Writing villains is the best. You can bring out that little evil voice and make him or her do whatever you want, and it’ll be okay, because it’s all in the realm of fiction.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the nastier villains in literature and popular culture, and compare them with the Dungeons and Dragons alignment grid, third edition. For those not familiar with D&D, there are nine alignments that determine how your character’s attitudes towards the world and other characters.
They are as follows:
|Lawful Good||Neutral Good||Chaotic Good|
|Lawful Neutral||True Neutral||Chaotic Neutral|
|Lawful Evil||Neutral Evil||Chaotic Evil|
This system defines Lawful as someone who is honourable, obedient to authority, and reliable. Chaotic, on the opposite end, implies flexibility, freedom, and adaptability. Neutral is someone who feels no overwhelming need to obey authority or rebel against it.
We’ll be focusing on the last three alignments in this article. While this isn’t an exhaustive system (is there really one?), I think it’s a good tool to determine exactly what sort of “evil” your character is, without getting into too much philosophy.
A lawful evil villain methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard to whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order, but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules, but without mercy or compassion. He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but he is willing to serve. He condemns others not according to their actions but according to race, religion, homeland, or social rank. He is loath to break laws or promises. This reluctance is partly because of his nature and partly because he depends on order to protect himself from those who oppose him on moral grounds. Some lawful evil villains have particular taboos, such as not killing in cold blood (but having underlings do it) or not letting children come to harm (if it can be helped).
He was described by Sherlock Holmes as the “Napoleon of Crime” and implied that he is the only one with intellect equal to or greater than Holmes’. He ran a crime ring that included most of England’s criminals; in exchange for their protection, the criminals gave their loyalty and part of their profits. Although he was only in a few of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, modern portrayals of Moriarty give him a much more prominent status.
Professor Umbridge (Harry Potter)
She makes her appearance in the fifth Harry Potter book as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Although she’s fiercely devoted to upholding the standards set by the Ministry of Magic, she often goes overboard with following these regulations and issues her own form of torturous punishment for those who don’t follow them, such as carving sentences into students’ hands.
A neutral evil villain does whatever she can get away with. She is out for herself, pure and simple. She sheds no tears for those she kills, whether for profit, sport, or convenience. She has no love of order and holds no illusion that following laws, traditions, or codes would make her any better or more noble. On the other hand, she doesn’t have the restless nature or love of conflict that a chaotic evil villain has.
Grima Wormtongue (Lord of the Rings)
Advisor to King Theoden of Rohan but falls in league with Saruman. It is hinted that he poisons the king to further confuse him. Saruman is an abusive master, however, and Wormtongue seems to have little loyalty to him. His general behavior is that of craven self-preservation. At the end of Return of the King, after the hobbits rebel against Saruman’s tyranny, Frodo has sympathy for Wormtongue and offers him a home. Saruman tells Frodo that Wormtongue was a murderer, and in a violent rage Wormtongue slits his master’s throat.
Macbeth is quickly shown to be a wholly self-interested character. While he does wrestle with the idea of murdering more than some neutral evil characters might, his lust for power ultimately wins the argument. More importantly, once he is in the seat of power, he has to continually resort to deceit and murder as a matter of self-preservation. The anxiety that he might be found out or killed by someone seeking revenge or justice leads him to kill his close friend Banquo, attempt to kill his Banquo’s son Fleance, and after a particularily grim consultation with the three witches, he has Macduff’s entire castle slain, including Macduff’s wife and children.
A chaotic evil character does whatever his greed, hatred, and lust for destruction drive him to do. He is hot-tempered, vicious, arbitrarily violent, and unpredictable. If simply out for whatever he can get, he is ruthless and brutal. If he is committed to the spread of evil and chaos, he is even worse. Thankfully, his plans are haphazard, and any groups he joins or forms are poorly organized. Typically, chaotic evil people can only be made to work together by force, and their leader lasts only as long as he can thwart attempts to topple or assassinate him.
I think one of the more terrifying things about the Joker is that he doesn’t just do what he does for profit, for greed, or for lust. Remember the scene in the Dark Knight when he burns his pile of money? He does what he does because he loves chaos. He is practically uncontrollable because he is chaos personified, and is committed to spreading it to as many places as possible. Though this varies depending on the iteration of the Batman universe that you look that, there is generally very little known about the Joker’s past, which makes him more mysterious and frightening because his behaviour is that much more inexplicable.
Roger (Lord of the Flies)
While Jack Merridew seeks to lead the boys in an animalistic society, Roger cares not for order or any semblance of leadership. Rather, as the situation on the island spirals out of control, he becomes more and more sadistic, eventually abandoning any pretense of morality. He throws a stone at Piggy and kills him, thus solidifying his role as the torturer in Jack’s tribe.
You may want to try classifying your villains to see what their alignments are.