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  • Cyric of the Forgotten Realms was originally a rank-and-file thief in his guild, then an ordinary if somewhat amoral and greedy, mercenary. After the Time of Troubles he became the Prince of Lies, the Black Sun, the Mad God, the Lord of Three Crowns; an evil god even when compared to other Greater Evil deities, who controls the portfolios of Murder, Lies, and Strife (and for a while Death, Tyranny, and Intrigue as well). And the title "mad god"? That's an understatement. He makes Lloth look sane.
    • The Archdevil Bel is probably one of the greatest examples of this. He started out as an ordinary lemure, a weak pile of goo that doesn't even have an intelligence score, and went all the way up the promotion chain until he overthrew his boss and became the Archdevil of the first layer of hell. True, it's the lowest ranking Archdevil there is, but tell him he's not a nightmare to his face and he'll probably kill you and use your soul for some evil deed.
      • And he's not even the only one. According to the second Fiendish Codex, ALL devils are like this, except for the few who are fallen angels or such.
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    • Orcus deserves special mention too. Legend says he was originally an evil mortal, who ended up in the Abyss as he died, as a lowly manes. But he was cunning, and over several millennia, worked his way up, becoming stronger and evolving into more powerful demons. Presently, he's a demon lord, and is not only the number two - or three, depends on who's talking - ruler in the Abyss, he has more mortal worshippers than any other demon, possibly making him the one closer to gaining true godhood - his stated goal - than any other demon.
    • Rust monsters. Originally, a cheap toy that looked sort of vaguely lobster-like that Gary Gygax picked up once. After a few editions, the bane of player characters everywhere for their habit of eating all your ridiculously expensive magic weapons and armour.
  • In Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, ANYONE who gets possessed by a daemon becomes a nightmare. If it's properly bound...
    • The Tau in the latter. When the mighty Imperium of Mankind first discovered them, they were no more than a simple plains-dwelling race that had barely mastered fire. Fast-forward six thousand years and they've assembled a multi-species empire capable of standing against the might of an Imperial crusade and defeating a Tyranid splinter fleet without a single lost vessel. However, they're still small-time on the galactic scale, controlling maybe a hundred worlds compared to the Imperium's one million. The main reason they've been able to survive is because they're located in the arse-end of the galaxy and generally not seen as a major threat to the Imperium (they managed to hold off a crusade for a time, but had the Imperium not been forced recall its forces to combat the Tyranids, they'd have been crushed eventually).
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    • This could also apply to the Necrons in their own time (at least prior to 5th edition), who went from an insignificant, short-lived race orbiting a dying sun to an endless army of immortal killing machines possessing the most advanced starships in the setting.
    • Asdrubael Vect, the supreme overlord of Comorragh, started out as nothing more than a slave. He managed to escape slavery and became a gang leader, and then slowly amassed power until his forces were powerful enough to be noticed by the noble houses that ruled the Dark City (though he did make sure to not become powerful enough to be seen as a threat by them). Eventually he manipulated events to cause the death of the leaders of the three biggest houses and leave their forces depleted and confused, then used the opportunity to seize power for himself.
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    • Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka, now the most feared and powerful Ork Warboss in the galaxy, an Ork who brought a Hive World to its knees. Nine years before the "present", he was just a random thug who suffered a head injury and started hearing the voices of the Ork gods.
    • Every post-Heresy Space Marine and Chaos Marine. To become a Space Marine you need to be selected from the population of the Marine homeworld or a world it often recruits from. Every Power Armor-clad, genetically engineered killing machine of the Imperium was once a teenage boy on one of any backwater planets, a lot of them Death Worlds or Feral Worlds. These kids are badass, no doubt, but in the Imperium of a million worlds and trillions upon trillions of citizens, not so impressive.
    • Arkhan The Black from Warhammer Fantasy began as a wastrel from a minor noble house. Known for his gambling and whore mongering, he earned the nickname "The Black" due to his poor dental hygiene. After becoming a follower of Nagash he became the second most powerful necromancer in the world, commanding such fear and dread that none dared to approach his remains after his death. His title The Black went from an embarrassing nickname to The Magnificent.
    • The Greenskins in Warhammer Fantasy tend to produce these a lot, since they run on Asskicking Equals Authority. Since they have no concept of a hierarchy not based on 'rule of the strongest' and no families to pass on power, their legends start out as a regular humble orc or goblin who ascended to the heights of warlords through lots of cunning brutality (or brutal cunning).
      • Gorbad Ironclaw, The Paragon of the orc species, has an origin shrouded in myth: All the dwarfs know is that one day this giant orc with an iron claw for a left hand comes riding out of the badlands with his clan, unites the entire Badlands into one giant WAAAAAAGH!, pretty much pummels the dwarfs halfway into submission, and then burned half the Empire to the ground before he was trapped between two armies in Blackrock Pass and (possibly) died there.
      • Grom da Paunch, The Paragon of the entire goblin species, was a regular goblin boss of a small gang before he ate troll meat and grew to humongous size, becoming powerful enough to unite the Badlands under his banner and burn half the Empire to the ground before invading Ulthuan.
      • Azhag da Slaughterer was a regular orc boss barely eking out a living in the foothills of Troll Country until he found an Artifact of Doom that let him create the greatest WAAAAGH! since Grom.
      • Skarsnik, warlord of Karak Eight Peaks and supreme ruler of the Crooked Moon Clan, began his life as a mushroom-picking slave, nicknamed 'Runt' for being the smallest and weakest of his litter. He became the supreme overlord of an entire former dwarfhold through a lot of ladder-climbing, usually by murdering whoever was on the rung above him.
  • The "Gagagigo" series of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards tell the tale of a cute little Gigobyte's eventual transformation into the insane cybernetic monstrosity Gogiga Gagagigo.
  • In Exalted, this is often part of the backstory of Abyssals and Infernals. Infernals are offered their Exaltation by the Yozis after a deep, personal failure, and Abyssals only get the chance to become Abyssals when they're at death's door. The Prince of Shadows is a particularly good illustration of this trope as it applies to Abyssals.
    • The previewed Infernal for third edition, Basphomy in Verdigris, was a Tengese political pawn with nothing two years ago. Now she's a rich hedonist...who turns into an eyeless dragon when the time comes to fight.
    • The Scarlet Empress herself; an officer of the Shogunate of decent background but no particular widely known reputation, who became the most powerful person in Creation when she took control of ancient defense systems and drove back an invasion of The Fair Folk. This actually formed part of the early basis of Lookshy's defiance; the commander of the Seventh Legion wrote to the Empress saying he knew nothing about her, suggesting that she lacked the credentials to take such a lofty title.
  • A frequent factor in Betrayal at House on the Hill. That cute little boy who collects bugs? Just discovered a nest of Big Creepy-Crawlies and thinks they're so cool he's just gotta feed his new friends fresh meat. That sweet little girl with the teddy bear? Stumbled across a gateway to hell. The possibilities go on and on...
    • This trope can take place not only in the plot, but in the mechanics. Most games revolve around a haunt, or a time when some player turns on the others. The traitor and the others compete to fulfill different, opposed goals. Character stats in the game can go up and down. A character might start with only modest physical or mental stats, pass a few checks, Take a Level in Badass, find a magical item for a further buff...and then wind up betraying the rest of the players while easily the most powerful character in the game.
  • Delta Green features a few amongst the more human antagonists. One was once just a guy learning how to play guitar from some random drunkard. A pretty teenager from Ohio. A health food magnate. Dirt encrusted war orphans, one of them missing an arm. All of them viciously insane, completely amoral and enslaved to the will of powerful and dangerous alien entities.
  • Yawgmoth from Magic: The Gathering. He started out as an ordinary medic and eventually became a god-killing Multiversal Conqueror Dimension Lord Eldritch Abomination. His Start of Darkness is because unlike everyone else, he wasn't a healer he was a surgeon, who wanted to know how deep the rabbit hole went.
  • One of the planets of the Screaming Vortex in Black Crusade is a dismal wasteland where nothing can be built, populated by permanently depressed people. However, the inhabitants of the planet all harbour deep resentment and unspeakable desires that they're unable to act out on their bleak homeworld, and if taken off fromt he planet and allowed to finally act out their desires, they tend to become some of the most merciless and feared mortal followers of Chaos.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade has the Antediluvians, creators of thirteen vampire clans. They used to be mortal men and women, until they were embraced by their sires. Their first nights were no different than fledgings of modern nights, trying to distract themselves from the Beast Within and scavenging anything that slips through the fingers of their sires and their sire, Caine, until Gabriel/Uriel's prophecy came true and Antediluvians struck down their sires. Now? They are one of the most ancient horrors in the World of Darkness. There is only one thing that they remember about being a human, and that is hunger. They are closer than most to godhood, and they have been planning to reach that stage for many millenias. When they show their faces once again to the world that so desperately wants to forget them, the end of civilization will come, and they will feast on not just their descendants, but also the world. Saulot, however, might have been a good guy, or not.
  • Prior to Kahless the Unforgettable being codified as a Warrior Messiah Jesus by Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, FASA's Star Trek Tabletop Role-Playing Game released a supplement on the Klingons (it was heavily influenced by John M. Ford and his novel The Final Reflection). In it, Kahless was a ruthless warrior who, despite his talents, opted for a position in military research for the shaky coalition of generals that controlled Klinzhai following the last great war of planetary unification. This seemingly career-limiting choice of a dead-end position kept him from being a target in ongoing factional strife. More importantly, it let him create a research program on matter/antimatter reactions that gave him both an orbital Doomsday Device (which he used to force the coalition to name him Emperor) and the ability, via warp drive, to channel his people's ambitions toward the conquest of the stars. In the meantime, of course, anyone who he didn't trust (a rather large number) was mercilessly hunted down.
  • Quite a few characters in the Old World of Darkness crossover game Midnight Circus were noted for their inauspicious backgrounds prior to seizing power in the circus.
    • Ringmaster Devyn Cavendish got his start in life as a lowly street urchin in 15th century Florence, having been raised by his uncle after his father - a priest - abandoned him to avoid a scandal. However, all that changed when he Awakened and the Celestial Chorus found him; for a while, he was a promising apprentice... and then he happened to get hold of certain forbidden texts confiscated from Nephandi mages. Seduced by their power, he left his chantry and went off in search of the author - and the rest was history.
    • Being a thinly-veiled Expy of Josef Stalin, Jerigif Sacha AKA Koba the Clown was also destined for seminary school before dropping out and starting a life of crime - as part of a subversive comedy group. Following a run-in with a Silent Strider werewolf, he found himself unexpectedly possessed by a Bane - but somehow retaining enough free will to use its powers for his own ends. Not long after, the once-lowly clown joined the Midnight Circus.
    • Few Circus folk start off any lower than the Cone of Flesh: beginning life as a random blob of fat gathering in the Seventh Generation's fomorach pits, it unexpectedly achieved sentience and began eating the fomori that were supposed to be emerging from the pit... then the scientists who went to investigate... and then the security team that went looking for them. Following its escape and recruitment by the Circus, the nine-foot-tall cone of rancid blubber has ascended from an exhibit at the Museum of Oddities, to the King of Freak City and the terror of all who dwell there.
  • Pathfinder's Ileosa Arabasti was always cruel, petty, and manipulative, but as a glorified trophy wife with less smarts than the average peasant, she was too weak and cowardly to actually do anything that bad. Then she found the Fangs of Kazavon, which gave her a significant boost to her abilities, and the courage to act on her ambitions, turning her into one of the Inner Sea's most brutal and depraved tyrants. Over the course of Curse of the Crimson Throne, she goes from a low-level aristocrat to a 20th level, Devil-bound bard with enhanced ability scores and two incredibly powerful artifacts.
  • Some of the villains in Sentinels of the Multiverse are a drug dealer who mutated into a horrible rat monster (Plague Rat), a thief who turned into a serial killer, became superhuman after responding positively to Super Serum and later made a Deal with the Devil (Spite), and most notably, a goth teenager who found an evil mask (the Matriarch), who is most notable because she has a difficulty rating on par with Iron Legacy, who is basically an evil Superman.
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