Unstoppable Villains


The bandits are dead, the necromancer defeated, and even the dragon hatchling has seen its last sunrise. The player characters have to buy a castle just to store their treasure and their skills are beyond human imagination. To meet the challenges of such a mighty group, the Gamemaster pulls out his secret weapon: The Villager.

The bandits are dead, the necromancer defeated, and even the dragon hatchling has seen its last sunrise. The player characters have to buy a castle just to store their treasure and their skills are beyond human imagination. To meet the challenges of such a mighty group, the Gamemaster pulls out his secret weapon: The Villager.

Villains are stereotypically cast as powerful baddies who try to stop characters from fulfilling a quest. The longevity of such a scoundrel will vary, but the fiend is usually exterminated when they "meet at last". In contrast, villagers can easily be compared to sheep. They are portrayed as vulnerable peons who blindly follow mundane routines and innocently wait for something malevolent to terrorize them. In many cases, the party is trying to save these poor inhabitants from an ancient evil or a wicked tyrant. Despite what may be considered the status quo concerning villagers, they can still be a munchkin's greatest challenge.

To illustrate the point, let us take a simple village in a typical setting. Ewe Ville is a small river hamlet with a booming logging industry. To start the story, the companions walk into the bar and immediately embarrass the local hero by winning a game of darts. The victorious adventurer gets a warm welcome, and the companions naturally expect the celebrity treatment. Meanwhile, the enraged villager, we'll call him Ares, is plotting to get the "outsiders" back. Somehow.

Life of a Villager

Villagers tend to have a close-knit society of friends and kinfolk. The community's system of values may be based on religion, leadership, or even raw virility. When cultivating a villain, this background becomes a key element. The frame of reference can be compared to children in a suburb; the world becomes very small to people born and raised in a remote village. Often, these locals can become threatened by strangers simply because the visitors could disrupt the "ways of the forefathers." There are plenty exciting story lines based on the introduction of a new idea: like women's rights or personal freedoms. There are also many examples of those whom value the system of values enough to harm or even kill in order to preserve them. In The Name of the Rose (1986), a remote abbey north of Italy is the scene of a series of brutal murders and false accusations, all in an effort to cover up a "heretical" book. The story requires an outsider to solve the mystery, but not everyone welcomes Brother William (Sean Connery).

In the case of Ewe Ville, a man's pride is injured. Ares has to live with the reputation of being beaten at darts by a stranger. This may seem trivial, but to a man who lives by his reputation in a small hamlet, this is like cutting off an appendage. To counter-attack, Ares has an arsenal of weapons far more powerful than a blade or spell.


There is a very efficient verbal communication with villagers. "The Grape Vine" can provide far more information to the locals than to the strangers. If knowledge is power, than stories, gossip, and blatant lies can be a potent tool of any local. Travelers must rely on these people for information about routes, weather, and news. This grapevine can give a single angry peasant the ability to raise an army, frame a character for a crime, cause merchants to refuse their services, or lead the characters into danger. Verbal communication spreads quickly, and even an eavesdropping child can become a dangerous enemy.

In Ewe Ville, the embarrassed Ares tells his friends all about the arrogant strangers that came to town, and from there the misguided words start to travel. By nightfall, as the companions start to restock their supplies and get ready to leave, they head to the local alchemist. The store is open, but when the group approaches, a man stops them at the door. He says he doesn't sell to interlopers and rudely asks them to leave. The agitated heroes insist they need the components or the quest will be too dangerous. Then, without alarm, the Captain of the Guard races up to the group and immediately arrests them. It seems Ares' tales has started a chain reaction. The companions now have to deal with the law.

Politics and Law

Political power is a nasty hindrance when dealing with villagers. Much like any powerful entity, politics involve purpose, incentives and manipulation. A villager may have all the resources of a town at his disposal, as well as the law to back him up. As noble and heroic the characters are, they are not above the law. Slaughtering goblins by the dozens could be a popular pastime, but injuring humans will not be taken so lightly. While villagers often represent the bottom of the social food chain, they have rights too. Even if the rascal is committing a crime worthy of capital punishment, it is not up the characters to judge or execute the sentence. Detaining an annoying local sometimes resolves the immediate danger, but the villager can still be a threat. He might have a personal relationship with a political leader or the guards. They could just set him free and allow him to get away with abusing the "foreigners" a little more.

Ares is a well-respected man. The captain of the guard listened intently as Ares raised his concern for the people of Ewe Ville. Ares told a tale of a powerful warlock that turned a town into mindless slaves and forced them to mine gold until they all dropped dead. Ewe Ville did have a booming logging industry; perhaps they are here to claim it. It wasn't long before the good captain was on his horse hunting down these suspects. Ares has enough influence to cause the captain of the guard to arrest the companions on the basis of mistrust.

Dealing with Alignment

Alignment is a double-edged sword. Good alignments keep characters out of legal troubles, but it also confines them to the law. Evil alignments are liberating, but forces characters to sleep with one eye open. While evil alignments may have the most frequent conflicts with villagers and the law, the good alignments will have the most exciting and memorable encounters. After all, it is the morality of harming a villager or breaking the law which lays the foundation of a great adventure. In numerous quests, heroes get away will unlawful behavior because of their status. Even in literature this has become an acceptable practice. Consider though, most cultures' honored heroes are expected to be role models and completely accountable for their actions. In this case, the responsibility of an esteemed title usually carries with it a heavy moral burden. While "the ends justify the means" philosophy can forgive a few minor incidents, it is not a license to kill.

The PCs in Ewe Ville are of good alignment, so they decide to spend the night in jail and wait for an escort out of town. Unfortunately, Ares' temper is still flaring and he does some investigating. He gets a hold of the companions' stuff and learns the companions are on their way to a haunted crypt north of town. In one last act of vengeance, Ares drinks the holy water and replaces all of the potions with a fresh batch of "holy urine." Ares is sure the surprised look on the cleric's face will be priceless.

Where There's a Will. . .

As long as the villager is one step ahead of the player character, the villain will always be able to cause havoc. Without the combat or magic skills to compete with the PCs, locals must use their wits and each other to achieve their goals. Searching for possible weaknesses such as honor, debts, or family, the unscrupulous villager can infect every part of the character's life. Like a blind man in the dark, the villager can use the village to his unique advantage. His knowledge, influence and reputation can affect almost every move the heroes make. These personal attacks can do more damage to the PC than an orcish horde, by misleading or deceiving the group into foolish and costly decisions. Even some of the "random encounters" may not have been as random as first imagined. Someone could be out to get the characters, but is too weak to do it himself.

Defeating the Mighty Villager

There are many ways to defeat the mighty villager. Bags of gold, idle threats and unlawful activities have been proven methods. The consequences of such actions, on the other hand, have been quite disastrous. Overcoming such an unstoppable villain takes more than hulking biceps or unbound powers. It takes finesse and creativity. Often this means tricking the villain into revealing his motives, or causing him to make a costly mistake. The most important aspect about such an endeavor is to use the villager's own system against him. A wizard can use magic to expose the truth, but in a town that mistrusts the wizard, it could make things worse. A warrior could also muscle the truth out of the people, but it too could backfire. Sometimes the best way to defeat the villager is to beat him at his own game.

In Ewe Ville, the characters discover the potion's contents just before they get to the crypt. Naturally, the warrior wants to bash Ares' head in, but the cleric has a better idea. They head back into town and discuss the accusations with the Captain of the Guard. Knowing how Ares can get, he agrees to give the group one chance to prove it, so they head to the bar. The Captain escorts them in, and tells the barkeep to let them stay the night for they have had a close encounter with death. This peaks the interest of the villagers, especially Ares, in a place where they all feel safe. The Captain then leaves to finish his patrol, but he really sneaks around back to the kitchen so he can hear. Since Ares has already influenced the locals, everyone just leaves the companions alone. The group tells the barmaid to bring hot water so they can mix a potion to sooth their bones. Almost instantly, Ares starts to chuckle. He wonders if they found out about his trick and stifles his laughter into his mug of ale. The outsiders then start to drink the potions, making comments about how bitter the potions seem, and Ares starts to laugh heartily. He then tells his friends at the table, and they start snickering as well. Suddenly, the cleric sniffs the potion and wrinkles his nose.

"This is urine!" The cleric shouts, and all the men at Ares' table roll on the floor laughing. Soon, other men in the bar start to laugh as they begin to understand the joke, but by now Ares had made his prank obvious. The Captain is convinced and hauls the men to prison for questioning. Within a few hours, all of Ares' lies become known, and the apologetic people help the outsiders as much as possible. The group is able to get the supplies they need without having to sacrifice their dignity or defy their alignments.

Ewe Ville may be a simple illustration, but it still demonstrates a new world of possibilities. While 'dangerous villagers' may seem like an oxymoron to some, these locals have as much potential as the ancient dragon or merciless Litch. The challenge is not in the powerful spells or the magic sword, but the core role-playing and problem solving that first thrilled the group when they were first level. So, the next time the all-powerful PCs walk in to a town of puny villagers and have a look around. Consider the unstoppable villains among the sheep. It may be foolish to rub-a-dub-dub a villager the wrong way. The butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker could be their next archenemy.

Love the article. Excellent, thought provoking, and something I never would have thought of. It's encounters like the above that can make a campaing memorable.

I have successfully implemented this line of thinking in several D&D based games.

For several heart thumping, gripping nights in one particular campaign, nothing was more scary and unnerving to my players than when I was describing a man in a plain brown leather vest and brown leather pants "in the distance," or "in the shadows," or "out of the corner of your eye," who was constantly creating situations that were potentially dangerous or embarassing to the party. They became ultra paranoid about this one guy...so much that they eventually got out of the town for fear of what *might* happen next. I always allowed this guy to escape, too. He was a local and knew the area well. The adventurers had to succumb to their lack of city knowledge and suffer the pugnacious, psychologically devistating assaults of a chef's assistant that they slighted one night in the expensive tavern they were sleeping at.

TO this day (years later) I get people who played during that campaign asking me who the guy really was...

I love it.

Ah, yes. Many PCs always underestimate the local yokels. :-) They have pride, too you know.

Why is it that players always assume that lower level people cant hurt them. Take for example, my group was a group of paladins, ready to go to hell. They where twentieth level, and my npc was boasting. Well, they set him right, and they thought that it was the end of it. Later, right after they got back from hell, he was there with a retinue of guards. They ended up living, but it was just after a wizard that had joined the party had cast zone of truth, causing the man to tell the truth. These over confident players almost lost their lives to a first level commoner.

::evil laughter::

The example of Ares and Ewe Ville is awesome. I can't believe I missed this article when I went through the archives.

::makes mental note to screw players over at next oportunity::

Hmm watson... my erudite comments appear to have dissappeared. This is either the work of the nefarious Moriarty, or I've been overdoing the opium again.

What I said was :

I think that the case for villagers has been overstated above. Sure they are not powerless, but the examples given above are exaggerated:

(1) If we take Mark Rosenwalds example, I think that he was protecting the npc more than was reasonable. A determined group of players would surely have discovered the npc.

(2) In Valins example, it makes even less sense. If you were the town guards, or even some elite guards, would you arrest a group of renowned holy warriors on the say so of a commoner? These guys have sky high reputations, not just for bravery and battle prowess, but for morality. It would be literal suicide for the guards, and political suicide for their Lord.

The other thing to remember, is that a village is not a monolithic block of people. There are sensiblepeople living there as well as idiots. There are local alliances, and local rivalries. A local will not get universal support just because he is local. The Ewwe Ville example shows this quite well, where the local Captain sides with the players because he knows that Ares is a local troublemaker.