posted Wednesday, August 2nd 2006 by
Dungeon Mastering Advice
I’ve been keeping tabs on the Paizo message boards, where Dungeon editor James Jacobs gives insider advice on how to keep a recurring villain going without getting him killed in combat. Perhaps they don’t meet him personally until later levels, or they have planned a foolproof escape method, or (and this is more frustrating) they are simply not powerful enough to hurt him. Even if he is killed, the players can’t be absolutely certain if they don’t see the body – if they flee, or the villain falls off a cliff, the players can’t know for sure he didn’t survive. These are good ideas from Jacobs, so I’ll overlook his spelling of villain.
An idea of my own is to let the villain be killed, but have it emerge that he left meticulous plans to be carried out in the event of his demise. That way, the villain continues his plans as if he were still alive. Naturally, the players assume that he has somehow survived, only to find that all this time they’ve been fighting the villain’s sheets of paper in the hands of minions. Of course, he might later actually come back as an undead, or turn out to have had a clone handy, or a life insurance policy with true resurrection attached. I wouldn’t like to see the premiums on one of those.
Actually, here’s another idea. Make it so that they can’t kill him – not without repercussions that are even worse than leaving him alive. The villain is also prevented from outright killing the PCs by himself, perhaps for a similar reason, or perhaps by his own code of honour.
Example: The villain is a high-ranking government official. The PCs can’t outright kill him without being executed for treason – unless of course they produce some hard evidence, which the villain is careful to avoid.
Example: Killing the villain would simply make him a martyr to his cause. The players must first find ways to weaken his cause before they eliminate him, or else his supporters will be even more numerous and powerful than when he was alive.
Example: The villain is the only person keeping control of something powerful and dangerous – an undead army, a dragon, or the like. He’s the only one that can keep this thing from breaking loose and wreaking even worse havoc.
Of course, you can only really do this if you give the PCs a way to defeat the villain. If they aren’t the kind of players who enjoy coming up with clever plans to defeat villains, you might want to fall back on having the villain teleport out of battles a lot with witty catchphrases.