So you’ve gone to all this trouble, creating a villain, giving them some goals, and planning out the schemes they need to achieve said goals… and your players totally miss all the hints you’ve dropped. Or they care more about their personal sidequests than the main storyline you prepared. Or they hear about the schemes and assume it’s a sidequest, and that the should spend their time elsewhere. What should you do?
There are a lot of standard tricks a Dungeon Master can use when the players suddenly change course in a way you aren’t ready for. The first, and probably most common, technique is to transplant whatever you prepared so now it’s happening wherever the party goes. Built a dungeon for the crypt they were thinking of exploring, but the party decided to venture into the rainforest instead? Now that crypt is a ruined temple in the deep jungle. This works just as well for the location of villainous schemes, as long as the players haven’t learned about it already. If they know the villain is attacking the capital city and they go to mudhut village, you shouldn’t change the villain’s whole plan so suddenly the army is invading mudhut village.
If the players know about the villain’s plan but don’t think it’s worth their time, then the scheme should succeed! That’s the simplest way to deal with it. The villain will accomplish whatever their goal was, and become more powerful. If the players keep ignoring future schemes, the villain will only get stronger, and eventually the players will either have to deal with them or accept the new, villain-led world in which they live. Though, if this happens, you should stop to consider why they aren’t interested in the villain.
Ask yourself, what hooks are they biting on? If you really aren’t sure what they want, consider stepping out of character for a moment to ask the players directly what kind of game they want to play. Maybe you wanted a Lord of the Rings style game where they do battle with an evil villain and triumph at great personal cost, and they wanted to reenact a Knight’s Tale. It’s important to consider your players’ expectations when designing a villain for your game, and if you create something serious when they’re looking for comedy (or vice versa), you’re going to have a bit of disconnect. The goal of this discussion, by the way, is not to force either side to change, but to reach a compromise. If your players are decent people, you should just have to explain the story you want to tell and promise to incorporate the elements they desire, and they’ll be happy to go along with it. After all, being a Dungeon Master is hard work and most people would rather be a player.
Getting back to the issue at hand, what happens if the players continue to ignore the villain? The villain needs to start attacking things the players are attached to. If you aren’t sure who the players are attached to, start with their characters’ backstories. One of the characters can get a letter from a friend or family member informing them of a terrible fate that has befallen their hometown. If the players are fond of any NPCs in your game, you can have one of them either ride off into battle to confront the villain themselves, or get kidnapped/disappear/die. As has been mentioned before, every outcome should further the story.
In a perfect world, your players would eat up every plot hook you put in front of them. In reality, there may be some story arcs they like more than others. If the schemes your villain is using aren’t compelling to the players, you have one more option we haven’t discussed yet: play it for laughs. What if the villain is desperate to be taken seriously, but the major powers of the world see them as a minor threat that isn’t worth their time? If your players get in on the joke, they can have a blast making a mockery of a villain, even if you originally intended them to be a serious threat. Be flexible with the tone of your villains.
Tomorrow we’ll wrap up this series with a post about unstoppable schemes, or what to do when it’s too late to prevent the worst from happening!
Steven Gordon - 2CGaming Team