My Villains are Social Dynamics Puzzles.

Posted: April 27, 2009 by pointyman2000 in Roleplaying Games

After reading up on Ravyn’s latest “Ask GV: Staying Self-Justified in Villainy” article over at the excellent Exchange of Realities blog, I’ve gotten to thinking a little bit about the Villains I run for my campaigns.

One of the fun parts of playing a villain is making one that has the same dogged determination as the heroes.  They’re relentless, resourceful and won’t think twice about taking advantage of any weakness in foresight or logic that the heroes may have made.  Maybe this is why I like playing villains whose scale of power matches the heroes rather than overshadowing them.

Villains of similar strengths have to rely on other methods to gain an advantage, and risk failing the same way that players do, making it so that I can actually tell my players that I gave them a fair fight.  The downside of this method, of course is the fact that players may eventually accuse me of cheating if I don’t tell them any salient facts that they may have missed during their investigations, or that they’ve made some crucial assumptions that have led them to make wrong choices in the game.

I’ve spoken before of how important it is to trust the GM.  I guess it’s time for me again to stress the fact that as a GM, I won’t do anything that is clearly cheating the player.  I won’t retroactively perform preparations to plans that the players are making up.  I won’t suddenly buff the bad guy’s stats just because the players are kicking his ass in the first round…

but turnabout is fair play, so if the players discover that they’ve been separated and ambushed by a force that could reasonably be mobilized, don’t cry foul.  Trust me when I tell you that they’ve all been foreshadowed, and prepared for using the same amount of in-game time and resources allotted to you.  While your barbarian is busy with ale and whores, the villain’s setting up this ambush.

In a way, I feel that I’ve been spoiled by my gaming group.  Most of these guys are aware of how I run games, and have trusted me long enough for me to be able to pull these kinds of stunts.  In any other team, I might have a player walk out on me in disgust the moment I start using their own oversights against them, saying that I’m being Antagonistic, but that’s rarely the case.  I just want to provide a sufficient challenge that isn’t just about CR values and levels.  I want players to really immerse themselves and think things through.

Perhaps the best description I can give when it comes to my brand of villain behavior and scenario manipulation is that of a Social Puzzle.  It’s not just what you can do with your sword arm, but who you know, who owes you, what you know about people, when you decide to act and how.

I think Sheimaruen, the GM of our current Hunter: the Vigil campaign will agree to this.  He once told me that when I do play, I play in the same way as I GM, I look at things as a massive social puzzle, and by isolating and manipulating facts, people and events to my favor, I get more done than I normally would alone.


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