Nitty-Gritty Villain Tips

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0100

A Brief Word From Johnn


Who would have thought we’d get to issue #100? It was a team effort though, that’s for sure. Thanks for all the great tips, either as responses to requests in this ezine, or just out of the blue–all of your fellow subscribers and I are very appreciative! I hope we can continue together like this for another 100 issues.

Rather than spending time reflecting on the past 100, I’d like to briefly cast my gaze forward to the next 100. We’re nearly 10,000 GMs strong here now, and that’s amazing. And I believe we’ve barely tapped the potential tips, refined tips, and improved tips that are out there.

I don’t have any major changes planned. According to the feedback emails I get from you, things are fine. I enjoyed a couple of recent critiques, such as “issues becoming too theoretical/conceptual without the meaty stuff”, and “you do not acknowledge GMs of other game systems and genres”. I’ll be working on improving in those categories. Feedback and critiques are always welcome.

I’d love to see more guest issues in the next 100. I certainly don’t know everything about GMing, and one of my weaknesses is my nearly exclusive D&D background. Advice and tips from other GMs means more sharing from different perspectives and backgrounds that would ultimately benefit us all.

New Submission Guidelines – With 20 Topic Requests

I’ve revised the Submission Guidelines to hopefully encourage more guest articles. Chopped out the fluff, added specific Topic Requests, and changed a few things. Guest articles are a great way to publicize your company or your writing talents, and non-published authors are more than welcome.

Get the new submission guidelines by autoresponder by sending a blank email to:

[email protected]

#100 Special Treat: All Back Issues Now Available For Download

Thanks to Chris Van Tighem, we now have all 100 issues available for download!

Here’s the link to the downloads page (this link is not advertised on the site):

Warning: requests might be slow early in the week because of traffic volume. If you get a Page Unavailable error, try again later in the week. Thanks again Chris!

A toast: lift your goblets and congratulate yourselves on a job well done. Here’s to another 100!

Warm regards,

Johnn Four
[email protected]


New This Week:

7 Keys to Starting a Successful Campaign

Review: Sengoku: Chanbara Roleplaying in Feudal Japan

Nitty-Gritty Villain Tips

From Strider Starslayer

Your villain tips are truly good ones that I have used; however, they are mostly for the more ‘classical’ villain, the type that the party is expected to fight and who has an ‘evil’ aura. I have developed my own villain archetype for more serious and ‘gritty’ style games, where the lines between good and evil are not always clear…

In The Villain’s Mind, There Is No Good Or Evil

Villains live by a more esoteric code. For example, in my own campaign the villain wanted to defeat 5 demons who were going to destroy the world; that’s a good thing. He used everything from virgin sacrifice, to self mutilation, to killing things that he loved to do it; those are bad things. Leading such a strange life left him with some permanent psychological problems: he was a sadist, and enjoyed catching young females to torture them, just to make sure he had a ready supply of virgin’s blood. [Johnn: other examples, from a villains point of view:

  • “They made me do it.”
  • “The winner gets to write the history books and declare who was supposedly good and who was supposedly evil.”
  • “The end justifies the means.”
  • “You have to look at the big picture, the 10,000 ft. up viewpoint.”
  • “They would’ve done the same things if they were in my shoes.”

The roleplaying lesson here from Strider is that, when playing and planning villainous plots, discard your own modern, humanistic values and logic, and flesh things out in a way that’s congruent with the twisted and tortured mind of your villain.

A nitty-gritty villain does not necessarily see himself or his acts as evil. He finds some way to internally justify things, swallow that bitter pill, and possibly even figure out a way to enjoy it.]

Things That The Party Does Wrong, The Villain Does Right

For example, if the PCs kill someone in cold blood rather then having to deal with them in the future, have your villain bring them back.[Johnn: other examples:

  • The villain makes allies out of the enemies that the PCs make.
  • If the PCs are amoral and disregard the law, the villain sides with the law and uses that against the PCs.
  • The villain fixes the problems the characters create, and wins popularity or sympathy.
  • The villain knows the importance of gathering intelligence and creates extremely detailed dossiers on each PC for future use, while remaining an unseen and unknown enigma to the PCs.
  • The villain gets there first.
  • The villain weakens the relationships between the PCs and their allies, while strengthening the relationships with his own allies, flunkies, and pawns.

Conclusion: during game play, be on the lookout for any mistakes that the characters make and try to find a way for the villain to capitalize on those opportunities.]

Give The Villain A Strange Romantic Attachment To The Party

Maybe he was masquerading as a normal person before they figured out the depth of his evil. Maybe he has a ‘Hannibal Lector’ style of attraction to one of the party members.[Johnn: this tip is a great one, as it creates a good answer to the old question: “if the villain is so powerful, why doesn’t he just wipe out the PCs?”

Other examples:

  • The villain is secretly related to a PC (i.e. Darth Vader).
  • A PC is the key to the villain’s plans (i.e. PC’s tattoo is actually a map).
  • The villain sees a younger version of himself, say 20 years ago, in a PC.
  • The villain believes in a prophecy that seems to indicate the PCs are important to his machinations.
  • The villain respects or admires the PCs.
  • Watch the movie “Unbreakable” for an idea or two.]

Work The Villain Into As Many Things As Possible, Make Him Well-Known

If a common thug has a magic sword, he bought it from the villain. If a demon gets summoned by an amateur and levels a city, the scroll came from the villain. If one of the party members is poisoned, the poison was originally manufactured by the villain.

The Villain Is Probably Capable Of Killing The Party Members, But Doesn’t Want To

The proper order for this type of villain is: Seducer, Corrupter, Merchant, Torturer, and then Murderer.[Johnn: this is an excellent tip! Take one of your campaigns’ villains and start him/her at the Seducer stage. Ask yourself, how can my villain seduce the PCs into an alliance or joining my cause, knowing my players and their characters the way I do?”As soon as the PCs foil the villain’s plans, either:

  1. Make a new plan with the same goal (i.e. Seduction)
  2. Move on to the next step (i.e. Corrupter) and make a new plan.

That list is a great tool for letting your villain return again and again without letting things become stale because you need to change the villain’s goals and methods at each step. Cool!]

The Villain Returns Again And Again

Though every bit as vulnerable as a normal human, and easy enough to kill, the villain has an annoying habit of being able to come back.

For example:

  • He keeps an obscene number of braintapes around that auto- activate into a blank clone if not updated weekly.
  • He’s created several simulacrums that he regularly downloads his memories to via some esoteric spells.
  • He has fought his way out of hell once and could do it again.
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The Villain Should Provide A Service That The Heroes Occasionally Need

He’s the only mage who will deal with resurrection magic, the only alchemist who can produce the rare potion that can keep one of the party members alive, he buys magic items–no questions asked, he sells rare and deadly magic items, he does enchantments–anything that the party will regularly need.

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More Roleplaying Tips Villains Resources5 Tips To Creating A Truly Evil Villain

A Quick & Dirty Guide To Creating Great Villains

6 Devious Villain Tactics

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

Vile Villain Servants: 6 Flunky Tips

Readers’ Response: 14 Great Villain Tips

Article: Hierarchy of Evil by Malcolm Hays

Article: Writing The Effective Villain by

Ruth Kerce

Summary from Strider:

Altogether, these tips make for a very persistent villain, the sort of behind-the-scenes creature who must always be dealt with, not simply slain.

Tips Request: “How To Roleplay Servants Better”

How about a Roleplaying Tips issue devoted to ideas on roleplaying minor NPCs, such as servants? These NPCs are usually created on-the-fly, and can potentially have a large impact on entertainment and session atmosphere if GM’d well.

For example: use contrasts. Give the waiter in the posh, expensive restaurant a trash-mouth and vulgar demeanor, and give the “wench” who works at a greasy spoon on skid row a university education and impeccable service.

So, tell me any and all of your NPC servants tips, personality and roleplaying ideas, and advice.

Send your tips and thoughts to:

[email protected]


Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Generate A Fantasy RPG Map With Photoshop

From The D&D List

Here is a link to a Photoshop “action” designed to help create a world map for a fantasy RPG campaign. It will randomly generate a stylized map that can be used as the basis for a campaign world.

This mapping utility is free to use and requires Photoshop 5 or higher. I’m uncertain whether it’s Mac compatible or not…

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Three Types Of Players

From Dariel Q.

[In response to Roger H’s tip in #99: ]

My group and I came up with a fourfold classification:

  1. Internalizer
  2. Externalizer
  3. Tactician
  4. Jester

Though we refer to them as player types – acknowledging that any one player is most likely to be much more of one type than any other – any gamer is likely to have a little of each in them.

  1. Internalizer
    This player is out to live in his character’s shoes for the duration of the game. He wants to feel like another person, in another place and time, so he makes very detailed characters, delves deeply into their personality and background, and other such details so that when something happens, he’ll be able to feel and think as his character should. In short, he’s trying to “internalize” his character concept. He is the player most likely to be disturbed by others consistently going out of character, or by things happening which break his suspension of disbelief, since these put barriers between him and his character.
  2. Externalizer
    This player wants to express his character concept in terms of actions and words. It doesn’t matter for him so much to be able to internalize his character concept as to be able to externalize it. To this end, he is likely to want to know as much of the milieu as possible, so that his expressions fit; this is the kind of player who will really try to talk in Shakespearian English if you’re playing in an Elizabethan milieu, that sort of thing. This kind of player is apt to be a good roleplayer – because he puts effort into it – but may also dominate a game if the GM doesn’t watch and control the amount of “airtime” each player gets.
  3. Tactician
    This player’s objective is a) character survival, and b) mission accomplishment. This is the player most likely to go meta-game with respect to character crafting and play. He will design his character so that he will have very high ratings in those abilities that he expects to “win” the game with. The most direct-thinking Tactician types will usually maximize for combat; but you can have more subtle types who raise their character’s Charisma to incredible levels or use powerful but subtle magic to get their way. Don’t knock the Tactician as just being a munchkin, though – there’s a bit of Tactician in all of us, and I think it’s necessary; after all, we are playing a game. The way to deal with the Tactician, I’ve found, is to give them multiple goals so they can’t just identify one and max out their character for it.
  4. Jester
    This player is out to just have fun, and usually at someone’s, or something’s expense; another player, the GM, or the game itself. There’s a little bit of Jester in all of us, but allowed to reign unchecked, the Jester is likely to destroy any kind of serious game by just not taking anything seriously enough. Personally, I find Jester-type players the hardest to deal with; I like having a lot of laughs, but I prefer not to have them while I’m trying to run a serious scene or resolving another player’s action.
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Change One Attribute To Foil Meta-Game Thinking

From Sam M.

I started running a game for the first time almost one year ago. The players haven’t run off yet, so I’m taking that as a good sign! During the past year I’ve used the tips other GMs have submitted liberally, and I can’t tell you how much it helped. I wouldn’t have made it without you guys!

Anyway, on to my suggestion. I don’t really have a problem with meta-game thinking in my group, but I do have one player who has a hard time keeping player-knowledge out of the game. One very simple thing I do to prevent this is to change the names of common monsters. Orcs become graug, hobgoblins become rukken, etc.

Taking this one step further, I also change one minor attribute for each monster, thereby making it a little more original. For example, in most settings, orcs dislike magic; but in mine, graug(orcs) have innate magical capabilities, further breaking the stereotype and fostering a sense of immersion.

Well, thanks for all the great tips!

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Combat Hit & Miss Descriptions

From Michael S.

I noticed the last time I was GMing that I was having trouble during the fight scenes coming up with creative and exciting results for the players’ dice rolls (whether hit or miss). I don’t know if I was tired, or just having an off day, but I decided to make a chart to help in the future in case I get stuck.

So far, each chart (one for hits and one for misses) has only 10 descriptions, so roll a D10 and get a combat roll result description!

Perhaps other GMs have done something similar, or maybe readers might enjoy the chance to add to the charts. The more descriptions the better!


  1. Your weapon slashes through your opponent’s defenses!
  2. Your weapon meets with flesh!
  3. You have pierced his/her/its side.
  4. He/she/it attempts to parry, but fails!
  5. Your blade/mace/etc sings in the air, and draws blood!
  6. Your skill proves superior as your weapon finds its mark.
  7. A powerful blow to his/her/its side/head/arm/leg/torso.
  8. Your strike passes through armour, wounding your opponent.
  9. Your opponent tries to duck, but isn’t fast enough.
  10. You tear/smash through flesh, bone, and muscle!


  1. Your blow is deflected.
  2. Your opponent dodges the attack!
  3. Your blade/mace/etc sings in the air, but just misses.
  4. He/She/It blocks the blow with a shield.
  5. He/She/It parries the blow.
  6. Your weapons meet in a crash of steel/wood.
  7. Your strike meets unyielding armour.
  8. Your weapon misses the mark.
  9. Your opponent ducks at the last minute and survives to fight on!
  10. You’re not fast enough, and he/she/it moves out of the way.