• Justin Handlin

Creating a Great Villain

Listen Now:

Crit Academy discusses all the facets that makes up a great villain in your story and campaigns. Some of the most memorable villains aren't the creature that was born and raised full of anger and hate. No, the best villains are those that you're able to humanize. What we mean by that is a villain who truly believes they are trying to help a person, or persons, not themselves. Their motivations are, at least, in their eyes, is out of some sort of righteousness, but nobody else can see it.

An example we like to use is Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze. Terrible movie, yes, but the characters motivations are all about curing his wife, who has been frozen to slow a disease that will kill her. Most people can relate to wanting to save a loved one, but the lengths some will go, and the approach they take could lead them down a darker path.

Another great example is Killmonger from the Black Panther movie. Killmonger spends his life working toward dethroning cousin after the death of his father. He seeks to use the power of Wakanda in order to cease the oppression of people of African descent all across the world. Now, this is definitely a point that many people with the world can relate too. All he wants is to end the suffering of people. Is this wrong? I don't think so. But, his approach is, and that is what makes him an interesting villain.

Listen to the full episode as we go into all the details of making your villains as memorable as these.

Unearthed Tips and Tricks: New and reusable D&D content for you to bring with you on your next adventure.

Character Concept:

Spells from a Hat

Being a spellcaster is a lot of work. You’ve got so many spell slots, so many spells

known and/or in your spellbook, and you have to prepare them ahead of time. How are you supposed to choose when you don’t even know what’s going to happen that day?

The solution: Spells From A Hat! Write out your spells on individual slips of paper and

put them in a bag (or a hat, if you have one). When it’s your turn and you want to cast a spell, reach in, grab a spell, and pray to your character’s deity that it turns out to be a good one!

Maybe there’s an injured kobold that’s about to run away, so you whip out the hat, reach in, and cast… FIREBALL! Not only did you obliterate the kobold, but you’re in the forest and now it looks like some trees are on fire. Whoops… Maybe your ally is wounded and you’re the healer of the group, so you come over, speak some words of healing, and cast… THAUMATURGY! Now you can shrug at your wounded ally with glowing eyes and magnified voice while they ask why you didn’t heal them.

Obviously this character concept isn’t meant to be balanced or even effective in combat. This concept can usher a player into needing to get more creative with solutions. You must find a way to utilize any spell, in any situation.

Monster Variant:


Origin: Chimera

This horrific beast is the result of Demogorgon’s attempt to create more interesting creatures when he was summoned to the material plane. It is the combination of three young dragons into a single, multi-headed monstrosity.

New Features:

Sleep Breath (Recharge 5-6). The dramera’s bronze head exhales sleep gas in a 30-foot cone.

Each creature in that area must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or fall unconscious for 5 minutes. This effect ends for a creature if the creature takes damage

or someone uses an action to wake it up.

Ice Breath (Recharge 5-6). The dramera’s white head exhales an ice blast of hail in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must succeed a DC 14 Constitution saving throw, taking 22 (5d8) cold damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. The ground in the affected area becomes difficult terrain. Any creature who enters the area or starts it’s turn in the area must succeed a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw or fall prone.

Encounter Concept:

The Call of the Siren

The heroes are traveling on a ship, and on their journey they have to pass through uncharted

waters. On the way, everyone starts hearing the most beautiful music they’ve ever heard. Before they can figure out what’s happening, the ship veers off course. The captain (either an NPC or one of the players who failed a Wisdom saving throw) has started steering the ship towards a misty island surrounded by rocky cliffs! As the ship gets close or possibly after it crashes into the rocks dark shapes start looming in the mist. The music is continuing, and it is getting louder. As the dark shapes get closer, the source of the music shows itself: Sirens!

The party is lured to a dangerous location by a group of sirens that have enchanted them and brought them near with their hypnotic song. How the players deal with this type of encounter is going to depend on who remained unaffected and how the unaffected characters tend to deal with problems. If the party barbarian is unaffected, for instance, she may simply beat the affected characters unconscious and lock them in the brig until they come to their senses. A clever rogue might shove wax in his ears to make himself immune (at the cost of his own hearing). A wizard or sorcerer might just try blasting the sirens with fireballs in the hopes that it stops the music.

What do the sirens look like? They might look like beautiful humanoids from far away, but

up close their skin might be hanging off their bones in strips. Maybe they take the form of

the viewer’s deepest desire, and this leads some characters to realize things about themselves they never knew. Different characters might argue about what they are due to different pairs of eyes seeing them as different creatures. Maybe the source of the music isn’t even a creature at all; a powerful artifact hidden on the island could be responsible for the hypnotic music. Use this encounter to really play around with your players’ expectations, and try to get some roleplaying out of them!

Magic Item:

Mystical Top Hat

Wondrous, common

“And for my next trick….”

This slightly shabby-looking top hat can be worn like any other top hat (though it is a bit

oversized no matter what creature tries to wear it). If the command word is said when it is held in one hand, the holder may reach inside the hat and pull out a creature! This functions like a find familiar spell, but with a casting time of one action and a duration of 24 hours. The hat’s magic functions in this manner once per day.

There is one important note, however: a familiar pulled from the hat is randomly chosen

with each casting, and there is no guarantee that the creature will be friendly towards the

summoner per DM's discretion.

DM Tip:

Use Traps!

“I check this room for traps.”


“I check THIS room for traps.”


“I check THIS room for traps!”


“Why did I even play a rogue?”

How often do you use traps in your game? Maybe you should be using them more. There’s

a reason dungeons and tombs typically still have treasure in them: because everyone who

tried taking it before didn’t survive long enough. You should try to use traps in your games more often! Not only are they interesting, but they let players use certain abilities (like Danger Sense and Fast Hands) that otherwise wouldn’t be as useful.

Remember, traps don’t have to be something that the rogue deals with while

the rest of the party sits back and stares at their fingernails. Throw traps into combat encounters. Disarming a trap is way more tense when there’s a squad of orcs running at the party. Traps don’t even have to be damaging; they could set off alarms or cut off exits or

destroy treasure. Try to incorporate your traps into the environment where they’re located.

Dwarven traps might be incorporated into stonework and door mechanisms, but goblin

traps are more likely to be built into floors with natural materials. Kobold traps are typically poisoned, and they could incorporate elements (fire, ice, acid, etc.) according to the type of dragon that they’re related to! Traps can come in an infinite number of varieties, so use them!

Check out our episodes on traps.

It's a Trap

Engaging Traps

Jarlaxle's Guide to Traps - Pick up a Copy Here!

Player Tip: Don't be a Dick! You can avoid dickitude by...

Share your Story!

If you’re like me (and you may or may not be), you tend to go overboard when writing your

character backstories. After all, it’s way more fun to play a character when you know how

they learned that language, why they have that personality trait, and how they got that

scar. If you haven’t already, give that character backstory to your DM! It may not be something you want the rest of the party to know (at least not until you’ve been with them a while and you find yourself around a campfire where you can tell everyone about your journey), but if you give it to the DM, then they can use your backstory as future plot hooks. How awesome would it be to encounter an NPC rival that you created for your backstory as opposed to just some random enemy that the DM came up with?

There is just one important thing to remember: if you’re going to write a long character backstory, remember to leave room for growth. Nobody, unless they’re on their deathbed, is done growing as a person. Everyone learns from their experiences, and they will continue to learn from the experiences they haven’t had yet. Your character is the same way; the end of your backstory isn’t the end of the story, it’s the end of the prologue. Your character should continue to grow in character as they grow in level.

We hope you enjoyed your experience here on Crit Academy, if you did, please consider sharing our show and leaving a review here on itunes.

Support Us:

Subscribe to our Blog and be entered to win phat lootz every week.

Visit our website at www.critacademy.com or become a patron donor and get additional phat loot!

Pick up one of our Best Selling D&D DMsguild Products

19 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All