Disappointed With The Villains


RPG Superstar™ 2009 General Discussion

Dark Archive RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka FaxCelestis

I'm relatively disappointed with the villains, for a couple reasons. I felt like the majority of the villains that were presented didn't go far enough into villainy and just ended up feeling mundane. Some of the villains I didn't even feel were antagonists: rather, they were set pieces. Perhaps this could have changed without a 500-word limit: with a little more space to expand (say, 750), it would have been easier to portray why this character presented here is a villain.

I also found that too many of the villains were humanoids. This is a matter of personal preference, I understand, but I was still expecting to see at least one awakened animal, and certainly more than one--arguably two--monsters. If your concern is thumbs, remember raccoons, otters, rats, and squirrels all have opposable thumbs and as such are perfectly capable of wielding weapons and using tools. Even without, there's the Hand of the Mage, telekinesis, and other options.

I was surprised that there wasn't much templature either. I would much preferred to have seen a Fiendish Half-Dragon Awakened Frost Worm instead of a Human Druid. This could have been an effort to keep down the final CR of the villain, but it still left several instances in which I felt a villain would have been better with a template than without.

And frankly, I don't understand the concern with maintaining a low-CR. Sure, many campaigns take place under the ECL 10 line. But many also take place above it (some even start there!), so a high-CR villain not only has more power behind their villainy but also a greater sphere of influence--and therefore, a greater threat for the party to manage.

I was further surprised to notice that no one created a new race or creature (or even class!) for their villain. Sure, you don't get to explain what that new being is in your villain description fully, but surely you could spare a line ("Stricta are the Aasimar of lawful outsiders.") to explain in short, and then expand in the next section. I mean, the qualifying round was all about creating something. Sure, it was a magic item, but races, classes, and templates feature as much into a character as their gear does, if not more so. So why remain constrained within material that already exists, when you can create a memorable, unique villain with but a few words?

The last thing I want to mention is that the majority of the villains seemed to have petty motives: control the underworld of this city; kill a tribe of goblins; gain renown; bring global peace (?!). These are things that can be done by anyone, villain or otherwise. A memorable, epic villain needs to have far-reaching, ground-shaking motives: destroy all life; recover an artifact of immeasurable power; learn a new form of magic against which others are powerless; rule the planes. Where was the mass-murdering sorcerer who had developed a spell to let him permanently switch bodies, and as such was impossible to catch? Where was the Half-Fiend Pseudonatural Frost Worm Wizard 9 bent on ascending to godhood by throwing the entire planet into an interminable winter? Where was the Awakened Rat Lich Sorcerer 14? Where was the blinded medusa with oracular powers, masterminding a planar takeover?

Some of the villains--the ones I hope make it to the next round--are salvageable. Some don't need salvaging. But all in all, the villains were underwhelming.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16 aka Clandestine

In my defence (sort of) - I thought that I would be in the minority of human villains. Imagine how bewildered I was at the slew of "human something X".

But I can honestly say I tried to give my villain both the striking visual and the goals to match! Tomorrow, I'll find out if I'm right.


Fax Celestis wrote:
I was further surprised to notice that no one created a new race or creature (or even class!) for their villain. Sure, you don't get to explain what that new being is in your villain description fully, but surely you could spare a line ("Stricta are the Aasimar of lawful outsiders.") to explain in short, and then expand in the next section. I mean, the qualifying round was all...

I could be wrong, but a villain submission is not the time to bust out new rules on the judges.

Dark Archive RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka FaxCelestis

Clandestine wrote:

In my defence (sort of) - I thought that I would be in the minority of human villains. Imagine how bewildered I was at the slew of "human something X".

But I can honestly say I tried to give my villain both the striking visual and the goals to match! Tomorrow, I'll find out if I'm right.

I don't think you're one of the ones who needs to worry.

newless cluebie wrote:
Fax Celestis wrote:
I was further surprised to notice that no one created a new race or creature (or even class!) for their villain. Sure, you don't get to explain what that new being is in your villain description fully, but surely you could spare a line ("Stricta are the Aasimar of lawful outsiders.") to explain in short, and then expand in the next section. I mean, the qualifying round was all...
I could be wrong, but a villain submission is not the time to bust out new rules on the judges.

Two things to this point:

"Creating something new" is not the same thing as "making new rules." One can describe a creature that looks like something out of a Lovecraftian nightmare and still use the rules for an orc.

Secondly, one can hint at what a new feature does without making rules for it. It is my understanding that the next round is where rules come into play. As such, you'd define something now in non-mechanical terms and then further define it (in game terms) in the next round.a

Star Voter Season 6

I was disappointed in the number of high CR villains. I get more use out of a rake seducing the innocent and snubbing the heroes at a court ball than I do awakened half-dragon rat liches.

Dark Archive RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka FaxCelestis

roguerouge wrote:
I was disappointed in the number of high CR villains. I get more use out of a rake seducing the innocent and snubbing the heroes at a court ball than I do awakened half-dragon rat liches.

That may well be the case--and I don't deny that such villains certainly are easier to use--but it's also much more difficult to grab the reader's (and the party's) attention and interest with a low-powered villain than it is with a high-powered one. High-powered villains have a gigantic scope of influence and as such are a bigger target for PCs, easier to make interesting for a reader, and are also more capable of adventure-spanning threat. The rogue 3 mugger may make a good villain for a low-power game, but once the PCs catch up to him it's over. A higher-powered villain not only has means of acquiring aid, but also means of escape, more funds at his immediate disposal, and even the potential for powerful spellcasting.


Fax Celestis wrote:
That may well be the case--and I don't deny that such villains certainly are easier to use--but it's also much more difficult to grab the reader's (and the party's) attention and interest with a low-powered villain than it is with a high-powered one.

I think exactly for that reason, I'm usually more impressed with a well-crafted low-level villain that still manages to be credible and interesting.


Fax Celestis wrote:

I'm relatively disappointed with the villains, for a couple reasons. I felt like the majority of the villains that were presented didn't go far enough into villainy and just ended up feeling mundane. Some of the villains I didn't even feel were antagonists: rather, they were set pieces. Perhaps this could have changed without a 500-word limit: with a little more space to expand (say, 750), it would have been easier to portray why this character presented here is a villain.

I also found that too many of the villains were humanoids. This is a matter of personal preference, I understand, but I was still expecting to see at least one awakened animal, and certainly more than one--arguably two--monsters. If your concern is thumbs, remember raccoons, otters, rats, and squirrels all have opposable thumbs and as such are perfectly capable of wielding weapons and using tools. Even without, there's the Hand of the Mage, telekinesis, and other options.

I was surprised that there wasn't much templature either. I would much preferred to have seen a Fiendish Half-Dragon Awakened Frost Worm instead of a Human Druid. This could have been an effort to keep down the final CR of the villain, but it still left several instances in which I felt a villain would have been better with a template than without.

And frankly, I don't understand the concern with maintaining a low-CR. Sure, many campaigns take place under the ECL 10 line. But many also take place above it (some even start there!), so a high-CR villain not only has more power behind their villainy but also a greater sphere of influence--and therefore, a greater threat for the party to manage.

I was further surprised to notice that no one created a new race or creature (or even class!) for their villain. Sure, you don't get to explain what that new being is in your villain description fully, but surely you could spare a line ("Stricta are the Aasimar of lawful outsiders.") to explain in short, and then expand in the next section. I mean, the qualifying round was all...

Perhaps contestants drew on the experience of their home games when considering what villain entries to submit, and went with something that they felt confident about depicting well? And if they don't have half-dragon awakened frost worms or body-hopping sorcerers in their home games, then why attempt to do something they've never tried before in the high pressure situation of an online contest?

Liberty's Edge Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

Clandestine wrote:
But I can honestly say I tried to give my villain both the striking visual and the goals to match! Tomorrow, I'll find out if I'm right.

I'm pullin' for you. I liked your guy's physical description.

Dark Archive RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka FaxCelestis

Charles Evans 25 wrote:
Perhaps contestants drew on the experience of their home games when considering what villain entries to submit, and went with something that they felt confident about depicting well? And if they don't have half-dragon awakened frost worms or body-hopping sorcerers in their home games, then why attempt to do something they've never tried before in the high pressure situation of an online contest?

That's understandable, but this contest isn't about your home game, nor is it about doing what's comfortable. It's about making something spectacular and worthy of recognition and inspiring.

And I suppose that's really my fundamental issue: while these villains were certainly usable, I found the majority of them uninspiring. And for a contest that for all intents and purposes is about finding someone who is capable of inspiring others into running their adventure, I find that to be disappointing.

I was expecting to have to make a difficult decision between selecting four entries. I did not have to make one; instead, I found myself agreeing with Clark's (occasionally strong) judgements on nearly every entry.

This is a contest about being a superstar--it's even in the name--and very few of the entries inspired me in the fashion that I feel a superstar should.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Theodore Roosevelt wrote:


It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

from the "Citizenship in a Republic" Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Now that the voting for this round is over, I'm going to say something that probably needed to be said a long time ago. There has been a lot of really awesome, constructive feedback in this competition, both from the judges and from the public. Unfortunately, there has also been quite a bit of completely useless complaining and nay-saying.

In my work, we submit ourselves and each other to constant critique as a built-in part of everything we do, because screw-ups in our work environment can (and do) have disproportionately serious consequences, up to and including death. As such, I am very accustomed to being on the receiving and of criticism, sometimes extremely harsh. I have stood through dressings-down which most people simply would not have put up with, because I knew that I was also receiving critically valuable lessons. Bottom line: I have no problem accepting harsh criticism, internalizing it, and making use of it. However, I am also accustomed to getting only constructive criticism: critiques which can help me be better.

As much as I was pleased by all of the constructive feedback (both positive and negative) I saw, I was dismayed by the amount of useless negative comments I saw, and not just in the thread for my villain (which definitely deserved a very harsh critique). Saying, "this villain is useless," or "this is a terrible submission," does not help anyone: it doesn't help the author improve himself, and it doesn't help other voters think intelligently about the submission.

The worst negative comments were the ones along the lines of "this villain does not meet my standards," with no further elaboration. (The judges correctly said that my submission did not meet Superstar standards, but went on to specify what I did wrong, which is the key distinction in all of this). I absolutely understand comments along the lines of, "This villain doesn't get my vote," but that's very different from, "This villain isn't good enough for me." Not only is such criticism unhelpful, it displays a ridiculous level of arrogance. I didn't see anyone in the top thirty-two leave such egregious comments, but if anyone had a right to do so, it was they. Instead, the top thirty-two (and most of the rest of the public) displayed incredible humility and only made criticisms if they had something useful to add to the conversation. At the very least, if you are going to say, "Your villain isn't good enough for me," you had better follow that statement up with some concrete ideas for how you would do better. Fax Celestis did exactly that. I disagree with a lot of it (more templates?), but at least there is actionable advice in there. I wish more people had done the same.

To put my money where my mouth is: I've posted a revised version of my villain, based upon the feedback I've received so far. As long as people keep leaving constructive criticisms, I will keep working. I will either incorporate each piece of advice, or explain why I don't feel that it should be incorporated. I will keep this up (as my other obligations allow) until I either stop getting feedback, or until I come to the conclusion that my whole concept is so flawed that I just need to trash it, whichever comes first.


Lucas Jung wrote:
Theodore Roosevelt wrote:


It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

from the "Citizenship in a Republic" Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

HEAR, HEAR!

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka Epic Meepo

Fax Celestis wrote:
Where was the Awakened Rat Lich Sorcerer 14?

In fairness, I posted the following in the Unofficial Top 32 Guildhall over two weeks ago:

Eric Morton wrote:
The villain I scrapped before coming up with my actual entry was based on the Monkey King from Chinese folklore. He was going to be an awakened monkey lich wizard (illusionist) 20 who created duplicates of himself by casting the simulacrum spell on his own hairs.

But I didn't want my entry to be an adaptation of a mythological figure, for fear of seeming unoriginal.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32 aka Tetujin

Clandestine wrote:

In my defence (sort of) - I thought that I would be in the minority of human villains. Imagine how bewildered I was at the slew of "human something X".

But I can honestly say I tried to give my villain both the striking visual and the goals to match! Tomorrow, I'll find out if I'm right.

Same boat. I had a number of great over-the-top monstrous villains but thought if I really wanted to stand out and demonstrate some design talent I'd have to just try a really well-written and unconventional humanoid. Ironically, everyone turned in humanoids that were thought of as wholly unremarkable and the only real monster-with-class-levels villain (Gulga) was the clear favorite this round.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32 aka flash_cxxi

Yeah my other option was an Elven Ranger/Sorcerer/Green Dragon Disciple who hates other Elves and hunts them at the behest of his master, a Green Dragon. In that respect I'm sort of glad I didn't 'cause I liked Haldon Valmaur, The Jade Shadow, who I voted for (and I absolutely loved Elizabeth's Haunted Shoes, by far my favourite item).
After considering the two, I remembered how much James (Jacobs) hates Half-Dragons in adventures and so went with the relatively more mundane (and too bland and cliche apparently) Human Serial Killer. It's a shame really as I quite like the new Dragon Disciple and am trying to think up new Character concepts for it (here is an example in the making - I have him statted up to 8th level as I originally made him to play in a Crucible of Chaos game that never eventuated).

Also, after the deadline, I had a think about being able to try out new mechanics as part of the contest a little more (I already had some mechanics tweaking planned) and realized I should have revisted my idea first floated here and developed the idea of an Umbra Dragon Disciple. But then, if I had of been thinking about Villains from the time I submitted the Dazzler instead of being like everyone else and thinking I wouldn't make it, maybe I would have thought of it earlier.

Hindsight is a marvellously double edged sword...

Star Voter Season 6

Fax Celestis wrote:
That may well be the case--and I don't deny that such villains certainly are easier to use--but it's also much more difficult to grab the reader's (and the party's) attention and interest with a low-powered villain than it is with a high-powered one. High-powered villains have a gigantic scope of influence and as such are a bigger target for PCs, easier to make interesting for a reader, and are also more capable of adventure-spanning threat. The rogue 3 mugger may make a good villain for a low-power game, but once the PCs catch up to him it's over. A higher-powered villain not only has means of acquiring aid, but also means of escape, more funds at his immediate disposal, and even the potential for powerful spellcasting.

Power isn't the same thing as protection, though. Often it is, although with players' assumptions of balance they're more likely to attack anything than in prior editions. What I like are villains that have the protection offered by social consequences. Kill the beggar guild master and every beggar has a knife waiting for you. Attack the aristocrat and the entire Watch mobilizes to hunt you down. To kill last year's midwife character, you have to do it in front of her children. It's actually quite easy to set up low level villains with social protections like this.

Dark Archive RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka FaxCelestis

Lucas Jung wrote:
Dead on the money statement.

Forum ate my post. ARG.

Anyway. I wanted to say, in short, that I felt like the bar was set in the first round: I went through and looked at the Top 32 items, and I said to myself on each and every one, "This is better than my item."

I was expecting to do the same with the villains, but I didn't. So when it came time to look at the villains, I felt cheated because I was expecting a villain better than the one I had in mind, and was left wanting for the majority of the entries.

That's not to say that the people here didn't work hard: I don't doubt that they did, and they have my respect for making it this far when I (obviously) haven't.

But I was also expecting material that would make me say, "I never would have thought of that," not material that would make me say, "I could have done better than that."

I've said what I thought could be done to fix that in my initial post: mostly, it boils down to a willingness to "think outside the box", as it were, and also in terms of motivation.

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