Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sometimes Villains Win

A friend posted a link to an Order of the Stick web comic last night. Now, normally I don't read that comic - nothing against it, I'm just not huge into web comics - but I clicked the link out of curiosity anyhow. What I got was a bit of a treat, a way of looking at things that not many people ever seem to think about or look at. What I got, was a way to run a story where the villain can, and perhaps even should, win. Now, the comic speaks for itself, and I'll trust people who care about the comic to not go and spoil it for themselves if they're not current, but here is the link.

So, I'm sure most of you see it, I mean, it is right there, for the story to begin the villain needs to have won. In other words, for there to be a story with a hero, first there must be one where the villain wins. Keeping this in mind can be incredibly freeing if you're not sure when to make a story, but want to have the villain be a threat. Set the story in the beginning, the very beginning, when the villain is trying to get set up. Make a story where the PCs are trying to stop that villain from taking over, and casting the world into the hundreds, or thousands, of years of darkness and terror. Let the PCs know that the villain means business, and by all means, let the villain wins if he should win. After all, that is how the story begins right? With the set up.

So, picture the scenario. You run your campaign, only there is no clear villain at the start. Something bad happens a bit away from the party, then a bit closer, and then a bit closer, until finally something happens right where the party is. They have a face to the bad guy, and he hurts them, he hurts them bad. From there, you back the guy off, but keep him in the news. things he is doing here and there get to the party, he's starting to take over. They can either do something about it, or leave it alone. So, say they go for it. Play the villain hard. Now, don't play cheap, but play hard on them. If the villain wins, then so be it. If they mess up, the villain can win. Don't give them breaks, and make them work for the breaks they get if they are going for it.

Now, say they lose. Well, that sucks doesn't it? Only, that's not the end of the story there is it? So, you go forward a few more years. The villain has won, he/she has set up shop and are running things now. The people are scared, after all, the last bunch of heroes failed so what can they do? But they still whisper. They whisper about how those heroes were their last best shot. They whisper about how much they wish they could be like them again. These new PCs, they grow up on the stories of the heroics of the old ones. Then, you set them out on the adventure. It's not just a chance to be the hero, it is a chance for them to avenge their old PCs.

Its something I really want to give a shot at doing. Something I may try to do with one of the games I have going on. How about you? Have you done it? How did it work?


  1. Really cool idea. And what i like most about it is: You plan on having a mighty evil villain that tries to take over. If he losses, all if fine, good story as usual and having beaten a hefty npc is always good. But if he does not, you have a whole new and good story arc with a good motivation for any player at the table. It's an open plot and should be lot of fun.

  2. I haven't tried it yet, but I think it has definite possibilities. Best of luck with it.

  3. I had one game where the whole first year was setting up the ultimate victory of evil. Basically, even though the PCs came out on top in most of the confrontations they were part of, their role was limited by their level and them only being a five people against a massive enemy force.

  4. I've read this post a few times, it really speaks to the dark side in me. The GM that wants to say. "Sure you can defeat the bad guy but you'll never undo the damage he's done."

    A variant of this is if the players single handedly destroy the army that the overlord has built up, but in the last act fail to defeat the overlord him(her)self and he lets them go. You reassure them that the army (or plot) is destroyed, he won't be able to do that again any time soon but they weren't able to finish the job to their satisfaction. I think I would only use that if the players are getting too egotistical. A way of saying "Yeah you're big, but not as big as you think."

    An even worse version is getting the players to think they're fighting against a bad guy, give them hints along the way that something is not right but no clear alternative and then in the end reveal that everything they did was actually helping the bad guy. That's a really evil plot line and would totally crush the players I have now so I won't be doing anything like it soon.

    Players are funny sometimes this kind of thing really bothers them, other times they say "Hey we still got paid/loot/experience I don't care." There was one game where a enemy general was trying to sneak one of his servants out of his country (the servant had upset other important people) by means of the PCs. The players were supposed to make it look like they were raiding and steal the servant. The general went toe to toe with one of the PCs (the best fighter) and would only punch him. The PC tried to fight back in every way he could but couldn't lay a hand on the general. The job was successful but they player vowed to defeat the general (never got a chance to).