Thinking Like A Villain: Tricks & Traps

This blog post is inspired by this month’s RPG Carnival subject of villain’s tricks and traps and how does the GM effectively use tricks or traps on behalf of their villains.

I suspect many find this a fine line to walk when determining how to place traps or plan tricks. Is the trap you are planning appropriate for your villain? How do you tell? Will the players think you were unfair?

It is easy as a GM to put a trap or trick in place, but one must do so in a manner that is fair to the players and furthers the game. Blindsiding players with tricks from nowhere is not fun for anyone – okay, maybe fun for the GM, but you won’t have many players for long! Well planned, villain appropriate tricks and traps are much more fun for everyone involved.


One strategy is to take a step back and think for a moment about the villain in question. Who are they? What are their motivations? Are they an intellectual villain or perhaps a crafty villain or perhaps a villain by chance? Are they concerned with their plans being found out and pinned to them? Taking some time to think about these things can help with the decision making process when determining what traps and tricks the villain in question would be capable of.

A villain that tends to use his head may plan out an intricate trick or trap, likely involving several layers to further themselves from being accused of the act. A less thinking villain, but cutthroat villain may rely on brute force effectiveness. The trap or trick may have fewer layers of complexity but more outright brutality and carnage.

Beyond the basics of just taking a closer look at the villain and what drives them the GM can move on to consider just how much does the villain know about the heroes. Are they being considered a genuine threat to the villain or simply an inconvenience? Has the villain been observing them or gathering information about them? These questions can further help the GM determine how thought out the trick or trap might be that the villain sets in motion against the PCs.

Villain A

Let’s take Villain A. She is a plotter and well versed in the ways of the politically correct as well as the actions that take place behind the scenes to gain her position of power. Intelligent and charismatic she is a very real threat, but has strong motivations to never be attached to her plots against others. She tends to learn all she can about her enemies and use that information to her advantage before setting her plans in motion.

Villain A is much more apt to have a much more intricate plan to trick or trap the heroes she considers a threat to her grand plan of gaining power. She has motivation to end the threat the heroes are to her while minimizing the chance of any action taken against them resulting in her being marked the responsible party.

Villain A is the type of villain the GM can really work out the intricate plots and layers to trick or trap the PCs. Organizations or gangs working as buffers between the actual villain and the PCs so that if (and most likely when) the plot is foiled the PCs still have a difficult time pinning the plot on Villain A directly.

Villain B

Now we look at Villain B. He has made a name for himself on the street. While not the most intellectual man, he hasn’t survived life in the streets without knowing how to get what he wants. Often getting what he wants is through cold acts of brutality. He lives by his reputation as a no holds barred individual. He sees a threat and moves straight to eradicating that threat with plans to do so definitively removing the need to thoroughly research the heroes before doing so.

Villain B is has very little concern about people knowing it was him or his people that exacted some form of trap or trick on the heroes he deemed a threat. His reputation demands it. For him a swift, brutal attack in an alley arranged under the guise of an information exchange is perfectly valid tactic.

The GM can play Villain B as a cold and cunning individual. The traps and tricks are simple, but effective. One is not as likely to find as many layers in the trick setup against the PCs from this type of villain, maybe a small street gang that reports to the villain, but not much more than that.

Player Reaction

By thinking about your villains and determining their mindset you can more closely develop traps and plans that are more representative of the villain. Together this helps present greater verisimilitude for your world as traps and tricks employed by your villains seem to match their mindset.

This means traps and tricks by Villain A are going to be much more deceitful and sprung with potentially much less warning or indication that what the PCs are about to walk into is a setup. Meanwhile the PCs are much more likely suspect something or at the very least not be surprised as greatly when Villain B puts his machinations into play.

This also allows the GM as range of tools at his or her disposal when plotting against the PCs. The complex plots and tricks he wishes to weave are perfectly appropriate when being orchestrated by Villain A. For times the GM wants to spring something much simpler he can unveil Villain B.

Player reaction to tricks sprung by the GM’s villains is more likely to be favorable if the GM works within the complexity and clandestineness level of the villains at play.


I have taken a brief look at how a GM can study their villains and use their motivations and style to help shape the tricks and traps set in place against the PCs. Providing examples of two types of villains there are many villain types that fall in between the two examples I outlined above. In some cases Villain A may have enlisted a Villain B type to do her work to further insulate her form being found out.

One of the most important things you can do as a GM is to really learn your villain’s aspirations. It will not only make designing tricks and traps used by your villains easier, it will help make many other parts of your game easier as well.