6 Devious Villain Tactics

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0027

A Brief Word From Johnn

The villain theme continues on this week with a few tricky tactics that I hope you can read and immediately turn around and apply in your game.

I noticed that Steve Jackson Games has released a new GURPS book this month called “Villains”. Has anybody read it yet? Is it any good?

I hope you find the time to do some gaming this week. First things first right?


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Seize Control With Questions

To help a villain gain the advantage in any parley have them ask the questions. He who asks the questions controls the conversation and what comes from it.

If possible, the villain should try to begin conversations with a question, which should lead to another question and so on.

If the villain is asked a question, he/she/it has two choices:

  1. Answer the question and then quickly ask a question before the other party has a chance to ask another question of their own;
  2. Answer the question with a question.

The skills you will need to develop as a game master, through practice, is to have your villains control conversations and ask questions in a manner which doesn’t tip the players off or shut down the discussion by being too aggressive. Sometimes you may have to give a little to keep things going in the villain’s favour.

He Who Speaks First Loses

This is a trick a real estate agent taught me long ago and it can definitely help your villains. In a conversation, when your villain wants something and you think the time is right, then just go ahead, be direct and have the NPC ask the question…and then Be Silent!

He who speaks first loses. Go ahead, try this out next session and you’ll see what I mean.

This is not a guaranteed trick. The PCs could always say no (if they do, just stay silent and watch what happens…). But no matter what, he who speaks first will not get what they want at that time.

Be On The PCs’ Side

Do you ever wonder how a sail boat can sail into the wind and still move forwards? I’m no sailor, but I do know that by turning your sails at a certain angle, combined with the angle of your hull and rudder, you can make good progress even with the wind in your face.

Your villain can do this too in order to further his own ends. Even when the PCs are trying to fight evil. Just have the villain employ the PCs in ways that further the characters’ goals but also end up helping the villain.


  • Return a portion of loot recovered from places the villain knows of and which are not offensive to the PCs (i.e. tombs, abandoned ships, ruins, greedy rich folk). Villains can always use more money.
  • Helping the PCs fight other evil bad guys who also happen to be enemies of our villain. Two birds with one stone!
  • Hitting a bee’s nest with a stick. The villain hires the PCs to attack a group of creatures, pirates or bad guys who will then retaliate against the nearest settlement, city or group of peaceful people.

(Thanks for the tip, Jason D.!)

Give PCs Choices, Not Ultimatums

If your villain gives the PCs an ultimatum, “do it or else”, he is making the PCs choose between yes or no. That’s not good. The villain should present choices where any choice the PCs make somehow helps the villain’s cause.

Do this by asking open-ended questions. Questions which can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”.

  • “Will you hand me the wand or fight my pet tarrasque?
  • “What can I do to help you decide to investigate that tomb?”
  • “The path is easy, would you prefer to go it alone or can I send Lurch along to guide you?”


Villains should take the time to learn what’s important to their adversaries so that they can gain some advantage.

Use F.O.R.M. as an easy-to-remember guide:

  • Family
  • Occupation
  • Relationships
  • Money

The villain should send agents to chat with the PCs and those who know the PCs in order to gather this kind of valuable information. Once the villain knows what’s valuable to the characters he can go after it and use it against them.

  • “Where are you from?” leads the villain to relatives of the PCs.
  • “What do you do for a living? Where do you work?” leads the villain to the PCs’ employer(s) an co-workers.
  • “Married? Kids? Women troubles? Know anybody in these parts?” leads the villains to all kinds of potential victims.
  • “Looks like it’s time for new armour eh? Did you see that ship they’ve got for sale down at the pier? Heard taxes are going up again…” can help the villain learn if the PCs are poor and money-hungry.

Followers Are Expendable

Evil villains should never be afraid to use their followers and regard them as expendable. There’s always more people or creatures who can be bought or dominated into servitude.

So, go ahead, send that poor scout ahead to learn where the PCs are hiding. Have those slaves dig till they die in the gold mines. Use that army to start a war and draw the forces of good away from the secret entrance. Make that bureaucrat steal those documents and risk his career.

You and I would never do those things, but don’t let that stop your villain from doing them.

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Do you have any favorite villain tactics? Send ’em along! [email protected]

Have more fun at every game!

Readers’ Feedback

Regarding last week’s issue of Villain creation (#26):

From Brett Evill

“There are other things I thing are more important:

  1. Make him three-dimensional
  2. Make him fathomable
  3. Put him in conflict and keep him there
  4. Let him act at maximum appropriate capacity.”
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Regarding NPC Parley Tricks (Issue #25):

From Tatsuki

To address some of your parley tricks

  1. Contractions are a great way to suggest a lack of education, as is slang and the like. Words like “ain’t” and “nope” and the like may be common in our world, but in a medieval world, the upper class tried to distance themselves from the lower class by as much of a margin as possible. Contractions were generally a providence of the lower classes.
  2. Many of the Modern “swear” words that we use were part of every day common and even court speech in the middle ages. I could give you examples and the context in which they were used if you like, but this is a polite newzine, so if you post this and anyone would like to know, have them e-mail me ([email protected]) So I disagree. Swearing and cussing were common, and only the blasphemous statements were discouraged.
  3. Assumptions are arrogant, but people can also make “educated guesses” based upon information gathered that would sound arrogant. For example, the local sheriff may have been keeping an eye on the characters since they arrived, and further, knows about their exploits against the “ogre army”. Saying something like “Grab that sword and make yourself useful, dammit” may sound arrogant, but not if he knows the character is a high level Fighter.
  4. Contagious voices are great in some circumstances. If 2 NPCs came from the same region or served aboard the same Pirate Ship (using the example), they probably do sound very much alike. They will use similar inflections and speech patterns. Trust me I know, sooner or later everyone who spends anytime around me starts addressing everyone of the opposite gender as “luv”.