More Than Stealing Candy: Making Your Villains Evil
Last week, I posted a blog entry on how to create a memorable villain. That was good character design. Lord Fauntleroy D’Evil could be a memorable villain, but he wasn’t that bad. So, how do you make your villain, well…villain-y?
In today’s Critical Hit to the Blog, I’m going to talk about how to take your memorable villain and make them more evil. In last week’s episode, I gave you a villain whom the heroes will hate due to how he was portrayed. This week, you’ll get tips on how to make your heroes hate the villain due to what he does. In this week’s entry, the example villain will be Fauntleroy’s sister, Lucretia D’Evil. Let’s get started.
Fear is a great role-playing tool. One good way to use fear is to find a way to get your players to fear for their characters. Give your players praise when they get past a challenge, whether that’s combat, diplomacy, or a trap. Get the players to write a back-story for their character. Make your players become emotionally attached to their character. Then put the characters in serious danger. But how do you do that?
Make the villain extremely tough. Give them magical items or spells that the players may not have a way of beating. Increase the villains Armor Class or give the villain armor with the Fortification special ability, which may negate extra damage from sneak attacks or critical hits. But if you take away one weakness, you have to give the party a way to find and exploit another non-obvious weakness. Let’s say your party’s spellcaster is fond of fire spells, like fireball or burning hands. Lucretia, being intelligent (I’ll get to that in a minute), has scouted this and is wearing her Salamander Armor, which gives her total immunity to fire and DR 10/magic, like a real salamander. Great! The party’s main tactic is foiled! However, Salamander Armor, just like a regular salamander, makes the wearer vulnerable to cold. And look! The party picked up a wand of cone of cold earlier in the adventure! Huzzah! Have the players make Intelligence checks or Knowledge rolls to see if they can figure out the new weakness. If so, the battle might go quickly. If not, well...they could possibly still win the fight, but they'll have to expend more resources than they thought.
Another way to show invulnerability is to give Lucretia numerous minions, especially high CR lieutenants. The players want nothing more than to get to Lucretia, but they have to fight their way through her half-dozen 3rd level Minotaur Barbarians who are led by an Ogre Mage who has three levels of Sorcerer. This group, as an example, should be able to hold off most adventuring parties long enough for Lucretia to get away. And by the time the party defeats the Ogre Mage/Minotaur combo, who knows what new and powerful minions Lucretia may have waiting for them?
Lucretia is a Wizard of epic proportions. She is the smartest person to ever live. But the average person isn’t that intelligent, so how do you play a genius? Easy.
If the party is making an assault on the fortress of the villain, then the villain probably knows that the party is involved and would do some research on the party. This is where you, as the DM, have to know the characters. Strengths. Weaknesses. Favorite tactics. Look at things from a player’s point of view and then plan against whatever you come up with. Following the previous example, if the party’s mage enjoys a number of fireballs, then the guards may have a magic item or potion that helps them resist fire damage. If the party uses sonic attacks, because not too many monsters or people are immune to sonic attacks, Lucretia hires/conscripts troops that are deaf. These deaf troops have created their own sign language for simple things like “Attack!” or “Retreat!” or “Flanking action!”
Does your “genius” villain spend all day in their tower simply waiting for the PCs to show up? Then that’s not so smart. But if Lucretia has used her über-powerful spellcasting to set traps, along with physical, mechanical traps, then that is smart. Anything that makes the party expend resources before confronting Lucretia obviously works in her favor. But just like with the Invulnerability section, you have to give the PCs a way around the problem. A scroll of teleportation, cleverly hidden and possibly missed, can make a good way around the traps.
If your players are afraid of something, then odds are that their characters will be afraid of that same thing. Use that. Pick monsters from the Bestiaries/Monster Manuals that will evoke that fear. Arachnophobia? Lucretia has made a deal with local Driders for combat support. Acrophobia? Lucretia has a castle in the clouds and you have vivid descriptions of the distance between the flying carpet and the ground. Claustrophobia? The path to Lucretia’s inner sanctum is through a narrow cave system with no natural light.
Another way to use phobias is if Lucretia has the ability to read minds and generate illusions. There are a few spells that will change Lucretia’s appearance so that she resembles a character’s (and player’s) worst fear.
Remember, though, that phobias can be pushed too far. If one of your players is deathly afraid of snakes, do not go into excruciating detail about how the scales feel on their skin or the sounds of the rattles. If it goes too far, it removes the player from the game and could potentially ruin the game for that person. You don’t want that, so if you’re going to try these tactics, make absolutely certain that everyone is okay with the idea and that you’re reading your players correctly.
If Lucretia is an evil Wizard that lives in a secluded tower and is terrorizing the populace and experimenting on the homeless, then the PCs, as the King’s Champions, have every right to bash down her door and dispense justice, in which ever form is deemed necessary.
But what is Lucretia has no magical abilities, but is a mayor? Or senator? Or Queen? Or that she lives in the middle of the city that the PCs have sworn to protect? What is she does have her magical power and she’s a Court Wizard that has served the ruler faithfully for many years? She’s popular with the people, she’s well liked by the ruling class and the King and Queen are her greatest supporters. She would have tremendous political power. But then the PCs find out that she is experimenting on the homeless. How do they go about reporting the popular, faithful Court Wizard as a creator of monsters that she wants to use to kill the King and Queen and install herself as the new monarch?
Without casting a single one of her numerous spells, Lucretia can destroy the PCs. They can be fired from the position of King’s Champions, their reputations can be destroyed, the King’s own assassins can be charged with killing the PCs, or they can be arrested and their prized possessions can be taken from them. Even the PCs loved ones can be threatened.
But how is this frightening? Because the DM must make it absolutely clear that something very bad will happen to the PCs if Lucretia finds out that they know her plans and something even worse will happen if she finds out they are trying to stop her. The PCs will have to be extremely careful, keeping their own plans a secret from Lucretia even while trying to save the King. One wrong move, one question too many asked to the wrong person, and it’s curtains for our heroes. The PCs will have one chance and one chance only to take down Lucretia and if they fail, they will be ruined and hunted forever (or worse).
This is one of my personal favorites. At some point, the PCs will feel that they have no one to trust and nowhere to hide. The enemy has surrounded them and controls almost every aspect of a situation. Even the most trustworthy NPCs seemed to have turned against the party.
But why don’t the PCs trust anyone? Plenty of reasons. Maybe Lucretia, among her many talents, wields mind control magic. Maybe she has a small cadre of doppelgangers working for her. As the Court Wizard, maybe she has placed a rather large bounty on the heads of the PCs and everybody they know wants to collect or she has planted evidence accusing the party of experimenting on the homeless for their own ends.
To make this work, the DM has to burn the party over and over. Every NPC they come in contact with recognizes them and wants a piece of the action. The PCs closest friends (or who they thought were their closest friends) lure them in with promises of security and safety, only to try to trap the PCs for the large reward.
Even better is when they first come in contact with Lucretia, she makes a comment that is verbatim something that the PCs said that they were sure was private. When that happens, the party might turn on each other. If they were in private, how did Lucretia know their plans? Is there a rat in the party or was she scrying? Who can the party trust if they can’t trust each other?
So far, the players should hate the villain because that villain is tougher than they are, smarter than they are, knows their worst fears, and is feeding their paranoia. But while the players may hate the villain for the villain’s abilities, it’s what the villain does with those abilities that can truly push the players over the edge from “I hate that woman.” to “Let’s go kill that woman!”
And when that villain is finally defeated, the players will feel an incredible sense of satisfaction. But how do you get the players to that point?
Like I said earlier, Lucretia could threaten the PCs loved ones. The Paladin’s uncle Siegfried might be threatened, but if Siegy’s a one-dimensional character, the players might not care, or it they do it’s only superficially. An NPC that you want to put in danger later on has to have a personality and a connection to the PCs. It’s their matronly aunt or the guy in the back of the potion shop that can get them the “good stuff.” Someone they deal with regularly and feel a connection to. That way, when they are threatened, the players want to do something about it. If you have to give the players even more motivation, kill the NPC. Do it in front of the PCs eyes. The heroes run in just as the killing blow strikes and the villain teleports away. Evil laugh is optional, but recommended.
Make your villains the lowest of the low. They torture peasants and burn fields. They lie, they cheat, and they steal to get whatever they can. They release plagues, they steal candy from babies, and they kick puppies.
Even more, they commit these crimes against the PCs! The PC comes back from saving the town/country/world and they find their own house on fire! That was where they kept their stuff! When the villain unleashes its ravening horde of gorilla-bats, the PCs probably see this as a chance for some combat and maybe get to the villain themselves and lay down a smacking! But when the villain goes that extra step and attacks the heroes specifically, but indirectly, then it gets personal.
This one works well with Paranoia. In the case of betrayal, the heroes have just accomplished their goal of rescuing the Princess or saving the town, but then someone, maybe the Princess herself, turns around and accuses the party of being in cahoots with the villain or is even the villains themselves! The “thieves” that were caught by the PCs and hauled off to jail instead insist that they were paid to rob places so that the PCs could catch them, thereby increasing the notoriety of the PCs! If one of the thieves happens to have something that belongs to one of the PCs, then even better! Pour on the paranoia!
There you go. Ways to make your villains even more villain-y. The worse you make the villain, the more the players will want to see the villain dead, which is exactly what you want.
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