Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness

An antagonist can be classed on three orthogonal parameters:

This is a method of quantifying that third one.

Note that the below list is a very rough scale; any given character may fall higher or lower on this list depending on context, regardless of what tropes describe him. Many character types are very broad, so the positions below should represent an approximate average; some individual characters are subversions who turn out to be something significantly different from the stereotype of their type of villain.

See also Nominal Hero, for the bottom end of the Protagonist version of this list. See Likable Villain for a classification of reasons why not all villains are vile ones.

Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness

The sliding scale is roughly as follows:

Most Sympathetic (the antagonist becomes virtually indistinguishable from the good guys)

Dividing line between nominal heroes and villains

Moderately Sympathetic (above this line and the majority of the audience will start to sympathize with the antagonist; below it and the majority will start to hate them)

Least Sympathetic (the audience will completely side against the antagonist)

Permanently Unsympathetic (character becomes completely irredeemable)

  • Complete Monster — By definition, the least sympathetic character possible. The most despicable of the bunch, and their only goal is to perpetuate their own evil interests. Note that not all characters who cross the Moral Event Horizon are necessarily Complete Monsters; they must have no redeeming values; any of the tropes on the "dividing line" can make them more sympathetic even if they can't be redeemed.
    • Villains that commit wanton and heinous evil acts simply For the Evulz. Most will qualify for Complete Monsters.
    • Always Chaotic Evil races are nearly always pure sadistic evil by definition. Most individual members could qualify as a Complete Monster (as groups can't be Complete Monsters, which requires consciousness), although subversions or deconstructions are becoming more common, which pushes those examples out of this territory.
    • With few exceptions, any serious villain that believes Dystopia Justifies the Means or To Create a Playground for Evil.
  • Serial Rapists, who need a hell of a Freudian Excuse to be even remotely sympathetic. After all Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil with no exceptions.
  • Anybody who not only Would Hurt a Child, but explicitly targets them. Serial child killers and serial child rapists are among the vilest of this category and if they have no redeeming qualities, will likely be a Complete Monster.

Tropes that can't be readily classified on the scale

These tropes are orthogonal to this Scale, have too variable a position to be located specifically, or are position changing without having a particular position to call its own.

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    Variable Position 

    Permutation factors 

Sympathy Effect

Hatred Effect

  • Do enough Evil Gloating, and the audience will hate you even more than they otherwise would have for your sheer haughtiness. (Although it should be noted that a stylish enough Evil Gloat pulls towards Magnificent Bastarddom (which may well be up from where you are), and it is only unnecessary cruelty, or repetition of Gloating that pulls downwards.)
  • Making a villain an Evil Is Petty bastard who holds trivial grudges is an easy way to make them more vile regardless of their other actions.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly / Evil Makes You Monstrous Due to perceptions of Beauty Equals Goodness, villains whose appearance starts to resemble their inner evil by becoming more ugly or more monstrous (or are ugly to begin with, such as a Fat Bastard) will have the audience root against them more than if they were (still) beautiful. A villain who looks like a Bishōnen is more likely to gain the sympathy of at least some audience members even if it's pure Misaimed Fandom, while a decrepit, inhuman-looking villain has much less of a chance of this happening.
  • Any instances of Karma Houdini below the center line run a huge risk of accidentally transforming a 'normal' villain into someone even more despised.
  • A Villain with Good Publicity will tend to be lower than they normally would be because of their tendency to get away with their crimes.
  • Have the villains demonstrate they have no compunction about their victims and certainly Would Hurt a Child and Would Hit a Girl, and they go down several notches.

Multiple / Both

    Orthogonal to the scale 
  • The Villain Protagonist technically does not fall on this scale, as he is, by definition, a Protagonist, rather than an Antagonist. Nevertheless, he can likewise fall anywhere from the start of Anti-Villain all the way down to Complete Monster. The latter, however, is more rare. Placing a villain in the role of protagonist can make for an interesting story, but writers generally shy away from portraying them as entirely irredeemable evil bastards by introducing some redeeming traits or a Sympathetic P.O.V. to balance out their evil acts. This way the audience is comfortable enough to continue to follow them instead of constantly squirming in their seats from the protagonist's boundless heinousness.
  • Most Eldritch Abominations cannot really be identified on this scale due to their Blue and Orange Morality, even though they are among the most scary entities used in fiction. Rarely genuinely malevolent, they are more often just indifferent towards humanity, and take no more of an interest in its destruction than one might think of stepping on an ant.
  • Likewise the Non-Malicious Monster borders on being an antagonist, since however a normal animal has no understanding of its actions or their consequences it cannot be held neither morally accountable for them nor knowingly antagonistic.
  • No Antagonist is completely outside the scale, as the Conflict is caused by either natural events, society, or one's own flaws rather than other characters. Depending on the source, audience reaction can vary from apathynote  to disgust at the cause of the protagonist's problems.
  • The Asshole Victim (and its child trope, Who Murdered the Asshole?) often, given that his place in the story is to become a corpse, usually doesn't directly qualify for the scale because the antagonistic role was towards someone else and not the protagonists. That being said, the Asshole Victim fills many of the functional requirements of an Antagonist, so many of the above tropes and permutation factors will apply to him.