As you may have noticed, especially if you’ve been reading my partner blog, Tales from the Borderkeep, and you should! There have been a rash of weddings and major life events in our little circle of late! I’ll try to get back to my regular Saturday night/Sunday morning post schedule, but in the mean time, I’d like to give the Devils their due!
Villains come in all shapes and sizes, whether they are recurring or not. What I’d like to do today, is talk about the four main types of bad guys and gals you’re likely to employ as part of your masterful repertoire! 1
The troops are the lowest level bad guys. These are your zombies, goblins, common street toughs, and whathaveyou. They serve a purpose, that of exciting, fairly challenging combat, but they aren’t enough to fulfill a story’s worth of twists and turns, and exciting antagony! That’s a new word I just made for you, friends! The minions serve to make scenes tense, to provide clues about the greater, behind the scenes goings on, and to let your newly leveled characters try out all their awesome new abilities. One thing I do enjoy when employing the old shock-troop regiment, is to give one or two of them interesting dialogue quirks, or even visual differences. It’s always more fun to kill “the one that keeps calling me a drow-lover” than it is to just get goblin #2. Even in a zombie apocalypse game, the minions cannot be the stand alone adversary forever. Take it from a dyed in the wool zombie one shot junkie, the most dangerous, and most interesting bad guys you’re likely to meet aren’t going to be your rank and file red-shirts.
This is where things start getting interesting! Why is this mysterious woman hanging out with a bunch of walking corpses? Is she controlling them? What are her motives? The Midboss can be more fleshed out than a regular troop, perhaps making several appearances before actively engaging the party. One of my personal favorite mechanics is to take a rank and file, especially one that just keeps surviving the party’s most valiant attempts to kill it, and level it up. The party then has a stake in taking out said Midboss, because they just can’t stand the thought of “the one that got away.” The Midboss needs to have clues about what’s going on in the large scheme of things . . . A calling card for the baddy that’s really in charge, or some sort of hideout that has clues as to what the party should do next. Just remember to make him or her more challenging than the other bad guys faced thus far, so the pc’s have a real sense that they might meet their end if they don’t tread carefully.
All jokes aside, this is probably my favorite class of villain. The Lt. Is cunning, powerful, and has survived long enough to (usually) avoid making stupid mistakes. They should have fully fleshed out personalities, goals, relationships with other npc’s, and your party should know and fear what it means when you finally bring the Lt. against them. There are usually more than one . . . I personally prefer to have a cunning, sneaky type, a brawling, muscle-bound type, and a smart, calculating type at work behind the scenes at all times. Imagine characters like Zsasz from Batman, or The Mountain That Rides from a song of fire and ice. These are characters that, if left to their own devices, are terrifying enough, but when unified by a greater power, become down right nasty. Make sure they aren’t just another henchmen, though. The characters need to have heard of them looooooong before they encounter them, and it never hurts to let them get the better of your pc’s at least once. A healthy fear, aggression, and even a little bit of curiosity are what you’re going for, and remember, these people have climbed the echelons. They should be interesting, dynamic, and potentially lethal . . . And every once in a while, redeemable, but that’s a completely separate post.
Ah, the mastermind! You’ll know if you’ve done it right by the looks on your player’s faces when you have the big reveal. Build the mystery. Have a name whispered in shadows, fearfully by men and women who need have fear of nothing. Have this be someone the party has encountered, on good terms or bad, and let it be a shock that this is the real power behind the evil army/devastating thefts/vile murders/abductions/ or whatever other game is afoot in your story. This is very hard to pull off, especially if you have a thrice damned paladin in your group of pc’s, but it can be done, You just have to resist the urge to give away too many clues, no matter how excited you are about your players finally encountering the one who has been behind everything! As with the lieutenants, tease this one as long as you can before bringing him to the forefront. Imagine being in Luke’s shoes, for instance, never having seen Darth Vader, but hear of this wicked, powerful enemy, and knowing all along that one day, you will have to face him. Trickle information to your players, build the suspense and anxiety, so that when they finally face that seven foot tall space samurai, you really get something from them . . . That often sought, ever elusive emotion response that says, “Thanks, man! For a second, I forgot all about my crappy job and real world problems!” It’s always about that suspension of disbelief, and with the Mastermind, you get as close as you ever will to really pulling that off on purpose!
This has been fun to write, and I hope you enjoyed it! If you want more, check out the previous link to Tales from the Borderkeep, or head over to our website, the Borderlanders. If you like anything you’ve seen or read here, please leave a comment! It would seriously be like an early Christmas present for me! And as always, don’t fall for the Kobold Pit Trap!