Sunday, May 8, 2011

Good bad guys

So what has my odyssey into exploring and ranking gamebook villains taught me about what makes a good villain?

A good villain has many different methods of causing death and destruction.

He also has a sphere
The mercenary leader in the Crimson Tide has a lot to learn.  He just cuts people up.  Sure, he's good at it, but that makes him vulnerable to magic.  Jaxartes, on the other hand, does not just get a huge army to invade Kazan.  He also puts out the fire to the Fangs of Fury and assassinates all of the Warrazi.  He gets his mage warriors to infiltrate every level of the volcano and he has a traitor in the city of Kazan.  He knows how to approach a problem from all angles.

A good villain makes their presence felt.

Darklord Gnaag does not just sit in his castle in Helgedad looking at the latest insectoid steampunk fashions.  He is always hatching plans to get you killed and sending minions out to take over the world.

A good villain poses an immediate threat with massive consequences.          
When you finally confront Karam Gruul, he is surrounded by an army of vengeful war criminals and is about to unleash a doomsday device upon Gallantria.  That's something that really gets the blood pumping.  

A good villain does bad things to the hero and their friends.
It is not clear that Necklace of Skulls has actually caused any havoc in the wider world, but it is certain that he has killed your twin brother for no other reason than the fact that he is a sadistic pig.  He and his hyena servants are cruel and spiteful.  They take great pleasure in your suffering and break any items that you use to help you.   When you play the sacred game, they all come to watch you fail.  It is their actions that turn Necklace of Skulls and his servants into 3 dimensional characters that you really want to beat.  In Trial of the Champions, Lord Carnuss kidnaps you, puts you through painful ordeals, makes you fight against and kill your fellow slaves and then forces you to take part in the most dangerous dungeon in Allansia. It feels really good to kill this guy.  On the other hand, Balthus Dire wants to invade some place and you never see him until the end.  You don't really get a buzz from killing him. 

A good villain takes a lot of effort to kill.  

I might be undead,
bit I'm still buzzing!
The netherworld demon from the Crown of the Kings is a disappointing opponent for the climax of a four book series.  You need someone like Razaak who needs so much stuff to kill him, it takes most of a gamebook to collect it all.  The main villains of gamebooks should be difficult to kill because killing them should be the climax to the story and so it needs to be suitably epic and dangerous to make the reader feel like they have achieved something (but not so dangerous that they can't achieve it).  

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