Tuesday, December 21, 2010

When villains are too super...

First of all, a big shout out to my first (of many?) followers Kelty. :) Now, on to the post...

I am a fan of the television series House (although not as much as I used to be. The fact that Olivia Wilde is no longer on the series may have something to do with that, or it is just that the formula has gotten pretty old), but I almost stopped watching it during season three. For those of you who don't watch House, it is about a brilliant doctor with a Vicodin addiction due to his messed up leg, or at least he was addicted until last season. Anyway, he used to horde lots and lots of pills. This bit him in the ass when he ran afowl of a detective named Tritter. It seemed the producers of House felt he needed an arch nemesis and they created this guy.

I hated him.

Don't get me wrong, I think it was a good idea to give House someone to butt heads with. Chi McBride had been a bit of a thorn in his side back during season one, I think it was, and it was refreshing to see someone in House's universe that he could not bully.

But where Tritter was concerned he was given amazing super cop powers. He had no superiors to report to, he could whip up any warrant he needed, and he could even move right into the hospital and usurp office space so he could terrorize the doctors with interrogations. It felt fake and forced and perhaps police do have some latitude in investigations like this, but it did not ring true to me as I watched it (and House refusing to get a lawyer was just idiotic; if a cop threw me in jail overnight you are damn right I am retaining legal counsel!).

This brings me-finally-to the point of the post. A GM has to be careful not to make his villains too powerful. Yes, the villain needs to sometimes be a major, seemingly unstoppable presence in the game (for example, a lich king in a D&D Ravenloft game) but there should be a feeling that ultimately, given time and experience, he can be brought down. That is one of the (many) reasons I dislike X-Men games because more often than not the players are unable to change the world. There will be Mutant Registration Acts, Mankind will hate and fear them. The players are always going to lose in the end, or at the very best break even.

So when designing the bad guy for your epic tale think long and hard about how powerful he is. Will he be so strong as he is unstoppable, unbeatable without considerable NPC intervention? Will that be a constant source of frustration for your players? Be careful that you do not create a Tritter.