Villains Vs. Enemies

Author: Andrew /

In D&D, as the heroes, you'll usually run into two different forces arrayed against you. The villain or the enemy. To put this simply, in D&D, I would say that an enemy is more of a minion. You will see enemies in groups. The little team of goblins you run into are enemies. The group of pushover human thugs you find in a greasy, seedy city back-alley are enemies. Essentially, enemies, in my mind, are bad guys that are made to go down and stay down, that you're not meant to run into again. That said, your character wouldn't really know that until the goblins are dead, but (even though this would be meta-gaming a bit) you know that those goblins are mostly and mainly exp pods waiting to be gobbled up. Not much more to say about enemies.

The villain is the star of the show (aside from the characters themselves, of course). The villain (or villains are much more NPCs than enemies are just meant to crush. Villains will, in some way, shape or form, push the plot. They will present challenges and plot points which the players / characters will (or at least can) interact with.

What I've seen more in just about all games is that personality isn't really wasted on enemies. They're, for all intents and purposes, fodder. Some games really put life into their "fodder" but usually there are so many of them and since their general purpose in "life" is to just get mowed down, they're generally mindless drones (in my experience). Villains on the other hand (the good ones at least) tend to drip with personality. They pull you in; they get you interested. A good villain is someone you love to hate.

Look at Batman: The Dark Knight; more pointedly, Joker. HE was the villain, those clowns that worked with him at the beginning of the movie, those were enemies. The villain, in a lot of ways, is another character; the DM's PC, if you will. They usually have recurring parts in the story, and they also have minor villains which you run into time and time again, who you'll usually take out before the big villain.

So, to conclude this little post, when you make enemies; all the little guys that are there to get smashed, give them a little flair but don't waste much time on them. The players understand what they are and (lets be honest) some meta-gaming is inevitable. Put your work into your villain (or villains). Make those antagonists shine and make the players want to know more about them and see them more. You could even make the villain so awesome that he may be able to entice a player to switch sides!

A good villain has unlimited potential for plot hooks, plot twists, great and interesting dialogue and, truth be told, a TON of fun role play opportunities for the DM. So, DMs, get your villain on and show those players what's up!

Thanks for reading and there's much more on the way! The the comments roll!



silent stone said...

In my experience—and this ties back into the "powergaming" question in an earlier post—but all too often, players see villains as just something else to kill.

Which is why I would say, give your PCs reasons, compelling reasons why they shouldn't kill the villain right away. Or keep the villain out of sword's reach, because otherwise, all it takes is a lucky string of rolls and your villain is pushing daisies long before his time (either that, or you end up with a TPK, which is possibly worse).

Andrew said...

Yeah, which is why I think making the villain interesting is important. You wanna kill 'em but you also figure "Well, they're probably significantly stronger than us... and they're kinda interesting... Let's chase 'em!"

Adam said...

Whatever you do, for the love of all that is good and descent, please do not have your villain simply teleport away. That is fine for SNES sidescrolling beaters but not for D&D. Teleporting villains away is just lazy and players hate it. Silent makes a good point that one shouldn't want to immediately kill the villain, I will add that perhaps we shouldn't know who the villain is immediately.

silent stone said...

Absolutely, Adam. The PCs really shouldn't know that any given major NPC is the ultimate villain until the DM is willing to let him roll initiative and let the dice fall where they may.

The way I am handling this in my current campaign is that I've set up a bunch of different story arcs, wherein four different groups are each trying to pull the PC into their fold. All four groups are headed by very strong NPCs with considerable resources, and at least one of them (and possibly all four!) will end up on the opposite side of the battlemat from the PC (this will be determined largely by his actions).

However, two of the groups are his allies at the moment, one very much so; a third I'm portraying as ludicrously ineffectual romantic rival for a seemingly minor story arc; and the fourth hasn't moved directly against the PC at all and thus hasn't quite been picked up on the radar. There are also other groups which seem quite nefarious, but are really red herrings in the grand scheme of things...

The PC can tell he's going to be butting heads with at least some of these groups in the future, and with that in mind he treads very carefully around them, but since he either thinks they're not really a threat, or that they're helping him more than they're hurting him, or that he really doesn't have any leads to act against them, or that he needs to play one against the other in order to have a chance against them, all my wonderful villains, potential and intended, are in no danger of their roles being cut short.

Magus Stragus said...

Nothing screams "villain!" as a seemingly ally NPC that is way too interested in the PCs actions, ready to doublecross them at the first chance.

Any roads, I really like to spice plots with villains that are not the common type, specially the villain who is not really a bad guy, but just share a complete different point of view.

Great post

Andrew said...

Guys, I gotta say, I don't have much to add. That was an awesome bit of discussion. Adam, welcome to the Take =] Glad to see your comment and I whole-heartedly agree with you. Teleporting villains does tend to be lazy (unless circumstances permit such action) but yeah, that's usually something to stay leagues away from. Silent, I love your idea of having some factions and different people the PC could interact with who will, in some way, shape, or form end up confronting the PC later. That was awesome guys. Keep the comments going if you wish. Glad you liked the post. I thought it was short but it seemed like it hit the right points. =]

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