There are many ways to a character Badass - just look at the amount of subtropes on that page. Yet, pulling it off is not always easy, in part because there are a lot of confusing images on TV and film that writers glom onto. Here are a set of guidelines - as always, not hard-and-fast rules - that can help you pull it off.
Characterization and Storytelling
A real badass never needs to advertiseThe serious heavyweights never go looking for trouble. Trouble knows exactly where to find them at all times. A real badass often wants to avoid a fight because he knows intimately all the consequences of winning that fight (police involvement, assault charges, trips to the hospital or the cemetery, having to keep a low profile, possible injury, etc). The problem is that in any given place there are people who fancy themselves alpha males and who respond to the mere presence of a real badass as if it were some sort of personal affront. Real badasses never talk about how tough they are or show off if they can help it because they know from hard experience that it just causes too much trouble.
Talk is cheap.One of the better indicators of whether somebody is a badass or not is how much they talk. Real badasses donít have to say much at all. They have better things to do than jibber-jabber about how tough they areÖ like stay alert for trouble. Besides, most real badasses have learned that there are very few questions that canít be answered with a cold, steely glare. If a badass does speak, his words are carefully chosen for effect and thus he tends to come off as being cool. Examples include Bruce Willis in Last Man Standing, Clint Eastwood in just about anything, Wesley Snipes in Blade, Jean Reno in The Professional, Chow Yun-fat in The Replacement Killers, and Kevin Klein and Scott Glenn in Silverado. This applies from a writing standpoint, too - the old rule of Show, Don't Tell. If you talk about how badass someone is, but we don't see it in action, that's Informed Ability (and if the character is female, makes her into a Faux Action Girl).
Even badasses get the crap kicked out of themThe main difference between them and the other guys is that they always get back up. Bruce Willis has made a cottage industry of being beat to shit by the end of the movie. But if you want a classic example of the badass getting back up, watch Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. Just because the character is badass does not give him a license to invulnerability. In fact, when they take it in the pants, it sort of behoves them to do it stoically.
Coolness under fire is more desirable than speed or strengthIn Unforgiven, Gene Hackman has this long speech about the importance of coolness under fire as opposed to speed on the draw. This idea is absolutely true. Those who rely on speed or strength or funky powers in battle tend to get into a state of mental passivity. Unfortunately, mental passivity WILL GET YOU KILLED! Staying calm in battle is not about looking cool (although it does make you look cool), itís not even about staying cool so your troops will follow your example and stay cool too (although that, too, is a happy side benefit), itís more about keeping your mind active and alert for threats and opportunities. In battle, those threats and opportunities can present themselves and pass in moments.
Even badasses have their limitsIn The Killer, there are several scenes where Chow Yun-Fatís character has to have some impromptu surgery (read: taking the bullets out) done on him after the shootouts at the nightclub and the beach house. Those scenes can be rather painful to watch because he doesnít exactly take the pain of the procedure well. Doesnít make him any less of a badass, and in fact, he gains a lot more believability because of it. Also, The Killer is a good example of how you donít need to be one of those unemotional, cold-fish Clint Eastwood types in order to be a badass. Every badass should have something in his or her life that makes him or her lose his or her cool.
A real badass never has a matched pair of anythingSo many people, especially in online roleplaying, describe their characters as having a matched pair of silver katanas or nickel plated Mac 10s or pearl handled .45s or some other foolishness. A real badass looks at weapons like a craftsperson looks at tools. They may have some that they favour, but they are going to use the right tool for the right job, and if the tools have to get left behind in the wake of trouble then so be it. It doesnít pay to get killed trying to get your left-hand sword back. Also, a heavily ornate weapon draws attention to itself AND marks you as an amateur to other pros. Style is all well and good, but most badasses prefer utilitarian weapons. The only real exception to this rule is Batman. From a writing standpoint, you should be aware that if it takes more adjectives to describe your weaponry than it takes to describe your character, then your character is less interesting than his weapons. Special weapons are nice, but they donít make you more macho or capable.
A real badass doesnít have to be in chargeA lot of people equate being a badass with a license to push people around. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pushing people around creates more trouble than it solves. Experienced badasses know this. As a result, they try to avoid ordering people around as much as possible. Most are perfectly content to allow others to give the orders. Samurai and Ninja were badasses, but they usually served greater powers in exchange for priveliges and payment. Look around you at the next LARP you attend. The guy issuing the orders is probably not a real badass. The guy who he issues them to, who just nods his head and goes away, IS a badass. Especially if it results in half a dozen casualties.
Suggested Themes and Aesops
Set Designer / Location Scout
The GreatsMany of the actors famed for playing badasses maintain consistent personas across multiple roles. Here are some of them:
Sean Connery: The Cultured AvengerSean Connery created the screen James Bond, and has never really left him behind. He's suave and sophisticated, with a darkly ironic sense of humor. He is very competent indeed, and totally ruthless, but also extremely charming, with a strong moral code. He always takes his work seriously, and you never find him messing around or getting drunk. Most important of all, though, he is always scrupulously polite, even as he's murdering someone. There is never any excuse for crassness.
Chow Yun-fat: The Golden-Hearted CynicChow Yun Fat is gritty, tired, and cynical. He knows the real world for the stinking mess that it is. He's perfectly at home with corruption, and has no time for his superiors, mired in politics or bribery. Despite this, he retains his sense of values. Deep down, underneath it all, he still believes in the good guy, and he'll do the right thing because it IS right, regardless of whether or not he has hope. He'd destroy the system to save one innocent soul.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Force of NatureArnold Schwarzenegger might have been born to fit the word "implacable". No matter what obstacles are put in his path, he crashes right through them and keeps on coming. He does not give up, he does not let irrelevancies distract him, he does not give quarter, and he is not given to flamboyant gestures. He is here to fight, and that takes all his concentration.
Bruce Lee: The Dragon RampantBruce Lee was one of the greatest fighters the world has ever seen. He was pure, dedicated to his art, an angel of righteous death. Always somewhat uncomfortable in everyday social situations, his reason for existence was the moment of battle. It was only when fighting that he managed to find peace. His skills were unparalelled, but he did not waste energy with the impossible. When overwhelmed, as he occasionally was, he would surrender - and live to fight again later.
The Epic Fails