Episode 2: Introducing Villains and Changing Characters
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What is the best way to introduce a villain?
A Dungeons and Dragons campaign is made up of a lot of various elements, but the single most important one is your villain. They’re what inspire the characters to take action and what keeps the story moving. Without them, your players will grow bored very quickly. This means a powerful introduction which leaves a memorable impact on the characters is crucial if you want your campaign to go the distance. The final method through which you introduce your villain will depend on the type of story you’re trying to tell, but here are three possible methods for you to consider.
First, you’ve got your “reputation” introduction. The most indirect of the three, this method involves dropping hints about the villain to the characters in passing. Be it an overheard conversation in a crowded inn, a letter with a mysterious signature on it, or mention of them in some ancient text or scroll, the heroes never actual encounter or witness the villain. In fact, they might not even be aware that is the primary villain of the campaign but rather just some bit of fluff or history that you’re mentioning to provide a sense of depth to the world. This method is ideal for campaigns in which the villain is primarily working behind the shadows until the moment you’re ready for the big reveal.
Next, you’ve got the “bread crumb” introduction. This method involves leaving a trail of clues for the characters to follow in order to track down the villain, all the while becoming more aware of the threat they’re up against. These clues could be stolen artifacts, a trail or murders, or a series of decimated villages and towns. The key difference between the “reputation” introduction is that the characters are getting an eyewitness account of what the villain is capable of while still retaining a sense of mystery as to what they might look or act like. This method is perfect for adventuring parties that enjoy exploring and investigating the world as they attempt to track down the big bad.
The final method is the “face-to-face” introduction. In these instances, the party literally comes into direct opposition with the villain either through their own actions or the villains’. Whether because the heroes have stormed the villain’s stronghold or the villain has finally come to destroy the party, this type of introduction is typically the most personal and dramatic of the tree. Often the heroes have had to come a long way in order to reach this point in the adventure and are ready to slay the villain once and for all, or the characters have found themselves in way over their heads and must work to escape before the villain can utterly obliterate them. In either case, this method is great for signaling a shift in the campaign that will result in real consequences for both sides.
What should I do if my players keep changing characters in the middle of a game?
The only way to solve this issue is by figuring out why the player wants to change characters in the first place. Once you know that, you can start implementing some possible solutions. Have they grown bored with their character’s abilities? Are they dying to try out a new character concept they just thought up last weekend? Or are they feeling like their character simply isn’t fitting into the narrative anymore? All of these are completely justifiable reasons to want to change characters, but that isn’t always necessary.
If the player is bored with their characters’ abilities, this is typically the easiest issue to address. Start by sitting the player down and asking them how you think you could make their character more exciting to play. Do they need a new magic item? What about a new trait or special ability? Have they considered multi-classing? Any of these approaches can breathe new life into a character that previously felt disengaged from combat or like they were being dragged along by the rest of their powerful allies.
If the player is eager to try out something new and exciting, this might be the perfect time to offer up a one-shot. This one-shot does not need to be connected to the current campaign in any way, in fact, it’s usually better if it isn’t. In place of your usual session, take your players to a lost island or a demonic-dungeon and let them go crazy with a new character concept. Doing so allows the paladin to put aside their morals and play a nefarious rouge, or the brooding ranger to put on the performance of a lifetime as a whimsical bard. Usually, this method will scratch the players’ “I want to play a new character” itch and have everyone feeling refreshed when they come back to their campaign characters.
If, however, your player feels that their character is no longer relevant to the narrative, you’ll need to put in a bit more work to resolve the issue. The best place to start is by (no surprise here) talking to the player and figure out why they feel disconnected from the story. Do they not have any stakes in the outcome of the adventure, or do they have greater concerns elsewhere in the world? When you’ve locked this down, you can begin to brainstorm methods of adjusting the narrative or introducing new plot elements to hook the character back in. However, think long and hard before going this route. You would hate to make an adjustment to the story that suddenly causes the rest of the party to lose interest and now have an even bigger issue on your hands. Sometimes it’s ok to let a character go if its in the campaign’s best interest.
Add a Unique Flavor to Your Treasure
When your players are exploring a dungeon or looting a body, how do you reward their characters? Do you offer up generic treasures such as a handful of new weapons, some shiny coins, and perhaps a piece or two of valuable jewelry? Or do you take a few minutes during your session prep to create a unique design quirk for a few of these items so that they feel like unique treasures rather than generic loot? If you answered yes to the former, I strongly suggest you begin doing the latter.
When the most common form of treasure the characters are receiving is either gold or equipment out of the Player’s Handbook, you can be assured that the players are going to start begging for some magic items. If, however, you make many of these simple items feel as valuable as a magic item, you’ll have the characters looking forward to every treasure chest they open. For example, rather than have a character find a simple shortsword when they loot a cultist, have them discover a curved blade whose hilt is designed like the body of an erinyes and whose razor-sharp blade is shaped like the devil’s towering wings. If a player is searching through a treasure chest in a noble’s room, don’t just have them find a small painting worth 75 gp. Have them discover a painting of an elegant unicorn racing through a field of red and yellow flowers towards a setting sun on the distant horizon.
By adding even the tiniest bit of flare and character to basic items, you can turn a boring pair of earrings into one of the most valuable treasures a character pulls out of a deadly dungeon. This is because the players want to feel that they’re unique. They want to know that they stand out as an adventure or a hero, and nothing does this as easily as giving them fun little trinkets or pieces of equipment that are unlike anything an NPC would have.
In this section, I discuss topics such as updates on what’s going on in my D&D life, recommendations for you to use in your Dungeons and Dragons games, or anything else D&D-related that I think might be valuable! (Note: None of the suggestions are paid promotions. I just really like this stuff and think you will get real value out of it!)
Brian Davis Spotify
When attempting to build a sense of immersion for your players, few methods are as effective as music or soundscapes. Be it a gentle melody playing in the background as the players are exploring a wild forest or epic fight music as the party confronts the final boss, music can fill those moments of silence with an energy that brings the session to life. While it can be a lot of fun to put together your own music and playlists, this can also take a substantial amount of time. Fortunately, there are people out there like Brian Davis who a friend of mine stumbled across while preparing for a campaign he was running at the time.
Brian has created dozens of Spotify playlists for virtually any situation you might be wanting to put your players in. He’s created ambient playlists for all the major environments like mountains, deserts, dungeons, towns, cities, or tropical jungles. He’s created playlists for various combat scenarios be it duels, boss battles, horror combats, or epic mega fights. There are playlists to help evoke specific moods such as fear, somberness, seriousness, or happiness. And (and these are my favorite) Brian has created playlists themed around specific monsters like hags, orcs, goblins, or dragons.
I can’t recommend this guy’s playlists enough. If you’re in need of some outstanding music to use in your next session, check his public Spotify account out right now.
Brian Davis Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/bezoing?si=MsH6CASdSLC-KvUHAgiP7Q
In last week’s episode, I mentioned that I love painting miniatures and showed you a few dinosaur miniatures I picked up from Hobby Lobby. That got me thinking about everyone out there who don’t either have the time or energy to paint miniatures but still wants to have something to put on the table during combat. Enter PrintableHeroes.
PrintableHeroes creates free print-ready miniatures for tabletop role-playing games every month. The artwork is outstanding and the range of creatures is baffling. Below are a few images of print-ready miniatures they’re created in the past.
PrintableHeroes has a Patreon account where you can get access to additional content such as back-views of every miniature, “reskins” of existing miniatures, and cut files for every new release. The link to their Patreon is below, so go check them out!