There certainly are those of us who have a particular taste for grand schemes, conspiracies, betrayal, mysteries and secrets within our roleplaying games. However, there’s not much information out there on how to effectively plan out a villain’s masterplan in a way that is successful and satisfying.
For this occasion, I will be presenting you some of the insight that I’ve gathered over my years of meticulous planning, mweheheh…
1. Have your villain ready
The first and most obvious step in this process is to come up with an interesting villain. If you’re like me, you’ve probably obsessed over this subject and know quite a good deal about making a villain interesting. The classic advice: Make them have a backstory, a way of seeing the world, make them relatable at a certain level, yet still make them hateable, yada yada. You know the drill.
I’ll use an example for this: Alexios Megakomnenos the 2nd, ruler of Chrysovassilia, an emperor who was exiled after an invading army took his beloved city away from his hands. Alexios hid below the catacombs, using magic to extend his life and plan out his return. The emperor believes his culture and his people to have been destroyed, and thus, desires to bring back the time in which Chrysovassilia was a powerful kingdom, with all the elements that made it great, and obliterate everything that he deems a threat to his reconquest.
2. Motivations and goals
Now, we’ve gotta come up with what the villain wants to do. In this case, Alexios wants to destroy the new government, culture, religion, and way of life of the city that was, in the past, his Chrysovassilia, but now bears a different name and features. How will Alexios manage to do such a thing?
One question that you might think about: Does Alexios even have the resources to do that?
My take: If you want to have massive and complicated plans, I think the answer will most likely be yes, unless obtaining such resources is part of the plan. Resources in this case need not be only money; magic or political influence could work as well. Remember, you’re the GM. You need not to impose limitations on your world, unless they’re necessary to make things stay coherent.
3. The chain of objectives
Basically, the chain of objectives is knowing the steps to the ultimate goal. We start out by our main objective, and analyze the steps that we’d have to take to get there, often in reverse order.
For example: How will we topple the government? By gaining power over the ruling class. How will we obtain power over the ruling class? Through deceit, espionage, and extortion. How will we deceive, spy, and extort the ruling class? Through an order of highly trained spies and assassins under Alexios’ control. How will this order gain proximity with the ruling class? By justifying their presence as protection against criminals. How will this work? By making crime ravage the city. And how will we make crime ravage the city? By organizing criminal activities. How will we manage this? By obtaining criminal force through the use of a false cult, which will make the criminals loyal to death. Establishing the cult shall be the first step…
If this seems long winded and complicated to you, it’s because it is. The advantages of having these kinds of plans is that they follow a coherent set of steps, and can keep the adventurers guessing; besides, they give you a hell-ton of content to use in your adventures. Just dealing with the cult could be a multi-level quest, and that’s only the first part of the plan.
Now that you’ve got your chain of objectives, the only thing that’s left is to detail the steps that will start having an effect in game. You probably want the plan not to be revealed all from the start, but have it be a big reveal that serves as a plot twist. This is why we’re doing slight foreshadowings. For you to put interesting foreshadowings, either the plan needs to be already in motion, or there should be hints of how the plan will advance. These should be notorious enough that the party remembers them, but not so detailed nor in-context that they could easily deduce what’s going to happen.
For example, let’s say that as a way of making crime a larger problem in the city, Alexios’ men are planning a skirmish on a nobleman’s mansion. For this, they would need weapons and information on the nobleman’s routine. Perhaps the party will hear about a blacksmith’s shop being stolen, or they’ll see mysterious figures around the nobleman’s estate at late hours of the night. Some days after, the skirmish happens, and the party is called for help. Then, they can put the pieces together.
You can do this at all levels of a plan, and not only with parts of the plan that are just about to be executed. In fact, having a large number of small, seemingly unrelated foreshadowings, can have a great dramatic effect when the party realizes that they were all part of the same plan.
Hope these tips are useful for when you’re planning to take over the world! As always, stay tuned for more content coming from ND Hobbies.
-Mauricio A. Rosel Conde, writer and editor.