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I've been having some difficulty making the Arcana of my villains stand out in my 7th Sea campaigns.

Specifically, how can I better communicate which arcana the villain has, and encourage the players to interact with it (via drama dice and role playing)?

Do I just tell the players what the villain's arcana is? This seems to run into problems with Fate Witches (who have a power to view arcana), villains disguised as heroes (it sort of ruins it), and villains with the deceitful arcana (which overlaps with villains disguised as heroes).

If I don't flat out tell my players what arcana the villain has, how can I communicate the difference between a villain who happens to have a plan, and the villain with the Scheming flaw?

What I'm Looking For

I'm looking specifically for how I can let the players know what a Villain's arcana is, particularly if it's a flaw, encourage them to use it, and generally make the whole experience fun and positive.

An arcana is a mechanical aspect of the villain that can be activated by the GM (if it's positive) for a benefit to the villain, or by the player (if it's negative) to cause the villain to fail in some way appropriate to their arcana.

For example:

I ran a villain who had the Greedy arcana, and I tried doing things like littering his speech with possessive phrases (talking about what's his, what was taken from him, etc.), staging him in a mansion, including a lot of possessive thematic elements, etc. It just didn't seem to be enough to get the players engaged within the space the villain had. None of the players went "Ohhh, he's greedy! I'll spend a drama die to activate his arcana..."

Example topics:

  • How do I write scenes that emphasize the villain's arcana?

  • What meta-information do I provide to the players? Do I tell them the character has an arcana? A flaw? The Greedy flaw?

  • What kind of stuff should I pre-plan to reward the players for messing around with arcana? How do I brainstorm it?

  • How can roleplaying be used to enhance and communicate the arcana?

What I am NOT Looking For

  • Advice on how to roleplay antagonists in general.

  • Advice on how to create antagonists in general.

Any advice on how to roleplay or build antagonists should be framed towards getting the players to use and enjoy the villain's arcana.

Other Systems

I am completely fine with answers from other systems, but please use common sense: it has to solve my problem. I'm fine with splicing in rules or concepts if they're very good, but remember that I am unlikely to own any system you reference, nor am I likely to purchase them. Any answer will need to stand on its own.

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Do you want role playing advise (how to portrait a character/villain better) or game system (rules) advise or both? As it stands, your question is unclear to me. –  Sardathrion Aug 15 '11 at 11:31
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@Sardathrion I am looking for both. Villain Arcana is a mechanical system to help encourage role playing... So I am potentially looking for advise on both the role playing aspects (communicating the Arcana via role playing) and mechanical aspects (making the Arcana distinctive enough to be recognizable; perhaps telling the players what the Arcana is). To a certain extent, the question is also about how much should be communicated through role playing, and how much should be communicated directly. –  AceCalhoon Aug 15 '11 at 12:54
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If the scalpel isn't working, pick up the hammer. My reading of the rules is that a Fate Witch should be able to see a villain's Arcana. It's a nice, tangible bonus for someone who plays a character type that doesn't often get to directly affect play. As for others, well, the roleplaying cues are a good idea. But it's hard to direct players where you (and they) want to go. I allow my players to ask whether spending a Drama Die to activate a possible Flaw would produce any effect - it's not necessary to specify which Flaw they're thinking of. I give them a yes/no answer depending on if the NPC has a Flaw, and if it's one that could be relevant to the situation at hand. If the answer is yes, it's their choice whether it's worth spending a precious, precious Drama Die to see what happens.

Not every group will like such a straightforward approach. We've just found that saying "If I spend a Drama Die, will this guy do something entertainingly self-destructive?" keeps the action moving quickly. Trying to guess whether the NPC is a full-on Villain, and then trying to figure out their Flaw, and then spending a Drama Die that might not do anything, ended up not being fun for us.

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Interesting. I suppose part of the trick to this is having something amusing for the villain to do planned out, that's not too reliant on the PCs. Any tips for implementing that, particularly for tricky Flaws like Scheming? –  AceCalhoon Sep 15 '11 at 19:57
    
Nothing specific to individual Flaws. In general, if a Villain shows up in one of our adventures, they're actively pursuing something. I do try to shape these goals with the Flaws in mind - the Scheming person has crossed our path because he wants the emerald necklace as one of the seven steps in his plan to humiliate Lord Montbatten. I have no idea how the necklace fits in to this plan, but I don't have to. The Schemer wants it, the PCs want it, and if the Flaw is triggered I have Schemer babble about his plan or become blinded to other dangers or etc. –  sprenge777 Sep 16 '11 at 16:27
    
Lemme clarify. When a Flaw is going to cross the players' path, have an outcome in mind. Think about a helpful thing that might happen if the PCs trigger it - information is revealed, a combat advantage is gained, your carefully-plotted story is completely derailed for some exciting new thing, etc. It's all about outcomes. Think of something that the players (and ideally their characters) would find entertaining, and have it up your sleeve if you need it. –  sprenge777 Sep 16 '11 at 16:30
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Also, you have to give your players something to relate to, first and foremost, when developing characters in a plot sequence.

You know, Homer Simpson is the kind of guy that says, "Doh!" all the time, which is interesting, but it's not what makes people connect to him. People connect to him because he's a working stiff with a good heart, even though he's kind of dumb. A lot of fathers are that way.

If you want your players to catch the deeper meaning behind arcana, you have to find a way that it connects to their real lives. I know the Homer Simpson example is a little out there, but you could really use any character with good dynamics. Garfield is a cat that's open about his guilty pleasures. He just wants to eat and be happy on the outside, but we all know that he's paying back with his intelligence.

Whatever your character trait may be, there's got to be a reason. Sell the back story. Give your characters some scrying power. Don't let them fight everything right away. Have a character appear in the middle of the night to converse and take a bite out of someone and then disappear almost as suddenly.

And if you're having an issue with 'just telling them', then don't make it matter so much. Let them 'judge the book by its cover', then hit them with a taint for being too quick with their guns. For example, they might accidentally kill a level 0 who's just jerking them around. Have the character come back to life, pissed. You have to condition your players into thinking deeply if they aren't doing it by themselves. Present them with the opportunity, first, though.

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This isn't very helpful. Do you know than Arcana is a technical term in the 7th Sea RPG? –  SevenSidedDie Aug 15 '11 at 4:24
    
Yes, absolutely, developing the character is good. But how do I draw attention to the one, specific, facet of the character with mechanical significance? And how do I deal with cases where the villain appears without a multi-session buildup (either because the players did something unexpected, or simply because the villain decided to show up with a bang)? –  AceCalhoon Aug 15 '11 at 5:03
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