As Roger Ebert had put it:
"Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph."When designing a D&D campaign, I usually start with the main villain. The villain's story, motives and goals usually provides a good framework for the campaign. I then ask the players to create stories for their characters. Weaving the stories I got from my players into the framework I created using the villain's story produces the complete campaign.
After I kick start the campaign, I allow the players to take the reins and direct the story the way they want.
Sometimes, that approach allows the villain to win.
How does that happen? Well, a good example is the movie Seven. The good guys know that something sinister is going on, but they don't know to what end.
In my D&D campaigns, sometimes the players fall into the same pit. The villain is one step ahead, either because they fumble around trying to understand what's going on (allowing the villain more than enough time to do his thing), or because they are chasing down their own story lines. When that happens, I sometimes come to a session that takes place half-way into the campaign only to find out that the bad guy has conquered the world. Now what?
Interestingly enough, it happened in real life too. Not that I think that TSR, Microsoft. Google, Facebook or Apple are evil, but each of those companies conquered the world in its own way, or is going it right now. Heck, right now Apple employs more workers than most of the world's armies!
If the villain "wins", what does that mean? For that matter, what does that mean if he "loses"? I need to know when to end my campaign, but since the villain's story is not the story told by the players, the campaign does not have to end with the villain winning (or losing, for that matter).
Since D&D is a shared storytelling game, the campaign should end when the players' story feels finished. This is why I plan for the villain to win, as much as I plan for the villain to lose. While a losing villain is easier to handle, a winning one can be much harder.
How do you keep the story going? What does the villain do after winning? What does his winning moment look like? What does his winning mean to the players, and to the rest of the world?
I'll give you a hint - I look at the same real life examples above for inspiration. More on that in a following post...