Saturday, December 12, 2009


Villains in D&D Adventures

© 2009 Robert J. Kuntz

I have often exposed through examples believable and multifaceted villains in my adventures (and upcoming fiction).  While researching this topic recently, I came upon a simple entry on the net.  An extract  and url address follows:

"In terms of a fantasy framework – an excellent example of an unconventional villain might be a coven of druids and other natural magicians whom are conjuring forces of nature to strike at any outpost of civilization, beginning with frontier towns at the beginning of the novel and culminating with a deathly entanglement of a nation's capitol with poisonous, power-leeching vines. The motivation of these politically radical spellcasters is to combat what they see as the destruction of the earth via pollution, urbanization, and disregard for the natural sphere of life. Not only does this allow for a socially relevant commentary to be held within hypotheticals in your own narrative, but it also gives far more emotional and intelligent gravity to your antagonist and allows for deeper reading."

The above bit about the "coven of druids" and their motivations seems almost to a tee extracted from  my adventure, Dark Druids, which is a politically motivated adventure.  The U.S. had gone to war in Afghanistan during the time I was sculpting it and Bin Laden was being sought out for his crimes. Do note certain correspondence to the evil cult of Druids and the Taliban, and their past leader's name, therein.

Note for comparative sake an extract from the adventure itself: 

"Through divination they have learned of a growing evil in Fang Forest, an evil which does not distinguish between humans, plant life, or animal life while committing its foul atrocities.  This group is called, for lack of a better term, the Dark Druids, and their members are inimical to all life.  Their philosophy is simply this:  The advance of civilization threatens the future of nature and all that reside within it.  In order to forestall and destroy the invaders, the Dark Druids have resorted to assassinating key political figures and to destroying any human or demi-human settlement which immediately encroaches upon the wilderness. Their plan is to make that noose tighter, eventually bringing the battle to major population centers.  To help with this plan, they have been changing nature, distorting it to their evil ways, with the hope that this will deter and eventually stop such migrations.  In doing these things, they threaten the fabric of existence.  Their terror must stop!"

Back to the meat of this: What is an unconventional villain?  And by extension, how does this inspire the adventure-crafting and thus your campaign or design?

I have recently written about the expansive qualities inherent to the D&D game and its horizontal and vertical inputs which are constants and variables depending on how the DMs, and sometimes, players, interject to its base thereafter.  See this link.

Here is another example of verticality to measure your villain thereby and gauge (with that Dial of Design) whether what you have is the standard foil or something of merit and thus unconventional when viewed side by side with others in the villainous line-up.

Applying the 5 Ws and the Honorary How?  Who, what, where, when, why and how.  Use this template whenever possible in design and writing.  Let's apply it to a villain you are crafting.

Who? (Well, the Villain, of course, his name and oftentimes in overlap HOW he came to be who he is?)

What?  What are his motivations, goals, desires, race, age, gender (or non-gender for certain aliens, etc), and sometimes in overlap what powers he has and HOW he uses these to define and attain his goals?

Where?  Where is this villain from, where is he/she going, where is he/she situarted and in overlap for the last, WHAT is the villain doing to extend his/her personal range of expression while doing so?

When?  When did he/she arrive in this area?  When will the villain complete his or her plans?  When will they move to strike?

Why?  Why are they doing what they are doing?  Why must they succeed or utterly fail?  Why must they be stopped at all costs?  Why must they have the power or territory they desire?

How?  How did they come into being (history). How will their plan(s) come to fruition?  How can they succeed withe the resources they have?  How can they be defeated or their plans brought to ruin?

Through this little question-answer session you as the creative DM can and more often, will, craft a memorable character worthy of the title Villain, one that will live on in the minds of your players and in the history of your campaign.


Endymion said...

It's interesting how events in the public sphere often affect artists in similar ways (I'm assuming here, perhaps erroneously, that the guy didn't rip you off). As a literary critic, I also find it significant that you acknowledge the impact of terrorism on your work.

The main reason I comment though is regarding the utility of well-developed villains. I've found them really key to developing campaign depth and emotional commitment from my players, but I've also noticed that sometimes they really appreciate a stock, cardboard cutout of a villain: Someone who twirls a mustache, threatens virgins and orphans and gets his just desserts at the end of a well-honed blade. Sometimes it's nice to know that a bad guy is really a bad guy. I know that indulging such fantasies is potentially deceptive or even dangerous, but sometimes it's nice to simplify reality's complex motivations.

Rob Kuntz said...

Yes, of course. Simple can sometimes be better, or boring. Depends on which way the wind is blowing. Zayene & Eli Tomorast are my examples of super villains (like Fu Manchu), but not all villains are so dynamic and colorful. I have had tons of enjoyable hours crafting and playing with them and their machinations, and so too have my past players enjoyed the depth that they bring to the game and the depth of strategy and tactics that they more often than not have to implement in dealing with their mad genius'. I am forever indebted to those pulps and other stories (like those offered by the TV show, The Wild, Wild West) for bringing such colorful villains alive, for without them my reads, and my play, would have been sorely lacking.