I’m still thinking superhero RPG stuff. After I realized that I was too lazy to want to build a superhero world to run a supers campaign, I started thinking about why it’s so much effort. The way the law works with costumed vigilantes can be glossed over, though it ruins my fun every time I think about how it might actually work. But, one thing can’t be glossed over …
I then had an epiphany – I just don’t really care about villains. Oh, I recognize they are necessary. There are ones who serve their purpose in fiction or whatever by being hateable (English spellings … how about detestable?). But, I realized that I just don’t care about their stories. I see villains as just something to make protagonists lives interesting. This is amusing as there is a line I have thought about starting off a novel with for a long time where this sort of mentality means I should never write that novel (contrary to blog post length, I can see myself writing short stories far more than writing novels, anyway, something I need to jump on at some point).
I tried to think of iconic villains, supervillains in comics I used to get, and whatnot where I gave a damn that the villain showed up. A struggle. Some examples:
Moriarty – Too little presence in the ACD stories for me to care about him, was okay in Sherlock but that’s it.
Lex Luthor – This is for iconicness not because I ever got much in the way of Superman comics. Don’t care. Rather something else, like an angel for Supes to wrestle. Doctor Doom also doesn’t do diddly for me.
Daleks/Cybermen – Seems really played out. I never cared that much to begin with. The Master got tiresome. Renegade Timelords in general were interesting, I suppose, for giving more info on Gallifrey, but I really was more interested in how Gallifrey worked and those who weren’t clearly villains.
Loki – In the comics? While a fan of the Norse gods and other gods showing up in stuff, I didn’t really care about the guy who caused the Avengers to form. In many ways, The Hulk is a better villain because superhero versus superhero battles are often among the best fights.
Sabretooth – The villain archetype of “I have the same powers you do and own you until you surpass me, kid.” is a great archetype, and I liked it when he didn’t just own Wolvsie, but I preferred Bloodscream (Bloodsport) and Roughouse (up until Rough got redeemed).
Sinestro – Another in the “I have the same powers” archetype. Never cared, though most of my GL books weren’t the right timeframe for ring on ring action.
A lot of supervillains are silly, yet, somehow, I find comics entertaining. I’m not sure why that is. Apocalypse isn’t silly, interesting powers. Mr. Sinister has a silly name.
Speaking of powers, I started trying to design my own supervillains. If I’m not going to play in superhero campaigns, that means running them, which means I’m responsible for the antagonists. It’s been a struggle. Before I get more into that, however, I noticed that I think of superheroes initially in terms of powers but think in terms of supervillains in terms of motivation and campaign role. Is that part of the problem?
I just don’t like so many of their motivations. It’s not that I don’t understand them. Abuse of power is so easy. Believing you are right and others are wrong is the state of the world. It’s just that it’s hard to get excited by stories of the superhero dealing with a supervillain because the supervillain is misguided rather than evil, reps for another nation, commits small crimes to save a loved one’s life, was cursed, and so on. I actually find “Yup, I’m evil, I totally enjoy evil and I’m going to evil so hard unless you stop me” types more interesting than many villains. Many mental problems may be too easy to empathize with, for another category I can’t get enthused about.
While superhero vs. superhero fights are a standard thing, I do find the “this really isn’t a bad guy” super”villain” to lessen my enthusiasm. Actually, supposed villains who aren’t really villains interest me much more than actual villains. Asmodean is easily the most interesting Forsaken in Wheel of Time to me because he has a mentoring/commentating role. The Queen of Air and Darkness in LKH’s fey series is not really a villain and mildly interesting. Arioch is mostly a mentor/pusher-forwarder for Elric and gives good dialogue. And, so it goes.
So, I mentioned the lack of focus on powers. That’s because supervillains exist to give superheroes something to do. So, their powers should often be dependent upon the PC powers. Besides the “I’m better than you” power sets, there are the “I do it all and I do it now” power sets which might be magic or “magic” (high tech, so much tech in comics is really just magic), the “anti what the hero does” power sets, some basic power sets, like superstrength or alien races with blasters. But, there are also some interesting powers that arise. Absorbing Man doesn’t seem to need to have his particular power to counteract Thor; he seems much more of a “let’s give a guy a wrecking ball, superhuman strength, and something else to make him cool and not just a straightforward brick” construct.
But, maybe, I’d be more interested if I didn’t care what the PCs’ powers are going to be and just went with interesting ideas for powers. If I had to pick the best villains in Bleach, it would be the Soul Society Captains. They have interesting powers. They don’t look like complete chumps when fighting against … Soul Society Captains (I’m looking at you, Espada). Aizen is a bore because he’s godlike. The Espada do mostly the same things then get owned by the Captains. Fullbringers just strange. Bounts had a poor reason for existing.
The thing is is that with so many of the motivations of antagonists not being badlicious, why do you need to consider anybody a bad guy? Can just have superheroes constantly fighting superheroes … when not dealing with natural disasters, accidents, things that don’t really have moral decisions like mutated animals. “With great power comes great responsibility!” “Shuttus uppus, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, loser!” “Justice! Like lightning!!” “All it takes for evil to triumph is for hot chicks to keep us distracted.”
I can keep trying to come up with more villain examples that don’t feel like they are special – Blofeld was never as dangerous to Bond as hot chicks (or as desirable to have on screen). Anime villains too often have too much of a power jump to take seriously as actual characters and not just excuses for lines like “You are 5 … 10 times more power than you have shown. I’m a hundred times [or was it thousand?].” Lord Foul, Sauron, The Dark One, et al, are just too abstract. Sure, they have elite henchmen who are so evilly evil, but they are so often just taking up space to have the hero heroify.
It occurs to me that my favorite RPG play experiences aren’t about villains, either. The reaction to villainous things or the prevention of villainy or whatever may be what salts my pistachios, but I don’t feel much for directly punking evil-doers. My typical combat strategy is to ward the innocents (and yummy below the tummy less than innocents) while the rest of the PCs smite. If there wasn’t a party, I suppose I’d be more into personal vengeance, but I too easily cede evilsmashing to others because they enjoy the smashing so much even when my character should be the most motivated to smash.
Back to villains. I have ideas. Ideas are easy. Getting invested enough to do something with those ideas not as easy. Again, it’s not like motivation is hard, it’s just hard to care about their motivations. Maybe a breakthrough will occur at some point and I’ll be less hero focused, which would get me more motivated to run things as I’d have all of these villains I’d want to see in action.