A Villain for All Games
Guest Writer Bryan Young on Creating Memorable Star Wars™ Villains
"Darth Vader. Only you could be so bold."
What is it that makes the Star Wars universe so compelling? Why has it captured so many people's attention and sparked so many people's imaginations?
Is it because of the science fiction of its blasters and starfighters? The mystical allure of the Force? The fast-paced action punctuated by comedy? The hero's journey? Or is it even more simply because of the instantly recognizable conflicts between good and evil, dark and light, hero and villain?
The truth is that Star Wars combines all these things, and it weaves them together so intricately that it is practically impossible to weigh them separately. However, each of these elements makes an undeniable contribution to the power of Star Wars. And just as the mysticism of the Jedi and the Force provide such an elegant counterbalance to the galaxy's starfighters and superlasers, its inspirational heroes shine just as bright, in part because they are set against some of the greatest, darkest, and deadliest villains in all of fiction. Who but Darth Vader could strike us with fear and awe from the very moment he strides onto the Tantive IV? Who feels more cold-hearted than the Grand Moff who orders the destruction of Alderaan? Who better represents the sum of all manipulative masterminds than the Emperor?
Great heroes demand great villains like these, and guest writer Bryan Young argues that if, as Game Master, you want to make the most of the Star Wars® Roleplaying Game, you want to give serious thought to the villain with whom you'll oppose your heroes.
Make It Personal
Recently, I’ve been preparing a game like the one we talked about in my last article. It’s patterned after the legendary X-Wing books, utilizing a mix of the Age of Rebellion™ RPG and the X-Wing™ miniatures game. And I realized early that every great roleplaying game—and every great story—needs a great villain.
As we try to decide who the villain should be, I think the first thing to consider is what sort of situations our heroes might be getting in. That should inform the sort of villain a scenario or campaign calls for. We know, for instance, that our players will be pulling the espionage and sabotage sorts of missions that will bedevil the days of the Empire. We also know that they will be doing lots of flying in single-pilot spacecraft, either to attack targets or to escape.
So what examples has Star Wars given us before for these situations?
Star Wars Rebels has one of the most recognizable examples in Agent Kallus. Kallus was a native of Coruscant and joined the Empire young. By the time he comes in contact with the crew from Rebels, he is an agent in the Imperial Security Bureau tasked specifically with suppressing the rising resistance sparking across the galaxy. He’s been involved with a number of devastating Imperial actions, and that’s a hook you can use for a game.
If you use a character like Kallus, it would be easy to tie him to the backgrounds of one or two of the characters. In Rebels, he was at least partially responsible for the devastation and “cleansing” of Zeb’s homeworld of Lasan, which adds great story moments to the adventures and makes it personal for the characters. Maybe you have a few players playing pilots from Onderon and your Agent took part in quelling Saw Gerrera’s resistance there and managed to kill a loved one. Or perhaps this Imperial was responsible for imprisoning one of their older siblings. Or parents. Anything you can do to tie this villain into the pasts of your players is going to make for better storytelling and a better experience for your players.
There’s another example we could look at as well, and that is Kirtan Loor. Loor was an Imperial Intelligence officer who appeared in Michael Stackpole’s X-Wing books. After Rogue Squadron had begun to make progress against the Empire, Ysanne Isard, director of Imperial Intelligence, tasked him with tracking down Rogue Squadron and destroying them.
This is the perfect sort of character to use in this sort of game. Tasked by the highest echelons of Imperial bureaucracy, he has access to any sort of information he might need from Imperial spies deeply embedded inside the Rebel Alliance. He would also have the resources to lay any sort of trap he might want to in order to capture the Rebel operatives represented by your players. He would also be able to escalate the situation as needed, calling in more and more support until he obliterated them or until your players outwitted him once and for all.
Kirtan Loor also represents another option for your villain. In the books, Loor was outmaneuvered both by his superiors and Rogue Squadron one too many times and opted to defect. This put the Rogues in the position of having to protect the man they’d been fighting against for so long, and that’s always a fun story turn to take for an RPG.
The Villain’s Resources
I’m a big believer in the idea that you outline what resources your villains have access to and who they might know before the game starts. That way, you can be prepared to react accordingly when your players take your game sideways. And let’s be honest, players always take games sideways. But if you have a list of the resources available to your villain, you’ll be able to formulate a strategy to counter their moves from the villain’s mindset easier.
Since I’m blending Age of Rebellion with X-Wing, my campaign's villain will definitely need to have access to ace Imperial pilots. That way, my villain will be able to marshal some of the Empire’s best against my players. This would include Imperial pilots like Soontir Fel, the best the Empire had to offer.
Notably, in his legendary story, Soontir Fel also defected and ended up joining Rogue Squadron. Keeping that in the back of your mind could lead to interesting story twists later down the line in your campaign.
Additionally, since the players will most likely need to steal resources from the Imperials—like all of the times the crew of the Ghost must steal fuel on Star Wars Rebels—or disrupt Imperial operations, our villain should have access to as many stormtroopers as he or she might need. But maybe our villain has access to more than just stormtroopers. Over the course of Rebels, Agent Kallus has been able to bring AT-ATs into battle, as well as AT-DPs, speeders, speeder bikes, and any other Imperial vehicle you could imagine.
One thing that motivates Rebels is the harm of innocents. On Star Wars Rebels, Tarkintown was a refugee settlement on Lothal that Agent Kallus, under the direction of Darth Vader, destroyed. The Imperials did this for no other reason than to force a reaction from the group of Rebels and make them realize there was a cost to their actions. You’re going to want your villain to be capable of this sort of thing because it provides the sort of roleplaying opportunities players love… Don’t hesitate to have John Williams’ Burning Homestead ready to play when you break the news to your players, or when they see the devastation on their own for the first time!
This puts the planning of the mission in the court of your players, as they’ll want to decide how best to strike back for this injustice.
Long Live the Empire
However you decide to craft the nature of your villain, they’re going to have to be formidable for your players. If the villain isn’t menacing or intelligent enough, hooking their attention and emotions through a campaign will be that much harder. But with examples like Agent Kallus and Kirtan Loor, and any fine Imperials from the movies, books, or television shows, you’re sure to keep your game feeling like Star Wars and your players on their toes.
When Bryan Young's not busy dreaming up new ways to marry the miniatures action of X-Wing to the battle-scarred adventures of Age of Rebellion, he is a regular columnist for StarWars.com and a frequent contributor to Star Wars Insider. You can also hear him on the Full of Sith podcast and follow him on Twitter @swankmotron.