[?]Player instructions: " So, I want you to play a villain who ultimately loses"

edited January 2014 in Story Games
Yeah, weird title I know. I'm looking for ideas for how to write up instructions and play tips for something a bit peculiar, as noted in the title.

Basically, the concept is that some players in a game format with many players (think parlor larp with maybe two dozen people) are going to take on what are normally NPC villain type roles in a tabletop game.

For genre emulation reasons, it isn't desirable for these characters to ultimately "win" the scenario ( although minor victories along the way are desirable, and possibly consolation prize type victories at the end of the scenario. )

What kinds of instructions can I give those players that get this across?
What kinds of fun is there for these players?
What kinds of tips can I give them for playing those characters?

Since these players are basically NPCs, can or should I also give them some GM type player level mechanics they can employ, and of what sort?

A recognition ceremony for the villain players?
I'm thinking about this as part of the scenario session wrap up. While their characters ( for genre emulation reasons) cannot win in-fiction, I feel there should be some kind of award or recognition for these players. What sorts of categories of recognition and for what sort of behavior or activities in-game?

I realize there are all kinds of potential scenarios, so I'll give you something to work with.

Imagine some sort of adventure fiction. Let's just use the Star Wars universe, since those movies are fairly well known. The setting is some sort of planet on the frontier, Rebellion Era, and the players I'm talking about will run characters like various Empire officers, gangsters/pirates, and so on.

What do I tell those folks? I need something I can print up that they can refer to even when I'm not personally there, as we'll assume actual play time is at a premium ( say a gaming convention time slot.)


  • Rob, I think this is easier than you think. I've played characters like this before. I think a simple "You're the villain. You'll lose at the end." is fine: once people know, they'll totally get into it.

    It's like going insane in Call of Cthulhu. Once people get the idea that it's fun, they throw themselves into it.
  • Now I have a game idea where all players play supervillains that will ultimately lose and they all have winning meters that never go up but they're always going down (just like sanity points in CoC). When they reach 0, the player gets to act out the villain losing everything.
  • Set up victory conditions for each player such that they "win" if they (a) survive to the end of the game, and (b) then lose.
  • Related question: What advice do I give about being villainous, but avoiding accidently winning (in-fiction)?

    Worth keeping in mind: That the villains can't win might be kept from the rest of the players. Yes, yes, I know design faux pas. Just run with it.
  • I think the ultimate *real* goal of the villains should be simply to survive rather than die hideously.
  • edited January 2014
    the players I'm talking about will run characters like various Empire officers, gangsters/pirates, and so on.
    In the Star Wars movies, those roles are barely even characters. I'd give very different advice for playing those as opposed to, say, the Emperor. With a main villain, players may have opportunities to develop them, add nuance, and gain some audience investment in the villain's endeavors and fate. With a token imperial officer, on the other hand, all the player can really hope to do is add some amusing color to their role as prop or plot device for the protagonists.

    With real characters, I might tell the players something like, "Your goal before you lose is to make everyone else truly fear what would happen if you succeeded. When you die or are defeated, everyone should say, 'Whew! Thank god!'"

    With prop characters, I might tell the players something like, "Your goal is to come up with a unique and entertaining schtick -- accent, tic, way of speaking, prevailing emotion or disposition -- that you can grab some spotlight with during your few moments on screen."
  • Is there something about the characters and the situation that would make it really easy for the villains to win if they tried? There's nothing wrong with just stacking the deck against the villains but letting them win if that's what happens in play. In the Larps I've played that actually have good guys and bad guys, the good guys almost always win--but they do so fair and square and I think the game is more fun for it.
  • In larps, I am cool with being told "We need you to play a villain, and we need you to lose." Not everyone is good with this, but that is why one has casting questionnaires with questions about how one feels about losing, being a villain, and so on.
  • edited January 2014
    I've never seen those kinds of questionnaires before? Do you have a link to any?

    David: I was just using those character types as a common touchstone. Assume they'd be filling the roles of major baddies for the scenario rather than Vader, Tarkin, or Jabba. I like both suggestions and would probably combine the two in practice.

    Arscott: Probably the more obvious option. Right now I' looking for something less obvious.
  • Man, I would love to get a character whose victory condition is "be killed in a duel with the hero". That would be such fun!
  • Oh, yeah, some sort of measurable victory condition would be great, if the system could support such things! "Make the hero sacrifice something in order to defeat you" could be cool.
  • Hey, if you guys want to make those kinds of suggestions about in what fashion one is defeated and how to shoot for those, I'm all ears. I think those last two are great ideas.

  • Seems straightforward: you need to give them goals that are as challenging as winning would be, but which are either orthogonal, complementary, or necessary to losing.

    The most obvious example that comes to mind is: 'make a protagonist fall in love with you'. This is achievable whether or not the villain succeeds -- and it adds obvious pathos to the villain's inevitable failure, and complicates the protagonists' success in interesting ways.

    Depending on how your game is set up, you might provide more specific goals, like 'die with This Important Item clutched in your hands' or 'do at least one major wound to Protagonist X, your rival' or whatever.

    You can also do fun things with goal scope, like for example making all of the Protagonist goals external and concrete, while the villains have exclusively emotional or interpersonal goals. But I'd say the default is to have the scope of the villains' goals match up with the scope of the protagonists'. So however specific you're being about guiding the protagonists, that's how specific to be for the villains.

    Other classic self-conscious villain goals (some of these would be purely player-level goals, unless the villain is extremely meta) could include:

    * bring out the best in someone else
    * convince protag X to betray protag Y
    * explain your secret plot to at least five people
    * tie somebody to the railroad tracks (or otherwise place them in indirect peril)
    * never tell the truth; bonus points for every person that notices
    * seize The MacGuffin at all costs -- it is crucial for your plan! (it's not, actually)

    I mean, the list goes on, and ultimately it depends heavily on the scenario you are creating, and to what degree you intend to steer events or possible events.

    Another possibility, similar to giving the villains primarily emotional goals, is to give villains all of the Bangs -- each villain has goals which involve making specific offers or revealing specific secrets about various protagonists, or otherwise forcing an open-ended decision point. 'You know who really killed the butler -- tell somebody at an unexpected moment, bonus points if they act rashly as a result.' Etc. As the scenario designer you will presumably have a bunch of these mini-situations and dilemmas in mind already, so distribute them to the villain PCs in a way that makes sense.
  • Check out wonderlarps.com/wreckers/question.html for a questionnaire I filled out recently.
  • Oh, yeah, some sort of measurable victory condition would be great, if the system could support such things! "Make the hero sacrifice something in order to defeat you" could be cool.
    I think that could be interesting. Add something like Hero Points to the GMs side and measure the PCs success in how many the GM has to spend...

    Or possibly flip the script. Have a single player (the Hero) against a group of narrators (the Villains). The Hero cannot lose, but the Villains have narrative control (possibly with each Villain having a designated area of narrative primacy?) unless the Hero expends some finite resource?
  • Mostly not thinking of any GM here- can villain players be trusted with these mighty powers????
  • In LARP, if you can't trust players to follow the rules, you're screwed regardless of the abilities' control over play. The mightiest weapon for collective rules enforcement is ignoring the cheater entirely until they resume proper play (though that could be a problem with the single-villain idea).
  • Something like this could be fun:

    You have a (defined, definite) Evil Plan.

    Score one victory point every time you get a PC (a hero) to do something to advance your plan. (Presumably unwittingly!)

    Or like this:

    You have several villains. They're competing with each other.

    Each villain gets X points for carrying out some Evil Plan ("10 points if you manage to assassinate the king!").

    But, if the heroes choose to redeem that villain at the end of the story/game, you also get +Y points (a lot!).

    So, the best villain is the one who does something really, really bad, but is redeemed in the eyes of the heroes at the end. (The archetype here would be Darth Vader, as well as villains like Gollum maybe someone like Snape.)
  • For powerful PCs, know your players. Again, casting questionnaires help. There aren't guarantees, but some GMs get quite good at this, especially when they know the player base. Fr'ex, when we ran larps at Columbia University, there was a couple who would find some in-character excuse to kiss. Okay, we can work with this -- give them the appropriate PCs. There were some who would exploit every power we gave them. Okay -- be very clear about the limits of such powers, and don't give them PCs doomed to lose. There were some who were very clear about not wanting to lose. Okay, this is useful -- we'll cast accordingly.

    Yes, if players cheat, you're fucked. But, for honest players with limits, you can work with that. The tricky parts:

    -- Players who don't know themselves as well as they think they do
    -- Miscasting due to honest information that's just not as helpful as it seemed

    But, communicate as well as you can. Fr'ex, in a Broadway Musical Mash-Up larp, I got a look at someone else's character sheet after the game. It read like this:

    Goal 1: Blahblah. You will fail at this. You have to try anyway.
    Goal 2: Blahblahblah. You're probably going to fail at this one too.

    There were a couple of actually achievable goals -- but the goals weren't as much the point for this character in this larp. Scenery chewing and running about trying to keep a lid on chaos and failing were.

    Another guy played a couple of different characters, as one of them was the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors, and he knew full well where that plot line was going. Again, the questionnaire asked "How do you feel about playing a doomed character?" and "How do you feel about playing a series of different characters?"

    And, if things go wrong, don't beat yourself up. As Straightjackets Optional's Fearless Team Leader once said, all larps are failures, in a way. The key is to learn from each, to fail better, and to give everyone -- including yourself -- a good time.
  • Great info. I'm still digesting lots of it.

    I really like the redeemed baddie idea. It gives me ideas about how to motivate ambiguous characters too.

    Weirdly, this discussion also gave me some ideas about how to motivate Commander type baddies: points per mook you manage to get killed off.

    The important thing I'm taking away from this so far is that it's entirely feasible to give players of villain type characters meta-game goals.
  • I've never seen those kinds of questionnaires before? Do you have a link to any?
    An example (for a 60+-player game running in - yike - two weeks!)


    Note that it asks you both what sort of morality you want to play, and whether you want to play to win or lose (along with various questions of taste and redlines).

    I'm not used to scoring in rpgs (let alone larps); when we want someone to take this sort of role, we'll use a questionnaire to find someone who is OK with it, and tell them upfront: "you're a villain. The odds are stacked against you. If you can win, great. If not, your job is to lose gloriously, in a genre-appropriate way".
  • edited January 2014
    I'm not used to scoring in rpgs (let alone larps)
    This part sparked another area that I'm curious about, regarding "recognition" in non-gamist/non-competitive play ( or maybe it is competitive, but on some different sort of level?).

    I'm going to start a new thread to cover that discussion. Hopefully folks, especially the larp folks will pop into that with some experience as well. I'll be back in a sec with a link.


Sign In or Register to comment.