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Author Topic: What are the hallmarks of a good villain?  (Read 617 times)
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« Reply #15 on: May 11, 2017, 09:48:42 PM »

Steerpike

I think the "villain as DMPC" issue relates to a larger issue with DMing, which is DMs getting precious with their settings and characters and plots - being overly protective of them or trying to insulate them from the PCs wrecking/derailing them. Like, I spent a long time mapping and detailing various districts of the main city in my game, but if the PCs unleash a catastrophic conflagration, it's going to burn down (at least parts of it). Ditto with villains escaping - it's fine if they can credibly escape, but if the PCs fire off Hold Person and the save is failed and the bad guy gets offed, the PCs deserve the victory.
Yeah, definitely.

There are a lot of things in gaming that I dislike (as is well known around here) but GM's that are overly protective of their creations to the point that it obviously has a significant negative effect on player agency is definitely one of them. It just negatively affects the overall fun of the game, and is as such not something I'm a fan of at all. Personally, I built Asura the other way-- a lot of the structures (both literal and metaphorical) in the setting are clearly designed to leave room for players to meddle around with and knock down, and I have a great deal of fun doing it. It fits the gonzo nature of the setting, anyway.
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« Reply #16 on: May 12, 2017, 12:36:34 AM »

sparkletwist

Yeah, definitely.

There are a lot of things in gaming that I dislike (as is well known around here) but GM's that are overly protective of their creations to the point that it obviously has a significant negative effect on player agency is definitely one of them. It just negatively affects the overall fun of the game, and is as such not something I'm a fan of at all. Personally, I built Asura the other way-- a lot of the structures (both literal and metaphorical) in the setting are clearly designed to leave room for players to meddle around with and knock down, and I have a great deal of fun doing it. It fits the gonzo nature of the setting, anyway.

I'm beginning to develop this rule of thumb that if you spend more than 12 hours on a setting, you should probably just forget about it, because there's to little breathing room, and you get to attached to all of the individual things and ideas that you have made for this setting.
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« Reply #17 on: May 12, 2017, 06:53:41 AM »

Steerpike

I think the "villain as DMPC" issue relates to a larger issue with DMing, which is DMs getting precious with their settings and characters and plots - being overly protective of them or trying to insulate them from the PCs wrecking/derailing them. Like, I spent a long time mapping and detailing various districts of the main city in my game, but if the PCs unleash a catastrophic conflagration, it's going to burn down (at least parts of it). Ditto with villains escaping - it's fine if they can credibly escape, but if the PCs fire off Hold Person and the save is failed and the bad guy gets offed, the PCs deserve the victory.

It's strange. I used to be less concerned with what the players destroyed and where the plot was going and more on how I assumed they should react to certain events, as if I would somehow be able to author their characters. I would think that surely my hand-crafted villain would elicit sympathy or rage or some other feeling when they learned of their backstory - it was pretentious drivel, of course. I'd like to write that off as me being younger and naive but I'm sure it was far closer to recent memory than I'm willing to admit.

I will say that while I'm all for the PCs succeeding even when I don't expect them to, "firing off a Hold Person" and the villain failing a single roll leading to their demise is pretty lame, but I think that stems from issues more related to the system than anything else tongue. I would say the same if one of my players died that way as well.
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« Reply #18 on: May 12, 2017, 11:23:26 AM »

LoA

I'm beginning to develop this rule of thumb that if you spend more than 12 hours on a setting, you should probably just forget about it, because there's to little breathing room, and you get to attached to all of the individual things and ideas that you have made for this setting.
I don't agree with this at all. I mean, maybe this is how it works for you, but I wouldn't really call it a "rule of thumb." Like I said in my post that you quoted, Asura is designed to be deliberately kind of gonzo with plenty of ways for players to disrupt the setting, large and small... and I can assure you I spent far more than 12 hours on it.
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« Reply #19 on: May 12, 2017, 11:31:34 AM »

I've spent a decade and a half retooling my main setting and folks seem to enjoy it when they play it, so I'm gonna have to agree with Sparkle.

I let 'em do what they want in the sandbox and I have no issues if they kill major NPCs, etc.  The key is separating what's on paper with the functioning, living world of the game - to the extent that the players' actions deviate and change the game world in interesting ways, you can either incorporate them into future games or decide they're not "canon," but within the operating framework of the game-at-hand just don't get too tied down to your own preconceived notion of how specific things should go down.

Balancing structure and plotting against player freedom is, I think, the mysterious formula we're all constantly divining.  Since we're the kind of folks who post in a place like this, we tend to put a decent amount of thought into our games.  My personal belief is that the key to it all  is not super-mysterious.  A good DM should give his players enough threads to pursue a number of general possibilities, but with obvious markers toward intended quests, dungeons, plots, etc., but should never force their hand to do that specific thing, nor to do any particular thing in any particular way.   I've had games where I've failed on one end of this or the other - I constricted freedom, creativity, or collaborative roleplaying in a way that in retrospect I shouldn't have, and I've given too few hints of what the "purpose" of a particular session was and players were left somewhat aimless and drifting.

The other key element is to know your players and their expectations going in, and to tailor the degree of "freedom" versus pre-scripting experience based upon what they have the most fun with, what their experience level is, and what the game mechanics lend themselves toward.

But that's just me.


Edited to add: And for the main topic - a good villain should be COOL.  Sweet armor, distinctive weapon, badass name - you get the idea.
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« Reply #20 on: May 12, 2017, 11:41:29 AM »

Yeah I definitely don't agree with the "12 hours" rule - I've poured probably hundreds of hours at this point into my current setting, my setting bible alone is 30,000 words and then my more specific notes for adventures and locations and NPCs have cleared 100,000 words, much of it descriptions of individual streets, buildings, people, etc. I think the key is just to envision the setting as living and changing and not as static.

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I will say that while I'm all for the PCs succeeding even when I don't expect them to, "firing off a Hold Person" and the villain failing a single roll leading to their demise is pretty lame, but I think that stems from issues more related to the system than anything else tongue. I would say the same if one of my players died that way as well.

I mean you're right, that's not ideal, and usually I'm have ways around it (minions, high saves, the villain taking action beforehand).

One memorable time in a previous campaign my players bumped into the villain, who was an angelic serial killer in Sigil slaying everyone with fiend-blood to purify the city. He had a powerful fiend-killing knife that even Balors and Pit Fiends feared, and he was extremely hard to catch since he had various incapacitation spells and was very slippery. The druid managed to squirm into a position to cast Mad Monkeys who stole the knife with a good roll. It was a completely ridiculous and in some ways anti-climactic confrontation, but my players were so happy when I didn't bullshit my way out of it, and it's one of my favourite memories of that game.

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Edited to add: And for the main topic - a good villain should be COOL.  Sweet armor, distinctive weapon, badass name - you get the idea.

This is a super good point.
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« Reply #21 on: May 12, 2017, 04:52:50 PM »

Villains don't always need to be deeply tied to the setting. Rather than preexisting characters written to serve some role in the world at large, they can be created ad hoc with a role limited to the scope of a single adventure. In that case it's enough just to strive to ensure that the villain doesn't contradict any existing information about the setting. For example, in a game set in ASoIaF's Westeros, the game master could easily come up with some minor noble or knight as an antagonist, insert him into the world in the "empty" space between the known  factions and characters, and set up an encounter with PCs. It would be easier to treat such a NPC as expendable than some major preexisting character like Littlefinger.
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« Reply #22 on: May 12, 2017, 07:07:57 PM »

Okay, I should retract my statement. Still I am finding that broader details are more important than the local and individualistic details.
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« Reply #23 on: May 12, 2017, 08:37:05 PM »

That's interesting LoA... might be derailing a bit but what do you mean by local and individualistic details? Do you mean, like, detailing a setting at the level of towns and individual NPCs? Cultural customs, religions, fashion, architecture, those sorts of details? Local landscapes and events? Dungeons and other adventure locations? Are you saying you find it better to just make this stuff up during play, or leave it vague?
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« Reply #24 on: May 13, 2017, 12:27:11 AM »

Steerpike

That's interesting LoA... might be derailing a bit but what do you mean by local and individualistic details? Do you mean, like, detailing a setting at the level of towns and individual NPCs? Cultural customs, religions, fashion, architecture, those sorts of details? Local landscapes and events? Dungeons and other adventure locations? Are you saying you find it better to just make this stuff up during play, or leave it vague?

I'll bring up some villainous stuff in order to rerail this thread, but I'll just say it depends on scope. If you are going for a globe trotting, continental based adventure, you should keep things vague, so that you can handle the decisions that your players make. You can't control where they decide to go, how they decide to go there, and how they decide to deal with challenges. Why bog yourself down with every little possibility, when you can just come up with it on the spot.

If your going for a local campaign though, that's when the story changes. You must make sure that your town or city has character, flavor, history, interesting npcs, and potential conflicts, because your pc's are going to spend the majority of the time within this border. Make sure you give them plenty to chew on.

With that said, an interesting villain if your going for the evil henchmen of the big bad emperor is Pietro Caruso, Mussolini's vicious dog. He was a real S.O.B. Just look him up.

Also another interesting angle you could apply is the culturally re-invisioned hero. We all know who Alexander the Great is, but if you don't study history, you never realize that the Greeks absolutely hated him. He only became a historical hero, because the Romans conquered the Greeks, and admired Alexander for his military prowess.
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« Reply #25 on: May 14, 2017, 04:09:14 PM »

LoA

If you are going for a globe trotting, continental based adventure, you should keep things vague, so that you can handle the decisions that your players make. You can't control where they decide to go, how they decide to go there, and how they decide to deal with challenges. Why bog yourself down with every little possibility, when you can just come up with it on the spot.

That's interesting... do you take a dim view of the hexcrawl model of wilderness adventure then?
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