Tyrants and Hellions are not mutually exclusive - some villains have both tremendous resources at their disposal and the personal skill to take on the heroes directly. For now, we’re calling them Archvillains, but that may change. It’s an easy category to design for, you just mix the resources of a Tyrant with a powerful Hellion, and you’ve got an Archvillain, but let’s take a closer look at the category and explore some unique synergies that come from combining these two types of foes.
First, as usual, let’s see some examples! As mentioned in the intro post, Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter is an example of an Archvillain. He has minions - the Death Eaters - and a lot of magical power himself, making him a formidable foe in single combat. Saruman from The Lord of the Rings has his army of Uruk-Hai and is the White Wizard, the most powerful of the five wizards on Middle-Earth. Finally, Emperor Palpatine (at the time of Star Wars: A New Hope) is already a powerful Sith, and the leader of the most powerful military and political force in the galaxy. For each of these examples, let’s ask the question, “What does combining the abilities of a Tyrant and a Hellion add to this villain’s story?”
Let’s start with Voldemort. This combination provides a real tension to his recovery from his near death when he attempted to kill Harry Potter as a child. Because he begins as a Tyrant, acting only through his minions, the heroes are rushing to stop his schemes and prevent his return. Then, as he grows in power, taking on the traits of a Hellion, they’re racing against the clock to find the secret to his power and find a way to stop him before he becomes invincible, as well as convincing the world that he is once again a threat and that they need to respond appropriately. It adds layers to the story, and changes the nature of the heroes’ relationship with the villain as time goes on. In your game, this is a great way to add variety, keeping the story fresh even though it’s centered around a single villain.
Saruman, on the other hand, begins as a Hellion. More accurately, he begins as a hero, one of the wizards that are meant to aid the people of Middle-Earth against evil. His lust for power corrupts him, as it often does, and he begins to amass an army, taking on aspects of a Tyrant and becoming an Archvillain. As a powerful wizard, Saruman’s rise to power is difficult to stop. Used in a tabletop RPG campaign, the players should be aware of a powerful villain amassing power in his or her stronghold, and feel pressured to acquire the power, tools, or knowledge necessary to take them down before they become too powerful to stop. They may also wait for the Archvillain’s army to march, leaving the villain vulnerable, though this will likely have dire consequences for the region, and the army itself may still be a potent threat even with the defeat of the Archvillain.
Looking past his rise to power in the prequel trilogy, the story of Emperor Palpatine is a new archetype we haven’t discussed yet: what happens when the villain is already at the height of their strength? The heroes of the Star Wars Trilogy are rebels, fighting against the entrenched villains who have already achieved their goals. What the Emperor gains from being both Tyrant and Hellion is that his true power is kept hidden, he appears initially to be simply a Tyrant, a frail old man who wouldn’t stand a chance without Darth Vader to protect him. When using this approach in your campaign, you need to consider the reasons for the villain keeping their power a secret. For the Emperor, it is so his opponents will underestimate him, and also because using his powers clearly puts a strain on him, so he wants to avoid relying on them as a means of achieving his goals. It’s also simply safer to send his minions to do his work than it is to do it himself. Once a villain has succeeded and accomplished their goals, they will naturally become more cautious. There’s no point in gaining power or wealth if you aren’t around to enjoy it. He also is searching for a successor, and while Darth Vader is his student, he tries to convert the hero, Luke, to his side to ensure his legacy is secure. Your villains, as they age, should have similar concerns, and if the heroes don’t deal with the chain of succession, even defeating the Archvillain may only be a temporary reprieve.
While the framework of Tyrants, Hellions, and Archvillains covers many of the bases, it doesn’t cover all of them. There are villains which don’t neatly fit into any of these molds, some of which make for brilliant stories. This structure is meant to be a guide, to help you, inspire you, and ultimately make your villains better. If it’s getting in the way, tweak it! Don’t feel constrained by it.
For the last post this week, we’ll talk about players as villains, both a few thoughts on how to run evil campaigns, and what happens when one player goes bad in a group of heroes. We’ll also talk about the final piece of content in Tyrants & Hellions, Villainous Archetypes for all twelve classes.
Steven Gordon - 2CGaming Team