Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

RPG Design: Being the Bad Guy

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 25, 2017

When Tyranny was announced, I wasn’t interested. I’m still not. As much as I want to play all the games, my cup is definitely overflowing right now, and the concept didn’t thrill me. Actually, it left me cold. It seems I wasn’t the only one.

Rock Paper Shotgun: The Fall of Tyranny

This is me: A guy who still plays retro RPGs, who loved Pillars of Eternity, and who loved the Vampire the Masquerade games (both of ’em!). Meaning: I’m okay with dark. I’m more than okay with old-school. I read the original pitch for Tyranny, and I thought, “This does not sound at all fun to me. I guess I’m not the target market. Oh, well.”

While RPS may have beat it into the ground, there may be some life left in that old horse, so I’m going to beat it some more. Let’s talk about playing and identifying with bad guys.

Here’s the thing… if you identify with true evil, seek psychiatric help.

If on the other hand, you are talking about a “fight the system” kind of bad guy along the lines of Han Solo or the Serenity crew, or the bad guys who fight worse guys, like the Punisher type of extreme vigilantism (pretending you’ll never make a mistake), that’s something else. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a bad-ass. The idea of rebelliousness as a virtue is ingrained in U.S. culture.┬áRobin Hood wasn’t just a mere bandit… he was fighting against an oppressive regime and restoring property stolen by the true villains who happened to have the law on their side. And he did it with style. While an outlaw, he was an ethical hero. James Bond is basically an assassin, complete with a government-issued license to kill… and he often does some less-than-squeaky-clean actions on his missions. But he does so in an effort to protect queen & country from some truly monstrous evil that would hurt a lot of people.

I love reading, watching, or playing these kinds of characters. In D&D, my favorite class is a rogue (and thief before that). Yes, sometimes these guys have to choose the lesser of two evils, and maybe they even embrace the lesser evils. But they are still heroic. They have their qualms and their lines that they won’t cross. While they might be labeled as “bad guys,” down deep they are really the good guys. Or at least the best-we-can-manage-on-short-notice guys.

That’s a world of difference from fantasizing about being an SS trooper doing Hitler’s bidding, or committing torture or hurting innocents. As a designer or writer or game master, I have to partly put myself in the heads of true villains like that, and it’s not comfortable. I hope it never is. It’s where I may have to go to create a good experience, but it’s not something I’d explore for my own entertainment.

I hope this is the take-away companies learn from this. Because I still want to play the bad guy. I just want to play the right kind of bad guy.

Filed Under: Design, Writing - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Tesh said,

    I think that people like playing *rebels* more than *bad guys*. There’s a deep instinct in us that wants to be able to exercise agency, and anyone or anything that stifles that naturally raises our hackles. This is true of gamers in particular, I think, since gaming is built on player agency.

    There will certainly be those who actually want to choose evil, and there is probably be some psychosis in play there, but I think that “acting out” against a rigid rule set is human nature. We like to act, to do our own thing. (This is tangentially why I think Magic The Gathering has lived as long as it has; the “card text supercedes the rules” lets players get that rush of rebellion while still having enough structure overall to actually function as a game.)

  • Cuthalion said,

    This is interesting, and I can relate — I don’t mind playing someone a little rebellious, but I just don’t enjoy playing a genuine villain.

    Tesh’s comment is especially interesting. I hadn’t thought of MtG that way.