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legomaster00156
2015-10-16, 12:33 PM
I see loads and loads of threads on these forums about how to play villains smart, how to play villains strong, how to play villains with motives, etc. Of course, as a GM and storyteller, I can absolutely respect these pieces of advice to build up a believable and interesting villain for my players to face, and I would never tell anyone to not read them. They're fantastic, and you guys give great advice.
However, likewise as a GM and storyteller, I find that playing villains stupid is almost a necessity for the "heroes" (antiheroes, random folks with no idea what they're doing, whatever) to win. This is because most players don't think, they act on what they know. So, while it absolutely makes sense that Lord Baron Von EvilBadGuy, who has genius-level intelligence, would hide his one weakness behind thirty redundant deathtraps which no thief can bypass, nor no wizard teleport beyond, the result in a normal game would be a dead party and the villain's success.
So, what do you think of the necessity of stupid villainy? Is there a way to make even stupid villainy make sense?

Honest Tiefling
2015-10-16, 12:43 PM
Well, it'd be a mite weird if every baddy the party encountered were all geniuses. One would wonder if great intelligence automatically meant evil unless they had a magical, glowing PC tag above their heads. The minor guys shouldn't always be smart, just sometimes coincidentally prepared, or in a good position to not be offed, or access to strange powers. So yes, they have a place.

However, if you have to make them idiots for your players to win, there's a problem. Either your players don't care about the puzzles or plots, or honestly, there's a chance that they're so obtuse they can't figure it out. If you have this problem, you might want to sit down and figure out what's the exact cause.

legomaster00156
2015-10-16, 12:47 PM
Well, it'd be a mite weird if every baddy the party encountered were all geniuses. One would wonder if great intelligence automatically meant evil unless they had a magical, glowing PC tag above their heads. The minor guys shouldn't always be smart, just sometimes coincidentally prepared, or in a good position to not be offed, or access to strange powers. So yes, they have a place.

However, if you have to make them idiots for your players to win, there's a problem. Either your players don't care about the puzzles or plots, or honestly, there's a chance that they're so obtuse they can't figure it out. If you have this problem, you might want to sit down and figure out what's the exact cause.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about any table in particular. I'm talking about general tables full of unoptimized characters and players who are confused when the "one weakness" they brought along turns out to be completely ineffectual against their opposing villain, who planted the fake legend of the fake weakness some 400 years in the past via his time travel spell or whatever.
Point is, at some point along the line, every villain must make mistakes and oversights, or they'd be unbeatable.

JAL_1138
2015-10-16, 12:51 PM
There should be multiple ways to find any clue, and consider allowing players to use Int checks to solve puzzles if they can't do it themselves--eg., I'm awful at math, so if the puzzle relies on obscure or difficult math, I got nothin', but that doesn't mean my wizard with 20 Int should be a derp on the subject too.

Red Fel
2015-10-16, 12:53 PM
There is a place for every kind of villain. That includes stupid villains. Sometimes, stupid can be even more terrifying than smart.

It is both impossible and obnoxious to play your villains as perfectly intelligent. Impossible, because for them to actually plan for everything the PCs do is nothing short of DM fiat; obnoxious, because everyone makes mistakes.

More than that, though, is that smart doesn't mean flawless. A character who is super-intelligent and emotional may make unwise decisions based on emotion. He may lose his temper, or despair, or become overconfident. Similarly, a character who is super-intelligent and completely lacking in emotions also lacks the capacity to empathize, and in doing so fully understand emotion. So there will be holes in his analysis based on unforeseen emotional reactions.

That's the point. You're not really objecting to smart villains. You're objecting to perfect villains. And I agree with that objection.

legomaster00156
2015-10-16, 12:56 PM
There is a place for every kind of villain. That includes stupid villains. Sometimes, stupid can be even more terrifying than smart.

It is both impossible and obnoxious to play your villains as perfectly intelligent. Impossible, because for them to actually plan for everything the PCs do is nothing short of DM fiat; obnoxious, because everyone makes mistakes.

More than that, though, is that smart doesn't mean flawless. A character who is super-intelligent and emotional may make unwise decisions based on emotion. He may lose his temper, or despair, or become overconfident. Similarly, a character who is super-intelligent and completely lacking in emotions also lacks the capacity to empathize, and in doing so fully understand emotion. So there will be holes in his analysis based on unforeseen emotional reactions.

That's the point. You're not really objecting to smart villains. You're objecting to perfect villains. And I agree with that objection.
I knew I should have put summoning you in the very first post. :smallbiggrin: Yes, you've got it correct. Smart is good, it's the focus on making perfect villains that always irks me, especially against players who are far from perfect.

VoxRationis
2015-10-16, 12:59 PM
I see loads and loads of threads on these forums about how to play villains smart, how to play villains strong, how to play villains with motives, etc. Of course, as a GM and storyteller, I can absolutely respect these pieces of advice to build up a believable and interesting villain for my players to face, and I would never tell anyone to not read them. They're fantastic, and you guys give great advice.
However, likewise as a GM and storyteller, I find that playing villains stupid is almost a necessity for the "heroes" (antiheroes, random folks with no idea what they're doing, whatever) to win. This is because most players don't think, they act on what they know. So, while it absolutely makes sense that Lord Baron Von EvilBadGuy, who has genius-level intelligence, would hide his one weakness behind thirty redundant deathtraps which no thief can bypass, nor no wizard teleport beyond, the result in a normal game would be a dead party and the villain's success.
So, what do you think of the necessity of stupid villainy? Is there a way to make even stupid villainy make sense?

Well, a lot of villainy ends up being stupid. People do dumb things. People cut corners. People get wrapped up in ideological matters and apply those before they see to practical concerns.

At the same time, however, remember that your villain doesn't have to have a singular secret weakness that can be guarded by a bunch of deathtraps. A lot of villains have the "weakness" of "vulnerable to bludgeoning over the head with a blunt instrument." Others have delicate PR, or armies that can be defeated in the field, or supply lines that can be cut with guerilla tactics. The genius-level villain can attempt to shore up these weaknesses as best he can, but at some point there's nothing more he can do. The villain doesn't have to make an astoundingly stupid strategic error in order for there to be a weakness that the PCs can exploit. Remember that the villain is a person too. He has only so much he can do in a day, he has resource limitations of his own (yes, it would make sense to keep a legion in his throne chamber to overwhelm the PCs through weight of numbers, but the legions also need to collect tribute, build (unnecessarily spiky) towers, and patrol the borders), and depending on what kind of villain you have, he might just not be able to do what he would want to do (your basic tin-plated warlord can't spirit himself away to an extradimensional sanctum like he would probably prefer).

JAL_1138
2015-10-16, 01:00 PM
Also consider making the flaws pragmatic ones. Ultimate paranoia is fine and good, but your living minions, if you have any, gotta eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and relieve themselves. Employees have a tendency to briefly disengage the alarm and duck out the emergency exit for a smokebreak, for instance. Guards aren't getting paid enough to die for this, etc. That sort of thing. Exploit "nothing you can plausibly do about it even if you're a hyperintelligent master planner" kinds of things. Your villain never once grabs the idiot ball themselves, but is still foil-able.

Edit: Ninja'd.

halfeye
2015-10-16, 01:09 PM
I think there is a sense in which it's realistic for villains to be a bit thick. If they weren't thick, why would they be villains?

If they want money and they're smart, they can invent something wonderful that people will pay them for.

So, villains have to be a bit dumb, otherwise they wouldn't think that crime paid, because in the long run, it doesn't.

VoxRationis
2015-10-16, 01:23 PM
I think there is a sense in which it's realistic for villains to be a bit thick. If they weren't thick, why would they be villains?

If they want money and they're smart, they can invent something wonderful that people will pay them for.

So, villains have to be a bit dumb, otherwise they wouldn't think that crime paid, because in the long run, it doesn't.

Not all intelligence is applicable to the invention of new and wonderful things (particularly not in a pre-industrial milieu).
And while petty crime tends to get shut down after a while, typically-"villainous" things like taking control of a country and ruling it as a dictator or stripping a region of its natural resources often don't get punished. I mean, Franco, a literal Fascist dictator whose government seized control of Spain during a bloody civil war thanks to material support from literal Nazis, managed to live to a ripe old age as autocrat of the country he took over. It all fell apart after his death, but that doesn't matter to a corpse.

Cluedrew
2015-10-16, 01:54 PM
One thing I would have to point out is that making a huge mistake is not necessary to lose. A tiny mistake is enough, random chance will do it or even just the other guy having some advantage they can leverage. Because there is no perfect plan that no one could been. Every preparation takes time, energy and resources to set up and each one will likely introduce more complications.

For example lets say some evil lord needs another 100 soldiers to guard the back entrance of his castle (which is carved entirely out of black stone, of course). Well he doesn't have enough money to hire and equip another 100 and he can't raise taxes any more because complaints so much money is going to the arm already and he can't afford another riot. He could save money with another run of conscription for the bodies, but he would still have to arm and train them and the lower nobles are starting to get annoyed about the lack of serfs they have. Maybe there is another source for cheap labor, say imported slaves, but there are others in the court that would object to this kind of thing. Or would be willing to object if he didn't slip them some gold and there is already some grumblings about corruption and worst of all one of the grumblers is one of the lords best strategists who he really needs on side.

So yeah, all in all it is better to leave that hidden way in with a lighter guard than risk getting the men needed to guard it heavily.

Jay R
2015-10-16, 07:29 PM
The initial question is based on the notion that it's possible to be smart enough to be invincible.

One of the classic stupid assumptions villains make is that this is possible.

[The worst example in literature is Lex Luthor, who routinely thinks being smart means he should win against a hero who can punch through mountains.]

If the villain is much more powerful that the PCs, and the DM meta-games, making decisions based on information the villain shouldn't have, he might be invincible. But if he has no more information than he should have, he has every opportunity to lose.

I like to plan out the villains approach to the fight before the PCs get there, and stick to it unless he can see how they're overcoming it.

NichG
2015-10-17, 12:21 AM
There's two different kinds of intelligence at play here. One is basically optimization level. If you pull no punches on the game mechanics (and I mean truly pull no punches), the PCs simply cannot win.

But that is different from the villain being a smart character, e.g. choosing their goals and behaviors intelligently.

With the second type of intelligence, the villain isn't necessarily mechanically invulnerable, or even strong, but they will tend to act in ways that prevent them from ever 'losing' in the permanent sense. E.g. they will compromise, surrender, flee, or give up their immediate goals if that is needed for them to survive.

The big thing that is needed to use those villains effectively is to teach your players that thinking beyond the immediate scenario will be rewarded. That is, the world has to be logically consistent and the players need to feel that and recognize it as a core component of the gameplay. Otherwise the clever villain will just seem like trumped up fiat.

The main downside to a very clever villain is that it can be hard to maintain tension. If the conflict can be reasoned out, such that both sides get most of what they want, it often will be because the villain won't want to make powerful enemies for no reason. So that's why you sometimes need stupider antagonists.

Kami2awa
2015-10-17, 06:46 AM
If you want realistic villains, there are a few things to bear in mind.

- Villains have limited resources, just like everyone else. They only have so many people working for them, so much money, and so on. Getting perfect defences might be desirable, but it's not cheap.
- No-one wants to devote 100% of their time to any one activity. The villain could get up, eat a bare minimum and then devote the rest of his time to working against the good guys but no-one wants to live like that - even if your villain is doesn't eat or sleep he's going to want to spend some time on his hobbies (even if his only hobby is feeding people to piranha).
- People don't like villains. There are likely other people working against them besides the PCs, who can be the PCs allies.
- Villains have vices; they may be greedy, prideful, lustful, envious, wrathful, lazy, gluttonous (you may be seeing a theme here) or indulgent in other ways, and that's likely to make them fall.

noob
2015-10-17, 06:59 AM
Why do you show only flaws which are seen as bad.
Compassion can be the worst flaw when you are in the role of the villain.
Or even maybe he wants his men to be happy and because of that he gives them a lot of spare time and feel wrong when punishing his men even if they made errors.
There is tons of qualities which are flaws when you are in the role of the "Evil guy"

Jay R
2015-10-17, 03:09 PM
There's two different kinds of intelligence at play here. One is basically optimization level. If you pull no punches on the game mechanics (and I mean truly pull no punches), the PCs simply cannot win.

Simply untrue. In any sport, including martial arts, the underdog sometimes wins.

Besides, if the villain is that far above the PCs, then he has much bigger problems than them to think about, and can be caught off guard.

You always try to catch a dragon sleeping, or otherwise distracted, don't you?

The attitude of the villain when he's beaten should be a combination of disbelief and frustration at being stopped by the mere PCs. "And I'd have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTTxDWZcbxI)."

NichG
2015-10-17, 07:18 PM
Simply untrue. In any sport, including martial arts, the underdog sometimes wins.

There aren't really any sports where the players can defeat the referee. Optimization is a metagame thing, so we're not talking about PCs in the world against the villain in the world at that point, we're really talking about Players vs DM.

Even if you want to make the case that the characters in the world are completely savvy and make all character build decisions in-character, you don't escape this. The problem is that in D&D optimization, there's basically no upper bound on power level, so if the villain optimizes and pulls no punches, they are infinitely powerful. That's fine, because the PCs could be infinitely powerful as well, but generally speaking the villain has been acting in the background before the PCs even get to take their first action in the campaign.

That's the gotcha, because it means that in endpoint TO terms, the villain has already obtained divine rank, identified that the PCs are a potential threat, and killed them before they've even left chargen.

This is why I make the distinction between optimization and intelligence. Optimization is fundamentally a metagame thing, and if you're talking about a metagame competition between the players and the DM, then the DM always wins. Making a highly optimized villain is not the same as making a highly intelligent villain.

Jay R
2015-10-17, 10:16 PM
There aren't really any sports where the players can defeat the referee.

Of course not. In fact, there are no sports in which the players are playing against the DM.

A DM who thinks he's playing the game to win, rather than refereeing the game to ensure a good time for the players, is a bad DM.


Optimization is a metagame thing, ...

I absolutely 100% disagree. CHEATING at optimization is a metagame thing. But you can play fairly optimally and play fairly suboptimally. Honest optimization is playing fair optimally, and is NOT metagaming.


...so we're not talking about PCs in the world against the villain in the world at that point, we're really talking about Players vs DM.

I hope I never play with a dishonest DM who believes this. I certainly don't believe it as DM.


Even if you want to make the case that the characters in the world are completely savvy and make all character build decisions in-character, you don't escape this. The problem is that in D&D optimization, there's basically no upper bound on power level, so if the villain optimizes and pulls no punches, they are infinitely powerful. That's fine, because the PCs could be infinitely powerful as well, but generally speaking the villain has been acting in the background before the PCs even get to take their first action in the campaign.

From the 1970s until now, none of my villains have been "infinitely powerful" and none of the villains I have faced as a player have been "infinitely powerful". Your description of what we "don't escape" simply does not describe anything I've seen in my 40 years of D&D.


That's the gotcha, because it means that in endpoint TO terms, the villain has already obtained divine rank, identified that the PCs are a potential threat, and killed them before they've even left chargen.

As player or DM, I'm trying to simulate a fantasy world.

As DM, I try to create an intelligent, reasonable villain for the PCs to oppose. I would never have a villain who "has already obtained divine rank, identified that the PCs are a potential threat, and killed them before they've even left chargen." That is completely opposed to every goal I have ever had for the game, as player or as DM.

Doing this is not optimization within the game. It is breaking the game.

The villain who uses his wand of fireballs instead of casting a first level spell is optimizing his choices within the game. Killing the players before the end of character generation isn't optimizing his choices within the game, or in fact doing anything within the game. It's just refusing to play - like a referee who throw out every player on one team before the game starts, and awards victory to the other team.


This is why I make the distinction between optimization and intelligence. Optimization is fundamentally a metagame thing, and if you're talking about a metagame competition between the players and the DM, then the D always wins. Making a highly optimized villain is not the same as making a highly intelligent villain.

"Optimization is fundamentally a metagame thing" is a cheating thing.

I've published papers on game theory and optimization. The word "optimization" in game theory means the best possible play within the game, not trying to break the game.

You are trying to give the word "optimization" a ridiculous meaning that it does not have in common English, in the jargon of game theory, or in the actual history of D&D.

Why?

NichG
2015-10-17, 11:00 PM
Of course not. In fact, there are no sports in which the players are playing against the DM.

A DM who thinks he's playing the game to win, rather than refereeing the game to ensure a good time for the players, is a bad DM.

I absolutely 100% disagree. CHEATING at optimization is a metagame thing. But you can play fairly optimally and play fairly suboptimally. Honest optimization is playing fair optimally, and is NOT metagaming.

There's a difference between 'metagaming' and 'a metagame thing'. Its a subtle difference, but really, really important.

'Metagaming' is using OOC knowledge to make IC decisions. 'A metagame thing' is, more generally, any type of out of game decision, including the ones that you are supposed to make out of game. When you choose your character's race, that's a metagame decision, because your character is not, IC, choosing what race to be. Yet it is an essential decision to make. When the DM chooses the layout of the dungeon, that is a metagame decision as well. But in neither case is it 'metagaming'.



From the 1970s until now, none of my villains have been "infinitely powerful" and none of the villains I have faced as a player have been "infinitely powerful". Your description of what we "don't escape" simply does not describe anything I've seen in my 40 years of D&D.


Of course it doesn't. Because no decent DM ever 'doesn't pull any punches' in their optimization. But the line of argument in this thread has been something like 'if the villain is smart, they must be mechanically untouchable because they would optimize'. The mistake is in relating the character-build choices to the mental characteristics of the villain. That's what I'm trying to point out here.

A villain who has Dodge, Toughness, and Craft(Basketweaving) as feats can still be a genius. This is demonstrated not by their build choices, but by them making smart decisions in play. In that context, the villain never 'chose' to take those feats, the feats were just the hand he was dealt, and the fact that the feats suck isn't a reflection on the villain's intelligence. Similarly, making a villain who is built to pull off a 10000 damage charge attack, or who has a thousand layered defenses, is not the same as making an 'intelligent' villain.

In the OP and the conversation that followed, the complaint against genius villains was that they're mechanically untouchable. My point was that mechanically untouchable and 'smart' are actually two different things entirely. Two kinds of intelligence, one of which is primarily metagame intelligence (e.g. the optimization-fu of the DM).



As DM, I try to create an intelligent, reasonable villain for the PCs to oppose. I would never have a villain who "has already obtained divine rank, identified that the PCs are a potential threat, and killed them before they've even left chargen." That is completely opposed to every goal I have ever had for the game, as player or as DM.

Doing this is not optimization within the game. It is breaking the game.

The villain who uses his wand of fireballs instead of casting a first level spell is optimizing his choices within the game. Killing the players before the end of character generation isn't optimizing his choices within the game, or in fact doing anything within the game. It's just refusing to play - like a referee who throw out every player on one team before the game starts, and awards victory to the other team.

"Optimization is fundamentally a metagame thing" is a cheating thing.

I've published papers on game theory and optimization. The word "optimization" in game theory means the best possible play within the game, not trying to break the game.

You are trying to give the word "optimization" a ridiculous meaning that it does not have in common English, in the jargon of game theory, or in the actual history of D&D.

Why?

D&D happens to be a game where the optimization ceiling for anyone willing to break the game is infinite. High end TO tends to lead to a version of the game where both players must state a number (no constraints, except that it must be a specific number, not 'infinity'), and the higher of the numbers wins - e.g. the so called 'nigh-infinite' loops. Some things are actual infinities, in which case the resolution is just ill-defined.

The only reason the game ever survives in an unbroken form is the metagame decision of 'hey, this may be optimal within the game, but it ruins the game, so lets do it' - the gentleman's agreement. Every single table has one of these. That's why, even if something like Pun-Pun might be rules legal, no one ever sees it in play: because of the metagame decision 'actually, this would be really boring, so lets just not do it'.

The conceit that build choices are an in-character decision creates a problem for this. Now, you have a tension between things which destabilizes the game. The DM wants to present a character as 'intelligent', but because they have accepted the conceit that build choices are IC decisions, this forces them to increase the degree of optimization of the character. If they want this character to be 'supremely intelligent', they must now be 'supremely optimized'. But this means a choice between sacrificing the gentleman's agreement (which causes resentment or the collapse of the game, as was suggested by the OP's post about unbeatable enemies), or sacrificing the ability to authentically present a villain who is actually intelligent because there are immediately available auto-win plays which the villain is for some reason not noticing or taking.

If however you discard that conceit, and treat build choices as an explicitly OOC decision, that enables the DM to give the highly intelligent villain a character build which would be appropriate for their table, and then display the villain's intelligence through their ability to do well by virtue of smart choices of actions. This makes for a much more stable gaming experience, because now the villain can be as smart as the DM is capable of portraying without actually becoming a mechanically inappropriate challenge.

SimonMoon6
2015-10-18, 09:39 AM
To me, one of the issues is "If the villains used the same tactics as the heroes, would the heroes instantly lose?" and unfortunately, the answer is often "Yes."

Imagine if the villains set up snipers to shoot the heroes, snipers who are on top of roofs out of the reach of the PCs, who can shoot from surprise with deadly attacks. The heroes lose.

Imagine if the villains use 3.x D&D style "scry and die" tactics on the heroes. Wait until they're asleep at the inn and teleport in (with all the buffs up) and attack. The heroes lose.

Villains have to be dumb or a bunch of bumbling heroes (who often don't even know how their abilities work) would stand no chance. Heroes whose ideal strategy is "rush in and swing sharp pointy metal objects at the bad guy" should have no chance against anyone remotely intelligent (who might have foreseen that particular tactic). And of course, this means that the heroes really aren't that great, since they can only beat dumb villains. It's like Batman. Oh, he's so great. No. He goes around beating up the mentally challenged.

goto124
2015-10-18, 10:17 AM
PvP, anyone? :smallamused:

Jay R
2015-10-18, 11:48 AM
To me, one of the issues is "If the villains used the same tactics as the heroes, would the heroes instantly lose?" and unfortunately, the answer is often "Yes."

If the villain consistently uses the same tactics as the heroes, then he isn't a villain; he's merely a rival.

To be a villain, he has to be trying to do big things the heroes would never do - take over the kingdom, enslave the children, etc.

And that leads to the most crucial lack of symmetry.

The villain is the primary enemy of the heroes, and stopping him is their number one goal. But the heroes aren't the primary enemy of the villain, and his primary goal is something villainous.

Richelieu wants to exercise power over all of France and even Europe. He's not totally focused on four private musketeers. Sauron wants to conquer Middle-Earth with hundreds of thousands of orcs. He doesn't know who Frodo is. (He's looking for Bilbo.) Humperdinck wants to start a war with Guilder, and never even hears the name "Westley" until Buttercup identifies him.

Yes, of course Richelieu, Sauron, and Humperdinck could destroy the musketeers, Frodo, or Westley. But because they are actual villains, not mere rivals, that's not their primary goal, and they are not pursuing them with the same tactics or focus with which the heroes are pursuing them.

NichG
2015-10-18, 12:22 PM
If a villain doesn't notice the fact that other villains - their contemporaries and rivals - are more often being thwarted by teams of 4-6 dedicated individuals rather than armies, countries, and world politics, that does interfere with my ability to perceive that villain as 'intelligent'. You can get away with it the first time, but by time the third villain on the verge of world domination gets taken out by the PCs, this is something which the other villains should be noticing and commenting on and, if smart, adapting to.

TheThan
2015-10-18, 12:50 PM
I both agree and disagree.

Having a smart villain does not mean that villain is perfect. People have character flaws, a well made villain should be no different. The villain should make mistakes, lose to the heroes, and have other flaws that can be exploited. None of these make the villain stupid, just beatable.

For instance you could have a villain thats very good military strategist, making him good at war; but hes a terrible diplomat. This means hes more likely to anger nations hes not current in conflict with. The PCs can use that to their advantage, and gather allies to defeat him. Now this skilled military strategist is fighting a war on multiple fronts, and is being outnumbered, out maneuvered and is in a really bad spot. He might be able to win battles, but hes losing the war.

Another example is one that is very smart, but also very arrogant. This should make him easy to goad, to challenge and otherwise piss off. He stops looking at his goal, and makes it personal, trying to go after the Pcs in prove hes smarter and better than they are. The pcs have distracted him from his evil goal long enough to hopefully defeat him.

Should villains be so stupid that they're easy to defeat. that really depends. If that's the shtick you're going for sure, have a blast. It's not too hard to imagine a bad guy that's successful because he's bigger and meaner than his fellows, and rules by intimidation and brute force. but he's not too smart otherwise.

Spore
2015-10-18, 01:17 PM
Short version of the overall consensus of this thread: Yes, villains need weak points. No, high intelligence shouldnt automatically make their weak points unattackable.

Random tidbit of myself: The best fun I had was when the villains are all virtually unbeatable in both 1vParty combat and in overall diplomatic position. They don't particularly care about the heroes because they are no threat to their rule and their immense power is needed elsewhere. But the heroes in turn can twart many plans of the BBEG without provoking too much incentive to be slaughtered because they simply can't be everywhere at once.

Many stories fail to portray that an evil mastermind has many things to do not just toy with the hero. They even fail to recognize that there might be several adventuring groups bent on defeating him.

To give numeric pointers to my argument: A party around an 11th level Paladin is powerful enough to kill almost any devil he encounters (if the fight is the only one this day) and live to tell the tale. But killing a minion like that hardly matters for the CR 22 Half-Fiend Ancient Red Dragon that has the favor of Asmodeus. The villagers are very thankful and the bards will write epics about that fight but in the bigger picture this victory won't matter.

The villains should keep the hero occupied and not go out of their way to destroy them on their own. A dragon like that bent on continental conquest simply doesn't have the time to kill all fighters for good, they have to keep them busy.

SimonMoon6
2015-10-19, 10:37 AM
The villain is the primary enemy of the heroes, and stopping him is their number one goal. But the heroes aren't the primary enemy of the villain, and his primary goal is something villainous.

Depends on the villain. Doctor Doom wants to take over the world and gain phenomenal cosmic powers... but he also goes out of his way to eliminate the Fantastic Four (often as the first step in his plan). The Master wants... all sorts of crazy insane things (such as universal domination), but he (now she) often goes out of his way to entangle the Doctor in his mad insane plots. Lex Luthor wants many things, but often goes out of his way to try to take out Superman first. The various incarnations of the Masters of Evil often want power at all costs... which they think they'll get once they eliminate the Avengers.

Once the villain realizes that the pesky heroes are trying to stop him, he could easily bring all of his power to bear on the heroes. And if he's a recurring villain (as all the good villains are), he really should know that the heroes are going to try to stop him. And if he used the same tactics as a player character, he would win. But he doesn't.

Beleriphon
2015-10-19, 12:36 PM
Depends on the villain. Doctor Doom wants to take over the world and gain phenomenal cosmic powers... but he also goes out of his way to eliminate the Fantastic Four (often as the first step in his plan). The Master wants... all sorts of crazy insane things (such as universal domination), but he (now she) often goes out of his way to entangle the Doctor in his mad insane plots. Lex Luthor wants many things, but often goes out of his way to try to take out Superman first. The various incarnations of the Masters of Evil often want power at all costs... which they think they'll get once they eliminate the Avengers.

I'd like to point at least on Doom is his primary driving motivation is to show up RICHARDS! His single largest flaw is an inability to self assess and realize his obsession with Reed Richards is actually what is causing him to fail so frequently. That he consistently thinks he's smarter than he actually is.

Steampunkette
2015-10-19, 06:31 PM
One of my favorite villains was a Living God.

He had spent decades cultivating his image. Showing people his absolute might. He was immortal, proven by a dozen or more assassination attempts failing when swords and axes pierced his flesh and left no wound behind. His ability to destroy those who attacked him was without question, and public executions of his attackers were very common, no matter how well they hid or how far they ran.

The only way to kill him was said to be a magic blade hidden in a deadly labyrinth.

In truth he was a completely mortal high level wizard/cleric/theurge who had used subterfuge, bribery, murder, the occasional resurrection of his minions, and illusions to convince everyone he was a god.

All the assassination attempts were plotted out in advance. The assassins were his own soldiers swathed in illusions attacking him with fake weapons that did no damage to him. The magic blade was a heavily enchanted weapon, to be sure, bit it was enchanted to do nonlethal damage. And it was placed in the labyrinth the wizard created by the wizard himself.

And the Labyrinth itself was populated with scrying sensors so he could see who was -trying- to kill him with the magic sword he placed there.

In the end he was killed when the party realized the sword wasn't working and started attacking him, conventionally. They still lost a couple of members thanks to the delay they instituted to allow the fighter to weaken the God, but they killed him with fireballs and stabbing knives in the end.

All the preparation the villain set out ahead of time -did- work, and it didn't detract from his ability when the ruse collapsed. He just assumed, wrongly, that he'd be able to take down the party when the time came. He knew they were coming for him when they went for the sword and sent his people after them before they got to the palace, after all.

It just didn't work out for him, in the end.

Gizmogidget
2015-10-20, 01:39 PM
A villain should be smart IMHO, however it gets ridiculous when the party is up against some sort of weird combination of classes that lets it see everything the party is doing all the time unless they roll absurdly high saving throws, and they have a binder 12/warlock 12 as a sidekick who constantly makes items to counteract the party or something along those lines. They also have a necromancer buddy who casts clone on the villain each morning. The villain also has access to a item that allows him to gain constitution points like a cancer mage gains strength. This item has a magical trap that traps the soul of the character who touches the item that is not explicitly allowed to touch it on a failed saving throw and on a success deals 10d10 points of necrotic damage.

This actually happened one time with a killer DM and we were TPK'd at level 8.

DigoDragon
2015-10-20, 02:16 PM
Some of the most memorable NPCs that my players remember are the not-so-bright minions and B Plot villains. They make a bunch of mistakes, their preparations are incomplete, and they underestimate the PCs. Still hilarious because sometimes these characters fail so spectacularly that the PCs end up with a very hollow victory. Like the time they defeated that gnome wizard by letting him blow up his own castle. Easy work... except that also blew up all the potential treasure. Oops.

veti
2015-10-20, 06:12 PM
One - issue that may be overlooked is, the villain can't be smarter than the DM.

If the DM wants to present a supra-genius villain, the only way they can do that without bending the rules and/or retrofitting - is if they're really that smart. And most of us aren't.

Players know this. Many of them privately suspect, if not outright know-for-sure, that they are either smarter than the DM, or at least better informed about some relevant aspects of reality. Even if they're not that smart individually, they almost certainly are collectively. And all but the most conceited DMs also know it. That's one good reason why DMs cheat - sorry, I mean "why there are special rules, classes, skills, spells, gadgets, pets and powers that are only available to NPCs" - and also why players are OK with that.

So any DM who builds a villain up as a genius-level intelligence - is in fact laying their own intelligence on the line. If the players can outwit him, that implies the DM isn't as smart as s/he likes to think. Most people don't like to admit that to themselves - and DMs are, in my experience, at least as vain as average - so they'll subconsciously avoid ever issuing that challenge.

And this meta-knowledge also leaks directly into play. If you're snooping around a room investigating a mystery, and you find an ashtray full of recently-smoked cigarette ends, but the DM doesn't mention a smell of cigarettes in the air - does that mean (a) that the room has been unusually thoroughly ventilated, (b) that the ashtray is a plant, or (c) that the DM doesn't have much experience with smokers, or doesn't have a sense of smell? Is the absence of smell a clue, or an oversight?

(A parallel case can be seen here (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0742.html). Does the shape of the Moon tell us something wacky about the astronomy of this world? Answer: no, it just means the author has never paid much attention to the Moon.)

It can be hard to tell the difference, without devolving into an unseemly guessing game that, worst case, puts the DM on the defensive and locks down the whole session...

Lvl 2 Expert
2015-10-22, 09:32 AM
One - issue that may be overlooked is, the villain can't be smarter than the DM.

Yes and no. As with players and their characters, obviously a military genius at some point needs to come up with tactics that work. You can get away with having some bonuses for "the smart guy came up with it", but in the end it really is much better if the idea itself works by virtue of being a good idea. The same thing for designs of and solutions to puzzles etc. But, if we're talking about an artificer designing a new type of weapon, that brilliance is all in game, the DM and players don't know how the thing works. If a character has to make a split second decision the player gets to think about it for a bit. If the players are planning an ambush for the villain the DM can metagame and just roll one or more dice to see how much of this plan the villain could piece together from the things he sees, hears and knows. If it comes up a natural twenty the brilliant villain may have psychoanalyzed the heroes and come to the conclusion that they would probably try something like this.

The villain can be smarter than the DM, just not in all areas.

Earthwalker
2015-10-22, 10:02 AM
One - issue that may be overlooked is, the villain can't be smarter than the DM.

If the DM wants to present a supra-genius villain, the only way they can do that without bending the rules and/or retrofitting - is if they're really that smart. And most of us aren't.

[snip]



Ahhh the Supervillian Skill (I think it was called this) in Torg.
If the players out think the GM and get the drop on one of the Nile Empires criminal masterminds. The villian gets a skill role. If he succeeds clearly he saw this situation coming (even if the GM did not) and the GM gets to reflect that in play.

Secret Exit to the base.
Laser Proof Boots.
Backup Generator.

what ever helps the villian survive.

Its a crazy idea but it worked for the adventures in the pulp superhero realm.

hifidelity2
2015-10-23, 05:05 AM
In my games the villain normally increased in line with the party

So (using AD&D) if the party is 1st level then its pointless have the villain as 20th level. Now the villain my well be 20th BUT the party are not something he worries about he will send one of his low level henchmen (who will be a couple of levels higher than the party) to deal with them

As the party increase so the their threat level to the Villain increases and so do the level of the Henchmen. By the time the Villain is really worried and decides to deal with it personally they party are at high enough a level to (have a chance to) deal with him


Also my Villains like to gloat, twirl their (sometimes metaphorical) moustaches before killing them in interesting ways which gives the party time to get away

StealthyRobot
2015-10-23, 07:27 PM
In my campaign the main villain is gruumsh, the main orc god. Of course, the level 2 PCs dont know this yet or they would most likely peace out. To them, the main villain is the man who got them wrongly jailed. This man isn't too tough, but is clever and keeps moving, baiting them along. He knows if he shows his face the 4 casters will use it as target practice. Gruumsh is going about his own plans, and doesnt care one bit about any one single mortal. He is a god. Mortals are less than fleas. Later on, when they might inadvertantly foil his plans, he might take notice. But thats not for a looong while.

veti
2015-10-24, 04:13 AM
As the party increase so the their threat level to the Villain increases and so do the level of the Henchmen. By the time the Villain is really worried and decides to deal with it personally they party are at high enough a level to (have a chance to) deal with him


Also my Villains like to gloat, twirl their (sometimes metaphorical) moustaches before killing them in interesting ways which gives the party time to get away

Sounds like your villains are badly in need of studying the Evil Overlord List, with particular reference to items 6 and 80, but also 40, 47, and very likely also 44, 78 and... oh, just read the whole thing (http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html).

Piedmon_Sama
2015-10-24, 04:37 AM
Theatrical villains are awesome and own, even if (or maybe especially when) it bites them in the ass.

For example back in my longest-running campaign, the PCs were targeted for death by a society of villains who were all incredibly arrogant and convinced of their own power, and actually as much in competition with each other as anything else. So the villains arranged a confrontation wherein the players were supposed to face them one at a time, each thinking his teammates would be taken down and he'd definitely win and take all the spoils. Instead the PCs opted not to play and hit the entire bunch of arrogant supervillains at once with an assload of spells and demolished what (I had intended to be) an encounter lasting maybe 2-3 grueling sessions. I was surprised but in retrospect it was awesome and my players all felt very good about themselves and how badass their characters were.

GloatingSwine
2015-10-26, 03:59 AM
Villains don't need to be stupid, they need to be flawed.

A villain could have an overweening ego, leading to him making sloppy oversights because he simply assumes he's too powerful to need to bother with such trivialities, or leading him to stick around and gloat and taunt far longer than he really should and expose himself to unnecessary risk.

Or he could be paranoid. Not fictional batman paranoid where he's prepared for everything, but actually in possession of a malfunctioning brain so that he takes elaborate preparations against massively unlikely eventualities of his own making and leaves giant obvious holes in his real security that a person with a normally functioning brain would be able to spot.

hifidelity2
2015-10-26, 08:14 AM
Sounds like your villains are badly in need of studying the Evil Overlord List, with particular reference to items 6 and 80, but also 40, 47, and very likely also 44, 78 and... oh, just read the whole thing (http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html).

I have read that before and indeed my Villains should pay more attention to it but if they did the Party would be squashed early on

In one game (GURPs) the party met the Villain (and a) I had not made him quite tough enough and b) they had managed to out fox me). while the PCs were injured and low on power the Villain was totally out of power. He managed to bluff his way out with the party letting him go (no die rolls pure roll playing). Later on the Villain unleashed a zombie plague across the continent and I had great fun telling the players they had a chance to stop it 2 years earlier