Welcome to another installment of The Gamemaster! For those who don’t know, this is my weekly column to discuss things I’ve learned or noticed in my sojourn to become a halfway decent Pathfinder Gamemaster.
Unless you're a complete boob, your villains aren't mustache twirling badguys, constantly trying to tie damsels to roads for no better pleasure than to bedevil your days. That's pretty boring. More than that, it's bad storytelling.
As a Gamemaster, you have more control over your villains, their stories, and motivations than almost any other aspect of the game. Bad guys are the characters you create to interact with your players, why would you want to waste time crafting them out of cardboard? Why would your players waste time playing against a villain who has nothing more important to do than screw with them in evil ways?
I've been having a lot of fun, both in my fiction and in my gamemastering life, crafting bad guys with motivations other than "Do evil."
It's always my favorite bad guys that are able to sit down with the heroes and have a conversation with them. Renee Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark is infinitely more interesting a bad guy than Hitler. Hitler's a Macguffin. All you need to know about Hitler is that he'd do bad things with the Ark. Belloq on the other hand exists in shades of grey. He and the hero have the same goal, but the outcomes of their success would be wildly different. Their motivations are also the same and not, but it's those shades of grey that help tell an interesting story. And Belloq doesn't think he's a bad guy, he thinks he's just willing to cross the line further to be the best.
So, here's my advice to you to be able to create and play three-dimensional villains that can act and react on their own without railroading your players.
First, I think it's interesting to create villains that are good, or, at the very least, think they're good. Figure out what their motivations are. Are they local law enforcement sick of the rabble coming into their town to seek treasure? Are they low level enforcers for a criminal mastermind, working to thwart your players to feed their family?
Could it be interesting if their goal is something only sort of related to the players and their paths intersect? If this bad guy is tasked with preventing the use of magic in a town, and your characters are forced to use it, they'd be on his radar and he'd just be doing his job to pursue them.
What if this villain is the relative of a pickpocket who tried thieving the players and they summarily dealt with? Having been wronged in a way the characters have to guess at is something that could cause lots of interesting questions and roleplaying opportunities.
There are thousands of motivations you could use.
Once you've determined what motivations the character has, you'll have a reasonable idea of what sort of things they would have access to to pursue their goals. Would they have a house? A horse and carriage? Minions? A mistress? A debt with a shylock? Protection from the local law? A kid he's contracted to act as a spy and sneak thief?
What you need to do is create this list of assets this character has at their disposal and when the characters act, you're able to look at the list and know exactly how he could react in kind.
When you've come up with all of their resources, new ideas for the story to turn will present itself. Say he does have a mistress and the characters are wise to that. Could they try blackmailing him? Would that work? Would he send his minions to pay the ransom? Or would he send them to kill her? I think the correct answer lies with the motivations and alignments and back story you've created for the character. This is when you get to roleplay, even if the players only see 1/10th of the machinations at work.
You truly get to be The Phantom Menace. Do your best to make it interesting.
Until next time, I hope this has given you something to think about it for your own game. If it hasn’t, see more pieces in this series for inspiration.