This can be a problem in ongoing campaigns.

I thought of this while reviewing the section of the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide related to villainous plots. It’s great to have a villain in your campaign.

If the players know they’re up to something.

I’ve run into this problem a lot in my campaigns, to the point where I think I’ve only really had maybe one successful villain. I technically had one in my very first campaign but he was more a looming shadow than a lingering threat.

There was that one time he almost wiped the party. But that was kind of an accident. They didn’t much care about him apart from that one time.

No, but really.

If your players can’t see what your villain is doing, then there’s hardly a point for it. There’s a caveat to this — if the players think they know what the villain is up to, you’re good. And you technically don’t have to do anything.

I’ll describe the difference.

Okay, so the last thing you want to do is just straight-up tell the players what your villain is up to, like a cutaway scene or something. I mean, what are the players even supposed to do with that knowledge?

But to be relevant, I mean for your players to care about a villain, they have to actually be doing something. None of this “Orcus on his throne” nonsense.

Some puppies need to be kicked. Some villages need to be burned.

I mean, you can have a series of seemingly unrelated events connected by the villain who was orchestrating them all along. I think this is the justification for having a “Big Bad” as a villain. They were always technically involved.

Which means “Orcus on his throne” is justifiable.

But it isn’t quite the same. No, because you need to have Orcus’s minions out doing stuff for it to count as Orcus’s involvement, right? It has to come back to Orcus in the end.

Which means the story has to ultimately lead back to Orcus. I think this example has officially usurped my blog post. See what I did there?

Was this post always about Orcus? Considering how much time I spent talking about him, you might think so — and a good GM would probably encourage that.

So, you know.

Show your players what your villain is doing. They don’t have to show up and take credit for things all the time. But it can be super-blatant with your d12 rumors or whatever. “Evil Lord So-and-So is at it again!”

“Hm, we’re running low on villages. Better send in the heroes!”

“I wonder what that Orcus fellow is up to?”