Thursday, January 22, 2015

Welcome to Role Initiative!

Dear Readers,

Dungeons & Dragons: Past, Present, and Future now has a new name, a new day, and a new home! 

My weekly article is now called Role Initiative and you can find it over at every Tuesday morning at 8am Eastern, 9am Atlantic. For previous articles, select the "column" option at the top of the home page and go to "Role Initiative". 

Tribality is a great website providing quality articles on D&D, roleplaying, and the gaming world as a whole and I am honored to be a member.

I hope to see you all over at the new digs!

-A.A. Amirault 

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Art of the Secondary Villain

When I design a campaign, one of the first things I ask myself is: Who is the main villain going to be? DMs are always eager to create intimidating, tough, unique, and slightly terrifying baddies. However, I find that very little attention is paid to the main villain’s support team. Think about it, most PCs have a very good support team. They have other PCs, often a mentor or a guide NPC, sometimes they learn special skills or pick up special abilities from adventuring, and often collect magical items that enhance what they can accomplish. So where is the villain’s support?

Sure, the DM can always up the hit points and the armor class, or give the villain a few items or special abilities, or also surround them with lackeys and minions; but the real challenge, and perhaps reward, lies in creating a true secondary villain. What do I mean by a secondary villain? I’m talking about a mini-boss and the main villain’s right hand man/woman/thing. Think of a secondary villain as the moat the PCs have to get over or past in order to get the castle (main villain) beyond.

Pop culture uses the secondary villain frequently and effectively. They are often first perceived by the heroes as the main villain until they later realize, usually to their dismay, that another and more powerful foe has really been pulling the strings all along. I personally created a home-brew campaign once that had three secondary villains, all of which the PCs thought were the main villain at some point. When they finally realized that a fourth and much more powerful foe was behind all of the problems, they freaked and I laughed.
If you need a little inspiration, or simply don’t quite understand what I mean by a secondary villain, here are a few examples from popular movies:

General Kael (Willow)

As the leader of Nockmaar’s armies, General Kael seems to genuinely enjoy riding around and killing others. What else would you expect from a man who fashioned his helmet out of a human skull and an animal’s jaw? Even more intimidating are his skills in combat and strategy that allow him to do this killing efficiently. General Kael answers to no one but the evil Queen Bavmorda and even then you sort of get the sense that he is only humoring the Queen until the time is right for him to claim it all. These sort of secondary villains who do the grunt work for the more advanced main villains are cliché but effective.      

Boba Fett (Star Wars Universe)

Sometimes you need to employ an undesirable to eliminate an undesirable and such is the case with Boba Fett. It is also interesting to note that here is a secondary villain (Fett) being hired by a secondary villain (Vader) to serve the purpose of the main villain (Palpatine). And this illustrates a good point, the number of layers you want to add to your campaign is limitless. In D&D, having your main villain employ mercenaries or even other adventuring parties makes for great story fodder and can eventually lead to big confrontations, crossovers, and even double-crosses.  

Saruman (The Lord of The Rings Trilogy)

Here is an excellent example of a character that you think is on your side and then turns against you at your weakest moment. These kinds of secondary villains can be the most heart wrenching for your PCs, especially if they don’t see it coming. It’s also an amazing process to try to pull off an 11th hour betrayal with one of the PCs themselves! I’ve had the privilege of witnessing a player, with my previous knowledge and consent, secretly work against his own party the entire campaign only to fully expose his treachery at the very last battle. It’s nothing short of delight to see that “I can’t believe it!” look plastered over your players’ faces.  

Snape (The Harry Potter Series)

Just the opposite of Saruman above, the character of Snape illustrates a secondary villain who you think is completely against you from the beginning but ends up being one of your biggest allies. These sorts of transformations may not be as shocking as their opposites but they do carry a good amount of satisfaction for the PCs. There is no small sense of accomplishment when players can struggle against an NPC, sometimes for months, and then finally win them over to “the good side”. It’s also interesting to set up the scenario where an NPC comes off as a villain but they are really just trying to challenge or toughen-up the PCs for the trials ahead.   

Nebula (The Guardians of the Galaxy)

Here is a great example of the “what’s in it for me” secondary villain. In Guardians, Nebula is hoping to attach herself to a main villain powerful enough to slay her father, Thanos. Thus she will work for anyone and any reason necessary to accomplish that goal, even though she herself may not be completely evil. These kinds of secondary villains bring a lot of options to your D&D table simply because they are constantly motivated by opportunity rather than emotion. This means that they can change their allegiance several times a campaign depending on which side, or master, may give them the best chance of reaching their goal. Something I've never tried before, but might be extremely interesting, is a secondary villain serving more than one main villain. (Would you call that co-main villains?)  

Regardless of their background or nature, a secondary villain brings depth and dynamics to your campaign. Give them the weight and the respect that they deserve and I promise you they will pay off. Perhaps you might even come to realize, as I have in the past, that a secondary villain can be even more fun/interesting than your main baddie. (I smell sequel!)      

Friday, January 9, 2015

Special Announcement!

Dear Readers,

Over the past year my little blog about all things D&D has grown faster and farther than I had ever hoped. Dungeons & Dragons: Past, Present, and Future began with just a few dozen hits a week in the beginning and now enjoys more than three hundred views a day. It has been both exciting and humbling to entertain, inform, and even challenge you all to be better PCs/DMs.

Now that the first year is behind me, I feel that a bit of expansion is in order. So, in that regard, I am happy to announce that I will be starting up a new pod cast in February called "Role Initiative". This pod cast will, just as my blog does, focus on Dungeons & Dragons. However, it will also branch out into other RPGs and topics from time to time. You will eventually be able to find this pod cast over at and there will be several links on this blog site once it is up and running.

Thanks again for all of the support and I look forward to carrying on in 2015!

 - A. A. Amirault

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Grand Tangent NPC Chart

Every so often a DM has a powerful need to go off on a tangent. Sometimes it is simply for a stress break, sometimes it’s to regroup and rethink, and sometimes it’s about a change of pace or to shake things up. Whatever the reason, the fastest way I know to send your PCs rolling down a new path or to distract them from their current quest is to throw an NPC at them.

But where are you going to find the time to create a new NPC with a distracting story? Never fear! What follows are thirty four examples of terrific NPCs ready to go with tangents built into their design. Feel free to choose whichever one best suits your wants or needs. Or, if you feel brave, have a roll on the accompanying chart. Please note that this chart is specifically geared towards 4th and 5th edition; however, it can easily be converted to all editions with a few minor adjustments. Good luck!

Tonk Gabber
Female Gnome Wizard
On the hunt for lost magical item needed to save her family.
Geri Levandis
Female Elf Druid
Injured after goblin attack.
Tommis Pellarc
Male Human Cleric
Searching for nearby ruins.
Gabby Marc
Male Dwarf Fighter
Hunting for wanted bandits.
Jerric Belindo
Male Drow Wizard
On the run from Orcs.
Messa Farrow
Female Human Monk
Needs escort to local monastery.
Kendra Plunk
Female Halfling Rogue
Looking to sell cursed item.
Naus Ferderra
Male Dragonborn Barbarian
Asks for help to avenge dead tribe.
Soren Jullun
Male Elf Warlock
Thinks PCs are trying to arrest him.
Tamara Cobb
Female Half-Elf Ranger
Searching for missing children.
Dominic Deller
Male Human Paladin
Hunting for nearby demon.
Jannis Lamra
Female Tiefling Bard
Wants to steal money from PCs.
Ageron Ionic
Male Elf Sorcerer
Looking for abducted wife.
Meltia Copperboot
Female Dwarf Barbarian
On a quest to prove herself.
Helena Loom
Female Human Druid
Tracking  a pack of Gnolls.
Gobran Jonns
Male Gnome Rogue
Tied to a tree and left for dead.
Markus Ashenleaf
Male Elf Wizard
Searching for rare spell component.
Serra Markenfell
Female Half-Elf Fighter
Asks for help recovering lost gold.
Tibby Fozoni
Male Halfling Bard
Wants help following treasure map.
Candori Misk
Male Dragonborn Warlock
Accidentally opened random portal.
Dori Pewter
Female Dwarf Paladin
On quest to find mount.
Jenna Wellward
Female Human Ranger
Poisoned and looking for cure.
Ordon Grell
Male Half-Elf Cleric
Searching for stolen holy item.
Lissa Winn
Female Elf Monk
Was attacked and has amnesia.
Kellar Duan
Male Tiefling Rogue
Almost dead from sickness.
Fiona Tanger
Female Halfling Fighter
Is an old girlfriend of one PC.
Duggan Monty
Male Human Wizard
Is lost and has memory issues.
Kallico De’Juani
Male Drow Sorcerer
Being hunted by other Drow.
Cammie Aya
Female Half-Elf Bard
Is searching for her lost twin sister.
Smolts Brassblood
Male Dwarf Cleric
Tracking an evil necromancer.
Talon Quanto
Male Elf Paladin
Recently bitten by a Vampire.
Deanna Velna
Female Human Druid
Hunting nearby Kobold clan.
Tori Husk
Male Dragonborn Fighter
Mistakes PCs for old foes.
Damerjam Mookie
Male Gnome Wizard
Wants escort inside rival Wizard’s tower. Compensation TBD.