Villain Design

A forum for discussing how to design adventure modules. This will provide a place to follow up on conversations at our Gen Con seminar on adventure writing.

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Villain Design

Post by Arek »

Spotlight on: The Fool of Bones

I serve as Idea Hamster to a few of my gaming friends. I'm kinda proud that I can usually turn out something useable, especially with villains. This time, I'm going to highlight one of my better ideas, Morry and the Fool of Bones.

The Fool of Bones is a minor artifact sword. I copied the idea from a random sword description generator, one that mentioned a black blade inscribed with jesters and bones.

That led me to consider an intrigue-laden murder-mystery adventure in which the murders were actually being committed by the court jester.

Think about it. A jester as an assassin. No one respects him enough to view him as a threat, so with a certain amount of care, a jester could be a very successful assassin.

Thus, Morrison Ardeo Renaldo Maximillian St. Burgham Jinks was born. Picture a small, slim man in a loud outfit, who hits on the sorceress and names the paladin 'Rusty' and the gnome 'Kiddo', in a bright and cheery Irish accent.

Now imagine Morry as a cold-blooded, cruel killer who changes his voice to a deep scratchy sound.

Helped along by his 'cursed' longsword that can be summoned to his hand at a moment's notice, and lets him travel from shadow to shadow at the cost of a hitpoint per jump.

I laid out the plot to my friend:

1) The king has gotten tipped off there's an assassination in the planning.
2) Unknown to the king, it's coming from his jester, who's been in the court for a couple of years now and is now taken for granted, a face in the background. But before he can kill the king, Morry first plans to kill the clericss (so they can't bring the king back to life) and the Prince (so there's no heir). The priests are duly taken out (and their jaws removed to keep Speak with Dead from working), and Morry hides his killin' duds until the
3) The king hires the adventurers to search the extensive dungeons of the castle.
4) They find some loot and clean up a minor monster infestation, but don't find the assassin.
5) The prince is taken out, and likewise mutilated.
6) The king appeals to the party, saying there's an artifact, a speaking skull which may serve as a proxy for a Speak with Dead, something Morry had not been aware of)
7) They go back in the dungeons to retrieve it, and encounter the dread Assassin.
8) After a brief scuffle, the assassin disappears and they manage to grab the skull and come back up.
9) The party cleric uses the skull to summon the spirit of the Prince. It keeps repeating "The fool killed me!" But this is not helpful, because it prince was an idiot who called everyone a fool.
10) Morry is still a bit banged up from getting tag-teamed down in the dungeons, he realizes it won't be long before someone realizes he's hurt and puts 2 and 2 together, so he decides to finish the job and make an escape.
11) At noon, the king's holding the eulogy for his son when the Assassin rises up out of the king's shadow, sword leading, but just narrowly misses killing the king. The king shouts for guards, the party starts after the Assassin, the chase is on!
12) At this point, my friend took his own spin on the events. He managed to nudge the party into splitting up. Morry was a higher level, but not by much, and didn't really have levels in a primarily-combat class. So with his sword and the drop on them, he can just about take them on one by one, although the paladin could conceivably give him some trouble.
13) The paladin finds Morry in a room, but Morry manages to get in lucky rolls while Rusty gets bad ones.
14) He's got the Paladin disarmed and nearly disabled, and is taunting him, and my friend switched from the 'Assassin' voice to 'Morry' in mid-sentence. (He swears only one person suspected Morry throughout the adventure, and her eyes were as big as plates before she started yelling, "I TOLD YOU SO!")
15) Sorceress comes in and fires off a Magic Missile, which gets a high damage roll.
16) Morry retreats, only to strike again later...and miss by a longshot. His successive rolls are not any better. The Sorceress is able to burn the rest of her Magic Missiles, bringing morry down further.
17) He scores a crit and nearly kills her, but the cleric shows up as reinforcements, Morry shadow-jumps again...
18) And hits 0 HP and gets half his body moved to where he wanted to jump, while from the waist down and one arm stayed behind.

My buddy said after that adventure, the player of the Paladin caught him aside and said that he really enjoyed the unique adventures and really memorable villains my friend managed to turn out.

So why the big reenactment?

I'll break it down:

1) Morry had an very interesting concept--the guy that no one respects being the most dangerous person present.

2) He had a cool weapon that let him bend the rules some.

3) His plan took into account things that might foil it, such as clerics being able to just ask a corpse who killed it, and he worked to counter them.

4) I thought you might enjoy it. Feel free to adapt the adventure (oh, Morry was trying to run from the party to gain some time until the castle's shadow stretched far enough that he could just jump to the outer edge of it and make his escape. But he'd gotten hurt, worried and sloppy and made the mistake of going for the king at noon, when this big palace on the plains didn't cast a shadow.)

A good villain really should have something memorable, they should have a personality, and they should have some traces of humanity to them (like getting sloppy because he's tense and hurt and worried), and you should live your players an opening so they can win, but not so much of one it's easy.

Next time, I'll either detail Lord Loss or Alkalus.
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Post by Arek »

Alkalus was another creation for my friend Mike.

Only, in this campaign, the group was combatting a huge number of planar rifts that had opened up in the Prime Material after a magical accident. So there were areas that were becoming abyssal, or celestial, or whatever, and needed to be closed up.

I found a line saying an artifact was the Codex of the Infinite Planes, a tome that would be able to transport you to any given plane, but had caused much havoc through its existence.

And I swear this all dropped into my head at once.

1) The magical accident that opened all the rifts was, in fact, the attempted creation of the Codex. And in ensuing explosion killed all the people present, save one, a paladin named Alkalus.

2) Alkalus' wife was, in fact, the person trying to make the artifact. And there he woke up, with his wife and all the people he helped, dead, and this blank book, his wife's penultimate work, sitting there. He resolved to complete it, in her memory

3) Alkalus didn't escape without ill effects, though. You see, somewhere Over There in the Prime Material plane, was a world where there was another Alkalus, and another planar accident related to the Codex being created. Three such worlds, in fact.

4) Each one, a level 16-character with five levels in one of the paladin classes, were folded into the same person. LG, CG, CE, and LE alignments, each with his own view, each with his own individual build, each the result of influences in Alkalus' early life. And they all get pressed into the same space, but only one is able to be expressed at a time. Alkalus becomes four men at once.

5) As you might imagine, there's quite a lot of personality conflict happening at first. Alliances for control are constantly being formed and discarded, and the balance of power often shifts, meaning that sometimes, if you're around him, you'll feel a moment when your whole brain makes a sound like a bell being struck or a breaking guitar string, and then you'll experience a brief moment of wondering why Alkalus is wearing different armor before your brain starts saying he's always been wearing that.

6) Eventually, the four Alkaluses (Alkali?) reach one thing they can agree on: They want to complete the Codex. And from then on, there's some conflict, but they tend to tolerate each other and not make such a noise for the one who's currently in control (the one expressed in the world has, basically, three onlookers riding in his head, who can freely and silently communicate with him and one another). After this milestone is reached, they change strategically.

7)LG Alkalus is wearing shining armor, and has a careworn face. He's kind, if a bit stiff. CG Alkalus had a nose that'd been broken and healed a bit crooked, and he was more fun and thought of using caltrops that he'd poured Oil of Invisibility on. LE Alkalus had a harsher face, and carried a Spined Shield and wore Demon Armor. And CE Alkalus had a slightly manic gleam in his eye and about half his scalp was burn scars with no hair growing there.

8) All of the Alkali had level in paladin, but after the Incident, he was pretty much free to violate his alignment as much as he wanted, because the relevant gods got together, discussed things, and agreed that whatever the solution to a perambulatory, reasoning, quadruple-dimensional anomaly is, interfering with it with divine energy is not it.

8) Basically, the party first encountered one of the good Alkaluses, who was a nice guy. And those with the ability tried to scan his alignment, only to get a whanging migraine.

9) He soon helped them close an abyssal rift, and then things got ugly when he broke out a book that absorbed the energy from the rift.

10) Their next encounter resulted in the party's paladin fighting CG Alkalus solo in a Force Cage that was a magic effect from an item of Alkalus. Alkalus held back, stating he didn't want to kill them and really wished they'd just stand aside and let him take care of things, so left the paladin disabled, but alive.

11) Their next several encounters resulted in them sometimes cooperating, sometimes fighting. But they eventually managed to kill LE Alkalus, and got the shock of their life when he blazed with energy and then disappeared, shortly followed by the Codex, which they had just enough time to examine to tell that about a quarter of the book was filled in.

12) I understand the campaign died out soon after, but the background work is:

-when one of the four died, his abilities were distributed out among his remaining 'siblings', meaning that when two were left, he wouldn't be making much sense anymore, but he'd be tough.
-The death also completes a chunk of the Codex, and when all of him are truly dead, the Codex of the Infinite Planes will indeed be complete and in full possession of its power.
-Alkalus, in game terms, had been a cohort to the wizard, his wife, and his alignment and class sprang from her influence. I'm sure that would've have blown the players' minds.

Complex? Yes.

But, hey, he was a cool guy to think up, and, according to Mike, much fun to play against the party.
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Post by Arek »

Lord Loss

"I am a reasoning undead. That is to say, my mind is a roiling mass of black envy and shrieking hatred. I would dearly love to be able to say violent, tearing carnage still does not come easily to me. Instead, I'm finding it hard to stop myself from dismembering your mortal coil and glorying in the spilled blood-warmth I long ago lost as I send you screaming for mercy into the uncaring void. Don't make it harder."
~Lord Loss

One of my favorite creations, Loss (real name: Gaeran Losenger) is a death knight. But rather than being a classical undead, he's got a quite dynamic personality.

-Loss is capable of making and taking a joke. A lot of times, he'll make a one liner or insert some irony.

-He's high-level, and he's very tough, but he's also not taking his undeath for granted. On multiple occasions, when he has encountered groups of adventurers who were now showing no fear and not running, he has turned and ran rather than find out what their secret weapon is. He takes no chances over his survival, and he'll lay in traps and ambushes using the undead minions that just turn up thanks to his Death Knight powers.

-His strength is unreal--well over 20--and he has about 18 charisma.

-He's not the kind to blindly kill people because the urges tell him to, so he is just about capable of going into civilized society. Nonetheless, Loss is an evil man. He's capable of acts of inventive cruelty (he once threatened to spike someone's head "like a demon's lollipop", and ended up selling the item to a balor for some change. And made a necklace out of the abyssal coins he got from the sale), but he does have his limits. People who just get in his way get a chance to run. If he still fights them, he may even go easy on them and leave them beaten up, but alive. If someone actively annoys him, they get taken down. Hard.
Kids are just about safe from him, too. (He is *Lawful* Evil, after all...)

-Loss has a number of quirks, one of which is a sweet tooth. As he explains it, all his senses still function, but they've lost the vibrancy and richness of living senses. However, he can still taste sweet items--and particularly likes lollipops--so it's entirely possible to talk to him while he's nursing a piece of candy.
Another quirk is letting clerics try to turn him. As per the 3.5 Death Knight template, he's immune to turning. But he rather likes the expression on a cleric's face when he says, "You are truly strong in your faith. I think I felt a tickle," or "Sorry, I didn't feel anything. Have you been dutiful in your prayers?"

-The basic concept of Loss is that he's still a person. He's intelligent, pretty rational, cautious about his own safety, and his behavior patterns have all the complexity and inconsistency of a normal person.
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Post by Jengenritz »

I have to say...Loss sounds like a great bad guy.
Co-Author: The Almanac of the Endless Traders, DCC #13, DCC #29, DCC #49, DCC #51, DCC #52, DCC #63

Author: DCC #55: Isle of the Sea Drake, DCC #61: Citadel of the Corruptor, more to come....
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Post by Arek »

Jengenritz wrote:I have to say...Loss sounds like a great bad guy.
I've always recommended him being someone you encounter and might see around rather than the actual villain. It's interesting to get work from the death knight who held the conversation with his visor raised so he could lick a lollipop.

Oh, I forgot to mention he has an artifact Bastard Sword with Wounding and a couple of other things on there. The Sword of Loss.

For a friend, I came up with the idea of Loss being one the Dead Lords--a cadre of sentient undead who campaign for the undead to get their own country, where no one will bother them and they won't actively kill anyone.

Basically, normal undead will eat your brain. At the Grave Isles, they'll lodge a complaint with your nation of origin first.

The other Dead Lords are:

Erris the Vampire.
He's the only one to be actual nobility, has Rogue levels. Lives in a quite pleasant manor staffed by sentient skeletons. Anyone who visits Erris' manor will find some old-world hospitality, try to decide whether Erris really does feel sorry for himself or if it's just an act so people will let down their guard (It's actually some of both), and depending on how strong Erris' willpower is tonight, the more interesting females in the party may have him try to put the bite on them in the middle of the night. He's the urbane talker of the group.

Rha-teru-khamin the Mummy Lord.
An epic-level cleric of his strange, mad god, R-T-K, also called Khuterop by his thousand mummy followers, is probably the oldest sentient being in the world, at something like four to five thousand years old (even dragons are long dead of old age by then) . He has sacrificed thousands of people to his god. Very much in the stone age in his thinking, and he barely speaks Common (but understands more than he speaks), which his dry, gravelly voice makes indecipherable, so he has an interpreter with him, usually. (Note on Rha-teru-khamin later)

Isus pel Grondin the Lich.
Isus is several centuries old and age has replaced his more malicious tendencies with a hunger to know. He's created several unique spells, and of the Dead Lords, he's the least likely to try to kill you, and the most likely to pay you (sometimes in magical items) to go out and get him some specimens. Loss sometimes does this for him, to keep himself busy, but sometimes Isus wants the body of a very scary creature, and Loss declines to go after it.

Isus' female elven apprentice has followed him into lichhood, but after these many centuries, they treat each other as equals, although Isus is the more powerful of the pair.

Loss himself has a handful of lesser Death Knights under his command--including a heavily armored dwarf and a fighting monk. He's in charge of the fortress they're still making with skeletal work gangs captained by Isus' sentient undead. Loss is, in fact, the 'baby' of the group, being at most, around 50 years old (an appeciable chunk of that being undead).

*Rha-Teru-Khamin is someone I'm interested in. I heard that if you took all the iron out of the blood of one adult human being, you'd have just about enough metal to make a nail.

Further inquiry raise the question: How many people do you have to bleed dry to make a sword?

And Khuterop (kudos if you can find the pun), has wielded the sacrificial dagger on thousands. So far, the other Dead Lords haven't thought to ask why he's done it or what he does with the bodies.
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Spotlight On: The Mardessi

Post by Arek »

In preparation for a boss-heavy campaign, I'm coming up with...well...enough bad guys that this'll be a hell of a party.

The campaign's in 16 parts, with 16 boss fights.

Quite a few of those are the Mardessi Clan.

A clan of Baatezu of mixed blood, the Mardessi have allied themselves with the LE God of Power-Mongering Tyranny and Conquest, Hexen. There's quite a few of them (the players won't see all of them). For this, I'm using some fiendish classes and feats some people have worked up. I'll post the stats up as I get around to them, but they look like...

Henda: Large Fiendish Brute, one of the younger members of the family (and, indeed, a lot of the clan are blood family members). Henda has four arms, he's large size, and he's got about 9 Natural armor, and he primarily fights with his quite scary claws.

Belg: Henda's older, smarter cousin. He's Huge size, and he's got his own tricks. One of which is picking up someone and using them as a weapon.

Kyrina: Definitely in the Succubus mold. The matriarch of a clan branch and the grandmother of Belg and Henda, she's got wisdom in spades. She's also got Charisma you could bounce rocks off of, and likes beating illithids at chess.

Marduluk: The head of the clan. About 19th level or so Shrouded in secrecy for most people. You, dear reader, are no one my players know, so I don't mind telling you that Marduluk started off as a stripped-down planar Thri-Keen born in the Nine Hells, but embraced his fiendish heritage. He's been around a looong time, and he's had a hand in a lot of the war Hexen is waging. His fiendish blood has led him to develop differently than Thri-keen normally do, and Marduluk, among other things, has functioning insectoid wings.

The Mardessi cover all kinds of jobs. Enforcers, assassin-spies, thieves, administrators...There's around a hundred of them, all told (I'm giving something away here, aren't I?). Their influence in the game world will be noticeable. In fact, they're responsible for the next guy...
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Telen the Death Knight.

Post by Arek »

Not the same kind of Death Knight as Loss, though. This Death Knight is the result of 5 levels in a PrC.

The sky was heavy with clouds and the air thick with fog, as it'd been for a long time and, for all anyone knew, would always be. It created its own dim, bluish light here. The air was cool and humid and filled with the scent of decaying wheat, and the village was--almost--empty. Lurching figures occasionally wandered past, trampling the sickly grain even further down, pressing it near the cool, dark earth where many, many kinds of fungus were waiting to feast on it.

An invisible observer might well note the letter-faded sign by the sign entrace, proclaiming its sunny welcome to all travelers. The observer could pass through the few turns of the decaying village, looking over the collapsed houses and over the grass glowing with the phosphorous fungus eating it alive and over the cobblestones slick with slime mold. Deeper into the village, the observer would find another sign, a message board. The only readable notice exhorted people to work for the festival next week, and used a great many exclamation points to do so.

That had been up for a long time, plus a week.

The town's only resident stood at the square at the end of town, with rotting wheat in front of him, and buildings behind him.

His full armor was gray, unpolished steel--although some attempt had been made at enameling black swirls and curling lines on it (with only moderate success). A large shield rode on his left arm, his gauntleted left hand on his similarly-clad right, and his right on the pommel of his wide-bladed sword, which was standing on its point in the cool earth. He wore no helm, showing the blackish-blue skin of his middle-aged, lined face and short, ink-black hair. After a moment he sighed with a mix of regret and ennui, and opened his eyes. The whites were instead blacks, and the irises and pupils were merged into one yellow glow in the dim light.
Last edited by Arek on Sun Jun 29, 2008 8:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Telen Mechanics

Post by Arek »

Okay, here's that Death Knight class.

Death Knight
"There is no horror you have known that can prepare you for what I am about to reveal."

Those who take up the black sword of the Death Knights in the name of powerful evil gods are not all undead. They aren't even all evil, since sometimes evil gods simply curse warriors in order to screw with them. But a lot of them are evil and undead, and that gives the Death Knight his classic image.


BAB: +6

Skills: Knowledge (Religion) 4 ranks

Special: Must have proficiency with all martial weapons.

Special: Must have had nonviolent contact with a Fiend.

Hit Die: d12

Class Skills: The Death Knight's class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Climb (Str), Concentration (Con), Craft (Int), Intimidate (Cha), Jump (Str), Knowledge (all skills individually) (Int), Listen (Wis), Move Silently (Dex), Spot (Wis), Swim (Str).

Skills/Level: 4 + Intelligence Bonus

BAB: Good (1/1), Saves: Fort: Poor; Reflex: Poor; Will: Good

Level, Abilities:

1 Sword of Death, Life and Death

2 Army of the Dead

3 Sphere: Bone

4 Bonus Feat

5 Sphere: Fire

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: The Death Knight gains no proficiency with armor or weapons.

Sword of Death (Su): A Death Knight can transform his blade into a black instrument of destruction. His melee attacks inflict 2d6 of Unholy damage against living creatures.

Life and Death: A Death Knight can transform himself into a Vampire, Ghoul, Revenant, or Swordwraith if he chooses either upon becoming a Death Knight or at some later date. Rules for being these undead creatures are found in the Tome of Necromancy. In addition, a Death Knight may qualify for and use Necromantic Feats using his Base Attack Bonus instead of a caster level.

Army of the Dead (Su): A 2nd level Death Knight may raise undead as per animate dead or create undead with a caster level equal to his hit dice.

Spheres: At 3rd level, a Death Knight gains the Sphere of Bone. At 5th level, he gains the Sphere of Fire.

Bonus Feat: At 4th level a Death Knight gains a bonus feat. This may be any Combat feat or Fiend feat he meets the prerequisites for.

Spheres are another something they cooked up. They're basically lists of spell-like abilities you gain as you gain HD. Here's the relevant Spheres, with the abilities useable 1/day.

Special: Any creature of 10 HD or less killed by one of your spell-like abilities rises as a zombie under your control, with no control limits.

Level, Benefits

1 Command Undead

3 Descecrate

5 Animate Dead

7 Black Sand

9 Summon Undead V

11 Awaken Dread Warrior

13 Revive Undead

15 Awaken Undead

17 General of Undeath

19 Plague of Undead

Special: You gain the [Fire] subtype.

Level, Benefits

1 Fireball

3 Scorching Ray

5 Firetrap

7 Wall of Fire

9 Fireshield

11 Incendiary Cloud

13 Blackfire

15 Fire Seeds

17 Meteor Swarm

19 Flame Strike (this ability can be used as an Immediate action).

Naturally, once the fighting starts, Telen's going to turn nasty. Especially with that level 4 ability. Notice it's a Fiend feat? Those are a lot of fun. And I sorta like the idea of Telen spitting fireballs and the like, so I'm going to show you what his Fiend feat will be.

Elemental Aura [Fiend]
Your close relationship with primal elemental forces has manifested in a damaging aura.

Prerequisites: Character level 7, must have a subtype granting immunity to a form of elemental damage.

Benefits: Choose one of your elemental subtypes granting immunity to a form of elemental damage. You radiate a damaging aura that does 4d6 of elemental damage of that type to any creature within 10’ of you at the beginning of your turn.

So, yeah. To get at the level 16 Telen, the party's going to have to go through a lot of burnt zombies. And then, when they get their, they're going to find him as described above. And when the fighting starts, his skin's going to turn into flame and he's going to be the center of a blazing whirl of fire.

Ghost Rider, eat your heart out.
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