I’ve been mulling over this problem I have.

In the past, I’ve taken advantage of the players’ defeat of a particular villain to introduce a new villain. Recently I’ve begun to question the “fairness” of such an action.

Is it fair to the players, that I should “punish” their success with an apparent failure?

Yesterday, I thought I arrived at a kind of conclusion — is it fair? Sure? Could it be more fair? Always. But the more important thing here is my reasoning.

There is this thing called a “power vacuum,” which we know about from narrative fiction and political movements. When a charismatic figure is deposed, another steps in to take their place. The late-comer is often worse than the original.

The trope tends to come in forms like “Hijacked By Ganon” or “Bigger Bad,” depending on how the new villain is introduced. Was the new villain waiting for an opportunity to strike? Was the original villain actually serving the new villain?

Sometimes it’s a matter of “Sealed Evil in a Can” when the new villain represents a COSMIC threat.

But in this last case, I think we also have a potential solution — narratives being relatively straightforward things, the imprisonment of (as opposed to the outright destruction or defeat) a villain, likely serves as an “out” in the case of introducing a new villain. More on this in a bit.

But no, the important idea is demonstrating that killing a villain often leads to their replacement with another, often worse, villain. In a game like Dungeons & Dragons, you often need to show this as a direct consequence.

No, it might not seem fair to immediately introduce a new villain upon the defeat of another, but it seems like it would actually be less fair to introduce a new villain after the fact, and claim it as the consequences of some past action.

It’s a funny thing about “what happens at the table.”

Anything the players can see at the table is infinitely more real than anything which happens “behind the scenes” or away from the table. If something cosmic or earth-shattering is going to occur, the players should “see” it happening.

I think the “real life” version of this is actually a fracturing power structure in which a second-in-command, who is often less charismatic and less “visionary” than the original baddie assumes control of a portion of the original’s power.

I wonder if there’s a clever algorithm to model the successively smaller pieces of a power structure that you get as these petty warlords are broken down, and perhaps a secondary force that serves to “unite them” under a new, charismatic baddie.

Perhaps it should be left to a table to decide? When a villain is deposed, roll to see if a Bigger Bad steps in, or if the power structure topples (or merely regresses)? It seems like there ought to be some straightforward use cases.