I am an occultist by nature, and I have a big thing for good versus evil, especially when evil is at it's strongest. I suppose that in most games, when you're playing Dungeons & Dragons, the folks with the greatest advantage are the Player Characters, this just isn't true in my games. I see no fun in having an over powered group of bullies, running around fighting things that quite honestly don't stand a chance against them. Not that I don't fake die rolls, or say that my badguy missed when in reality it didn't. Killing characters isn't my idea of a good time either. There is a dance going on within my mind, a ballad of good vs. evil at a point in time when it is very important that good triumph, but nobody said that it was going to be easy.
I make no bones about my style, I'm challenging, but without being impossible. You have to be open with your players in regard to this, they have to know to use their own judgment. I know DM's where if you are surrounded by an enemy army, then the only option is to slaughter them down to the last man! This is not my way, the player has to know when he's been routed and when to surrender, when to hide, and when and where to pick his/her attack.
The necromancer stands before you with an army of skeletal warriors . . . no, not my style. An army of undead, as far as the eye can see slowly marching into the city, the local priest leading all of the villagers to protect the gates while the PC's have to find what they want before the village is over powered . . . now we are getting somewhere. Sure the PC's can stay and fight . . . of course they'll die along with everybody else that is guarding the gate, but they have that option.
I'm getting off track though, SATAN!!!! I came upon this concept while playing RAVENLOFT, they got this deal called the Dark Powers, it's not really a guy or an NPC, it is more of a force of nature. The crunch of it is that every time a PC does an evil act, depending on the severity of the act, there is a percentage chance that this act will attract the notice of the dark powers, ranging usually from 1% to 10%, the update to the Ravenloft Champaign setting called "Domains of Dread" has the best list that I've ever seen on when to apply this check. However, the system really didn't work in practice. I had a game go sour once and the PC's thought that it would be more fun playing with the Dark Powers then with the dungeon that I was running. The dark powers would REWARD a player for being evil, of course it was a trick, the further down the path of evil that one wandered, the more hideous that one became. The rewards ranged from infravision, to super strength.
Modifying things on my own, I DID like the idea of a devil-type creature that controls all of the evil minions, not as an NPC would, but as a force of nature. I did like the idea of dark powers checks, however no rewards. Evil shouldn't get any rewards, only misery in the form of curses. When a player screws up, which we all know happens from time to time. I remember one time when I just didn't think while playing a wizard once, and cast a fireball into a crowd of people to shoot one guy. These things happen, it's what makes the game fun, always getting that learning experience from creating huge screw-ups! It did screw with my character for a while, all of those people, he saw them in his nightmares for years and it drove him to be a better hero because he had to find a way to set it all right . . . well, the best that he could. One evil act has HUGE consequences, even if the act in question was by mistake.
The Satan figure is nothing that the PC's will ever be able to deal with 1-on-1, he's not a real guy, it's a dark presence that if you do you're research you might be able to discover a plan which has taken centuries until it reached a point of being noticeable. Maybe a bloodline that he's suffered just to create a warlord of such cruelty and raw rage that he himself is a weapon of mass destruction. He creates plagues and breeds evil creatures that mock us . . . but for what purpose we just can't fathom!
The Satan figure in a nut shell, keeps the heroes on the side of good. If they fail, they become his property. He is all powerful, he's every where! He is the unspeakable creature of the night that makes men shutter. He is the fuel that keeps my game world alive and kicking every day. Wars end, villains come and go with the tide, but evil is eternal.
Having a world that is just barely hanging in there, with a satanic force that's ultimate goal seems to always be just one move away from completion does a ton of the DM's work all on it's own. One of the hardest things to do is making the heroes of the past as cool and as mysterious as the villains of the past, with the Satanic force you can accomplish this. I also love the idea of cabals, mysterious organizations that secretly run the world, normally I keep at least one cabal of each of the alignments, of course I keep the true goals of these groups a secret. The facts are that the Satanic force has infiltrated all of them at one point or another, and now they all unknowingly do his bidding.
How does this relate to player characters? That is up for you to decide, you can give him control of all of the magic . . . it all comes from him. Every time a spell is cast there is a 1-5% chance per spell level of losing a piece of yourself to the devil, this I find keeps magic mysterious and gives it a sense of danger, btw, if you haven't figured it out yet, magic in my world is really limited, and not something to be taken lightly, if I give you access to a + weapon, then you best take REALLY good care of it.
Is this unfair? I don't think so, like I said, I study the occult and I run magic in my games extremely close to how I perceive it, not exactly mind you. I like mystery and to create a sense of wonder, even for players who have played the game their whole lives. We DM how we ourselves would like to play the game.
I love Dungeons and Dragons, however, before one can play, they first have to acknowledge that the game is essentially broken, and before the game is playable and fun, it's up to the Dungeon Master to fix a lot of things. The greatest obstacle is the problem of balance, and the harshest victim of this balance is to the Cleric. Of all the complaints about D&D, the cleric is the most unattractive, and boring class that one can play if it's taken without any modifications.
To play the cleric as written, you play a nurse. Somebody whose only job is to chase off undead, and heal the idiot warrior who thinks himself invincible. Wizards are no better mind you; They don't have enough spells to really be effective throughout the entire game, but at least their spells are more useful then a clerics. Before you can play any magic-user, you first have to modify these two classes.
Now before I get nasty E-mails from professional Cleric players who are mad because I've just mocked their favorite class, I just want to say that I've played tons of clerics and LOVE the class, but none of my clerics were walking hospitals. This post is about fixing classes, and if a class needs more power then it would be the cleric.
Another word that gets tossed around the gaming groups is ," Vibrant worlds!" . . . well, that's two words really, but no need to be so picky. Creating a vibrant world that is alive around the players, not dependent upon them. The world doesn't revolve around the PCs, this is a lot harder to do then it sounds like, but you can fix classes that you think need modified by creating a vibrant world that is independent of itself.
Wars are the cornerstone of any good campaign world. These take place on a rather constant basis, lords squabbling about land, or evil done to them from far away lands, there are lots of reasons for a king to declare war on a country, just look back at history and you can find lots of ideas for background wars that the PC's can interact with, but even if they don't, would rage on independently. One of the coolest and most bloody wars that will fix your Cleric class is of course the always feared "Holy War", and there is no better example of a holy evil then the Inquisitions.
INQUISITIONS AND GAMING
This is a civil war that rages independent of kings, the church is above them and allows them to govern the people as the church sees fit. We enter magic into the world of Church, specifically wizardry, and we put a man in charge of the church who believes that wizardry is the work of the devil. All Wizards and Witches must be suffered for the world to be a better place. Look at your map and section off an area where Magic is against the law . . . not to say that there can't be native mages! There can be, they just have to be secretive about their arts! The Inquisitions weren't just about riding the world of Satan, their true goal was to capture power and wealth, and with realizing this goal there was NOTHING that could stop them. They didn't believe that everybody that they arrested, tortured, and murdered were witches, by arresting them they would also take their land and seize their property, all of it! If someone flaunted their wealth, they would set them up and they would take it.
Not everybody involved was evil, and this is what fixes your Cleric class as well as your Paladin class, the Clerics who enforced this stuff believed that what they were doing was good. They were ridding the world of evil! However, and here is were the fun role-playing side comes in, the more powerful you get, the further up the totem pole you can see. Imagine your horror once you discover this terrible secret! Of course you as a DM never have to go there if you don't want to. The man in charge of the civil war could be a Lawful Good alignment as well, and simply have some questionable generals in his war that are just too effective to get rid of. The details are up to you, but this does strengthen your cleric class. Within his own nation he is seen as a hero immediately. He is somebody to be trusted and protects the masses from the evils of Satan. It also gives the cleric a cabal to report to, his superiors will also give him specific tasks to accomplish from time to time. The evil within the church will always be hidden from view . . . unless of course your profession is a Wizard, then you would instantly be made privy to the underlying bigotry of this regime.
To have a holy uprising, one needs an enemy to fight. There are two ways to do this, either Satan is real or he is not! Personally I always do have a being of ultimate evil which looms over my world like a dark cloud. I restrict my players to playing only Good and Neutral characters, if they slip into an evil alignment then I don't hide the fact that something is watching and if they become a minion of it then they will lose their characters to it. This works for me and my group, it may not work for yours. The Satanic being actually deserves its own post, so for this one we'll go right to the opposing side, the Wizard!
In order to have a good war you need two sides. Both of these sides can be Lawful Good, this is a war between laws. One law says that Magic is a beneficial science that is good for mankind, and the other law says that it isn't. Neither side is truly "evil" and if PC's get themselves tangled up in it from time to time, no matter what side they are on, they can see the logic in that sides thinking.
Depending on the extreme of power that your inquisitions have, your wizard class will be extremely challenged . . . by deciding to do this you are at the same time limiting magical items, as those will be illegal as well and if flaunted may become evidence used against you. Of course the Wizards would demand that they are not the tools of Satan, simply scientists who use their powers for the good and advancement of mankind, which may or may not be true in all cases. The Wizards would take over the ideals of their section of the world, this would include other clerics from religions that the Inquisition would seek to destroy and convert to their own god (which this god should always be Lawful Good or else you'll run into to problems later on down the road).
Wizards would be forced underground in the taken cities as well, forming groups and networks to further the battles that will take place within the city itself. It is up to you to apply logic to the scenario, and tailor it to fit your style and to the world in which you run your games.
EFFECTS ON GAMEPLAY
Essentially this puts the Cleric into a more attractive class, and gives him a purpose and goals, be they to oppose the civil war or to further it. This goes the same for all other classes as well. If you have a magically dead section of the world, the philosophy on magic would be that it is dangerous and evil, for warriors as well. It effects the Paladins the most, it actually builds a world were they are needed. There are a lot of rules regarding them that have to do with balancing the game that just doesn't make sense any other way. This puts a name to their religion and gives them real superiors to answer to, instead of them just having to erase most of their money from their character sheet at the end of the session.
Some DM's will see this as a unfair restriction on Wizards, actually it's not! Players like to play classes that are dangerous, they enjoy doing things that they aren't suppose to be doing. A wizard in a party will have to warm up to his fellow players, and philosophies will change (or not!) depending on the role-playing done during the game. This is essentially bigotry, and will have to be dealt with in the game.
Some of the down-sides are that it may be too challenging for your group, especially your Super Player characters who love to collect extremely powerful magic items and impress NPC's with them. You will also need to set limits on what magic can do, as it becomes a lost and dying art, things will start to change from how they are written in the Players Handbook, the easy fix that I use is that casting times are doubled, but it is really more involved then that, but that is up to you, and doesn't need to be dealt with right away. It depends of the degree of power and the time that the inquisitions have influenced your world. If it has been decades or centuries then clearly the nature of Magic would be changed considerably.
Of course the upsides are that it aids you in setting limits fairly, expands the possibilities of stories, role-players love this kind of stuff, and it adds a lot of color completely independent of your players and how they chose to play the game.
Have fun with this idea and if it sounds like something that you would like to incorporate into your games, do it slowly! It all starts with one man and one city, and slowly spreads from there. Watch your players and how they react to it and let me know how things go.
A quick word about creating Paranoia, it can easily be overdone and completely destroy your game. Paranoia is a topic that I do like to pepper into my game, but there are degrees. If you're PC's spend the entire game completely on the run from the law and unable to trust any NPC's whatsoever, then you aren't playing the game fairly. While this can be tons of fun for the DM, PC's get really fed up with it quickly and get discouraged.
Subtle paranoia is best, especially if you want to really bring something within the story to light, which leads to my first point, Make sure that the paranoia that you create within your players is directly related to the story that you are telling. An element of it.
A murderer seems to be following the party around, no matter what village they go to somebody turns up dead, is it somebody in their own party, or perhaps an old enemy that is stalking them? An assignment to deliver an important message to a politically powerful NPC, upon arriving to his fortress they are invited to stay the night while the NPC writes a response to the person who hired them, but this turns into a few days before the PC's realize that they aren't guests, but political prisoners. PC's are admitted into an insane asylum, perhaps they are hired with transporting a prisoner but find out that a mistake was made and now they are locked in with the inmates and must some how prove that they are not insane to the Doctor who may or may not be a villain himself.
Turning the PC's into fugitives should be a last resort of the villain, you want to use it to emphasize the darkness consuming all before they win the game, destroy the evil and restore light to the universe. Reserve this kind of stuff for your BIGGER THAN THE BIGGEST GAMES, because it will be a long time before you get to try it again.
You can also spread paranoia with magic items, some have more uses then what is listed, perhaps a mystic Bastard Sword+2 also has a curse where it must taste blood once per week else it attacks a random victim on it's own. Be creative, don't just do the same thing over and over, repetition is boring! We aren't computers, that is the one thing that DM's have over videogames.
Originally published by myself at Musings of the Chatty DM forum
"Greetings Lord Elric!" Boomed the King of Liberia, dark bags haunting his exhausted eyes, "Your kingdom has need of your services once again."
"I am always at your beckon call, your Majesty." bowed the great hero, "How may I serve you?"
"An evil wizard has moved into that cave just outside of town . . ."
"You mean the one where the Ogre Bandit's were, and the goblin horde, followed by the undead minions of that other evil wizard?" the great hero sighed.
"That is the one, you know it well." The king uttered, "This time his name is Memnotch, and he's cast a curse on our kingdom."
"Another curse . . ." sighed Elric, "Yeah, I'll tell the boys and we'll head on out there."
When badguys go stale! I'd just like to sit down with the lot of you and discuss what makes a good villain, and perhaps give you some mind-candy to saver for a bit. I noticed a great quote of Chatty's where he complained that his badguys were more like dudes running around in rubber costumes. I think that we've all been there! Take the video game Fire Emblem for example, it's one of my all-time favorites! The mechanics are great, it's the closest thing to gaming with miniatures that I have found . . . but the badguys aren't really all that bad. The only thing that sets them apart from your own side is that they laugh at their own jokes and have bad grammar. Yeah, they are hell-bent on taking over the world . . . but so are you.
Open up the Monstrous Manual, and you'll find hundreds of stats and special attacks and defenses, but these alone don't make interesting encounters. It is up to the DM to take the information presented in this book, and use it to flesh out a decent badguy . . . this is no easy task! It begs the question, "What IS a villain?" Through this post, I hope to answer these questions, and ask more, but while we do a biopsy of what makes a villain, I hope that on the other side of the coin, we will also learn what makes a great hero, and that is really what RPGs are all about.
What is a villain?
A villain is an NPC that essentially motivates your heroes to do something besides hang around the tavern all day getting drunk. His job is to kidnap the princess, murder his fellow NPCs, steal loot, attack villages, burn homes and engage in other such criminal behavior. But a better question that leads to a better villain, is WHY? Why attack the village? Why burn the homes to the ground? What is the villain hoping to achieve? In the above example about the evil wizard moving into that damned cave that should had been sealed up years ago. Why is he cursing the city? Is it just so that the characters can go beat him up, steal his loot and acquire experience points? Well, if so then this isn't good enough.
A villain NEEDS to be memorable. He needs to be the backbone of the campaign, in a sense, if your PC's aren't going after this guy using their own resources and money, then you could improve him. They need to hate him, even when they aren't sitting around the table. You want your players to draw pictures of him and throw darts at it, complain about him constantly to each other on the phone. He needs to be a constant thorn in their side. In a word, he needs to win! He needs to humiliate the PC's, to use them as he sees fit. You do this, and when the payoff comes, when the PC's get him and finally defeat him, they'll be jumping out of their chairs, high-fiving and screaming in triumph. They'll get that sense that they DID something. In a word, create a villain that PC's love to hate, and the rewards speak for themselves. They'll think that you are the best DM of all time!
But how do you do this?
First off, it isn't about min-maxing the villain's stats. You don't even need to have an epic monster to create a thrilling villain that your players will love to hate. You don't WANT him to be invincible, this'll only frustrate and discourage your players. He needs to be vile, not a god.
Fear is how you motivate your PCs. Scare the crap out of them! Surprisingly enough, fear is hard to achieve through a role-playing game, and I really don't want to get into creating settings, but there are ways of using your villain to insight fear into your players, even with all of the lights on, and the TV blaring in the next room.
Again, I'm not talking about him being invincible, that just leads to boredom. There are lots of monsters that can only be stopped by certain methods or items. During the first encounter, make the PC's run away with their tales between their legs. They CAN'T stop him yet, they can only thwart his plans if they play their cards right. You would be surprised at how angry players feel when they lose an encounter, when they have to flee. The next free moment they get, it will be talking between themselves about how to deal with this thing, which of course leads to excellent role-playing. But in the back of your mind, you need to know where the villain is vulnerable at, just don't come right out and say it, make the players research it, and discover it on their own.
Plan ahead! Pit 5th LV characters against a high level monster, no they can't defeat him now . . . and even folks who've read the MM will know this, and it will scare them. Maybe the villain has a use for them, PC's are generally more successful at hard tasks then anybody that the Villain could hire, this is up to you, but it also leads back to motivations, where is the profit in killing PC's when they pose no threat to you? Especially when you can use them as messengers of your power, and free heralds of destruction!
One of the biggest sins and disservices that a DM can do to a monster, is ignoring it's intelligence. If a Lich is a super-genius, then why is he staying up in a tower waiting for PCs to come along and kill him? How do you role-play something that is smarter then you? It's not that hard, once you know. A genius monster is going to be smart enough to have a plan for everything that the hero can through at it. It is going to be able to anticipate their every move, and set devious traps to slow them down. Listen to your PC's as they talk and plan their attacks and plans, just assume that the Genius is already aware of this and it fits right into his evil plans. A genius can anticipate exactly what the PC's are doing at any given time, this forces the players to up their own game. If they come up with some incredible plan that really pushes the game along, then make it work! Reward them for their ingenuity, but at the same time, punish them for being overly predictable. If they try to use the same tactic twice, make sure that it fails.
Playing up on INT, can turn even little gremlins that are tiny in size, into awesome advisories who's devious traps will scare the crap out of gamers.
Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?
This can be a bit touchy, and a word of warning to the Evil DM's out there, use your own judgment with using phobias, because if you play them too hard, it could cause you to lose a friend. Play up on them, but don't over do it, know how hard to push and make sure that you push no harder then you really have to.
With that warning out of the way, people DO have odd phobia's. Some folks hate spiders, others the mere sight of a snake is enough to get them up on their chairs screaming. I'm not saying to dump out a box of snakes onto the table, but play up on the natural fears of your players, especially with illusionists. Illusionists make great villains! Everybody knows a Necromancer and what they can do, but Illusionists can carve terrors that are individual and unique for each player at your table. As an example of this, I'll bring up Stephen King's book IT, when the kids were all grown up and wrapping things up during their first meeting, IT attacked them while they were opening up their fortune cookies by giving each of them a unique terror to chew on. So drop them into pits of snakes, and describe the snake pit with agonizing clarity and detail, but like I said, don't over do it. If your friend is especially vulnerable to a given phobia, be mature about it and just back off and leave it alone.
The thing that makes Batman such a great hero, is his villains. They are dark, scary, and utterly insane! Insanity scares people, and rightfully so! It's unpredictable. DM's typically claim that a character is insane, but they don't play it that way. Insane characters live by their own rules, and in their own private worlds. They aren't stupid, and there is always logic behind everything that they do, it's just not obvious to normal people. Sadistic and homicidal impulses are evidence of insanity, not the disease itself. This can be a handy tool for the pc's to finally take this guy down. Discover his method of thinking, the logic that he is using, and turn it against him. The Joker is one of the most popular villains of all time! The man isn't stupid, he is cunning and a time bomb that will go off. He isn't as crazy as he pretends to be, but at the same time he is driven to commit crimes that are easily predictable, because he WANTS Batman to show up. The Joker is a great character because he isn't one dimensional, just because he's insane, doesn't mean that he's not greedy, ruthless, intelligent, or arrogant, because he is all those things as well.
Political villainy, and the need for power
An evil wizard living in a cave outside of town is just waiting for heroes to come along and kill him, now what if you take this wizard and put him inside of the city itself? All collateral damage caused by taking this powerful being out, will be laid upon the heads of the players themselves. Why not just seal up the cave outside of town? This problem is easily remedied, but if, for example, the sewers are infested with wererats, one can't just cause the sewers to collapse as it would cause the city to be destroyed as well, not to even mention the fact that you can't seal off the sewer system, it gives the rats access to everything that they desire.
But lets make the villain even more powerful! Now that we've moved the wizard out of the country, and into the city, why not give him an even more powerful profession, like a trusted adviser to the king. Not all attacks against the PC's need be physical. A villain can use his power to turn entire kingdoms against the heroes by framing them for crimes that they didn't commit, spreading lies about them, doing this can cause their homes and forts to be seized, there assets frozen, their loved ones jailed. This takes the attack on a personal level that simply taking hitpoints away from a PC can never do, nor do the PC's have the luxury of simply ignoring the villains behavior. A good villain will NEVER enter a fight that he knows that he can't win, not to mention that a villain of this kind of power is not immediately obvious, he's not wearing a sign that points him out as the bad guy. He's hiding, he already has the ear of the king, the people love him, he's a trusted member of society, he's a master of doing this. If the PC's, upon the discovery simply go out and kill him, then their actions would have serious repercussions! They are forced to work with him, until he does screw up in some way that isn't at first obvious, but does lead to him being caught red-handed with the smoking gun, and no way of being able to talk his way out of the situation . . . and even then, it may lead to him being banished, where he can spend every waking moment devising a plot to have his revenge on those that caused his defeat in the first place.
The key is power, and properly identifying what power is. Give the villain the spoils of his victories, he needn't be a stat-stacked crusher that inflicts 12d20 points of damage per hit. Not when he can spread fear through his political power.
With a politically powerful villain, his attacks against the PC's should induce in them a sense of paranoia. Crush them, turn all of the NPC's against them. They are use to being the hunters, reverse it. Hang wanted posters, with rewards so high that they'll be targeted by everyone. Give them the sense that they are just prey, now it is THEM who are forced to live and operate in that dumb little cave outside of town. If they are discovered in town, the police will chase them down and arrest them, mobs will rise and lynch them. Isolate them, this is the stuff that fear is made of! Not even a cool Coke and a handful of cheetohs will destroy the mood then!
It needn't even be a political enemy, actually USE them dopplegangers! Make them question the motivations of everyone that they encounter . . . maybe, even of each other! Use paranoia to build suspense, it's a tool that the villain will use to psychologically defeat the heroes without outright killing them.
Not all villains dog your heroes around every turn, you'll need to feed them something that keeps the PC's feeling like they are accomplishing something. You also need to incorporate minor villains, but even these shouldn't be weirdos in rubber suits. As much as I hate to do it, some villains do require a special setting that will enhance the scenario. STEAL!!! Who out there doesn't enjoy the thrill of sitting down and watching spook shows? Treat your players to a night in a haunted mansion where they must solve the mystery of the place . . . which could point back into the direction of your main villain, but it doesn't have to. A big part of any story is putting your red-haring into the fray. Just give the PC's something fun to do for the night. A beloved NPC has been stricken with lycanthropy and isn't aware of the crimes that they are committing . . . or maybe they are but are ashamed and too afraid to just come out and say it. Force the Players to help the werewolf none violently. A city terrified of vampires, and a band of bandits who exploit this fear. Short little paranormal stories are always fun and are easy to invent with a little creative juice applied. Have them hunt witches, and uncover secret cults worshiping sinister fiends. Little murder mysteries, stereotypical horror stories, sometimes it pays to go overboard! Sometimes, the settings themselves can be good villains, use them to produce the right amount of fear, sometimes it's fun when everybody knows what's coming, but their alignment forces them to go against their better judgment anyway.
Okay, now we've talked about fear, and how a villain will use this to motivate your heroes. Lets now talk about another element that is needed to make a memorable badguy, HATE!
Hate is a strong word, and again, like fear, hatred isn't easy to produce in a Role-playing game. You can't just come out and describe somebody to your characters as, "You hate this guy." . . . well, I guess that you could, but it is much more satisfying to actually earn your hatred the old fashion way. By making your PC's fear your badguy, this will lend some hatred for him, but there are other ways to really bring this emotion about.
Again, great care must be applied here. You want the players to hate the villain, not you personally. The downside of creating hatred is that it can be taken personally, but with mature gamers hatred's upside is that it helps the player's suspend their disbelief, and we all know that this contributes to the element of an unforgettable game.
I do believe that Chatty calls this a symptom of an evil DM . . . thus a Bad DM. I will agree, to a fault that if it is over used, then yeah, you're a crappy DM. However, with that said, you want to create hatred as a hero motivation, then kill a loved one. Of course in order to do this, you as a DM have to create excellent NPC's, which from reading this board, I can tell that as a rule, you're all pretty good DM's. I always let my players create the best NPC's, you don't want to get caught doing this. You don't create a wife for one of your heroes, just so that you can kidnap and kill her. You don't want your PC's to fear creating bonds with NPC's because its a weakness, you want to encourage them to do this. Information is a great source for creating a popular NPC, somebody that the character goes to to get ideas, tools, or supplies. A brave soldier who the party shared a couple of adventures with, or a constable that they trust to arrest minor villains. When killing an NPC that the PC's like, always make sure that it is a big deal. Give them a glorious death! It might not have to be an NPC either, if your players aren't taking your Villain seriously, don't hesitated to kill one of them. Once a hero is dead, use this as well. Somebody thinks that your Zombie Lord is a wimp, kill them and bring them back as a monster later on down the road. You NEED to show, first hand, how dangerous your lead villain is. You need to express his cruelty and that he's a force not to be taken lightly. This goes back to fear, but you also want to instill hatred. Force the PC's to witness his cruelty first hand, give the choice to them if they try and help a NPC, or chase after your monster who did this. Maybe he doesn't outright kill a character, he tortures them and leaves them mangled but alive in a way that not even magic can heal, making the PC's themselves put the NPC out of their misery.
No matter what you do, make sure that the end result is that the Players want vengeance. Real vengeance, not the kind where they expect some kind of reward for hunting this guy down, but that vengeance itself is the reward.
Thou shall covet and steal
When you are playing a game, do you really care if the villain is stealing from the king, or that bandits are robbing rich merchants? No, I don't think that anybody does, yet this scenario is played and replayed more often then reruns of Gilligan's Island. The key here is to create real hatred towards a villain, and he's not going to be able to do this unless he makes his goals personal to the PCs.
The PC's have AWESOME stuff! +2 Swords, Gems of True Seeing, surely your villain is keeping up on the swag owned by your players, and chances are that he is also of the opinion that he can find much better uses for this fabulous stuff then they can. TAKE IT!!! Steal it! And most of all, use it against them. Why not just steal stuff, but replace them with cursed items. A good villain has all the time that he needs! He can easily create a cursed sword that looks just like their enchanted one, don't tell the PC "Oh, you're sword is now cursed." there's no fun in that. Let the player discover it for themselves. Why not put poison in their potions of extra-healing? Why not replace a pouch with a bag of devouring? If the party's got too much money, then take it! Heck, you can even give them stuff for them to enjoy for a bit, just to take it away and be used against them.
Magical items are great motivators, not just for Player Characters, but for Villains as well. In the current game that I'm running, I've created an Artifact that must be put together, and it's a race against the villains, with theft going on left and right! Indiana Jones has some of the best villains! After risking their skins in some haunted temple, acquiring this amazing object of value to them, imagine their dismay when they find the villain waiting for them on the outside, and he's got them completely surrounded. They are already weakened by the struggle inside, now they find out that they've got no choice but to hand this thing over to the badguy who you find out used you, but he's also got the nerve to laugh at you while he's doing it!
Make it real
You know your players, and can use your villain to do things that they personally can't stand. Say you have an environmentalist at your table, have your villain burn down entire forests just to cause a distraction away from him while he accomplishes his real goals. Have him abuse animals, enslave children to work his mine, beat and rape women. Attack their sensibilities! But also role-play. Give them thoughts and opinions that make people mad, the villain can be racist, sexist, arrogant, close-minded, a liar, selfish, greedy, and just possessing an over-all bad attitude. Don't be afraid to let your villains talk in this manner, PC's as a general rule, aren't really looking at you when your saying it, but imagining that it is coming out of the character that they are seeing in their heads.
You can also give them annoying habits, picking their teeth, tapping obsessively or making some other annoying sound when you're roleplaying them to show that they aren't really giving the PC's all of their attentions. Mock the PC's, point out all of their short-comings, BE THE BAD GUY! And do go out of your way to insure that the PC's do get to do some roleplaying with them at some point, just so that they can get to know the villain on a personal level as well.
If you want to know what real villainy is, watch a wrestling show. Pro-wrestlers are experts of the psychology of it all. A slighted NPC will have no qualms about hiding his real feelings in regards to the PC's until the moment that it is time to act. PC's like to steal stuff off of dead enemies, make this come back to haunt them, but not all betrayal is so involved. Think deviously, and hide your villains well. Not all badguys are obviously vile, some are very good at hiding their true selves and are quite impressionable! The Princess who implements her saviors as the ones who kidnapped her to begin with, the PC's believing that a tribe that they have found losing a war, are actually the initiators of it.
The key to successful betrayal is that it is a huge plot twist, something that the players took for granted that it was set in stone, was in fact a lie, and they find themselves trapped in the middle or on the wrong side completely. They were tricked into doing something awful, or perhaps they take pity on the wrong guy. Even minor villains can be made more important this way, and it is remarkably easy to pull off successfully. PC's don't talk with NPC's as much as they should, you can easily put a villain into a situation and hide them right out in the open, keeping them quiet and acting all interested in what is happening, when all they are really doing is simply waiting for the PC's to find something that they'll snatch and leave the PC's cursing because they were there the entire time and played them for a fool.
Your main villain also shouldn't be obvious, a genius character is never going to implement himself. Good main villains can be mentors, or even family members. It will throw the players for a loop when they uncover the identity of their tormentors, and beg the question of "Why?" thus creating great roleplaying possibilities as the heroes may at first be reluctant to do anything about them, and try to forgive them . . . but of course we can't let an ending as simple as that to happen, now can we?!
There you have it. The ingredients to cook up a nasty villain! Fear and hatred, that's all it takes. Mix and match the above suggestions and give those stats listed in the MM some class and character. Give them personality and style that is immediately recognizable to the players, and make them cringe when they encounter them and/or their minions. A word, a phrase, an M.O.! This will give flesh to your cardboard cut-out NPC's, and motivate your players into being the Heroes that they strive to be.
Well, here we are. I'd like to thank Chatty DM for inspiring me to create a blog, and for his support.
I play 2nd Edition rules, not just because I'm cheap, but because I genuinely enjoy it. I love the versatility that they offer, and am rather disturbed about the lack of places for us 2nd Edition players and Dungeon Masters to go for new fun stuff.
Why a blog? Well, just to start out, I'd like to just share with the tabletop gaming community, some of my personal experiences and ideas that apply not just to 2nd Edition, but to all Role Playing Games in general. Once I do this, I'm kind of interested myself to see where this thing will take us. Can the internet support yet another DMing blog? I don't know, we'll see.
Sunday, March 23, 2008 | | 4 Comments
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