When you’re creating a villain for your D&D game, it’s important to consider what type of power they have to fulfill their villainous plans.
There are 8 types of power that your villain may have. From large sums of money to granted authority or standing armies, there are many ways that your villain can exercise their will. In fact, most villains have a combination of several of these types of power. We’ll look at a few examples from famous villains as well!
By breaking down these different power types, you are able to develop a better sense of how your villain operates in the world. This helps you better plan their schemes and the steps that they take to achieve their goals. It also opens doors to explore your villain’s history to justify why they are a villain in the first place!
For a broader overview of creating a D&D villain, check out this other article on How To Make a D&D Villain Your Characters Will Love to Hate!
The Power of Authority
The Power of Authority comes from the character’s recognized position or status. The very nature of their position puts them in charge of others who will do as commanded.
Because of this, a villain with the Power of Authority has no problem finding others to do villainous acts in their name. As the King or Queen, few (if any) would speak out against this character for fear of losing their head.
This same Power applies to those who aren’t actively leading an entire nation. A corrupted High Cleric or the cruel leader of a band of mercenaries both make use of the Power of Authority.
The Power of Information
In hushed whispers and top-secret dossiers lies the Power of Information. In a world where knowledge is power, villains who use the Power of Information to advance their agendas actively collect gossip and closely-hidden secrets.
Whatever the information being used is, it must be very limited in nature. This allows the villain to use the information to inform their own strategies or potentially to use what they have learned as blackmail.
Learning that one of their enemies has a tendency to leave their window open at night provides a great opportunity to send an assassin. The captain of the guard has been taking bribes from the Thieves’ Guild to look the other way? Why not get in on that deal?
However they choose to use this Power of Information, this type of villain should have their nose in a wide spread of affairs. Once the party finds themselves wrapped in this villain’s web, it can become an entire quest to escape.
The Power of Expertise
A villain using the Power of Expertise has spent many years refining their skills. Even their enemies would have to concede that this villain is an unquestionable expert in their specific field. Because of this, such a villain may find their reputation preceding them.
Perhaps your villain is a former commander of the Royal Army who has gone rogue. He has unquestionably spent the majority of his life developing and implementing military strategies against enemies. Now he is using that same expertise to threaten the party.
Liches are a fantastic example of the Rule of Expertise. By their very nature, they have delved deeper into their Arcane studies than any one lifetime would normally allow. This has given them time to acquire powerful magical items and tomes of untold knowledge. In whispers of the Mage’s Guild, the legend of a particular lich may still be known.
The Power of Expertise distinguishes itself from the Power of Information by being more practical in nature. While the Power of Information is concerned with gossip and espionage, the Power of Expertise showcases a type of technical mastery of one’s field. A villain that wields both of these powers is a force to be reckoned with.
The Power of the Carrot
Villains who use the Power of the Carrot know that the best way to motivate people is to make it in their best self-interest to do something. This villain advances their agenda by rewarding those who work for and with them. This is commonly done with money (as there are plenty of people who will do nearly anything for the right amount of coin), but that isn’t always the case.
A villain using the Power of the Carrot may strike a deal with another faction. In exchange for an army of hobgoblins’ help in storming an enemy’s fortress to kill their bothersome commander, the villain may give their new “friends” control of the fortress once the deed has been done.
In The Curse of Strahd, Strahd Von Zarovich may initially tempt party members by offering them an opportunity to rule Barovia as his successor if they help him. If that doesn’t work, he may instead promise to reveal how they can return home.
The Power of the Stick
But perhaps your villain doesn’t care for using the Power of the Carrot and would instead prefer to act using the Power of the Stick.
The Power of the Stick relies on coercion and punishment. Any who would obstruct this villain are met with this punishment until they move out of the way or fall in line. This kind of villain understands the value of leading with fear.
Those who stand against a villain using the Power of the Stick may be met with assault from the villain’s forces or made into an example by the villain themselves. Failure or refusal to meet this villain’s demands will almost certainly lead to painful and often brutal results.
In a campaign with more intrigue, a villain who is equally fond of the Power of Information and the Power of the Stick may show themselves. This character will almost certainly use their knowledge to blackmail others into submission.
The Power of the Kiss
With the Power of the Kiss, a villain inspires others to do what they want. These people may look at the villain as someone that they wish to be like or someone who understands and cares for them. It’s very likely that this character also has the Power of Authority but it may be to a lesser extent than those previously mentioned.
The leader of an evil cult will likely rely heavily on the Power of the Kiss. By putting themselves on a type of pedestal, the cult’s members follow orders and stay in line to please this character. While the cult may serve the purpose of attempting to summon some horrible Devil or Demon, the members would almost certainly view the leader as a shepherd or parental figure worth emulating.
The Power of Connection
It’s not always about what you know, for villains who use the Power of Connection, it’s about who you know.
This villain has friends that they can count on for favors. Using these connections, the villain can send assassins to deal with a bothersome group of adventurers, arrange for a quick and quiet escape from a hairy situation, or anything else that their contacts can reasonably do for them.
While this isn’t likely to be your villain’s primary Power (after all, who likes a friend that’s always asking for favors every time you talk), but it’s a great Power to have.
The Power of Charisma
Similar to the Power of Connection is the Power of Charisma. Your villain may not rely heavily on connections to accomplish their goal, but they may still have a way making a quick impression with others.
On one hand, villains using the Power of Charisma may be charming and have a gift for disguising their true intentions. On the other hand, this villain may show their Power of Charisma by having a knack for getting inside other peoples’ heads.
In either case, this character knows exactly how to use their personality to influence others. Because of this, these villains can be very difficult to pin down. They may even use this Power to hide in plain sight as everyone around them only knows them to be a wonderful person while remaining unaware of the villain’s true nature.
So now that we’ve defined the 8 different types of Power that your villain may use to achieve their goals, let’s look at a few examples of villains from pop culture to determine what Powers they use.
Joffrey Baratheon (Game of Thrones)
Authority, Stick, Connection
King Joffrey Baratheon displays a sociopathic love of cruelty. As King, he already has an immense amount of resources at his disposal simply because of his position. Those who don’t do exactly what he wants are severely punished or executed in ways that are clearly meant to serve as examples to keep others in line. He is served by his advisors who are all among the greatest in the land in their respective areas.
Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin (Marvel)
Authority, Carrot, Stick, Connection
As a crime boss, Wilson Fisk sits firmly at the top of the empire that he has built for himself with very clear lines of authority. As a businessman, Fisk is quick to make Carrot deals to accomplish his goals. However, he takes very poorly to disappointment and his temper can quickly bring out the very brutal usage of the Power of the Stick. By aligning his interests with multiple other crime syndicates, Fisk forms powerful connections amongst the underworld elite of New York City.
Negan (The Walking Dead)
Authority, Stick, Kiss
Another fan of the Power of Authority is Negan from The Walking Dead. In the world following the zombie apocalypse, Negan has built an organization based on rules, consequences, and a clear hierarchy with himself at the top. With Lucille, his barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat, Negan dishes out punishment to those who cross him with a very literal use of the Power of the Stick. However, he does command a great deal of loyalty from the people in his organization as a type of cult of personality. When asked their name, all members quickly respond “I’m Negan.”
The Riddler (DC, Arkham Series)
Information, Expertise, Carrot
In the Arkham series, the infamous Riddler takes the form of a hacker who is out to prove his genius to Batman and the rest of Gotham City. The Riddler makes it his business to acquire as much information as possible about everyone in Gotham, including Batman and even (especially?) the other villains in the city. Leaning into his hacking expertise, The Riddler keeps a close eye through every CCTV, radio broadcast, or otherwise that he can hack into. Even his henchmen are primarily embedded as spies within other villains’ organizations. For the right price, The Riddler is happy to sell his findings or trade for other useful information.
Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)
Information, Expertise, Carrot, Charisma
One of the most terrifying villains to ever grace the screen is Dr. Hannibal Lecter. In The Silence of the Lambs, he very clearly explains the quid pro quo arrangement to agent Clarice Starling. In their talks, he takes a great deal of pleasure of using his knowledge of the serial killer, Buffalo Bill, as leverage to get inside Clarice’s head. Considering his expertise as a psychologist, it’s no surprise that he is able to quickly figure out what makes her tick while manipulating her into unwittingly helping his gruesome escape.
Hannibal Lecter has raised the bar for “manipulator”-type villains in every medium. If you are planning to run this kind of villain, Dr. Lecter deserves extra attention for inspiration.
Gus Fring (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul)
All of the above
Of all of these examples, I was curious which Powers would most apply to Gus Fring from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.
I have to be honest…
I have no idea.
I mean, the guy is respected as a pillar of his community. His connections within the community afford him protection while his connections in his “other” business provide for a dastardly ability to schmooze and influence others. Thanks to his resources, he’s able to showcase his expertise as a shrewd businessman, excellent judge of character, and logistics genius.
People genuinely enjoy working for Gus and he treats his people incredibly well. Well, until he doesn’t anyway… He proves calm and collected while executing one of his own men with a boxcutter for crying out loud.
I can’t think of any other villain that so perfectly uses every single one of the 8 types of Power. While I was certainly already a fan, I’m beginning to wonder if Gus Fring is the best-written villain of all time.
What do you think? Are there any other types of power that a villain might use to fulfill their plans? Is Gus Fring also the CEO of all villains ever?
Let me know in the comments!