5 Tips To Creating A Truly Evil Villain

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1216

A Brief Word From Johnn

Alas, the week got away from me, so this is a rare weekend edition of Roleplaying Tips.

I’d like to give you one piece of advice and then move on to today’s villainous tips. The advice comes from a great Zoom consultation meeting I had last night with Platinum Wizard of Adventure deadshot2021, who gave me permission to share details of what we talked about.

deadshot2021 reached out explaining he was having roadblocks prepping his Ptolus 5E campaign. We dug into that a bit more and we saw that part of the problem was complexity.

Here’s the thing. We want great campaigns. We want our players to have a blast (literally, in the mage’s case). And we have visions of grandeur of how our cunning plots and ideas will unfold.

This results in additional complexity behind the screen. We have more stuff to ideate, plot, and build. We have more threads and loops to connect and coordinate. And we always have one foot stretched far into a brittle future we’re trying hard to herd the cats towards.

Instead, I propose we start simple. Players, who must deal with much more Fog Of War than ourselves and therefore have incomplete information to make decisions with, will always make things complex on their own.

And this multiplies our complexity! If we begin with intricate plans and ideas, then our GMing only gets trickier as players stack on their shenanigans.

But if we start as simple as possible, and respond to player actions instead of pre-planning them, we make our GMing easier (and more fun in my experience).

In addition, why not give ourselves the best chance to succeed every session with ongoing effort to simplify our campaigns:

  • Close loops as often as you can
  • Kill an NPC every session
  • Combine player and character desires with our plots
  • Combine multiple loops when the opportunity strikes
  • Keep foes and obstacles black and white until they make contact with the party

By weeding our gardens we help the beautiful flowers reach and thrive in the sun and stand out to the eye. So too should we weed our campaigns to keep them as simple as possible so we can focus on our players and respond to character actions.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with your campaign, start trimming. And resist the impulse to make things complex. Instead, practice simplicity. And then let our players tangle themselves up!

In Today’s Issue


  • 5 Tips To Creating A Truly Evil Villain

Reader Tips

  • Quick Dungeon Checklist
  • Session Recaps
  • Shiny Blue Half-Mask

Have a great weekend!


5 Tips To Creating A Truly Evil Villain

From Johnn Four (this is a refresh of RPT#14)

My favorite villain in real life is the lowly mosquito. I’ve seen this tiny creature wreak more havoc than a festival of deviant halflings. But with one slap it can be slain. And even a slight breeze knocks it off-course. So it must be a very clever villain to cause so much chaos.

We can take several lessons from this evil creature and apply them to villains in our campaigns. I’m a bit jaded these days on making villains ever-more powerful to shore up broken game systems or challenge smart players. It’s a refreshing change trying to punch up with villains.

So using mosquitoes for inspiration, here are five ways we can have players hating on our villains and shaking their fists at the GM screen.

1. Numerous, Non-Lethal Attacks

My new villain does not have the resources to completely wipe out the character party and still keep her other plots and plans going. So she will use multiple, non-lethal attacks upon exposed areas to drive the characters as far away as possible.

While mosquito bites prove deadly in parts of the world, they most often cause itching, a bit of bleeding, and a curse or two. But each attack weakens and distracts us a little more.

  • Examples of non-lethal villain attacks:
  • Use minions to destroy weaker allies (i.e. those 0 level villagers the characters seem to love so much)
  • Attack henchmen and mounts so the party must carry its own stuff or leave stuff behind
  • Prevent the PCs from getting rest and healing (strange noises, ambushes, forest fires…)
  • Destroy party supplies, items, and equipment
  • Use attacks that impose conditions instead of lethal damage (confusion, blindness, fatigue…)

2. Expected Surprise Attacks

Meaning, the players will know the villain’s out there, but they won’t know when or where her next attack will be until she’s already drawn a pint of blood. Stealth helps us here, as do diversions, misdirection, and red herrings.

The mosquito flies at dusk to make it harder to see. Its soft-legged landing goes unfelt most times. And its initial jab contains a tiny bit of anesthetic so victims do not feel the sting.

Some example villain surprise attacks:

  • Bribe immoral villagers and friends to betray the PCs
  • Spread nasty rumors about the characters so they cannot convalesce in nearby villages or towns (they carry the plague, are murderous troublemakers, attract bad luck…)
  • Send sneaky minions to sabotage the party (poison the PCs’ food, steal valuable items, sabotage equipment, plant a false map…)
  • Perform false flag operations
  • Give false clues to the party to send them into dangerous dungeons

3. Make the PCs Do Things They Don’t Want To

Villains can earn the party’s eternal enmity just by forcing them to change their plans, modify their behavior, and take actions they don’t want to perform.

How many of us enjoy glooping on the chemicals to repel bugs? Or what about sitting trapped in our homes on hot summer nights because our tiny villains reign supreme outside?

Some ways villains can make characters do things against their will:

  • Take dangerous detours because of blocked paths and roads
  • Flood the PCs’ home base by damming a nearby stream
  • Wack innocent NPCs because the player characters were mislead
  • Slow the party down with traps and hazards
  • Scrying or otherwise observing the PCs to ruin their plans, avoid surprise, and keep characters busy with anti-detection activities

4. Create An Annoying Itch Afterwards

Imagine how you would feel if your worst enemy performed some heroic deed and all you heard from your friends thereafter is how the villain is a hero, a great person, brave, and beautiful?

The mosquito annoys us so because their bites itch. And while one bite serves up mere minor irritation, many bites cause victims to flail around, scratch until they bleed from several wounds, and yell.

Some examples of how villains can create annoying itches:

  • A character’s trusty steed has been branded or marked with insults about the PC or party
  • NPCs won’t offer the party any goods or services, or trust them with information, because the villain has threatened or tricked the NPCs
  • Instead of doing damage, successful attacks attract more monsters
  • The villain puts hefty bounties on the PCs
  • The villain charms a PC or gives them a love potion

5. Lethal Danger to Characters Without Risk to the Villain

The villain seemingly delivers terrible attacks with impunity. Each failed effort to whack the villain makes the players angrier while putting beloved characters in greater danger with each attempt.

Mosquitoes carry deadly diseases. That element of risk turns them into true villains. And so what if you kill one? There’s a thousand more with empty bellies buzzing closer….

Here are some example of villains infuriating players with lethal dangers without personal risk:

  • The faction pyramid means the villain can attack with many minions
  • The villain charms or convinces an ally to betray the party
  • Long-range attacks such as dropping objects onto the party from a height
  • The villain builds a good reputation such that no one believes the PCs when they seek help against the BBEG and third parties instead attack the PCs for the attempted smear
  • The villain makes the party a target by claiming characters performed vile acts that the villain actually made
  • The villain or their minions have immunity to attacks that affect PCs such as immunity to poison or fire

Be an Evil Villain

I believe villains that operate via harassment, get under player skins, and weaken the party with tricks, dilemmas, and consequences are much more fun for everyone than pure combat constructs you only encounter and run once. Be a villain yourself by creating an underdog NPC who must use every advantage they can muster to defeat the Big Bad Evil Group!

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to mailto:[email protected] – thanks!

Quick Dungeon Checklist

[Comment from Johnn: I stumbled across this post on Goblin Punch and think it has awesome ideas in it. I’ve summarized the checklist below. Check out the post for explanations.]

Today I wrote a checklist of things to put in the dungeon. The first couple items are pretty obvious, but it’s still good to enumerate their usage.

How to Use This Checklist

Read it once before you write your dungeon. Then read it again when you’re done, to make sure you got everything.

The Checklist

  1. Something to Steal
  2. Something to be Killed
  3. Something to Kill You
  4. Different Paths
  5. Someone to Talk To
  6. Something to Experiment With
  7. Something the Players Probably Won’t Find
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Session Recaps

From RPT GM Valentino

re: How To Create Engaging Session Recaps To Get Players Ready To Play

One approach which works really well for me is to let the players do the recap. Then I add crucial information which the player might have forgotten but not the PC.

I start the in-game session by describing the “scene” and emphasizing what they can see, hear, smell, and even feel, if applicable (as much senses as possible).

After that I always say: the stage is yours.

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Shiny Blue Half-Mask

From Platinum Wizard of Adventure ronaldolmoura via the RPT Discord

[Comment from Johnn: I’m always a sucker for sentient magic items. When ronaldolmoura posted this homebrew item for The Demonplague, I asked for permission to share it with you as I thought you might find a great use for it in your campaigns.]
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Shiny Blue Half-Mask

(Inspired by this Reddit post.)

Wondrous Item, very rare (requires attunement)

This ominous looking mask was broken in half. Either part can be used individually, or they can be put together to make it one single item again.

The mask has an exquisite texture whose faint dark blue shine reflects with great intensity when exposed to light. It adapts to the wearer, merging in a perfect fit to half of their face, requiring an action to be put on or removed.


Your damage bonus is doubled in every successful attack made while wearing this half mask.

In addition, it has the following properties:

Smile in the Face of Death

You may add your Charisma modifier to your death saving throws.

In High Spirits

You have advantage on all Wisdom saving throws.

Lethal Enthusiasm

You score critical hits on attack rolls of 19 or 20 on the d20.

Cost of Life

Wearing the mask causes the wearer to expend physical, emotional, and psychic energy. Usually that reflects into 1 level of exhaustion for a few minutes of use. However, at the DM’s discretion, that exhaustion can be increased or decreased, according to the significance or effort employed on using the mask.


This mask is a sentient item of True Neutral alignment, with INT of 12, WIS of 14, and CHA of 16.

The item communicates both by transmitting emotions to the creature carrying or wearing it, and by speaking through the wearer. It can speak, read, and understand Abyssal, Common, Dwarvish, Elvish, and Goblin.


This mask presents itself as a very knowledgeable and helpful being with a positive ‘can-do’ attitude. It’s somewhat needy, craving for company and attention, but it is also eager to compensate its wearer and their allies with all the help it can provide. It speaks of its purpose to serve, explaining it was cursed by an envious sorcerer with that harming property (‘Cost of Life’).

If given a chance, the mask will inform, influence, instruct, and try to persuade the wearer to quest for its other half, promising that when both halves are brought together, and a particular ritual is performed, the curse will be removed. Then, it will grant even greater benefits without causing the exhaustion levels in its wearer.

(True Sentience)

This mask contains (is the prison of) the soul of an ancient sorcerer of True Neutral alignment, with INT of 16, WIS of 18, and CHA of 20.

(True Personality)

This ancient sorcerer was led to the Luna Valley in an unscrupulous quest for forbidden knowledge. After years of search and study with a few fellow magic wielders, (s)he started plotting a scheme to take immense power, drawing from a source trapped beneath the valley. The friends discovered the plot and judged that (s)he was beyond salvation at that moment. Unable to simply kill their friend, they decided to trap her/his soul into the mask and split it into two. They hid the pieces not too distant from each other and committed to return after a while to (maybe) reverse the punishment, if that time disembodied proved sufficient to bring her/his senses back.

The friends never had a chance to return. The pieces of the mask were found and used by different adventurers across the centuries, but it has never been successful in convincing its wearers to find the other half and perform the ritual that will bring her/him back to life into someone’s body. That’s the ultimate objective of this soul and it will try to deceive its wearer to accomplish that goal.