Why Your Villains Should Be Making Moves

Why Your Villains Should Be Making Moves

Today’s tip is inspired by a question about villains from RPT GM Gerald Lock. You can catch his full question, his one-shot Halloween adventure, and my video reply here.

So, you’ve crafted an awesome villain, complete with a dark past and malevolent goals, but when game night comes around, they end up feeling more like a cardboard cutout than a looming threat. Why does this happen? Often, it’s because we forget that villains should be as active in the story as our heroes.

Villains aren’t just waiting around in their lairs for the heroes to show up. They’ve got plans, and they’re taking steps to execute them. That’s what makes them dangerous and interesting. Your villain should always be doing something. The minute you start treating your villain as an active character, you’ll see immediate changes in your gameplay. The story will feel more dynamic, and the stakes will escalate in a way that’s organic and thrilling.

Make Your Villains Work for It

Don’t just let your BBEGs sit back and watch the world go by. Have them send minions to gather intelligence, steal supplies, or even kidnap a key NPC. This puts the players on the defensive and gives them something to react to. Now, they’re not just hunting down a villain – they’re working to thwart a plot that’s already in motion.

The Butterfly Effect

Every action your villain takes should have consequences that the players can feel. If the villain poisons the town’s water supply, suddenly the heroes are on a time crunch to find a cure. This sense of urgency makes each decision that much more crucial and keeps your players invested.

Quick Tips for Active Villains

Timelines. Give your villain a timeline for their plans. This helps you keep track of what they’re doing and when. I use my Loopy Planning method for this.

Foreshadowing. Drop clues and hints about the villain’s activities. Make players feel like they’re on the heels of something big. (See my “No More Missed Clues” three-part series I emailed out in April 2023. The series is not on the website, alas.)

Reaction. Allow the villain to adapt and respond to party actions. If the heroes thwart one plan, what’s Plan B? See RPTN#1115 “Quick Plot Design: How To Create A Villain Plan First Draft” for more tips on making villain plans.

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A villain who constantly takes action provides the catalyst for conflict, and that’s what drives a great game. If you feel your adventure or campaign lacks drama, have your villain take an action that results in conflict for the player characters.