I have a soft spot for bad guys who aren’t really evil. I really do. The guy who does things because he is an adherent of a cause, not because he is bad, man there is something special about role-playing him. I think of people like the above (Saruman), ones that are drawn by the lore of power. If you actually read the books, the White isn’t actually “evil” (unlike the movies). He is under the delusion that he can master the ring and use it to destroy Sauron. That would fall either on the Lawful Evil or Chaotic Good end of the spectrum. He breaks and decides that he can “co-rule” with him, and tries to enlist Gandalf in the mess. I really enjoy evil bastards too. Here are three tips to create BBEGs that aren’t really all that “EVIL”:
1. Make them ideologues: Make your bad guys into someone with a bent ideology. Maybe the bad guy is just a paladin that has been twisted to see the party as the bad guys or a monk who has been twisted by another being. Adherents are some of the scariest people you will ever meet. Look no further than ISIS (I know real politics are never much fun). These people can also be highly dangerous. They are sold deeper on what they believe than the party on most occasions, and that leads to the party having to convince them to abandon their “mission”.
2. Give them pathologies: A NPC with a pathology is scary. A sociopathic NPC can do things that make no sense to the party. They are disturbed and can do things that seem “evil” to others but to them are normal. Do plenty of research on mental health disorders. Put a NPC in your game that has NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) and see how the players deal with it. A person who thinks that they are the be all-end all can be dangerous. They can twist others to become tools to advance their own cause. Be careful how you present these issues, however, because there are gamers out there with real mental illness.
3. Make them seem real: How many games have you seen where the BBEG seems almost like he belongs in a cartoon (now be honest)? He monologues, he cackles madly and even may do outright evil things. If you want to make NPCs that aren’t evil per se but can be scary still make them real. Make them do things that may be morally dubious but are also not considered evil. In a modern game that might mean doing things like watching young girls, but never doing anything else. It would be creepy (and fit a pathology) but it also would show how he isn’t per se evil, but just twisted. The more real you make the bad guy feel the harder it is for the PCs to attack and outright murder them.
What other kind of things can you do to make your “evil” bad guys less “evil” and more dubious? What kind of things make them more real? Let me know, and as always, don’t be a dick!