The Complete Book of Villains (1994)

I don’t have Creative Campaigning — I like these books, but not enough to pay more than twice the cover price. Ridiculous. So, on to The Complete Book of Villains. Like the Catacomb Guide, this one is an advice book geared toward making really good villains.

There is little by way of mechanics here. Author Kirk Botula rather keeps most of the process very much conceptual. There are work sheets and flow charts. He asks lots of questions about motivation and state of mind. It is easy to throw cackling madmen at players over and over again, but a great villain makes things hard, tests players, keeps them unsure. Not just in terms of “can we defeat this guy?” but also “should we defeat this guy?” Two of the most popular D&D villains — Strahd and Lord Soth — are a tangle of contradictory motivations. You often feel sympathy for them even as you’re trying to destroy them. The Complete Book of Villains aims to create characters like that.

Because there are no real mechanics at play, Villains really transcends D&D. You can use it for any RPG. Or anything that requires a villain, really. I’d be shocked, considering the number of folks who’ve used RPG campaigns as test runs for novels, if no one had used this book to assemble a villain for a piece of fiction. If not, someone should! TTRPGs are actually very good at breaking complex things down into easier to understand systems, so it makes sense that this (and lots of other RPG products) would be a great tool for broader creativity.

There’s other stuff jammed in here too. Tables of motivations, suggestions for monstrous villains (love the idea of medusae as arch-villains), a small rogues gallery of examples. It’s endlessly useful. Along with the Campaign Sourcebook, it should probably have a spot on every GM’s shelf.

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