Hello and welcome to this week’s installment of “Only On Tuesdays!” This week we will be discussing how to hype your villains up in a way that makes them both terrifying and exciting! Let’s dig into what can make a villain someone you are afraid of.
A problem that I see in many stories and games is that they will present a villain that must be defeated by the end of the story. He is powerful enough to destroy the universe and only the heroes can stop him. But when the heroes finally get into that final fight there is no emotion. Sure they are fighting the bad guy that they swore to destroy but nobody has any connection to him. He is simply a bad guy that must be defeated. When your final encounter becomes akin to a random encounter, something has gone horribly wrong.
In order to keep your final battle from becoming a random encounter, it is important that you focus on your villain. A fight can and will fall flat if the opponent they are facing is not one they care about. Hyping up your villain is just as important as the final fight with the villain. Here are 5 things to keep in mind about your villain as you prepare for the final encounter.
Establishing the threat level of the villain is important to show the relationship between the players and the villain. If your players believe the villain is some nobody worth none of their attention the final fight will not be that climatic. Showing your players that this villain is not somebody you mess with is important to get across the idea that he/she is strong and dangerous. If the players feel that they don’t need to take down this villain, then they won’t. Show them the danger of an unchecked villain, and make them afraid that something far worse will happen if they don’t stop him.
If you want a list of ideas on how to make your villains scary, check out this post by /u/famoushippopotamus about giving your villains teeth: https://www.reddit.com/r/DMAcademy/comments/5q0s4w/giving_villains_teeth/.
The less your players know about the villain the better. It is important that they know things such as why the villain is a threat, what will happen if nothing is done, etc. But when your players only know so much about a villain it can make them that much more terrifying. Horror movies use this tactic all the time where they will reveal very little about the monster until the very end. Not knowing anything about the villain makes it difficult for the players to prepare themselves, and this by itself will create fear. An unknown enemy is a terrifying one because little can be done to combat him/her.
If your villain does not have a personal connection with the PC’s it becomes that much harder to create emotional tension in that final scene. Find ways to intertwine the party with the villain in ways that makes the story more interesting. For example, when you learn that Luke is the son of Darth Vader it completely changes the narrative of the entire Star Wars Trilogy. Connecting your villain to your players need not be so obtuse, but it is still possible to connect them through things such as shared history, motivations, goals, and passions. If your players can relate, and even understand why the villain did what they did it can make for a much more interesting game for all involved.
No one wants to see a villain that can’t achieve anything. A good villain will want something to happen and will go and get it done. The reason that henchmen are such a prominent part of any narrative involving a villain is that they can fail against the heroes where the villain can’t. Every time the villain fails at something, either at the hands of the heroes or by some other cause, they become less intimidating. When the villain sets their sights on the players it should be clear that this is something to be worried about. A villain with a track record of success as opposed to one of failure makes it seem much more likely that they won’t be the exception.
Once you have established why your villain is a threat it is important that you build on it! You could have a great villain that is mysterious, threatening, competent, and relatable, but they will fall flat by the end if they remain static. As the heroes are changing and progressing, so too should the villain. This growth in power and threat from the villain will further compel your players to become stronger, as they know that they need to be as strong as possible for when they eventually face the villain. This also allows you to set up for the final fight as well as there is a clear progression, and hopefully a clear ending to the escalation of the threat.
Creating a villain is not an easy task. Creating a good villain is doubly so. Part of building a villain has a lot to do with how you hype that villain up. Good buildup for your villain can make them appear far more menacing than they may actually be. If you can manage to keep these 5 things in mind when you are playing your campaign, you are doing yourself a huge favor for when it comes time for that final showdown as most of the work will have already been done for you. If you are able to execute the build up correctly, then the conclusion should come about very naturally and should make for an epic and memorable fight that your players will remember for years to come.
Thank you for reading this week’s installment of Only On Tuesdays! I hope you guys have a great week, and an amazing Tuesday!