4 Reasons Why You Should Let the D&D Villain Gloat
Updated: Oct 19, 2018
After weeks of chasing down clues and piecing them together, your party had gained a rudimentary understanding of all that had transpired: The viscount’s death and the raid on the treasury had been connected. The sheriff who poisoned the viscount had really been a doppelganger—while the real sheriff had apparently disappeared three months earlier during a party at Lord Burnley’s estate. Coincidentally, someone from Lord Burnley’s estate had also paid a visit several months back to the alchemist who had crafted the poison (and then mysteriously died in his sleep). Lord Burnley had also been implicated in the note the mind flayer had in its hidden coat pocket. It didn’t take you long to make your way to Lord Burnley’s manor, force your entrance, and deal with his guards. In almost no time at all, your rogue uncovered the secret door that led beneath the manor’s dungeons and to the sweaty ritual chamber where you found Burnley half-naked, his back covered with hundreds of intricately runed tattoos, seated atop a floor painted in blood, and breathing in the pungent scent of whatever offering was aflame atop the room’s altar. Burnley rose to his feet and opened his eyes—which glowed strangely green. “So,” he said, “I’ve been waiting…” “CHARGE!” That was Gronk, your bloodthirsty barbarian. Faster than the rest of you could react, he rushed straight at Burnley and swung his axe… forever ending any chance that your party would have to hear what Burnley had to say. Don’t be a Gronk. Gronk never lets the villains speak. Gronk is barely in the game for the story. A half-orc barbarian, Gronk is saddled with straight 8s for Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. This is, of course, due to him only being 17 years old and emotionally distant due to all the massacres in his past. Gronk has a big axe and sees it as the answer to all his problems. Gronk enters every encounter with one-half asleep and the other half ready for those magical words, “Roll initiative.” Gronk is more or less the anti-James Bond, and Gronk is more like most of us who play Dungeons & Dragons than we’d care to admit. Why We’re Not All James BondJames Bond is who he is—and James Bond movies are what they are—largely because his villains are always so prone toward evil gloating and because James Bond is willing to listen. It’s like a strange, unwritten contract between the two sides. The villain agrees to avoid simply killing Bond outright. Instead, they typically strap Bond onto a table and trust that their red-hot laser will advance far enough to kill Bond before he escapes. In turn, Bond agrees to listen to the villain’s evil gloating and—in so doing—allows the villain to further establish his motives and reveal his secret plans. In Dungeons & Dragons, however, such agreements are rare. Most players and their adventuring parties view the ultimate destruction of their enemies as the fastest and surest path toward success. Talking to enemies not only fails to move the heroes in the right direction, but it could potentially result in the villain’s untimely escape. But there are reasons you might not want to leap straight into initiative all the time. Here are 4 of the best reasons to consider letting the villains gloat:
4. You Can Obtain More InformationNot every strong monster is the boss. The best master manipulators—like the best bosses—will delegate various duties to improve efficiency within their nefarious operations. And some of the mid-level bosses may oversee small hordes of minions. They may look like boss monsters, but they’re only mid-level managers. If you let them talk, these mid-level managers might prove more interested in self-preservation than in sacrificing themselves for the evil scheme, and they may be able to share valuable insights into the mastermind’s larger plans.
3. You Might Be Out of Your LeagueMost adventures pit your heroes against a series of threats they should be able to overcome. But adventures don’t all have to function that way. The real world certainly doesn’t. Some adventures might bring your heroes face-to-face with villains far too powerful for you to defeat. Your low-level characters aren’t meant to attack these archmages and vampire lords. The villains, at this time, don’t have any reason to view you as threats, and the scenes in which you encounter these characters are meant not as chances for you to throw your lives away, but rather opportunities to gain an appreciation for the challenges and the story arc that lie before you. Even when your party is physically capable of defeating the villain, you may still be out of your league. You might be able to attack with impunity when the villain responsible for the recent abductions is a hag living in the haunted woods. But when the recent abductions lead back to the nation’s king? You probably want to pursue a less confrontational resolution to the issue—unless you’re at the level where you can obliterate entire armies without breaking a sweat.
2. There Might Be More Interesting Ways to Resolve the EncounterWhy attack the guards when you can convince them you’re the new boss? That pick-pocket that very nearly got away with your gold? Maybe he’d be happy to work for you in exchange for his life; his contacts on the streets might make him an excellent informant. Slaying the evil priestess might allow you to claim the magical key you need to open the vault… but if you spare her life, could you get her to walk ahead of you and trigger or disable the hallway’s traps as you head to the ritual room? Bouncing from combat to combat is a tried-and-true way of resolving your Dungeons & Dragons adventures, but when you allow yourselves to interact with the villains of your encounters, you might find ways that can better help you achieve your larger objectives—wittingly or unwittingly.
1. The Quest Master Is a Player, TooFinally, the last and best reason to let the villains have their monologues is that the Dungeon Master (we call them Quest Masters) is a player, too. Dungeons & Dragons is a shared storytelling experience, and while you and your friends have every right to run your heroes however you see fit, you want to give your Quest Master some credit for running—and often writing—the adventure that you’re playing. If weeks of gaming sessions build toward a climactic encounter with a villain who wants to open with conversation… there’s a reason for that! Trust your Quest Master to have given it some thought. Let your Quest Master play the villain for a moment. Likely, the goal is—in part—to build the story’s stakes and its suspense and to provide you a better idea of the villain—just as this is the goal of pretty much every Bond villain’s monologue ever. But more than just showing respect to your Quest Master for all the hard work they have put into the adventure (and campaign), your decision to allow the villain to talk opens the door to all manner of possible outcomes. You might be offered riches or power vast enough to turn you from your quest for justice. You might be directed toward a new quest. You might learn something that would cause you to side with the mastermind. Or you might even be able to convince the mastermind of the error of their ways… Anything is possible when you allow the Quest Master to play their character as fully as you play yours.