May 18, 2010

Show How the Monster Works

In most action movies there is a scene which my wife and I like to call, “Showing How the Monster Works”. This is the one where we get to see the villain of the movie for the first time. In it the villain has a confrontation with another criminal (such as an underling or rival) or law enforcement other than the heroes. The scene showcases the abilities of the villain and his organization.

In this scene, the villain often is killing someone. Perhaps there is a little torture thrown in as well to highlight just how evil the villain is. The scene is there for a couple of reasons; to highlight how dangerous the villain is and to make the audience dislike the villain.

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We can use this technique with our own RPG campaigns. All it takes is having the villain be, well, villainous. The best option is if the villain does one of his evil deeds while the characters are unable to prevent it. Perhaps they are physically cut off from the scene by a physical barrier or spell. Perhaps the villain has a foolproof escape plan. Perhaps there is a vivid description of the act by an NPC. Perhaps the characters are able to view the scene through an augury device.

There are a number of reasons for using this technique:

Gives a reason to hate the villain
If you make the villain despicable enough, the players will provide their own reasons for seeking him out and fighting him. They will also feel justified by whatever actions they will end up taking.

Show his strengths
Perhaps the villain has a powerful weapon/spell/ability at his disposal that could prove deadly to the characters. By showcasing the special ability the players can prepare for the upcoming confrontation. This preparation can provide for additional adventures as they gather what they need.

Show his weaknesses
Similar to showing his strengths, by showing his weaknesses the characters can prepare to exploit the weakness. Perhaps they need a silver weapon. If he is very powerful they may need to exploit his vulnerability in order to win a fight.

Show the danger of engaging him
All too often characters run into a fight unprepared. If the players can see exactly how dangerous the villain is, it may give them pause. Hopefully, at least long enough to think before they act. It can scare the players into not doing something stupid.

Anticipation
Seeing the full might of a villain before he is engaged will provide the players with a desire to engage the villain. They will see it as a challenge worthy of their time. They will spend time imagining how the encounter could pan out. It provides them with an easily recognizable goal.

The better the payoff
If you can show how powerful and despicable the villain is, the better the players will feel when they finally defeat him. If the villain is stealing candy from children the payoff of defeating him is weak. If he wipes out entire cities the players will feel like they have accomplished something big. The bigger the villain, the bigger the payoff.

Showing how the monster works is a form of foreshadowing that can enhance the villain and storytelling within the campaign.
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