Step 8: VillainsI have to be honest, I don’t normally do villains when I prepare any kind of campaign, especially a sandbox. The best villains are those that players love to hate and I am almost always surprised by what players end up hating. In my experience, it almost never is the person I want them to. Therefore, my job isn’t to provide them with my villain, but rather offer enough opportunities for the players to find out who they really want to have as their villain.
The first time I learned this lesson was a Champions campaign back when I was in high school. The initial sessions took place in a prison for supers where all the PCs were interred. They didn’t remember how they got there or why. Eventually, the prison was attacked by aliens, which offered the PCs an opportunity to escape. The big reveal was that the prison was actually in orbit and was just an initial phase of the alien invasion.
Thus, I had two big villains that I was planning to use: the guys who funded the prison and the leader of the aliens. Who did the players end up hating? Some throw-away fellow inmate who successfully fought off the PCs in order to get to a life boat, which the PCs were trying to hold onto for themselves. I realized that I had to make a major concession to the players by making this throw away NPC into a major villain when I heard my friends making plans on how they were going to track this guy down. Alien invasions and a group imprisoning supers in space had to wait. The campaign turned out to be a blast because they had a villain they chose.
Even if players do end up loving to hate one of the villains I want them to, they usually end up finding a way to legitimately get rid of them long before I want them to.
Having said that, I do have an idea brewing about the Old One that has too much goodness not to include in my Blackmarsh campaign thought experiment.
I was leafing through Matt Finch’s Tome of Adventure Design when I came upon an entry in his section for inspiring Undead monsters. One of the ways he suggests an intelligent undead creature became undead was by placing living body parts into a corpse to keep it “alive.” Couple this with the idea that said undead creature had a contagious form of undeath and my creative juices starting mulling over a way to have the Old One an active villain in the campaign.
The form of undeath the Old One concocted for himself involved a further refinement of the magic found in the Subterranean Lake of Watery Simulacrums. His goal was to create multiples of himself, all while sharing a kind of hive mind. He found a way to infect his own flesh so that if he injects a corpse with his blood (or any other part of his flesh) that corpse will animate as an extention of his awareness and mind.
These magics did not work entirely as planned, however. The more corpses the Old One occupies, the less powerful each possessed corpse is. At the moment, I am thinking that each additional corpse would approximately half his HD and spell casting abilities. Thus, if the Old One were understood to be a 14HD monster, for example, he could have two corpses in his hive mind at 7HD each or up to twenty-eight corpses at 1/2 HD.
This would make him a villain that not only would be really difficult to kill off, but one that could engage the party at several different power levels. To boot, he will probably know a lot more about the PCs than they ever expect him to. The thing that I find really attractive about this particular set-up, though, is that I have the option of making whoever it is that the players end up making their villain one of the corpses the Old One has added to his hive mind.