Sword & Sorcery: "An earthier sort of fantasy" discussion

Writing, Crafting Dark Fantasy > 12 CLASSIC VILLAINS FOUND IN FANTASY

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message 1: by A.R. (new)

A.R. | 78 comments I’ve recently thought about the types of villains that appear in fantasy novels. After some thought I came up with twelve villains that frequently appear in fantasy stories and the types of obstacles they pose for the hero.

1. The Warrior (Single) - There are different types of warriors who utilize their strengths in varying ways during combat. Some are strong. Some very skilled and technical fighters. Some are fast.
If the warrior is strong. They will usually tower over the hero.
If the warrior is more skilled or faster than the hero they will usually be equal in size to one another.
More often than not they are aggressive characters who are not afraid to meet the hero in battle—in fact, since they are warriors, a one on one confrontation is usually what they seek.

Example in literature: Conan the Cimmerian

2. The Soldier (Army) - The soldier can appear very much like the warrior. In fact sometimes they are one and the same.
What makes the soldier different is they will rely on others for help. They will use their command to confront the hero as an army. They will prefer group tactics instead of individual combat to defeat the hero.
Usually, the soldier is not as good at single combat as warriors are, therefore their main goal isn’t to force the hero into that type of confrontation. They will use their ability to command to try and win the day.


3. High Wizards / High Sorcerers - High wizards and sorcerers are very powerful and dangerous. They are skilled at magic and have it under their control. High sorcerers are usually very intelligent and that is how they came by their mastery of sorcery.
Their intelligence may have also enabled them to take over leadership of a nation or influence as an advisor to the king. They may also be in charge of an army or henchmen.
For a hero, this can be the most difficult type of magic using being they will face (except for maybe a demon).

Examples: Merlin and Gandalf

4. Wizard / Sorcerer - What separates Wizards and Sorcerers from High Wizards and Sorcerers is that they may be only middling in their use of magic. Maybe the world they live in has limits on how powerful magic is or limits on the ability of magic to be used successfully in combat. Or it could be that the wizard just isn’t very good.
Even though these wizards are not as powerful as high wizards and sorcerers they can still pose problems for sword-wielding heroes.


5. Monster (Single): Often the antagonist a hero has to face will be of the monster variety. This monster may be roaming the wild, or it could be the plague of a town or village. The monster could be the creation of a wizard, or the result of a demon being summoned from another plane of existence.
Very few people will be willing to oppose the monster—so it will fall to the hero to face it.

Example(s): Dragon, Grendel

6. Monsters (Group): Monsters in groups, individually, are not as powerful as monsters that fight alone. However, they do have some type of advantage because they are a monster. Fighting in a group multiplies whatever that advantage is. Because they are monsters and because they are many they pose serious problems for any hero to face. Often the hero will end up fleeing before them, and must find some other way to defeat the creatures besides the use a sword.

Example(s): Undead

7. Trusted Henchman (Single) - The trusted henchman is usually someone who is skilled at whatever their methodologies are. It may be a sorcerer following the orders of the king or a soldier that is in charge of the infantry. Whatever role the trusted henchman has they are capable at achieving results. Before the hero can confront the main antagonist, they will have to overcome whatever the trusted henchman puts in their way. The trusted henchman has three main purposes in fiction: 1) accomplish whatever their boss commands, 2) Defeat the hero, 3) Weaken the hero for the boss to finish them off.


8) Henchmen (group) - Are somewhat similar to the single variety. They have the same purposes, but they may not be as skilled as the single henchman. Each member of the group may be less skilled at producing results than the single henchman and on an individual basis they are generally weaker than the hero. Since there are many of them, if they are skilled henchman, each one may have a certain area they do excel at (examples: warrior, wizard, soldier, etc.), it just will not pose as significant a threat to the hero on a one-on-one basis.
The opposite of a skilled group of henchmen is a group of morons. They may pose a slight threat to the hero, but they usually screw things up. Generally speaking, the more henchmen there are, the weaker each one becomes. If there are five, then each one will have like 1/5 the power. If there are ten, then each one will have about 1/10 of the power.


9. Clerics / Priests - Clerics and priest function pretty much like high sorcerers and wizards. The difference is, where wizards get their power from magic, clerics and priests get their power from faith to a deity. Also, they never function alone. They always have followers.
Clerics and priests have charisma that cause some groups of people to devoutly follow them. Those who chose to follow such as these will also be of the faith—and they will be true believers willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause.
There are basically two types of cleric priest that oppose the hero.
1) The moral cleric or priest. This priest represents good. Or things that should be viewed as good. But the reason they stand in opposition to the hero is because they are too strict in their beliefs. Stand with them or against them—they have no room for sinners who do not believe as they do.
2) Evil priest. These priest are just evil to the core. They worship evil and sacrifice people to honor their evil deity. They are as committed to their god(s) as the good clerics are—the only difference is that their god is just no good.

10. Cult members / Acolytes - Acolytes are similar to henchmen. They are very devout and will die for the priest who rules them. Generally speaking, they have no individual identity and will always function as a group. They cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be bought. They will not betray their god or their priest. The only thing that will stop them is death.

11. The traitor - Traitor are very common. They have different reasons for betraying the hero, some of those reasons might even make sense.
What makes this opponent different from all the others is the fact that they are close to the hero or someone who is trusted. They will remain hidden until they are discovered or they have to reveal themselves in order to make their betrayal work. More often than not, their betrayal will result in the hero failing at some crucial point.

12. The warrior-sorcerer - Warrior-sorcerers do not appear that often in fantasy. Most likely because they are two totally different skill sets that require quite a bit of training to excel. At most they will operate 50/50 in the two traits. Generally, this individual will be more warrior than sorcerer (unless the hero is a sorcerer, then it will be reversed). In actuality, most warrior-sorcerers will be the protagonist of the story. But every-now-and-then they will appear in the heroes way.

message 2: by S.E., Gray Mouser (new)

S.E. Lindberg (selindberg) | 2183 comments Mod
A.R. wrote: "I’ve recently thought about the types of villains that appear in fantasy novels. After some thought I came up with twelve villains that frequently appear in fantasy stories and the types of obstacl..."

Do you have a favorite to read or write about? What inspired this?

message 3: by A.R. (new)

A.R. | 78 comments S.E., it is often recommended to make use of tropes in any particular genre/subgenre in order to satisfy readers.

Also, I believe it was Lester Dent who said to have a different type of villain with a different methodology for each story.

Taking both of those ideas, I decided to come up with traditional fantasy villains. Having a list of villains, I can then figure out the best antagonist for each stoy I want to tell.

The list is open ended enough to allow for variety, but specific enough to cover many of the genre's villains.

message 4: by A.R. (new)

A.R. | 78 comments As far as reading fantasy, I like stories that have any of those villains.

As far as writing goes, I have difficulty with sorcerers. The use of magic, the limitations and weaknesses of it, and manner in which the hero wins can give me problems.

message 5: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 687 comments I notice you cite several heroes as examples. 0:)

message 6: by A.R. (new)

A.R. | 78 comments @Mary, true I did. :)

But that is only to make clear the distinction between a warrior and a soldier, as well as a high wizrd from a low one.

message 7: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 687 comments It does make a big difference. In plot terms -- well, neither one makes a good climatic battle except for a short story or under very particular circumstances (a warrior against a youngster who has just gotten and can barely use a magical sword) -- especially the soldier, whom you have to kill by the scores and there's no real obvious victory condition because it's hard to be sure at any given point that you killed them all.

In fact, given the main characters in a typical sword and sorcery novel, most soldiers are there to be run away from as a superior force.

message 8: by A.R. (new)

A.R. | 78 comments @Mary It all depends on what the author wants to do with the story.

For instance, the warrior may have to become a leader and unite the splintered tribes in order to meet the threat imposed by the army.

Or the warrior may have to disguise themselves as one of the soldiers, then get as close to the target as possible.

Have you read any of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire?

He subverts reader expectations by setting up a premise that makes the reader expect one thing, then feints, adds a twist and you arrive at a conclusion you didn't see coming.

The same can be done with tropes. You know what to expect, the reader knows what to expect--the trick is to change a few things up so the reader can be surprised because history has them leaning in a certain direction and expecting a different result.

message 9: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 687 comments Your warrior is the hero and the main character of the tale. Very different kettle of fish.

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