Category Archives: NPC’s

Recurring Villains, Pt. 2

As you may have noticed, especially if you’ve been reading my partner blog, Tales from the Borderkeep, and you should! There have been a rash of weddings and major life events in our little circle of late! I’ll try to get back to my regular Saturday night/Sunday morning post schedule, but in the mean time, I’d like to give the Devils their due!

Villains come in all shapes and sizes, whether they are recurring or not. What I’d like to do today, is talk about the four main types of bad guys and gals you’re likely to employ as part of your masterful repertoire! 1

1) The Troops "We're Terrrriiifffffyyiiinngg!!!"
1) The Troops
“We’re Terrrriiifffffyyiiinngg!!!”

The troops are the lowest level bad guys. These are your zombies, goblins, common street toughs, and whathaveyou. They serve a purpose, that of exciting, fairly challenging combat, but they aren’t enough to fulfill a story’s worth of twists and turns, and exciting antagony! That’s a new word I just made for you, friends! The minions serve to make scenes tense, to provide clues about the greater, behind the scenes goings on, and to let your newly leveled characters try out all their awesome new abilities. One thing I do enjoy when employing the old shock-troop regiment, is to give one or two of them interesting dialogue quirks, or even visual differences.  It’s always more fun to kill “the one that keeps calling me a drow-lover” than it is to just get goblin #2. Even in a zombie apocalypse game, the minions cannot be the stand alone adversary forever. Take it from a dyed in the wool zombie one shot junkie, the most dangerous, and most interesting bad guys you’re likely to meet aren’t going to be your rank and file red-shirts.

2) The Midbosses "You might have slain my evil puppets, but now you have to deal with ME!!"
2) The Midbosses
“You might have slain my evil puppets, but now you have to deal with ME!!”

This is where things start getting interesting! Why is this mysterious woman hanging out with a bunch of walking corpses? Is she controlling them? What are her motives? The Midboss can be more fleshed out than a regular troop, perhaps making several appearances before actively engaging the party. One of my personal favorite mechanics is to take a rank and file, especially one that just keeps surviving the party’s most valiant attempts to kill it, and level it up. The party then has a stake in taking out said Midboss, because they just can’t stand the thought of “the one that got away.” The Midboss needs to have clues about what’s going on in the large scheme of things . . . A calling card for the baddy that’s really in charge, or some sort of hideout that has clues as to what the party should do next. Just remember to make him or her more challenging than the other bad guys faced thus far, so the pc’s have a real sense that they might meet their end if they don’t tread carefully.

3) The Lieutenant "So you've made it this far . . . Davenport, we have guests. Prepare a feast . . . FOR THE CROWS!!!"
3) The Lieutenant
“So you’ve made it this far . . . Davenport, we have guests. Prepare a feast . . . FOR THE CROWS!!!”

All jokes aside, this is probably my favorite class of villain. The Lt. Is cunning, powerful, and has survived long enough to (usually) avoid making stupid mistakes. They should have fully fleshed out personalities, goals, relationships with other npc’s, and your party should know and fear what it means when you finally bring the Lt. against them. There are usually more than one . . . I personally prefer to have a cunning, sneaky type, a brawling, muscle-bound type, and a smart, calculating type at work behind the scenes at all times. Imagine characters like Zsasz from Batman, or The Mountain That Rides from a song of fire and ice. These are characters that, if left to their own devices, are terrifying enough, but when unified by a greater power, become down right nasty. Make sure they aren’t just another henchmen, though. The characters need to have heard of them looooooong before they encounter them, and it never hurts to let them get the better of your pc’s at least once. A healthy fear, aggression, and even a little bit of curiosity are what you’re going for, and remember, these people have climbed the echelons. They should be interesting, dynamic, and potentially lethal . . . And every once in a while, redeemable, but that’s a completely separate post.

4) The Mastermind "I'm sure you're wondering why I've brought you here. Too bad you'll never find out."
4) The Mastermind
“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve brought you here. Too bad you’ll never find out.”

Ah, the mastermind! You’ll know if you’ve done it right by the looks on your player’s faces when you have the big reveal. Build the mystery. Have a name whispered in shadows, fearfully by men and women who need have fear of nothing. Have this be someone the party has encountered, on good terms or bad, and let it be a shock that this is the real power behind the evil army/devastating thefts/vile murders/abductions/ or whatever other game is afoot in your story. This is very hard to pull off, especially if you have a thrice damned paladin in your group of pc’s, but it can be done, You just have to resist the urge to give away too many clues, no matter how excited you are about your players finally encountering the one who has been behind everything! As with the lieutenants, tease this one as long as you can before bringing him to the forefront. Imagine being in Luke’s shoes, for instance, never having seen Darth Vader, but hear of this wicked, powerful enemy, and knowing all along that one day, you will have to face him. Trickle information to your players, build the suspense and anxiety, so that when they finally face that seven foot tall space samurai, you really get something from them . . . That often sought, ever elusive emotion response that says, “Thanks, man! For a second, I forgot all about my crappy job and real world problems!” It’s always about that suspension of disbelief, and with the Mastermind, you get as close as you ever will to really pulling that off on purpose!

This has been fun to write, and I hope you enjoyed it! If you want more, check out the previous link to Tales from the Borderkeep, or head over to our website, the Borderlanders. If you like anything you’ve seen or read here, please leave a comment! It would seriously be like an early Christmas present for me! And as always, don’t fall for the Kobold Pit Trap!

The Reccuring Villain

First off, I would feel remiss if I didn’t finally give a major shout out to the website Pixabay, from which I have drawn most of the images from this blog so far. If you’re interested in doing something like this, please swing over and check out their vast library of open source photography. Pixabay is awesome!

Now, onward to The Borderkeep!

I’ve written a great deal about the various benevolent, and not so benevolent, npc’s that you might use in an adventure set in the Borderkeep. As I was playing the newest installment in the Destiny franchise, however, I started thinking. Villains. Specifically, the recurring villian. Any of you who have ever planned your own campaign, written your own villains with inspirations like Tywin Lanister, or The Man in Black, or even characters like Kefka and Sephiroth, then you know what it means to attempt to recreate that feeling you get when, around every bend and turn, the heroes are hounded by what seems like an insurmountable force.

Seriously? What about me?

If you have, then you’ve realized the same basic truth that I have . . . Realistic recurring-ness is reeeeaaaaalllly hard in a game that, at its most basic function, relies on random chance. We’ve all been there. You have the evil genius, who has finally chosen to make his presence known. He has am escape route, he has minions, he has every opportunity to get away free and clear, when,

Ranger: “Dude! Nat-20!”

The party starts cheering, because they know they’ve already done a ton of damage to this guy . . . And this, well, this must be the culmination of all their cleverness and hard work. At this point, you have two options; let him die and then pull a finial fantasy nine and toss in an even worse threat that just has to feel contrived, or have him escape deus ex machina style, which is even worse than the other option.

"I've won again, Rand Al'thor"
“I’ve won again, Rand Al’thor”

Well, here are some simple tips that I’ve learned along the way. First, never have your villain present himself in a vulnerable position unless you are absolutely ready for the possibility of his or her death. Second, the gaming world is a wide, weird place. If you want to, give the villain an extraordinary ability that helps him escape, but make sure your players see him use it BEFORE he uses it on them. Third, every good villain has equally diabolical minions, with their own fleshed out personalities and machinations . . . That, despite their usefulness and utter evil effectiveness, will inevitably be sacrificed like the pawns they are in the Gillian’s epic game of chess against your pc’s. I could go on sooooo very long about this topic, that I think I will, right after I write character biography 3, on the mysterious court wizard!

I hope I was helpful! Please click like, or even better, leave a comment, question, or request behind as you go. Get the word out, and visit my partner blog, Tales from the Borderkeep, and our parent website, The Borderlanders, and as always, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!

The Court Wizard

Dear readers, this one is near and dear to my heart.

My favorite type of character to play, in literally any type of game, be it D&D, Elder Scrolls, or even Destiny, is a magic user.  There’s just something about having the ability to remake the reality around you to suit your whim . . . to break all the most annoying laws of physics and create something from absolutely nothing . . . to be the mysterious, dangerous, soft-spoken scholar, wielder of scroll and book, fire and lightning, rod and staff.  To get this reaction:

"Get down! I think he's about to-" BOOM!!!!!! "Ulrich?!"
“Get down! I think he’s about to-“

I’m not alone in my obsession.  Many of the most famous characters in our venerable genre are wizards . . . Elminster, Raistlin, Gandalf, Harry Dresden . . . even Harry Potter.  There is a reason the world wants so desperately to believe in and read about magic.  It’s cool.

So, the question is, how do you bring that level of cool to your game-table without overshadowing your fledgling characters?  You have to blend mystique and accessibility, power and a willingness to share that power that is very often not a part of the wizard stereotype.  My solution? The Court Wizard:

Pictured: The last face your chaotic-nuetral, party-screwing thief sees before being sent to the afterlife.
Pictured: The last face your chaotic-neutral, party-screwing thief sees after he tries stealing from the lord of the keep.

With a well thought out Court Wizard, you get two or three benefits in one.  First, you have a mysterious figure, one who might take a special interest in the party, and perhaps build tension as they try to ascertain where his morality/loyalties lie.  Second, you have a source of magic for you party.  This can be tricky, because you don’t want your players to grow in power too fast, so in my games.  My advice is to have your Court Wizard be honest with the players.  He doesn’t know if they’re ready to call the fires just yet.  Maybe he thinks they need more discipline, or maybe he simply doesn’t trust them.  On the flip side, he does present a possible source for pretty much any spell from first to third level, so your wizard pc has something to spend his money on while all the fighters are buying shiny new breast-plates.  Third, Court Wizards can’t be bothered by pesky things like gathering components, so you can use him for low-level quests.  He also can’t be bothered to check out that weird magic resonance near the old silver-mine, so upper level stuff is a go also.

Don’t let him be a buddy to your party. He should stand aloof, perhaps only truly ever speaking at length to the lord of the keep. My favorite quirks to give a Court Wizard are things like having the characters feel a chill every time he looks at them. Roll fake will saves to keep them on edge. Have strange lights and otherworldly sounds seep out of his research tower at night.

"Did you still want to knock on his door?" " . . . Uh, no . . . I'm good . . ."
“Did you still want to knock on his door?”
” . . . Uh, no . . . I’m good . . .”

You don’t want to come right out and say “oh yeah, he’s mean-mugging you something fierce,” but maybe have him never smile around the party.  But if the party tries t cultivate a relationship with him, be open to that possibility too. In the first major game I ever played, my wizard was taken under the wing of the old elf Court Wizard. It took a long time, and a lot of role playing, but I still remember that experience fondly.

If you couldn’t already tell, I think I’m going to make this character my next biography, which I hope will be as helpful to you as it is fun for me. I’d like to take this time real quick to acknowledge Pixabay, which provided all of the pictures I’ve been using these last few months. Stop by and check it out, and buy their donators a cup of coffee. I also want to remind you that my parent site, The Borderlanders, is going to be up and running soon, filled with awesome stuff for the modern gm. Also, my brother blog, Tales from the Borderkeep, is up and running, full of awesome posts and stories from the players and gm’s of our gaming group. If you like short fiction, Star Wars, or just like reading about adventures, check out the Tales from Teemo’s Folly. I’m diggin’ it.

Thanks for reading, and as always, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!

The Blacksmith

Ok, so your dowey eyed, 1st level players have heard rumors in the bar about an upcoming caravan job.  Cpt. Winters tries to talk them out of it, but they won’t listen . . . the pull of sweet, sweet freedom is just too irresistible.  The wizard points his bespectacled nose into a book and might as well not exist for the next few days.  The monk meditates on how awesome it is not to have to buy gear, and the barbarian pulls a stiff, foul-smelling hide over his head, much to the displeasure of everyone around him.  Your poor fighter, however, looks to you and, breaking character, says, “Well, what about me?”

Padded armor isn't going to cut it.
Padded armor isn’t going to cut it.

“That’s ok,” you say, stern, but reassuring, utterly impressive in both your delivery and composure.  “This town has a blacksmith.”

This week, I’m primarily writing for games set in medieval times, for what I hope are obvious reasons.  When I think of a blacksmith, I can’t help but picture the big man with a handlebar mustache and a bald pate in Army of Darkness who was the first person to say, “I’ll stand by you.” Now, maybe that warped my 12-year-old brain . . . among other things . . . but ever since, I can’t help but feel the urge to bathe the blacksmith in a positive light.  Smithing is a hard job. If it takes 2,000 hours to become a professional, and 10,000 to master any skill, I would just as soon not spend those hours in a literal oven working bits of molten metal into usabl- who am I kidding?! Blacksmiths are awesome!

Pictured: Awesome
Pictured: Awesome

I’m not alone in my bias, either.  In The Wheel of Time, Perrin Aybara is the most level-headed and honorable of the three main characters.  occupation? Blacksmith.  Charity Carpenter from The Dresden Files dabbles in smithing, and you would be hard-pressed to find a better example of bravery and honor, with the sole exception of her husband.  Hell, in A Song of Fire and Ice, they have an entire god, one of “The Seven” fashioned after a blacksmith, because the “honorable” trope is that hardwired into the fantasy-lovers psyche.  He or she is always the first to pick up a hammer, stand at the walls, hold the gates, and defend the town.

While we’re on tropes, I’ll bet you already have an image in your head of what the gold standard blacksmith looks like too, don’t you?

“Is he reading my mind?! He’s reading my mind, isn’t he!”

That is, unless you’ve been watching Pirates of the Caribbean or Kingdom of Heaven . . .

Pictured: the blacksmith in both movies.

All jokes aside, any blacksmith worth his salt needs to look stouter than a Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Banana Ale.  Portland, you know what I’m talking about. Seriously, it’s a job where you pump bellows all day, and if you aren’t pumping bellows, you’re holding bars of red-hot metal in place for someone, and if you aren’t doing that, you’re using an 8 pound hammer and your wrought-iron will to shape metal into what you see fit!  I guess I just don’t see Legolas doing any of those things.

Ok, here’s your stat block:

Str 16-18, Dex 10, Con 16-18, Int 12, Wis 14, Cha 10.

Obviously, he or she will have a high skill in smithing.  For even a low-level character to have this, simply give them the skill focus feat in crafting.  If your blacksmith is just a blacksmith, give him 13 hit points.  If he’s going to do any heroic, tropy stuff, double that.

Blacksmiths are gruff, no-nonsense kinda characters.  It comes from all the years of hard work they put in to their field, but remember to give your blacksmith something that makes him stand out.  This can be a particularly epic handlebar mustache, or gruesome burns across his forearms (A sign of a careless smith).  My personal favorite, though, is to give the smith a super attractive, (adult, obviously) strong-willed son or daughter.  It’s always fun to have players interact with both at the same time, making them walk that fine line between flirting and angering the only man in town sure to have a sword handy.

Until next week, thanks for reading, and don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!

The Barmaid

. . . I think my son is finally asleep . . . . . . If one of you wakes him, I swear to literally all of the gods, I . . . won’t do anything.  I’m actually pretty sure I’m just talking to myself.  Man, I miss sleep . . . Now, where were we?  Ah! The third and final stat block in my series about bars . . . and assuming you read the title, you already know we’re going to be talking about the barmaid! I got a lot of positive feedback last week for posting links to examples, so in keeping with good business sense, I think I’ll continue to do that.  Hopefully, we all know what a barmaid is . . . Possibly NSFW?  So, I’ll skip the lengthy description. The most famous barmaid that comes to my mind would have to be Tika Waylan, which I strongly suggest you not google . . . Oh god, sooooooo much fanfiction.  She was the brave, naive barmaid in the Dragonlance series who later went on to become somewhat of an adventurer herself.  If you aren’t familiar with the books, snag them off amazon.  Seriously, best two dollar purchase you’ll ever make. I only bring up Ms. Waylan to point out a few things. The first is the trap that many younger GM’s fall into, chiefly that you inadvertently turn every woman in your game into a sex object:


Tika was described as being a gangly, awkward young woman, who, while pretty, was surrounded by Swedish models, by which I mean the Peter-Jackson’d-to-death-so-hard-I-can’t-even-remember-what-I-visualized-when-I-was-a-kid elves. Seriously?! Kate from Lost? What was he thinking?!  The focus for Tika was always on her endearingly naive and disarmingly earnest personality.  A brief physical description is fine, but any more, and you run the risk of falling afoul of a certain scenario we all know and love: image

You might be going for wanton sex goddess, but my question would be . . . why?  What the hell would she be doing serving drinks at the local tavern?  My advice, stick to something more interesting and a little more three dimensional.  Allie, Farmer Jethro’s daughter, who likes to get into a little trouble after her shift.  Poor orphaned Leah, who has learned from a life around rough men how to turn their advances so artfully, they’re almost never offended.  Maybe even Young Jenna, the Innkeeper’s daughter, who works the bar to help Pa, and who’s OFF BLOODY LIMITS if you want to keep your mitts unbroken! Have fun with her, and unless she has some vital part in the story, only make her as memorable as you need her to be. Oh yeah, obligatory “it doesn’t have to be a her,” etc.  I’m an equal opportunity . . . imagineer?


D20 Stat Block: Always remember that servers get their money from the kindness of strangers, so it’s in their best interest to have a high charisma, maybe a 13 or 14.  For a more naive person, drop the wisdom to an 8 and leave everything else at a ten.  If, despite my incredible advice, you still want to populate your bar with bombshells, hike the charisma up to the 16-18 range.  Bear in mind, however, that charisma doesn’t necessarily mean good looks . . . you might have a hideous bar wench (It’s ok, I’m taking the word back) who is loved by everyone she comes in contact with.  Skills?  If your game has a carousing skill, bump it up.  Spot, sense motive, local knowledge, and perform are always good choices too, but never so high as to take away from your player character’s spotlight! Thanks for reading!  If you like what you see, please leave a comment and a suggestion for my next topic . . . and as always, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!

So you walk into a bar . . .

So how is a tabletop session like a joke?  Waaaaaaaaaay too many of both start off with this line!  Especially when you’re young, and the prospect of your characters getting shlammered in a bar is easily as exciting as your power bill being 50 dollars lower than normal, the “your characters meet in a bar” scenario is a definitive go-to.  This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.  Want to jump right into the story?  Running a one-shot?  Sick to death of the one player in your group who takes the concept of “back story” to Machiavellian extremes?  Fine, so you walk into a bar . . .

Every good bar will have a memorable set of npc’s, but today, I’m going to focus on the one that a bar can’t function without; the Barkeep.

Stereotypically, the barkeep will be gruff, saying little, cleaning less, standing behind a worn wooden bar, wringing his hairy-knuckled rag-wrapped fist in a mug to get the last dregs of stale ale out of it before filling it and doling it back out to your pc’s.  He’s seen it all! From haughty nobles to bare-knuckle brawls, the barkeep has ignobly withstood trials and tribulations.  And his bar is still standing, despite that fire last winter!  All this is fine if the barkeep is a part of the background, or if the adventurers are just passing through, but what if the barkeep is going to be a bigger part of your story?

You’re going to need a trait or two to stick out in your player’s minds!  Maybe your barkeep isn’t gruff . . . maybe he’s charismatic!  Perhaps the ale he serves has a name like “Olef’s extra pale ale,” and he, being Olef, takes a ridiculous amount of pride in his slightly less piss tasting swill.  Does he stay behind the bar, or does he serve his patrons personally?  Perhaps he has a memorable physical feature, like a unibrow or an unnaturally bright red beard.  Was he once an adventurer himself?  Maybe he has a special weapon or piece of armor on display behind the bar, tempting young adventurers with its magnificence.  Even if he’s a one trick pony, make sure your players remember his trick, so that in the years to come, they will still ask, “What was that barkeeps name?  The one who smashed a whiskey bottle in the face of that orc who insulted his microbrew?”  And then your wife looks at you and shakes her head, and you tell Jim he’s got to stop bring up the game as though it’s real, especially since the time you were playing a modern setting and he loudly asked at your cousin’s funeral where he could even get enough cyanide to poison the mayor . . . “Olef!” he says, “Never mind, it was Olef!”

I’m just going to assume, despite the inherent dangers of such a thing, that you’re familiar enough with the rules of the game you’re playing to understand the numbers I’m using in the following stat blocks.  Remember that, unless there is something well beyond the ordinary, your barkeep is going to be a pretty average guy or gal.  He doesn’t have to have a super high charisma for you to play him as overly charismatic, but if you want to, in each example where I’ve given the barkeep a slight bump in toughness, transfer it to charisma.

5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons (Trade mark or whatever?)  10’s across the board, except maybe a 12 in constitution and wisdom.  Assume that unless you’re adding character levels, he is a level one with a proficiency bonus of 2.  Proficient skills include history (localized), perception, and insight.  Constitution and wisdom would be the preferred saves at +2, with the rest being +0.  Hp: 7, AC 10, Cudgel +0 for 1D6 damage.

Pathfinder: Again, 10’s across the board.  Pathfinder is a game with a little more sensationalism going on than some of the other d20 games, so instead of a 12, maybe give the barkeep a 14 constitution and a 12 wisdom.  The skills are very similar to D&D, but with a bigger bonus.  Assume the barkeep has a +4 in the following skills: perception, local knowledge, sense motive, and diplomacy. Saves would be Fort +3, Reflex +0, Will +1.  Hp 8, Ac 10, Cudgel +0 for 1D6 damage.

White Wolf (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, etc.  I’m familiar with second edition rules, but if anyone really wants a stat block for the newest one, let me know and I’ll slap it together)  First and foremost, call him a bar tender, since the setting is modern.  An average score for a human is 2 dots in any attribute, and since a one dot variation in any ability is a massive improvement, just give him 2 dots in every attribute.  Likewise with skills, normal humans are 2-dotters, so assume a die pool of 4 for things a barkeep would know how to do, like driving a car or being cordial to guests, and a 2 for everything else, like astrophysics. Ah White Wolf, my beautifully simple stat-block mistress!

Savage worlds: Your bar keep will probably have a d6 in most stats.  This is ok, remember he doesn’t have to be awesome to pour a drink, nor should such an action require a die roll.

Sample names:

Olef, Ogden, Ralph, Scott, Will.  Keep it simple in keeping with the gruff serenity of the barkeep!

This is my first attempt at providing a resource for gamers, so please, if you have any suggestions or requests, leave them in the comments below, and I will try to address them!

And as always, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!