View Full Version : Purposeful Nightmare Fuel (Little Help?)

2007-12-27, 04:09 PM
Anyone who reads my "Idea" threads knows that I am a hopeless idealist. I run mostly non-evil campaigns, a lot of them from the perspective of people who you'd normally expect to be baddies, I love anti villains, and I am addicted to the Defeat Means Friendship (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DefeatMeansFriendship) trope.

However, when I create a no-holds-barred, nasty, and downright evil villain, I don't want him to be just a jerk. I want him to be downright freaky.

I think this technique illustrates just how far a particularly evil villain has fallen. Sure, they may have been good once, they may have some sympathetic motivations, but now they are evil with a capital E, and there is no point in trying to redeem them.

A most effective tactic, I think, is to scare the players. Not the PCs, but the guys playing them.

So my question is...

How would you go about discribing a secquence in which the villian kicks the dog with a boot of pure, unalterated terror? What would be the in-game justification for this? Should you go with a simple nightmare sequence, or perhaps a bit of body horror? Should you show off a bit of the ever disgusting Grotesque Galleria (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GrotesqueGallery)? Or should you add some evriomentally-unfriendly Paranoia Fuel (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ParanoiaFuel)?

Reply...Or I'll kill you...

Actually, I won't. But better to be sure, eh?

Azerian Kelimon
2007-12-27, 04:14 PM
Hmm...what about a person who does horrible, repulsive things, yet actually, honestly believes he's doing good? Not someone who is delusional, like :miko:, but someone who, for examples, is naive and believes that, when, you beat an opposing nation, raping the women, feasting on the corpses of your enemies, and mutilating the children is a thing that brings good to the world? It'd be horrendously hard to pull off convincingly, but if you do, you'd end up with a villain the heroes will go to any length to stop, yet they feel a great surge of pity whenever they meet him.

2007-12-27, 04:38 PM
I'd look into a jaded, desensitized former hero. A corrupted knight in shining armor. He rode around righting wrongs, rescuing maidens from bad men, until slowly he lost sight of what made his heroic ventures different from mercenary work. Became one of the monsters he was slaying. Looked too long into the abyss. Slowly he became more rude, more pushy, and more intimidating, both to create shortcuts to justice and later just to get what he wanted more quickly. A steady string of necromancer-slayings later and he would start talking about people in an unnerving way, like how wonderful the princess's hair would look as part of a vest. The changes are common rumors, so the PC's hear about this a lot, but the general concensus is that he just needs an upcoming vacation from crusading, and he still only kills the bad guys so he's still fundamentally good.

The PC's eventually meet this guy in a public area. Halfway through their arranged conversation about slaying random baddie Q, two peasants get into an argument over a borrowed tool. The hero stops the conversation, promptly walks over to the borrower, and cleaves him in half. Guards come to detain him, he cries "Conspiracy!", and mows them down. After the slaughter ends, the guards' blood flows to the hero and powers a necromantic artifact that he says he was going to destroy, but just hasn't gotten around to it yet. Cue another misunderstanding that convinces the hero that the PC's or perhaps the surrounding neighborhood are in league with random baddie Q.

Alternatively, for a super-fast swap, have the PC's meet powerful paragon of all that is good and polite and receive a quest. Before they get back to town, let them meet a bloodied woman on the run. She says the local thieves' guild needed to get rid of him, so they replaced his normal helmet with a Helm of Opposite Alignment. Be sure to have a good description of what he does to this guild that he wanted to punish but had no evidence for.

2007-12-27, 05:01 PM
I tend to deal with this quite a bit. Not as a DM in games, because I'm not vicious enough to inflict it on my players, but I do it often in stories.

My preference is to go with the simple approach. You don't need to make the villain a grotesque flesh-eating monster, and you don't need to throw in bizarre special powers. You just need to do the kind of things that evil people in real life do. Torturing someone into submission, for instance. Don't exaggerate it or play it up, just describe it, in detail, and keep on describing it as it goes on (as it does). It should be methodical and treated as if it's rather ordinary for the villain - this isn't anything particularly new to him, it's routine. It's not routine to the PCs, though, so make sure to draw their attention to the blood and the screaming. For maximum effect it should be done with a straight face and no particular emotion in your voice. The victim should also be someone the PCs like and care about.

If done thoroughly, without drawing a veil over or skipping past any of it, this kind of stuff is much scarier than demons or sci-fi monsters. Bear in mind, however, that you run a real risk of actually freaking out your players, rather than scaring them in an enjoyable way. So you should think about what kind of scare you're going for - the fun kind, or the "oh god, this is horrible, please don't let this ever happen to me" kind?

Also, if you do this, and the PCs manage to get the villain in their power at any time afterwards, don't expect them to give him even the smallest bit of mercy or sympathy. They'll kill him on the spot.

- Saph

2007-12-27, 05:01 PM
The most horrifying torture is the one that you leave the heroes to imagine themselves. Show the before/after pictures. Let them fill in the blanks.

Actually, that would be a pretty horrible Psionic trick. The BBEG shows the captive, then tells the heroes that he's going to do something terrible. He uses whatever images their minds come up with.

2007-12-28, 03:49 AM
Overkill just for the meanness of it is often effective. Mid-level casters (either arcane or divine) can Animate Dead to produce a good number of normally wimpy skeletons (CR 1/3 each). But a bit of twine and a bit of time can let you add that something extra just for evil fun. Divine casters can add Deeper Darkness to lengths of twine, and accumulate enough of these to tie one around the neck of each skeleton. Arcane casters can put Explosive Runes on scraps of parchment and tie them to the skeletons using the twine. The divine caster alternative is really sick: Unliving Weapon (from the Book of Vile Darkness, of course): the skeletons become bombs that go off as soon as they take damage.

A few days burning off spells on permanent or long-lasting annoyances can turn wimpy monsters into scary things that you can't target without getting close to, and they'll go boom if you do. There's a reason terrorists use suicide bombers, and this sounds like something a really evil villain would send roaming the streets of an unguarded town just before dawn.

2007-12-28, 02:34 PM
Something terrifying that it takes you a while to recognize. Take the Lovecraft approach: you see a dozen things that look a little odd but none of which individually are worthy of comment, but then the last thing you see causes you to realize that those others were a) horribly, horribly wrong and monstrous and b) totally ordinary to the people around them.

Basically, you want to have a Soylent Green moment with the added horror that everyone around you already knows the horrifying secret and doesn't care.

Ways to do this will depend heavily on the particular villain and on the squicks and phobias of your players. Something like a village of smiling, happy, seemingly well-adjusted people who, it turns out, have a cottage industry of farming humans underground to make the evil wizard's grimoires out of their skin and bone. Thinking about this sort of thing, I think the elements are:

a) The villain himself is not directly involved. The thing that utterly freaks the players out is revealed in dealings with his minions-at-a-remove, and it's only at the revelation that the players realize the villain is involved at all.

b) The minions are not ignorant of the horror but they don't see anything wrong with it. In the example above, all the townsfolk know about the human cattle but don't care. They talk about it euphemistically and accept it as a part of everyday life.

c) Victims. Innocent victims. Innocent victims who have been transformed or warped in such a way that you first want to destroy them because they're hideous and monstrous, then because you want to put them out of their misery, and then at the end you find you can't destroy them for some reason. Essentially there should be a revelation of something horrible (the players find the bloated, albino, quadruped humans with half a brain) followed by an understanding of what it really is, leaving you with a moment where the players just wanted to destroy it so they wouldn't have to look at it and giving them occasional guilty pangs afterwards as to whether they're being just or fair or are being influenced by their revulsion.

d) Finally, impotence. The players should be left, in the end, unable to totally resolve the situation. Maybe they can burn the village or destroy the town hall / processing plant, but they know there are miles of underground tunnels containing the "cattle" who will now either go wild or slowly starve. This is not an end-game scenario but a mid-campaign one, where you establish that the villain's evil is too great for the players to totally wipe out yet, and leave them with the sense that the villain has the upper hand because he can simply afford to be more creative and evil than they can clean up after.

...So that got a bit more detailed than I'd intended. To sum up: the villain shouldn't do anything evil, he should already have done it, and it should take a while for the penny to drop.

Actually, here's a good example: Northern Lights, by Philip Pullman (the book, not the movie). (Spoilers, obviously.)

[spoiler]It's pretty evil that the Gobblers are mutilating children's souls in Bolvangar, but we don't see them do that to anyone threatened with it. Much more effective than seeing it happen is when Lyra finds the boy to whom it's already happened, and who's had a while to have the effects set in.[/quote]

2007-12-28, 03:22 PM
Understate. Some of the scariest, creepiest villains in the canon are the ones who are just seem a little bit off at first. Think Carcer from "Night Watch" or any of the gung-ho 'blaze of glory at the expense of his troops' generals from M*A*S*H. There's a moment of horror when the viewers/readers/players realise that "this guy does not think like a normal person" that's comedy gold.

It's an extension of the villain with good PR trope.

2007-12-28, 03:44 PM
Understate. Some of the scariest, creepiest villains in the canon are the ones who are just seem a little bit off at first. Think Carcer from "Night Watch" or any of the gung-ho 'blaze of glory at the expense of his troops' generals from M*A*S*H. There's a moment of horror when the viewers/readers/players realise that "this guy does not think like a normal person" that's comedy gold.

It's an extension of the villain with good PR trope.

The PC's don't think like normal people.

2007-12-29, 03:53 AM
I had a Shadowrun character who was the sort of person who could have been either a hero or a villain.

The world hated him, and so he grew to hate the world. He would save people as much as a kind of revenge as that he was being compassionate. He also had an instinctive need to kill. He knew it was wrong, but he still got a sick sense of pleasure about it.

Also, he was an artist. He would create works with his victims. Blood and organs and such. He tended to be fairly forgiving, and tended to let a lot of stuff go. When it came to murder, generally it'd be reasonably quick, if sometimes brutal. For the really awful people? They might not be dead when they became part of one of his works. The pain and suffering seeping in, adding another level to something already dark and disturbing.

If someone "worthy" ever managed to kill him, he wouldn't be particularly upset about it. By which I mean mainly having arguably heroic qualities. An idiot getting a lucky shot would mean he'd go out really depressed.

He was the sort of person who understood the meaning in his own actions.

Feel free to use any of that.

Ideally, it's a character they'd feel bad, or at least really weird about killing.

2007-12-29, 08:51 AM
Two words:
Mordekainen's Disjunction.

It'll keep your players awake at night, I promise.