Vile Villain Servants: 6 Flunky Tips

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0029

A Brief Word From Johnn

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Flunky: 1) one performing menial duties; 2) yes-man.
– Webster’s Dictionary

Villains can’t do everything themselves–and the bigger their plans the more help they’ll need: whether it’s accounting or killing. That’s where flunkies come in.

But don’t settle on faceless cannon fodder. Instead, give your flunkies some life. Make them minor villains. And turn them into roadblocks that the PCs will face before the final showdown with your arch villain. Your game will be glad you did.


Johnn Four
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Let The Flunkies Do All The Work Until The Final Scene

It is a good idea to keep the PCs and the major villain separated until the final, climactic scene. Let the flunkies do all the work in the mean time. Let them serve as the hands, eyes, ears and mouth of your main villain.

I’ve been in games where the characters were able to get to the villain early on in the story. And the characters attacked and won.

It’s a horrible feeling for a GM when his story and campaign gets cut down too soon by gleeful players before his very eyes.

So use flunkies as buffers until the very end.

Create Key Flunkies Who Contrast With Your Villain

Help add interest and variety to your campaign by creating flunkies who are very different than your villain.

For example, say your villain is a stern military commander. Contrasting flunkies could be:

  • a shifty quartermaster
  • a devilishly evil concubine
  • a musician spy

These people would be in addition to all of the standard military personnel flunkies.

When Creating Flunkies Start With The Chief Lieutenants

A good way to tackle creating flunkies is to consider your villain’s most important servants first . We’ll call these people his chief lieutenants.

Chief lieutenants:

  • need answer only to the villain
  • are usually the villain’s last line of defense
  • are most often motivated by personal gain and glory
  • are sometimes motivated by other things such as revenge, duty or loyalty
  • have their own information networks and always know what’s going on (and often know more details than their boss)

Flunkies & Villains Need Each Other

Flunkies and villains should have two-way relationships. Each party is using the other and benefitting from it (for now, at least).

The AD&D Villain’s Handbook says there are two needs in a villain-flunky relationship:

  • practical need (i.e. skills, expertise, labour)
  • emotional need (i.e. domination, understanding, compassion)

While some chief lieutenants may serve because they have been tricked, enslaved or forced to, most flunkies see their master as a way to gain more power, riches and fame.

And most villains see their flunkies as tools, objects, entertainment, pets to love, advisors to carefully watch…

So, create a two-way practical and/or emotional need for your flunky and your flunky’s villain. This will add a lot of depth to your stories.

Understand Relationships Within the Hierarchy of Evil

The key weaknesses many evil flunkies have is selfishness, ambition and their belief that the end justifies the means. This means in-fighting, backstabbing, sabotage and subterfuge within the villain’s organization are the norm. Great roleplaying opportunities!

The villain must constantly and carefully observe his flunkies. He must let them do their job but also prevent them from getting so powerful that they could be a personal threat.

And flunkies must watch their backs at all times. It’s survival of the fittest.

Not only must a flunky carefully watch out for his master, he also needs to be on guard against all the other flunkies. A flunky’s peers will be in competition with him over the villain’s favour. And a flunky’s underlings all want his job.

Once you get a feeling for the politics, ambition and ruthlessness of your villain’s organization you’ll discover many great side-story and encounter ideas.

Evil Flunkies Make Their Masters Look Bad

This tip is an important one and a major clue to creating memorable and despicable villains.

The actions of flunkies directly affect how the players feel about the villain. Evil flunkies make your villain evil merely by their association with him.

It’s an amazing technique. You can create a villain which has never even appeared yet in your story but the players will already hate him passionately just because of their bad encounters with his evil flunkies.

This is a technique frequently used in books and the movies. Use it in your campaign.

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Have more fun at every game!

Readers’ Feedback

From Tim Maruyama

Find a good thesaurus and make a list of “action verbs”. For example, a mace or warhammer shouldn’t just hit an orc, but rather crush, smite, beat, or pound it. A spear should pierce, stab, impale, or run through a bandit, and so on.