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July 16, 2010 / JBencomo

Evil Factions: Implementing Antagonistic groups in a campaign

“Geran, Hamil said silently. The swordsman sensed his small companion’s
sudden alertness and slowed his steps. He followed Hamil’s gaze and saw
what the halfling saw—a gang of five men watching over the street. Three
lounged on the sagging stoop of a dismal alehouse, and two gathered
around a firepit on the opposite side of the street. They carried cudgels and
knives, and each man wore a red-dyed leather gauntlet wrapped in chains
on his left hand. Crimson Chains. Slavers.”

For those of you who don’t know, that’s and excerpt from the Forgotten Realms book “Swordmage: blades of the Moonsea” by Richard Baker, which I was reading last night while looking for inspiration to write a post and finally came to find it in that paragraph. Many DM’s have proven and like to use on regular bases a recurrent villain, the evil mastermind that pulls the strings behind scene just to make quick and nefarious apparitions ‘til the very end, but most of us underuse and underestimate the many unique features a organized evil group brings to the story, so i decided to talk a little of how create and introduce them to your campaign and why.

A simple band of Kobolds is soon forgotten, but a hero would remember ending the “Tiamat’s Lash” for a long time after. The main reason to create evil groups for your campaign is that with just a few distinctive characteristics you transform a random selection of enemies from a monster manual into another living aspect of the world you created, making it a powerful story driven argument to enrich the lore.

Involvement in the campaign: this should be your first stop, and here is why, the most history you are basing around this group, the more details and attention you have to pay in the following steps, if you are thinking in a minor robbers gang to have as backup random encounters then you don’t need to develop extensive details and background, then again, if you are constructing a campaign arc around a secretive cult of Vecna, the more lore the better.

Tip: details capture PC’s attention, the more details you give to a certain element in your narrative, the more important your players will think it is, play with this to make them understand what is a minor inconvenience and what they should be really paying attention to.

Motivation: This part is simple, think about the motivation of the evil faction you are implementing, what is its ultimate goal and what are their current activities, this might go from a simple criminal group that has little to do with the party from an evil cult to the primordials causing terror in a village which the heroes come to save, in any case, having a clear understanding of what the group is and what it wants will help you out fleshing the rest.

Tip: Do not limit your imagination, not all evil group seeks destruction of the world, some are in it for profit at all costs, some just like to do evil by nature, other even think they are the good guys (the last being one of the most frightening) try hard to make each enemy motivation unique and refreshing.

HI! my name is… : naming your evil faction is crucial, but it should come easy, try to answer these questions: one, is there a racial/class predominance in your group? and two, what is their main activity/ultimate goal?. The first will guide you to some boundaries on how to name your group, if there are Orcs, expect simpler and violent names, if they are Eladrins  they should be more complex nature/arcane related names, basically a class/race predominance will tell you how to shape the name, but ultimately, the goal and activities of the evil group is more important, are they slavers? a savage tribe? a sect of arcane warlocks looking to dominate lesser settlements? taking this into account should make naming an easy process.

Tip: short is better, easier to remember, try to maintain a 2 – 3 words rule, unless you porously want it to be an exception, i mean, “The Ancient brotherhood of Torog’s thirteen wounds” has a nice ring to it, but try to make a “short name” for it too.

Distinctive Characteristic: It might be something obvious like a peace of clothing/gear, a tattoo, scar or something hidden like a parchment or amulet found on the corpse of the fallen, even a secret gesture or word the heroes have to extort from their enemies, whatever it is the characteristic that identifies an enemy or group of enemies as members of this faction is as important or more than the name itself, try coming up with something that relate both to the name and the activities of the group

Tip: This characteristic is a really powerful tool for plot/argument twists, first establish its existence and relation to the evil faction, then you might drop hints of it to your players to lure them or confuse them, perhaps they find the faction symbol in the room of a “good” NPC, or in the final moments the patron who has been employing them reveals the tattoo of the order they try to end.

Details and finishing touches: you might not flesh out every little detail about your group, because rarely the band of heroes would ever found out EVERYTHING there is to know about them, but try to give them the feeling those details exists, also, do create in advance the main characters of such factions that you would be involving directly with the party, and hint of their existence before they even appear, this will enlarge the immersion in the campaign.

Tip: try to come up with a basic organization of hierarchy of the faction, mainly their leader and composition, lastly, remember to go back to the Monster Manuals looking for creatures that have the abilities you need and re skinning them to avoid creating them all from scratch.



Leave a Comment
  1. Tourq / Jul 18 2010 10:00 am

    Excellent info. I love reading ideas to improve running one’s game. Anything to make the game more real and memorable suits me just fine.


  2. Mezo Mackinolty / Apr 20 2015 9:19 pm

    I constantly spent my half an hour to read this web site’s posts everyday along with a mug of coffee.

  3. Leona / Feb 12 2017 9:20 pm

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