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Dragon Empress and other Big Bads

29 June, 2009

Not all campaigns have them, but many do, the biggest of Big Bads: Dark Gods, Lich Kings, Embodiments of Primal Chaos, and other such insanely powerful beings.  You know the archetype.  His dark shadow lies across the land, the armies of the light arm to fight him, the common people quake in fear and  even heroes make signs of warding against his name . . . and the player characters want to fight him?  How do you cope with players wanting to take down beings of such power?

Dissuade them.  Somehow, this almost never seems to work.  Tell players that an opponent is unbeatable and they will bend heaven and earth (sometimes literally) to do just that.  If you try this route, it may be best to go with how it will affect the metagame “it will damage the campaign if you try and take down the Dark Lord of Cookies now.”  Just be warned that they will remember and follow up on that plot thread later.

Redirect them.  This strategy usually works as it provided instant adventure and subplots and allows the players to move incrementally towards their goal.  The Big Bad has minions, probably armies of them, let them be part of the major subplots in the game.  The player characters can work their way up the chain of command over the course of a campaign, as the main plot or in parallel to other plot lines, learning more about their ultimate foe and gathering allies and equipment along the way.

Work with them.  If that is what the player really want as the focus of the campaign, give it to them.  But not on a platter, the Big Bad will not go quietly into the night.  If this is what the players want as the primary focus of the game, let them know that it will be a hard slog and victory will come at a cost . . . if at all.  Such campaigns are likely to be dark and difficult, so make sure that everyone is on the same page before embarking on this path.  After some discussion, the players may decide to scale back and not confront the world’s most powerful villain head on, not yet, in any case.

In all cases, finding out what your players want from the Big Bad is important.  They are a vital background element in many settings but they do not have to be the focus of the campaign.

The Dragon Empress, for example, is not designed to be the final big conflict of my campaigns (though she could be, if the players wanted).  But she would be hard to take down, after all she defeated the gods, she is dangerous and clever.  But, most importantly, she does not interfere much in the world, it would have to be the choice of the player to seek out confrontation with her.  However, if the player characters wish to confront and defeat more manageable evils, there are many corrupt rulers and wicked kings about, some of which are dragons.

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One comment

  1. Nice little read, there, Sean! And, boy, can I remember trying to NOT have a group of players head for the big boy.

    I do know letting Wendi get bored meant she tac-nuked most of the lab …



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