It’s time to talk about getting down with your bad self. On Tuesday I blogged about providing humanizing motivations for your campaign’s villains. Many readers seemed to enjoy this post quite a bit! I even used it to start a 1000 humanizing villain motivations thread on EN World. Yet a few folks out there wanted to know why all villains needed a relatable motive. What’s wrong with evil for the sake of evil? To simply (or simply not) explain why a being is evil and just know that it is? The answer is – nothing.
While a relatable villain can lead to a more complex, layered story, sometimes that’s not what a gaming group is after. Sometimes you want to present a mind-warping horror so evil its motivations beyond the comprehension of the players. Those sort of creatures come straight out of Lovecraft and entire RPGs are built around them.
There can be times you just want a villain to be an engine of destruction that is out to watch the world burn. Yeah, exactly like the Joker. You won’t put a lot of work into their motivation, because you don’t need to. Their actions speak for them and say, “I’m dangerous and crazy!”
Other times you just need an enemy that’s out there doing bad stuff to give the player characters an adversary. You just don’t feel like providing a villain with a complex reason for its motivations, so you just say, “This is a greedy thief who will kill any person in the way,” or, “This dude is a bandit because banditting pays well.” It’s also fine to do this. While his backstory isn’t especially rich, Hans Gruber is one of the greatest villains of all time. He’s just in it for the money.
A villain doesn’t need to be relatable to be effective. A relatable villain does help make a complex story, but isn’t necessary to tell an epic tale of awesome. So it is with that in mind I give simpler, less relatable villains the same treatment I gave to their richer brethren in my last post and provide you with some simple motivations for evil creatures.
Simple Evil Motivations
Below are some simpler motivations for evil NPCs.
Born That Way
Dungeons and Dragons gives you plenty of creatures in the Monster Manual who are evil because it’s simply in their nature to be so. Devils, demons, werewolves, and most undead spring to mind. Many DMs would also say chromatic dragons, orcs, drow, goblinoids, and others are always evil no matter the case. Obviously it is the DMs prerogative to change any of these expectations they wish.
Examples: A demon travels to the Material Plane and captures humanoids to torture in the Abyss. A red dragon steals a noble’s daughter, ransoms her for gold, and then kills the young woman anyway. A wight feels a constant need to kill because it abhors all living creatures.
Some motivations can never be understood because the creature possesses an alien intelligence. Aberrations in D&D are the perfect example. Beholders, mind flayers, nothics mentally operate on a different level than most beings. They think themselves above other creatures, but their motivations for enslaving humanoids goes beyond their intellectual superiority. We can never fully understand why they do harm to others, and their strange abilities confound even the most powerful wizards.
Examples: A mind flayer seeks to break the minds of wizards everywhere with a massive psionic ritual. A morchia leads a cult of followers to their doom by making them leap off a cliff one by one. A void dragon scours the planet for beings worthy of being consumed.
Sometimes a creature is just insane. It commits evil acts almost out of pure boredom. These nihilists can be simple whirlwinds of violence, but they can also be master schemers and manipulators willing to lay it all on the line for a perfect moment of anarchy. Creatures this crazy are beyond redemption.
Examples: A serial arsonist keeps lighting bigger fires in more populated areas. A young bard sets up nobles to fall in love and then uses enchantment spells to make them cheat on each other. A genius goblin puts kidnapped civilians into timed death traps all over a city just to see if a band of adventurers can save them all before time runs out.
Some evil is so ancient that it seems to have been so since time began. It is unclear whether it was always evil or if a being has been evil for so long none can remember a time it was not so (including the creature itself). No matter the case this kind of evil has become engrained in the very essence of the villain and cannot be undone. These sorts of villains are often widely known and feared.
Examples: An enormous spider lives in a canyon and torments any travelers who come too close with its psionic powers. An ancient monstrosity rises from the sea every 1000 years and demands 100 babies as tribute or it will destroy the world. A cult of drow does whatever the pages of the Book of Vile Darkness tells them to do.
Let’s face it, evil acts can make plans easier and more effective. Tyrants rule with fear because it gets results. People rise to the top if they ruthlessly destroy their competition. Darth Vader gets stuff done by choking people who make a mistake and showing other henchmen they could suffer the same fate.
Examples: A tyrant noble whips any peasant who does not farm their field in the way he has ordered. A hobgoblin captain keeps order within the ranks by killing those who act out and allowing those who do well to kill and pillage to their heart’s content when raiding. A human mother kills any armed person (threatening or not) who comes too close to her children in order to keep them safe.
Who doesn’t want a lot of money? It can’t solve every problem, but it definitely makes some things easier. Sometimes it pays to be bad and it’s easier to get rich quick if you’re willing to steal or murder.
Examples: A group of adventurers fight and loot any person they come across. A giant holds a prince hostage until the king pays up. A group of kenku knock over jewelry stores together.
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