A new year calls for a new campaign. And a new campaign means devising a new villain.

It’s the perfect time for a GM to shine. Is there a better test than coming up with an NPC who stands in complete opposition to what your players stand for?

For inspiration I checked out my collection of Dragon back issues. The last issue published under Paizo, No. 359 from September 2007, includes a list of the 20 greatest villains from D&D lore. Categorizing the best of them should provide interesting templates for the enterprising GMs when coming up with their own.

He’s baaaaack

Manshoon and his clones are the Count Blofeld of the D&D universe. Variations of the same villain who returns again and again – regardless of whether he was killed in previous encounters –  leaves the PCs scratching their heads. “Won’t he die?”  The trick is to be aware of when the players tire of this approach. Even James Bond eventually got the best of Blofeld.

Home turf

Eli Tomorast and Acererak are examples of villains tied closely to the dungeons they inhabit. In this case, Maure Castle and the Tomb of Horrors, respectively. The key is coming up with a bad guy that fits diabolically with the dungeon you devise.  Tomorast is the Seeker gone bad and Acererak just wanted to create a deathtrap of epic proportions. If the players think of the villain and dungeon as one, then you’ve earned your black hat.

An army of followers

Demogorgon and Kyuss were the principle foes of two adventure paths. The thing with such expanded campaigns is the need to have an array of vile loyalists to overcome at each level.  This is the most demanding template for a GM, because you not only have to come up with an epic-level villain – but all the stepping stones needed to be overcome along the way. But if your players stick with it – oh what a payoff!

The Undead Keep on Marching Home

D&D players love their undead. Lord Soth and Count Strahd of Ravenloft infamy are perhaps the most well-known of a long list of mastermind mummies, vampires and liches to plague the world. Really, can you go wrong with undead?

Monsters are villains too

The more alien, the better. What else can explain the popularity of the Cthulu-inspired creepy things? Eclavdra was the first and worst of lot of truly devious drow. But frankly, any humanoid capable of devising plans has a place at the table. The Ogre mage and the hobgoblin with character levels can be just as challenging as anything with tentacles.

So, what kinds of new villains have got cooked up for the new year? If you can share without spoilers for your game table, I’d love to hear what you’ve got cooking.