In the Immortal words of Henry Galley on episode 146 of the Digital and Dice Podcast: "To make a villain, write a protagonist. And then make him a cunt."
Using this idea as a foundation, we can build on it to design villainous characters that are compelling and relatable. As Henry also mentions, most the best villains are flawed. They're human, at least in some regard. While they may be werewolves or demons, they still have some spark of familiarity with humanity that is somewhat sympathetic, even if it is twisted and warped beyond recognition.
Looking at the character of Mr. Strings, (which was featured on the first episode of the SGO files,) we see that one of his defining features is a sort of perverse kindness. A decidedly unwholesome friendliness. But the core trait is that friendliness. So twisted and warped that it becomes horrific. Mr. Strings just wants to have friends. What's so wrong about that? And hey, he's good with kids, so that's another positive trait he has going for him.
While we could easily pick a human vice and blow it out of proportion to make a typical villain, I think it would be more interesting to follow Mr. Galley's line of thought and make good people and then take their positive traits and push them into a place of darkness. On that note, I'll be using the model of the seven heavenly virtues to paint one potential path for villainly. Without further adieu, let's begin:
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For those who are interested in reading further, I suggest checking out the article "Character Development- Fall From Grace" on my personal blog to explore the road characters might take to transition into evil. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
In this series, Player Platform, I'm going to take some time to give special considerations for the other side of the table. There is a lot of material out there for tips and tricks from the GM's side of things, but not nearly as much attention is given towards the players and the things they can do to improve their experience of the game. In this first iteration, I'd like to start by bridging the gap between player and GM and focus on how the players can get the GM to work for them.
Players, I'm sure you all know full well that your GM probably spends a good deal of time preparing for the game. If they write their own material for the story, there's a certain amount of worldbuilding, plot planning, and mechanical balancing that goes into setting up the sessions. If they are using published adventure modules, they have to spend that time reading over the adventure book to familiarize themselves with the plot and encounters, as well as make any necessary adjustments to it.
These considerations the GM makes are based around what they think will improve their game and what they think the player will enjoy. But the GM is just guessing. For all the crafting that happens, a fair amount of this is simply guesswork on the GM's part. If you as a player give feedback and suggestions to the GM, this removes a lot of that guesswork. Instead of using their own observations to make assumptions about what the players might enjoy, they can get this information straight from the source.
So if you feel like your last session was too heavy on the combat, you should politely let the GM know, so that way they can design their next adventure in a way that it doesn't lean so much on the hacking and slashing. If you're tired of dealing with demons, a hint about that might get the GM to pit you against bandits instead. Most GMs aren't going to intentionally ignore advice from their players, because the GM wouldn't be running the game if they didn't care about the player's enjoyment.
But players don't always realize this. Because I value player input as a GM, I have made a habit of wrapping up each session with soliciting player feedback. And quite honestly, this is usually like pulling teeth. Players wouldn't show up to the game unless they enjoyed themselves, so they usually just default to saying each session was good or some other form of blanket praise. But what GM's really need to hear is specific praise or criticism. Did you like that one NPC? Great, say so. Did you feel that the plot twist was too obvious, because you knew Elliot Frostmoon was evil from the start? Let your GM know they could have planned that better.
Communicating your likes and preferences with the GM is one of your tasks as a player, and it is ultimately to your benefit. The only way the GM can work to bring you a better experience is if they know what works and what doesn't.
A lot of players have reservations about criticizing the GM, and rightfully so. Rather than doing it in the middle of the game (which is kind of rude,) it's usually best to formalize a process for this. One suggestion I mentioned above is to set a time after the game for evaluation. You could also use comment cards, possibly with a ballot box for anonymity. Another option is to keep a running group chat where players can discuss things as they occur to you. Whatever you decide, this process should be agreed on by the players and the GM so that it works for everyone.
The important thing is that the players take responsibility for helping the GM to improve the game for everyone. It's really easy to sit passively and wait for the GM to make everything, but the more you involve yourselves in the GM's creative process, the more it can be tailored directly to you to create an experience that you will enjoy.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For those who are interested in reading further, I suggest checking out the article “Worldbuilding and Player Input” on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
Since watching the Creaturepasta episode on the Wendigo, I’ve become increasingly interested in other creepy creatures from Native American folklore. Much of my attention has been focused on a creature known as the Skin-walker.
Skin Walkers, known also as “Yee Naldlooshi,” are derived from Navajo myth. Information on Skin-walkers is somewhat lacking, as speaking of them is considered a taboo in Navajo culture, and they especially guard this information from being shared with outsiders. It is said that merely speaking the name “Skin-walker” will mark you and cause them to seek you out.
The Skin-walker is a shape changer, similar to a werewolf. Skin-walkers can assume multiple animal forms, though they tend to favor the coyote. Foxes, wolves, and owls are also popular choices. In some myths, they can also take on a hybrid form of human and animal, which I personally find to be absolutely terrifying.
In their animal form, a Skin-walker has some defining features that might alert people that they are dealing with something other than an ordinary animal. In some cases, they perfect examples of the animal they take the form of, save for the fact that they always appear as white or albino versions. In other versions of the myth, they are indistinguishable except for having strange and unnaturally stiff movements.
Fundamentally though, Skin-walkers are human. According to Navajo legend, Skin-walkers are a form of witch. The process of becoming a Skin-walker involves performing an unspeakably evil act, such as cannibalism or murdering a family member. A skin-walker in human form can be distinguished by being exceptionally hairy, having an animalistic glow to the eyes, and/or wearing the pelt of the animal they transform into (in some forms of the myth, this is necessary for the transformation.) Unfortunately, Skin-walkers can steal the face and shape of humans as well, so finding their true human form may be difficult.
Since Skin-walkers are witches, they have access to various spells and magical abilities. Some of the most popular powers that they are attributed include telepathy, mind control, and the ability create a poisonous dust from powdered corpses (often from twin infants.) There is also apparently a ritual or spell that the Skin-walker can and does perform to recruit more Skin-walkers. They also have the ability to travel impossibly fast, with some reports indicating distances upwards of 200 miles in a single night. When considering that the name Yee Naldlooshi means “He who goes on all fours” and that their gait is stiff and impossibly fast, this creature’s movements must be singularly disturbing.
Thankfully, despite all of their powers, they are not without some form of weaknesses. Skin-walkers lack the ability to enter a home uninvited, much like vampires. The most common way to kill a Skin-walker is to speak its true human name. This will make the Skin-walker grow sick and die within a few days. If a more immediate solution is needed, some sources say that it can be killed by a shot to the neck from a bullet dipped in white ash.
Using the Skin-Walker in Your Game:
Skin-walkers can easily feature in traditional sword and sorcery games, as well as more modern roleplaying settings, though you might have some difficulty using them in a science-fiction setting. One notable difficulty for using Skin-walkers in a non-earth setting is that they are closely tied to Navajo culture. If you plan to use the Skin-walker in a pure fantasy setting, you will probably need to create some sort of appropriate analog.
In a standard fantasy game like Dungeons & Dragons, the stats and abilities of a Skin-walker are relatively easy to duplicate. The ability to use “Wild Shape” along with spells such as “Disguise self” and “Cloudkill” easily duplicate many of the powers ascribed to the Skin-walker. Those interested in a more traditional combat encounter can present the Skin-walker as an evil Druid or spellcaster, since they are fundamentally witches.
However, I think the real strength of an adventure incorporating Skin-walkers would be to set up something with an investigative bent. Since information about Skin-walkers is a closely guarded secret, it is likely that the players would have to work hard to win over the suspicious natives. All the while, they have to sort through the misinformation and survive the evils that the Skin-walker is inflicting on the people. Once they figure out what the creature is and how to kill it, they’ll still have to figure out the true name of that particular Skin-walker, which means further investigation. As an added bonus, simply abandoning the people to their fate will not save the party. Once they have spoken the term “Skin-walker,” they are marked. The Skin-walker will be drawn to them thereafter and can become a recurring enemy until it has been properly dealt with. And given that Skin-walkers can travel upwards of 200 miles in a single night, it is unlikely that the party will be able to flee from this threat.
However you decide to integrate them into your game, Skin-walkers certainly have a fair bit of a creep factor, and are a rather interesting flavor of shapeshifter. Instead of using something more common, such as a werewolf, you will have better luck creating a unique experience for your players by using a lesser known creature like the Skin-walker.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
In the most recent Digital & Dice Podcast, we went over various apocalyptic topics. The discussion mostly focused on potential causes of apocalypse, what life might be like after, and how this all ties in to create a campaign setting. While this provides a wonderful primer as to what to consider when planning for a setting that takes place in the apocalypse, we can go further if we want to talk about the plot of the campaign that would take place in such a setting.
The most obvious sort of goal for anyone in the apocalypse is survival. When the world falls apart, just getting by day-to-day is going to be the biggest issue. If the GM is so inclined, this can be the premise of the whole campaign. There may not be any giant dragons to fight or cities to save, but the struggle for stable food and shelter can still make for an interesting narrative, especially for groups that favor a more gritty style of game. This sort of idea lends itself particularly well to a sandbox type game, where there simply is no larger plot beyond the daily struggle for bread, water, and bullets.
But a pure-survival narrative can work in a more structured game as well. Perhaps, one or more of your players have some sort of terminal disease that needs to be cured, and they have heard rumors of a cure existing in an old-world facility somewhere. Cue the journey to this location and trying to hunt down the medicine in question, which may or may not have been looted already, if it even existed at all. In this way, the very survival of the players depends on their seeking out this cure. This works especially well in post-apocalyptic settings where the world may have been devastated by some pandemic or plague, though this works just as easily with radiation sickness or even a magical curse in more fantastical settings.
We could also extrapolate the idea of survival to something beyond the self. Namely, the survival of entire organizations or towns. The “Fallout” game series is pretty much always about this. As Preston Garvey is always so fond of reminding us, another settlement always needs our help. A simple plot that could develop in a post-apocalyptic setting could be to ensure that a particular location or group of people survives and thrives. If a fledgling town falls under attack by raiders, or finds that their water supply has dried up, a group of brave heroes might be called on to solve the problem and save the day. As people band together in the apocalypse trying to rebuild civilization in some form, this is bound to happen.
This plot structure has the added benefit of getting the players attached to the location and the people they are trying to help. Through their efforts, they can make sure that the really cool bartender survives the zombies horde the shambles into town one day, or make sure the sweet little child doesn’t go hungry this week. The players get to see the results of their actions rather than simply hear about it. And they’ll grow to love the little town that they saved from the brink of destruction and shaped into a budding metropolis.
Another potential plotline is to reverse the apocalypse. While the apocalypse may not always be something that can be reversed, in some instances this may be possible. One interesting idea is to have the apocalypse occur partway through a regular campaign. The party will have known what life was like before, and they see this gradual apocalypse rapidly taking shape. They are aware that the lich has raised undead in the southern half of the country and that the undead army has blighted the countryside and will sweep into the capital within a few days. Given the rate at which the total devastation is occurring, the world is doomed within the week. There’s no way to stop the loss of life and land that has already occurred, but maybe with a little luck they can kill the lich and prevent a total collapse.
One variation on this idea is that maybe the cause of the apocalypse can be put “back in the box.” I think this has a lot of potential for a demonic invasion or Cthulhu End Times scenario, where the players might undertake some great ritual to send the horrific demonic or otherworldy things back from whence they came. Naturally, this would require learning how to cast the spell, gathering all of the components, being at the right place at the right time, and overcoming those who might wish to prevent the players from doing this. In short, you have all of the makings of a campaign.
These are just a few ideas as to what a campaign might entail in a post-apocalyptic setting. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and certain plotlines are better served in association with particular apocalypse causes. As our Podcast mentioned, the cause of the apocalypse is always a great place to start when thinking about a post-apocalyptic setting. Decide on that, and then you should be able to figure out how to deal with events after the end.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For those who are interested in reading further, I suggest checking out the article “The World is Dead” on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.