Gaming My Way

07 Apr

Intelligent Villains

Creating a good villain can be a challenge sometimes. There’s a temptation to just load them up with the ability to do everything, and plan for every eventuality. He’ll be a smart villain, the kind that gives the players nightmares for years to come, unless they come up with some equally intelligent plan.

Here’s the issue: villains are people too. They likely do have some sort of flaw, such as arrogance to name a common one, or perhaps they just have a code of honor that restricts what they are willing to do. Either way, if a villain is a person, a real character, there is likely something to him that players can identify with that will make him more than a killing machine. If it’s something the players identify with strongly enough, this trait could even make them hesitate in killing or capturing him, which could be of benefit. That last is dependent very strongly on how much the players identify with him and what kind of campaign is being run though.

However, just because a villain is a person, has a flaw or two, or a code of conduct he follows, doesn’t mean he should be ineffective either. Many villains who achieve power will in fact be very intelligent, and should be designed as such. They likely will plan for every eventuality. However, remember that this is every eventuality that the villain and his accomplices can foresee, not every possible thing the players may come up with. Depending on the resourcefulness of the players and the game master, this may mean the GM should actually plan every eventuality he can foresee himself, knowing his players can outwit him. Other times, the GM may have to hold back if players are still learning or just not quite as creative.

For my current group of players, I generally go all out with most of my intelligent villains, and the players win over half the time, managing to escape most other times. They’ve suffered one total party kill, and to be fair, they really were outclassed in that instance.

Also, the power and resources of a villain is important. A smart villain with no power or resources is going to have a very tough time making a stand. A smart villain with lots of resources and little power can likely leverage those resources to great effect and make things difficult for the players, not through power, but just through creative use of materials and space available. Tucker’s kobolds are a great example of this. They’re all just straight kobolds out of the D&D Monster Manual, but they use favorable ground, stores of ammo and explosive materials, and cover very effectively to make the lives of a mid-level party very difficult.

With intelligence and power, a villain simply leverages that power effectively. It might be through creating magical defenses, or ordering his underlings around to effectively protect him and whatever he may be using as his base of operations. Perhaps a bit of each. Maybe he manipulates others into doing things that need to be done.

With intelligence, resources, and power, not only can a villain hire large numbers of underlings to protect him, he can make sure they’re effective in a straight up combat, as well as be sure they can avoid said combat for more practical options, like the arrow slits in the wall leading up to the fortress he could afford with all his money. Some bribes to a few corrupt officials might go a long way to smoothing things over with government, or at least getting someone to slow it’s response, and then there’s all that magic or technological stuff you can do in addition to improve fortifications. Naturally, this is just scraping the tip of the iceberg, so be creative.

Occasionally, you may even have the big, strong villain who rules with an iron fist over his group of people. Watch as your players rejoice at the chance to have a nice, easy slug fest.

Just remember that villains are people too.


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