On Monday we talked about how your early encounters in a plotline or with a villain should be done without consideration for the PCs skills or abilities. This is done to focus on the villain's themes and resources, and to let the PCs jump in as they please and use their tactics. It also lets them showcase how strong they are against certain opponents or opponent types if that is relevant (i.e. clerics vs. undead.) Today I want to talk about later encounters, when the PCs are specifically being targeted.
Step 1: What Do The PCs Do That Presents A Problem?
Consider the encounters that happened before the one you're planning. How did the PCs deal with the encounters? What did they do that was particularly effective? What abilities did they lean on? Who did the most damage? Who got out unscathed? Did one particular person prove especially effective at turning the table?
Beyond those spikes of strength, what else was revealed? Are there clear delineations of who is safe in melee versus who would prefer to not be? Take that information into consideration.
Step 2: Consider The Resources Of Your Villain
The smarter and more tactical your villain the more you can take into consideration. More to the point though, you want to take in their resources that they have available. A necromancer with hordes of undead has....hordes of undead. A king of an evil kingdom may have more resources available. The head of an assassin's guild has assassins.
Amusingly enough, this is a situation where "money" is definitely a super power. Why? because if you have money you can always hire resources to take care of your problem. It's kind of the point of money.
Step 3: Solve Step 1 with Step 2
The key now is to figure out how you solve the problems you identified in step 1 (how the PCs respond to threats, etc) with the resources you have available from step 2.
Consider also what the villain is willing to spend on this particular problem. Just because the villains want the PCs gone doesn't necessarily mean they're going to go broke trying to take them out. How this works will depend on the group.
But this overall approach should work. And on Friday I'll try to apply it to one of the D&D groups I'm in just for an example of how some villains might approach taking down the party.