Laidback DM: Villains – upping the ante

Role playing games enable players to take part in their own ongoing TV show—a soap opera of sorts, with a growing number of support characters, a fantastic and evolving environment, and ongoing stories linked to the players’ backgrounds and adventures.

As with any melodrama, what can make or break a long form story is the villain. A good villain is worth a thousand henchmen, as it were. Here’s a few ideas to up the ante with your campaign villains.

1. The Recurring Villain

Some of the best villains are the ones that come back to aggravate the player characters (PCs) again and again. This can be tricky in a game where the bad guys are regularly dispatched. If you want a villain to return, make sure he has an escape plan. One of my fave villains was a quirky NPC with the mannerisms of Captain Kirk, as played by the inimitable William Shatner. Great fun for the players and me, and one of the reasons they didn’t kill him.

2. The Apocalyptic Villain

This guy is set on destroying the world. Always great for a campaign, as it ups the stakes and drives the heroes onward to stop them. Must be immensely powerful, so that the PCs have a great challenge and really feel like they’ve earned their win (or death). I like using a major villain who was defeated in an earlier campaign but has come back more powerful than before, using his followers to harangue the PCs and providing gradual insights into his nefarious schemes of revenge and world domination.

3. The Sympathetic Villain

This villain has a backstory or motivation that puts the PCs in a moral quandary, forcing them to choose between helping or hindering them. I love these types of villains, and use them a lot. One of my faves was a priest who lost his wife and child to a scouting party and sought revenge by tracking down the murderers. The PCs were tasked with protecting the murderers, but as they gradually discovered the villain’s backstory they had to choose who to back. Made for some fiery discussions.

4. The Hidden Villain

This is the ‘slow burn’ villain. You don’t know much about them as they manipulate from behind the scenes. It’s often someone known to the PCs as an upstanding citizen, supportive of the party in public but secretly working against them behind the scenes. As long as they remain a mystery, the big reveal leaves the PCs gobsmacked, making it all worthwhile.

Great villains are the foundation of great campaigns. Spend a bit of time creating your villain, and the payoff will come in spades for you and your players.

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