Antagonist Archetype Archive 1: The Well-Intentioned Extremist

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In general, though not always, the second most important character in any story is the primary antagonist. So why does it seem like so many RPGs put so little effort into creating them? Let’s bring up the average then, shall we?

In this series of articles, we will look at different types of antagonists, and point out why they work. To do so, I will pull an example I know of from some piece of media, be it novels, movies, comics, or maybe even video games and examine their character. Inspiration can come from all sources though, so I have no intention of limiting myself to one medium when pulling examples. Also beware, I WILL DISCUSS SPOILERS OF THE ANTAGONIST I AM EXAMINING. Please, don’t blame me if you read it and get a spoiler for something you haven’t experienced but would like to at some point.

In this first article, we will look at a personal favorite of mine: The Well-Intentioned Extremist. Yeah, he does evil things, but its for the greater good! Or at least he thinks so.

Subject: Lucien Draay

He's the one dead center. Looking very sure of himself.

He’s the one dead center. Looking very sure of himself.

Who’s this guy?

Lucien Draay is the primary antagonist of the first thirty something comics in the Knights of the Old Republic series produced by Dark Horse, a story that takes place in the Star Wars universe several thousand years before the movies.

What did he do?

He and four other Jedi Masters that he works with kill 4 out of 5 of their Padawans and frames the final one, a screw up named Zayne Carrick for the murders. After Zayne escapes, Lucien leads the other Masters in an attempt to capture and/or kill him in order to cover up their tracks.

Pictured: Zayne Carrick having a pretty bad day.

Pictured: Zayne Carrick having a pretty bad day.

So now, let’s get into what makes him interesting:

Even if his methods are terrible, his goal is good.

I know what you are thinking: Why?

Well its a good question to ask, and without that question, this article wouldn’t very well be about a well-intentioned extremist now would it.

So what possible reasons could they have had for killing their own Padawans? While Lucien was a much more martially focused Jedi, all four of the others were Seers, and they all saw a vision that heavily, heavily implied that one of their students would turn to the dark side, join the Sith, and destroy the entire Jedi Order.

What makes this good and how do I use it?

We can understand why he would do it. Even if we wouldn’t, there is a connection between his actions and his motives and one of those things (his motives) are something we can’t really argue with.

It gives us a moment of thought, and it makes us think: “Even if I wouldn’t do it, what WOULD I do to stop something like this from happening?”

When writing a well-intentioned extremist, make sure that everything they do that is despicable, they can rationalize to themselves. Keep them on the straight and narrow most of the time, make sure that when they deviate from “good” that they can give a good reason for doing it.

Remember, the well-intentioned extremist ALWAYS thinks they are right, and the reason they think they are right is because whatever they are doing furthers the noble goals they have. They don’t see a reason to do something nasty if it doesn’t further those goals.

He is extremely arrogant.

Even when everything else points to him being wrong, and even though the last Padawan alive would have to be the one to become the Sith Lord if their interpretation of the prophecy was correct shows no inclination towards evil, he still refuses to admit that he could have done something terrible for no reason.

In one arc, he and Zayne actually work together to stop either side of an ongoing war from gaining control of a monstrous “weapon”, and even though Zayne takes every opportunity, going much further than Lucien himself, to protect people, he still thinks that Zayne will eventually fall and needs to be killed.

Zayne and Lucien "Working Together"

Zayne and Lucien “working together”

What makes this good and how do I use it?

This one is easy: We hate arrogance. The good motive makes us question what we would do, but the arrogance gives us a huge lifeline to hold on to to say, “This guy is really really hate-able.”

Think about it. What in life makes you more angry than having to argue with someone who thinks they are better than you and are completely infallible. You can easily tap this emotion in a lot of villains, and it will bring out the hate from the fans, but with the well-intentioned extremist its key.

See, the reason why its useful on this type of character is that not only do we hate the quality, its even worse when the only reason that the person isn’t on our side is because they can’t get over themselves.

You can see how he turned into this kind of person.

As you progress further and further into the comic, you pick up bits and pieces of his background and what made him turn into this kind of character.

Three and a half decades prior to the comics, there was another war involving the Sith: The Great Sith War, fought between the Republic and the fallen Jedi/Sith Lord Exar Kun. Lucien Draay’s mother was a great seer, and his father was a magnificent warrior. Both were Jedi.

During the war, Lucien’s father was killed. His mother blamed herself, if only she could have seen what could have happened, then her love would not have died. She devoted all her time to attempting to foresee the next rising of Sith, and training new Seers to do the same. When her son showed no aptitude for it, she denied him the ability to train, fearing he would become a “dead warrior” like his father.

"But it was my destiny to have sight and second sight. It was yours to have sight alone. Too much like your father!" "My father? My father was a great warrior!" "Your father is a dead warrior."

“But it was my destiny to have sight and second sight. It was yours to have sight alone. Too much like your father!”
“My father? My father was a great warrior!”
“Your father is a dead warrior.”

In the end, he did gain training. Through a friend and servant of the family, Haazen: a failed padawan who was trained by the Sith in secret due to his close relationship with Lucien’s mother. Lucien eventually was even accepted into the Jedi Order.

He even ended up joining the secret covenant of Seers his mother had trained to stop the next rising of the Sith at any cost. Not as a Seer, but as their enforcer.

What makes this good and how do I use it?

This is good, because it goes back to the first point: You identify. Not only are his motives good, you start to see how all the heartache and pain of his past pushed him into this extreme stance.

Remember, when writing a character who has convinced himself that the ends always justify the means, there is almost always some kind of background that pushes him into it. People don’t tend to rationalize horrible actions unless they have suffered what they see as the consequences of no one stepping in to do them.

When your villain has that connection, players will find themselves nodding their heads or even feeling bad for this arrogant snot, because they can connect with them. Even if he just killed four innocent teenagers, this is a damaged man who has faced terrible things in his life.

In the end, he was redeemed.

After the death of all the seers he lead, after the revelation that his mother hadn’t ordered him to kill the padawans, and that that was actually Haazen interfering with the communication, and that his mother had been in a coma for all that time, Lucien had to finally admit he was wrong.

As his mother died in his arms, he was filled with rage, and tried to kill Zayne and blame him. But when faced with Zayne’s words, Lucien had to finally come to terms with the fact that he was wrong. That he had done horrible things, and there was no way of escaping it.

No matter what this man did, could you really not feel for him at this point?

No matter what this man did, could you really not feel for him at this point?

After helping Zayne defeat Haazen, Lucien, heavily injured and with his eyes destroyed, retires to a temperate moon his family had bought years ago, to build the thing he felt would truly honor his parents. A society of peace. Though damaged physically, he came out the other side psychologically restored and humbled.

What makes this good and how do I use it?

Redemption is a huge thing. Because he was a character who you could identify with, redeeming him rewards readers and players for their emotional connection. He loses the qualities that make him an antagonist, his extremism, his arrogance, but retains the noble goals he had before.

Of course, this also can anger a lot of people to, and at the same time, you can use that as well. Why did he deserve to be free? After all the terrible things he did, why is he not imprisoned somewhere? Its an interesting question, and what it does is make the players think. Is this the right thing?

I’ll ignore my opinions on this, but any time the player is thinking about a character, is generally good. It shows they are engaged, it shows that they care.

Redeeming well-intentioned extremists isn’t the only option though. You can always have them suffer in the end, never learn, and get their comeuppance. The player’s hate of the arrogance, and perhaps of some of the actions will still make them feel vindicated.

The Wrapup

In this post, I talked about a very archetypical type of antagonist: The one who does the wrong things, for all the right reasons. How you can create motives that the player can understand, and even applaud, combined with a background that makes them sympathize, that supports means that the player will question, which the antagonist uses his arrogance to rationalize to himself.

I hope you have learned maybe a little bit from this article, and I would highly suggest if you are into comics to check out the Knights of the Old Republic series, its very well written with a plethora of good, well written antagonists. Have any thoughts on the well intentioned extremist? Do you use one in your games? What do you think of the methods used in writing one and why they work? Or maybe you would like to suggest the next archetype I write about, or even the example antagonist?

Either way, don’t hesitate to comment in the section below. I always enjoy the dialogue.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ZarroTsu

    A major highlight of this article is that an antagonist, or even the main villain, does not need to be ‘killed’ for the story to end. Their threat or villainy ends when, as explained above, they see the error of their ways and admit they were wrong.

    It is entirely possible, however, that an antagonist might go insane from this revelation as well – if all they’ve built up and lead has been for something that is wrong, how can they expect themselves to live with it? It’s equally understandable for them to push their extremes to the limit as it is for them to look for a chance to redeem themself.

    Just as well, if the story is told correctly, the hero can go through these same situations as well. It isn’t an antagonist-only situation, it all depends on the way the story is told.

    And, if presented by the story correctly, it can even be up to the players themselves to decide if people’s actions are redeemable or unforgivable, and the consequences in these powerful choices. It would be entirely feasible for a player to agree with the villain’s goals and motivations, and go so far as to join their cause.

    Its always annoyed me greatly when this sort of situation is presented in a game, but the hero-characters prevent the player from having the chance to explore it by acting like pessimistic idiots instead of open-minded people. And then nobody calls them out on it.

    • YES, Death isn’t the only option for an antagonist. To remove an antagonist you have to do one of two things:

      1. Remove their will to oppose the protagonist. This can be because they changed their motives, their means, or even just are too tired to carry on.

      2. Remove their ABILITY to oppose the protagonist. There are plenty of ways this can be accomplished as well. From death, to removal of “mystical powers”, to removal of political or military powers.

      Death is just one option.

  • Nicely done article I say.

  • Geekman

    I was hoping you’d use N as an example…

  • The tacked on backstory serves as a cheap attempt to make a character relatable, as in this example, the backstory has little to do with the end result. Dead parents are a common archetype in their own right, and used in a variety of different ways, as an actual person’s reaction would vary. But this feels like less a genuine reaction, and more a “anime angst 101” reaction, which lacks nuance and emotion that could actually be relatable. Narratives that play out like this are wish fulfillment for people who’ve never faced real hardships.

    • What I wrote is incredibly condensed down from 35 issues of comics.

      The background isn’t tacked on, it explains 100% of why he is the way he is. His entire worldview is shaped by the background. That is IMPORTANT.

      He acted to stop something very SPECIFIC from happening. Something that killed his father, and turned his mother into an obsessive. He was raised in a household where the only important thing was stopping it from ever happening again, and when he showed no aptitude towards what his mother thought was the solution, she pretty much ignored him outright.

      He was doing everything he could to stop what happened to his father, but more importantly, he was doing everything he could to make his mother proud of him. To accomplish her goals at all costs because she never seemed to care about anything else.

      Background is one of the most important parts of an antagonist. It tells us WHY.

      And how you think you can pass judgment on a character that was developed over 800ish pages of comic based on 5 short paragraphs I wrote of his background, I have no idea.

  • Azazelicko

    Your article is good, though I think you could have used a different example as this one combines with a hero with tragic past, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the only thing the well-intentioned extremist needs is to think that he is doing the right thing, he/she doesn’t need any other reason to become an antagonist of a story.

    Another interesting type of an antagonist would be the person who does evil to prepare the “good guys” to prepare for a greater evil.

    • But the reason is what makes it interesting. Writing an extremist who is extreme just because it fits in the story isn’t interesting. WHY is he that way?

      • It also informs how to overcome the antagonist. When the character has no reason for their actions, the only way to confront him is head on.

        • Azazelicko

          Yes, it allows for dealing with the antagonist in different ways, you can talk sense to them and such, I agree with you there but I wasn’t saying anything about Lucien being a bad example, I just said that Lucien has some qualities of the hero with tragic past and that you could have used a different example. It wasn’t meant as an attack against you, I just am of the opinnion that you could have found a bit cleaner example as Lucien is a bit hard to discern just from your article (I never read that comic) and it could have used a different example for the sake of giving the message in a cleaner form.

      • Azazelicko

        Sorry for reacting so late, I don’t frequent this page very often.

        I didn’t want to imply that. What I meant is that extreme measures can be taken by completely normal people and the only reason they need is to think that it is the right choice. They don’t need a convoluted backstory to reach the decision.
        In Star Wars universe at the time that story was taking place, practicaly everyone knew what a sith was and that they were bad news. Heck, Luciens place could have been easily taken by some member of Republick army or some citizen who thought he would be doing the right thing by following the prediction and then he would just need help of those Jedi Seers to throw the blame for killing those padawans on the protagonist. If our stand in were well connected or capable he wouldn’t even need them as he could either edit the records from the surveilence in the area or he could use different connections.
        Yes, Lucien is very good antagonist in the setting, when it comes to the gravity of his actions and choices he as a jedi is much better than nealy any alternative (split personality of the grandmaster of the Jedi order still kinda beats him there, though in this case you wouldn’t need the split personality). Yes when it comes to the overall story Lucien background allows for more drama and such but in the end it’s not the most defining trait of him as the well-intentioned extremist, his main part here is that he believes he is doing the right thing.

        • Cosmic

          So your saying you want a less complicated character. Although this would be “cleaner”, people usually aren’t that simple. People have reasoning behind what they do, they don’t do things just because it seems right at the time. They have bias developed through what has happened in their lives. Take you for example. Would you go up and punch a guy for no reason? Probably not. Even if you would, there would be a *reason* you didn’t care.

  • The background of the antagonist, indeed any background, is only important if it can be used. While it can be fun to fill in the lore of the world, this should be used to answer questions, or to provoke the player into looking for answers to questions. These answers should then be usable by the player.

    Foreshadowing is only useful because it gives people the opportunity to use previous answers to solve problems that they currently face or make sense of a situation. It gives the ability to warn players of what’s coming ahead, so that they can prepare for it.

    I haven’t read the series in question that you used for your case study, but I have to ask this question – exactly how much of the antagonist’s background was actually used by the protagonist?

    One of the biggest flaws that is made in games is that more detail is given to the antagonist than the protagonist. This is normally because the writer can determine the full story of the antagonist, while the fate and decisions of the protagonist are often left up to the players to decide.

    Therefore, you should never make the antagonist more interesting than the protagonist – archetypes work because they are archetypes, and you don’t necessarily need a whole lot of background to justify their behaviour. Any background that is included should be relevant to the player, and hint at possible events in the future, as well as provide possible solutions and strategies on how to overcome them.

    For example, Lucien’s background is that he’s fanatical at stopping a certain event. That’s the archetype. You don’t really need any more justification than this, but anything you provide should allow the player to understand the motivations of Lucien, and more importantly, be used by the player to help deal with Lucien.

    In this case, the fact that Lucien is driven because of his obsessive mother and dead father can be used by the player in a variety of ways. The player could goad Lucien with insults and insinuations that he cannot make up his own mind – that he’s simply following in the shadow of his mother, and going to end up like his father. This may be just enough to give the player the edge over Lucien when defeating him.

    Alternatively, the information might be able to be used to show that the foundation of Lucien’s belief is wrong. In this case, that his mother was wrong. This can lead into a whole series of adventures in their own right.

    While it may be good to provide background to have the player identify with the antagonist, you must be sure that this does not come at the expense of identifying with the protagonist. Arrogance may help alienate the player from the antagonist, but if the intentions are good, then this may result in the player questioning the motives of the protagonist. Are they right to be stopping the antagonist in their intentions?

    The case example is flawed in this respect, because it puts the protagonist directly at odds with the antagonist in a question of survival – it’s the protagonist’s life at stake, and therefore it is a selfish reason for the protagonist to resist. It could be argued that the protagonist is being arrogant in their belief that their own life is more valuable than the millions of others at stake.

    What do other people think? If people believe Lucien, then there could be more antagonists than protagonists in this story, increasingly undermining the protagonist’s sense of heroism and self. More importantly, what would the protagonist think if it was someone else? With many stories set about defeating, and killing, Sith lords – it is hard to justify that a potential Sith lord is spared, unless there is belief that they can be redeemed and returned to the Light side. Would Zayne spare anybody else in his situation, or would he join Lucien in opposing him?

    In effect, if it wasn’t for the direct conflict between Lucien and Zayne, Lucien would be better defined as a foil. In fact, this archetype is much better known for use as a foil, and makes for more realistic and believable stories. This is because, traditionally, the well-meaning intentions of the character may both help, or hinder, the protagonist without leading to direct opposition. This is often seen in stories where guards and law enforcement officers often get confused and target the protagonist. The challenge often them becomes avoiding or converting such foils to their own cause against the antagonist.

    The difference between games and stories is that the players have choice, and therefore are not automatically required to identify with the protagonist. Naturally, in such story-heavy games, a failure to identify with a protagonist can result in the abortion of the game by the player. This is not always the case with novels and other non-interactive media, where the viewer doesn’t have any choice over the protagonist’s actions, and as such, the protagonist can be just as much of a anti-hero as the antagonist is.

    It is this nature of choice that determines what is useful about a character’s background, even for the antagonist. It should be the player’s choice whether they use such information – and as such, all such information should be usable within the game itself.

    • 1. In the actual series, his background is used very well by the protagonist to turn him away from the path he is on.

      2. Protagonists should always be interesting, but I”m not really talking about protagonists so I didn’t really go into that.