Gamemastering

Memorable Villains

Nothing makes a campaign more memorable for players than a really good villain. When building a world for adventurers, building a good villain gives the players something to react to, and gives their actions real weight. Here are a few of my thoughts on great villains:

  1. Savage Worlds Happens – Don’t Let it Happen to your Villain: With exploding dice, it’s not out of the question for a farmboy with a meat cleaver to take down a dragon. Not LIKELY, but not out of the question. The natural consequence of this aspect of the system is that you must not put your villain in the way of your heroes before you are ready for the big showdown. Keep the villain off-stage, use minions, misdirect the players – anything but put the villain into a stand up fight with the players. Remember – supervillains get to be supervillains by throwing other guys into the hero meat grinder.
  2. Twist the Story with an Unexpected Villain: One of my favorite ways to mess with the players is to get them confused about who the good guys and the bad guys are. If your character’s patron, best buddy, or liege lord turns out to be the evil mastermind, that turns the whole storyline on its head. Plus, if your players think the master villain is an ally, that cuts down on the whole accidentally killing him problem from point 1.
  3. Villains Want Something: A good villain has a raison d’etre, some specific thing that drives him to villainy. TV Tropes is a great source for reasons for villains to turn bad, but some of the classics are revenge, personal loss, and a need to prove superiority. One of the best is a sincere belief that they need to do X bad things to make the world a better place.
  4. Villains Should Outclass: A recurring villain needs to be a bad ass just to survive brushing up against heroes. Whether it’s from an army of minions, super powers of one stripe or another, unparalleled intellect, or deadly fighting skill, your villain needs to stand out from the crowd.
  5. Have a Reason to Spare the Heroes: Bond villains generally fail this one, as they tend to spare James Bond only for the purpose of monologuing at him. If, however, your heroes fare badly against the villain, you might want to give him or her (or them, if it’s an organization) some reason to want the heroes alive. Information only they possess, a desire to convert them to the villain’s cause, some moral code against killing heroes… there are many reasons why the villains might spare the heroes. Just avoid using easily escapable death traps.

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