The main premise of the campaign I am currently DMing is that the PCs need to level up to become powerful enough to take over the world. It's an open world(ish) campaign with a set end goal but no set way to get there.

One problem I'm having with this though is that if I make the villain 'Evil' then the PCs will just recruit him, and there are barely any 'good guy' opponents in the DMG (The only ones I could find were the CR 3 'Knights').

How can I make a villain with underlings that the PCs have a reason to fight, without having to homebrew everything?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have "Volos' Guide To Monsters" as a resource? What level are the PCs? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 12:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why would the evil villains be recruited by the party instead of the other way around? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 13:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik I made that part of an answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 13:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be helpful to know the intent and power and magic levels of the campaign. Is it low-level mundane, where you're probably trading punches with rival gang members, mid- or high-level mundane, where you're sailing against navy ships and enemy pirates for treasure, or magic heavy, where you might be hunting down servants of a specific god? The answers to this question depend heavily on the motives and means of your villainous PCs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Renegade
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 15:54

6 Answers 6


Build a criminal network as your BBEG

I have had success over the years in using the Organized Crime family model (an example is mentioned here) to provide scalable challenges to parties of good, neutral, and evil/chaotic alignments. The emphasis is on rivalry as the tension builder between your PCs and their nemesis.

What are the advantages of doing this?

As you may be familiar from the real world, organized crime families won't necessarily ally with other organized crime groups (drug cartels, mafia families) just because they are criminal (or if we like, for D&D purposes, just because they are Evil). They will fight with, ally with, or take over other crime organizations based on their goals, motives and opportunities.

The layered network of the criminal organization lends itself to a steadily increasing CR/challenge for your PCs with a logical "final" boss/group of pretty high CR. (Having the whole thing masterminded from the shadows by a demon, a vampire, or an evil dragon fits the D&D Swords and Sorcery genre).

  • One of the best crime network campaigns I ran had a Vampire as the real mastermind. Vampires are still a very tough boss to handle, as are Rakshasa's. The Vampire's ability to influence and control others by fear, persuasion, and deception is built in. The Vampire doesn't care about the PCs' alignment: he or she wants to use them, manipulate them, or feed on them.
  • The Rakshasa is described as working through proxies and can make for a very hard to kill, and clever, arch nemesis regardless of your PCs' alignment. While I have not run a campaign with the Rakshasa as the major enemy, they are custom built for that explicit purpose: misdirection and deception are their strong points. Assassin NPCs employed by the Rakshasa can be lethal if they surprise the party. (I've used the NPC Assassin on multiple occasions; nasty).

Your PCs are a criminal gang, as described.

Their goal is to take over. At least one other organized crime group is either in charge, or wants to take over. They are not intetested in being recruited just because "we are evil" but rather, they have their own goals and motives for wishing to take over the world, just as your PC's do.

As a campaign plot element, you can have the larger Criminal Organization recruit your players while they are at low levels, then as the PCs gain levels the rivalry begins to take shape. That approach is a trope that can be seen in a lot of Hollywood films, TV shows, books, and other entertainment media1.

Scalable challenges

As with various herirachical organizations, criminal and otherwise, your PCs will encounter the low level foot soldiers (guards, thugs, bandits, Knights, etc) before they run into the tougher NPC's like:

  1. ArchMage (CR 12) with minions;

  2. A few Champions (CR 9 warrior type, Volo's Guide to Monsters) with squads of soldiers/archers/scouts serving them,

  3. Allied giants, mind flayers, or other monsters who share the goals of the crime family, or are allied for their own reasons.

  4. A vicious cabal of halfling thieves, assassins, bards, and sorcerers such as those encountered by Finieous Fingers and his crew.

Quantity has a quality all its own

If you go through your encounter creation steps in the DMG, or in the Basic Rules, pages 165-166, you'll notice that even low level CR NPCs (Bandits, Pirates, Thugs, Scouts, Guards, Knights) can in medium to large sized groups create deadly encounters at varying PC levels due to the number of attacks per round that your PCs are subjected to. Ranged attacks: use them!

Let's use 4 Knights as an example encounter.

  • 4 CR 3 Knights x 700 = 2800, multiplied by 2 for being between 3-6 enemies. For a party of 4 6th level characters, that's Deadly encounter. (5,600 XP Threshold, Basic Rules, p. 165). Granted, the encounter math is an estimate. Tossing in an Acolyte or a Cult Fanatic to support them with spells may make the encounter a lot more difficult ...

    Match your capstone encounters (or your late-tier tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 major encounters against the party's level as they peel the layers back to expose the deeper and more dangerous enemies who are an obstacle to their long term success in taking over.

1 FWIW, Waterdeep Dragon Heist has a reasonable illustration of the criminal organization model in a published setting, but you don't need to buy that book to pull this off. The CRPG Baldur's Gate has the BBEG use economic groups and other adventuring parties to stop the protagonist's party.

If the PCs try to recruit the antagonists, a remedy for this is to role-play those NPCs into situations where they frequently and routinely betray the PCs. With a few exceptions, evil characters are typically self-serving. (thanks @R.McMillan)

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Your PCs are a criminal gang, as described." Until they reach a certain level of success in their endeavors, at which point they're legitimate nobles/royals... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 21:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MasonWheeler Fair point. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ I seem to recall having read that some criminal network in Waterdeep was run by a beholder too, somewhere. I can't really remember the details... \$\endgroup\$
    – eirikdaude
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 19:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @eirikdaude That would be WD dragon heist, Mr Spoiler. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 19:43

Don't give them a villain. Give them an antagonist.

When we create stories about heroes (such as typical characters in Dungeons & Dragons), we often assume that the story must include some evil character as a source of conflict. But this is not universally true. You don't need to design an enemy NPC who is "more evil" than the PCs; in a game with evil protagonists, conflict does not need to have a moral basis.

If you want conflict, then what you need is an antagonist. That means you have a NPC (or faction) whose motives and/or methods are in opposition of the PCs.

Opposition can be active, passive, or a mix of both. An active antagonist tries to interfere with the PCs and their plans, whereas a passive antagonist is an obstacle for the PCs to overcome. Note that the same NPC may oppose actively or passively at different points in time, depending on who's in charge of the status quo.

Don't think about this NPC in terms of the alignment axis. The enemy could be good, or evil, or neither. Even if the PCs and antagonist are not morally opposed, they could be opposed on some other grounds. For example, perhaps the antagonist is competing against the PCs for a valuable resource. Or perhaps the antagonist is a tyrant king, who owns territory that the PCs want for themselves.

There are countless ways to write a fun antagonist, too many to list in a single answer. Additionally, your campaign setting can feature multiple antagonists, who may have different motives, or who may decide to collaborate against the PCs. You can even introduce new antagonists, such as NPCs seeking revenge for the PCs' villainous deeds.

Generally, an antagonist should be sufficiently powerful to be a viable threat to the PCs' objectives. Regardless of the PCs' goals, the antagonist should be competent enough to get in their way.

Lastly, remember that an antagonist can be overcome without killing them. Perhaps the PCs are feeling diplomatic, and decided to persuade an antagonist to join them instead.

With all this in mind, you can choose virtually any creatures from the Monster Manual, Dungeon Masters Guide, or other books.


Evil doesn't necessarily get along with Evil.

Your players want to take over the world. Okay. That means that anyone they recruit is going to have to be okay with the idea of the players taking over the world. A lot of evil types out there won't be okay with this. Some of them might wish to destroy the world, some of them might wish to slaughter all members of the PC's species, some of them might think that the PCs are delicious, and some of them might want to take over the world themselves, or on behalf of their preferred candidate. Indeed, there are very few out there who can be convinced that "help the PCs take over the world" is something that they actually want. Sure, you might run into some that respect the rule of the strong and whatnot, but the shining paladin of good could beat them into submission just as effectively as your PCs could.


Powerful good doers.

You can create your own, it doesn't need to be on the DMG. After all in most campaign players are the good guys so you can just create normal NPCs of the level you want.

The city mayor can be a retired Level 10 fighter, hero of the war, while his personal guard can be level 4 fighters that he personally trains and his insepparable advisor being a level 14 wizard.

There are as many good guys as you want to make.

Powerful evil doers.

Evil opposes evil, they just need to want something exclusively. In your case, there can be only one ruler of the world. For example, in LOTR, Saruman opposes Sauron and both of them are evil but since both of them want the same thing (the ring of power) and only one of them can have it, they are enemies.

Similar patterns can always work to prevent your Big Bad for being recruited.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any experience in creating NPCs using the player character classes that you can use you expand on the first part of this answer? This more or less amounts to PvP mechanically and could wind up very unfair. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aiken
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 14:43

Read Worm. Or watch The Godfather.

Your PCs may be villains, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're bad people. Maybe they have no other way to succeed in the world. Maybe they had a bad start. Or maybe they're disillusioned by the "good" side actually not behaving particularly morally or really caring about the little people.

As Taylor and Don Corleone both found out, you can't rely on the "good" people to be there to help you, or even to care. If what you need to do to survive is illegal, then you'll become a criminal or a victim, and you don't want to be a victim. And once you've identified yourself to others as someone who can take the initiative to not be a victim, other people will look to you for guidance. So your PCs will acquire NPCs - followers of course, but also the friends and families of their followers. Neither Taylor nor Don Corleone intended to become leaders of a faction - they simply did what seemed right to defend a small number of people, and things snowballed from there. Your PCs could well follow the same trajectory.

As that network extends, inevitably this will bring you into conflict with other people who can also take the initiative. Some of them may be people you can work with, with similar values. Some of them may be opposed to your faction's very existence - your country's aristocracy will take a dim view of someone building an army capable of opposing them, for example, and history shows that people in authority (especially hereditary authority) are frequently not good people. Some of them may be people who just want to watch the world burn, and negotiation is pointless. And some of them may not be people at all, so a vampire has very different motivations from a crime boss.

That gives you external forces to work with or against. You also have internal forces. If you're the leader of a faction, your NPCs expect you to work for the good of your faction. Sometimes hard decisions have to be taken, of course. But if you leave your followers to be slaughtered one too many times, you'll find a knife in your back soon enough. Even once may be too much, if you decide you have to leave someone behind and their husband/wife/son/daughter/best friend swears eternal vengeance.


Good guys can be as wicked as evildoers.

When you've been playing for long you'll know good guys often go 180 and end up doing quite nasty things in their pursuit to end all crime and opression. The Harpers from forgottem realms for instance used to be a secret organization that worked as a spy network and they pretty much played it rough on the villains that crossed their path. Just as with evil, good works better when served subtly and it can't be traced back to it's origin.

Harpers would use powerful magic and all kinds of trickery to infiltrate evil organizations and play mind games on them, making them think they were doing evil acts, but really working for the interest of their puppet masters. So if your PCs would be bad enough to attract the interest of such a group you could pretty much use any kind of monster who has been tricked into a big scheme plotted by a good natured spymaster. It takes a little bit of planning, but I think it's a great pay-off if you play it like they're fighting other villains (See Evil doesn't necessarily get along with Evil. answer by @Ben Barden) just to find, in the end they were going against a good guy all along.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to add to this, in our own world Jihadists consider their cause pure to God, but a lot of us would beg to differ, including other Muslims. Paladins, also, can be considered zealots of the cause. \$\endgroup\$
    – Paul
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Paul At least in the earlier editions of D&D, Good is more concrete than "believing one is doing good". So while definitions may vary (perhaps Good ~ altruism), there are many tables where a suicide bomber would not be considered Good regardless of motivation or internal belief that one is good. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 13:40

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