Posts Tagged ‘villain’

In many Dungeons and Dragons campaigns death is merely a hurdle. In fifth edition PCs and NPCs alike can return from death with a diamond and a 3rd-level or higher spell slot. Creatures can return from death as wights, revenants, ghosts, and other more powerful undead.

Now I know in most D&D worlds returning from death isn’t possible for common folks. One must have the money and the means to return. While the masses may not have access to such means, many adventurers at least have access to someone who can cast revivify by 5th level. In a world where such things are possible, I would assume that even if many have no hope of access to such magic, they have heard of these spells. That awareness would certainly change the way the world interacts with the characters.

Here’s a few tips for you to use in your campaign that make death and returning a more layered and complex story in your campaign world.

PCs Coming Back

The fact that there’s a chance PCs can come back to life after dying is probably not a complete shock to your villains. They know the spells are out there and if they’re aware the PCs have access to other higher level spells, they might assume raise dead is also in the mix. Even if that’s not the case, if the villain or a henchman kill a PC and that character returns to face them again, the game is up. They know that magic is out there now and that the PCs have access to it. What might villains do with a vulnerable character in their clutches to assure they stay out of their hair?

The first option is that enemies may go for what I call the super kill. A simple beheading after a PC has died dramatically increase the resources needed to bring the character back to life. Instead of diamonds worth 300 gp and a 3rd level spell slot for revivify, a single diamond worth 1000 gp (a more difficult find) and a 7th level spell slot for resurrection is required. If the villain disintegrates their body and they tosses it in the wind or throws the corpse into lava, suddenly diamonds worth 25,000 gp and a 9th level spell slot are needed for true resurrection. Heck if the villain absconds with the body of the deceased, the PCs have to go on a mission to get it back if they can’t cast true resurrection. If they hang onto the body for longer than 10 days, raise dead isn’t going to work anymore. Something more powerful is needed.

Of course there might be even craftier villains. PCs can choose to knock a target out with a melee attack instead of kill it. Why can’t villains do the same? They could run, fly, or teleport away with an unconscious PC and lock that person away or torture them for secrets. Suddenly an exciting prison break adventure is on the menu. Or perhaps the bad guys kill that PC, steal the character’s head, and cast resurrection on it as soon as they’re back at their stronghold. They party tries to raise the fellow adventurer only to find the spell doesn’t work because that character is already back from the dead and imprisoned.

There are also otherworldly forces that could stop the return of PCs from coming back from the dead. In a fourth edition D&D campaign I had two characters royally anger The Raven Queen, who was the goddess of death. She did not let them return from the dead when their spirits were called by the magic of their companions. Instead she threw them into a demiplane where time passed differently and her servants tortured them for the equivalent of 100 years. Then she gave them a mission to do in her name and returned them to the Material Plane. Their characters and the story were completely changed by this action.

Death and Returning Modules

If you want character death to have a more debilitating impact on PCs in fifth edition D&D, checkout the modules I created. The first module limits the number of times a PC may return from the dead and has some add-on features which make dying more easy and coming back more difficult after each death. The second module features tables of random effects which might occur when a spell such as raise dead is cast.

You can pick up the PDF of these modules over in the Free Game Resources section of this site anytime. If you go there feel free to also explore the backgroundsmagic itemsmonstersD&D fifth edition rules modulesspellsadventures, and more  I have made for fifth edition D&D.

When Villains Return

Of course in a world where the PCs have access to powerful, death-defying magic, why wouldn’t the villains have access to it as well? Any intelligent, high level NPC is going to have a back-up plan. There’s a cleric friend coming by each week to check in on the villain who can cast raise dead or an invisible druid nearby with a rod of resurrection. Many of our villainous NPCs have many resources at their command. If I was someone with a pile of gold, a high-level cleric or bard would probably be the first person on my retainer. When villains like this come back again and again like the Tyrant in Resident Evil 2, your PCs will be searching for a way to destroy them for good.

I’m baaaaaaack!

Some villains might return as undead instead of their former selves. Vampires, liches, mummies, revenants, and more might seek the characters as vengeance for their deaths. In the same fourth edition game I mentioned above, the PCs were taking on a cult of Orcus-worshipping baddies. Since he is the Demon Lord of Undeath many of the high-ranking members of the cult would be killed by the PCs only to return later as more powerful, undead versions of their living selves. This was great fun for me to role play and gave the PCs a preexisting relationship with the villains they were facing.

Be sure to only bring villainous NPCs back from death when it’s going to make the story more interesting and fun for your group. Doing this with every single villain will get tiresome and become a predictable trope! You don’t want the shock of a returned baddy to lose its surprise.

NPCs Want to Live!

If the PCs require help from an NPC, the NPC might contractually obligate the party to bring him or her back from the dead if the unthinkable happens in the line of duty. The husband of a soldier who died defending the town from orcs might beg the PCs to bring back his wife. A PC’s best friend and sister dies in a dragon attack that was a response to the party raiding its hoard. If word gets out the PCs have the power to return themselves from death other people will be pressuring them to use that power on themselves or those they love.

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That moment when we as DM’s get to reveal the boss monster at the end of a dungeon or story arch is always thrilling for us. I don’t just mean the final battle against Tiamat or Orcus at the end of a campaign. I’m talking about the boss monsters our players face at the end of almost every session before coming down from their Doritos crash. These baddies are the Crash Man to your campaign big bad’s Dr. Wily.

Have you ever been excited about a climatic reveal of one of these boss monsters only to have your players be unimpressed? Why should they be? They haven’t been thinking of this foe for a week or more the way you have. They might not know the villain’s backstory which is the reason the baddy had to monologue for five minutes before throwing down. They don’t know that the Monster Manual tells you that their blood should be running cold when they see a grell for the first time, which is why your description of a floating brain with tentacles was more confusing to them than intimidating. Odds are this is the first time they’ve met this enemy and I believe that is the problem.

Consider this. In almost every great movie the hero and villain meet several times before the climatic end encounter. That makes the fight personal and gives it meaning. Odds are that many of you are doing this with your big bads, but what about your medium bads? A big monster at the end of the dungeon is not necessarily as scary as you think when the players have no idea what they’re up against. This is even more true if you’ve got experienced players. They’ve taken down dragons in the past. Why should this one be any different?

In this blog post I’m going to give you some tips and tricks for introducing your boss monsters to players before the climax of the adventure so that your battles with these foes have some real dramatic weight. Many of these tips can easily be applied to published adventures, which often have boss monsters who players meet for the first and last time in battle at the end of a sprawling dungeon.

The One That Got Away

If the player characters can meet your baddy in combat once or twice before their final battle that’s always great for the story, but it’s also tricky. Odds are you don’t want your boss monster to die early or run away badly injured with the PCs laughing. On the same hand you probably also don’t want your players to get so throughly trounced that they all die or run away from the challenge thinking the villain way out their league. You also may not want your villain to reveal every trick and ability in its repertoire so the battle needs to be properly staged.

There’s a few way to handle meeting the baddy in battle before the winner-take-all-climactic battle.

During the first battle with the villain…

  • The boss monster is under-powered. The first time our heroes meet the boss monster in battle, the villain is not at full strength. Maybe the baddy is coming fresh off another battle and has used some resources. Maybe it has weaknesses in the environment where the first battle takes place (like a drow wizard fighting in the daylight).  Maybe it’s a creature that grows more powerful overtime and is rapidly evolving like in the video game Evolve. Maybe the villain doesn’t have all the minions in tow it plans on having during the final encounter. When the PCs reduce the foe to somewhere around half its hit points, it flees vowing vengeance and the culmination of a dastardly plan the PCs must stop. Giving this foe an ability, consumable item, or spell to aid their escape is not a bad idea. Flight, teleportation, and invisibility come to mind as options. You can always fudge the numbers to let the boss monster get away. Make it clear to them they caught the fiend unawares and next time they will not be so lucky.
  • The boss monster is over-powered. This is the opposite of the last idea. The PCs run into the boss monster at the peak of its power, perhaps on terrain ideally suited for the baddy, after the heroes have used lots of their own resources in other battles, during an encounter in which the villain gets a devastating surprise round, at a time when the enemy has some powerful artifact that’s powering it up, or at a time when this foe has many, many minions in tow. Make it clear to the PCs this is a fight they probably can’t win (at least without heavy casualties). I like to have a reason ready for the baddy to leave and not kill the PCs in case they don’t take the hint (like being suddenly called away or deciding the pathetic characters aren’t even worth its time), but that choice is yours. Maybe you even want to run a chase scene after such an encounter. When the PCs meet the villain again, this time they’re more prepared because they’ve got more resources, aren’t surprised, have powered down the foe in some way, or have thinned the ranks of enemy minions. Do this well and the climatic battle is tense, personal, and deadly.
  • The boss monster is in a vehicle. Much like Liquid Snake in Metal Gear Solid who is first fought in a helicopter, then a bipedal tank, and then hand-to-hand (and then in a truck), put your villain inside some sort of vehicle for the first battle and then have the baddy escape by disappearing mysteriously from the wreckage of appearing after an explosion no one should have been able to survive (without magic and/or mad skills). If the villain is in a vessel equipped with weapons, maybe the PCs don’t even get a taste of the boss monster’s real abilities as it uses those weapons instead of its own to attack. You might want to try one of Exploration Age’s mechs if you go this route.
  • The boss monster is just trying to accomplish a specific goal. When the PCs first run into the boss monster it isn’t too concerned with them because it has bigger fish to fry. Maybe the villain is stealing items from a magic shop for profit or to build some doomsday machine. Maybe the baddy appears to kidnap or kill a specific target. Whatever the reason once the goal is accomplished or clearly thwarted by the PCs, the enemy leaves, promising more mayhem to come. The boss monster might even leave some henchmen to battle the PCs and ensure its escape.
  • The boss monster has a pressing reason to leave. As the PCs engage the boss monster in a battle, something pulls its attention away from the PCs. Maybe it’s a higher-ranking villain contacting the boss monster with new, pressing orders. Maybe the boss monster’s lair is being attacked by a third party and it has to return to defend it. Maybe something shiny wanders through the battle and the boss monster chases after it. As the baddy leaves it promises some future pain for the PCs.

A Tense Meeting

Of course the PCs don’t have to battle the boss monster before the climax. Sometimes it’s even better if they can meet the villain in some way and have a face-to-face conversation. If the PCs first meet the boss monster in a crowded place where battle might hurt a lot of innocent people, while the baddy has a hostage or two, in a place the foe has prepared with lots of snipers and undercover agents ready to attack the PCs, or during a time which they don’t yet know the evil-doer is indeed evil, the PCs can be convinced or tricked into have a conversation without drawing steel. Make sure your villain has a reason for confronting the PCs in such a way other than you wanting them to meet before hand. Ask yourself, “Why does the boss monster need to talk with the PCs?” There’s plenty of answers to that question – to call a truce, to brag, to lure them into a trap, to arrange a trade of hostages or items, to get some information from them, etc.

Beyond Face-to-Face Communication

An easy way to have the boss monster meet the PCs before their climatic battle, is to give the villain some magical means of communication. If you’ve ever player Arkham Asylum, you know the fight with the Joker doesn’t happen until the end of the game, but that during the entire experience the Clown Prince of Crime is taunting Batman over the PA system and watching him with security cameras. Maybe the boss monster has a magical technology or connection with the dungeon the PCs are crawling through which allows him similar capabilities. If you don’t like that idea, maybe the villain has enhance telepathic abilities which allow it to speak to the characters in some way and it’s up to you as the DM whether or not they can respond. If all else fails, you can give the villain access to a spell such as dream, which allows it to enter the PCs dreams and speak to them while they sleep.

I Know You, But You Don’t Know Me

If the PCs don’t have a chance to directly interact with the villain, it helps the boss monster’s story if they have seen it in action or heard about it in some way. A tyrant queen gives a speech from a balcony right before executing innocent villagers. The PCs pass through a torched town and hear the people’s tale about the great dragon that burnt it to the ground and demanded gold. Rumors about the hag who lives in the swamp at the edge of town speak of her child-eating appetite. The PCs have never seen a mind-flayer, but by the looks of the former thralls they just found, the monster they are going up against is something entirely alien and terrifying. Giving the PCs a lot of little facts and rumors to go on will increase their fear and respect of the boss monster. Ask yourself what you’d like to have your PCs find out about the villain before facing it, and then make sure they have some way to get that information in a scene which also displays a good reason to fear the villain.

Sometimes It’s Ok to Surprise Them

Of course sometimes it’s ok to leave the boss monster’s identity a secret until the end of a dungeon or story arch, but make sure you have a good reason and that the surprise is a great twist that’s actually surprising. The PCs think they’re hunting a red dragon only to discover it’s a gold wyrm gone mad. The werewolf they’ve been tracking is actually the son or daughter of the patron who hired them to take it out. Finding a bugbear chief at the end of a tunnel full of bugbears is expected and boring if you haven’t given the PCs any reason to fear or hate the leader. Finding a kobold chief  who is surprisingly good at spellcasting leading the bugbears is surprising and fun just on its own.

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Your lips kiss the foreheads of your children. Your hands wrap around your husband at night. You greet your neighbors every morning and your back hurts after working in the fields. But you did not choose to do any of these things. Your life is not your own. This is the horror of the mystauk.

Trapped within your own body, you watch and listen as your words persuade your wife to head deeper into the swamps, looking for sweet casgrove fruit to sell. She does not know your words will turn her into a helpless puppet just like you. This is the horror of the mystauk.

Your neighbor comes by, priest by his side. They are here to release you from your prison. They know you have been trapped for years. Your words and movements belonged to another. Suffocating, you were forced to watch your life through your own eyes lived by another. But they will release you! Until you uncontrollably reach forth, your enhanced strength allowing you to punch your fist right through the priest’s chest and out his back. Your other hand grabs your neighbor’s head and crushes his skull. This is the horror of the mystauk.

Ecology of the Mystauk

Mystauk are a type of fly-sized, green beetle living in the swamps of Verda. The insects feed on yellow-orange, citrus fruits called casgroves and live a life cycle of about a hundred years. Although they are insects, these tiny creatures reproduce at about the same rate as humans. But of all these features the most important is this – mystauk are mind-controlling parasites.

When not inside a host, a mystauk’s intelligence drops to an animal level. It relies on instinct to seek out food. Instinct also drives the creature towards the brain tissue of intelligent humanoids. By crawling through the ear, nose, or mouth a mystauk can attach to a humanoid’s brainstem and seize control of its body, memories, and mind.

Upon attachment with brain tissue, the mystauk becomes super intelligent. After this awakening, most mystauk desire nothing more than to remain in this enlightened state. The parasite will often assume the identity of the host and use this cover to awaken other mystauk. To the insects, this is the natural way of things. All parasites need a host.

While inside an individual’s body, the mystauk can often play the host perfectly by accessing memories. The only real change in the host’s behavior could be the mystauk’s insatiable desire for citrus fruit, which they often force the host to consume daily. Other behavioral changes can occur, but the mystauk is often careful about these as to not tip-off others that the host is possessed.

Another change comes from the mystauk’s ability to harness all parts of an individual’s brain – increased physical prowess. A mystauk-possessed host has almost supernatural strength and toughness.

The mystauk will sometimes leave the host’s body to mate. It will gather with other possessed hosts, who will hold down the humanoid host while the mystauk it out of the body. The mystauk will return to an uninhabited body after mating and return the favor of standing guard while the other insects mate. Often during these times, a mystauk will re-enter a body different from the one with which it came, which is fine by the insect. To have many different experiences in life is preferable to a mystauk.

When the host dies the mystauk immediately detaches from the dead brain and seeks out a new host or swampy environment instinctually. Its intelligence returns to an animal level, but if it finds a new host, it will remember all of its past experiences.

A mystauk also has a special sense. It can tell when another inhabited host is in their presence and can communicate telepathically with any other awakened mystauk within 25 feet.

The Goals of the Mystauk

Most of the parasites share a single goal once they have attached to a host – help their unenlightened brethren awaken. Mystauk may infect an entire tribe or village in this way without anyone realizing until it is too late. Though these occurrences are few and far between, the mystauk will obviously act more freely when they are with only other mystauk-inhabited hosts.

These communities of awakened mystauk are dangerous indeed. Many prefer to remain isolated, guarding their secret from outsiders and woe to the travelers who wander into these settlements. There is always a need for host bodies and always another mystauk to be awakened. If one of these settlements is discovered it often means a bloody conflict. The parasites will not give up their bodies without a fight. The biggest fear is one of these communities could overpower another and slowly add more and more awakened mystauk to their ranks, creating an army of inhabited hosts.

Individual mystauk also pursue other interests that are as varied as those of humans. These interests are often related to their now heightened intellect and creativity. The mystauk may take up artistic and academic endeavors, or travel the world looking for unique experiences. Often the mystauk is smart enough to make these behavioral changes gradually if their host had different interests before inhabitation, as to not tip off family and friends.

Discovery and History of the Mystauk

The tribes of Verda have long spoken of a strange force in the swamps that grabs one’s mind and makes one’s body into a prison cell. However the cause of this phenomena was discovered ten years ago by the first Aeranorian humans exploring the swamps of southern Verda. But first, these explorers found casgrove fruit. It’s exotic flavor made it popular overseas in Findalay and Parian for cooking, baking, juicing, wines, and raw eating.

The tribes of Verda warned the explorers to stay away, for there was a mysterious mind-controlling evil in the swamp. But the opportunity for profit was too great and the Aeranorians went deeper into the swamps to continue harvesting the fruit. One day an entire camp of farmers and their families left the swamp in pursuit of other endeavors. Aeranore, confused about the sudden halting of operations sent a team to investigate. After talking with the tribes and venturing in the swamps, this team uncovered the truth of the mystauk.

The farmers were eventually captured or put down. The prisoners were studied and Aeranore’s druids eventually discovered that a successful feeblemind spell will detach the mystauk from the brainstem of a host, drawing it out. However, the mystauk itself must still be killed and the host still suffers the ill effects of the spell, needing to be healed in the normal fashion.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.52.39 AM

Eventually, Aeranorians created hooded, netted outfits so they could continue their profitable casgrove farming safely. Currently, Aeranore’s government will pay, house, and feed any citizen looking to make a fortune in the casgrove swamps of Verda. For many this is a ticket to the new world. Still, with so much casgrove fruit being farmed… accidents do happen, outfits do tear, and mystauk claim their hosts. And with all that casgrove fruit traveling to Findalay and Parian… who’s to say a few mystauk haven’t hitched a ride?

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A block of villains! I’m going to begin a few posts here that will all be about potential villains my campaign world might have. I’ve talked about the importance of having some bad guys who are pure evil in a world of gray. First up, The Sleeping Ones.

I’ve mentioned these creatures a few times in the past. They are half-aberrant, half-devil beings that have the alien mind and feeling of entitlement to Canus of the former, and the cruel and cunning mind of the latter. Indeed these creatures are tough, smart, and powerful. They also hold a belief that Canus was a land their ancestors dominated long ago before it was stolen from them by lesser beings. They wish to take back their world back from these unworthy usurpers.



A History of The Sleeping Ones

Long ago when the metallic dragons fought the aberrants for control of Verda, the dragons summoned legions of devils to aid them in their cause. Some of these devil escaped the dragon’s thrall and sided with the aberrants. The devils and aberrants produced a horrific offspring, with the abilities and strengths of both of their bloodlines. To their parents and dragons this race was called morchia.

As it became clear the metallic dragons and tieflings we’re going to achieve victory, the pure-blood aberrant and devils sacrificed themselves so their beloved children could retreat to Verda’s Underdark. Still many morchia died in the final days of The Dragon Aberrant War. Those that lived, recovered and began to form their own society deep below Verda.

Thousands of years later the morchia came forth from The Underdark of Verda. They fought with tribes of monstrous humanoids and humans on the surface slowly reclaiming their lost lands. The morchia were called The Awakened Ones by the tribes who did not know the history of these strange creatures. The tribes knew only that the beasts had awakened from somewhere deep within Canus, hence their new title.

While the morchia were powerful, the tribes were far more numerous and their superior numbers helped them survive – for a time. It became clear that eventually The Awakened Ones would win out against the tribes.

However, the tribes were not Verda’s only inhabitants. The tieflings saw the way the war was going and for a time remained safe in their Spires. But the tieflings feared correctly they would be the next to fall if something was not done. So they began to research all of their tomes. They search every last aberrant ruin they could find. They spent all of their energies trying to find a solution while the tribes of Verda were slaughtered.

Finally, the tieflings used ancient magic unlocked deep within the ruins of Verda, and combined these old rituals with spells taught to them by the dragons. The ritual took hold of the morchia and opened the ground beneath them. As The Awakened Ones fell deep into The Underdark, a deep slumber overcame them. The powerful ritual, referred to as The Reckoning Spell, consumed many tieflings in the process of its casting, but the morchia had been defeated. Any that had not fallen to the ritual were quickly killed off or ran deep into Verda’s jungles. The tribes took to calling their defeated foes The Sleeping Ones – a warning to themselves that these creatures might someday return.

The Sleeping Ones Today

Oh man. Oh man.

Oh man. Oh man.

The people of Verda have a long memory as far as The Sleeping Ones are concerned. Nightmarish tales are passed down through generations about the horrors the tribes endured at the hands of these beasts. Most of the people in the tribes have never actually come face to face with these creatures, but they still speak their name in a soft whisper. These tales are not the kind used to scare naughty children. Oh no, they are the kind that make grown adults retch and cry out in the night.

The tieflings broke apart and hid the scroll that detailed the components of The Reckoning Spell. They thought a tool so powerful should be one difficult to retrieve and one they be tempted not to use. Now the scroll lies in five pieces in various parts of Verda. A piece might be entrusted to a tribe chief of an obscure but powerful clan or deep within and ancient ruin or somewhere in Verda’s uncharted territory. Each piece’s location is known only to one tiefling. Thus the knowledge is spread across five individual tieflings and their identities are known only by The Grand Council. They only come together and reveal their information if The Grand Council calls upon them, which has not happened… Yet.

Some of the morchai escaped into the jungles of Verda and remain alive and awake. These villains rarely show their faces though sometimes an individual will cause mischief. Enslaving a tribe to cause havoc and destruction is a favorite activity of these vagabond morchai. They also search for ancient artifacts left behind by their ancestors, slaughter lesser beings to prove their dominance, and seek others of their kind to keep reproducing.

There is a darker truth being uncovered in Verda. Many morchai have come together and plan to wake their sleeping brethren. They believe The Reckoning Spell can be reversed and have made it their mission to seek out the scroll and revive their kin. Then with Reckoning Spell in hand, they will lay waste to the lesser beings on Canus and take back their home.

Abilities and Appearance

Just. Wow.

The morchai runs the gamut in appearances. They all have features that point to their devil ancestry – horns, tails, claws, sharp teeth, and fiery eyes. Their more random features are the aberrant ones. Some have the tentacles of a mind flayer or otygyuh, or the eyes of a beholder or mouths of a gibbering mouther or the beak of a grell, etc. Some have more than one of these features. The combination of these alien and devilish features is grotesque and at times mind-bending.

As far as powers go, The Sleeping Ones are resistant to fire and poison and damage from non-magical or non-silvered weapons. Those resistances come from their devilish lineage as well as a claw attack and a flame projectile attack.

From the aberrant side, The Sleeping Ones have a powerful domination ability that allows them full control of an individual’s body. Since their appearances vary based on their aberrant lineage, so too do their powers. I can roll on the table below to generate these random abilities.

Roll 1d12 and add an ability to the base morchai.

  1. Tentacles (grant a grab attack that deals damage)
  2. Eye rays (multiple eyes grant the creature a few unique eye ray attacks)
  3. Beak (granting a bite attack)
  4. Gibbering mouths (horrendous sounds may nauseate enemies)
  5. Mind blast (an attack that can stun enemies)
  6. Extra crab claw (grants a grab attack that can be used as part of another attack)
  7. Flesh wings (grant a fly speed)
  8. Shapeshifting (can shapeshift into any creature of the same size)
  9. Sonic scream (attacks all enemies within a particular radius)
  10. Enormous maw (can swallow creatures whole)
  11. Supersized (creature is one size category larger and gains a trample attack)
  12. Roll twice on this table, if this result comes up again, roll three times on the table.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!