Mike’s Tavern: The Villain

Mike’s Tavern: The Villain

Mike’s Tavern: The Villain

0 comments 📅01 August 2016, 17:23

Not every campaign needs a villain or antagonist to be fun, but many times it’s a viable option to give your campaign a heroic feeling. Be aware, the topic of what makes a good villain in a D&D campaign has been talked about at length and the answer is very subjective. If you do a Google search, you will find really good opinion pieces that bring up valid points for character development. Nonetheless I believe that there are two key points that aren’t nearly discussed enough that are crucial ingredients to a fantastic foe: how your villain will affect the PCs’ world and the villain’s involvement the PCs’ background. This article is to elaborate on those two points and not a lot of the other things said by other people. Anything more than what I’m writing about will only be a regurgitation of well thought out essays (and I want to avoid that). So while you develop your Joker, Thanos, Diablo, Smith, or Joffery, allow me to add my two cents on what I believe will elevate your villain from good to truly great.
Welcome to my tavern.

Dragon
The first thing people need to realize is that the PCs are not going to have the whole picture painted for them when it comes to their dastardly foes. Whenever we watch movies, read books, or play video games we often get to see from the villain’s perspective. This allows us, the viewers, to see their motives so that the story can make sense to us. In D&D however, this may not be the case seeing that the audience, or the players, will have the same perspective as their heroes. Think of a movie with a villain and try to go through all the scenes that you remember where the hero either interacts with the villain or discovers something about them. More often than not, you’ll find that the viewers know more about the villain than the heroes ever will. A good example is the 1980’s Ninja Turtles movie where the gang does not even know Shredder’s name until he arrives to fight them on the rooftop. As viewers, we have seen Shredder’s actions throughout the film, but he was practically a ghost to the turtles.
Unfortunately your D&D audience will not always be privy to the machinations of the antagonist(s). In most cases they will have few encounters, if any, before the final showdown. This presents an interesting challenge to the DM, how can you make a villain or antagonist interesting with only a handful of encounters (or maybe none at all)?
The Villain’s Impact
I have found that the best way to address the rarely-seen-adversary problem is by giving him/her/them the power to change the world around the players. Let the players’ action, or inaction, grant the opposing forces opportunities to affect their world in various ways. In the novel “It” by Stephen King, the adult heroes of the Loser Club could see how Pennywise began to change their hometown Derry in their absence. “It” appears to the Losers only a handful of 40times but otherwise combats them through “It’s” influence on the town. At one point, It orchestrates the escape of a mental patient, who was also a previous bully to the Losers, named Henry Bowers in direct retaliation for their meddling. In a similar fashion, your villain should have some sort of influence on the path of the adventurers, whether intentional or not, as a direct response to their actions.
I would strongly encourage you to develop your villain with the same care and passion that you would for your own personal character (because in many ways it will be your character. Give them a motive, a plan, and the power to enact that plan. Put them in action alongside the heroes, or maybe even long before the start of the campaign, and let the heroes experience how the villain is changing the world. Most importantly if the heroes choose not to move against their foe, let them experience the consequences (and don’t hold back!).
In the campaign titled City of the Spider Queen, a powerful cleric of a goddess of undeath prepares her undead drow army for an invasion to the surface world. She plans on doing so by means of a spell taught to her by her deity that allows her to resurrect armies slain in battle and compel them to follow her cause. Her plan would be simple: research the spell, send an army to the surface world to cause massive destruction, then raise both her army and the opposing armies back under her control to continue onward. This could be used an unlimited amount of times if she obtained a large enough power source to fuel the spell. By the time the campaign starts, the cleric has already obtained her massive power source and is well on her way to finishing research on the spell. If the characters take too long to stop her, her army begins to move to the surface and wages war after a certain amount of time passes. Though your campaign might not have a huge army involved, the villain’s goal should still be reachable if the characters should fail.
The Villain’s Involvement
Brittany, a good friend of mine who played in one of my campaigns, wrote a history for her Eladrin (high elf) character’s family. In her history, her parents were involved in extensive research on magic who published their findings around the world. At one point, she happened to come across a book with her family name on it, so she naturally picked it up to read it. Within she found that there was a trove of knowledge on how to combat certain supernatural enemies. This worked because the villain at the time was supernatural and the knowledge within the book played a pivotal role in his defeat. But more than that, it got Brittany very involved in the story. In a way, she found that it was the responsibility of her character to utilize the knowledge her family worked so hard to uncover. The upcoming battle became a lot more personal for her almost instantly.
If the players took time to develop a history for their characters, give the villain some involvement in it. The best campaigns I have ever participated in usually involved villains that were somehow connected to a backstory of one of the PCs. This does not need to be a direct connection, a la Darth Vadar and Luke kind of way, but could be even a minor thing similar to Brittany’s story.
There isn’t much more to say about this point, but it is very important. Getting the player’s backstories involved will get them excited for the story and almost guarantee’s their involvement. So use it!
What do you think? Are there more important things to consider when developing a character? Anything to add? Have a funny joke? Leave a comment below!

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Mike Sanora
Mike Sanora

Mike Sanora is just a nerd from Los Angeles CA who grew up on video games, Dungeons and Dragons, books, movies, music, and anime. Once he even wrote a comic book script based on his travels around South America, but he couldn't draw so that ended pretty quick. He is currently wrapping up a pretty big D&D campaign and will soon be moving on to something else. Oh, and he's into nerd fitness so that he can make an awesome cosplay in the future.

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