The Generic Villain on Dealing With Antiheroes

I talk a lot about protagonists, and their various species, since they’re the primary threat to our plans, our standing as Hands of Darkness, and in many cases our very existences. The heroes are coming, and we need to know how to deal with them. But in that narratively determined focus on the heroes, we forget about an equally dangerous threat, one that often runs alongside the heroic menace. That, of course, is the antiheroes, those morally midway types who find themselves caught up in our plans by dint of accident rather than by dint of being innate meddlers. And treating one as the other is often most dangerous of our mistakes.

So what, as far as our operations are concerned, are the differences between a hero and an antihero?

First off, motivation. Heroes may be motivated by things like revenge, but in general, they’re more concerned with airy goals like saving the world, the Power of Friendship, that sort of thing. You know, abstract stuff. Your antihero might be up to an abstraction, but nine times out of ten, what’s motivating her is going to be either money or someone finding a way to make the situation personal. What this means is that if you can spot an antihero ahead of time, and figure out what all her attachments are, then pay her off properly, you might be able to keep her from interfering with your plans at all. On the other hand, it’s easier to distract a hero with his own ideals; the antihero is going to be a lot more concerned with the eventual results.

Second, methods. Your hero, of course, is going to save the innocents before stopping your plan (without even doing a cost-benefit analysis most of the time—who says the only power of names is being able to accurately describe someone?), avoid doing anything that would change the Dark and Gritty Quotient, and in general behave with honor. The antihero has fewer such limitations, if any. What matters for her is results, pure and simple. It doesn’t mean you can’t at least inconvenience them by forcing them to do something against their moral code in order to get to you, though. It just means that while that alone might give the hero significant pause, inconveniencing the antihero is going to require witnesses, ones who both can and will take exception to what she’s just done.

Last, antiheroes are far likelier to work with you for reasons other than “Look! Bigger Bad Evil Guy on the horizon, right there!” As long as you do them and theirs more good than harm, and don’t push the moral buttons they have left while they’re standing right there, they’re likely to be a lot more willing to overlook the fact that you’re powered by the Narrative Causality of Something Approximating Evil. If you’re really good, you might at least for a while win them over to your side.

Know the difference between treating with a hero and treating with an antihero. You’ll save yourself a mass of trouble.


  1. UZ says:

    Hm… it may be me, but I’ve played with so many crude crushers that the idea of an “heroic” character is really sort of avant-garde. In the D&D set, one of the most popular story subjects is paladin code violations, and the great moral line is most often drawn between people who can excuse their wholesale slaughter and those who are unable to explain their motivation.

    I know you probably don’t play this way, and not all RP’ers do, but the picture of what is acceptable in a lot of RPGs is really out of line with our normal literary concept of the hero, tragic hero, antihero &c.

    Consider Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – Bioware’s old example of “good CRPG story and dialogue”. The difference between good and evil in that game, in the final analysis, is something like this:

    Sith Devil Evil: Kill everyone you meet, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Lie occasionally. Manipulate people with the force in any way, whether or not it advances justice, saves lives, or is otherwise morally justifiable. Accept money for killing people you generally had to kill anyway. Shoot Starkiller in arena combat, because even though he’s a mass murderer, killing him violates a municipal bylaw, which makes you more evil than him.

    Jedi Jesus Good: Kill everyone you meet who presents as a possible threat, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Lie infrequently. Miss opportunities to protect the public good because of painfully strict yet oddly sievelike moral code that even Old Ben Kenobi wouldn’t have bothered with. Take jobs as an assassin, but don’t collect your payment (looting the people you murdered is still OK, as long as they are criminals). Don’t shoot Starkiller in the arena because you may have previously murdered the entire Black Vulkar gang (because they attacked you when you broke into their house), but there’s no way you can ever forgive yourself for violating the Taris city ordinances on pit fighting.

    The game actually gives “stun” powers to Jedi, but even so, fights don’t end until everyone on one side is dead, so when you’re “good”, you stun people and then harvest their helpless heads like wheat. The simplest disagreements inevitably degenerate into gunfights, except in a few notable cases where avoiding mortal combat actually gives you evil points – and even in those cases someone usually dies because of your abstention. And best of all, whether you decide to be good or evil, you still end up fighting the same guy at the end and your reasons for killing him (which as I recall you have to do) are kind of academic in either case.

    Although it was a CRPG I found it mirrored a lot of the problems that I saw in tabletop gaming – whether or not I happen to like it, most settings have at least one intelligent species who are deemed genetically deserving of death by the plot, and many problems are resolved with broad-ranging and severe breaking of heads.

    So… anti-hero? Fantasy heroes are often responsible for considerable harm and the justifiability of it really hinges on what’s considered acceptable within the world where they operate. One of the few interesting things about Eddings’ Malloreon was that it reflected a little on how many people in the story had died just for being misguided…

  2. Ravyn says:

    Eh, we can’t all live in game-worlds.

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