Creating Unique Villains for your Dungeons & Dragons Adventures

Chris Perkins: As far as villains go, I got some great advice early on from an editor who told me that if you want to sell a DM on an adventure idea, you can do one of two things. One, you can take something that seems trite or overdone and put a unique spin on it that we haven't seen before. Or you can just give us a kick-ass map for a location.

With regard to the first thing, as I was a young designer, trying to break into the industry and get the attention of editors and DMs and get my adventures played, one of the things I picked up very quickly was this idea of the spin. That is, you can take ... An adventure doesn't always have to introduce something completely new. You don't have to have a new monster to excite players. You can take an existing monster and pair it with another monster to make it interesting. You can take an existing monster and just tweak it a little to make it interesting.

For instance, there was an adventure ... It actually was bought for Dungeon Magazine, didn't appear in Dungeon Magazine, because it was given to Dragon Magazine, its sister publication, as a promotion to promote Dungeon Magazine. It was called The Chasm Bridge, and in it you fight ... You're in the underground and you come to this toll bridge and the Underdark. There is a wizard there with some ogre companions, guarding the bridge. You have to either talk your way past the wizard, fight your past the wizard, or whatever.

The one thing that always struck me as interesting about the wizard was that he was crippled. He had basically been crippled by a foe in the past, and that affected him. It also affects the way that he reacts to things. I thought that was a really subtle addition. It's not just a wizard. It is a wizard who has suffered a grievous injury, and is basically coping with that injury. That gave that villain more depth than just if he was an ordinary wizard. It's not even a case that it's a power-up. He's not a two-headed wizard. He's not a fire giant wizard, which is another spin. He was just this sort of angry, battered, bruised creature.

But when you see that, when you encounter that, it changes your perspective of who that villain is, and maybe gives that villain more sympathy than he deserves. In the Cradle of Madness adventure, I think it was in Dungeon 83, the villain that you're fighting is pregnant. What does that do to the complexion of the villain and how you deal with that? It's kind of a sophisticated conundrum for a lot of D&D players to wrestle with.

I also talked about villainous pairings. Often, you can enhance a good villain, make it stronger, by giving it somebody or some other creature to play off of. An idea that I thought about turning into an adventure at one point and never did, was an adventure where the villain is a black dragon, but it has a will-o'-the-wisp whispering in its ear. I thought that's kind of interesting that essentially this dead spirit of the swamp is guiding the dragon in its missions and giving it directives, and sort of like the power behind the dragon's throne, and using it to work all sorts of mischief. It's a combination that I hadn't ever seen before, that these two monsters would be in cahoots.

One of my favorite exercises as a designer is to sit down with the Monster Manual and pick out a monster that has interesting motivations or some hook that I think might make an interesting adventure, and then look through the Monster Manual to see what else in there could it be with. Not just a goblin boss with goblin toadies, but maybe a goblin boss with a ascension flying sword, or a goblin boss with a awakened rhinoceros. Never seen that before. That could be awesome! If it's an awakened rhinoceros, it means it could talk to the goblin and actually they could have some sort of camaraderie, or the goblin is using the rhinoceros to basically bully other goblins into making him chief. I think that it's a quick and dirty way to come up with things that players have never seen before.



  • To post a comment, please or register a new account.
Posts Quoted:
Clear All Quotes