RPG Table Top

When Should You Meet the Big Bad Guy?

I think this is a common question, when do you meet the big bad guy in your RPG campaign. And what happens when the players fight them? As a Dungeon Master, I want to tell a story that is entertaining and that makes sense for the world that I’m in. But at times it is tricky because how do you create a compelling reasons for the characters to adventure without getting them killed off in a fight. Because if the players know a character is a bad guy, they will likely fight the bad guy. I mean, if the characters have a harmless NPC look at them the wrong way, they will fight them often. You have a few different options.

Image Source: Wizards of the Coast

Unknown To The Players

Introduce the big bad guy to the players not as the big bad guy. The saying goes something like, the villain is the hero of their own story or in their own mind. So rarely do you get a moustache twirling villain who just exudes evil. The bad guy thinks they are doing something good, not something bad. And what they do might look like it is good, especially early on in the story. Create this go getter character who is forward thinking and out to do great things to the players. Give them some quests from that player, and then start to drop hints slowly over time that this person isn’t as good as they seem. But introduce someone to the players who ends up being the bad guy.

Looking Down On The Players

Another way to do it is to introduce the characters to the bad guy just to show them how far they have to go. The bad guy can come in being known as the bad guy and not even bother fighting the players. They are just seeing who is being tasked to be a pest to them. And because the players aren’t a high enough level, the bad guy can just leave, probably leaving a henchmen behind. It shouldn’t be until the players are at a higher level when they will actually be a concern to the bad guy. If your players are a quite low level, have the bad guy one hit knock out one of them and leave. It’ll create that impact and push the players towards the end goal of stopping the villain.

Through Their Henchmen

If your bad guy is part of a crime ring, or controls some sort of gang, runs a cult, anything like that, you have other characters that can introduce them. In this way bombard the players with villains, low level and then up the food chain of the group. Make it obvious they are all part of the same group. The players will know that there has to be someone at the top that they’ll deal with eventually. You can even build up the legend of the person over time for the players. Talk about how cruel or crazy the person is, or how sneaky and cunning they are. Build up the mystique around the big bad guy for even if the players don’t meet them right away, they know them.

Dungeons and Dragons Rogue
Image Source: D&D Beyond

At The Early Stages

The early stages is going to be different than the unknown to the players, though it will cross over. When the players don’t know that the big bad guy is going to be the big bad guy. In this case, the big bad guy doesn’t even know that they are the big bad guy either. They are some small level bad guy who is down on their luck and sells the players a sob story of some sort. Ideally, you do this in town where killing someone would get you in trouble with the town guard. But give this person a down on their luck, stealing because they need the food, try and get the players to feel sympathy for the bad guy. Then, in the background have the bad guy slowly become a big bad guy for a big reveal at the end. Almost think Count of Monte Cristo style where the Count is actually known as someone else as well. It’ll make for a fun reveal when this bad guy who goes by some odd name turns out to be the bad guy they helped at the beginning.

Final Thoughts

Now, with that said, you can not introduce the big bad as long as you want. If your ultimate big bad guy is going to be a beholder, that makes sense that you wouldn’t just stumble across a beholder. But, it can be fun to try and introduce the big bad guy early, give the players some target or some surprise later on. It is a twist on a lot of stories where the big bad guy is revealed towards the end. But it can be just as good to introduce them early and make them sympathetic or untouchable so that the world develops more.

What is your most memorable bad guy you’ve encountered or ran in a Dungeons and Dragons game? How do you make them stand out from other bad guys?

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