I watched the new Harley Quinn cartoon at about the same time recently that I finally got around to reading the now-venerable Cat Tales fanfic. Meanwhile, I am Pagliacci is an excellent ongoing fanfic that started up recently. All of that got me thinking about why there aren’t more games that focus on the villain side of things, rather than the heroes.

One of my assertions about gaming is that Superheroes and Horror are the hardest genres to run, by virtue of their protagonists generally being entirely reactive. The classic mode of tabletop games is the self-directed D&D adventuring party, and even modern module-based fantasy games generally give the PCs a lot of control over the timing of what they attempt. Running a dungeon is much more akin to committing a crime than foiling one. Similarly, Shadowrun, from a mile-high perspective, is a very similar play cadence to D&D, concerned with getting into the stronghold and acquiring the rewards from the most defended central point.

Meanwhile, games with PCs that are superheroes tend to have a much harder time not making everything a total railroad. Batman is on Joker’s timetable, most of the time. So why not just play Joker?

This post is mostly my brainstorming on the kinds of rewards and jobs that villainous PCs can pursue. With enough time and production value, the GM could make up essentially quest cards with various crime opportunities that are are upcoming, and allow research to plan the job and find out more of the particulars.

Villains Want

  • Wealth: Cash money
  • Leverage: Information or resources that can be used to extract things from others (usually through blackmail)
  • Favors: Pending payback for undertakings previously done on behalf of others
  • Brand: Success at forwarding a personal theme
  • Competence: Reputation for accomplishing what was intended
  • Fear: Reputation for causing death and pain
  • Notoriety: Reputation among civilians for being a villain
  • Honor: Reputation for keeping one’s word and avoiding universal taboos (like harming children)
  • Respect: Reputation among other criminals/villains

Potential Crimes/Undertakings Have

  • Payoff: Value of the score itself (Wealth, Leverage, or resources that can be used for a further undertaking)
  • Danger: Base danger to the villain on attempting it (from on-site defenders)
  • Emergency: Speed of response from law enforcement/super heroes
  • Collateral: Risk of harm to bystanders or unrelated infrastructure (potential loss of Honor, but increase of Fear)
  • Branding: Being on theme for one or more villains

Example Undertakings

  • Rob a bank/museum (night): High Payoff, usually moderate Danger, potentially reduced Emergency depending on how it’s handled, low Collateral
  • Rob a bank/museum (daylight): As night, except higher Emergency and very high Collateral; increased chance of gaining Notoriety and potentially lowered security measures (because things aren’t locked up for the night)
  • Rob a secure facility: Usually high Payoff and Danger, variable Emergency depending on whether the facility is legit and calls for help, usually low Collateral
  • Rob a vehicle in transit: High Payoff and often lower difficulty and Danger than robbing a building, potentially high Collateral and Emergency depending on where the vehicle is attacked
  • Rob a party: High Payoff (often easier to rob socialites wearing jewelry than hit safes), usually low Danger depending on the party, but very high chance of Collateral and Emergency in most cases
  • Break out another criminal: Low Payoff except in Favors, high Danger and Emergency, usually low Collateral; good way to increase Respect
  • Extortion: Variable Payoff depending on the target, usually low Danger but high Emergency (or vice versa if it’s the kind of person that won’t go to the law), low Collateral but good way to increase Fear
  • Kidnapping: High Payoff but extremely high Emergency and Collateral; this can go very wrong if all the variables aren’t accounted for
  • Hostages (People): This differs from Kidnapping in that the hostages are usually taken in a particular location; extremely high Emergency and Collateral, and this is rarely successful except as a delaying tactic for some other plan, as people don’t like to pay for this; can be a way to increase Honor or Fear
  • Hostages (Infrastructure): This usually involves using explosives or similar to threaten to destroy an important inanimate object/structure; often safer than taking people as hostages, as governments will often pay for this, oddly; Collateral may be lower depending on what’s rigged to blow
  • Destroy Infrastructure: Sometimes the plan is simply to destroy infrastructure for some other ongoing purpose; there’s usually no immediate Payoff (unless as part of some kind of real estate or stock shorting scheme in which case this is probably Insider Trading), high Collateral and Emergency, and various reputations can increase drastically
  • Trafficking: Gain ownership in the distribution tree for illegal goods (drugs, weapons, prostitutes, etc.); this is usually a high recurring Payoff but involves a lot of Danger to set up (or a series of other undertakings) and an ongoing chance of Emergency as the law and heroes try to break up the business
  • Smuggling: High Payoff, low Danger, variable Emergency, low Collateral; unless the smuggling is very high profile, this is often a pretty safe crime to do to build money, but doesn’t involve a lot of reputation increases because of that
  • Suborn Institution: Use blackmail, mind control, disguise, etc. to control a person or otherwise infiltrate an organization; this can have a very high Payoff, and other things are highly variable based on what’s being suborned and what methods are used
  • Assassination: Potentially high Payoff if contracted, and usually commensurately high Danger and Emergency but low Collateral in most cases; good chance of raising different reputations depending on the target
  • Insider Trading: Do a crime that will inflate the value of something already possessed; high Payoff and variable other risks depending on what’s being done
  • Crusade: Do something that only has value in forwarding a personal agenda; high Branding but low Payoff, with variable amounts of other risks