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The Smart Villain part 4: Interior Design

Posted By Matthew J. Neagley On July 4, 2011 @ 1:45 am In GMing Advice | 7 Comments

Lair InteriorIn the first three parts of The Smart Villain, we talked about general approaches to smart villains, the community, and external lair defenses.  This time we’re looking at interior lair defenses and tactics.  In our final installment we’ll discuss the smart villain’s gear.

So as the smart villain, your base has been breached. Good thing you knew this would happen and you’ve planned accordingly with:

  • Traps: Much like outside the lair, traps can play a key role inside. As before, if there’s a chance your own minions will fall prey to  a trap, it should be non lethal or have a bypass. Bait is once again an excellent idea to make your traps effective.  Inside the lair also has the advantage of plenty of chokepoints to make traps unavoidable for those who don’t know their secret.
  • Guards: The lair should have plenty of guards and they should be augmented by buffs and good tactical positioning.  If it’s an option, make do-gooders think twice about attacking your guards. Putting a picture up in the lobby of the guard staff at the most recent family picnic or  using mind controlled innocents is a great way to make PCs think twice about how much they really need to carve your guards into bite-sized chunks.
  • Alarm systems: A special kind of trap or a special action by guards, raising the alarm in case of lair breaches should be a number one priority.
  • Synergy: Guards, traps and other defenses should complement each other as well as they’re able. Spiked pits can contain oozy monsters, or have ranged attackers stationed nearby. Think about ways elements can work together or be augmented.
  • Logistics: Defenses should be up at all times, so if there’s a reason they’re not (power failure, shift changes, bathroom breaks) find ways to keep down time to a minimum.  Laser cannons with self contained power supplies are more effective than those without, as are monsters with no biological functions (or no embarrassment about those they have) and guards who have frequent rotations and check-ins.
  • Patrols and surveillance: Similar to the exterior of the lair, giving opponents down time is a bad idea, so frequent patrols to every area of a lair, and surveillance technology or magic that can locate and harass intruders is a must.
  • Party splitters: Falling walls, trap doors, remote controlled elevators or other traps can be specifically designed to split up a group of invaders, allowing a villain and minions to deal with each group separately. Though splitting the party is a classic GMing no-no because of related difficulties, if properly planned for it can be handled gracefully.
  • Compartmentalization: Reader SchildConstruct had this to say on an earlier comment thread and he was dead on: Evil’s enemies are like a disease, thus infected parts of a lair must be quarantined. Magic, falling rocks, or heavy blast doors are adequate means. Combined with the lair’s traps, this will limit the damage potential of an invading party of adventurers and other go-gooder scum to only one section of the lair. I’ll add that if you happen to hit a few do-gooders with those falling rocks, or split the party with those blast doors, all the better.
  • False Showdowns: Invaders have limited resources and often those resources have a timer once applied. Spells, potions, battery life, etc… are all limited resources that are usually applied just before opponents get to their main objective.  With bad information, illusions, recordings, and stand ins, invaders can often be tricked into blowing their precious resources on a showdown that isn’t there, leaving their timers running and pushing them into rash behavior.
  • Hit and run tactics: If a lair has plenty of traps, heavy doors, or the above mentioned falling rocks, it should be easy for heavy artillery or even the smart villain themselves to make an attack from hiding or show up in the middle of a mook fight to toss off a few rounds at long range, then run away to snipe another day, placing a durable barrier between themselves and opponents.
  • Tactical locations: Every smart villain has different combat tactics at which they excel. Designing locations in a lair that specifically take advantage of a villain’s strengths, while making it easy to defend themselves stacks odds in their favor. A high tech maze with secret doors and a life sign tracker can let a villain sneak up behind his foes and blast them repeatedly, while a dragon might make use of a flooded cave system full of murky water.
  • Recruitment offers: Any foe who can breach a smart villain’s lair is a powerful force. Various tactics can make recruitment more likely to succeed. Some PCs will be swayed by proof that the villain actually helps the community, others by being smacked around a bit, and others by bribing them. Information on foes gathered by the villain’s information networks can help pick the right tactic, though for an added bonus, isolating potential recruits from their friends for the pitch helps prevent meddling. In the case of success, it’s best to continue that isolation until loyalty is certain.
  • Escape routes: Unless they’re something really bizarre, a smart villain is rarely willing to fight to the death. This means that multiple escape routes should be planned out. By the same token, if the smart villain’s only way to escape combat is to run for it, they’ll rarely wait until they’re almost dead. Usually a few pieces of escape gear such as smoke grenades, portal spells or the like will help extricate the villain from combat so they can get to the nearest escape route.  However, don’t abuse this.  It’s fine to have several escape options, but if they fail, don’t fiat escape.
  • Failure contingencies: Every smart villain hopes to never need them, but they all have Swiss bank accounts, alternate identities, caches of gear, and military fortresses in Aruba as backup plans in case their main base of operation falls.
  • The big red button: Though cliché, a self destruct system in a lair is a last ditch attempt to kill invaders that have proven they have what it takes to foil a villain’s best defenses, and to ensure their profit from doing so is minimal. In modern or better eras, insurance even makes the cost of a destroyed base minimal.  On a metagame level, the big red button sets up exciting “race to escape” scenes, and lets PCs turn a villain’s own base against him if they manage to set off the destruct themselves. Of course, a self destruct may mean making sure your minions can escape too (or that you can blame the destruction on the PCs), if you don’t want to completely ruin your community ties.

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "The Smart Villain part 4: Interior Design"

#1 Comment By Alias On July 4, 2011 @ 2:07 am

Excellent ideas, as usual. The “False Showdown” reminds me of the “Stainless Steel Rat” book series, particularly one installment where DiGriz battles a time-travelling villain named “He”, prepares the ultimate killing bomb and then throws it… at a hologram.

On the other hand, the GM should als remember that, in the end, the PCs arre supposed, if not to win, at least have a fighting chance. Are you planning to do a follow-up article “The Ultimate Evil-Busting Guide for PCs”?

#2 Comment By Donogh On July 4, 2011 @ 2:51 am

I’d add ‘Redundancies’ to the list too. PCs are adept at spotting a workaround. So have your villain plan for doing without one of the pillars of security (like magic or traps or guards).
A flip-side to the ‘Recruitment Offers’ approach (which I like, a lot!) is to seed spies and infiltrators at likely “base-camp” or provisioning centres travellers to your lair will use. Forewarned is forearmed and all that. Plus a fifth column in the party’s hired muleteers (or whatever) will give the villain an edge…

#3 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On July 4, 2011 @ 4:55 am

@Alias – I enjoyed a few books in the Stainless Steel Rat series that I picked up at a used book store. They probably do convey the “Oh shit we’re completely outclassed” moments pretty well.

On player win chances, this is just a grab bag of possible options. I suppose if we were talking about a world threatening first class evil genius with unlimited time and resources he might have all of these, but most of the time you’ll want to tailor your villain’s repertoire to make it more appropriate to their resource level (and player challenge level?).

As for a player-based follow up, we don’t currently have any plans for that because we’re a GMing focused site, but there are plenty of player-focused sites out there who probably have counter strategies for most, if not all of these tactics.

@Donogh – Redundancies is a great addition to the list. That’s why I love writing for the stew. Our readers can always come along and improve on my ideas, and that makes my games better. :)

The spies and saboteurs in the base camp and a great addition to part 2 of the article: the community.

#4 Comment By John Arcadian On July 4, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

A great prop to go along with this idea is the villain’s expense sheet. Some players may feel like the GM is just throwing things out there to screw over the party’s good ideas. However, if they happen to find the villain’s “expense sheet” after defeating him (or having their butts kicked), then they won’t feel so slighted about the incredible toughness. Plus the prop would be pretty easy to make. Just detail out your defenses/tactics on a piece of paper and assign a cost to each one. You can even just scribble the costs (an a few notes about the expense of defending against those damn adventurers!) on it in shorthand. It turns it into an in-game item but retains it’s value as notes for the GM.

#5 Comment By SchildConstruct On July 5, 2011 @ 1:08 am

Oh, wow. Didn’t expect to be quoted like that. :)

Anyway, I do have something productive to add:

The wise villain will have dead man’s switches in his lair. It is not enough to wait for minions to send alerts, since the forces of good are sneaky, honourless bastards, willing to wipe out whole groups of minions. Thus, the lair must be alerted when minions fail to report in, as well.

#6 Comment By Redcrow On July 6, 2011 @ 3:56 am

I found Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ an invaluable resource when developing smart villain tactics. Most of its precepts are easily adaptable to small PC vs. NPC encounters.

I also highly recommend Niccolo Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ as a good resource for developing villains who are good at manipulation. Especially if you want to create a villain who hides in plain sight rather than deep inside a dank, trap laden labyrinth in the middle of nowhere.

#7 Comment By LordVreeg On July 20, 2011 @ 11:51 am

I did want to say that I have really enjoyed this series.
(and frankly, GS’s recent return to the original utility level they had)
I’ve always (for decades) been accused of having ‘Prescient Villians’, so I got to the point of writing everything down just so evenyone knew it wasn;t just made up.
They they accused me of having the villain be too smart.
The supergenious NPC who ran the thieve’s guild under one name and the local Orphanage under another, I was playing too smart.
*more sigh*

Maybe my players will read this and finally understand what I was trying to accomplish.

Thanks for a good read and good advice!

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