Pain of Campaigning VI: Give Your Villains Some Panache!

Well, it had to happen.  The Main Event has begun to plan his first 4E game (and speak in third person!) So now, with a campaign fresh on the brain, I’ll continue my last villains article and talk about how to make your villain(s), regardless of type, formidable, awesome and dastardly.

They Have a Plan: Make sure your main villains are every bit as logical as your heroes.  As much as Prince Lotor from Voltron made me chuckle, his ‘evil for the sake of evil’ bit always struck me as strange.  Sure, it is evil to bring about the death of all sentient life, but maybe Mr. Villain thinks he can fix life and make it better, or that it would result in less suffering and he has a logical way of doing that.  Keep in mind, logic in this context can include magic and other zaniness.

Trademark: Give your villain some tick, some symbol, some catchphrase, some thing that announces his presence.  Make the PCs’ blood boil when they realize a seemingly tangential side quest was in actuality a clever ruse by the villain or that was actually part of his master plan. This could be done with a playing card or by having him masquerading as someone else, but his tick gives him away (perhaps a mustache flourish).   A bit of foresight and foreshadowing goes a long way here!

Make them human: Not literally of course!  However, the best villains have a bit of humanity, something that makes them at least somewhat sympathetic.  You could always play this to the hilt depending on the tone of the game and make the antagonist a plausible hero or you can just give them an adorable little brother they spoil.  Regardless, as fun as an adventure is to destroy a terribly evil being I find that at least giving them an iota of sympathy creates the feeling of a living, breathing world with reasonable development.

Hit them where it hurts: Have the villain attack everything the PCs care about.  Not many adventurers have families, but if they do, be sure to have your villain brutalize them grotesquely.  Unless you want a sympathetic villain, don’t hold back with your villain’s dastardly deeds.  Keep in mind, this should not be simply because they’re “evil” necessarily, but because its makes sense for them.  Kidnapping, torture, and terrorism certainly are effective in real life, why not in a game?

Consistency: Villains do not need to follow the same rules as PCs, but they should have their own internal set of crunch.  PCs are smart and they can suss out “DM Magic” when villains disappear arbitrarily and have special rules to avoid death no matter what their plan.  You can always give them a big fucking sword that negates these special rules in the end if you make them overpowered, but at least the PCs can begin to grasp how the villain works.

Here we have a scattershot of ideas on making a villain a big bad villain.  You need not use them all, but consider adding a few into your big bad guys to really make your PCs’ blood boil.

The Pain of Campaigning I: Story and Pre-Game Decisions
The Pain of Campaigning II: Starting the Game
The Pain of Campaigning III: The Plot Thickens
The Pain of Campaigning IV: Put a Little Politics In It
The Pain of Campaigning V: Suitable Villains
The Pain of Campaigning VI: Give Your Villains Some Panache!
Pain of Campaigning VII: The Finale (Part 1: What You Want the Adventure to be)

Comments

  1. I agree with most of your points, but I don’t necessarily agree with the need to be grotesque per se when messing with one’s foes’ loved ones.

    My personal favorite “Oh, I’m sorry, was that your favorite NPC?” incident was from one of my own villains, an arclong antagonist by name of Jalil. While I did a lot of characterizing him by his actual interactions with the group (he was cold, calm, and tended to treat every situation as if he was in complete control of it), one of the most important points of characterization I pulled for him was in the behavior of an NPC he’d kidnapped early in the sequence. Sure, when the group found her there weren’t any visible signs of ill treatment (mainly because he found that way to be rather… unrefined), but she’d withdrawn into her own head long since, and instead of being the level-headed sort they’d known her as before, she was rather jumpy by default–and then as soon as he entered the room she froze up completely. (Ironically, this is also a villain that at least two of my players like immensely as a character… and then there’s the IC opinions of him…)

  2. Jeff Groves says:

    I’d argue against often using the “brutalize family” method. As you said, few PCs make their families prominent in-game; giving their families to the villains for tormenting encourages PCs not to. While we’re citing TVTropes, be sure to look up StuffedIntoTheFridge and try to avoid it when dealing with in-game family. It’s effective, yes, but given the bad taste some similar storylines have left, it might also leave your players wanting to sock you in the jaw.

  3. Yeah, don’t destroy beloved NPCs without giving PCs a fair and actual change of doing something about it (like having to choose between two NPCs, saving both being impossible or close to so).

    Tommi’s last post: Ropecon

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