Bad Guys Have Adventures Too
  • Bad Guys Have Adventures Too


    Playing the bad guy can be fun and having the whole party join in can be a great time. But how can this be applied to adventure design? With a bit of forethought and focus, an enjoyable adventure sending scoundrels on an errand for a dark lord can be woven from the threads of heroic adventure.


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    I recently began work on an adventure using Basic Role-Playing or MERP set in J.R.R.Tolkien's Middle Earth, titled Kings of the East. Now I think I would use The One Ring or possibly, Adventures in Middle Earth as there is a ton of material available. As a basic premise, the characters would be third sons and daughters of the humans living east of Mordor who exchange allegiance to Sauron for being made kings and queens in their lands. In this case, they would be seeking one of the destroyed Dwarven rings, which may not actually have been eaten by a dragon.

    Here are some suggestions (and one hard rule) on how to approach putting such an adventure together.

    Don’t Go There - The Hard Rule

    Tolkien's works adhered to a specific kind of evil that didn't usually involve graphic sex or descriptions of torture, so we can use that as a guide. Discuss limits with your players or, if writing an adventure for public consumption, discuss it with your regular group and do plenty of play tests. Just because the players will take on the roles of villainous protagonists, does not mean every unethical behavior is free game.

    Leave the Comedy for Another Day

    It can be tempting to blunt the tension of designing a bad guy mission by employing comedic elements. Critical Role ran a one shot (here and here) around Shadow of War with some of the regular cast playing orcs. It was funny, but I would advise taking a serious approach as this gives your adventure some verisimilitude.

    In addition, avoid the bad guys with a heart of gold cliche’. This adventure is not for lovable scoundrels, but certifiable villains. Create pre-gen characters that reflect the tone and nuance of your adventure.

    Stay Focused

    In the case of Kings of the East, my outline is tight, with little chance of side adventures. I do not want to railroad the players of course, but the adversary is not patient; no time to waste while their agents indulge in side adventures. They can burn down the halfling village on the their own time. Right now, Sauron wants his dwarf ring, k? Thanks.

    This does not mean that there should not be an occasional distraction or even temptation to veer off the path. Perhaps a rival of the characters seeks to take the glory, leaving none for the characters. Spies for the “good guys” may be everywhere and need to be dealt with before the next phase of the quest.

    A Sense of Paranoia

    While it may be different in your adventure, generally there is no honor among thieves. Even if the group are loyal to one another, other erstwhile allies will not afford them the same courtesy. In a normal adventure, the characters are often the “only” ones who can help. In an Adversary adventure, this is unlikely. If the protagonists fall, someone else will gladly rise to take their place. Never let the player’s forget this; bake it into the adventure itself. It will be difficult to find succor anywhere and this should be used to push the characters into harder situations.

    Reward The Characters

    It is easy to turn on the characters at the end and betray them. In fact, making the players think this will add to the tension, but I would avoid that cliche’. If the characters succeed in their mission, give them some or all of the promised reward. Of course working for the Adversary likely means a short life, but that does not mean he won’t grant them power.

    In the end making some small adjustments in tone and scope to your typical adventure design should make for an enjoyable one-shot of villainy.

    This article was contributed by Sean Hillman (SMHWorlds) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
    Comments 13 Comments
    1. Banesfinger -
      Apart from the 'Way of the Wicked' (from the now defunct Fire Mountain Games), are there any other Evil campaigns out there (not just one-shot adventures)?
    1. jasper's Avatar
      jasper -
      Bravo bravo. We have to talk at DragonCon. Add rule 6
      6. Oh you went there? You are fired. Go home.
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      Quote Originally Posted by Banesfinger View Post
      Apart from the 'Way of the Wicked' (from the now defunct Fire Mountain Games), are there any other Evil campaigns out there (not just one-shot adventures)?
      Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe

      https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product...ed-Darkness-5E
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Banesfinger View Post
      Apart from the 'Way of the Wicked' (from the now defunct Fire Mountain Games), are there any other Evil campaigns out there (not just one-shot adventures)?
      I've played in a few over the years, although they were generally custom ones devised or adapted by the GM. The posted idea is pretty cool. Obviously, games like Vampire: the Masquerade could be argued to be "evil" campaigns all the way through.

      They're hard to sustain, though, especially given how D&D is really premised on and structured around the PCs being generally cooperative and working as a team, and there are times that the PCs feel very "dirty" to the players, which can be Not Fun(tm).

      One way to make this work might be to have the evil characters be defenders of a status quo that's clearly bad versus something disruptive that may well be worse. If you take a look through Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October, the protagonist is Jack the Ripper's dog. Jack is working assiduously to avoid the summoning of the Elder Gods! He does so through not particularly nice means.

      I do think that the group needs to be a very mature one and questions like "How much PvP is allowed?" need to be worked out.
    1. Mouseferatu's Avatar
      Mouseferatu -
      I'd disagree with the humor aspect. I think a good mix of humor and horror/evil is a lot easier to swallow, as long as the former doesn't impinge upon the latter.

      The Goblin Corps was actually based (albeit very loosely; direct translation of campaign to novel is never, ever a good idea) on an evil "Humanoids Handbook" campaign I ran back in late 2E. It really turned out very well, and had some of the best roleplaying I ever saw from that group. But it was a group I knew well, and knew how to tailor the campaign--and the extent and type of the "evil"--to their tastes.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mouseferatu View Post
      I'd disagree with the humor aspect. I think a good mix of humor and horror/evil is a lot easier to swallow, as long as the former doesn't impinge upon the latter.
      All dark all the time is probably too much for many players.

      It really turned out very well, and had some of the best roleplaying I ever saw from that group. But it was a group I knew well, and knew how to tailor the campaign--and the extent and type of the "evil"--to their tastes.
      I agree, playing a ruthlessly self-interested party or even an evil one can be really good RP, but I also very much agree that it's crucial for things to be tailored to the group.
    1. Superchunk77's Avatar
      Superchunk77 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Banesfinger View Post
      Apart from the 'Way of the Wicked' (from the now defunct Fire Mountain Games), are there any other Evil campaigns out there (not just one-shot adventures)?
      Yes, there's a Paizo Pathfinder Adventure Path called Hell's Vengeance that's supposed to be for evil characters.
    1. Ratskinner's Avatar
      Ratskinner -
      I thought badguy adventures were called things like "Evil Schemes" or "Criminal Enterprises". IME, the biggest hangup about being the badguys is that you (as somebody else's antagonist) shouldn't be passive and wait around for something to come up. You're evil find an excuse to start murdering or something, could be for fun, but better for profit.

      This is also something of a problem for the GM. You need to know who good guys are (or will be), but you also need to know who the marks, victims, and potential rivals are. In many ways, the GM needs to know more about the world than for a good campaign.
    1. John R Davis's Avatar
      John R Davis -
      The great thing about being a bad guy are:
      You can make enemies of other bad guys and the good guys
      You can ally with other bad guys and good guys
    1. SMHWorlds's Avatar
      SMHWorlds -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mouseferatu View Post
      I'd disagree with the humor aspect. I think a good mix of humor and horror/evil is a lot easier to swallow, as long as the former doesn't impinge upon the latter.

      The Goblin Corps was actually based (albeit very loosely; direct translation of campaign to novel is never, ever a good idea) on an evil "Humanoids Handbook" campaign I ran back in late 2E. It really turned out very well, and had some of the best roleplaying I ever saw from that group. But it was a group I knew well, and knew how to tailor the campaign--and the extent and type of the "evil"--to their tastes.
      I get that and different groups certainly handle it differently. But good sarcastic wit is a bit different than silly and goofy humor, the former is fine but the latter does not appeal to me as a GM or player. At least for a bad guy game.
    1. Mouseferatu's Avatar
      Mouseferatu -
      Quote Originally Posted by SMHWorlds View Post
      I get that and different groups certainly handle it differently. But good sarcastic wit is a bit different than silly and goofy humor, the former is fine but the latter does not appeal to me as a GM or player. At least for a bad guy game.
      Well, yeah, it has to be the right type of humor. No argument there. Though even occasional goofiness works, if it's in character for the evil folks. (When dealing with humanoids, some of which aren't the brightest spoons in the shed, for instance.)
    1. Zhaleskra's Avatar
      Zhaleskra -
      While this didn't go the direction I expected from the title, I feel this is good advice for a villain campaign.
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ratskinner View Post
      I thought badguy adventures were called things like "Evil Schemes" or "Criminal Enterprises". IME, the biggest hangup about being the badguys is that you (as somebody else's antagonist) shouldn't be passive and wait around for something to come up. You're evil find an excuse to start murdering or something, could be for fun, but better for profit.
      Like what if the world itself was predicated against you and society elongated the lives of creatures "good of heart" to leave you (and other evil folk) to die from old age much earlier on

      Sounds like that would be the coolest
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