Exit Stage Left: How To Plot Your Villain’s Demise

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0028

A Brief Word From Johnn

I would like to personally welcome all of the new subscribers to Roleplaying Tips Weekly over the past few days – we’re glad to have you as part of the newsletter. Please feel free to share your tips and tricks with us. Send your favourite villain tips to: [email protected]

Special thanks to Jason D. for suggesting this week’s tips topic: villain deaths.

Many personal-success, goal setting and business books advise you to “begin with the end in mind”. If you start with your desired end goal first, and then work your planning backwards to the starting point, you’re sure to be on target.

In this respect, your villain’s demise could be the end goal of your story. And it can be a great place to start your campaign plans.

Try this today: take an existing villain in your game, or use a new one, and go through the steps below to plan their death scene. Then let me know if the ideas helped. I just did this for one of my villains today and I was amazed at the plot ideas it helped generate.


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Exit Stage Left: How To Plot Your Villain’s Demise

Make the Final Scene an Interesting Place

Create a dramatic setting and situation for the final conflict.

For example, let’s say ‘Tanglebeard the Cruel’ is our pirate villain. He has slain relatives of the PCs during his raids, started a war between two countries through trickery, mercilessly robbed the PCs on two of their returning-from- the-adventure trips when they were weak, and spread nasty rumours about the PCs which have quickly spread up and down the entire coast.

To set the stage properly then, a final confrontation with Tanglebeard could take place in a life and death battle on the rolling deck of his ship, at night, during a raging storm at sea. That’s drama!

Actually visualize the final second

What action or actions are required to destroy the villain? Picture the final scene in your mind like it was a movie and make it as dramatic as you can imagine.

When I pictured Tanglebeard vs. the PCs I suddenly thought of a monster 40 foot wave breaking over the bow of his ship. The wave crests and falls right on top of Tanglebeard and drags him overboard right before the PCs’ eyes.

Add irony to give the villain’s death more meaning

Try to give the villain’s death an ironic twist or hidden meaning.

Irony is hard to define but here are some things you can tinker with and twist to help create an ironic end:

  • The place of death (i.e. villain is shot and dies, falling backwards into the grave he has just dug intended for the PCs)
  • The method of death (i.e. villain is slain by his own spell backfiring)
  • The slayer (i.e. the mighty Goliath is slain by a mere shepherd; the villain is slain by his own malfunctioning killer robot)
  • The aftermath (i.e. the evil CEO has been taken down, but the corporation lives on and another is promoted)
  • The ends justify the means (i.e. sure the evil Overlord is dead, but the heroes had to lie, cheat and kill to do it– so what makes them different from the villain?)

The ending of Tanglebeard in a giant wave is ironic because it was the sea delivering the death blow–the same sea the pirate used to commit his foul deeds upon. It might also be ironically interpreted that the sea was cleansing itself.

Ensure you plan the lethal weakness well

See [A Quick & Dirty Guide To Creating Great Villains — RPT#26] for more information about villain weaknesses.

Give your villain one or more exploitable weaknesses for the characters to take advantage of. Try to make weaknesses non- cliche and not obvious.

And, for the weaknesses to truly be important and valuable, your villain must have really good defenses or strengths in all other areas.

What good is setting up a villain to be exploited through his weakness for gambling if the villain can also be easily defeated in a fight, takes no precautions against snipers, car bombs and poisoned food delivered by room service, and keeps a large collection of poisonous pet snakes in his bedroom?

Here’s another tip: weaknesses should be special. What does it matter if the Demon Prince can only be slain by magic weapons if all the PCs have magic weapons?

Ask yourself, ‘Why hasn’t my villain been defeated before this point in the story? What is his weakness and how has he protected it?’

Use a variety of methods to slowly reveal the weakness during play

It’s a tricky dance revealing clues about your villain without giving the whole secret away in the first shot. But it’s important that the players feel they have a hope of thwarting the villain and that they can take action to learn how to do it. So you eventually have to give out important information about the bad guy.

Here are some ideas for revealing clues during play:

  • Overhearing the final few seconds of a conversation
  • Partially destroyed letters, orders and personal notes
  • Witnessing a mysterious meeting but the words cannot be heard
  • Allies relay important but incomplete information
  • A disgruntled minion of the villain reveals information but is suddenly killed before all can be told
  • Discovery of hoarded weakness (i.e. an evil Superman could hide all the galaxy’s kryptonite in a cavern at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean for his protection)
  • Discovery of a villain’s treatment/remedy, but it’s full nature is not revealed (i.e. an unmarked pill container)
  • Villain’s habits can be monitored (i.e. always going to the casino)
  • The enemy’s enemy may reveal clues
  • Ancient lore reveals obscure clues
  • Interaction with the villain (i.e. why does he avoid mirrors?)

Do you have a favorite villain death scene? Or have any villain demise tips? Send ’em along! [email protected]

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four