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Villains: Goals and Motivations

Gerald.Lock

Member
Adventure Builder
As most great writers (wizards of adventure included) affirm, the Villain isn't just another NPC.
The Villain - their actions and the motivations behind them - is the oevre at the core of every campaign and every adventure.
As the Angry GM puts it:

"The villain is more than just an NPC. The villain is basically a living, breathing manifestation of an adventure... the Villain’s goals define the motivation and resolution for adventures. Or plot arcs. Or even entire campaigns."

So this has led me to build a list of possible goals motivations, which are essentially adventure seed generators. Resolutions flow directly from the goals and represent either successful or unsuccessful (or partially successful) attainment of the goals.

To arrive at the particular goals (the 'what') and motivations (the 'why') of any particular Villain I need two things:
1. The Villain's Character Archetype (the 'why')
2. The Villain's Life Situation (the 'what')

The Villain's personality archetype combined with a given situation can add a kind of 'personal flavour' that makes the goals and motivations uniquely theirs: what distinguishes the Revenge of a Seductive Muse from the Revenge of a Gladiator.

Character Archetypes
I've recently re-read a long-standing favourite of mine: Victoria Lynn Schmidt's '45 Master Characters' and it reminded me to always come back to the fundamentals when defining characters that matter.
She explores in detail 32 classic archetypes:
- 16 Female (8 light & 8 shadow)
- 16 Male (8 light & 8 shadow)
- what they care about
- what do they fear
- what motivates them
- how others see them
- how to develop a character arc for them
- which archetypes they need in their life to grow
- what are their assets and flaws

Female
Aphrodite: The Seductive Muse and the Femme Fatale
Artemis: The Amazon and the Gorgon
Athena: The Father’s Daughter and the Backstabber
Demeter: The Nurturer and the Overcontrolling Mother
Hera: The Matriarch and the Scorned Woman
Hestia: The Mystic and the Betrayer
Isis: The Female Messiah and the Destroyer
Persephone: The Maiden and the Troubled Teen

Male
Apollo: The Businessman and the Traitor
Ares: The Protector and the Gladiator
Hades: The Recluse and the Warlock
Hermes: The Fool and the Derelict
Dionysus: The Woman’s Man and the Seducer
Osiris: The Male Messiah and the Punisher
Poseidon: The Artist and the Abuser
Zeus: The King and the Dictator

The book also explores 13 other 'supporting characters' - 4x Friends 4x Rivals and 3x Symbols - but these lend themselves more to the Villain's lieutennant(s), minions and other 'external influences'.
I suggest reading the book to get the full flavour of what is possible!

Plots & Situations
I should also acknowledge the work of Ronald B. Tobias, whose book '20 Master Plots and How to Build Them' has also been foundational for me in my writing over the last couple of years. In it, he lists the following 20 archetypal plot types:
  1. Adventure
  2. Quest
  3. Pursuit
  4. Rescue
  5. Escape
  6. Revenge
  7. Riddle
  8. Rivalry
  9. Underdog
  10. Temptation
  11. Metamorphosis
  12. Transformation
  13. Maturation
  14. Love
  15. Forbidden Love
  16. Sacrifice
  17. Discovery
  18. Wretched Excess
  19. Ascension
  20. Descent

Reading Darcy Patterson's brief post on the subject gave me a similar list of 39 (themselves perhaps drawn from the 36 Dramatic Situations proposed by Georges Polti?), which have some cute one-line plot propositions, each based on a particular character archetype premise:
  1. Romance: I want to marry the princess.
  2. Revenge – ruin a hero: I want to ruin the King.
  3. To distinguish oneself: I want the princess to respect me.
  4. To fit in/gain acceptance: I want to attend the princess’ coronation and eat at her table.
  5. Justice: The king killed my mother, so the king must die.
  6. Greed – get rich: I want to steal everything from the King’s treasury.
  7. Fear: I am afraid that our lands will be stripped bare by this evil king.
  8. Desperation: If something doesn’t change in the next week, I will be executed.
  9. Social cohesion: Us zombies need to stick together.
  10. Desire to better oneself: I was born a peasant, but I will die a king.
  11. Power to achieve a goal: I must be king, so I can change the laws about owning property.
  12. Escape destiny: At birth, a prophet said I would kill the king; however, I am stealing enough money to escape to another country and avoid that destiny.
  13. Achieve destiny: At birth, a prophet said I would kill the king; and that’s my plan.
  14. Persecution: Growing up in a wheelchair has been hell.
  15. Rivalry: Prince John wants to marry the Princess, but she’s mine.
  16. Discovery: I will find out the king’s darkest secret and use it against him.
  17. Ambition: I want. . . everything!
  18. Survival (deliverance): In the midst of this civil war, I will survive.
  19. Self-sacrifice: Someone must stop this evil king and I’ve decided to step up and do it.
  20. Love: The princess has stolen my heart; so, I’ll steal her.
  21. Hate: The princess is an evil woman; when she becomes my wife, I’ll make her suffer.
  22. Conspiracy: I’ve gathered twelve good men to help me overthrow this king.
  23. Honor: Men from my city never back down, even if it costs me everything.
  24. Dishonor: Men from my city are idiots; I’ll never do things the “right” way.
  25. Unnatural affection: I want to marry the princess and take the queen as a lover.
  26. Catastrophe: A volcano is going to erupt and when it does, I’ll plunder the city.
  27. Grief and loss: When my mother died, I lost all interest in doing good.
  28. Rebellion: I’m the leader of the guerrilla forces.
  29. Betrayal: I was engaged to the princess, and then she married Prince John.
  30. Spread hate and fear: I love hate. Hate, hate, hate.
  31. Corrupt everyone: Come join me as I rob the king.
  32. Control the kids: If those kids make noise one more time at midnight, I’ll get ’em.
  33. Leave me in peace: I never wanted to leave my home town, but since you’ve made me, I’ll show you what’s what.
  34. Recover what is lost: The king took my mother’s locket as tribute, and if it’s the last thing I ever do, I’ll get it back.
  35. Save humanity: To save humanity, I’ll have to kill the whole army.
  36. serve a master (ex. The Fuhrer): I’ll follow King George anywhere, even if it means killing King Phillip.
  37. Destroy: Ha! Ha! Ha! I love to burn down houses.
  38. Rule part of the world: I want to be King of the Mermaids.
  39. Rule all of the world: I will rule the Earth.
 
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Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Faster Combatant
Adventure Builder
@Gerald.Lock, do you know of anything like this categorization for the main character‘s hero stories? I‘ve got the impression that at least one of my players always unintentionally (and unaware) seeks to replay one typical trope. I believe, that this trope categorization could be a great indicator for the treasure table.
 

Gerald.Lock

Member
Adventure Builder
@Gerald.Lock, do you know of anything like this categorization for the main character‘s hero stories? I‘ve got the impression that at least one of my players always unintentionally (and unaware) seeks to replay one typical trope. I believe, that this trope categorization could be a great indicator for the treasure table.
A great question Stephan! Sehr interessant!

Edit: To-date the best examples of the various ‘hero stories’ I’ve seen have been:
1. those listed in the book quoted above (Victoria Lynn Schmidt's '45 Master Characters')
2. The 16 groupings of the Myers-Briggs index (lots of info on this topic/system, and a detailed test you could run your players through at this site)
End edit.

I still think this is worth a bit more digging... post back here if you (or anyone else reading this) find resources.
 
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Gerald.Lock

Member
Adventure Builder
...I also found these handy little generators (while noodling around for NPC names)

https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/character-goal-generator.php

I really like the brain-storming/clustering possibilities and efficiencies this generator opens up when I need to pump out seed phrases for half a dozen or so believable NPCs!

https://rollforfantasy.com/guides/character-goals-motivations.php

and this handy guide (linked in the goals generator page) is an excellent covering of this all-important topic...
 

Gerald.Lock

Member
Adventure Builder
I have now put the above guide into a google doc that can be used as a character template for noting the essential four items of information that are required, as well as some other ‘deeper’ items that add even more flavour.
Feel free to make a copy.

Type below the headings that have [type here] beneath them.

The author has inspired me to make an Ah-ha! link back to my use of tarot 3-card readings for motivations/situations.
I have used a simple:

1=goal 2=motivation 3=conflict spread
and
1=past 2=present 3=future situation spread

for past NPCs to get a feel for where they’re at internally (psychologically) and externally (situationally).
Also, you can just do one spread because goal=future, motivation=past & conflict=present (until resolved)

Again, if you’re in a hurry, you can always use a free generator for that process too!
One of my favourite free tarot generators:
https://www.salemtarot.com/threecardreading.html
 
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ELF

Generator Sage
Staff member
Beta-Tester
Faster Combatant
Adventure Builder
I still think this is worth a bit more digging... post back here if you (or anyone else reading this) find resources.
There is an amazing number of ways to categorize personality types. All of them may not be directly related to hero/villain archetypes, but typically still offer good foundations for RPG characters.

One of the best known is (the totally unscientific) enneagram method (defining 9 personality types) and there are a numerous classification types based on actual psychological theories. My personal favorite is the "Big 5" model, as it seems to produce believable results even when randomized on component level.

If you value quantity over quality, maybe the best options are horoscopes based on the birth date (as opposed to birth month), as they define 366 personality types: :)

https://www.sunsigns.net/zodiaccalendar/
 

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Faster Combatant
Adventure Builder
Thank you both for this exhaustive pool of information. This is a lot to study. I can't wait. But it will take me a while to answer.
 
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