I really like the way villains are created in the second edition of the 7th Sea roleplaying game. The addition of villainous schemes in the Heroes & Villains book adds a great way to present the villain as a dynamic force instead of a passive obstacle waiting for the heroes to arrive.
There are some interesting villains in the aforementioned Heroes & Villains book, but I was thinking about how one might create villains by using other media as inspirations. And the villains don’t even have to be from a swashbuckling genre!
Here are three villains that I’ve created using famous movie villains as inspiration.
Peter Baelish (aka Littlefinger)
Played by Aiden Gillen, Littlefinger is a great villain who manipulates his way through the Game of Thrones show on HBO. As much as he is a terrible person, he’s also compelling, and I’ve looked forward to every scene in which he appears. And his “chaos is a ladder” speech (Warning! Spoilers at that link!) is masterful.
If we were to transplant Littlefinger into Theah, he could probably cause the most trouble in Montaigne. Imagine if Littlefinger were to decide that he wanted the throne of the Sun King for himself! At the beginning of a campaign, Littlefinger would be a member of the petite noblesse due to his wealth and connections. And his first step would be to elevate himself to a Marquis as quickly as possible (though such a thing would be difficult to do in the rigid caste system of Montaigne).
Littlefinger would make an excellent villain in a campaign where the player characters were musketeers, courtiers, or members of the nobility. His scheming and ability to manipulate others would present a threat to those whose lives depended on the stability of the Montaigne throne.
(1) Gather three favors from three Dukes.
Littlefinger knows it is nearly impossible to be elevated to the true nobility of Montaigne without the backing of multiple Dukes. And while l’Empereur could do so with a simple declaration, such a thing is nearly impossible to arrange from a distance. So Littlefinger is gathering every bit of information he can find on three Dukes—their passions, their dark secrets, their friends, their enemies, and their goals. Once he has done that, he can gain a favor from each, by bribe, blackmail, or gratitude. He will turn those favors into a petition to l’Empereur to elevate him to a Marquis.
(3) Become an advisor to the throne.
Littlefinger is a master at insinuating himself into the inner circles of those in power by making himself indispensable at some task or area of knowledge. Money is Littlefinger’s area of expertise, and so he will attempt to parlay his Marquis status into an opportunity to “help” l’Empereur with some issue or another regarding the treasury of Montaigne.
(5) Set the Dukes against each other.
Once he is advising l’Empereur directly as part of his inner circle, Littlefinger will begin manipulating the nobility to set his enemies against each other while helping out those who prove to be his allies. He will also attempt to restart the invasion of Castille, as he recognizes that in the chaos of war, anything becomes possible. After all, “chaos is a ladder.”
Strength 3; Influence 10; Rank 13
Advantages: Connection (Montaigne underworld (149), Disarming Smile (149), Indomitable Will (149), Streetwise (150), Rich (152)
Virtue: The Moonless Night
Subtle. Activate your Virtue when you act behind the scenes, from the shadows, or through a proxy. For the next Risk, when you determine Raises, every die counts as a Raise.
Hubris: The Magician
Ambitious. You receive a Danger Point when you chase after power and the deal you’re after is dangerous or causes trouble.
Servants and Underlings
Littlefinger has many servants as well as a host of underlings from the criminal underworld of Montaigne (jennys, beggars, corrupt city watch members, smugglers, etc.). Once he joins the nobility, he will have bannermen and soldiers under his command.
Littlefinger could not have the woman he loved, and she would have been his only redemption. But since she never loved him (and may not even be alive anymore in your campaign), there is nothing to redeem him. He will trade lives, manipulate others, and betray anyone to gain power, and will not stop as long as he can draw breath.
Javier Bardem was unbelievably creepy in his portrayal of the cartel hitman Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers’ film No Country for Old Men. His unrelenting pursuit, his choice of weapons, and his palpable menace brought a power to that movie that elevated it beyond the fairly simple story.
Adding Anton to your 7th Sea campaign can bring a sense of dread to the player characters as they realize that this man is hunting them, and like the original Terminator, he will not stop until they are dead. And he’s not afraid to leave a trail of bodies in his wake while he chases them. Nor will he hesitate to murder their loved ones just to make a point, even after he has what he wants.
In most campaigns, Anton is going to be working for some criminal element as a hitman, and something the PCs do gets him on their trail. In No Country for Old Men, he is trying to recover a bag full of money. In Theah, it would more likely be something special, like papers that identify a bunch of conspirators against the Sun King, or a ring that identifies the wearer as the heir to some family legacy, or even a Syrnrth artifact (though in my opinion, this tends to get overused as a macguffin in 7th Sea adventures).
(1) Identify the holder of the [item]
When the item (or money) goes missing from its “proper” possessor (and it falls into the PCs hands), the main villain(s) send Anton to recover it. His first step is to track it back to the PCs. He won’t have something as convenient as a transponder to track the item, so he’ll do it the old-fashioned way—by questioning people who have come into the item’s orbit, and then likely killing them. Once he identifies the PCs as the current possessors, he’ll have this target.
(3) Put the PCs in an untenable situation
Anton will simply attempt to murder the PCs and retrieve the item. This is an opportunity for the GM to inflict collateral damage on nearby NPCs to give the PCs some time to escape their first encounter with Anton. But the hitman won’t just follow them. He’ll cut them off from their allies and isolate them, perhaps by planting evidence that they’ve betrayed their friends, or simply by driving them outside of the places where they can call upon aid.
(5) Execute the PCs one by one
Even if the PCs hand over the item, Anton will need to see them die. He will bring all his skills to bear to take them down, one by one. This should be a dramatic fight, with the PCs very worried about this man who will not stop hunting them, and whether they have a chance to beat him.
Strength 12; Influence 2; Power 14
Advantages: Got It! (149), Handy (149), Indomitable Will (149), Staredown (150), Deadeye (151), Sniper (152), Duelist Academy: Boucher (154), I’m Taking You With Me (154)
Virtue: The Fool
Wily. Activate your Virtue to escape danger from the current Scene. You cannot rescue anyone but yourself.
Relentless. You receive a Danger Point when you refuse to leave well enough alone or quit while you’re ahead, and it gets you into trouble.
Servants and Underlings
Anton does not play well with others, and is just as likely to murder another of the main villains’ “helpers” as he is to kill a witness. He works alone, and nothing will change that.
Anton is insane and follows his own code. He is incapable of seeing how what he does is wrong, and cannot be redeemed.
Anthony Hopkins is the iconic actor to play the murderous psychopath Hannibal Lector (starting with the amazing movie The Silence of the Lambs). A brilliant and charismatic doctor, Hannibal lusts for murder, and not only eats choice parts of his victims, but feeds human flesh to his “friends” without their knowledge by disguising it in meals during his dinner parties.
Hannibal Lector is a villain with a narrow focus, and will not be usable in all campaigns. He works best if the PCs are members of some kind of law enforcement or military occupation (such as musketeers), so that they can ask for his help in solving unusual murders that are taking place in the a local area or city.
It is important for the GM to present him as a helpful resource early on, so that the PCs come to trust him and consider him a friend. This will make the revelation of his monstrous deeds have more impact when the PCs eventually figure out he is behind the killings.
If set in Avalon, the depredations of Hannibal Lector might at first resemble those of Jack the Ripper. This can be a red herring for the players, who might use out of character knowledge to try to hunt the killer. Only later, when the victims start becoming more affluent and important, will the tenor of the investigation change.
(1) Satiate his cannibalistic urges
Hannibal will kidnap and murder people, and then eat them (or at least the choice parts of them). Then he will dump their remains somewhere in the city to be found by the authorities. He will continue to murder one person per week (or thereabouts) in order to keep himself fed.
(3) Get others to consume human flesh
Once Hannibal has his routine down, he will start feeding human flesh to those guests he hosts at his dinner parties. As a brilliant physician, he will get to know some moderately wealthy and influential people, and he finds it wonderful to watch them engage in cannibalism, even if unknowingly.
(5) Convince those hunting him to willingly join him
Even after he is discovered, he will likely use his incredible intellect to escape and run rings around those hunting him. But once he has established a relationship with the PCs, he will continue to consider them his friends—even if they are hunting him—and will leave them letters or even speak to them directly in situations where they cannot act against him in order to try to convince them to join him in his deranged activities.
Strength 3; Influence 8; Power 11
Advantages: Cast Iron Stomach (148), Linguist (148), Disarming Smile (149), Fascinate (149), Psst, Over Here (150), Lyceum (153), University (154), Spark of Genius (154)
Virtue: The Devil
Astute. Activate your Virtue after a Hero spends Raises for an Action. That Action fails. The Hero still loses the Raises she spent.
Hubris: The Tower
Arrogant. You receive a Danger Point when your Villain shows disdain, contempt, or otherwise looks down on a Hero, or someone who could cause harm to friends.
Servants and Underlings
Hannibal does employ a few servants to help run his manor home, but he keeps the staff small so as to reduce the number of potential witnesses to his dark deeds. He treats his staff kindly and with respect, and they are loyal to him and see him as a very nice man for whom they are lucky to work.
Hannibal is beyond redemption, as he is a complete psychopath who does not really understand the difference between right and wrong.
There are countless great villains that one could take from movies and books and adapt them for 7th Sea, and these are just three examples. Changing a few elements here and there will keep them fresh and prevent players from immediately realizing where you found the inspiration.
What other movie or book villains would make good additions to a 7th Sea campaign? Have you adapted any inspirations like the above and used them in your campaign? Tell us about it in the comments.