Please enjoy the sixth submission for our latest contest: Your Best Worst Villain! See the rules and prizes here!
My players tend to take things to the extreme. There is usually no telling what they’re going to think of next, and it is a constant struggle for me to anticipate what they will do and plan appropriately for it. Fortunately they tend to let me know outside of the game what their characters are thinking, so we make things work. Some things, however, tend to just fall into place.
Before I go into what makes the villain so memorable, it’s important to understand two of the characters, their shared background, and the events leading up to the confrontation, as this villain is a PC-backstory enemy who affected the lives of two characters before the campaign began. The human warlord, Parathorn, was the leader of a small bandit troupe, along with Guuzu, the brawling bugbear. These two PCs did their bandit thing around small villages and one large city before one of their followers staged a coup, forcing them out and taking over himself. This guy, Henric, was but one of the long laundry list of things that drove Parathorn into depression.
When I said that my PCs take things to the extreme, I wasn’t joking. The player of Parathorn decided to tell me, outside of the game, that his character had given up and didn’t see a way to make his life work and wanted to take his own life. Suicide is a pretty serious topic, but the character had rationalized it and the player had explained it to me, so we made it happen. The other PCs were none the wiser, and when they discovered his body the next morning, the player of Guuzu the bugbear had real tears in his eyes and was speechless for a good five minutes before he recovered enough to continue playing.
Parathorn was buried, and the party met the player’s new character, a paladin who ended up with his powers by accident (long, unrelated story) and who was defending a downtrodden town from a pack of ne’er-do-wells holed up in a cave complex near to the area. The party joined forces with this paladin and off they set to the bandit lair.
After dealing with the traps and twists and turns of the cave series, the PCs stumbled into a magical trap that wounded the lot of them and alerted the bandits to the characters’ presence. Revealed, the PCs charged into the room with weapons brandished and started attacking the evil-doers. Upon seeing Guuzu, some of the bandits recognized him and began taunting him, with one sprinting from the room to “inform Henric that Guuzu and Parathorn are here!” The PCs put two-and-two together, except for the new paladin; the player played it straight, and his paladin, who hadn’t been informed about Parathorn, didn’t understand why he was being called by that name.
For the enemies, it was an easy mix-up: both the paladin and the warlord wore chainmail and a helm, wielded greatswords, and palled around with Guuzu the bugbear. Who else could it be? So imagine Henric’s disappointment when, after the PCs burst into his throne room and he begins his “And this time I’ll finish you off once and for all!” speech, the paladin takes off his helm, revealing himself to be Not-Parathorn, and Guzuu reveals that Parathorn took his own life just days ago.
Henric flew into a wild rage. Parathorn was his greatest enemy; he had detested the way the other bandits looked up to him, hated how they were loyal to him, how they loved him and took his commands without question. It was like sweet music to Henric watching Parathorn’s once-loyal followers turn on him because of Henric’s lies and deceit, but it was a cruel injustice when one of the two men most devoted to the warlord held Henric and his betrayers at bay, giving his life that Parathorn and Guuzu might escape. Now fate had turned sadistic, robbing Henric of finally killing Parathorn and proving, once and for all, that Henric was the better of the two.
The maddened villain cut down his own men as they tried to flee from the enraged bugbear and his companions. He fought until the bugbear broke him entirely and spit bitterly into Guuzu’s face when offered the option of a quick death.
He did not receive it. Guuzu was not kind.
When talking about D&D and the characters that people create, I always paraphrase Goethe, who mentioned how authors cannot help but include in their writing parts of themselves. This is true of D&D characters, too; there is always some element of the player in the character.
Parathorn, his player commented after the session, was representative of a line of thought from which the player had moved on; when that sort of childish mindset installed within Parathorn died within the player, Parathorn had to follow suit. Guuzu’s player knew this, and it wasn’t easy for him to accept that part of his best friend had moved on from how things were. For him, it was a reminder of the passage of time and the ever-changing nature of things. Henric represented to him the forces that threaten to tear him apart from his best friend, and that created a very visceral response from both players. Both players were very emotional during and directly after the fight, and they both thanked me afterward for bringing out that sort of real-life drama and putting it into the game. Making their real-world fears into a D&D villain was a new kind of emotional catharsis: they literally got to slay the monster made of their fears.
My players take things to the extreme, and I couldn’t be happier about it, because not a damn one of us will ever forget that session.