As you might know, a lot of Roleplaying games involve facing off against antagonists. Bad folks who are the source of the party’s troubles – whether directly trying to kill the PCs, or indirectly by trying to… flood the continent or something.
The real problem is, they don’t get a lot of screen time. They occasionally get some build up as the party encounters their servants, but most of the time, when they show up – the party surrounds them and kills them in a few short rounds, not learning who they are or why they’re doing what they’re doing. No matter how good their backup plan is.
So, how do you make villians come back for a second round? And more importantly, how do you do so without feeling like you’re screwing the party over with a deux-ex-machina?
As I’ve mentioned previously, a good villian needs some allies. But there’s one more problem with recurring villians: the party should know what their deal is.
A Visible Plan
Any memorable villain has a good plan. A plan that, to them at least, seems like something that would benefit more people than it would cause trouble too. Although, part of what makes them evil is often a subjective vision of who ‘people’ are in each situation, and how much benefit is worth versus cost. But, good villain motives is a separate topic. Regardless of what their plan is, for a villain to be memorable, the players need to know what they’re doing.
This is always a challenge, because it’s always hard to get information into the players hands. An NPC who knows important details might be missed, killed, or derailed before they reach the relevant information. A nefarious journal might be ignored, forgotten, or never reached. Players miss a lot of information, and they only remember some of it. Flat-out telling the PCs via monologue isn’t out of the question, but it’s a little heavy handed.
Which is why it’s important to have whatever evil plan your villain is undertaking to be visible. If they’re raising a cult, the party needs to start fighting cultists on a regular basis, sure, but they also need to start seeing cultists around even in normal situations. Their favorite barkeeper puts up a cult symbol in his bar. Someone on the street asks them to convert. Visible things, things that are everywhere. PCs need to be reminded constantly, and the more often they’re reminded, the more urgent they’ll think the issue is.
If the PCs are fighting body snatchers, and they hear rumors of it every time they go shopping, that’s good. If a minor NPC they interact with goes missing, or a major NPC they know about, that’s better.
The point of all of this isn’t just to make the PCs aware of the problem, but it’s to make the PCs realize that there are clues to be found. Because once the party is on the trail, they become very receptive to clues (sometimes too perceptive). They will figure things out on their own, and even actively start looking for them.