I'm currently preparing a levels 1–30 D&D 4e campaign based on the .hack// games, where players become trapped inside an online game where a sentient program plans to become God.

My main bad guy is an NPC from this game that was part of "Project Rebirth", a company that attempted to make some things from the game real to make our world better, including this NPC—who after learning about human cruelty and ambition became crazy, killed the company members and made it his own to use the game to eradicate humanity and make this a world free of impurity.

He uses 12 members he recruited to create his own organization of warriors based on the signs of the Zodiac. Their job is to kill the PCs, and consume all the data of the virtual world they can to awaken their God and create a new world based on it.

So, pretty much I have 12 villains to use, plus the overlord villain. However I don't know how to pace the introduction of the villains nor how to make them memorable.

Games such as Kingdom Hearts have villain organizations which present little to no character background and still are appealing and memorable... heck, some villains lasted only one quest and you still remember them. How can I accomplish that?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this organization public and well-known, or orchestrating things from the shadows through public puppets and manipulation? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 20, 2014 at 3:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Company the organization is part of is actually the one who developed the game the players are trapped in; however the organization members act only inside the game and are become infamous arround a small sector of the gamers set to protect the other weaker players and the world, since the do their best to keep the "data draining" secret. Some members are more "show-loving" and theatrical than others. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 20, 2014 at 4:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this would stand as an answer so I am just commenting it. As you mentioned Kingdom Hearts something that they did I think helps make organization 13 memorable is Roxas. Roxas is part of the organization but is different from all the others. Perhaps do something similar where your group meets a member of the organization who doesn't realize they are his target or something. He is nice and friendly a downright nice guy. Then the other's show up and are completely different from this nice guy. A little cliche but effective I think. They also all had a very memorable unique traits. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aaron
    Jun 20, 2014 at 18:48

4 Answers 4


Well, this is a great question, and I must say beforehand that my experience with an organization of villains is pretty narrow. But I do hope that what I'll write here might be of some use to you.


One of the key things that you can do is to find inspiration for your villains in other sources. I once based an organization of villains around the 7 exes from Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Another time it was around a bunch of villains from westerns. The trick is to find some villains that are cool and draw inspiration from them.

This inspiration can be in terms of copying the villains, or it can be in terms of taking certain parts of their personalities. It can even mean analyzing what made them so memorable and using that someway.

Make them somewhat related to the characters

You want your players to care for them, to remember them, or something around those lines. For that, you have to make them related somehow to the PCs. While having them compete for the same goal is nice, I do prefer something closer to the trick utilized in Scott Pilgrim, having them the exes of a certain friend, relative or the like. Maybe have some of them be immediate family of the PCs? A true connection is far better in order to make the players care for them enough to hate them, love them, or even love to hate them.

Make each one of them unique

This is also very important. While they are all a part of an evil organization, they must be unique by themselves. Each and every one of them is also a villain that the party will have to encounter one day or the other. In Hot Fuzz each one of the conspiracy members is unique and is colorful enough to be remembered. We have the couple who hate the reporter for stating the wife's age is higher than it really is. We have the farmer whose mother has a rifle. We have the chief of police who doesn't punish criminals and we have the manager of the Supermarket who is always there when you least expect him. In Scott Pilgrim we have the Female ex who Ramone experimented with, we have the actor who has doubles, we have the leader who is an agent and who can control Ramona and so many more.

Go for it too, make them unique, make them colorful, make them come alive as persons and not only is a part of an organization. The fact The Joker fights sometimes alongside with Bane doesn't make each one of 'em less frightening, unique or evil, right? Why should that be the case here?

Have something common for all of them

Being unique doesn't mean that they have to be completely different. In Scott each of the exes is an ex of Ramona, and an idiot. In Angel they are all attorneys. In the first and second seasons of Buffy they're all vamps. Have something that unites the villains that is common to all of them. Maybe all of them have similar clothes or use the same perfume? Maybe they all talk a bit funny?

As a bonus, if you can make the uniting thing a thing that is cool and all by itself, which can make alone the villain stand out, it is even better.

Let the players know of them in advance

The characters should know about the organization pretty early, but having the players know about the organization even earlier can do magic sometimes to your campaign. If they'll know that their characters will fight an organization of villains, the players will look for them (and with far greater anticipation). Always remember that the players are authors as well as audience, and if they will be looking forward to meeting the villains they will far better enjoy this meeting between their characters and villains. But they will also search for them; lead their characters to them, and so much more.


I also highly recommend reading answers to questions like these two. While they do center on creating a single villain, they are still quite useful and in more than just creating and fleshing each and every one of the villains in the organization.


Each one should be unique- from fighting style to weapons to personality to gimmicks. You don't need to give each one an extensive backstory, but should at least have motivations and such, as well as things like cliques within the organization. Frequent run-ins with the party is a good idea, instead of just one-and-done opponents. Have a few small groups that stick together, that can make narrative introductions easier on both you and the players.

Places to look for examples, or copy wholesail

I'd recommend taking some inspiration from sources like Knights of the Zodiac (which you may already be doing), Bleach (each of the squad captains and lieutenants are menorable and unique that fans all have different favorites), as well as implementing different personality tropes for each character. Kingdom Hearts' Organization XIII spends two games fleshing out and divvying up its cast, but the narrative structure and availability of online resources to discover more of the backstory and details help drive the popularity of its members, IMO (not to knock it, its one of my favorite series).

Or make your own

In fact, it can be a fun experiment to go to TVTropes and pickout a bunch of personality and backstory archetypes, and randomly draw ~4 for each character, and picking three of those to generate a unique and fairly deep villain with their own personality and motivations. You'll probably end up with some wacky combinations, but that's good-- your players are more likely to have memories of strange or unique NPCs than they will vanilla ones. This method can churn out much more varied results than one would be able to compose with one's own facilities.

Once the band is together...

As far as setting up your plot, once you have a cast of fleshed-out characters, it should be much easier to conceptualize how the organization fits together and how they'll interact with the party.


I'm going to focus less on where to get inspiration for your villains (there are endless sources), and more on how to handle their introduction and participation in the plot. You're dealing with twelve villains, so you need to handle them carefully in order to avoid turning them into one long boss battle with way too many stages. Here's some tactics to try:

1. Never put them all in the same place at the same time

There are a number of reasons not to do this. First of all, from an in-game perspective, it seems unwise to place all twelve members of your evil secret organization in one easily-assassinatable lump. Second of all, from a GM's perspective, it's really hard to roleplay twelve (or even four or five) unique characters and have them all be engaging. Imagine a party of twelve players. No one would get significant time in the spotlight, and everyone would end up looking generic and disappointing. I suggest showing the party three villains at a time at the absolute most.

2. The first time a villain is introduced, make it a non-combat encounter

I haven't played any of the Kingdom Hearts games, but I'm willing to bet that you run into each villain at least once before the climactic boss battle. They likely spend the entire level taunting the player and throwing traps and lesser monsters at them before finally getting taken down. A perfect example of this is Ramon Salazar in Resident Evil 4 (the little Napoleon-looking guy). He appears several times throughout the castle you're exploring, always surrounded by guards, to deliver infuriating speeches and then flee as you're attacked. By the time you finally face him, you are VERY invested in making him dead. So before letting your players throw down with a baddie, make sure they've had a few conversations.

3. Divide the organization up into groups, and create a difficulty progression

You've got twelve villains to work with. You can easily turn this into four cliques of three. While the party is fighting one member of a clique, you can introduce the others, creating an overlapping effect so that the party stays involved with fighting the organization as a whole, but is never overwhelmed with trying to keep track of all the members at once. As the party fights these groups of villains and levels up, you can introduce them to the next group of three, which will be more appropriate to their level. They can be hearing rumors of the higher-level members throughout their adventure, but never meet them face to face until they've dispatched the weaker ones. This will make the party feel as if they're constantly discovering more about the organization as they progress, and curiosity will give them a reason to fight beyond pure XP.

So basically, you want to feed them the villains a few at a time, so they don't have too many names to keep track of at once, and you want to always be introducing a new villain while they're fighting an older one, to keep the players constantly engaged in working their way through the power structure. Hope that helps!


There's plenty of advice in the RPG community about villains in general, especially about the Big Bad, as the main villain is commonly known. I encourage you to look at more general resources for additional information, such as Rich Burlew's Villain Workshop, or even just search for the word, "villain" here on rpg.se. That said, I'd like to address the specifics of a large, themed group of villains.

Keep it varied

Nobody likes to see repetition in their villains. Vary up their way of dealing with problems, level of competence, and amount of cooperation with the other villains. If your players deal with a lone, arrogant warrior one session, a scheming mastermind the next, and the troll leader of a group of goblins after that, they shouldn't get bored.

Don't have villains out of nowhere

Once while I was DMing, I made a kobold shaman for the players to fight. She had a history of racial persecution, which lead her to work her villainous plots from behind the scenes. She had orchestrated many of the PC's enemies up to that point. But I made a mistake. They encountered her, fought her, and moved on. I didn't actually lead up to her appearance, and the players never realized how deep my (admittedly pretty shallow) plotline went.

Please, don't make my mistake! Try not to have the players encounter the villains in a linear order. Have the villains work with each other, or have rumors about them get out. That way, instead of saying, "Oh, I guess we're gonna fight the Ox now," the players will say, "Oh no, the Oz! Isn't he who pushed that pillar onto us when we fought the Snake? And didn't he send all of those assassins after us?" Games are much more interesting when players care about villains, and players can only care about villains when they realize that they exist. I personally love applying this advice towards getting the players to care about villains.

Have the villain's plans not directly contradict the PC's sometimes

Sometimes it can be nice, especially with a big group of villains, to see some forced cooperation. Maybe one of the villains is actually a double agent. Perhaps the players need help to take down the Dragon, and the Rooster also wants her taken down a peg. You can even go further; if the players want to clear an area of monsters, have the villains benefit, and vice versa. For extra sting, have the villain thank the players for their help. Part of the intent here is simply to keep things varied, and part is trying to get players to prove that they're different from the villains.

Overally, just take inspiration from your favorite villains in fiction, and don't get too attached. Your villains (probably) are going to get beaten at some point, and at that point you need to be able to let go.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Did you just move your answer from the other question over to this one? O_o \$\endgroup\$ Jun 20, 2014 at 16:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, this answer was on this question. I haven't answered any others lately. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tablesalt
    Jun 20, 2014 at 21:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ No worries, I could've sworn I saw your answer on the BBEG creation thread, but I'm probably crazy. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 20, 2014 at 21:56

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