I’ve crafted some seriously vile villains over the years. From them I’ve learned a few good guidelines. If you’re having trouble coming up with a convincing villain try out some of these:
#1: A villain is just a person with a differing viewpoint than your main characters.
One of my greatest Villans was a Shapeshifter by the name of Klide. He had a way to sink so deep underneath my players skin that they would have the urge to curse every time they mentioned his name. But Klide was never “Evil”. On the contrary he was developed as a Lawful Neutral person. He had the same goal as the player group “Find X bad guy and kill them” But Klides actions and methods were so severe that it would impede on the players work. Imagine that! A person who is just intermittently annoying and hampering was labeled a worse evil than the baddie they were hunting! It also didn’t help that he was naturally a jerk in conversation.
Being a villain is a perception. All you need to do is create that perception in the minds of your readers.
#2: No villain thinks they are evil.
Being evil is not a motive for a villain. Revenge, greed, hate, envy, lust, embarrassment, loyalty, racism, sexism, opportunity, status, love, politics, power, obsession. These are some good motives!
And usually it’s not just one. Pick two or three major ones and craft them into the backstory of your villain.
I specifically left out insanity as one of the motives from the list because of its difficulty. There have only been a handful of villains that use the insanity motive well. Mainly because it takes being mentally unstable yourself to write insanity at it’s best.
#3: Villains are highly motivated.
You must possess a high amount of motivation in order to influence a large amount of people. This is usually the big reason the villain influences the main character as well. Make certain that your villain is not just an army of one.
#4: Villains are highly organized and rarely dumb.
This one comes from the Evil Overlord List: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EvilOverlordList
This rule is what separates a sub-par villain from a great one. The reason we love to hate a great villain is that despite the fact that they did everything perfectly, the main character found a way to overcome. It’s a difficult thing to write, but strive for it! This can only happen if the villain is neither dumb nor disorganized.
#5: Villains can become heroes and vise versa.
Don’t for a second think that it’s cliche for a villain to turn tides. When written properly it’s an amazing read. My favorite villain I wrote was a Dark Elf by the name of Shade. He was given a meticulously crafted backstory and intended to be taken down by the players. But once the players learned of his plight and how low the other major players in the story were willing to go to kill the guy, they decided to join him instead! The good guys, joined the bad guy. And it was amazing! The campaign lasted three years after that. If a villain is written well enough, anything is possible. Sometimes not killing the villain can be just as satisfying!
-Silver the Bard. If you haven’t heard from me, assume I’m dead and avenge me.