Greetings again, traveller!
It's been too long since we've had occasion to meet face-to-face. Mordent has become very tense of late--I have the feeling that Lord Godefroy is plotting something particularly savage. You'll recall Lord Godefroy: the premier restless dead within the realm, a master manipulator of events both near and far, and a particularly vile combination of elitist and sadist.
If you weren't aware, Godefroy appears to be the principal resident, or 'Darklord' if you prefer, within Mordent. It is his history and character which shape the realm, a realm which answers to him in almost every way, while at the same time defying his ultimate ends. Godefroy is, at the end of the day, a bitter old man incapable of finding anyone worthy of taking on his legacy. Now the country is filled with commoners and peasantfolk, the noble families long passed away. No peasant, no matter how wise or judicious, will ever be good enough for Godefroy, of course. While the surviving Weathermays would be the natural choice, they are all avid monster hunters, and would give Godefroy the fight of his unlife if they became aware of his machinations. It would seem at first blush that he has little option beyond them.
However, not all of the noble families are as extinct as it might appear. A few survivors escaped either the destruction of their kin, or the realm. As Jules Weathermay grows increasingly older, and Godefroy's options diminish, there must eventually come a time when rulership of Mordent passes to someone. Godefroy will undoubtedly choose the least repugnant option from his limited selection and endeavor to manipulate them into governance. To that end, I thought it might be beneficial to discuss what options have presented themselves so far.
It is strange that Vilhelm von Aubrecker never considered looking for illegitimate children issued by his son, Rudolph. The boy's carousing was legendary before his disappearance, and where one finds a lust-driven noble boy, one usually finds bastard children just around the corner. Fortunately, it only took a small amount of digging to unearth Stefan Clairemont: the son of a merchant noblewoman from Dementlieu (known for a rather egregious wild streak in her youth, and known to have attended several social events with the younger von Aubrecker during their teens). His parentage is not something which is often brought up, but which is painfully obvious: if he were ever to meet the boy, Vilhelm would recognize him as his grandson at once.
It might come to pass that the best option for Godefroy is to infuse his realm with noble blood from another land. Although many nearby realms have 'noble' families scarcely worthy of the name, the von Aubreckers are distinguished enough that Godefroy can respect them, and an expatriate scion is even better, since he is certainly free of any familial influence. Stefan Clairemont is nice enough to converse with, if a bit dull and unimaginative, with no great ambitions beyond marrying well, investing his family fortunes with the help of sound financial counsel, and enjoying local art. He would make a wonderful tool for Godefroy to manipulate.
Dread Possibility: Clairemont has only recently come under the sway of his older brother Rudolph. Although Godefroy is aware of Dominic's struggle with another mental manipulator, the old specter isn't as familiar with the Brain's handiwork, and wouldn't recognize the signs of it in Clairemont. This might give the Brain an alternate outlet to attempt to manipulate, and either a new place to call home, or a source of additional reinforcements for his battles with d'Honaire.
Aimee Mainrouge is a wealthy aristocrat from Dementlieu. She comes from money, and has never wanted for anything save for entertainment. Fortunately gifted with an athletic physique and a natural grace, Aimee has found great success at fencing. She frequently chooses to fight duels on behalf of other young women in Dementlieuse society, with her striking good looks belying her skill with a blade. Unfortunately, Aimee has no true altruism behind her actions, she merely enjoys the violence as well as the praise that comes with being a 'hero.'
Recently, when her father passed away, Aimee discovered a trunk amidst his possessions containing a number of family heirlooms. Among them are several artifacts, including a signet ring and a docket of lineage showing that her ancestry can be traced to the Halloways of Mordent. She has been considering a return to 'her homeland.' If her family history were discovered by Godefroy, she would make an interesting candidate. Her gender is not what he would prefer, but any noble is better than no noble as far as the old man is concerned.
Dread Possibility: Aimee Mainrouge is a victim of a long-forgotten con. She is not a Halloway at all, just the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of an enterprising fence with a surplus of stolen art and a gift for forgery. His claim to distant nobility enabled him to establish himself as a wealthy merchant, and he maintained the tools of his deception should he ever need them. Sometime within the past 200 years, the truth was lost to the family. Although Aimee is the only living member of the Mainrouge line, Godefroy may very well decide that a counterfeit Halloway is an acceptable temporary substitute for a real noble to rule Mordent.
Just north along the coast from Mordentshire sits the small coastal town of Drifthome. The mayor of this village is an outlander by the name of Joram Fallstar, a retired adventurer who has only recently discovered the truth about his ancestry. After many battles with the evils of the Mists, Joram came to wed a witch. Along with his adopted child, they retired to the village which he had come to call home. During his last adventure, he discovered with the aid of an artifact known as the Tome of the Compact that his parents had fled the Mists centuries before through means unknown, changing their name from Mournesworth to Fallstar to escape persecution in a strange land.
Joram believes strongly in law and order, and would accept rulership of Mordent if forced, but would prefer not to. He knows full well the extent of Godefroy's power, and wishes nothing to do with the ancient spirit.
Dread Possibility: Godefroy knows the truth about Joram's wife: she is not entirely human, but is instead a merwoman whom exchanged a portion of her soul to stay on land with her love. Joram himself might be acceptable to Godefroy, but accepting the Mournesworth would mean giving legitimacy to his children, one of whom would eventually inherit the regency of the land. Since Joram's eldest child is an adopted Falkovnian, while his younger, natural born child is equally repulsive in Godefroy's eyes: the boy isn't even fully human, his mother's foul sea-creature blood tainting him beyond Godefroy's ability to stomach.
Of all the families, the Blackburn-Bruces are the one family that absolutely survived their 'destruction.' Numerous heirs have cropped up over the years, only to be usually connected with some diabolic sorcery. While I scarcely would have believed such a thing, I was with Joram when he discovered the Tome of the Compact, a book which appears as gibberish to anyone not descended from one of the noble families of Mordent. To my amazement, I could read it as well! My father-in-law, a historian of rural folklore and a font of lost information, believes strongly that my sister and I descended from one of the scions of the Blackburn-Bruce. Although this information has been whispered about since then, I've been fortunate that the citizens of Carrinford-Halldon continue to accept me as mayor, my family's dark legacy not sufficient to sway them against me.
I've no interest in becoming Godefroy's catspaw, of course! Both myself and Gwendolyn are ever-vigilant against incursions from the restless dead, lest the old man come for me or one of my children.
Dread Possibility: Before she was Lady Drakeson, Gwendolyn was known as Gwendolyn Timothy, a surname whose significance is not lost on Godefroy. The old man has no interest in allowing Nathan Timothy's daughter or extended family a foothold within his realm. Even if he were able to look past the lycanthropy that runs in the family--and which Gwen has infected her husband with--he cannot overlook the family's loyalty to their patriarch, and especially cannot overlook Frankie Drakeson's coarse and vulgar nature, closer in demeanor to the citizens of Verbrek than the the men of power in Mordent.
Whatever Wilfred's got up his ectoplasmic sleeve, it's going to be unpleasant for someone. Whichever one of these unlucky sods he targets is going to be in for the fight of their lives. Once Godefroy sets his sights on something, it's almost impossible to shake him off. Even if you want nothing to do with the coming fight, I would be remiss if I didn't insist on hosting you here in Carinford-Halldon again. If you can stay a few weeks or even days, that would be delightful, but even if you can only spare us a single night, we'd love to have you for dinner.
Safe travels and happy hunting,
Frankie Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Keep on the Heathlands. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
“Hey, remember when we took down…”
Good villains are absolutely necessary for a successful campaign in any gaming system. The heroes need a worthy foe to fight against. And the best villains will be the stuff of stories for years after the campaign has ended, the dice are put back in their tins, and the character sheets have been recycled. A villain that is nothing more than a stat block is a disservice to both players and the DM who runs such an abomination.
A good villain can make or break any campaign - from D&D to Star Wars to Pathfinder, Exalted to Shadowrun, and everything in between. Good villains are hard to find, but not terribly difficult to create if you follow a few simple guidelines. In the words of Tom Hiddleston in the “Art of Villainy” commercials, “world domination begins with attention to detail.”
The best villains can get the heroes to waver in their beliefs. They need to be charismatic, compelling, confident, and competent - the four Cs of a good villain. They can have an air of understated threat or menace, or they can be overt and belligerent, but they need to have that je ne sais quoi, that little something extra that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Think Hiddleston’s Loki, Emperor Palpatine, or Doctor Doom. They are real characters, with understandable motives, goals, and storylines of their own; basically any villain that has their own fandom works as a strong example here. People can relate to villains if you give them a character they can empathise with - and the memorable villains are the ones that have people cheering for them against their will. Maybe they are cruel, demented sadists who secretly funnel large amounts of money to kitten rescues and foster children. Think a villain with a good PR campaign.
In a Shadowrun campaign I once ran, the villain was so beloved by the people of his city that any time the runners worked against him, they ran so hard into public opinion that they almost started riots. It’s the old Roman philosophy of bread and circus - if the villain is the one keeping the people happy (think Doctor Doom here, to follow the example), the people are likely to support him, which adds an entirely new level to the difficulty of your campaign.
It can be really hard to sway public opinion for your players when the dread lord who puts people’s heads on spikes also sends around the grain wagons after a bad harvest and supplies the roast oxen for every village holiday - or the oligarch who owns the politicians just gave their city gigabit fiber optic Internet, free for anyone with a smart device.
This is where you can really connect with the deeper sides of your players - we’ve all been overshadowed by a more popular person (Loki), reached a point of frustration where we are certain that everything would just be fine if people would simply do as we say (Palpatine, or if you prefer, the Goblin King from Labyrinth), or that we truly know better than a vast majority of people when it comes to handling a certain situation (Doctor Doom).
Remember, every villain is the hero of their own story - and your heroes are their villains.
The best, most insidious villains can cause the heroes to doubt themselves; to make them question their beliefs and wonder if they are truly on the right side. A villain should be used as an agent of growth, something to make the heroes who are facing them stronger.
Your villain needs to be able to have a commanding presence - when he/she talks, people listen. They have instant command of the room or situation, and woe betide those who seek to lessen that control. Their reactions to those who attempt to lessen the control can be very telling and make them more well-rounded; do they bite their tongue when an important ally tells them something they don’t want to hear, or is it blood spray on the walls if someone coughs at an inopportune moment?
One of my very favorite villains (and it’s a stretch to call him a villain in my eyes) is Lord Vetinari, from the Discworld novels. He tends to use words as his weapons, despite being a trained Assassin. “Don’t let me detain you” has two entirely different meanings, depending on enunciation.
The villain needs to have the utmost confidence in his or her own powers and moral certainty that what they are doing is for the greater good, either their own or that of the world as a whole. The less selfish he or she is, the more believable and engrossing the character is.
How many times have we seen a deus ex machina come into play by a lazy or inept GM or author, when the villain just “happens” to drop their staff/break their sword/be out of a key ingredient for a spell/get eaten by a large bony dragon just as the adventurers feared all hope was lost?
No one wants to beat up the bumbling idiot, whereas everyone wants to defeat the apocalyptic menace that is hellbent on destroying all creation. Somewhere in the vast and mighty depths of the Internet is an ancient, hoary tome of a website called Peter's Evil Overlord List. I highly recommend anyone designing a villain to give it a look-see. You’ll get some marvelous ideas and at least a couple of good solid laughs. For example:
“Whatever my one vulnerability is, I will fake a different one. For example, ordering all mirrors removed from the palace, screaming and flinching whenever someone accidentally holds up a mirror, etc. In the climax when the hero whips out a mirror and thrusts it at my face, my reaction will be ‘Hmm...I think I need a shave.’”
If you keep these four C’s in mind when creating your next villain (or anti-hero, I’m not one to judge), I think you will have a far better chance at creating a memorable character that your players will love to hate for years to come.
PS: Have some other examples of memorable villains? Something that you would like to add? Comments are welcome.
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a courier and personal cook while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games