In most published RPGs villains are cardboard cutouts. They have no depth. The Dark Lords of Ravenloft are no exception.
Yeah, they’re evil. They have evil designs. Do evil things.
Yet why should the players care?
A great villain makes things personal for the player-characters. He or she wants something from them.
(Usually in published adventures the villains what something from somebody else. This is why they never seem to motivate the PCs into action. But this is a subject for another post.)
Great villains aren’t motivated by gaming conventions like alignment. They have logical arguments for why they behave and do what they do. They’re convincing. And if the player-character listen to them long enough, they might even agree with them… to a certain extent.
A vampire might have a number of mortals under his thrall–but she only takes in the poor and the homeless, and saves his kills for the rich and the corrupt.
An undead wizard might have taken over a small kingdom and occasionally use the locals–those sentenced as criminals-for his ghastly experiments. Yet the locals don’t mind, as his sorcery keeps the goblins in the woods away. Some, however, might be a little upset that their new lord has outlawed religions and priests have become the criminals…
You want to know how to get your players fearful, or even horrified of the villain?
Have a non-player character give a speech praising the villain. The villain has given so much charity for the community. The villain brought the civil war to an end.
The villain used his own money and servants to build that… [wall/prison/gaol/castle]… to keep the… [goblins/bandits/undead horde/undesirables]… out of the kingdom.
A great villain understands that the ends do justify the means.
And others have come over to her line of thinking, too.
Next on Horror in RPGs: The Villain