by Mike Shea on 23 October 2017
When we consider the activities that bring the most joy to our game, particularly activities that we can do anywhere, few are as useful as thinking through the eyes of our villains. This is a technique we talk a lot about here at Sly Flourish but haven't discussed in its very own article.
To engage in this bit of magic, when we find ourselves with some extra time on our hands, we need simply gaze into the sky and say "what is my villain doing right now?"
Thinking through the eyes of our villain changes how we think about our game. It pushes us away from trying to outline the story or predict where the game is going to go.
The story of our game doesn't happen when we're preparing for our next session, it happens when we and the players get together and play. Our story comes to life from the brains of the people around the table, not in our notebook by ourselves.
Spending our time thinking about how our games are going to go is an easy trap to fall into. Often we spend a bunch of time planning out a game only to have the characters take it in an unexpected direction. Other times, because of the planning we did, we force the game to go down the path we have prepared. Either case ends up frustrating for everyone involved.
By shifting our perspective away from trying to control the story and instead thinking about what our villains are doing, we're moving to elements of the story we can control, or at least explore on our own. We don't know how the story is going to end up, but we know what major pieces are currently moving.
Thinking through the eyes of our villains also keeps the world moving beyond the view of the players. When you have a villain like Strahd or Iymrith they're not sitting in some large chamber waiting for the characters to show up and kill them. They're making moves. They're showing up at places. They're sending hit-squads of vampire assassins to murder the party when they least expect it. They're one step ahead of the characters. They smell boood in the air. They're moving their own quests forward as their fronts roar across the world.
Villains act and react to the actions of the characters. When we think about what our villians are doing and the characters see the results, these villains come to life in the minds of the players. The characters do things, the villains react, and so on.
Thinking through the eyes of our villains is a simple and powerful DM technique. With just a single question, we can shift our minds away from trying to overly script our story and instead build a major variable in the evolving world we share with our players.
What is your villain doing right now?