For the Darker DM: Gardin, Speaker for the Fallen  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in , ,

Last time, we opened up the discussion on how to increase the intensity of your villains by impressing a real sense of evil into them. Today, we're going to take a look at how to apply some of these lessons to a real NPC. We're going to start from a really badass name and and engineer our way to a finished villain, so let's get started.

Gardin, Speaker for the Fallen

Let's set up the adventure, first. The party has arrived at a large town, where the normally stable government is encountering a great deal of unrest from an upstart religious group that has sprung up in the area, under the leadership of a man named Gardin. Although clearly causing the unrest, nothing can be pinned on the cult leader, and the guard has its hands tied - and busy. The constable suspects that his cult, the Revenant Circle, is just a front for a far more sinister operation. Although he can't prove it, he has suspicions that a number of recent crimes in the area are the cult's doing.

Unsettle the Players

The first step to crafting an evil villain is moving the players out of their comfort zone. The first encounter with any villain that you intend on keeping around for a while should be a non-combat encounter. The primary aim of this encounter is to unsettle the players and solidify in their minds that this indeed is the villain, without giving them any explicit reasons to act against him.

For Gardin, this is easily done by having the PCs stumble upon a sermon he is giving the townsfolk. The cult leader is preying on the fears of the locals, speaking of the spirits of the dead and their imminent return to terrorize the living. His sermon continues into detail of the horrors that await them, and the reason for the return - the dead need certain rituals performed or they cannot pass on to the next world. He claims that the dead need to rot for six days before being burnt.

The end of the sermon should include a supernatural scare. Gardin knows these things because he is the "Speaker for the Fallen", after all. The scene ends with a dramatic possession, and the crowd disperses murmuring amongst themselves about the impending doom. At this point, your players should be feeling slightly eerie and definitely know that something is up with this guy.

Remove Control of Events from the Players

Give the players a day or so to do some research into the cult before things suddenly spin out of control. Gardin gathers his followers and brazenly blames the government for the impending disaster, and claims that if the laws are not changed he will save the populance himself. The constable issues a warrant for his arrest, and the party is asked to help with his apprehension. Before anything can be done, however, Gardin strikes first.

To the PCs, this is where things start to become clearer. Arriving to a Marketplace filled with mind fog, the PCs watch in horror as a group of "evil spirits" begin attacking citizens and destroying structures. From outside the mind fog, a low DC Will save reveals several robed figures casting phantasms at the hapless civilians. Before the PCs can act, be sure to describe a scene where a venerable old priest is the target of the cultist's leader—a phantasmal killer, for PCs with ranks in Spellcraft, and the helpless priest's death at the hands of his worst nightmare. Cue combat, but just as the leader is cornered he manages to magically lift a burning wagon over a group of trapped children. The party is forced to let him escape, lest his magical grip waver during the violence. He is not good on his word, and the wagon crashes down, killing most of the children.

Although not specifically revealed, it is generally understood that Gardin is the leader of these figures and his willingness to trick the populance for his own unknown agenda is obvious at this point. Furthermore, in order to save his own hide, he was willing to sacrifice innocents, take captives, and the party's good deed went to no avail. At this point the party is aware that the villain is thoroughly despicable, and simultaneously harbor anger for his betrayal of their trust (and their own inability to defeat him).

The Backlash

After clearly saving the townspeople from the machinations of evil cultists, the plan backfires—not only are the citizens enraged at the local government for causing the disaster ("You should have listened to the Speaker!"), but the bodies of the cultists are used by Gardin in a compelling accusation against the party. The PCs are painted as agents of the constable, and his propaganda paints the combat as brutal murder. He claims to have been detained by guards and unable to come to the rescue of the townspeople in the market.

General rioting begins, and the government is deposed. Gardin is installed as head of the town, and the PCs are outlaws. After being driven from the town by the enraged populance, The party's sense of animosity towards the bad guy at this point should be fairly large, and you will notice that they are actively seeking an end to him as a matter of pride—not out of story necessity.

The Rest is Yours

How will the party handle the situation from here? That's another story. At this point, though, we've revealed a somewhat powerful wizard that is using mid-level spells to fool a town into making him their dictator, and they have no clue they've been duped. The bad guy has been presented as extremely conniving and sinister, and you're free to advance him as a character from there. What are his goals? What is his next move?

This bad guy serves as an excellent long term villain precisely because his rise to power was something that the PCs could have potentially prevented, but failed to. They will see failure in themselves, and this will be the last nail in the coffin to solidify their motivation against him. They know that he is legitimately evil, and that if left alone people will continue to suffer.

Next time, we'll take a closer look into the logistics of an evil party member. Til' then, don't be afraid to DM on the dark side.

This entry was posted on January 22, 2010 at Friday, January 22, 2010 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


This is a very very hate-able villain, and that is quite a huge thing to have in any game. I believe you have not only given me a spark for my soon to start campaign, but also paved the way for me.

Keep the good thing coming.

February 10, 2010 at 6:54 PM

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