Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad?

They just marched though his army of baddies, they broke into his stronghold and now they’re ready to fight the ringleader. You’ve prepared your intimidating bad guy speech and deliver it flawlessly with a scary voice and musical accompaniment.

Your players just snicker. One let’s out a “Yeah right.” In short they’re not impressed.

This should be the crescendo of the action but the players are confident enough that they aren’t even worried. What went wrong? You wanted them trembling in their boots but now they’re laughing and taunting.

Realistically it makes sense. I had one player ask me “Why would this guy need an army if he was really tough?” If you had just fought your way through the Nazi armies and came face to face with Hitler, who do you think would be scared, you or Hitler?

So how do you make the tension peak just as the players get to the end of the game? How do you make them afraid of the Big Bad?

For one, if the PCs aren’t limping up the stairs to the throne room, their’s no reason for them to be afraid. Why would they be if they’re at the top of their game?

Have the PCs ever been defeated by this big bad before? No? Well, again, why be afraid?

Have they been in fear of his diabolical traps? No? Well?

The PCs have to be in mortal peril with their backs up against the wall, their girlfriend being used as a hostage and their dog hanging over a pit of boiling lava before they’re going to feel the tension. They have to be experiencing the danger and not know how they will get out of it before the big bad can deliver his triumphant speech.

Get the timing wrong and they’ll be laughing and taunting again.

3 Comments

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3 Responses to Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad?

  1. In the current campaign that I am running, I am having the opposite problem, although I am hesitant to call it a problem.

    We aren’t playing a “story game” where there is some overall plot with some Big Bad as the end boss, but there are villains and adversaries like any rpg. Some are dealt with swiftly and sometimes the players fail in putting a stop to the Big Bad’s plans.

    To put it simply, they’re currently afraid of this one guy that they were inadvertently responsible helping him in one of his plans. An often cited quote at the table is, “We can’t take him on yet” when they can or “He’s behind this” when it’s not him at all.

    It’s obvious they plan to go after him at some point, but their avoidance has actually lead to him gaining more power, accomplishing more goals, and other such things that he could not have achieved, if they went after him earlier.

    For me it’s interesting to see it play out and even I as the Dungeon Master have no idea how their confrontation will finally play out.

    Staying on your topic, sometime the greatest enemy to the players is themselves. Feeding into that can definitely make them worried about finally coming face to face with the Big Bad, which helps create that tension even before they kick down his door to take him out.

    • Loc

      I know what you mean. I’ve also had the opposite problem when the players don’t think they can possibly win. I’ve had situations where mechanically or statistically they should be able to handle something but after failing a few rolls they give up and are too afraid to keep going. It puts a damper on things.

      My advise is if you enjoy the paranoia or it’s turning into a great story by itself go with it. If not, have the players inadvertently foil a minor leg of his plans so that he now has it in for the PCs and starts going after them. Force the confrontation if they win, problem solved and If they fail again, have the big bad let them go, that’ll scare them even more.

      • It’s not a problem yet. I could see how it could become one though, but for the moment I am enjoying it.

        They’re making him into a better villain then I could have. I mean, it’s one thing for the DM to say, “This guy is scary, big, bad and evil” and quite another when they players are the ones that decided this fact based on their own imagination.

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