Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Do You Use "Big Bad Evil Guys" in Your Campaigns?

This topic came up in a recently recorded Brainstorm Podcast episode - Do you use BBEGs and if so, how do you go about designing them?

For me, I rarely go into a campaign with a BBEG fleshed out, let alone thought out. I always figure my players will designate some NPC their nemesis and I'll go from there, but then again, my parties are like herds of cats, you never know where they are going to go.

Then again, I've played in some campaigns that have very effectively utilized BBEGs, so maybe it's a deficit in my DMing skills that leads to the leaving out of bBEGs in my games.

So, where do you stand with BBEGs? Yay or nay? Power behind the throne or in the face power manipulator?


  1. Yes, although it's campaign dependent. There are potential BBEGs in my current game, but it's not the sort of game that makes a BBEG more than a multi-session foe. My previous game I had one in mind, the PCs did terrible things that resulted in him erupting into play, and they made him the focus of the game. That ended poorly for the PCs, but it made for 10 years of very fun gaming.

    But generally, if a chance at having a BBEG the players talk about between sessions and plot and plan on eventually beating, I jump on it with two feet.

  2. While having a designated BBEG can work with the right group, it is definitely dependent upon the campaign. I think that having one develop organically through play is so much better than being given one up front. In many ways, I feel that this is one of the flaws in published campaigns -- the BBEG is presented fully formed and as a result tends to feel a bit cardboard in presentation. Additionally, then there is a need to use "dramatic survival" to keep him (her) alive until the grand finale (Dragonlance, anyone?)

    In my campaigns, I preferred using the amorphous shadow organization as the motivation. The BBEG that shows up for one scene may or may not be the true face of the enemy. It feels much more natural, plus it avoids the desperate scramble to figure out what to do if the party manages to take the BBEG out early.

  3. I'm running a sandbox, so I have many (rough count is 8 or 9) different NPCs that *could* become BBEGs if the PCs go into the right hexes. Be sure to have wiggle room for NPCs so you could promote one to BBEG status when needed.

  4. Not necessarily BBEGs, but recurring villains, of any level, do seem to keep the players interested.

  5. I make lots of "name villains" and some of the somehow live long enough to become BBEGs. The best ones usually start off as apparent friends/allies/patrons and eventually the PCs realize they've been used, then seek out revenge. Hard trick to pull off if you've been gaming with the same crowd for too long, though, so keeping potential BBEGs alive in my games requires reframing the villains in different ways to keep it interesting. I never, however, set up a BBEG that isn't ultimately meant to be defeated or slain....no plot railroading in my games, if the villain dies it clearly was his time.

    1. That's always been my strategy too, although the BBEG's that get persued vigorously are the ones that got away (especially if they caused anything more than minor inconvenience to the players and taunted them about it). My players encountered some power plays on the part of a red dragon, and after a few encounters with the dragons minions at sporadic times over a few months started to get weirdly paranoid trying to connect every misfortune to the dragon.

      My plan is always to just create interesting NPC's with their own motiviations and schemes. Some of those will naturally conflict with the PC's. Maybe it is just my players, but they make way more of a conspiracy out of things than I ever could come up with on my own.

  6. Low level parties I don't think should have BBEG enemies. The enemies they do have might work for the/a BBEG, and there should be BBEGs in the campaign, but they should be too powerful to deal with. The Fellowship, for example, went on a mission to destroy the Ring, not to assassinate Sauron.

    Lieutenants and captains of the BBEG - maybe, 'Lesser Bad Evil Guys' - sure, they can become recurrent opponents and that can be really fun. But having them start low and progress like PCs is obviously important.

    When the 1st Level party attacks the stronghold of the evil 2nd or 3rd Level Evil MU or Cleric, they don't know he's a local captain for the Big Evil Empire. Maybe he isn't even that at that point, he's just a local psychopath. Either way, the party trashes his base. In six months when they're 2nd Level, they meet him again. In the meantime he's levelled up to 3rd or 4th and got some new henchmen (perhaps by officially getting the Big Evil Empire regional franchise having made his way to Mordor to offer his services in exchange for better anti-PC protection) and he wants revenge.

    He should be killable (or capturable-and-putting-on-trialable, etc). There should always be a way for the PCs to remove the threat that this individual poses. But, when you kill the 4th Level Evil Cleric, you might find that 6 months later, his Captain of the Guard (who escaped the second confrontation) has taken the Evil Artefact and is raising a new army of undead in the Wastes. Maybe even stolen the body - unless the PCs were very thorough - and the 'dead' Cleric is now raised himself as a powerful undead, or whatever.

  7. At one point i added a note that linked one boss villian with a previously defeated one and the name of their bbeg. Instant sandbox after that as the party tried to find out about and crush the bbeg. Accidental awesome.

  8. Yes and no.

    The last campaign I ran, I had several factions, 3 of which were definitely powerful, potentially scary and not necessarily evil.

    The PCs were working for one of the factions, but were not entirely certain they were working on the right side (not that the faction was evil, per se, but they weren't sure they were the right people to be working for... much like the NSA).

    Another faction that was generally evil, had a charismatic leader who was actively trying to recruit the PCs to his side. This particular leader actually saw himself as being righteous... perhaps with the "things would be better if I were in charge" mentality.

    The 3rd faction only had a little contact with the PCs, but were about to get more involved around the time the campaign had to pause.

    For me this was much more interesting. When the PCs met the charismatic villain, I actually made him out as a very sympathetic foe. He was there to do a job, the PCs beat him fair and square and he negotiated his own release for information and safe passage.

    This was way more interesting as the players actually liked that this guy was somehow an honorable foe, and later in the campaign, one of the PCs specifically sent him a message about a potential alliance. Meanwhile, there was some real friction between the PCs and their actual "good guy" allies.

    Unfortunately, life events put that campaign into hiatus. We may revisit it sometime in the future (I hope so), but it's always hard to pick back up when the details are no longer fresh in the players' minds.

    Point being, the campaign was *way* more interesting when there were many shades of gray. Even if the villain is evil, if you get into his mind and make it so that this NPC believes his evil actions are justified as a means to an end, it makes that NPC so much more interesting than a Snidely Whiplash type.

  9. Back in the day, didn't D&D use the term EHP (Evil High Priest) in place of BBEG or is that just me misremembering?

  10. No, because I believe 90% of the action in a campaign should be driven by player decisions - not the actions of DM surrogates like BBEG's.

  11. My current players have not been very much willing to define their own goals and expected me to produce them. So we have some BBEGs now. Two.

    They're in conflict, and may end up having a war with each other.

    If the players continue to expect direction, then someone's going to be eventually entrusting them with a mission to take one one of them. The foreigner of course.

    Also I have a sort of cult of an uncaring god running around. You know, one of those world-end-seeking sorts of cults, but I have no real idea whether they're pretenders or have something real about them yet.

    My goal is that eventually there will be enough of a boil that the players will start making their own decisions about what to do.


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