5 Ways to Give a Villain more Depth

I’m continuing developing an antagonist for 6d6 Hellenic, which I started here. A villain that has a large scale plot that threatens the lives of thousands will get your heroes attention.  In the last post I wrote about how Iola’s plans would come to fruition without interference.  Steps 10 through 14 give you insight into how she’ll react and adapt as the heroes get involved.

Step 10: What are the villain’s boundaries?

Iola has loyalty but no mercy. After the tragic loss of her tribe, she’s not going to be willing to throw away the lives of her allies. She’s thus very protective of them and will act against her best interest to make sure they don’t come to harm. As a creature of the wild she will avoid damage to natural environments and will do no harm to woods. Finally, she always makes sure the dead are properly buried. She might celebrate the death of every human, but she has no desire to incur the wrath of Hades by neglecting funeral rites.

Step 11: What is the villain’s personal threat level?

Whilst Iola has recently acquired more battlefield experience, she’s not been trained in arms. She’s a capable skirmisher who specialises in potential attacks. If alone when attacked by the entire party, she will be able to seriously harm a player, but is unlikely to win overall. Her threat comes from her allies who see leads effectively and from her strategy. Iola will always work towards having circumstances in her favour, be it advantageous terrain or picking off lone adversaries when they’re away from help. Secrecy is key to her plans to avoid a battle she might not be able to win.

Step 12: How does the villain treat his minions? How do the minions feel about the villain?

It’s established that her mercenary company has a measure of loyalty to each other, but each has their own agendas that could be exploited to break them up. The Djinn and the Gegenee in particular having a goal they are pursuing that they value more than anything else. For her part, Iola treats her team well, though she is emotionally distant from them, as a self-defence against future loss.

Any humans in their temporary employ are expendable.

Step 13: What are the villain’s visual quirks?

As a lot of Iola plans rely on secrecy, having too distinct a visual image won’t help her plans. The visual quirk that she can’t hide is that one of her horns was broken off, leaving only half of it behind. When acting openly, she and her mercenary company wear dulled bronze armour and black cloaks.

Step 14: What is the villain’s escape plan?

In the event that the heroes are able to thwart her plans without discovering her involvement, then she’ll carefully retreat.  With her secrets and allies intact, Iola will be able to easily setup elsewhere and try again.  She’ll likely start a misinformation campaign to take credit for the heroes work.  If her full plot is uncovered, she’ll use her human allies as meat shields to allow her core group time to escape.  This escape will probably take them over sea, far away from the heroes influence.

At a local level, if the villain’s company is put onto the back foot, they’ll use their superior maneuverability to retreat to a more advantageous position.

This is of course assuming that the players go immediately to a violent solution.  Iola is a capable diplomat and will thus if given the chance will look towards negotiation.  Her demands will be that the human population of the island be allowed to leave.  She’ll use fear of her and the plague to influence the NPC leaders and the party.  She’ll so seeds of doubt, so that the people will fear that she is unbeatable.  If she can panic the NPCs enough, she’ll be able to turn them against players who insist on fighting.  A diplomatic solution is not Iola’s preferred win condition, as it would reveal her greater plans, leaving her open to reprisal later.


Iola is a character driven to villainy by her fear and her grief.  If it weren’t for her murderous intent, she’d be quite a sympathetic character.  The ambivalent reaction she’ll encourage, a mix of anger and compassion, is the style of antagonist I want from 6d6 Hellenic.  In a setting where the players are consistently torn between their own goals, their god’s demands and the needs of the people, a complex villain is ideal.

Next time I’ll create the character sheet.

Image Credit – Euboea by Maria Di – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0