A hero is only as good as the villains they fight – but what makes a Villain great? It’s not exactly an easy question to answer, is it? I have three basic answers, for three different kinds of villain – the Mastermind, the Combat Monster, and the Character Villain. The first part of this article trilogy will focus on the first of these.
What is a Mastermind?
So what is a Mastermind? Why do they appeal?
Ben Bova recommends to authors that their works not contain villains. He states, in his Tips for writers: “In the real world there are no villains. No one actually sets out to do evil. Fiction mirrors life. Or, more accurately, fiction serves as a lens to focus what we know of life and bring its realities into sharper, clearer understanding for us. There are no villains cackling and rubbing their hands in glee as they contemplate their evil deeds. There are only people with problems, struggling to solve them.”
David Lubar adds, in reference to Bova’s comment, (quoted in Villains Don’t Always Wear Black): “This is a brilliant observation that has served me well in all my writing. (The bad guy isn’t doing bad stuff so he can rub his hands together and snarl.) He may be driven by greed, neuroses, or the conviction that his cause is just, but he’s driven by something not unlike the things that drive a hero.”
At Changing Minds.org, a site dedicated to persuasion run by David Straker (M.Sc. psychology, M.Sc. management, Postgraduate Certificate in Education, and Diploma in Marketing), we can find this description: “The Mastermind does not commit the crime, but is the brains behind the big event, whether it is a stealing, a scam or some other crime. They are typically brilliantly clever and master planners, allowing for every eventuality including being caught in the act.
“They may also leave a deliberate signature, such as a rose or some other symbol, to taunt the police and show that they cannot be caught.
“The hero who captures the mastermind must outwit them at every turn, including avoiding the snares and false trails that the mastermind leaves behind. Moriarty, for example, is the mastermind that is the nemesis of the brilliant Sherlock Holmes.”
Richard Lee Byers
Richard Lee Byers in ‘On Writing Mastermind Villains’ (quoted and excerpted at Wizards.Com) describes an encounter with a Mastermind as: “…like being caught in a deadly chess game in which you can only see your own pieces. If you survive, it will feel like it’s just the mastermind toying with you. And despite working as hard as you can, what limited successes you achieve will feel like they are due only to the amusement of your opponent. Even in losing, a mastermind often achieves their esoteric goal.”
He continues, “The archetypal mastermind villain is a brilliant, patient schemer pursuing an intricate strategy intended to achieve some nefarious end. He has underlings to carry out his plans, and his goals appear grandiose if not impossible. For example, he’s not content simply to steal a valuable painting from a private collector. He’d rather steal the Mona Lisa, or better still, every piece of artwork in the Louvre.”
The Appeal in an RPG
Because a Mastermind’s plans are so vast and long-reaching, a single Mastermind can underpin an entire Campaign, or can add a layer of complexity throughout a Campaign, or they can be contained within one or more single adventures (of somewhat epic scope). This flexibility makes the Mastermind inherently appealing to GMs.
A second source of appeal is that the Mastermind usually requires more than mere physicality to overcome. Blundering around in a whirl of successive combats does nothing more than making the PCs dizzy. In order to overcome the Mastermind, some original thinking is required; he challenges the players directly and it requires more than simply rolling dice to achieve victory.
But there’s a big difference between a really excellent Mastermind and a character who inhabits the trappings of a Mastermind without really fitting the part. Some Masterminds are – for lack of a better term – lame. The purpose of this article is to advise GMs on how to elevate their Masterminds out of mediocrity and into a characterization that will keep the PCs coming back for more – and the players feeling like they have genuinely achieved something significant when they take one down.
Profile Of A Mastermind
Let’s start by talking about the characteristics that most if not all good masterminds will exhibit.
1. The Mastermind should always have a plan
No mastermind should ever be static; he should always be doing something, even if it is simply gathering resources and materials i.e. “improving his position” while he waits for his next ‘stroke of genius’. As soon as a plan fails, he will shift to a plan B, then C, and so on through the entire alphabet. If a plan succeeds, he will immediately have a plan alpha ready to go to utilize the fruits of victory. Within hours (if not minutes or seconds) of an unexpected development – whether it is a setback or an advantage – it has been fully integrated into his existing plans. He keeps these plans in his head for the most part, where he can continually refine them – and so that there are no inconvenient records to dispute his claims of “I expected that, everything is falling into place exactly as my plans predicted”.
The GM is NOT a mastermind, and doesn’t have to be. To confer these levels of planning apon an NPC,. he has a couple of tools at his disposal:
- Time between sessions – Prep time can be invested in devising plans for the Mastermind based not only on what has happened but on what the GM expects to happen.
- NPC Control – the GM controls the other NPCs, who can act in a way that supports the Mastermind’s plan – supposedly because the mastermind predicted their actions in advance. Just ask yourself what the Mastermind would like to see happen next, then do it.
- Event Control – the same is true for other events. If there is an army that’s located inconveniently for the Mastermind, have it start raining, so that storm water bursts a dam or levee. You can either choose to wipe out/scatter the army, or have them assigned to disaster relief – either way, they are too busy to interfere in the Master Plan. When the PCs later discover sketches, blueprints, and a report on the condition of various dams, levees, and river banks in the Mastermind’s papers, what seemed like a fantastic stroke of luck at the time is suddenly transformed into the Mastermind doing what he does best.
- Do something now, justify it later – when a surprise happens (and it will), don’t act surprised, and don’t fret about immediately adjusting the Mastermind’s Plans – simply have him instruct his men to do something specific (even if it appears completely unrelated to events) – then work out why he did that in between sessions. Occasionally, you may need to take a 10-30 minute break to think about it midsession, but 95% of the time, this will get you through.
2. The Mastermind should have a Goal
While Masterminds change their plans like the weather, their long-term Goals should always be relatively fixed (with more lined up for use in the event that they succeed in achieving them), their medium-term goals should be to acquire the resources that may or will be needed to achieve the long-term goal(s), and the short-term goals should be to gather intelligence and manipulate events to the Mastermind’s advantage in acquiring those resources.
It’s actually relatively easy to use a set of computer programming concepts – Iteration, Top-Down design, and Stepwise Refinement – in conjunction with Domino Theory to develop a master plan for your villains once you have a goal in mind for them. Going into that is too far removed from the subject at hand, but I will go into it in detail in a later article.
For the moment, though, I want to talk about the Goal itself. This is an essential defining element of the Mastermind – a shallow goal produces a shallow character. The Goal or Goals should derive from the character’s background, his psychology, and his motivations. It should shape his personality, and be rooted in deep philosophical territory. Ullar-as-villain – something I’ve been using a lot as an example lately, most recently discussed in detail as part of Splitting Hairs: Exploring nuance as a source of game ideas had the goal of overthrowing three beings (one of them an alternate-timeline version of himself) who he saw as cosmic manipulators because he felt their very existence to be anathema to his free will – and he was prepared to make any sacrifice, to slaughter billions if necessary, to achieve that goal. Free will versus determinism in a world in which the Gods (or God-like beings) can rearrange reality as they see fit, with only their rivalry to constrain them.
A few more examples, starting in a similar vein: Is arcane magic the ultimate expression of free will – or does its existence deny free will to all those who don’t have it? Are Clerics the tools by which the Gods enslave mortals – or are the Gods enslaved by Mortal demands and expectations? Does the use of arcane magic destabilize reality? Is Arcane Magic a finite resource? If Clerical magic is the gift of the Gods, what is Arcane Magic? Can a God become suicidal – and what happens to reality if one does? In D&D Cosmology, what keeps the elemental planes apart? What is Life and what is Death, and are they really two sides of the same coin or two entirely distinct forces within the Universe – and can they be manipulated directly?
Compare these questions, and the obvious Goals deriving from them, with the Goal of owning the biggest collection of stamps in the world – or the goal of owning all the gold in existence – or the goal of being King of the Marshes. These relatively shallow goals can’t hold a candle to the Big Ambitions that come from the Big Issues.
3. The Mastermind should be smart – not cunning
This is a subtle distinction. A cunning character can turn any situation to his advantage, or find his way out of any mess almost by instinct. With the mastermind comes a spiderweb of intricately interwoven plans, which he will follow to the bitter end. The reason he has plans B, C, D, and so on, is because he thinks about everything that he can foresee in advance, and never, ever, makes it up as he goes along.
In fact, a Mastermind can be a very slow, plodding thinker – which simply means that it takes him longer to devise and polish his master plans. Anyone with enough intelligence to cobble together a conspiracy theory is capable of being a Mastermind. Make the Mastermind the Janitor, or the Barman at the PCs favorite Inn, or the Postman – someone who can watch critical events unfold but who is otherwise part of the furniture. One GM that I know once made his Mastermind a tree that only awakened to sentience once a month under a full moon – the rest of the time, it was just a tree, literally as dumb as a stump – and another once devised a conspiracy theory centered around the propagation of a species of white picket fence capable of mentally influencing those who dwelt within their confines…
4. The Mastermind should never be obvious
I had originally written “The Mastermind should never be Predictable” – but after a little thought, I realized that the one thing a Mastermind should be was Predictable. There can only be one perfect plan to achieve a specific goal with the minimum opportunities for things to go wrong – identify the Goal and assume the competence of the Mastermind, and out pops the scripted play-by-play of what the Mastermind will do.
No, the mastermind should be subtle and devious and should never to reveal his true goals until he has them in the palm of his hand. Recognizing the possibility of potential interference, he should always appear to be pursuing a goal that his opponents can waste their time, energy, and resources shadowboxing and missing the things that are really significant. Heck, any real mastermind worth his salt would come up with such a plan just to identify and analyze any possible sources of such interference!
5. The Mastermind should be manipulative
While a mastermind should not care about public opinion per se, he should nevertheless be conscious of appearances and of the social climate around him, and should manipulate perceptions in order to give himself the maximum freedom to go about his business. Having a source of potential defenders to rally to his cause never goes astray, either.
If his plans will be facilitated by a weakening Yen, he should investigate the vulnerabilities of the Japanese economy – and put in place a short or medium-term plan to exploit them, not necessarily for his own direct gain. Little is more helpful than allies working on your behalf without knowing it because they think they are doing the right thing, the things that need to be done.
6. The Mastermind should have a network of informants and lackeys
Good information is essential to good planning. There’s a reason they call it “Intelligence Gathering”.
At the same time, the Mastermind should stick to the shadows as much as possible – let flunkies carry the risks, preferably disposable ones who know nothing more than they need to. Being manipulative, as per the previous point, is a way to get flunkies to do what you want and think it was all their own idea, so that they need to know absolutely nothing.
Sidebar: What Makes a Good Flunky for a Mastermind
There’s a quote. I’m not sure where it’s from, and Google was no help in tracking it down – maybe a reader can refresh my recollection. I’ll probably get the phrasing wrong, just a little, but it goes something like this: “Just follow your instructions to the letter. Get creative on your own time.” This is an essential for a mastermind, because the real purpose of what the flunky is doing is almost certainly not what they think it is. Obedience, loyalty, reliability, competence, and a minimum of creativity are the ideal attributes of the Mastermind’s henchmen. Intelligence both makes it more likely that the flunky will understand the instructions properly and more likely that they will get ideas of their own, possibly even becoming a rival – so it is a trait that would be both encouraged and very closely watched. Dumb Muscle is more likely to make a mistake – unless closely supervised by someone with a little more wit. The Mastermind should recruit accordingly.
7. The Mastermind should have extensive resources at their disposal
A mastermind who finds that he needs something he doesn’t have is the victim of poor planning – and he’s the one responsible for the plan. Resources are puzzle pieces from potentially several different jigsaws – having them available, categorized, and catalogued, indexed, tabulated, and cross-indexed means that the mastermind has everything he needs in order to pursue plan A, or B, or C – with one possible and notable exception: Plan B presupposes the failure of plan A in some specific manner or at some specific point, and that failure in itself may provide a resource that is essential to the new Plan.
At the same time, the Mastermind should be efficient. He is not interested in acquiring resources for their own sake, he doesn’t have any intrinsic desire for them – they are tools for the achievement of his goals. Anything not required for that end is surplus, to be used as a bargaining chip to gain possession of something more useful.
Some Masterminds presuppose that if Plan A fails, all resources employed in the pursuit of that plan will be consumed in the process. Should anything survive, that’s a bonus – but assume the worst and prepare Plan B accordingly. Blofeld is very much this type of Mastermind – expose him, destroy his entire operation, even supposedly kill him – and a few days, weeks, months, or years later, it emerges that he simply stepped into a prepared second operation completely distinct from the first that was ready and waiting. This impression is reinforced if you watch a number of Bond movies in a short space of time :)
8. The Mastermind should have unusual sources of information – and sources of unusual information
In a nutshell, the Mastermind should know things that no-one else knows, or can know. Exploring and exposing these can be some of the most fascinating plotlines for both players and GM because the relationship with the main plot is secondary to something with the term “unusual” in it. Which is usually a code-word for “original” and even more often a code-word for the word “interesting”. Saruman was this sort of Mastermind, and so was Denethor.
In terms of mundane sources, it can be assumed that it will be unusual for things to happen that the Mastermind doesn’t know about – so those are the only things that the GM needs to keep track of; beyond that he can assume that if it happens, the Mastermind knows about it (he may need to dispatch a flunky to acquire more details). When I’m creating a Mastermind, I like to always include at least one subject he can’t get information on (at least directly) – (usually because the risk is too great) – and compensate by giving him at least one source of unusual information and one unusual source of information. These add color to the character. However, I also always remember the maxim – don’t give anything to an NPC that you don’t want a PC to get.
9. The Mastermind should have a consistent personality
There are many things to dislike about “Diamonds Are Forever” as a Bond Movie – though it is still entertaining enough in other ways – but the most notable thing about that movie for me was the performance of Charles Gray as Blofeld, which I often find myself referring to as the definitive incarnation. Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, and Max von Sydow all came close and did sterling work in their portrayals of the role, but this is the one that I remember when I think of the character.
That said, they are all recognizable as Blofeld because the personalities are so similar. Urbane, even Charming, with a vicious and cold-hearted interior, and a genuine mastermind of no little genius. In other words, the personality was consistent from appearance to appearance – you didn’t have to hear the character named, as soon as you saw him stroking the cat you knew.
That’s one aspect of a consistent personality. The other is a personality that makes sense in terms of the character background, that fits with the character’s Goals and Ambitions, that fits the character’s role.
10. The Mastermind should have a trademark
Quite obviously, the Cat is Blofeld’s trademark. You only have to sit at a table stoking an imaginary cat in a game and everything you say will be assumed to have come from a generic Blofeld (or similar Mastermind). It doesn’t matter what the game is. I’ve even seen a game of Toon in which a mother cat NPC was stroking one of it’s kittens in that manner and everyone got the culture reference immediately. I once gave the same attribute to an ally of the PCs who I wanted them to mistrust – it worked perfectly.
Other masterminds should have their own signature phrasing or voice or gimmick, but whatever it is, it should be unique to that character.
11. The Mastermind should make few foolish mistakes
Masterminds are rarely if ever foolish. Humiliating one in this respect is a sure way to get one’s attention. It follows that if you are ever running a Mastermind character who does make a foolish mistake, you should always try to think of a way for it later to emerge that the “mistake” was a necessary part of the master plan. That may involve retconning resources and circumstances if necessary.
12. The Mastermind should take risks commensurate with the rewards
There is a difference between taking a risk and making a foolish mistake, however. Risk assessment should be part of the villainous Mastermind’s stock in trade. He should never risk more than the rewards are worth in terms of achieving his goal – and taking risks are what flunkies are for. If a Mastermind ever takes what is revealed in retrospect to be a risk that is not commensurate with the reward they should have achieved, there are only five possible explanations:
- The potential gains were greater than they appeared – retcon as necessary
- The potential risk was smaller than it appeared – retcon as necessary
- The failure was actually part of the realmaster plan – retcon as necessary
- The failure was the result of a personality flaw, a blind spot that should recur time and time again
- The mastermind got it wrong – only if you can’t think of a way to explain the lapse in judgment by one of the previous explanations.
13. The Mastermind should be surprising
Whenever the PCs encounter the mastermind (directly or indirectly) it should come as a surprise. They should always ask themselves “What is [X] up to now?” – figuratively if not literally.
I often ask myself “What’s the most unlikely thing for [X] to do next?” – and then try to come up with a plan to justify that action. I had one supervillain Mastermind in the campaign that predated the Zenith-3 campaign who always sent the PCs a Christmas card – sometimes with a minor trap or inconvenience built in, sometimes not – just to be unpredictable. It doesn’t matter where they find themselves on Christmas Day, he always found a way to get a card to them on the day. Even after he was dead, with identity confirmed by post-mortem forensic analysis (it turned out that he had prearranged the delivery). Since these have now ceased, they came to the conclusion that he really was dead. Which may have been what he wanted all along…. [Insert villainous laugh here!]
14. The Mastermind should be anonymous and/or mythic
The final element to the jigsaw, and one of the hardest to explain. Until the PCs identify the Mastermind, he should always be a shadowy figure, of uncertain identity. If there are rumors of his existence, they should be of an alliance – The Necromancer did this, Black Tattoo did that, The Legitimacy is rumored to have been behind the other. Any ‘real names’ associated with these identities should be revealed as fictitious before the villain’s real identity is revealed (if it ever is).
Strengths, Flaws, and Characterization
Having identified the traits that should accompany any Mastermind, it’s time to look at the strengths, vulnerabilities, and personalities of the villain type.
A. The Mastermind should be vulnerable to assumptions
Every plan is a statement of logical chains of cause and effect – but effects are only predictable if the right assumptions are made, and even then only within certain tolerances. Get the assumptions wrong, and people will react to situational stimuli in an unexpected manner, and events will follow an unpredictable course. Since the plan is supposedly a straight line from zero to objective, every deviation only carries the mastermind away from achieving his goals. A really competent Mastermind will attempt to validate his assumptions with mini-plots before committing to a grand plan – but sometimes that is not possible. Again, a really competent mastermind will have alternative strategies in place in case one or more of his assumptions prove flawed – but not everything can be planned for in this manner. No plan survives implementation completely intact.
This is actually a blessing in disguise for the GM; it means that he doesn’t need more than general plans for latter stages of a scheme until they arrive. In effect, the “Master Plan” is naturally sandboxed. You don’t have to detail the whole thing in advance!
B. The Mastermind should be vulnerable to surprises – temporarily
Rigourous planning takes time. Where a cunning adversary might not consider the long-term consequences and simply seek the quickest means of gaining an advantage, the planner – the Mastermind – will therefore be vulnerable for a short time to being surprised, caught on the back foot and unsure of how best to proceed. Give him time to revise his plans, however, and his recovery from the surprise will be virtually total, while the merely cunning adversary may achieve only a partial recovery – or may spot an opportunity for an even greater gain. In the long run, the two approaches have roughly the same utility. The mastermind may be more plodding, more deliberate – but he doesn’t suffer as many setbacks, and is generally more likely to get to where he wants to go.
C. The Mastermind should be vulnerable to forced pacing
It follows that the Mastermind can be overwhelmed when someone else is forcing the pace, changing a situation faster than he can integrate the changes into his planning. The biggest threat to a Mastermind is therefore a cunning character who can smash his preparations faster than he can rebuild them.
D. The Mastermind may be vulnerable to brute force
For similar reasons, amass enough brute force and you may overwhelm the delicacy of the Mastermind’s plans – if you can direct that force at the right place. But that can usually only happen when the brute force is being directed by a rival – otherwise, the Mastermind would have detected the buildup of the forces opposing him and done something about it before things reached this extreme.
E. The Mastermind should see through deception
It should be very hard to lie to a Mastermind, or even to withhold pertinent facts from a report to one. A deliberate deception is almost certain to be identified – and his flunkies will usually consider it too dangerous to do so, as no-one can ever be sure just how much the Mastermind really knows. Of course, the Mastermind may choose not to reveal his awareness of the deception so that his betrayer can lead the Mastermind back to his real opposition…
F. The Mastermind may be fixated
Obsessive-compulsive behavior is not uncommon amongst Masterminds. This can occasionally distract them at critical moments, leading to errors in their planning. They will often refuse to abandon a plan that is going wrong until it is beyond any hope of success – an attitude that can cost them resources and even expose the Mastermind himself to danger. It’s at the latter point that the Mastermind usually comes to his senses.
G. The Mastermind may possess character virtues
The key word in the above sentence is “May”. I always like to be able to raise doubts in the minds of the players – whether that is by making a villain look like a good guy, or making the villain’s goals seem more reasonable than perhaps they are. I’ll also have some good guys act like villains just to blur the lines a little more.
A Mastermind who is kind to strangers and orphans, donates to charity, and treats his flunkies with affection and respect, but who has a minor obsession with becoming the master of space and time, or wiping out every Elf in existence, or whatever, can be exceedingly dangerous…
H. The Mastermind may appear to be someone or something he is not
Which of course leads to the point spelled out above. Anyone might secretly be the Scarlet Hood – from the newsboy on the corner, to the State Governor, and all points in between.
I. Above All: The Mastermind Matters – Invisibly
A mastermind should be most noticeable by the fallout from his schemes. When seemingly straightforward events yield unexpected outcomes, when unlikely individuals rise to prominence, when events always seem to inexplicably benefit one party, and when suspicious individuals always seem to emerge from situations smelling like a rose, look for a mastermind pulling the strings. Coincidences happen with remarkable frequency when a Mastermind is behind the scenes!
The Secrets Of The Mastermind
While there has been some advice on how to manage a Mastermind scattered throughout the above text, there are a couple of additional techniques that I wanted to bring to the attention of GMs who have such a character within their game.
The Retroactive INT check
One of the most powerful tools the GM has at his disposal for simulating a Mastermind’s unique attributes is the Retroactive INT check or equivalent. Whenever something unexpected happens (usually because the PCs have gotten involved in some way), have the mastermind make an INT check – if they succeed, then they have foreseen this development (or something similar) and prepared accordingly. When an opportunity opens up, do likewise. When a PC threatens, roll to see if the Mastermind has put a loved one under threat as Insurance.
As a general rule of thumb, I’ll apply a modifier of N to such rolls, where 0.5 x 2^N equals the time in hours by which the Mastermind needs to have anticipated the event in question – ie -1 for 30 mins, -2 for 1 hr, -3 for 2 hrs, -4 for 4 hrs, -5 for 8 hrs, -6 for 16 hrs, -7 for 32 hrs, -8 for 64 hrs, etc. I will also apply a similar modifier in the other direction for every half-day the Mastermind has been planning – so +1 for half-a-day, +2 for a full day, +3 for 2 days, +4 for 4 days, +5 for 8 days, +6 for 16 days, +7 for 32 days, and so on.. As a general rule, that means that for every day the Mastermind has been planning, he will get one hour’s warning of untoward developments – how much he can get done in that time is another question. These are not official rules anywhere in any of my House Rules – they are just a guideline. I ignore them whenever it seems appropriate.
The Mutating Goal
Some GMs are awful at keeping a secret. I’m passably bad at it myself. One of the developments that can take all the steam and interest out of a Mastermind character occurs when the PCs penetrate the web of deceit that has been woven about the Mastermind and figure out what the character is trying to achieve before events are ready to come to a climax. It might happen that way in real life, but for adventure purposes we need something a little more dramatic in the way of resolutions; so, whenever this occurs (or I simply suspect that it has occurred), I apply the Mutating Goal rule: Whenever a goal is prematurely understood, something even more devious will take its place. This has gotten me out of trouble on several occasions!
The Mastermind’s Goal should always be a plot twist
If a Mastermind should always be surprising, and the big reveal is his spotlight moment, surely it should be the most surprising development of all? Only a plot twist will do – unless the players have grown used to plot twists at such moments, in which case the twist might be that the Goal is exactly what it seemed to be (but the motivations may be different). It should never be clear what the Mastermind’s true goals are until the very last minute – and they should be unexpected.
The Mastermind’s Identity should always be a plot twist
The same thing goes for the Mastermind’s identity. I once rigged up a complicated set of magic mirrors in a dungeon to create a duplicate of a PC with an opposite alignment and transport him elsewhere, where he became a Mastermind working against the party. Not only was the identity of the Twilight King a great surprise to the party, explaining how he knew so much about them and their abilities and vulnerabilities, they were really gobsmacked when it turned out that the “Mastermind” was himself just a pawn created purely to keep the party busy while the real plot unfolded behind their backs. They thought they were so clever when they realized just how unlikely it was that such an improbable trap would be devised and left in the first place….
It’s also worth considering not revealing the Mastermind’s identity. Preserving this mystery even after the defeat of the villain also preserves part of his mystique – and leaves the door open for a return bout.
The Fallout should always be significant
Masterminds, by virtue of what they do, should leave the world a changed place when they are done with it. Their plans may be long-smashed and forgotten before the consequences and fallout are layed to rest.
Making the Mastermind Great
Finally, much of the advice offered on how to make a PC a player’s favorite character can also be applied to the Mastermind. They should be part of the campaign, and should change the world with their presence. They should have a mystique to them, and have a cool gimmick or two up their sleeves. They should have a strong personality, the force of which can be experienced even without them turning up in a plotline. The only reason they don’t steal the spotlight is because they prefer to stay in the shadows.
Make your masterminds memorable and they will add to the depth and complexity of your world almost as an incidental. And they can be an awful lot of fun for a GM to play, to boot.