Sunday, October 12, 2008

Four Reasons Giving Your Villain Stats is a Waste of Time

One of my favorite parts of RPGs is rolling up characters. This might be why I am the DM most often. As DMs, we get the opportunity to roll up more characters than any player gets to. I like having stats for NPCs. In fact, I like having stats even for the characters I don't think my players will fight just because occasionally, one of my players will get a wild hair up his butt and decide to fight someone I didn't anticipate.

There are, however, certain NPCs that I believe a DM should not prepare stats for too far in advance. Number one on this list is the campaign's supervillain (if one exists). Having a faceless villain pulling the strings behind the scenes is quite enjoyable, and it provides an "Aha!" moment when the players finally figure out what was going on. Unfortunately, as a younger DM, I always felt like I had to give this supervillain stats even before session #1 of the game. It only felt "right." But there are many reasons not to give your primary villain anything more than a paragraph of descriptive text until you are ready for his mini to step out onto the gladiatorial grid.

And thus, I present you with:

Four Reasons Giving Your Villain Stats is a Waste of Time
  1. New books will be published. If you are anything like me, a new book with cool new abilities and character options makes you want to put it all to good use. And who better to receive the new crunchy goodness but your main villain? If you have stats for him long before the players ever see him (and before this cool new book just arrived), then you will find yourself in a conundrum: don't give him the new stuff because I've already got stats (which sucks)... or recreate him using the new stuff (in which case the first set of stats are worthless).
  2. Players will lose interest. They might lose interest in the specific campaign, the genre, or just gaming in general. Even if they lose interest in gaming, more than likely they will return eventually. While this isn't the end of the world, it may very well be the end of your campaign, in which case you have created stats for a character your players will never fight.
  3. The PCs might not have to fight him. This might sound anticlimactic, because a campaign ending with a gigantic fight with the villain is pretty standard fare... but that battle might not actually require taking him on toe to toe. It could be a skill challenge in which success causes a magical explosion that kills the villain. Of course, I'd also want a bunch of his minions attacking the party while they tried to pull off the challenge, but the villain's actual stats would be irrelevant.
  4. You will have new and better ideas. There is usually a decent amount of time between the beginning of the campaign and the time the players actually encounter the villain. If this is the case, changing the villain himself behind the scenes will not disrupt the continuity of the campaign at all. So this guy named Traxx is not the vampiric tiefling warlock that you envisioned him being when you first started taking campaign notes. Perhaps he is actually a dracolich all along... as long as the PCs don't know enough to recognize the switch, make the switch and be glad you didn't stat out the other guy!
Sadly, as a DM with more experience under my belt, I still fall victim to the same urges. Even as I write this, I feel the itch to jot down some numbers for the villain I've got in mind for my Shadow's Apex campaign. In all honesty, he will probably have stats before the first session, go through several shifts of concept, and be replaced when a new book comes out. In the end, there is just something satisfying about knowing you have the big bad evil guy's combat stats ready to go at a moment's notice... even if the first twelve versions of his stats never get laid on the game table. (Heh... too funny to edit despite the connotations.)

What do you think? Any other DMs out there go through several versions of the same villain knowing full well that the stats are a waste of time for any of the above reasons?
Related Posts with Thumbnails