This isn’t going to be a dictionary entry of a post, we’re going to talk about schemes in a very specific context! Schemes in Tyrants & Hellions are a villain’s plans, and their primary way of interacting with the world and the players. The key feature of schemes is that they are not abstract things like motivations and goals, they are tangible and measurable. To pull from fiction, one of Sauron’s goals is to recover the one ring. One of Sauron’s schemes is to send one hundred orcs to attack the fellowship, or to send his ringwraiths after Frodo. The scheme is a specific action, and it can either succeed or fail. In Tyrants & Hellions, there are a few different types of basic schemes. This post is going to run you through each one in turn.
First, though, let’s cover one of the key differences between the schemes of a Tyrant and a Hellion. A Tyrant’s schemes will usually involve minions, servants, or otherwise not involve the Tyrant directly. A Hellion will generally handle things personally, limiting their schemes to places they can physically travel to. And Archvillains, of course, are made all the more dangerous by their unpredictability, they might choose to handle something personally, surprising the heroes with a fight they can’t win when they expected to battle minions they know how to handle.
Okay, so let’s cover the core types of schemes: Destruction, Acquisition, Fortification. We’ll setup an example scenario and run through a series of schemes to show how Tyrants & Hellions will make it easy for you to run the villains in your game. In our example, Evillus the Dragon (a Hellion) wants to acquire a powerful scepter from the vault of a nation’s capital. The scepter will enhance her draconic abilities and make her truly the most powerful dragon ever, and then all will bow down to her and swear fealty (or so she thinks). First, though, she has to deal with the King’s dragonhunters.
Destruction schemes are based around, you guessed it, destroying something. When the villain needs to remove an obstacle to their goals, they’ll allocate some of their resources to the task. In our example, Evillus knows the King’s dragonhunters are going to be the greatest threat to her if she attacks the capital city directly. So she sets a trap, creating a false nest and spreading rumors that it has vulnerable dragon eggs within. Unless the party hears about this and learns the truth in time to save the dragonhunters, most of them will be slain when Evillus collapses the cavern on top of them. With the dragonhunters out of the way, Evillus moves on to her next scheme: Acquisition.
When a villain wants something, whether it’s an item, an ally, or information, they use Acquisition schemes to get it. Evillus wants that powerful scepter, so she sets out to get it. Without the protection of the dragonhunters, the capital city is vulnerable, but even for a powerful dragon, charging in unprepared isn’t going to go well for her. As a Hellion, Evillus is not dependent on minions or allies, so she begins a series of raids on outlying villages to distract the King’s army and spread the capital city’s resources thin. But she also knows that if she spends too long on this ruse, it will only lead to reinforcements from other cities, so she has a limited window to strike. In Tyrants & Hellions, a scheme like this will be split into stages, with distracting the army as stage one.
Stage two would be seizing the scepter itself, which would require breaching the vault in some way. Evillus isn’t one for subtlety, and believes she is strong enough to lift the vault with a few potions of strength she has procured. Downing the potions in one gulp, she storms the city and uses her powerful breath weapon to burn through the roof of the King’s hall. She reaches down, grabs the vault in her talons, and rips the entire thing up with her into the air. She then takes off for home to crack open the vault. (In a full write up, opening the vault would be stage three of the plan, but we’re going to move ahead for brevity’s sake)
In 5th Edition, many magic items require attunement to a wielder before their powers can be used. Potent artifacts often have lengthy and complex attunement rituals, and this scepter is no exception. It’s time for a Fortification scheme. Evillus prepares her lair to defend against any attacks while she completes the attunement to the scepter. In the interest of creating a fun final battle, the scepter grants an additional benefit for each day that passes during the ritual, until all of its powers are unlocked. This is most likely where the players finally fight and defeat Evillus, but if they are unable to… she launches her Doomsday Scheme.
Each villain in Tyrants & Hellions has a Doomsday Scheme that only happens if they succeed at all their previous schemes. While the name may sound terrifying, exactly how bad it is will depend heavily on the villain. Small scale villains like a goblin warlord might have a Doomsday Scheme that involves raiding trade caravans all along the western coast. A powerful dragon like Evillus, however, is going to begin her Doomsday Scheme by razing the capital city to the ground. It’s important that there are consequences for failing to stop a villain.
This week’s posts are all about schemes, tomorrow we’ll talk about designing schemes and what makes them engaging or boring, and then we’ll spend the rest of the week covering how many schemes a villain should have going simultaneously, what happens if the players miss your plot hooks and never find out about the scheme, and we’ll end the week with a post on Doomsday Schemes that will answer the question “What if the villain wins?”
Steven Gordon - 2CGaming Team