Please enjoy submission #19 for our latest contest: Your Best Worst Villain! See the rules and prizes here!
I once did a rendition of the Savage Tide campaign that was put on in Dungeon magazine while it was still in print, for 3.5 edition. If you’re not familiar with it, think high-fantasy on the high seas, mixed with Demogorgon attempting to turn the entire planet into the crew of the flying Dutchman from pirates of the Caribbean 2. Demons, pirates, jungles, all that good stuff.
So anyway, the party was on its way to the pirate port of Scuttlecove, which is like Tijuana if it were run by the Manson family. On the way there, their ship is ambushed by a corsair, privateers claiming to be under the command of a man named Commodore Duchev. My players have a heated debate over whether that name is Russian or not as they make the pirates into chutney, then use their defeated enemy’s charts to find their way to Duchev’s hideout.
The ‘hideout’ in this case is a small tropical island surrounded by reefs, crowned by an old mansion that used to belong to an enterprising sugarcane baron. That’s unimportant, because its current tenants are Duchev, a mindflayer companion and his grimlocks, a tribe of Aztec-like lizardfolk, and some human pirates. Cue a few hours of excellent game-play, minus a penalty shot due Unnecessary Roughness for use of a Hydra. Two characters die, but the party comes back to full strength when they coincidentally find two prisoners. Eventually, though, the players come to a barricade of furniture leading up to the second floor, with a note on the top asking for a parley. If they are interested, says the note, they should return the next morning, to discuss terms of surrender. The PC’s agree this is a good idea, given the current fatality rate. They sleep in the jungle that night.
The next morning, they return to the stairs to find them completely clear, the doors at the top wide open. Time to see whose put them through all of this trouble, right? So they go up the stairs.
They come into a grand ballroom, with four figures looking at them. The first three are a mind flayer and two grimlocks. The fourth is Commodore Duchev. Thin, dressed in officer’s attire, hair parted down the middle and around his well-manicured horns. A half-fiend. A freakishly large hand wrapped around a flintlock halfway between a pistol and full-length musket, the other holding a morningstar lovingly crafted from pig iron. I tell the PC’s his eyes don’t look right, when he talks he talks at you, not with you, when he laughs he looks like he’s pleading for someone to laugh with him. A head full of bad wiring, no doubt, especially considering that he claims a creature as alien as a mind flayer as a companion.
So not thirty seconds of dialogue between the two parties and it becomes evident how off Duchev is. He asks them their terms. The PC’s answer. Then Duchev gives that laugh that I just described, and the gaming group just kind of looks at each other. Duchev responds that the terms were supposed to be their terms of surrender, why would Duchev surrender, this is his house and they’re his guests, it would be odd for the host to put himself at his guest’s power. The PC’s wonder what the hell he’s talking about, and then one of them asks why even holds this parley. Duchev responds that he was just being a polite host to his guests. He had wished the favor had been returned, unfortunately. This was why he hadn’t pursued them into the jungle, this is why he didn’t go on his own raids – those places were outside of his estate grounds, and those places weren’t his. That would be impolite, somehow.
At this point, the PC’s realize that they’re clearly talking to a guy that isn’t all there, and that clearly doesn’t know how crazy he is. And around that time Commodore Duchev not only decides they’re a threat, but that they’re an impolite threat, and should as such be removed.
Shit hits the fan.
Duchev unloads his flintlock, drops it, and chugs a potion of haste before wading in with that morning star. The grimlocks rage. The mind flayer mind blasts, which concusses part of the party but doesn’t penetrate the miasma of shit that passes for Duchev’s conscious mind. In a few rounds the grimlocks are down and the mind flayer is chewing on sweet, sweet gray matter. Meanwhile, Duchev is going toe to toe with both the barbarian and the druid, all the while chugging a Potion of Righteous Might in his other hand. He doesn’t give a shit, the sabre and axe blows are bouncing off him and the PC’s can’t understand why. To this day they don’t know that the only secret was DR 10/good.
Two rounds later, the mind flayer has peace’d out after killing the samurai/weapon master, but Duchev is still there, beating the party like they’re runaway foster children. He forces them back to the head of the stairs. The druid decides that enough is enough and transforms into a bear. The rogue in the back hits Duchev with a good crossbow shot. That pisses Duchev off, because it shears a part off of his uniform, and he liked that uniform. He dodges the hammer blow from the barbarian, smacks that offending party with a mace to the forehead. He points with his morningstar, the head caked in hair and brain, past the body of the collapsed barbarian and at the rogue, and mouths “YOU”.
This is where the bearshaped druid grapples the commodore, gets him in a literal bear hug. Duchev starts laughing again, that same PTSD laugh, and pushes him off. Pushes a brown bear off of him, and smacks him in the snout with his morningstar. By now the floor is slick, everyone’s bleeding, the rogue is still firing shots at point blank range. The bear and the half-fiend go to the floor, almost roll down the stairs. The next round, the bear goes to quarter health from an Inflict spell.
Did I mention Duchev was a cleric?
The rogue, seeing his last chance, runs to the grapplers, both now just resorting to claws and biting. Duchev gets in one last claw before the Druid pins the chortling dude, and the rogue shoves his rapier through the back of his neck and out the front. Coup de grace.
But still, Duchev doesn’t stop laughing, even as the blood chokes up and out of his mouth. He goes limp but his neck goes rigid. It’s almost a nervous reflex, the same way a snake locks its jaw in death. I tell the PC’s the laugh just subsides to a clicking, and then just spasms of the throat while the heart catches up with the death of the head.
He was the best kind of villain, the inexplicable thing that one can only watch and wonder about. I assume the rogue slept every night from then on with the lights on.