No matter the game, eventually you want your players to face the Villain! This is the Big Bad…the reason for the conflict, the why your characters are here. Obviously there are many games and story lines that are not about defeating a final enemy, but many of them are. This post is going to discuss how to deal with these powerful beings, from who/what they are to the final encounter (at least briefly…this could just about be a whole blog on its own…not just a post!)
One of the biggest challenges I have, is making the mastermind at the end of a story arc live up to his reputation. The whole build up is based on the Big Bad at the end. How he is incredibly intelligent, amazingly strong, diabolically manipulative or even devilishly handsome, but when the heroes arrive on the scene, he is just a stack of statistics to be defeated. How can you keep this from happening? Well…there are two ways to approach this. One is purely mechanical and the other is much more narrative. Since the mechanical approach is somewhat more objective, let me discuss that first.
The first thing to do is look at the Big Bad from their statistical definitions. In some game systems, they will have specific game bonuses/resistances/abilities given to them by the system mechanics. This can seem like the “Just stats to defeat” argument above. However, I use it to remind you of what they have available to them. If your BB is an Evil Priest, they will have fanatical followers. These followers will (often) give their lives to allow “their” holy leader escape. After all, this will lead to their reward in the afterlife…or whatever said priest promised them. And of course, given even normal human intelligence, would likely not waste the opportunity to continue preaching, and so escape from the dangerous situation, relocate and build up another troupe of devoted followers as she takes up with her old plans once safely ensconced. What if your Big Bad is a DRAGON, who is incredibly skilled in combat, right hard AND can breath fire on the interlopers. Not only is it almost unbeatable in combat, he’s also super genius level intelligence. Now, if your like me and of midlin’ level of Genius (or is that Midlin’ level of SUPER genius) you might find it hard to relate to said dragon, not alone make use of it’s super-genius stats. If your game system does not have appropriate benefits for this, see what mechanics make him more dangerous. You know he is a formidable opponent, and he would know it as well…he would also be able to take advantage of every possible combat maneuver or rule exception there is. Mechanically, a very smart BB would not only be able to (at least) guess the strength of the opposition, but know how best to face them, or if it is to turn tail and run, later ambushing them as they try to drag off its hoards of magic treasure. Greed might not allow this, but that is where you will need to make a call…
As I talked about in this post, don’t be afraid to use powers, or edges (or whatever they are in your game) against players. That means don’t be afraid to use the BB advantages against the players either. This may be particularly important if the confrontation is NOT combat. Many game systems unfortunately are pretty rules light for this sort of a finale. So lets look at some of the more narrative, less mechanical ways to accomplish this.
Using a more narrative, or GM moderated outcome, might be considered by players as cheating. And in a way, it is, and because of this, you will need to keep a weather eye on becoming GM against Players and not let the BB become TOO powerful. Keeping this in mind…let me elaborate. (Of course always keep in mind the mechanical advantages (and disadvantages) that the BB has). Assign them a couple of descriptors. Maybe the Priest is Arrogant and dedicated. The dragon: Greedy and cautious. With the simple tags, you can give players hints on how to deal with the final encounter. But it also tells you how the BB will deal with it! If the dragon is Greedy but cautious and is Super Genius…well, how are your blood-thirsty murderous adventurers going to get close? Anything they think of, the dragon will think of…Oh, but what if you, the ref, did NOT think of it? Ignore what you thought of, the dragon would have thought of it! Feel free to steal ideas from your players. If their opponent is very smart, but not Super Genius level, well, then you have to apply a kind of filter…if their idea is way out there…then BB probably didn’t think of it. So if you are stealing their ideas, how do they EVER approach this BB dragon? Oh, yeah! He is greedy! If they can offer him some treasure…his greed might well win over his caution. On the other hand, even if he did think of it, maybe it is not something he considers a great enough threat. OF Course they will never send a small invisible thief into his cave! Yes it is within the realm of possibility, but the chances of it actually happening…
You can use this “Players against themselves” strategy on other things as well. In the case of the non-combat outcome, then you and your players are always playing on familiar ground, even if you are not certain about how to un-bind a particular permanent spell, but the people who created it may have considered everything presented…or may have missed something that the players can test for, but not easily!
The thing this whole post points to is consideration of your enemy. Out of all of the story, whether top down, bottom up or something in between, you need to give your Big Bad a significant amount of thought. Consider what it is, and what sort of challenge it should be. Use these techniques or find your own. But keep your BB from being just another wall of statistics and remember that they are as much a part of your story as the PCs are! If you have a favorite BB, tell me about it, or tell me how you (or your ref) created it.
Feedback is very welcome. Good, bad or indifferent. I am going to aim for at least monthly, and hopefully every 2-3 weeks for new posts! Happy Gaming!