Let loose the reins of your fantasy adventure design by giving those boss monsters the sort of memorable personality traits usually reserved for the civilized races — such as the humans, elves and dwarves — of your world.
As gamemasters you might find after a few tries that this clicks so well you’re able to use a monster boss as a recurring villain over the course of two or three sessions or even for an entire arc.
Most GMing guides — the ones for Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder being notable — have sections for giving NPCs notable personalities.
The NPC quirks table from the Fourth Edition Dungeon Masters’ Guide and the NPC Personality Characteristics table from the first edition Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide are both particularly good references if you’re stuck for an idea.
There are others, of course. Online, start your web search with “Villain Protagonist” at tvtropes.org and follow the links until the rabbit hole leads you to an inspirational point.
I’ve said on many occasions how good a resource the Kingdoms of Kalamar Villain Design Handbook by Kenzer and Co. is. Its Chapter 2 is devoted to categorizing Villain Archetypes into subtypes, and pairing them with suggested personality types. Randomizing them, there’s something like 968 combinations — enough to provide reliable boss villains personalities a goodly while.
First off, depending on the edition and rules of your fantasy game, most monster game stats are provided (while you have to conjure up human adversaries stats in many cases).
But even if you don’t have that burden, most monsters have motivations woven into well-written descriptions.
Pair those motivations with a personality type, and you’ve got an adversary with two good cues for building an adventure around.
Let’s look at a few, using Tome of Beasts II by Kobold Press as source material and some rolls on the aforementioned charts.
Rum lord gremlin. Who rules the underworld when the human authorities establish prohibition or otherwise crackdown on similar vices? Mirandala the Queen of Foam does. She’s a polarist at heart — too much “goodness” needs a counterbalance. Her vision: “Drinks for all!” can be a rallying cry for those with low self-esteem. Of course, controlling the liquor trade is what matters, not the right of followers to imbibe. Her methods are methodical, however. Start small and build slowly. A confrontation with authorities is inevitable, even desired. One great drunken brawl to end it all.
Tree skimmer. Dryads driven mad by the loss of their trees enter into a Faustian bargain with hags, who turn their ire toward destroying fey creatures (or anyone in league with them). Shadbush the scourge of the Old Forest isn’t a mindless terror, however. Let’s give her a dose of ambition — she aspires to be greater and more powerful than her hag creator, for instance — and a predilection to make snap judgments. Shadbush might turn her control of trees on villagers, elves and other dryads; soon she’ll run riot with a path of destruction that takes her to the doorstop of the hags themselves.
Vexxeh. Bestial horned creatures who are usually excessively polite servants to evil spellcasters. But what of Trothadon, whose master is no more? With no contract to govern his behavior, he is a free agent. Unlike most of his kind, he is given to deception and schemes, though he often betrays his inner thoughts whenever he snickers at the misfortune of others. Can he restrain his love of personally shedding blood long enough to see his ploy to start a war in the halls of power come to fruition? Given to wearing fine clothes and following the rules of etiquette such that he’s welcome in the environs of nobility, Trothadon is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
One final touch
Give the villain a touch of humanity that evokes sympathy or a sense of “normal.” Perhaps Mirandala dotes on some barkeeps or servers, insisting they are never to be harmed and favoring them with gifts. Shadbush has an affection for daisies or roses, so that someone who shares her love of those flowers should be spared her ire. Trothadon has a love of fine clothes and is overly protective of his tailor or jeweler, holding them up as masters of their craft to be admired and praised.
Or maybe, any of them has a sweet tooth. A cinnamon stick or bit of hard candy can soothe their otherwise evil nature — at least momentarily.