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30 Days of Gamemastering: Part Fifteen

October 16, 2013

This is part fifteen in the continuing series of posts for the “30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge” from Triple Crit.

Memorable villains: how do you introduce and weave the antagonist/s into the ongoing narrative?

I’ve had two really great villains in my gamemastering life. In a fantasy campaign that lasted about ten years, the villain was the Leanansidhe. The players HATED her–with a passion. I, somehow, crafted a villain that was truly memorable. The other was in my Serenity RPG campaign–Jared Rejovic. He started off as the baddie from a module and expanded into quite the big-bad. The players hated him viscerally. In both cases, it was extremely satisfying when they were finally taken out by the players. I wish I could say that I planned for this when I created the villains–but it all happened along the path of the campaigns.

Looking back, I think I can see what I did right.

First of all, I had a good sense of the personalities and motivations of both villains. Some of their actual backstories evolved in-play, but, from the start, I knew who these characters were. It’s not only important to know what the villain is going to do next, but why. Both of these characters had powerful motivations: Lianansidhe wanted to be freed from her inter-planar prison and Rejovic had meglomaniacal revenge. Having a firm grasp of their motivations gave me a sense of what they wanted; having a firm grasp of their personalities gave me a sense of how they would go about doing it. Lianansidhe was deceit incarnate–any action she formed was a nesting doll of plans within plans. For every goal, she tried to kill two birds with one stone. She wasn’t working against the PCs–she was manipulating them to help her, after all–but she couldn’t help but be who she was; a manipulative, deceitful, inhuman, queen. Rejovic was more straightforward. He wanted revenge against the characters that dared to thwart his plans. His actions and motivations were far more personal. He wanted to hurt the PCs–and badly. Any plan that he came up with had to have some element that would bring the pain to the player characters. By keeping motivations and personalities in mind, the villains became much more than the culmination of their stats. They became forces of nature within the campaign.

Finally, it was important that the villains worked behind the scenes toward their goals. They didn’t just sit around and wait for the PCs to arrive at their underground lairs. They brought everything they had to the PCs, time and time again. Even if the PCs were working on a side story and the villains aren’t “on-camera”, they have to be moving, plotting, setting things in motion.  This makes them seem more real–and more of a threat.

So, for me, the secret to creating great villains is to make them real. Give them life and purpose. Do what’s needed to make them become characters, not just a stat block.

What about you? Any memorable villains in your repertoire? How did you do it? Hit the comments and let us know!

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