Dr. Cox: No, Bob-o, you got there by back-stabbin' and ass-kissin'.
Dr. Kelso: Maybe so, but I started those things precisely at 8:00.
Villains are bad, it goes without saying. However, they can't be all bad for the simple reason that a character loaded down with all of the Seven Deadly Sins (along with whatever other character flaws writers can think of) will be too lazy, gluttonous, envious, prideful, angry, lustful and miserly to do much of anything. A villain laden down with too many vices quickly becomes a loser.
Even if they only have one vice, a villain is going to need a big heaping of icky good traits in order to accomplish their goals. They don't have to be an Anti-Villain,note they just need to have one or more virtues to get by. The reason for this is both practical and artistic. Practically, a villain with a virtue of some kind will have a way to put their schemes in motion and effectively oppose The Hero. Without these virtues, authors would have to resort to making them a Generic Doomsday Villain to get anything done. Artistically, it helps make the villain a Rounded Character, and helps make them dynamic if their virtue and vice are somehow in conflict.
Oh, and it lets them get all holier-than-thou during a Breaking Speech, throwing in a "Not So Different" Remark or two — especially if the hero really is deficient in a virtue (or apparent virtue) the villain cherishes, in which case the villain may even claim that they hold the moral high ground.
For example: A Prideful villain might also be very hardworking in order to get the power he needs. A slothful villain might compensate with amazing creativity, coming up with amazing inventions, Evil Plans, and limitless funds. A wrathful villain may nonetheless be very loyal to his minions, inspiring great devotion. A greedy villain might back it up with tenacity, relentless and unyielding in their pursuit of more, more, more. A lustful villain may also be extremely courageous, willing to risk death or worse in pursuit of their carnal desires.
Where this can get strange and interesting is when this is applied to a villain who is Made of Evil. Here you have a ball of elemental nastiness who also happens to have one or more positive traits. Who knew elemental evil had such good taste in scones?
However, there are virtues and then there are virtues. Much like Color-Coded for Your Convenience, there are some virtues that are okay for heroes and some that are more often seen in villains. These are:
- Ambition. Though heroes may insist that Ambition Is Evil, villains are the ones who try to make the struggle to get better (even if they have a tendency to overdo it), which heroes typically lack until disaster forces them to change.
- Camaraderie. There are villains that genuinely value each other as comrades, getting along with each other, being willing to listen to the other if they make suggestions, show tremendous trust in each other, and even help each other in times of need. Villains may also end up being good friends with the heroes, though whether or not it causes them to change sides depends on the situation, making it painful to fight them as a result.
- Cooperation: Villains with good teamwork skills can make them very effective in accomplishing their goals. If they share a common enemy with the heroes, they may also be willing to work alongside them to put down that enemy.
- Creativity. When a villain is an Evil Genius or The Strategist, they may be able to come up with good plans with whatever resources they have at their disposal, using those resources for things other than their intended purpose, or even think outside the box if their normal tactics against the enemy don't work.
- Decisiveness. Villains generally have little or no patience for the Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering, and value being able to make decisions, and have them implemented, quickly.
- Determination. Sometimes when a villain keeps on trying despite being stomped into the ground a million times, and still gets up and keeps going after his goals regardless of the constant beatings, you have to at least admire their tenacity somewhat. In general, villainous breakdowns are significantly less common (though also more unexpected) than a hero falling to bits after a major defeat.
- Diligence. Despite Evil Is Easy and The Dark Side making access to power easier, many villains will undergo much more extreme ordeals and protracted effort than heroes, who usually benefit from Hard Work Hardly Works. This may include refraining from pleasurable indulgences in order to maintain focus on the tasks at hand.
- Empathy. Some villains can sense other's emotions.
- Equality. Usually the remit of villains that see the bigger picture, if just because they are less concerned about any individual that suffers that their hands, but villains will often reward strength and punish weakness without caring who that person is. The Social Darwinist may think only the strong should profit, but on the other hand any strong individual can profit.
- Flexibility. While some villains believe their plan is infallible and are left at a loss when that plan ends up failing, some villains can actually adapt their plans on the fly if things don't work out as they intended. Their willingness to improvise can make them very effective in catching the enemy off-guard and ensure they don't go down so easily. They can also be flexible in how they ensure their minion's loyalty by using different methods for each minion.
- Generosity. Whereas some villains would prefer to hoard all the power or material wealth for themselves, there are some who are willing to share with their allies. This might be done just to ensure their loyalty, but it may also be done out of genuine gratitude for such loyalty in the first place. A lot of villains have recruited many followers to their side by offering them something they want most in their time of need.
- Gratitude. A villain may display gratefulness for various reasons, like helping them or saving their lives. They may help you back in return, make exceptions, or ultimately do a Heel–Face Turn.
- Honesty. Though rare, some villains don't lie, and insist that keeping a promise is a matter of honor. This does have the practical effect of people being more likely to trust them and less able to verbally undermine them, even if they are known to be a villain. In organized crime settings, a villain will not get far without a reputation for honesty. This, along with Humility and Wisdom, also makes their Breaking Speeches and The Reason You Suck Speeches more accurate and effective.
- Honor. Calling card of the Noble Demon who preaches Even Evil Has Standards.
- Humility. Not all villains are smug and arrogant. Some are down to earth, personable, and modest. Common in a No-Nonsense Nemesis, and a large part of what makes them terrifying foes. They acknowledge their own fallibility and rarely shoot advisors for doing their job or minions for failure of The Plan. They will not be enraged by insults. They are not concerned with making a spectacle or Evil Gloating. This is a villain who will just shoot the hero or calmly inform them that the plan has already succeeded. If they give a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, it will likely be both accurate and effective.
- Kindness. Some villains can be Affably Evil, being courteous and respectful to allies and enemies alike. Being a Benevolent Boss can earn them loyalty from their allies, and they may be willing to show mercy and compassion to their enemies, especially if they may consider them a friend or Worthy Opponent. This will make fighting them all the more difficult, since you know they're on the wrong side.
- Love. Despite Love Redeems, a surprising number of villains love either their spouses, parents, children, or even friends/underlings while remaining evil. Of course, it's worth mentioning that Love Makes You Evil and Crazy. With Love as a villain's virtue, the result is often Unholy Matrimony.
- Loyalty is a pretty even split between heroic and villainous. This isn't being a Lawful Evil Rules Lawyer mind you, because those types can still be The Starscream, but Power of Trust brand loyalty where even a Chaotic Evil type will avoid betrayal.
- Maturity. Not all villains act Immature and realize they can't get everything.
- Nationalism. It may be that while the villain looks like a standard Evil Overlord to the enemies of The Empire, he is actually very popular at home for treating his own people fairly and standing up for their rights. In fact, his villainous actions may even be driven by his very love for his nation and his desire for it to be safe and prosper. Of course, this may also have negative aspects if taken too far.
- Passion. Emotion can be what gives life richness and value, but in some settings evil itself feeds upon passions and uses them to fuel its own ends.
- Patience. Most heroes are Hot-Blooded, but bad guys are patient Chess Masters. Plus if you were to wrong the villain, their revenge is often unexpected.
- Resourcefulness. Another 50/50 split, resourceful villains are exceedingly dangerous because they will use any trick they can to win.
- Respect. Many villains tend to look down on the hero, but there are some that can be genuinely impressed by their skills or positive attributes. They may consider them a Worthy Opponent and take them seriously as an equal or as a threat. Because of this, they might go all out against the hero or fight fairly in a duel against them. They may also make an offer of We Can Rule Together if they take an interest in their skills. They can also show respect towards their minions as a Benevolent Boss, never getting angry with their failures unless it's due to a careless blunder, being willing to respect their wishes, give rewards for jobs well done, being willing to let them leave if they so desire with their blessing, or honor their sacrifices.
- Responsibility. Some villains care. Even if they go the wrong way about fixing problems, they are a lot more sensitive to noticing them.
- Selflessness. Most villains who try to create a better world don't do it for themselves. They rarely expect thanks for bearing all the difficulties and many accept it that they may not even be able to enjoy the results. Yet they are often willing to sacrifice their popularity and even their life for the greater good.
- Strength. Many villains value strength for its own sake, and for the power it gives them to control events.
- Temperance. While many villains tend to indulge their desires and whims, chasing after shiny objects, wallowing in hedonism, or engaging in petty cruelty just For the Evulz, there are some villains who know restraint. They may consider such actions too heinous for even them, or because they don't want to waste time, energy or resources doing something detrimental to their goal. This allows them to avoid carrying the Villain Ball or performing Stupid Evil actions.
- Valor. To quote The Kurgan (and Neil Young): "It's better to burn out than to fade away!" Villains despise weakness. So even when they know they're probably going to lose and the odds are in the hero's favor, they're not going down without a fight. After all, if you're trying to take over the world, you're up against pretty much everyone, and thus it helps quite a bit to be able to look at an army six billion strong, smile confidently, and say "Bring it on." In fact, this is one of the most common "virtues" for a villain to have, and a villain lacking it will often specifically be singled out as a Dirty Coward.
- Vigilance. Villains can be alert at all times, keeping their guard up and making it less likely for the hero to surprise them. Should they apparently defeat an enemy, they will not believe No-One Could Have Survived That and instead either Double Tap or make sure the enemy is dead. This will make them Crazy-Prepared in the rare event the enemy does manage to turn the tides, and in the case of mooks and soldiers, allow them to avert The Guards Must Be Crazy.
- Wisdom. Believe it or not, villains can be wise if they actually learn from their failures or from the enemy. Being Taught by Experience can help them improve their strategies and let them figure out how to accomplish their goals more efficiently. They'll be sure to stop themselves from juggling the Villain Ball and avoid themselves from succumbing to the classic villainous overconfidence. They will also Know When to Fold 'Em if the heroes have truly gotten the better of them, either because they are good sports who are willing to accept a loss or know they can just try again another day. If they're being threatened by someone or something they clearly cannot fend off themselves, they'll swallow their pride and ally even with their sworn enemies in order to deal with this threat. If they aim to corrupt or mentor a good person, they won't expect a quick, drastic turn to the dark side, patiently letting their proteges to reach their evil potential at the right pace instead. If in a position of authority, they can be a Reasonable Authority Figure by listening to their advisors, being willing to accept failure from their minions so long as there is a good reason (and even then they will only give reasonable and fair punishments instead of acting like a Bad Boss with a You Have Failed Me mentality), and also avoid doing acts of needless cruelty (even if it's only for pragmatic reasons). They can also possess insight into other people that will make them better manipulators, able to deliver accurate and effective Breaking Speeches and The Reason You Suck Speeches (like with Humility and Honesty), and even capable of averting — to an extent at minimum — Evil Cannot Comprehend Good.
Contrast Mr. Vice Guy, where a hero has an emblematic vice, Virtue Is Weakness, where the villain explicitly rejects all good traits, and Complete Monster, for villains who have no redeeming qualities (except for maybe ambition, valor, determination, passion and diligence).
Usually, whenever Even Evil Has Standards comes into play, it's because the offender has violated one of the virtues listed above.
This can mostly overlap with Pure Is Not Good, as being evil with most of the virtues can lead to that direction.
See also Negatives as a Positive, when the bad personality traits themselves are given a good spin.