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.

Goals

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!

Resources

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.

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.

Stats

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.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

How To Annoy Your Players: Villain Creation 1

Alright, back to completely serious DMing advice.

We're going to put down worldbuilding for now because I was tiring of it and go back to instructional guides and simple pieces, like that time I said Dark Sun sucked like an amorous vacuum cleaner, or that time I said completely true things about myself and made Planescape better, or that time I, that is, totally me and not some grognard, stated my opinions in a completely thought-through and not vaguely patronising way, or maybe that time I flipped my business like a bionic pancake over kender.

Specifically we're going to talk about villains.

First, let's establish something all DMs know deep in their heart of hearts, resonating deep within the vicinity of the left ventricle:

All players are basically the worst players ever.

Okay? Cool.


So. First, you should come up with a concept. I don't have much advice to give here. You can do this part on your own. Since we might need an example later, though, I am going to make up one now.

Our villain, let's call him Tooldouche, is a wizard. He leads a small army of orcs and would really, really like to burn the PCs' kingdom to the ground.

Good start? Sure, it's a good start. Now you need...

Motivation

Your players will want to know what your villain's motivation is. There are only two ways to do this: By not bothering, or by putting as much detail in as possible. Here is a bad example of a motivation:

Tooldouche had been rejected all his life. His teachers would mock him, his peers would bully him and his crushes would reject him. When he discovered a knack for arcane magic, this vaguely unlikeable nobody poured everything he had into mastering it and gaining acceptance as a master of the arcane. He became an archmage at only twenty-five, but when he was rejected during Mage Guild President elections, he snapped and roused an army of orcs to take over the kingdom and remake it in his image.

Sure, it covers the basics, but how are your PCs going to fully appreciate your efforts? How does this one paragraph justify you staying up until 3AM statting a really awesome high-level NPC to impress your players with as he kills their characters effortlessly?

It doesn't, what's how!

So here's what you do.

First, you can just not give him a motivation, which will make him even scarier. Like the Joker!

Tooldouche wants to destroy the kingdom because frankly he's kind of a dick.

The nice thing is that this gives you more time to decide what adventures the PCs will undertake to stop him, what they'll do and how he can teleport away if necessary.

The second way is to write a proper, epic backstory that suits your villain. If possible, have an NPC explain it in-depth at the nearest opportunity. If the players might get confused, bring a pamphlet.

Tooldouche was born Reginald T. Ooldouche twenty-five years ago in the town of Hootclaw, known for the owlbears which roam the nearby forests. He was a quiet, studious student who kept cats, collected stamps and had read every issue of WIZARDS! Magazine. Though he was smart, he was a shy boy, and his schoolmates would bully him mercilessly, just like Boris and his cronies bullied me at South West Sydney High all those years ago until I found out he had gotten a job as a pool cleaner on Facebook and emailed him a virus.

Tooldouche harboured a crush on Libertina, a young raven-haired maiden and a worhshipper of Valen, goddess of beauty. Libertina was beautiful, and had breasts so large Tooldouche could fit his head in one of her bra cups, and he was sure she had other good traits as well. He would often leave her roses, or love letters in her desk, or steal her shoes while she was in gym class and sniff them.

Then one day, disaster struck. First, Tooldouche was pushed down the stairs by a friend of the party fighter's who happened to go to the school which I will have to remember to tell him about in the pamphlet, and then Boris stole his favourite Pokemon card, the Charizard, and sold it to buy more cheeseburgers. Finally, his parents discovered his collection of Libertina's stolen shoes and socks.

Tooldouche was exposed. Libertina turned him down, and also she turned out to be dating Stacy, a cleric version of that cheating bitch from SESH. She did not let Tooldouche kiss her feet goodbye and she left for a church-run school. Tooldouche was the laughing stock of the school.

In his grief, Tooldouche locked himself in his father's attic and decided to kill himself. After realising he had locked himself in the attic without any means of killing himself, he rummaged around and tried to beat himself to death with one of his grandfather's books. Then he noticed it was an ancient tome of magic: the
Douchonomicon.

From that day, Tooldouche spent every moment of his free time secretly learning magic, occasionally taking heavy drags of that one stocking he had stolen from Libertina that was too large to properly masturbate into to remind him of why he was doing this, and by the time he graduated he was able to secretly destroy Boris' life like that shit-faced pool cleaner deserves.

He applied to the Arcane Order's magical university and was swiftly accepted, rising to receive the highest honor the Order could grant: the Order of the Order. The moment his graduation papers were in order, Tooldouche joined the Order and swiftly rose to a position which let him order the lesser mages of the Order. His orders were often quite demanding; perhaps this was the start of darkness for the orderly mage.

By age twenty five he was capable of casting all sorts of amazing spells, and had risen to the rank of archmage. As he rose, though, he encountered opposition: Archmage Yutube, an older man who was tipped to win the next Arcane Order President elections. The President was basically the emperor of wizards and could advise the King himself. Though Tooldouche felt that young blood was what was needed to guide this kingdom's future, and also he wanted to rub it in Stacy's bimbo face, and even though he poured all his money into a campaign to become the President, he had lost.

Who can say why? Maybe it was because you aren't supposed to campaign to be President, maybe it was because the citzens he gave speeches to were not Order members and therefore didn't get a vote. Maybe because his name was Tooldouche. Maybe, frankly, because he was kind of a dick.

Whatever happened, Tooldouche was devastated again. He fled to his tower with tears in his eyes, the laughing faces of the Order's inner circle as he tried to explain that there must have been a miscount because he had polled very well in most of the swing towns reminding him of the faces of his peers when he was caught rubbing Libertina's panties on his face as I was led out of the girl's locker room and suspended for a week and my dad sold my Nintendo.

Tooldouche decided he had had enough. Gathering all his possessions, he quit the Order and set off north, there to mass an army to take over the kingdom himself. After defeating an orc warlord in single combat by virtue of that fact that he was a wizard and could fly and throw fireballs while the warlord was a fighter and could basically swing an axe, he took control of the orcish armies and began a campaign of aggression against the kingdom's northern reaches.


Now that's a backstory.

Remember: You worked hard on this, so make sure your players fully understand and appreciate its every detail by having it come up a lot. Take a session or two to have them watch a movie about it, even, if you can work it in.


Anyway, once you've done that, you need a couple other things. One of them is...

Scope

You need to decide if the villain is going to affect a town, a nation, a world, the multiverse, whatever. A dude who is trying to blow up the planet is a bigger threat than, say, a dude who wants to kick your favourite uncle in the balls.

Here is the short version: He should mostly affect the PCs. Also, everyone who knows the PCs should talk about how powerful he is, to intimidate them. A good baseline for villain power and scope is that of the character you created to defeat him for the PCs. Maybe a little less than that, actually...



What are the rest? You think magic like this can happen in only one blog post? I am giving you the guide, the absolute best and one hundred frigging billion percent factual guide on making the most bitchtits villain in the history of balls, and you want it done in one blog post? You know what's going to happen instead? Screw you, that's what!

Part 2 later this week. We'll work out how Tooldouche is specifically going to fight the PCs and teleport away, what kind of stories the players will watch unfold in his wake and perhaps involve themselves in, and whether the orcs will wield katanas.