This trope is when even though the villain of a work is no longer around, the plot continues to be driven by things they did while alive. This can be done by their organization being taken over by someone else, their descendants being evil themselves, someone continues their plans without them, as they have established a culture which perpetuates their values and goals, and so forth. If it's an ongoing series where one way or another every villain can be traced back to the first one despite his defeat, it's this trope.
This trope is not, however, when the original villain is no longer in the spotlight but still manipulating things behind the scenes as The Man Behind the Man or The Man Behind the Monsters. For a true Villainous Legacy, they must have actually been defeated and are no longer the main threat. This trope can still apply if the villain is still around, as long as they are no longer the primary antagonist of the current story.
Compare Predecessor Villain, Hijacked by Ganon, As Long as There Is Evil, and My Death Is Just the Beginning, each of which can overlap with this trope. Contrast Eternal Hero, which is the heroic version. See also Someone to Remember Him By, Leaking Can of Evil, Evil Tainted the Place, The Remnant, Avenging the Villain, which can be assorted ways this trope is invoked. Also contrast Greater-Scope Villain and Villain of Another Story, which are active forces of evil who are just not concerned with the current plot.
NOTE: Because this trope focuses on a villain being behind other events in a series (and often dead themselves), expect unmarked spoilers.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Film - Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- King Runeard from Frozen II is already dead long before the events of the first movie but it's because of his attempts at oppressing the spirits of Nolthuldra and their people that the Enchanted Forest got sealed away, necessitating Anna and Elsa heading out to break the curse.
- The Lion King: Scar's sinister influence is still felt years after his death, since the primary villains in the sequel and TV show are his sympathizers wanting revenge. In The Lion Guard, Kion often fears that he'll end up becoming like Scar.
- Sunset Shimmer abandoned her evil ways at the end of My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, but her bringing Equestrian magic to the human world had led to the conflicts of every movie since.
- Though Lord Farquaad was defeated and killed off at the end of the first Shrek movie, he indirectly set off the villains of the next three sequels by convincing Shrek to defeat the dragon of the tower where Fiona was held prisoner: the Fairy Godmother wanted her son Prince Charming to rescue Fiona and opposed the big guy in Shrek 2; Prince Charming took matters into his own hands to try to kill Shrek in Shrek the Third; and Shrek's rescue prevented Rumpelstiltskin from taking over Far Far Away as its monarch, provoking him to take revenge on Shrek in Shrek Forever After.
- Treasure Planet has Captain Nathaniel Flint, based on the original Captain Flint from Treasure Island. While he is long dead by the main story, it is his treasure that drives the plot not to mention he set the planet to explode when the treasure was found.
- In Ring of Honor, the Lovely Lacey was part of Special K, a bunch of rich stoners who tried to drug members of the ROH roster to increase their membership. When that group broke into two, one half became "Lacey's Angels" but she eventually dumped the Special Ks for The Forgotten (BJ Whitmer and Jimmy Jacobs). The end of Lacey Angel's lead into Jacobs starting The Age Of The Fall, a movement to 'save society'. Jacobs was also a founder of S.C.U.M (Suffering, Chaos, Ugliness, Mayhem), though leadership ended up defaulting to Steve Corino. Corino and Jacobs would eventually present Matt Hardy as S.C.U.M's centerpiece. After that group's end Jacobs would go on to form Decade (Three wrestlers who had been "loyal" to ROH for a decade attacking everyone who wasn't, even if they hadn't been around long enough) while Hardy would be a key player in The Kingdom (providing Maria Kanellis and Mike Bennett with 'the title of love'). Thus, you can trace a successive line of factions that have terrorized the promotion since its very inception — the strange part is that it's not one of the major factions, such as Christopher Daniels' The Prophecy or CM Punk's Second City Saints, but rather a bunch of drugged out Spot Monkeys that started all this. The only notable members of the stable to ever have a direct, lasting impact on the promotion were Lacey and later on, Jay Lethal.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- The passage of an Elder Evil is not a trivial thing. Even if the Evil is defeated, destroyed, or sent back into its can before it can destroy the world, its activity will likely have caused millions or billions of deaths and left society scarred and shaken. Even if the being is prevented from actually coming or awakening, its Signs of the End Times are often apocalyptic in their own right and can have terrible effects of society, geography and ecology alike. Dealing with and attempting to heal the fallout of an Elder Evil's rise and fall can be enough to take up an entire post-campaign in its own right.
- Forgotten Realms: Kezef the Chaos Hound hasn't visited Faerûn in a very long time, but the last time he walked its surface he left behind several acid-filled footprints. Those prints, named the Death Shallows, remain there to the present day, disgorging a steady stream of oozes, paralementals and other foul beings into the world.
- Pathfinder has Kazavon in the Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign, where defeating even a small part of his legacy is an epic adventure for a group of 17th level characters. A monstrous Blue Dragon and Psycho for Hire who once served as Zon-Kuthon's Champion, Kazavon was killed long before the story began. His evil persists however, in the form of seven Artifacts Of Doom made out of his bones, which are so contaminated by the pure evil of his soul that they corrupt all they touch, exacerbating the evil that is already there in the human soul. Queen Illeosa, Big Bad of the setting, is wearing the Crown of Fangs carved out of his teeth; with her defeat the story is over, but the possibility of someone else picking up the Crown (or one of the other six items) remains a very real threat.
- Vampire: The Masquerade: Gehenna - most commonly in "The Crucible Of God."
- As the epilogue makes clear, the Curse of Cain might be gone and vampires might be extinct, but they certainly managed to leave a lasting impact on the world before they died off: billions of people have been killed, society has been knocked back to Industrial Revolution-levels, and the Antediluvians have often left horrific remnants in their wake. All this will likely take decades to recover from, and the now-human player characters will have to deal with the lasting scars of Gehenna if they'd like to continue the game post-apocalypse.
- Malkav's reign drove hundreds - if not thousands - of people to insanity, from the hordes of the randomly chaotic "bacchantes" endlessly rampaging across the wastes in pursuit of prey, to the unfeeling human predators known as "isolates." Worse still, Malkav's Chosen also possess the power to spread their madness to the ordinary humans they capture.
- The ghoul monsters created by Absimiliard still haunt the wilderness, and though some of them retreat to hibernation while they wait for their prey to replenish, others remain awake and active enough to breed.
- The Tzimisce Antediluvian not only warped countless thousands of plants, animals and humans alike over the course of its attempt at an Assimilation Plot, but the power of Vicissitude lives on in many of them. Quite apart from the obvious danger of a human being possessing both a functioning intellect and the full range of Tzimisce powers, many of them also possess a uniquely Tzimisce derangement: sadism, obsessive territoriality, or the desire to drink blood. Maybe becoming mortal again wasn't such a good thing after all...
- The players themselves could be this, at DM's discretion. If they didn't turn into humans at the end, they suddenly realize that the effect of Withering had passed, and they are getting more powerful each night, regardless of their generation limit. In several millennia, the players turn into Antediluvians of a new age.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Orks have a biological version of this: their corpses release spores that eventually mature into more orks, ensuring that a non-Hive/Forge planet that's been attacked once will pretty much always face them from then on.
- A more true to form version of this comes from the Horus Heresy. Nearly all of the troubles the Imperium has with Chaos are a direct result of Horus' rebellion. Not to mention the fact the Imperium that came out from the heresy is not the same one that went into it. Horus may not have conquered the Imperium, but he certainly made it the galaxy wide hellhole it is today.
- Thanks to Evil Versus Evil, the God-Emperor of Mankind probably also qualifies, considering he created and initially led the xenocidal, expansionist Imperium.
- Everything wrong with the galaxy can ultimately be traced back to the Necrontyr and the C'tan (Barring the Tyranids). They are the reason Chaos even exists, since it was the war they started that turned the Immaterium into a nightmarish hell dimension.
- Warhammer Fantasy Battle: Nagash was defeated millennia ago, but his legacy (necromancy, vampires, Nehekhara's nature as The Necrocracy) lasts to the present. Of course, given it's Nagash, he doesn't really stay gone.
- Ace Attorney: Blaise Debeste is this to the entire franchise, being the one who gave Manfred von Karma the first penalty in his perfect 40-year career. The penalty was for using a falsified autopsy report as evidence, but Blaise was the one who had the report falsified in the first place. This in turn lead to the DL-6 Incident, a tragic event that was both directly and indirectly responsible for the backstories of several major characters.
- In Danganronpa, Junko Enoshima died at the end of the first game, but since the setting is a Villain World she created, there's no shortage of Brainwashed and Crazy psychopaths looking to continue her work. Even when she's not the mastermind, she's still the mastermind.
- Dayshift at Freddy's draws several parallels between the series' main protagonist Jack Kennedy and the thought deceased big bad, Henry Miller. They wear the same mascot costume, they both eventually open their own restaurants, they both team up with Dave Miller, and even look somewhat similar. Of course, whether or not Jack is evil depends on the player's choices, but in paths where he is evil he straight-up says that he's "trying to follow Henry," and the word "legacy" is even treated as an arc word when it comes to Henry.
- Akuma's Comics: One of the first major villains in the comic was the Sprite Eater, a being who travels to sprite comics and devour them. After being defeated he has left behind a son, the Undertaker. While he eventually evolves past the desire for revenge and moves onto improving and empowering himself, he remains a continuous thorn on the side of the heroes.
- Red vs. Blue Season 10 flashbacks show that the A.I. Sigma qualifies for the Recollection Trilogy as a whole; he's the Big Bad of Reconstruction, but he is killed after those events, and his influence on the Meta still remains in Recreation and Revelation.
- We Are All Pokémon Trainers: The Seven Jerk Dragons transformation of most of the human population of the PMD-B timeline is directly responsible for the state of that universe when the J-Team visits it. Specifically, Bahahkun's descendant Maleficent had designs on starting a whole new dragon war, which were cut short when she died.