Villainy and You!

1) My apologies for lack of content just of late…but I had to take time out of my busy schedule of planetary domination just to make room to write this. And on that note:

2) Villains are a centerpiece of almost every tabletop RPG game out there. It is a game of opposed goals. The goals may be simple (lootables/XPs etc) or complex (world peace/national stability/long term regional prosperity etc) but those goals are always opposed by the ultimate villain…your DM! Since this is a lot to take on, a DM needs bosses and mini bosses. Most of these are self evident, quickly made and defeated…but you can expand on this and make some unique and lively opponents that bring lasting irritation to your players. Why? Because appetite is whetted by time and hunger. Make your player’s enemies memorable, and their experience defeating them is savored all the more.

Enemies don’t always have to be evil incarnate, but it does make things easier when they’re disposable and any actions taken against them are well justified. If it’s short term, as in a villainous monster or NPC that will be confronted in a few games and removed from the equation fairly soon, just a few small flourishes are called for. By flourishes, I mean personality quirks, backstory and reputation, and appearance. That local orc chieftain isn’t complete until he is the source of dreadful rumors in local taverns, with people speaking of his ferocity in battle, quoting the number of times young adventurers have been slain seeking him out, and describing his unique appearance and the rune on his battle standard. Likewise, a malignant local sorceress can have all kinds of foulness attributed to her over decades, with locals speaking of magical mists in which people get lost, disappearances among those who wandered out of town at night, and demands of tribute that have left them impoverished. Even ordinary opponents can be dressed up and made unique fairly easily. Example: A single, aging ogre with a bad temperament and a nearby cave lair. Give him a ring of invisibility, some crude armor, a couple of healing potions, and a magic morning star regularly dunked in poison…and the encounter just shifted from routine brute brawl to cunning and wily foe.

Long term enemies are much more difficult. It helps if they are distant and powerful at first, while the players are obviously outmatched. This keeps the PCs from slaughtering their ultimate enemy too soon. (Because, seriously…if a 3rd level party crashes an archmage’s palatial estate…it won’t end well for them, and they know it, or soon will.) The archmage’s lesser minions are another matter entirely. So begins a campaign arc, perhaps in the Robin Hood tradition, sabotaging the mage’s revenue streams, defeating his minions and representatives, giving people hope that change can come, and ultimately drawing the archmage out of his entrenched and comfortable position and into a battle with more equal terms, preferably when the PCs have had time to slowly build up levels and acquire powerful magic weapons. In any case, the sense of long term purpose, the reminder that a greater campaign goal is at stake, and taunting them with insults from their long term opponentĀ  (assassination attempts, bounties, kidnappings of allies, etc) can build the final battle up to a moment of epic satisfaction for players.

We covered the essentials in the podcast, but particulars for ‘customizing’ enemies is a more in depth subject. Leave no idea unused. It can be as simple as distinctive mode dress and speech, or as complicated as a campaign related backstory with several pages of material (Ravenloft style). It can be a tale of a modest person turned to evil by a powerful artifact they possess, or as familiar a tale as a person turned to evil by personal tragedy. The important point is that all these things can make a boss stand out from the herd of NPCs and random monsters.

Finally, a note about organizations. Defeating individuals is easy (relatively)…but beating an organization is far tougher. It allows for much more resources, shadowy hard to follow connections and influence, terrifying reputation with far more reach than one person or monster can ever have, and much more capacity for harm. It’s one thing to terrorize a local village…it’s another to co-opt an entire region’s governments. By voiding the traditional ‘single foe’ expectation, you can keep players busy rooting out members one or two at a time, until they’ve gathered enough clout, information and evidence to reveal all they know and collapse the organizations influence and relevance.

The big goal for a DM is always the same…presenting players with challenging experiences that they can enjoy and remember fondly. Or at least it for me, because my favorite table chatter…is those moments when players reference a time place you created, and they speak of it with the same affection and enthusiasm that we normally associate with classic movies or well loved books. That moment…always makes my day.

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