Your Villain’s Missing Ingredient
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0749
I loves me my villains. I believe every great campaign is powered by a strong villain the PCs hate.
But something is often missing from the villains I read in adventure modules. Add this missing ingredient, and your campaign instantly improves.
Before I get into that though, a quick thanks to Eddy Morrow and other readers who wrote in about my Murder Hobos campaign reboot.
Their feedback was to change the name of my campaign if I wanted to change the campaign’s premise.
So I did.
I surveyed my players, and the campaign is now Hobos of the Apocalypse.
Less hobos, more apocalypse.
Thanks for the suggestion, everyone!
Make Villains Essential
The ingredient missing with most RPG villains is being essential.
Wipe the villain out, and not much changes.
Perhaps the bad guy is locked in a dungeon crypt. Or they are plotting in town with their pet slug. Or they are camped in the wilderness just waiting for the meddling PCs to enter their hex.
If your villain isn’t essential, you can remove them from the game and the adventure doesn’t change much.
That’s bad design.
Because an essential villain stirs the plot, gets under players’ skins, and gives everyone a big reason to care about the game.
But a villain who disappears and no one notices? Meh.
Here are three ways to make your villain essential to your game.
Turns out the villain is key to saving the world or the story.
Bonus points if the goal is to make the villain change and willingly undo their wrongs to save everyone.
Perhaps the villain has tainted magic for his foul purposes. Fix magic, fix the world.
Maybe the villain has collected all the unicorns and is filling his spice jars. Save the last unicorn, save the forest.
Make it essential for the villain to be part of the solution and you add a delicious new layer to your game.
When the party defeats the burly chap and his thieving thugs in the alley, the villain doesn’t just flip over a table and scream at the moon.
Instead, he counter-punches.
Again and again he puts new obstacles in the PCs’ path.
Each evil touchpoint thrills players and GM alike.
When the villain paints a red laser dot on the characters, there’s no doubt an essential ingredient needs a punch in the face.
Speaking of agency, who else but a villain can tolerate paperwork and supply lines?
Make your villain one who organizes the bad things in your campaign.
It could be armies, factions, races and cultures, wizard school, or just poker night with the lich and his buds in the grotto next door.
Make your villain a leader who inspires evil.
This will surely make him essential, if not to your plot, then at least to his hoard of adoring evil minions. No matter what approach you take, ensure your villain is not a mere encounter number. Drive your plot with him like a mud-spackled monster truck through a hobo wedding.