To followup on my post about making interesting bad guys, this post is about how to help expose your characters to those bad guys. After all, when the characters see the bad guy, their usual response is to try and beat them, whether that means to kill them or to arrest them or to trap them or whatever. They usually aren’t paying attention to your exposition, especially if it starts becoming long winded. They’re thinking about ‘when I get a chance to act, this is what I’ll do’. So, comic book style monologues don’t work for a roleplaying game. Instead, I want to provide a few tricks that may help with this.
Movies and TV shows, and some books and video games, will do a cut to the villain and let you see what they are doing. This establishes the villain for the audience, letting the audience see things from their side of the story for a bit. It usually serves to explain why certain things are happening to the hero, such as the challenges faced or even the reason for things. Usually, this happens a lot more in traditional heroic stories, where the heroic character goes charging into battle to topple the evil villain. It is a great alternative to the stories where you do not see the villain until the hero breaks into their throne room and there is the whole ‘Finally, we meet’ scene, usually trying to demonstrate why the villain is evil, usually as a way to justify why they are evil. It gets even worse in video games of that sort because you see the hero that may be killing everyone and stealing everything while this villain is just sitting in their throne room waiting for the hero to challenge them.
Secondly, have evil deeds reflected in the world. Your NPCs can talk about the big bad did something that impacted them like taking all the children of age to conscript into their army or you can have the geography of the world change by doing things like having new cities pop up due to large number of troops in area and their support. Sometimes it can be scuttlebutt, like all the different stories of Keyser Soze, or it could be propaganda, like how the army is there to protect people from terrorist attacks while they are actively engaging in illict acts. Look at how some dictatorships and such run, the public image is the state is there for you and anyone who doesn’t agree is a terrorist.
Some times you don’t want to directly show the villainous acts, perhaps you want to retain a little mystery of who or what they are or maybe it is as a challenge for the PCs to find out the exact details of what happened. Henchmen work for this somewhat because they can do monologue by proxy, or perhaps if it is one with an established base like a corrupt official, there may be records and communications showing what has been done and will be done.
A turncoat/double agent is also an option. Someone who for whatever reason is not happy with the state of affairs and switches to the side of the heroes. It can be a full defection or an insider slipping bits of intel to people to help them, perhaps the unknown spy type. You don’t have to make all the information true, nor does it have to be complete. A simple hint like something s going down in the woods or I saw them speaking with some official. Enough for them to begin searching in the right direction. Also, do not be afraid to sometimes have this information lead to possible traps, but use it infrequently or players will always ignore information given.
A final option, bring out the villain to directly confront the players. Usually, you want this with a group of minions and an escape plan because you will want them to be able to escape. An example that comes to mind here is Kefka from Final Fantasy VI. There were a few times he appeared throughout the game and always had an escape plan in mind if something happened.
If you are going to use the villain as a confront the PCs tool, make sure to prepare options on how to survive combat and also plans of the PCs might do unless your plot can accept them being dead. Don’t just handwave it and say they survive. Think about ranged attacks, explosions, magic, any number of things where they may try to kill your NPC. You can use disguises or body doubles somewhat, usually in cases of things like political figures. Having a bodyguard/meat shield to sacrifice themselves to take a hit can work too. Having some sort of shield or something can work too, such as a force field or magical warding.
Of course, remember surviving does not mean not getting hurt. Lose an eye, get a leg broke or have burns all over your body. When your PCs see the NPC coming back with a dislocated nose and a missing eye, they’ll remember their victory, even if it was just a tiny one. Also, woundings allow for the villain to take an unhealthy interest in the PCs. Vision of Escaflowne has one bad guy get a facial scar by one of the heroes and forms an obession over it and over the hero. Maybe this obession the villain has can lead to a conquest to one up your characters or maybe it will lead them to question their choice of evil, or perhaps it will be a wakeup call and have this villain strive for more, perhaps becoming more villainous in their actions, or simply in how they present themselves (ie: they now wear better armor).