The PCs need antagonists. As a GM, its up to you to make sure that they are memorable and more than just a collection of hit points. Spending a little bit of time developing these important characters can have big pay offs. Doing so can help make your games engaging and unique instead of just a string of boring combat encounters.
The most important quality a Villian can have isn’t stats, powers, items, or resources; it’s personality. Spend some time thinking about who your villain is. How do they talk? How do they move? Do they take themselves seriously? Everyone’s first inclination to it make their villain a mix of gritty bad-assery. Frankly, it’s been done.
What if the villian is an alien for far away addicted to physical sensation and debauchery? What if your big bad is actually incredibly adorable and that is why everyone fights for them? A noble Minotaur that is only following orders? A careless fairy that only wants to spread chaos, but not necessarily evil? A planet itself that wants to repel the human colonizers who found it across a galaxy? Try something different than your Lich lord who draws upon endless power.
Get weird and give them some quirks. That alien always leaves gifts for the PCs to taunt them or perhaps win them over to their side. The adorable one is always eating candy whenever you see them. The Minotaur is heavily religious and will make unreasonable decisions if the omens are right. The fairy keeps appearing to the PCs in dreams, asking them innocuous questions. The planet literally moves mountains into the PCs way or perhaps creates stone statues of them for reasons unknown. This gives your villains life!
So at this point, you might have a few ideas for cool baddies floating around in your head. Before you start putting them down on paper, give their motivations a thought. Rarely is anyone truly evil just for evil’s sake. That is pretty one dimensional. Doing bad things just to do bad things… meh. WHY are they doing bad things, then? Give them a reason!
Villains are people too and should be treated accordingly. What motivation do they have for doing the bad things they do? Is it because of fear? Pride? Do they have a tragic backstory or one awash in privilege? Perhaps they think they are doing the right thing. One only has to look at the politics of the day to see that people don’t unilaterally agree on what good and evil mean. Think of where the villain came from and what would make them do the terrible things they are planning to do.
At this stage, it’s extra points if you can make them sympathetic. Maybe they are doing what they are doing because they have no choice. Maybe they have even helped the PCs before, or are currently doing so. No one is just bad or good. We all have so much of both swirling around inside of us. Your baddies should be no different.
Perhaps your big bad is actually a super nice person. They help their neighbors, look out for their friends, and always try to do what they think is right. In many ways, they are a paragon of virtue. They’ve fed the poor, fought for the kingdoms freedom, and worship the same gods as you. They just happen to believe that the old king in exile was what was best for the kingdom. They saw all their cruelty and executions as the price of peace and civility. They’re amassing a secret group to over throw the current regime because they truly believe in their cause. That doesn’t stop the fact that the PCs still need to stop them.
If you’re listening to my podcast, Crumbling Keep Presents: The Isles of Samsarras, you’ve likely met Jegkir by now. He does what he does for his people. What he does, however, isn’t good. Of course, he hasn’t spilled all his ambitions yet. This goes along with my previous post on making your campaign a mystery. A good villain can have their secrets too.
Make your villains varied. Flesh them out and make them real. Realize that they likely laugh and cry sometimes. They probably have people they love. Nuance is a beautiful thing. With it, your villains can be too.