Category Archives: villains

Making Characters for Traveller

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When I started playing the role-playing game Traveller with a group of middle school students, one of the first challenges to overcome was the creation of original characters and interesting new stories.  You can only play for so long with characters named Solo, Skywalker, and Vader.  Then, you must get creative.

What I am going to show you today are a passel of characters so creative, lame, and craptastic, that you will probably forever after have pity on those poor kids who chose to play the game with me.

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Harry Scipio Strontium 90 was a space detective.  He and his assistant, the dwarf Quark, were necessary to the game because player characters had a tendency to kill people, aliens, and destroy planets, routinely misusing the biggest and baddest weapons in the equipment handbook.  He relentlessly pursued player characters and villains across space and time.

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The Geomancer was a deep space explorer who mysteriously never took off his space suit.  He bailed characters out of trouble when they invariably got marooned on airless asteroids, lost in dead space with no fuel for the starship, or imprisoned by cannibal plant people on an unexplored world.  In the end, it turned out that his mysterious space suit was actually empty, containing only gas and radiation, and possibly an alien spirit-entity.

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Mantis was actually a player character.    The son of the high school science teacher was one of my most dedicated game players.  He decided that he had to have an evil player character.  He said to me, “Mr. B, we will make him secretly evil so that he does things that take the party into danger and betray them without their knowing.  It will be fun as they try to figure out how to save themselves.”  Now, Mantis was an alien super-scientist who had a very big head and small body, so he removed his own head and connected it to a large robotic body.  He stood imposingly taller than all the other characters at eight and a half feet tall.  His evil plots were initially rather lame and easily defeated.  It didn’t take the players long to figure out that he was working against them, and he spent a considerable amount of time as a detached living head on the starship’s auxiliary control panel.  He went through various penances and punishments, ultimately avoiding being flushed into space through the space toilet.

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Susano initially started out as Mantis’ evil experiment.  He was an enhanced clone with super powers and wings.  He was super charming and likeable, but supposed to further Mantis’ evil agenda.  They began to plot the take-over of entire planets like Djinnistan and Vilis.  But the longer the game went on, the more he became a son to Mantis, and the more he influenced his scientist father to use his abilities for good.  They would eventually help a band of rogues create a New Star League out of the ashes of the Third Imperium.  Teacher’s kids are often the biggest pains in a classroom, but that tends to be because they know all the teacher tricks already and are invariably more creative than the average classroom clown.  The last I heard from Mantis’ creator, he was an electrical engineer in Austin, Texas, and probably busy secretly planning to take over the world.  Though hopefully he didn’t remove his own head as a first step.

That is only a small sampling of the characters we created for Traveller, but at more than 500 words already, I need to be saving the rest for another day.

 

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Hypocrasysiphus

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And God said, “This world I have created is good.  It is very good.  In fact, it is too good.  We must balance the good with evil.”

Then God took a ball of elephant dung and created Republicans.

“You see, beloved ones, if the world is too good,” said God, “Then when I get full of wrath, there will be no one to smite.  You don’t want me too full of wrath.  I may pop like an overfilled balloon.  So someone needs to get struck by lightning to let off some of the pressure that has built up through the hard work of being God.”

So God took up a ball of old chicken guts and created Democrats.

“Why do  you always seem to let the evil ones get away with lying and deceit?” a prophet dared to ask.  “They cheat and steal and become wealthy, and then use that wealth to cover over their crimes, yet you do not smite them with lightning bolts?”

God threw a bolt of lightning and incinerated the prophet.

“I did say in the Bible somewhere that God helps those who help themselves.  I’m sure I remembered to put that in there somewhere.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  Or if He does, they are perfect mistakes.”

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“So you authorize the wealthy, who became wealthy by exploiting others, to commit further acts of exploitation until they virtually control the government and say that any crime is not a crime because they are now in charge of making the laws and deciding the consequences?” asked another brave but stupid prophet.

God immediately sent a plague of locusts to eat the prophet’s flesh down to the bone.

“The Bible says that all governments are put in place by God.  No government exists except with my approval.  If I don’t like them, I will remove them.  So if the government of the United States is to be run by my evil Republican creations, I merely have to create a lot of very stupid citizens who will vote to give everything to the rich and exploit everyone else, including those who basically voted against their own best interests.”

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Another rather stupid prophet got up to ask a question of God.  He raised one finger, opened his mouth, and was immediately turned into a pillar of salt.

“I have anticipated your question.  I do have a plan for mankind.  Remember the Greek myth of Sisyphus?  That old Greek idiot who has to labor for eternity rolling a heavy rock up a hill, and just as he almost reaches the top, it rolls back down on top of him and he has to start over at the bottom of the hill?  That is a metaphor for all human life and accomplishment.  Income inequality becomes a heavier and heavier burden as you near the goal of getting rid of it.  You have a Great Depression, then FDR comes along to fix things and help common people.  Then Reagan takes over with “trickle-down economics” and rolls you all back to the bottom of the hill.  It ends in Junior Bush’s Great Recession of ’08.  Obama comes along to fix that.  Then, in a sudden political reversal, the party of pure evil takes over again.  Back to the bottom of the hill we go.”

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And so, no further prophet got up to speak.  It was not because prophets had gotten any smarter.  No, it was because there were no prophets left.

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Demons and Devils

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Playing Dungeons and Dragons in Texas during the ’80’s and ’90’s was basically a subversive act.  The reason?  Fundamentalist Christians actively stepped in and persecuted you for it.  It was their sincere belief that a thing that had demons, devils, and dragons in it had to be from Satan.  Satan, they reasoned, used a game like that to poison the imaginations of innocent children and turn them to the Dark Side of the Force.  Or, rather, the Devil’s side of religion.  They were terrified of subtle corruption of the mind, believing that certain patterns of words and ideas could turn goodness into evil.  In other words, their religion advocated living in a bubble of non-association with certain words and ideas in order to superstitiously inoculate themselves against badness.  They were, of course, not entirely wrong.

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Kids playing the game will often develop the desire to play the Dark Side, to be an evil character, to commit evil acts and murder without the hindrance of conscience.  That is the reason I wouldn’t let my own kids even consider playing Grand Theft Auto or similar murder, rape, and pillage sort of video games.   It is, in fact, possible to desensitize yourself to violence and immoral behavior, and I have serious philosophical doubts whenever anyone tries to tell me that that can be a good thing.  My Dungeons and Dragons games always contained a rarely spoken understanding that if you chose to play an evil character you were going to lose everything, because any adventure is solved and overcome by combating evil and siding with the forces of goodness.  Paladins with their magical swords of ultimate sugary goodness are always stronger than evil wizards with their wimpy bat familiars and potions in the end.

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But leaving out demons and devils was never truly an option. If you never face decisions between good and evil during playtime, what hope do you have of avoiding a life-altering mistake later in life when faced with evil for real.  If you are going to make an evil choice, say for instance, committing an act of murder, isn’t it better to learn the consequences of such an act when the murder was killing an imaginary rival wizard for a magic staff you coveted than if you committed that murder in a fit of passion in real life?  The fact that the rival wizard’s spirit takes up residence in the staff and finds a way to punish you every time you use it for the remainder of your adventuring life in the game may teach you something you can use when faced with the opportunity to steal for profit and get away with it to make a better decision about what to do.

In the Tomb of Death adventure that the three demons illustrated in this post came from, the only solution was to find the weakness in the demon team.  Estellia had been ill treated by the other two and deeply resented it.  She resented it enough to tell the adventurers’ thief about the brass demon bottle that could be used to magically imprison the demons and then force them to do the bottle owner’s bidding.  Viscarus had been using it to control the other two, so only his soul truly needed to be captured.  The demon-hearts of the other two were already inside.  That story taught several lessons.  Manipulative evil can bite you in the neck even if you are the one wielding it.  (If only Trump and his cronies had learned that about their own brass demon bottle.)

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Evil people don’t see themselves as evil.  Often they only see themselves as victims.  And it is true in real life that there is goodness in even the most heartlessly evil people.  You can find it, appeal to it, and possibly even reach the goodness in their hearts necessary to change them for the better.

I truly believe that those kids who over the years played my story-telling games were better, stronger, and more inherently good because they played my games and learned my lessons.  I believe it is true even though there may have occasionally been demons and devils in the stories.  And if I believe it strongly enough, it must be true.  Isn’t that how faith is supposed to work?

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Evil Wizards

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Evil Voldemort has now appeared atop the highest tower of Cardboard Castle.  Please ignore the snake who appears to be doing something really creepy and x-rated.

In the Dungeons and Dragons game, just like in good fantasy fiction, it is the villain of the episode who makes or breaks the story.  Good villains in D & D often means an evil wizard.  After all, what would the Harry Potter saga be without Voldemort… (sorry, I mean “He who must not be named.”

Like H.W.M.N.B.N., a good villain must have a truly evil goal in mind, something for the heroes to thwart or fail to thwart until the world is on the edge of ultimate doom.  Brother Garrow, the shape-changer masquerading as a vampire cleric of the Blood of Vol religion, wanted to find an ancient mechanical evil in an earth-rending robot, and bring it back to life.  He was fully thwarted and died a horrible death, but the robot would later be given life and unleashed anyway.  Malekith the Pyromancer wanted to subvert the entire college of magic at Cymril University and set them on a path to a new age of necromancers and undead evil.  Unfortunately, the heroes got side-tracked with looting the Peppermint Wizard’s Candy Store and Alchemy Shop, so he is still out there subverting successfully.

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Morgoth the Mad and the High Lama of Krakatos

Some wizards, like Morgoth the Mad are based on published game characters, and some are entirely my own creation like the High Lama.  Both of these wizards are not only lead figurines that I painted myself, but they both lend an oxymoronic meaning to the idea of “Good Villains”.  Morgoth was certainly evil when he tried to sack the city of Gansdorf.  But his son, Kath, was adopted by the heroes and raised to be a hero himself (though one that bore endless suspicion because who ever heard of a hero with bat wings?)  The High Lama did only evil magic spells, but he also raised an orphanage full of adolescent were-rats.  Any mentor and teacher, no matter how evil, cannot be all bad in my book.

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Lucan Stellos was not actually a wizard himself.  He was an agent of the Kingdom of Breland who should’ve been a great hero, but got turned into a vampire by the evil vampire queen of Sharn.

His sister, Grilsha Stellos, however, was a level 6 sorceress who used her magic to help her brother carry out the will of his evil mistress.  She loved her brother and fought for him courageously, but in the end she fell in combat with the player characters.  It was her death that shook Lucan free of the power of his mistress, and so he let himself be captured, expecting to be destroyed.

Instead, the heroes set him on a path to redemption as a good vampire, killing other vampires in the name of a forgiving god and vengeance for his lost sister.

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And let me end this silly list of evil wizards with the Lizard Wizard.  Old Lizzie is dragon-born, half man, half dragon.  And he uses his evil dragon magic to loot and plunder for the pleasure of himself and his lizard-man minions like Kato who follows him here. In the picture, you can see old Eli Tragedy trying to drive the Lizard Wizard out of the Cardboard Castle with his magic wand of really painful cold sores.

And that is not the end of my list of evil wizards.  They are immensely fun to play with, so naturally I have a lot more.  But I will not inflict them upon you here and now. Too much evil in one essay is never a good idea.

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