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Author Topic: Long-distance villainy  (Read 10446 times)

BedrockBrendan

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Long-distance villainy
« on: August 06, 2014, 09:27:33 pm »
BY BRENDAN DAVIS

NOTE: This first appeared on my blog (here). My next article will be original content only for TheRGPsite.

Several years ago I wrote an article called Long-Distance Villainy, which talked about a GMing technique I used for villains from time to time. I would like to discuss it here again because I am thinking of doing it again soon and I believe it is a great way to bring fresh perspective to your campaign villains.

Basically, long-distance villainy means you outsource the management of your villain in a campaign to a player who is not actually part of the group (often someone you gamed with in the past but who has moved and can no longer participate in your local campaigns). I started using this technique back before the internet, and it required a little more effort to conduct through the phone (and in some cases by mail). Now with email, forums and instance messages, doing a long-distance villain is much easier.

First you need to have an actual villain, or allow the person playing the villain (will just call that individual PPV for short) to create one. Much of this depends on how villainy emerges in your games. Some people deliberately create villains they know the party will face, others have a more 'survival of the fittest' approach. Whatever the case, you ask someone to be the PPV and you either give that person the character details about the villain or you give the person some basic instructions and they make the villain for you. After that you give the person resources, tell them how they fit into the campaign and confer with them after every session to see what their next move is.

This works best when you have a villain operating in the background who is at odds with the party for some reason. However it can work with any type of villain or approach provided the PPV understands his role may be undercut in cases where the villain's place in the campaign is less assured. So here is an example of what might occur.

You have a party who discovers the lost city of Sarr and takes an object called the Sarrian book from its underground catacombs. The Sarrian Book is an ancient scroll containing forgotten and powerful magic. Unbeknownst to them an evil mastermind, named Ariston has also been questing for this very book and wants to use it to subjugate the city of Donyra and control rival spell-casters in the area.

Between sessions you contact your old gaming buddy Phil, who lives in another state, and ask him to play Ariston remotely. He wouldn't participate in any of the sessions, except perhaps one where the party actually confronts Ariston. In that case you talk about the possibility of using an online video chat platform to have him make an appearance in the game when it is required. Otherwise all he has to do is manage the resources (mainly money and henchmen) you assign to Ariston, as well as make decisions and plan his actions.

It is this latter part that makes this technique work as a breath of fresh air for the GM. It introduces an opponent who is trying to win and devising cunning schemes to outwit the party. Because this seriously raises the stakes, I suggest you inform the players that they will likely be facing a difficult opponent who is trying to kill them and not pulling any punches, at some point during the campaign (it is also probably a good idea to mention that this character will be played by another player remotely).

Once you have established that Phil is all set to play Ariston, you continue the campaign. After each session you confer with Phil, and you keep track of where his minions are, what he is planning, you tell him what information he has gained through various sources (how accurate his knowledge is may depend on a variety of factors). He then says what he intends to do, how he will use various minions and what measures he will take against the party.

So for his first action, he takes his most trusted henchmen and sends them to the PC's birth cities to find out information about them. During this time, the PC's make their way to Tungat Oasis and agree to help the Qeshar, the tribe who control the city, to find a sacred relic believed to be in a ruin deep in Emerald Valley. After the session you speak with Phil and decide he learns about the PC's going to Tungat Oasis because they passed through Donyra on their way. You also tell Phil what his henchmen learned at the PC's birth cities, including that the player character Beor has a nephew in Donyra. Phil decides to use a spell called Tearing the Veil to learn where the PCs are ultimately heading. In it he has visions of the road to Emerald Valley. Phil then tells you he wants his henchmen Bal-Shillek to come to Donyra and kidnap Beor's Nephew. He also sends Aedra to Tungat Oasis to bribe the Qeshar and turn them against the PCs (asking that they take them prisoner for him). Finally he sends Hasur to follow the PCs when they arrive in Emerald Valley. He has 20 soldiers, but decides to keep those nearby for his own protection until he knows more about the PCs plans.  

This can go on for many sessions, and it may be some time before things come to a head (with either the party confronting Ariston or Ariston striking at the party). I suggest keeping a tracking sheet of the villain's finances, henchmen, information sources, holdings, etc. You also will want there to be space on the tracking sheet to note Phil's orders each week. The attached image is a quick example I threw together of what this might look like. But you can use any method that works for you. Personally I like to have several pages like this and use a new one each session, giving me a clear record of past and present information.

What I like about long-distance villainy is it provides the players with a challenge that thinks differently than I do, and that shakes things up considerably. It also adds an element of the unknown for the GM, where he has less control over a crucial setting element, but it is still outside the control of the PCs themselves, which maintains a sense of the setting being a real and external thing.

I do not recommend this be used every campaign. I only resort to it once in a while, usually when I just need a change of pace or want to raise the stakes in a game. Internet really makes this easy to do. You can even bring the PPV into play using Skype, google + or any other format that supports video conferencing.

LordVreeg

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2014, 09:37:20 pm »
Never done it with a villain...but there are a number (I think 9) of NPCs that are actually old PCs that they still advise on heavily.  This kind of thing happens a lot, or can happen, in a really old setting.
Love your idea of getting more involved with it.
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Dana

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2014, 09:39:00 pm »
I've thought about outsourcing villains before, but I have yet to follow through on it. This really nails down some concrete benefits it could bring to a campaign.

I'm sure some of my friends could come up with much cleverer villainy than I would on my own, so maybe it's time to look into subcontracting that out to some experts. :-)

I mostly do PbP anyway, so coordinating something like this wouldn't be a big deal for me.

Arkansan

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2014, 12:24:36 am »
This is an excellent idea, I may just put it to use in my upcoming 5e campaign. We have a player that won't really be able to make sessions but could likely spare a bit of time here and there to be the brains behind a bad guy. It's a win win, adds a bit of exceitmen for the group and odd man out still gets to be involved.

Zachary The First

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2014, 06:46:35 am »
I really like this idea. I've had friends play as the enemy against the PCs before, but never as a remote, strategic mastermind. I'll have to try it!
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BedrockBrendan

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2014, 07:54:19 pm »
Glad folks found it helpful. I wouldn't recommend doing it a whole lot, but once in a while it is a lot of fun.

Simlasa

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2014, 07:56:17 pm »
It's a fun idea... something I hadn't heard of before... a bit like running a campaign level game to generate individual battles for wargames.
I've got a friend, now far away, who would be perfect for this sort of thing... now I just need to find an appropriate villain/faction for him to manage.

Necrozius

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2014, 07:54:47 pm »
This is a really cool idea. I might get a friend to play the whims of angry Greek gods vs the players... A bit of a Clash of the Titans kind of thing in which they can't interfere directly: only through minions and things like the weather.

Ashakyre

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2016, 11:36:20 am »
This is a fantastic idea... You only really need the villain player to give input every so often - perfect for a long distance friend!

The Butcher

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2016, 03:29:39 pm »
We did this once, but the campaign was too short-lived for it to bear fruit.
« Last Edit: November 20, 2016, 09:02:29 am by The Butcher »

BedrockBrendan

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2016, 08:14:26 pm »
I ran another long distance villain. Worked quite well. I definitely think letting the players know they are going up against an opponent who is another player and trying to actively win helps (both in terms of being upfront about the arrangement and in terms of giving them the sense that this is an consequential clash).

Spinachcat

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #11 on: November 26, 2016, 06:01:37 pm »
BB, this is an awesome idea.

Give us a breakdown about how it played out from the PC hero side. How did it affect their gameplay? How evil did your PC villain get? Or did you have some rules on how evil he could get?

Also, how did you allot new resources to the PC villain as the PC's killed his minions?

BedrockBrendan

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #12 on: November 27, 2016, 10:24:22 am »
Quote from: Spinachcat;932725
BB, this is an awesome idea.

Give us a breakdown about how it played out from the PC hero side. How did it affect their gameplay? How evil did your PC villain get? Or did you have some rules on how evil he could get?

Also, how did you allot new resources to the PC villain as the PC's killed his minions?

I handled it slightly different in each situation, because these were campaigns that were years apart (so my style and the groups style varied each time I implemented it). But the last big one I did, I allowed the villain to emerge naturally in play from one of the early sessions (so I already established what group he belonged to and what resources he had access to). Then I handed that PC to another player who wasn't involved in the campaign. I gave showed him a map of the region, explained what he knew and what his goals were, assigned him resources (he had X number of minions, a boss who tasked him with retrieving a manual and sword, a stipend, etc). He told me what he wanted to do in between sessions, and I implemented it during sessions. One thing I did was closely track his and the player's movements. So I had a map on the table during play and used color-coded pawns to indicate the party, the villain NPC, the villain NPC's minions. This map was behind a screen, so the players didn't know exactly how things were playing out. This was important, because it really showed me how a villain who isn't present would have to operate on an information network and try to anticipate the party's movement. I think one thing it resulted in was me actually playing my villains more believably. One thing that came up a lot, was his minions being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Logistics were really important. But over time, he got better and started coming up with more clever schemes for moving his men and intercepting PCs. One approach he took was dividing his men into groups of two or three, and sending them to wait out in likely inns or villages that he knew the players would pass through. This ended up being more fun on my end, because I didn't know which group the players would face and the player divided his forces in interesting ways.

One thing I did in each case was tell the party they were going up against a player who was actively opposed to them. This made the conflict a little more intense and let everyone know punches weren't being pulled. So I think it was more exciting but also a little more nerve wracking for people.

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #13 on: January 26, 2020, 07:51:30 am »
Excellent article. I've done this a few times now. Its great because the villain behaves in ways I would not have considered. I don't ask for contingencies, just agendas, specific actions, and general mode of operation and style. I report back after a session and my remote villain players gives me their reaction and changes. Its great.

BedrockBrendan

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Long-distance villainy
« Reply #14 on: January 26, 2020, 02:48:15 pm »
Quote from: DanDare;1120018
Excellent article. I've done this a few times now. Its great because the villain behaves in ways I would not have considered. I don't ask for contingencies, just agendas, specific actions, and general mode of operation and style. I report back after a session and my remote villain players gives me their reaction and changes. Its great.


Thanks. This is an old one