Friday, September 3, 2010


No, this is not a post about The Verve Pipe's 1996 album featuring "The Freshmen." This is a post about the role of the villain and how to implement them into a LARP game.

I think we are all familiar with the idea of a villain from fiction, and you may have even had a number of them when playing tabletop. However, anyone who's run a LARP game can tell you that control is a lot more difficult in a LARP setting. Before putting a villain into game, you need to recognize a few things.

1. Dramatic Exits are Difficult
This isn't a D&D game where you can simply make the blink out or be rescued by mysterious NPCs. Players like LARPs because they have more control over their characters than in tabletop. That might seem a bit counter-intuitive, since you can literally do anything in a tabletop game. But the fact is, the NPCs are just as limited as the PCs in the options available to them. We often express things we can't act out with a three count, but you can still be affected during that time. Three seconds is a long time to be vulnerable.

2. The Players Need to Advance
It might make sense in a story for a group of good guys to get their asses handed to them and walk away with their tails between their legs. However, LARP is not just a story. People are playing their characters, and they don't want to feel immasculated or feeble under any means. It makes them bitter.

3. Eventually, You Will Have to Let it Go
Bad guys can't be around forever. Players get sick and tired of facing the same enemies over and over again, season after season. In my opinion, a two year life cycle is probably pretty good for a serious villain. Trust me, you'd rather have your NPC go out with a bang than burnout over several years, with the PCs saying "It's Sheth again. Big surprise."

So with those things in mind, how do we add a really good villain to the game? Here are some things I like to use with my villains.

Tenuous Diplomacy
A villain isn't a villain unless the PCs have a chance to talk to him. It may be difficult to pull off, but you've got to have a point where some of the PCs have a real chance to talk to him. A lot of times, this can be done while getting newer players involved. Just imagine, a group of low level adventurers are surprised in the dark by a big bad guy who tells them "I have a message for your Baron. Run, scream, or try anything funny and my men will kill your friends in that cabin. Hear me out, and you and your friends get to live... for tonight."

Foiling Plans
You're going to want to do modules that involve your villain, but you don't want him to die. That means your PCs need to have a win, or else they'll be frustrated at spending resources and getting no gain. A good way to give the PCs that win is to have them foil a plan. Got a mad scientist villain? Have the PCs destroy his doomsday device mid construction. Have an evil psycopathic killer? Have the PCs foil his plans for poisoning the water supply, and maybe you'll even find a personal item of his in the process. If the players feel like they're moving forward against the villain, then they're going to be happy, regardless of how many resources they use. This will also give you the seconds you need to make your dramatic exit!

Have a Weakness
I have seen too many bad guys who have been completely well rounded and could only be brute forced down. This is a failure. The difference between a bad guy and a villain is that the villain is personalized. That means they should have ambitions, emotions, and most of all, weaknesses. Maybe your villain is cursed with hubris. Maybe something or someone strikes a chord with them. Maybe they're not all that different than everyone else.

This is already a long post, but let me leave you with an example of one of the best NERO villains I've seen in my days (and not just because my wife wrote/played her).


The biggest trait that made Maeive a great villain was that she was human. She didn't have 1000 body, she didn't have 30 resists/phases, and she couldn't rift for days. She did have a dragon, that I believe she then started to try and breed out, and she was very protective of the dragon. The PCs encountered the dragon and Maeive several times when the dragon was still growing up. She must have had just as many diplomatic encounters with the locals as she did combat encounters, and every one of them was fierce. To this day, I think Maeive still roams the Dragonfire Peaks.

And for the love of me, I cannot remember what made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise when dealing with Maeive.

The biggest thing? The PCs didn't sigh when they heard Maeive was coming. They reacted. Players actually enjoyed the plot, as opposed to them dreading the inevitable battle with Darkblade Shadowscythe, the Undead Golem made of smaller golems. And no, that is not a real bad guy... that I know of.

So next time you're going to put a big bad guy into game, ask yourself if you want it to just be a bad guy, or if you want it to be a villain.

Do you have a villain story, good or bad? Drop it in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. I think you bring up some good points. When a villain is created, it should have a full background, a set of goals, and its' life cycle and demise should be planned out.

    I think interaction with the villains is not done enough. Group A encounters said villain and goes back to town and informs everyone the Villain is evil and is to be killed immediately. Most of the time the PCs accept this with no questioning, and plot is under the understanding that all the PCs know what is going on cause the whole town showed up to fight the Villain.

    Another thing about "human" villains is they can still take multiple deaths just like a resurrecting character.

    Some of the most interesting permanent NPCs I have played in my career where a base race with character levels. Before playing it I would ask their motivation and history and then treated it like my very own PC.

    Sometimes NPC's drag on too long. Sometimes it's not plot's intention or fault. If you are trying to kill an intelligent villain, how many opportunities is he going to give you to kill him? If the PCs keep failing to kill him, then what? You shouldn't just hand them a victory. Perhaps instead of giving a hollow victory, the NPC gets pushed into hiding to emerge years later. Or perhaps the Villain accomplishes his goal, and is satisfied and leaves.

    Sometimes a long drawn out NPC is fun. Just not fun for everyone. Take Seth and my character for instance. I took 8 years off and it was kind of cool to come back and still recognize 1 villain. On the other hand there were PCs fighting him for those 8 years with little success, which had to be frustrating.

    I guess I would use a longtime villain in the background behind the scenes, with giving the PCs occasional chances to confront him making sure not to overdo it. With that being said, you would also need to balance the goals of the villain to not be too dramatic if it is going to have a long life cycle.