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View Full Version : DM Help How to go beyond "kill A, kill B, kill BBEG, the end"



Pinjata
2016-02-12, 08:22 AM
So, I have quite a few lvl 1 one-shot modules ready to lead into a massive campaign for 5e leading up to lvl 18. From my previous experiences, it will be fun campaign, but I'm constantly thinking on - how to make it BETTER.

I have problems with two things: BBEG is not scary. For this discussion we may deem BBEG as statblock. It does not matter if it is a demon lord, a dragon or a lich. At this point it is a statblock at the end of campaign, waiting to be killed.

What I am thinking of is, how to make it scary. How to make it feel like a threat? One think I'm thinking of is to make some likable NPCs and make them feel threatened or even kill them.

Second problem I have is - how to branch things. How to go beyond "go from A to B to C". I could do the "thinking" for the BBEG myself and basically play vs PCs, but I wonder if this is not a bit over the line regarding "DM vs PCs" and hellova lot of work for me during camapign.

So i dunno - they are kind of a problems when doing cake frosting. The cake is fine but I'm thinking of improving it further.

I know that in the end, PCs will hand on to some NPC I gave exactly 5 seconds of thought to.

Hyooz
2016-02-12, 08:39 AM
The best thing I've learned, and the thing I've done that's gotten me the most surprisingly positive player feedback after the games was over, is to have the players lose sometimes.

Not necessarily in combat - because it can be hard to justify the battle-hardened mercenaries not just killing them outright in the end - but in the grand scheme. A "won the battle but lost the war" sort of thing. Heck, if you want to really get to them, make it the result of a simple decision they made along the way, not necessarily something huge. Say they looted a safehouse the BBEG's minions were using to store parts for his war machines and returned to the nearby village triumphant. Maybe next time they come back to that village, or even just that inn, it's being put to flame as the BBEG's minions search for the party.

Borrow ideas from stories you've read. Not necessarily the big plot points, but the little setbacks along the way or the moments it felt like the stakes were really high. Sam had to rescue Frodo from a guard tower full of Orcs by himself at one point. The entire Fellowship had to watch Gandalf stand up to a Balrog and fall into an abyss. They went to Rohan for help and found Theoden under Saruman's control. Even little setbacks like that can push the idea that they aren't really in control here.

lacco36
2016-02-12, 09:03 AM
So, I have quite a few lvl 1 one-shot modules ready to lead into a massive campaign for 5e leading up to lvl 18. From my previous experiences, it will be fun campaign, but I'm constantly thinking on - how to make it BETTER.

I have problems with two things: BBEG is not scary. For this discussion we may deem BBEG as statblock. It does not matter if it is a demon lord, a dragon or a lich. At this point it is a statblock at the end of campaign, waiting to be killed.

What I am thinking of is, how to make it scary. How to make it feel like a threat? One think I'm thinking of is to make some likable NPCs and make them feel threatened or even kill them.

Second problem I have is - how to branch things. How to go beyond "go from A to B to C". I could do the "thinking" for the BBEG myself and basically play vs PCs, but I wonder if this is not a bit over the line regarding "DM vs PCs" and hellova lot of work for me during camapign.

So i dunno - they are kind of a problems when doing cake frosting. The cake is fine but I'm thinking of improving it further.

I know that in the end, PCs will hand on to some NPC I gave exactly 5 seconds of thought to.

Point 1 - how to make BBEG scary...

a) don't give it a statblock. Think of Azathoth - he appears and the game ends. It's not killable, but may be sealed or postponed. How do you fight the god of blood and warfare... or the atom bomb shockwave? :smallsmile:
b) don't give it a statblock now. Give them just rumors and information, information, information. Let them hear about him. Let them see his work. Don't let them meet him, and if so, do it in a situation where they cannot harm him (e.g. they are trapped in a room with portocullis, lots of sharp things and slowly moving ceiling trap... and he stands outside thanking them for the orb they just unlocked by pushing the lever...and that he had to wait for somebody to come and push it for quite some time...let him say his "adios/goodbye/so long"...and leave). Instant hate. And fill up the statblock at the end. However, give them plenty of towns he razed with his hands only, or walls he shattered just by his voice... and yes, these can be done by his minions/lieutnants/himself or can be only myths.
c) make him a mastermind... see the "mastermind (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?476894-Community-Collab-Help-me-devise-a-Moriarty-inspired-BBEG)" thread for some info on this one... and read also this (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?476990-The-Best-Villains-You-ve-Fought-Played) one...
d) use the "you are not ready for me now. Come back later when you are..." tactic. Give them opportunity to attack him. With everything they got. And knock them down (LVL 5 attacking LVL 20 should be quite one-sided...yes?). Don't let them fight him on their terms - but in his favourite environment. And when they are unconscious, lock them up, let them escape.

...maybe I'll have more ideas later for this one. But the statblock one is a must - I think - if it has stats, it can be killed...but what if it doesn't have stats...? :smallsmile:

Point 2 - how to do the branching...

Try this one:

They are at X. They can go do A, B or C. But in the time schedule they have (e.g. until next solstice/whenever) they can manage only A and B, or C and B. If they go to A or C, the other one will "explode" (something baaaaad happens there). If they go to B, they will notice that something is brewing in both A and C, but can't be at both.

...but don't let them split the party :biggrin:. Or let them - it may be interesting.

This kind of branching will keep your preparations still small (there are only 2 outcomes - A + B or B + C plus the destroyed A/C if they venture there after the explosion), but will keep it a bit more lively.

Choices are good. Choices with more than one correct answer are even better :smallsmile:.

Another one:

They are at A. They can go to B, C or D - B contains the magical thingie they will need, C contains marble tablet with instructions, D contains the instructions how to get to E (second secret weapon) and F (marble tablet with second part of instructions, which is necessary for them if they don't want to die in explosion if they activate magical thingie).

After they go to 2 dungeons, the courier from A will find them - there are brigands in the village and if you don't help them, some people may die. Or there is an army coming.

Oh and the second secret weapon is stolen and is hidden in A, however the brigands are there...

nedz
2016-02-12, 09:46 AM
Try not having a BBEG.

Instead have a number of organisations: Temples, Guilds, Noble Houses, Mafia, ..., etc.

These have conflicting interests which cause: politics.

Now add the PCs into the mix; they may be affiliated to one of the organisations, hired by one or be completely free-lance. The PCs can now involve themselves in all manner of schemes, plots, heists even.

And you can run this as a sandbox - so long as your players are pro-active the plot should write itself. If your players are not pro-active however - you now have a number of NPCs who can give them jobs to do, in fact you should probably start off this way.

hifidelity2
2016-02-12, 09:50 AM
lacco36 has plenty of good advice here

I have used the BBEG was met at the start of the adventure (when the party were 1stish level) and he was so high that they know why had no chance. After that although they delt with his minions they actually never met him again. They battled his minions / lieutenants / thwarted his plans.

In the end as the BBEG was a powerful Wizard / Summoner they managed to “permanently” stop the ability for anyone to summon / travel between plains. As a downside (they know in advance) that it also removed all magic from the world – so removing the BBEG’s power and making him helpless and killing him as he was using strong magics to stay alive


I also used a lot of “You need to be in 3+ places at once” and then let them find out the implications of doing X rather than Y & Z

AMFV
2016-02-12, 09:59 AM
I would say the best ways to make something scary is to give it real world type impact. Have it preempt the players, by using clever strategies, punish them where they live. Being afraid is rarely an intellectual affair, it's primal and emotional, so tap into that. The stat block isn't the important part. Tigers have stats in the real world (and can be killed) but they're still frightening, because you never know where they are, are your friends tigers? You don't even know...

But on a serious note, the closer something is to primeval fears, the more frightening the very concept of it will be. The unknown is frightening, the idea of something that infiltrates your culture and causes you to be excluded (body-snatchers) is terrifying. A monster that knows where you live is terrifying. A monster that can commit atrocities and avoid punishment, is both terrifying and disgusting.

lacco36
2016-02-12, 10:17 AM
I would say the best ways to make something scary is to give it real world type impact. Have it preempt the players, by using clever strategies, punish them where they live. Being afraid is rarely an intellectual affair, it's primal and emotional, so tap into that. The stat block isn't the important part. Tigers have stats in the real world (and can be killed) but they're still frightening, because you never know where they are, are your friends tigers? You don't even know...

But on a serious note, the closer something is to primeval fears, the more frightening the very concept of it will be. The unknown is frightening, the idea of something that infiltrates your culture and causes you to be excluded (body-snatchers) is terrifying. A monster that knows where you live is terrifying. A monster that can commit atrocities and avoid punishment, is both terrifying and disgusting.

This is great advice - turn to horrors for inspiration if you want to see scary.

Shock and dread are very good tools. Let the BBEG do something, that shocks the players. E.g. disintegrate the peasant - yes, he has only few HP, but that guy disintegrates him and then his house... how powerful can he be that he does it as something normal?... and how can you fight him with L5 spells...?

Also, the less they see, the better - make them use their imagination (...ok, imagination within imagination...). Can he teleport at will or why is he still standing just out of sight? Are there more of them or is it just one person laughing at us from behind the mask...? And if only one, how can he be at several places at the same time...?

The unexpected is good for you.

OldTrees1
2016-02-12, 10:24 AM
Well, go beyond by breaking one of the rules:

1) A->B->C is linear. So break that rule by making a non linear or even open path.
2) Kill->Kill->Kill is all lethal and all combat. So break that rule by making non lethal and/or even non combat encounters.
3) Minion->Minion->BBEG is stair stepping through 1 organization and has a head to cut off. So break that rule by making more than 1 opposition and/or make it not have a single point of weakness.
4) PC action -> PC action -> PC action is all action no reaction. Break that rule by giving the opposition initiative once in awhile so the PCs have to react rather than act.
5) The end means everything is wrapped up. Break that by having some loose ends remain that the PCs can pursue during the next act.

String it all together and you have 2 active opposition organizations. The PCs have a diverse set of options they can take against both organizations (even a choice about where to focus). However the organizations being active means that the PCs will need to react some of the time. The PCs eventually maneuver through action and reaction to be in a superior position to the organizations(crippled?, wounded? subjugated?, discredited?, delayed? depends on the PCs tactics).

So for the particulars you wanted to tackle:
Have the BBEG be an active threat that merely happens to survive (or be replaced) until the end of the campaign. However plan for multiple different kinds of ways for the PCs to take on the BBEG's support structure. By making a variety of options (variations in kind as well as variations in specifics) you create a branching campaign (provided there are more options available than options necessary to achieve a win). Then you can make the various options interconnected(A disables C, B makes F easier, D requires wins at both C and E before becoming available).

Mastikator
2016-02-12, 11:55 AM
How about not killing and using your words instead?

lacco36
2016-02-12, 12:02 PM
And remember, if they manage to kill the BBEG...it was not the real BBEG. It was his least powerful servant...

AMFV
2016-02-12, 12:04 PM
And remember, if they manage to kill the BBEG...it was not the real BBEG. It was his least powerful servant...

Or he was faking death. Honestly you should never just let them kill the BBEG without having some kind of plan. If they're ever in the same room as him, he should have an escape route, or be untouchable (Lethal Weapon 2 defense). It's honestly not that hard to be prepared for that sort of thing in 90 percent of all game systems.


How about not killing and using your words instead?

But... but... words are hard.

Slipperychicken
2016-02-12, 01:01 PM
Try having objectives beyond killing people and taking their stuff. And I don't mean boring your players to death with puzzles and relationship-simulating.

Within missions, you can have basic things like protecting a VIP, rescuing captives, keeping the bad guys from scoring a propaganda victory (the PCs might protect a statue of someone important, keep the bad-guys from detonating explosives, or minimize civilian and allied deaths at an event), and so on. There the PCs can absolutely kill every enemy and survive, but still fail the objective and thereby hand a victory to the bad-guys. Similarly, the bad-guys might get away and kill one or more PCs, but the good guys may have won because they completed the objective. That can be a good change of pace from the "win or die" fights that GMs typically employ.

Obviously, the outcome of a mission should have some impact on the game world, even if it's relatively small. If the bad guys managed to win an objective like knocking down a symbolic statue or killing someone important, then a memorial might be erected, and people might express more fear and hate when talking about them, and be less confident about the good guys' ability to protect them. If the PCs failed to secure a food source for some people as part of a mission, then prices for rations might be higher at those places.

JoeJ
2016-02-12, 01:24 PM
Try not having a BBEG.

Instead have a number of organisations: Temples, Guilds, Noble Houses, Mafia, ..., etc.

These have conflicting interests which cause: politics.

Now add the PCs into the mix; they may be affiliated to one of the organisations, hired by one or be completely free-lance. The PCs can now involve themselves in all manner of schemes, plots, heists even.

And you can run this as a sandbox - so long as your players are pro-active the plot should write itself. If your players are not pro-active however - you now have a number of NPCs who can give them jobs to do, in fact you should probably start off this way.

This. An organization is much harder to deal with than an individual, no matter how bloated the statblock. "If they cut off one head, two more shall take its place. Hail Hydra!"

And have the bad guys attack the PCs during down time between adventures at least once. You don't need to do it a lot; just enough to make the players paranoid, knowing that they are never completely safe.

lacco36
2016-02-12, 02:31 PM
Try having objectives beyond killing people and taking their stuff. And I don't mean boring your players to death with puzzles and relationship-simulating.

This is very good advice. Sometimes even "find A, who is a spy/assassin in a large city, and nobody knows his face" can be a step in a good direction.

And when combined with JoeJ's advice...


And have the bad guys attack the PCs during down time between adventures at least once. You don't need to do it a lot; just enough to make the players paranoid, knowing that they are never completely safe.

...have the bad guys (of the second organization? or just sent by BBEG to aid his agent without his knowledge?) attack the PCs during their adventure.

The PCs are rescuing a VIP (who knows the A's face) from prison, when the same prison is attacked by BBEG's forces...and the goblins are trying to blow it up! Can they prevent goblins from blowing it up and save the VIP from BBEG's forces...?

Zumbs
2016-02-12, 03:08 PM
how to branch things
Maybe you should try to shift the perspective: What is the big bad trying to achieve? The destruction of the world, getting a powerful artifact, becoming the ruler of the world or something else? How is the big bad trying to achieve that goal? And how will the other organizations and powerful beings in your world react to that?

This could result in a number of different happenings all over your world, where the minions of the big bad try to achieve their goals without being stopped by the other organizations. This could involve, say:

Framing a guild leader for murder.
Assassinating another one.
Gathering ingredients.
Hire bandits to raid an area so the local ruler must take action which the minions can use to their advantage.
Spread disease or some other form of discord to weaken the local ruler.
Playing two or more organizations against each other.

The players could be involved as hired help, possibly manipulated by the minions or by the victims to sort things out. There could also be neutral organizations that try to get an advantage out the strife (filling the power vacuum). This could involve writing a number of disposable hooks, each of which could give the party one or two hints as to the shape of things to come. As the players get into the vicinity or start taking interest, these hooks can be worked to a full-blown adventure.


how to make it scary
That is a hard one. I haven't found that random killing makes a foe seem scary. Shock effects work on film, but are hard to pull off in an RPG. Having your big bad yell at the inconsequential, lowlevel party is just strange. Why not just stop being stupid evil and stomp out the opposition?

In my experience, the most scary enemy in an RPG is the enemy that you cannot defeat. You could also give its minions strange and powerful abilities that makes the organization seem invincible.

I would probably hide the big bad for a long time, relying on rumors (or first hand accounts) of its power and invincibility. You could have its lieutenants be really, really dangerous, e.g. requiring help or special weapons to fight. You could also let the players see it level a city or some other extreme event, or vanquish someone that the party knows is very powerful without even breaking a sweat. Or they could arrive to experience the aftermath.

sky red hunter
2016-02-13, 06:34 AM
I'm doing a home-brew with some students of mine, they all started in a room with a stranger that refused to respond to them and then proceeded to attack and one by one kill them all, first session!! they all awoke around a campfire and quickly realised they had experienced a shared premonition. bbeg introduced and fear sown. they later encountered a cabin and found a murdered family with their lower jaws torn off and their eyes put out...a previous encounter with a murder of crows returning then shattered the stillness of the murder scene, prompting another awakening of the group, another premonition but close to their current location, they found the family, alive and well but freaked them out with tales of death and premonitions. a little further on they happen upon a small town and quickly find the inn, they enter and barter for rooms and food, converse with a few npc's and then head to bed, one of the pc's is giving me an odd look after entering the inn ( he's twigged its the same room from the first encounter but its hidden in the complete layout of the inn ) his personal fear results in a dream where the bbeg is in the room again but with just him this time, he can't move or talk, bbeg walks over, stabs him through the heart but he can still perceive everything, bbeg proceeds to shove his blade into the pc's mouth and wrenches down, pc sees his lower jaw being pulled away and thrown across the room then sees two hands come into view and two thumbs put out his eyes....he then wakes up and informs the party, they then link the two events together and the fear grows......absolutly loving giving them snippets and seeing how its affecting their current situations, they suspect about half a dozen people in the village and are slowly getting to know the npc's. all the time the fear is growing of another premonition to the point that they fear sleep!!!