What makes a good bad guy? And what doesn’t?

As I immerse myself in the source material for the revised version of Duty and Honour, I was thrilled to see that Series 4 of Turn: Washington’s Spies had appeared on Amazon. Turn, the story of the Culper Ring during the American Revolutionary War is a great show and shows what could be done with the game in a different arena. It also happens to have within it the character that I consider to be one of the most despicable – and therefore, best – villains on TV at the moment: John Graves Simcoe.

Simcoe is an absolute piece of work – as happy torturing a man and literally rubbing salt into his wounds, as he is swanning around with the officers and ladies. As he has risen to power within the series, he has had command of the Queen’s Rangers and is now working to root out the spies that have thwarted him throughout the series.

What adds to Simcoe’s mystique is that he is both exceptionally competent and yet stumblingly vulnerable. He has bested a number of major characters in one-to-one combat and in the field of battle. He has a keen mind and insight and knows how to work a room to get what he wants. And yet … he also seems to suffer from the disdain of his superiors, fails in his relationships with women and almost always makes the wrong decision for the right reasons – leading to reprimand. This only feeds his smouldering anger and disgruntlement and leads to yet more desperation and depravity on his part.

There are, however, two major downsides to the character. The first is that the actual Capt. Simcoe was, by all accounts, a very different man. This is always the risk that comes when you use a historical character in a gaming setting. History is subjective with major characters and events being seen very differently by folks on both sides, so some care should be taken to show homage to the characters but not to saddle a real person with a terrible story they don’t deserve. The second downside is, I think, one of perception rather than intent, although it does inform us of some interesting possibilities to avoid when creating NPCs. Simcoe speaks with a shrill, high-pitched very English accent – an voice that sounds a little like the stereotypical representation of an effete gay man. The trope of gay=villain could be at play here, which is something I’m going to watch out for more in the future.

I highly recommend Turn to everyone who can get to see it (I only know of it on Amazon Prime in the U.K.) as it is an excellent source of inspiration for period adventure and it is definitely a period I am considering for a new Duty and Honour setting guide!

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