You’ve spent hours pouring over charts, grids, drawings, stories, and reference guides and finally you have it: a tale worth playing. So you call up your closest friends and your local pizza joint, and you all gather to play this game. It’s all going pretty well at first; everyone’s having fun and the game’s running pretty smoothly. But you start to notice that the conversation’s moving away from the story, and while the Sorcerer has been rolling high all night on her diplomacy checks, she’s yet to say more than two words at a time to the NPC’s. You wrote down paragraphs of imagery for the dungeon at hand, inciting every sense the players have available to them, and yet you find yourself sharing the descriptions less and less. The game is over and, yeah, it was fun, but you can’t help but feel like something was missing. The story is done, but it wasn’t ever really told at all.
As a DM, I have always found that the two most important tasks for me are to create a captivating and engaging story, and to provide my players with an environment in which they will feel comfortable roleplaying as much or as little as they would like. Because that is the style that I tend to prefer, I have decided that I would like to do my best to give you all the advice I can on how to create, write, and run living, breathing stories and environments for both you and your players to lose yourselves for a while. Now that I’ve given you an idea of what I’m all about, let’s get started!
One of the most frequent issues I run into as a Dungeon Master is how to create a villain that my players really, truly hate. There’s nothing I hate more than spending hours building a dark, twisted avatar of evil to haunt my players from the shadows only to have him become nothing more than a goal post; it’s all too often that players will take up arms against your villain purely because you told them he’s the villain. So, how do you avoid a goal post villain? How do you breathe life into the struggle between party and foe? There are a few really solid paths to take that I’ve come up with in my time as a Dungeon Master, and I’d like to share them with you.
“You come into my house?”
This is by far my favorite tactic for sowing the seeds of conflict in my players. Take a few game sessions ignoring the villain for a while. Stick them in a town, village, hamlet, or whatever pleases you. While they’re in town give them side quests to help the village folk out: there are goblins in the hills, the blacksmith’s daughter was taken by necromancers, Ol’ Mill lost his hatchet in the eye of a Basilisk — get creative. All the while let the players get to know the villagers (particularly little children who look up to the heroes). After a while the party gets a house, or houses, in the village and sets up a base there. The blacksmith owes them, so they can always go to him for repairs, and they helped the kooky old witch get her frosted newt flakes so they’re getting potions 25% off. Then bring the villain back. The party will run off for glory and gold, and it will carry on like that, but they’ll always come back to that village; it’s their home, after all. Let them get comfortable with that. When the game is coming to an end and they’re closing in on a final battle, the villain will strike. They’ll return to their home to find the village burned, and Lily, the little girl who’d always bring the players biscuits from her pa’s shop, is dead. If you haven’t the heart to kill the NPC, kidnap him or her. Nothing stirs a good boss fight more than a personal vendetta.
Now, obviously this is only one path you can take. Maybe your players don’t want to settle, or maybe you’ve got too much piled on and a detour in a village would drag the game out farther than you’d like. Maybe you want more immersion, but the villain’s not the thing you need to fix. If you like where I’m headed, but you don’t know if path one is really right for your game, then keep in touch! Check in often; I’ll be doing my best to give you frequent advice on villains, stories, writer’s block, and more!