Back when 3rd Edition launched, I was the first person in my area to run a game in the new system. Also, this campaign represented my first attempt at running a long-term game as pretty much every other campaign I’d ever run lasted a month at most before we got bored and moved on to something else. There were many new options in the game I wanted to play with, including templates. This is what birthed the villain I’ve re-used a couple dozen times as the Big Bad for my campaigns, Llynos.
His history has evolved since I created him, but it’s settled in the past decade or so. Llynos is a half-dragon, half-elf (Elf with the Half-Dragon template in 3.x, to be exact) Fighter/Sorcerer or Fighter/Wizard, depending on my whim. In pretty much every campaign I run, a massive war ended between 20 and 100 years before the start of the game (thankfully, most published campaign settings have some sort of war that just resolved itself in living memory which makes Llynos easier to drop in any setting). Llynos lead in the army as a General, one of the best tacticians on his side and gaining a reputation as someone not to be crossed. He respected enemy soldiers and treated prisoners fairly, but had no issues with bloodshed or torture when necessary.
Then something happened. He gets news that his hometown has been raided by the enemy and his wife and son were killed (usually in a gruesome and torturous manner, but I don’t always go into detail). Llynos is enraged and flies away, never to be seen again (though every enemy encampment along the bath from where he was last seen to his hometown are nothing but smoldering craters). The last evidence of Llynos anyone recalls is the brigade that attacked his village found tortured and killed.
Llynos’s storyline is always the same. The death of his wife and child breaks him. He vanishes to a secluded place to live by himself, wallowing in misery and self-loathing. He blames himself for their deaths, believing that if he had stayed home rather than going to war, they would’ve been safe. Considering he was able to utterly destroy the enemy forces that attacked them, this isn’t an unreasonable conclusion. However, he goes beyond that to an epiphany, reflecting on his hundreds of years of life.
Existence is pain and suffering. The longer we live, the main pain and loss we experience. The only way to be true of suffering is to not exist. Being the altruistic man that he is, Llynos dedicates his life to curing the world of its suffering.
His plan almost never changes in my campaigns. He discovers a ritual which, in a certain place at a certain time, will open a portal that will devour both the world and all the other planes of existence and collapse them into nothingness. No life, no afterlife, no nothing. He attracts a group of core followers to his cause and then hires an adventuring group to go out and find X number of artifacts required for the ritual. I usually create items that are kind of interesting and only slightly on the broken side to use. If I’m using my homebrew campaign world, there’s seven of them, one for each of the major deities in the world representing their seat of power as a way to get around them as their will protects the world from this portal.
Now the players, of course, find out about this and try to track them down themselves, occasionally running into the rival adventuring group, occasionally running into one of Llynos’s other followers. But here’s where I put on the twists.
First, Llynos doesn’t need the artifacts. He needs the ritual itself. The artifacts are helpful but not required. Once he learns that someone’s onto him, he gets more visible and more frantic looking for the artifacts when, in fact, he doesn’t care that much. This distracts the PCs as he goes out more discreetly looking for the parts of the ritual.
Second, Llynos is not evil. He is Lawful Neutral. Because of this and his philosophy, he attracts followers of all types, from insane clerics of CE deities to LG paladins. They all share a similar backstory to him of some sort of great loss and all see, for whatever reason, the destruction of the world as the best thing.
However, the Rival Adventuring Group never has this motive and they don’t exactly know what the ritual’s about. They’re in it for the money and they don’t believe Llynos is doing something so nefarious. Sometimes there’s one of Llynos’s True Believers in this group to keep an eye on them, but not always. It depends on the group of PCs I have as I, of course, build the group to rival the PCs.
Finally, Llynos is smart. He’s read the Evil Overlord List and he’s a master strategist. He knows how to make use of his resources and when to cut losses. He plans everything out as best he can so even if he fails, he gains something from the encounter. And yes, he’s very much the “Stop me? I did it thirty-five minutes ago!” type. The only reason the PCs have a chance at succeeding is that they know exactly the when and where the ritual needs to be performed, and that gives them a chance to stop him.
So that’s how I create a villain. He’s kinda cool on his own, he has a backstory that makes sense, and he has a motivation that seems justified from his point of view.
What happens if the PCs fail to stop him? I’ve never had that happen, but I’ve had it come close. But I always have the back-up plan. Remember when Ross talked about the Force of Nature BBEG? Llynos didn’t take into account exactly what the portal would unleash except that it would “eat all of existence and devour the planes”.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Earthdawn Horrors and the Scourge, right?