Creating memorable antagonists, be they heroes, events or villains, anchors your game or story with a personality. A foe in direct conflict with the players. Dungeons and bosses, storms and rivals vie for the chance to put an end to your player’s current state of livelihood. Often building an implementing such a fiendish creation requires much time and preparation. After creating a tavern and quest plot, this should be the main focus of any game master. When you create an antagonist, you should keep in mind their looks, personality, motivations, ties to the players (direct or indirect) and flash. This applies not just to evil liches, but a paladin from a rival order, a dungeon keep belonging to a dead uncle or a huge blizzard filled with horrible creatures.
“The steam slowly showed her form incarnate within the Celestial Garden. A serpentine dragon, with folded wings and long sinuous arms and legs looked back at her. Beautiful, iridescent aquamarine scales covered her body, capturing the sunset’s eternal light here. Dark, electric plum eyes stared back at her with yellow slits, brimming with fire. Delicate fronds covered her long neck made of silver blue. Her long snout held a perfect symmetry and her two prominent fangs rested on her lower jaw slightly. Deep blue claws covered in an iridescent coating retracted and expanded. Draax knew her beauty for this meeting could not be matched. She worked hard preparing for each god and their personality. Her quips and barbs matched the temperament and mood of each dragon. Often she spent seasons having internal arguments, playing Fate, playing the role of one of her rivals, twisting logic, making sure everything, every thought was covered.
Draax had nothing to lose and everything to gain at this meeting.” (Dragon Gods Rising A novel I am currently editing)
The physical description of the main antagonist must be accurate, detailed and evoke a response from your characters. Too often a storyteller will just describe the highlighted main bad guy as “a tall person dressed in black armor wielding a great sword.” Or a huge dungeon sprawling across the underbelly of a city. Color in your antagonist with feelings you want to illicit from your audience. Each color contains a lot of deep meaning. You can find a whole chart of emotions attached to colors here. I recommend throwing in the color red, orange or yellow somewhere, even if it is small. Make sure the personality you give matches the description you are about to relay to your players.
Creating a personality for your antagonist often involves going into dark territory. Fear and hatred often come up along with greed and lust. If you want more information on dark personality traits go here. Even the most armored saint like paladin will show some type of negative trait which they try and justify. Objects and events can have personality as well. This should tie directly to the emotional reaction your party will have towards the event. This reactions colors the personality of the event or object.
Motivations often come into play when dealing with main antagonists. Game masters should lists the goals of their main antagonists and ensure they are marching towards them in every game session. This allows the game to be more dynamic and not so player centered (although the players are the stars of the show, but the world must continue to grow and revolve). When you seek to give your antagonist a goal, make sure it is one many people will oppose. This will create the conflict needed to create interesting drama. An excellent article breaking down motivations lies here.
Tying the characters to the antagonists can take your story to the next level. The scorned, necromantic uncle creating an army of undead can fuel many hours of game time. Giving your characters a personal stake in the game allows for players to follow the given plot course without railroading. This is important as too often players will complain of game masters ‘forcing’ them to do a dungeon. Sometimes even an indirect motivation helps. Let us say the necromancer is not related to any of the party, but has a need to destroy a town in which a player’s aunt lives in. Again this ties the players into the plot. Feel free to experiment with this but be careful of player’s emotional responses. Storytellers walk a fine line here.
The final topping on this antagonist dessert is flash. Flash means an invoked magical, technological or appointed special use of an object, clothing, weapon or spell. This ties in to description but deserves its own special paragraph. Often one can remember a foe by the way they carried their beautiful dragon emblem sword. Or maybe a rival wizard loves to shoot dark purple fireballs that explode with a hellish screech. Maybe the cloak a paladin wears is corrupting the otherwise virtuous paladin and now has latched on with a life of its own. Do your best to create a dazzling idea your players will not forget.
Creating a memorable story is the goal of any game master or writer. Take care in creating your antagonist and you will be over halfway to creating a fun night filled with conflict and challenges. Feel free to send over your ideas for an antagonist to share with everyone.