For this Friday’s bonus blog, we take a look at writing a good villain. A concerned DM writes in asking:
I am preparing to run a 4th Edition Dark Sun campaign, and I am starting my players off in Nibenay. I have an idea for the first adventure but I am struggling a little with motivation & reasoning of the main villain for these first few adventures.
The PCs (Player Characters) come across a village where there are very old and very young bodies strewn in the streets and the plant life has become ash everywhere. Upon further investigation the PCs find zombies (maybe skeletons) in the fields of another village and attack and destroy many if not all the undead. At this point the villagers attack the PCs angry with them for destroying the undead. Later in the story it will be revealed that the villagers are using the undead as slave laborers in their fields, and that one of the village leaders is a defiling necromancer who went to the first village and turned all the able-bodied individuals in to undead to create the slave labor for his village’s fields.
The reason I am struggling is because why would someone indifferent & strong enough to transform a town into undead slave labor be interested in leading a village or the well-being of those in the village.
Thank you for your time, b.
This is a really fantastic question, and one I’m all too happy to tackle. First, let me say I love the idea! It’s really great when DMs step outside our comfort zone to create interesting and unique plot-lines. It keeps the players on their toes, and makes certain that things don’t became stale and redundant. So huzzah to you good sir!
As for my advice, I think if we’re going to step out of the ordinary, “players find evil, players fight evil, everyone is happy”, scenario, we should push it as far as we can. As DMs we can sometimes turn our villains into uninteresting, flat, clichés. You’ve created a unique scenario here, so why not create a unique villain as well?
When I’m trying to create a more unexpected villain, I always put myself in his shoes. What would I do with incredible power? Yeah, I’d probably abuse it and be a total jerk, but I wouldn’t become a completely antisocial, murderous buttwipe. I would still like people and desire their company. Unless a villain is truly mad, there aren’t an abundance of people in the world (real or imaginary) that still don’t enjoy the company of other people. On top of this, power for the sake of power is a simple motivation, that I don’t believe truly exists. But I won’t get into philosophizing now.
From Cold Moon.
Think about what else motivates your villain. Why would he care about the village? Is it his childhood home that he loves with all his heart? Is he trying to impress a lady? Is the entire village evil, and he rules over them, receiving all the food and plunder he could desire with minimum effort on his part? Are the people vassals of a sort, used for other types of work like trading with other villages? He could be an egomaniac that just needs people around to love and worship him. Or maybe he gives the people protection and free labor in return for something: people for magical experimentation? Virgins? Free pie? The possibilities are endless. The key here is not to assume right off the bat that a villain doesn’t want people around just because he could kill them all. Maybe all he really wants is drinking buddies!
It’s great to see people stretching their imaginations. If you don’t find any useful ideas in this, I hope it will at least spur on some new musings of your own. Best of luck with the campaign, and let me know what comes of it!
Yours in Dungeon Mastering,
The Dungeon Master
Next week, we discuss d6 vs. d20 as well as settle an age-old dilemma!
If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them to email@example.com, or you can Tweet me a question by hash-tagging me (#askthedm) in your Tweet. And make sure to review the disclaimer.
You can also see me in action in One Die Short.