Well, we're opting to put our campaign through the depths of Barovia on hold to try something different. That something? Villainy.
With a few of our players worn out on the grim setting of Barovia, we thought we'd try a spin on thing. Following viewing of Lindsey Ellis's delightful YouTube channel about Disney villains, I started playing with the idea of what a villainous campaign, with all the history of Disney, might look like. Curious? Well, read the introduction to "The Seven Kingdoms" below. Following the introduction, you can check out my riff on inspiration to encourage shared world creation. And wow, do we have a lot of excitement for our kingdoms with the Thursday crew. We'll post briefs of the sessions once we're playing alongside elements from the campaign creation guide, too.
For now, though, enjoy the below!
You know how it goes: You tap the power of an ancient artifact, make a pact with an eldritch power, smooth-talk your way up the hierarchy, gain the high noble’s ear, and some so-called heroes come in and kick you out. And you had such plans!
Such delicious and effective plans!Bruised and hopes dashed, you head out with your Igor or your pack of hyenas or the humble lamp with the djinn inside to lick your wounds. And plan again. Plan for your return.
That’s when you stumble into the Green Mint Meadow, an odd travelers’ house on the edge of the kingdom. You notice a handful of oddfellows around and what is that gods-forsaken pounding from the basement? They carry your favorite mead or ale or dark elf wine, so you order one and take a seat. The place is already crowded so you end up sitting next to some bloke in a cloak and by the second round you start talking.
Turns out they were kicked out of the kingdom just across the border, the one that is all snowy craggy peaks or endless sandy seas or the peppering of islands beyond the cerulean harbor. They had plans too and you commiserate over the heroic nincompoops that kicked each of you out. Then another and another join the story and before you realize it, you are planning. Some might call it scheming, but they just don’t have the taste for it.
Then the plan is born. Together those self-righteous priests or noble buffoons or sword-swinging hobos won’t stand a chance. Each will reclaim their kingdom through subtlety, politicking, sorcery, and the occasional well-placed blade. And in the end you’ll have what’s yours and they’ll pay for how they treated you. The sale of the otherworldly gold from beneath the sea will bring untold wealth to the harbor city. Perhaps instead you’ll raze the capital and set yourself on the blackened ruins surrounded by vassals. Or with the upstart urchin defeated you’ll simply return to your researches unmolested.
The Seventh Kingdom, however, few speak of it. Its name is widely known but its people seldom spoken of. When the topic is raised, the room goes quiet, another round is carried over by nimble monkey paws or disfigured mitts of a henchman or the well-trained pincers of the imp. That will have to wait. No one lays claim to the Seventh Kingdom, and there are more immediate concerns to address.
Such as where to go first…
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The Seven Kingdoms is a campaign seed that encourages players to create their own settings and rivals as they, the villains, return to power. Once they’ve done so, they are confronted with the greatest threat to their dominance: The Seventh Kingdom. Within you’ll find resources for developing a variety of kingdoms that exist in your own patchwork map. Players are encouraged to play cunning and charming characters inspired by the villains of animated films, Benday dotted comics pages, and silver age screens. They are larger than life demigods or archmages fallen on hard times, who will show the world all that they’re capable of. In the process, they’ll rise to their ultimate power before waging a powerful war against the Seventh Kingdom to secure their power, if they don’t set at each other’s throats first.
The villainous characters each has their own goal related to their own kingdom. These distinct goals foster an uneasy alliance and with each character comes their unique goals. In addition, any remaining band could upset the victory of one villain over their kingdom, so it is best to secure each in their own peculiar world, for the enlightened self-interest of each. In addition, while their deeds are indeed dastardly, they are not monstrous criminals of our own history. While each table can set its own ground rules, whatever foul endeavor or cruel ruse has a purpose, whether it be sadistic pleasure or grand usurpation. As a rule, sex crimes, genocide, and violence against children are ruled out, though dark storytelling may be used in backstory and scene setting. If your table wishes to engage in a longer conversation about the difficulty of an evil campaign, let them, but ensure that comfortable guidelines are established.
That said, the game world is rife for creation and cleverness. And we’ll get into details of how to support a rich, diverse world for your villainous characters momentarily.
This book is organized as a walkthrough. Skim each chapter and take what works for you and your group. We start in the tavern, create our characters, then the bright reflections of them in their kingdoms, and then set out. As Dungeon World creators Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel write, “Draw maps, leave blanks.” Don’t feel obligated to create a massive world and I would, in fact, discourage it. Just like the realms of myth and story, the world may feel patchwork, and that’s okay. That means there is space for surprise.
What is important is to communicate that these characters are or become well-known. Part of the excitement of playing the villain is how well they are known. Baba Yaga, Voldemort, Dracula, and the Joker are whispered of and feared. Speaking their names aloud gives them power and thinking too long on them may bring their terrible gaze. These are the key players of this story.
So let’s get to them.
Note on Inspiration: While each kingdom is part of a particularly character’s story, allow and encourage other players to riff and create in the game. Encourage this by adapting the inspiration mechanic from the world’s most popular roleplaying game. Give one inspiration token per player (use poker chips, for example) to the host player. The host player is whoever knows this kingdom best. Whenever another player describes something they enjoy, the host player can give out a coin. In addition, rather than earn inspiration through roleplay, when a player wants to reroll or roll with advantage, they must describe why their action is so thrilling or excellent in order to earn a token from the Game Master.
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Image Credits: CBR.com with art from Walt Disney Studios and HISHE's Villain Pub from How It Should Have Ended.