Making a Memorable Villain

I am working on several Pathfinder projects at the moment.  In one of these I would like to include a cool Villain that becomes a recurring pain in the players side.  I have always wanted to do this and have tried to do so in the past but when I do the players tend to outsmart me and manage to permanently put them out of the picture in the long run.  So I want to make a concerted effort to build a recurring villain but in what game?

I am still mulling over the selections I will make to develop the “clock” inspired adventure that I am sharing on this blog.  I am working on a home grown adventure to continue the story of the Serpent Skull Adventure Path (AP) and of course I am running the Skull and Shackles and the Reign of Winter AP.  With the Reign of Winter AP the choices are pretty much formed already and there are details included in the books about who and when could be used as a recurring villain.  I could expand it but I don’t really need to as I would prefer to run that one as read.

One of popular cultures greatest recurring
villains (and also my fathers day present!)

The Serpent Skull progress offers me a few good options.  Inside this AP I actually managed to create a good recurring creature (Selisa the Water Naga who moved the Argental Font from Saventh Yhi to Ilmurea in an effort to pay off some of her debts as well as garner extra power.  The players battled her but she escaped.  I also have thought of another potential enemy that the players are very familiar with that would send shock through the players ranks so there is a good option.  The Skull and Shackles AP offers a large scope to add in recurring opponents.  A large portion of certainly the next two modules will be spent pirating shipping lanes and causing all sorts of turmoil.  It is nice and easy to have sailors or captains of captured ships bear a grudge and attempt to track down and cause trouble for the players. The clock adventure is only a side project and I will leave it up to those that use it if they want to build a recurring villain into the adventure.

So where do we start?  I have decided to work on a recurring villain for the Skull and Shackles AP and I am going to make them a Mythic villain from the latest addition to the core rules Mythic Adventures.  This addition also means that I have to work out a way to ascend my players so they get to face the villain on an even playing field.  Luckily I had already decided to do this and already have some cool ideas on how to do this already.  Creating a Mythic villain offers some great options for a GM who wants the villain to remain a threat.  There are some great powers that can make them very hard to kill.  I am not going to go too in depth with this as I intend to write a review on the book when I am finished which is where I will talk about some of the finer detail.  Just take my word for it, this is a cool way to build a villain.

What we really need to focus on for a recurring villain is the ability to recur.  Most of the modules I read create NPC’s to cut down, loot the gear and move on.  Few modules look to create a villain that you see time and again.  In fact, from memory, there has been one module where you see the recurring villain give the order to kill them then dart away before they can get in combat.  To me this is not really a recurring villain, just a cameo as the next time you see them you kill them.  But a villain needs to consider his exit path and most villains should have this option.  Unless they are incredibly stupid or have an awful wisdom a villain should be able to tell when a battle turns against them.  Unless their patron or someone that knows them will make life worse than death, why would they stay to fight on.

Pacman and his recurring villain, the ghost!

There are different layers that you can add to a villain to give them the ability to get away.  One option is to allow this villain access to Hero points if you use them in your game.  This is the most abstract way to assist the villain.  Give them this power but make sure you do not use the Hero points in any offensive moves and save them for when they have to get away or just when they “have” to make the save against a players spell.

The next layer is something more measured and tangible in the game world and that is the use of items and equipment.  Layer their items so that they have weapons and potions that are designed to assist in a quick getaway as well as a challenging battle.  A potion of expeditious retreat.  An item allowing Dimension Door or Teleport to be activated.  Perhaps even items that allow for contingencies to come into effect.  Another option if they truly are stupid and arrogant are items that act as spell jars so that even though the body may fail their companions or servants may seek out the item and restore them somehow.  Players sometimes look at death as an inconvenience, so should the NPC’s (especially the powerful ones) have the same access.

Flight is also a good option too.  Many groups have the ability to fly BUT it takes them time to get everyone up and going so the villain may find themselves with a head start.  Gaseous forms and astral getaways are all good options for the villain as well.  As you can see, there are a lot of magical solutions for our villains to employ.  But what if your villain is far more physical than magical?  A high level fighter should be granted equal opportunity to be able to be a recurring villain.  In fact the physical villains can be awesome opponents for final battles through pure use of a decent weapon and well rehearsed feat combinations.  How do they try to ensure they live to bother the players another day.

The answer to that is good henchmen and tactics.  The warrior seeks advantages in his environment and learns his enemies.  Facing a warrior as a threat means that you will likely be facing an opponent who knows your strengths well and is trying to lead you into a situation where you will struggle to use those strengths and play to theirs.  Fights against high level warriors will be difficult and most warriors know that there is no dishonour in retreat as it means you can always fight another day to recoup the losses made in this battle.  You should treat an environment by a truly martial villain much the same as you would consider a dragon lair.  They will know every inch of it.  They will no every advantage and they may set traps that encourage channeling enemies in a certain direction and there is almost always going to be a way out for the villain.

I am fairly certain the recurring villains in my Skull and
Shackles campaign will be the players!

Once you have considered the way the villain will get away from the players to actually become a recurring villain (and if you want to make them escape more than once give them varying tricks because players learn their tricks and attempt to cater for them) you have to consider why the villain is going to focus on the players as their enemies.  The players have to become a thorn in the villains side before they will have motivation to annoy the players and become a target.  Of course this can be as simple as the actions of the players are ruining some more longer term plans for the villain.  The villain may then visit the sites and come into conflict themselves or receive word of exactly who is causing the problems for them and take action immediately.

Motive is very important to hold things together.  Saruman returns to the hobbits homes whilst they are out adventuring even after they had deposed him from his seat of power.  With Wormtongue he returns to their seat of power and attempts to enact revenge on the hobbits for the pain that they had committed on him.  For those of you who are looking confused right now, this happens in the written version of the Lord of the Rings after Sauron is defeated.  Read it, it is a good book!  Twists in the tale like this are good as they tend to be unexpected by the heroes.  It is something along these lines that I intend employing for the Serpent Skull players.  Something returns to make life hell for the players until they deal with them and also the skull of Ydersius that one of them is still in possession of.

I hope this has given you some impetus to create a recurring villain.  really all they need is an escape plan, a motive and a desire to cause the players some mischief to really dominate the game.  They can be attached to the main plot or even relegated to a sub-plot but they are fun to include.  Having a recurring villain seems to make games a lot more alive for players and they love the personal to and fro that this provides.  A recurring villain does not even really need to be someone trying to kill the players, perhaps it is just a suitor trying to steal the hand of the players love interest or a knight who always pips them at tourneys.  It all helps to keep the game alive and the players motivated.

Once I have played the Serpent Skull sessions I intend to run I will reveal my recurring villain here so you can hear the story of who, what, when, where and why in regards to the player.  I will tell you on how well it went down and what the repercussions will be!  Until then, keep rolling!

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