This is the final installment of our smart villain series, in which we discuss the smart villain’s gear.Â Prior parts discuss Overview, Community, and Lair External and Internal defenses.
The final line of defense a smart villain has is his personal possessions. If his contacts, his lair, his tricky tactics, and his guardians fail, all he has left are his stylish pants and whatever he has in them.
Your smart villain’s gear should be appropriate to their flavor and well suited to the tactics you choose for them (which were partially touched on in part 4) so no two villains will have the same tools, but there are several useful things to keep in mind while choosing their gear:
Buffs and one use items: While the PCs may fall victim to the False Showdown, the smart villain is in their own territory. They have access to security cameras, crystal balls, minions, alarm traps, and other ways to know when the PCs are about to kick in their door. Since they know before the opposition arrives, they can apply buffs at just the right time. Alternately, they may have a setup that buys them a few seconds to buff up once threats arrive such as magic barriers, safe rooms and the like.
Situationally useful Items: Most of the time, PCs opt to carry around items of the greatest general utility.Â An Ogrebane sword might be great against ogres, but unless you’re fighting them, it’s not as good as your generally enchanted sword, and you’ve lugged around a heavy and expensive lump of iron for nothing. Since Villains are sitting at home waiting for foes to come to them (and have good intelligence if they’ve been using their contacts and surveillance system well), they have access to all their gear and can freely choose whatever is best against the current threat, even if it’s an unusual choice. Of course this assumes that they have the right silver bullet sitting around, which can become a tiresome tactic from the player’s POV, so you might want to roll a villain’s situational gear randomly.
Trading and custom items: Everyone comes into possession of crap they can’t use from time to time and smart villains will be no exception. They might equip their henchmen with these excess items, but they also have the necessary contacts to trade them for items that are more useful or sell them off and commission custom gear. Thus you’ll often find smart villains with signature gear that meshes exactly with their needs and tactics.
Keyed items: If a villain is forced to retreat, and loses his gear in the process, not only has he lost a valuable tool, but he’s increased the power of an opponent who was already able to defeat him. Since you’re having items custom made anyway, why not have them made so they only work for you? While this can be as simple and straightforward as a gun that check it’s holder’s DNA or a wand enchanted to only work for goblins, an even more fun option is an item that imposes penalties or curses but are totally worth the price.Â A huge sword captured from an oversized villain might impose attack penalties and a bleeding edge laptop might have secret backdoors that allow it’s previous owner to spy on those who own it.
Items with an agenda: Sometimes, losing a piece of gear to a capable, dangerous group of bloodthirsty home invaders actually works in your favor. By making sure that attackers get their hands on just the right piece of gear to wield against rivals, a smart villain can subtly manipulate his attackers’ attention elsewhere, netting both some downtime and a nasty surprise for another adversary.
What I’d like to add is the Treasure of Distraction (this could also fit with Internal Dungeon Design):
A pile of goodies for the invading do-gooders, filled with cursed/not-obviously-broken items that can provide a false sense of security and/or preparedness to the abominable forces of good, leading them to anticipate incorrect tactics used by the smart villain.
And if the villain is lucky, the group might even equip stuff (where Item with an Agenda can come into devious play).
The effectiveness of this ploy increases if the stash is found after a False Showdown, giving a villain more time to prepare or to evacuate (in our moment of triumph).
It’s a tactic that should be used sparingly, though, otherwise it becomes boring in its obviousness.
Items with an agenda is just downright sneaky and underhanded … perfect for a TRUE villain.
I think playing the keyed item card too often will have your players crying foul. But every once in a while, especially if it’s from a particularly special recurring baddy, you could get some mileage out of it. I think the investigation of said item is a great story-telling avenue in itself, with the right group.
As Troy mentions, while Keyed Items seem like a good idea, they usually come across to players as “way the GM screws us out of the treasure we earned”. Better to have them Keyed in ways that can be accomplished by the PCs but maybe not in the time frame of defeating the villain. Maybe it requires a ritual under the new moon or you have to feed it your blood, something that they do not want to do right now, but can do later.
@Knight of Roses – Keyed items can work if you give the villain full standard treasure, plus additional treasure in the form of keyed items. I really like your idea of breaking the key on items with a quest!
I see no problem whatsoever with using Keyed Items.
Randomly determined treasure hoards are often filled with pieces of equipment that are of little to no use to the PCs for any number of reasons, e.g. they lack necessary proficiencies, already have better gear, can’t carry it, etc. In no way is the GM screwing people out of treasure. Just because the PCs can’t make immediate use of an item does not mean it suddenly becomes worthless.
Example: A party consisting of an elven cleric, a halfling warrior and a human mage finds a +5 elf-bane two-handed sword keyed for use by someone of orc blood. While nobody in the party can use or would want to use this sword, the sword is still valuable.
1. They can just sell the sword. While they may receive less in return than a different, non-keyed sword of commensurate power, it’s still not worthless. You can reward the PCs by having it sell for much more if they decide to brave the dangers of the town’s half-orc enclave, which is adventure in and of itself.
2. Many temples accept magical items in lieu of coin for tithes, even if they have no real use for the item. The temple might consider it beneficial to the greater good that such a weapon is out of circulation, or the temple might be able to get a better price selling it than PCs could. Think of the children and give generously.
3. Destroy the item. This is related to the previous point, but can be accomplished without heading to the temple (so no Encumbrance problems on the way home). Any elf god or goddess (and many good-aligned ones) would be more than happy to have a follower destroy this weapon in their name. If a player with an elf cleric (especially one devoted to Corellon Larethian) whined about getting ‘screwed’ because of this sword, I’d make them roll a Wisdom check regarding their character’s actions (modified by how whiny they are being) lest they start losing favor with their god…
One of my favorite tricks is to have the villain provide the PCs the opportunity to acquire some valuable item that unbeknownst to them was stolen from another powerful NPC who will do anything to get it back. Bonus points if the villain was able to leave enough evidence behind during the theft to implicate the PCs.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend… and if the villain can’t find another enemy of the PCs, then he will just have to make one.