Monday, November 22, 2010

How To Annoy Your Players: Villain Creation 2

Apologies for the tardiness. I got a little busy trying to finish some other writing tasks. I now have a sore throat and am coughing up an impressive amount of mucus, so... karma, I suppose?

Anyway, let's carry on.

As established in the previous post, all players are terrible and never deserve anything good ever. I run Encounters at a local game store so I know what I'm talking about.

So, now that you've decided on your epic villain and what kind of campaign this is, we need to do some of the details.


We kind of already covered this, but it's good to get down:

  • What the villain wants to accomplish
  • What's in his way and how he will deal with it
  • Whether any of the PCs have female relatives he could bang

You know, what the villain's doing when he's not trying to kill the PCs. Actually, put down "kill the PCs" as one of his goals too. He'll want to do that eventually anyway, and as the DM you "WIN" D&D if you wipe the party.

On the other hand, you could also have the villain manipulate the players. Here's what you do: Set the PCs on a quest. Once they are done, reveal that whatever the players did helped the villain. (You don't need to think of a reason why in advance.) If you want to say something like "You guys are going to feel so stupid" and smirk, that's your right as a DM."

Construct a list of "steps" the villain needs to go through. For example, Tooldouche (our wizard from the previous example) might:

  1. Establish his dominance over an orc tribe
  2. Raid towns for resources
  3. Bring some other orc tribes under his heel
  4. Construct a shrine to Libertina's panties
  5. Ally with some minor villains
  6. Have them infiltrate the kingdom and do stuff for him
  7. Kill the minor villains (if the PCs are fighting them, have him teleport in and out to do it)
  8. Seduce the party cleric's sister
  9. Take over a town in the kingdom as a base
  10. Kidnap Libertina
  11. Offer to make Libertina queen by his side
  12. Send the army in to take over the kingdom

As the adventure goes on, check off each step and declare the villain has accomplished it. (The first one probably happened before the campaign started). Have your PCs go on adventures related to as many of these steps as you can fit in, but remember: your villain should succeed regardless. Okay, they'll defeat him in the end - maybe - but first you need to tell the PCs the story of how they got to that point.

Also, if you let them screw up his plans, he (i.e. YOU) have to come up with a new one. Bugger that for a game of soldiers!


What does the villain have and what does he need?

This covers money, items, friends, property, sheep, etc. You don't need to write down the details yet; "he is very rich" will do instead of "he has exactly 100,322gp, 34sp, 23cp". Get down the basics of what he has, then move on to what he needs. If his goals don't cover getting them, rewrite his goals a little.

For example, Tooldouche doesn't have money because he spent it all in his backstory, but he does have a nice collection of magical items as well as the Douchonomicon, the powerful spellbook that got him all that magical power in the first place, a (reduced) collection of Libertina's old sweaty footwear, a pair of her panties, an army of orcs equipped with standard fighter gear, and a sweet hat.

What he needs is a bigger army with better equipment, so he can take over the kingdom.

That wasn't hard!

Remember, though, you should also keep track of what I like to call reactive resources. Basically, if Tooldouche is fighting the PCs and could really use something you didn't say he already has, for example a wand of counterspells or an cloak that resists the party's attacks, then just act like he already had it. If the PCs ask why it didn't come up before, tell them you didn't think it was important at the time.


M.O., gentle reader, means "mode of operation", or how the villain acts. (Knowing lots of words like this is why I'm writing a blog and you're not.)

Does he have other people do the work for him, and the PCs mostly fight his minions while hearing tales of how awesome he is? Does he do it himself, and the PCs see the effects of his actions and get hints about how awesome he is as they progress? Does he have a public image as a benevolent, powerful figure, and all the NPCs tell tales of how awesome he is? Does he like to take breaks between adventures to bang the party wizard's mom, who tells the wizard how awesome he is... in bed?

Really, this part doesn't have to make perfect sense. Just do whatever works. As long as he looks really, really cool doing it.


Ah, the fun part. This is where you stat the villain they're going to fight.

I can't help you sheet him - that's your job - but here are some pointers:

  • Think about what level the PCs will be at the end of the campaign. Make him a challenge for PCs of that level. Some DMs like to have him stay roughly in the PC's level range and level as they do to make challenging encounters throughout the campaign, but that is way too much work. Anyway, who doesn't like having a level 30 character curb-stomp your level 5 PCs?
  • Pick abilities you think would be fun to use on the PCs. With so many splat books they can read these days, it's too much effort to tailor the encounter to the characters. They can handle it anyway, probably.
  • If the system allows save-or-dies, those are always fun for you!
  • He doesn't have to be limited by normal treasure guidelines, but remember to have his best magical items only work on him, or crumble into dust if the PCs get a hold of them. It works for drow!
  • Never be afraid to give the villain cool abilities that the PCs can't get. He IS pretty special, and the PCs should be made to know that. (Bonus points: Banning something for the PCs, like warforged or psionics, so it's unique to the villain.)
  • Don't be afraid to change any of these stats on the fly if you want to. Hell, leave a few feat slots blank and pretend he took whatever feat he needs. PCs would do it if they could, why not you?
I've decided to make Tooldouche a 17th-level wizard, since I only plan for this campaign to run until about 11/12th level. I'll pick all the save-or-dies - especially charming spells, I love those - teleports, and some homebrew spells that let him summon horny succubi groupies. I'll pick some metamagic feats, and a homebrew metamagic feat that removes the level cost of metamagic for him so I don't have to bother with that. Maybe some flashy spells like fireballs that can hit everyone; honestly, though, I might just search the PHB for whatever spell is useful at the time and say he prepared it.

I'm going to give him the standard wizard gear - ring of protection +6, bracers of armour +7, robe of the archmagi, staff of the magi, cool hat, scrying mirror to explain how he knows what the PCs are doing, and boots of spider climbing. The boots are there so the PCs have something when they loot him and the powerful items turn to dust so they can't abuse them. I'll give him other magical items as needed.

Telling a Story

Now that you've made your villain, you need to plan how to use it.

As you've probably already gathered, the villain is the star of the campaign, and you need to use him appropriately. A gentle touch works - make sure the villain is known, and the PCs know how great he is, but he doesn't have to beat up the PCs and gloat every session. Every second adventure, max. And that is pushing it a bit.

Don't have him gloat too much, because some jerk PC might try to attack him mid-sentence. (A contingency Delayed Blast Fireball might put them in their place, though!)

(I might write about monologuing later, actually! Stay tuned.)

This is only a discussion about villains, though, not how to tell your story, so details will have to wait. I do have one specific area left to cover, but first, a tip.

Characters in Heroic tier need to be railroaded - the characters don't belong to the players until Paragon tier.

In non-4E terms, this means that you're going to have to hold their hands until about 11th level, otherwise they'll probably get themselves killed or screw the story up. After that they can have a bit of leeway, though I'd still keep them on a leash where possible.

Escape Plans

So you're telling your awesome story, the game is going pretty well, and the villain is lording it over the PCs. You know, a bit of D&D fun. But then, trouble strikes - the paladin scores a lucky crit on a Smite Evil or some bullshit, and your villain might actually be defeated before he's supposed to.

You, my friend, need an escape plan.

Realistically, you should be able to have the villain get away any time you want. My favourite method is teleport spells, homebrewed as free actions and the like if you feel like it, but I've also successfully used:

  • Escape corridors which seal off or develop impenetrable walls of force behind the villain as he escapes.
  • Having the villain disappear behind a building or other object and disappear.
  • Fudge the stats. Have the villain gain as much HP as he needs to survive, and new abilities that let him incapacitate the PCs before walking away.
  • Say your villain dons a cloak or something that causes all spells and attacks to bounce harmlessly off it, even area spells and dispels, and walks away. If the players ask, make up an excuse for why he didn't have it already.
  • Did the PCs actually kill the villain? Rehearse this line: "Well, since you didn't actually check to make sure he was dead, he didn't die. Don't worry, it'll be totally awesome though."

And that's the basics.

With a little luck and a lot of effort, gentle reader, you too can run games as mondo as mine.

(P.S.: Oh yeah, I caved in and got a Twitter. I will let you know the minute I need to take a shit.)


Anonymous said...

Actually M.O. means Modus Operandi. Mode of operation is to do with encryption.

Ettin said...

Nonsense, everything in this post is factually correct!

Hamsterling said...

I have only one thing to say.

Disjunction traps errywhere. As soon as the PCs take his sweet magic items, BAMF DISJUNCTION TO THE FACE. Better still if you homebrew Disjunction Runes as a spell.

DeadlyGrim said...

I don't think that Hamsterling went far enough. You should put Disjunction Traps on the Villain's gear. That way you have a good explanation for why the PCs don't get his gear when he dies, plus it destroys the PCs gear which prevents them from unbalancing the game (after all, if they were able to defeat your Villain than they were obviously overpowered).

Oh, and the reason that the Disjunction Traps didn't go off when the Villain was wearing it was because it was keyed to him or he's immune to traps or something like that.