A Villain They’ll Love To Hate Part I

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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!


1 thought on “A Villain They’ll Love To Hate Part I”

  1. A great story is key and often the old AD&D modules ran a bit flat on this for me. A great story needed emotion and modules often were light on this. I think this is part marketing cowardice. As you said, some won’t have the stomach to kill off sweet little Lilly.

    FOr some players it was absolutely about giving them a home, stronghold, something to be protective of over a long campaign. But for shorter adventures, especially with changing players other tactics worked well.

    One of my favorite tactics is to simply make a monster Good. That inside man/woman/thing can be a great tool to shape the story and outcome. There was an NPC monster with a wereboar child. I had them help the players and later on they were part of a sacrifice for a ritual, four were being tossed into a volcano. The players didn’t care about the first two sacrifices. The 3rd “mother” monster died in the volcano–the players couldn’t get to her, but they were trying. The last wereboar got tossed in, but the players pulled out all the stops to save him and stop the ritual. After some amazing double natural 20s I had to relent and say they saved him. I had planned for the ritual to succeed, but they FOUGHT. They wanted it. As a DM it is one of the most satisfying moments to see the players invest.

    I often played with one or two players so people might have second characters–sometimes place holders for players who didn’t play every time. Sometimes, simply because the adventure needed a bit more muscle. But sometimes, because I had plans to kill a PC or have them become an NPC for me to use. One adventure I built used a father son team of dopplegangers to pose as victims being sucked underground. When the players help them they are all pulled down a flume to a large underworld sea cave. They are brought before the mysterious rulers, shrouded in darkness, and some of them don’t want to leave. Those are the ones who are victims of mind control. The doppleganger family pose as being taken over–they work for the rulers duping surface dwellers. Now I have some NPCs that the players may WANT to get back. Particularly if they are too valuable to lose. They still see the father/son as victims–also savable–which works great for me. The game provides a solution to freeing them from control, but they must navigate an undersea city to find a solution and a way out.

    There are story elements you can use. Curses upon characters that must be lifted that are too powerful without the aid of a magical item. Embedding that within the narrative of the dungeon gives a B story for them to chew on. Theft of one of their prized magics is a great motivator. You definitely have to find something that the real world player would respond to. Saying a village needs saving is just words in a reading. Apply goal post label here. There has to be more and closer to home.

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