lies upon Arda, and all that is in it bends slowly and surely to my will.

But upon all whom you love my thought shall weigh as a cloud of Doom, and it shall bring them down into darkness and despair. Wherever they go, evil shall arise. Whenever they speak, their words shall bring ill counsel. Whatsoever they do shall turn against them. They shall die without hope, cursing both life and death."

- Morgoth, to Hurin, from "Narn i Hîn Húrin", Unfinished Tales


Upon that ship which was cast highest and stood dry upon a hill there was a man, or one in man's shape, but greater than any even of the race of Númenor in stature.

He stood upon the rock and said: "This is done as a sign of power. For I am Sauron the mighty, servant of the Strong" (wherein he spoke darkly). "I have come. Be glad, men of Númenor, for I will take thy king to be my king, and the world shall be given into his hand."

- From "The Fall of Numenor", The Lost Road


"[Sauron's] cunning motive is probably best expressed thus. To wean one of the God-fearing from their allegiance it is best to propound another unseen object of allegiance and another hope of benefits; propound to him a Lord who will sanction what he desires and not forbid it. Sauron, apparently a defeated rival for world-power, now a mere hostage, can hardly propound himself; but as the former servant and disciple of Melkor, the worship of Melkor will raise him from hostage to high priest."

- J. R. R. Tolkien, Morgoth's Ring


6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?"

Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."

- Job 1:6, 7, NIV

The rest is just razzmatazz.


  1. I would consider changing Freedom and replacing it by Will or Desire. Usually the BBEGs are world-shakers not because they have physichal or moral freedom, but the determination to change a situation to another, usually for the worse or just more convenient for the BBEG.

  2. Perhaps I view that as being subsumed within freedom - i.e. the freedom to attempt to do what one pleases, without constraints of morality, loyalty, personal lack of will, etc.

  3. I find the examples humourous based on the power levels; Sauron and others of the peak with Satan. Seems you do need that black cape!

  4. What does that even mean, anonymous?

  5. I largely agree with this, particularly the malice criterion, but then I think of my favourite villains, and then I realise that I like some of them because they think they're doing good. Doctor Doom would be the world's greatest scientist if it weren't for the Accursed Richards, and some fiction surrounding Lucifer has him as a more revolutionary figure, like Prometheus, punished because he's more on our side than that of God.

    I would guess then, that while these types count as villains, they don't properly count as "evil guys".

  6. (not the same person as the last anonymous)
    While I agree with the criteria, I think your examples are too vast/powerful to be effective opponents.
    Personally, I think Iago embodies what a villain should be- although I don't think betrayal works well in D&D (who actually trusts npcs?). He opposes Othello without forcing him to do anything, or charging into battle.

  7. (Got cut off somehow)

    Players resent not having options, and having an opponent they can easily confront tends to be anticlimactic, even if there are interesting/rewarding obstacles. For players to really hate someone, I feel that they need to be fairly evenly matched, and personally offensive/insulting.

  8. Kelvin: Of course, Melkor and Sauron, and perhaps Satan too if you buy into the Miltonian view, started off with the desire to do good. (Tolkien wrote somewhere that Sauron probably started off down the path that he did out of the desire for development and advancement of Middle Earth. I wish I could remember the quote offhand.) But I suppose the idea is that once you start down the wrong path, you end up being twisted towards malice and cruelty until in the end you enjoy them for their own sakes.

    Anonymous: Interesting you should say that, because I think actually that fits very well with Tolkien's idea of what Sauron and Melkor were like. The movies made Sauron out to be a somewhat more extreme version of Darth Vader and the Emperor combined, but in the books, particularly the Silmarillion and the other Histories, he comes across as rather "human". (In Numenor he is notably inferior to the native population in all but intellect.)

    Melkor too is powerful, but not untouchable. He's terrified of Fingolfin and becomes greviously wounded by him, and although he torments Hurin, the two are able to debate theology as almost equals.

    Norman Harman: Like you can be a cat or a dog person, I think many people are either razzmatazz or understatement people.