I hates it... The assumption of the BBEG

This may just be a personal shibboleth, but every time I see questions in forums and theories on blogs about a “Big Bad Evil Guy”, it frustrates, saddens and vaguely infuriates me. The idea that what every campaign needs to work is some kind of reoccurring villian who always escapes is just frustratingly pointless and seems to provide endless encouragement or justification for GM misbehaviour.

I’m not even opposed in principle to reoccurring arch-antagonists, but treating every campaign like an 80’s kids cartoon designed to sell action figures and so requiring some kind of Skeletor who is constantly thwarted until a finale feels stultifying, restrictive and an excuse for antagonistic GMing.

Thank you for listening to my rant.


I don’t recall seeing this until after video games started entrenching the idea of minion,minion,puzzle,minion,boss fight. Well we saw it (say, Tomb of Horrors), but it wasn’t formalized as a desirable pattern. It just happened sometimes when that was the story.

So, if we’re seeing too much minion,puzzle,boss patterns, maybe folks would benefit from a few alternative patterns. Ideally that can be expressed so easily!


I hadn’t realized it was part of the 5-room dungeon thing, thought it went back adventure paths more generally. I do have some sympathy for adventure path style design in tactical combat games, but indeed it also seems very much a CRPG import.


I’m also assuming that this comes from such intersection of video game influence and “monster of the week”-style media (e.g. many superhero movies).

I agree that it’s pretty unfortunate for most RPG play, although sometimes it can be fun to have some kind of “Big Bad”; after all, there is a strong tradition of the “Dark Lord” in archetypal fantasy (including, say, Star Wars).

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Sure one can create a setting with a generally antagonistic faction (or one with goals that are very likely to conflict with the players’) but the thinking that turns this faction or it’s leader into a “Big Bad” - its efforts behind every setback is so restrictive. What happens if your players decide they don’t want to fight the Dark Lord and instead want to work to help conquer the universe - they’d rather be scheming lieutenants of a power on the rise then underdog defenders of the weak? Within the Big Bad concept it seems like there’s an implied narrative structure and implied style of play.


Oh, yes. Very much so! I agree that the concept of the “Big Bad” imposes all kinds of constraints on the kind of game we’re playing and the kind of story we’re telling. All kinds. And, in many cases, entirely unnecessary.

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What sorts of opposition do you prefer to use? Do your games work on the assumption that the characters can eventually “triumph” in some way?

I tend to build regional sandboxes with several factions in rough equipose. I don’t assume players will do anything particular - triumph or fail, but do expect that they will find factions to ally with, oppose or whose schemes they will stumble upon. I just don’t know which factions those will be.


What this thread really needs are a bunch of small, manageable replies that foreshadow and culminate in one really lengthy and antagonistic reply.


I only recently came across the acronym. I’m used to nemesis or recurring villain and they’re tropes of pulp and superhero genres which also tends to be games where heroes are expected to not be killing, so it’s relevant to have recurring villains.

The issue isn’t reoccurring villains, it’s the assumption and design that a specific villain will reoccur and the level of illusionism and railroading that then typically go into making that villain escape from player efforts to stop them.

As a matter of genre emulation I can certainly see how it would work out (Say if you were emulating 80’s Saturday Morning Cartoon Fantasy - playing a Master of the Universe or GI Joe system with specific mechanics related to foiling Cobra Commander/Skeletor) but as a general principle it’s something that grates immensely. It grates not because a rivalry between PCs and an NPC forms, or because some foe returns after escape - but because the way it tends to be discussed is as an inevitability to force on the game.

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@Gus.L it is likely that I am both following different forums and blogs than you and am not as sensitive to the topic, because the concept of BBEG does not occupy a noteworthy portion of TRPG discussion in my experience. But I am unambiguously convinced that you are not a fan! Or at least, not a fan of specific implementations of the idea.

Given that, as noted repeatedly above, the concept of a re-occurring antagonist is is prevalent-unto-nigh-ubiquity in stories of all genres, it seems uncharitable to narrowly associate it with children’s cartoons. Would it be fair for me to assume that your passion is coloring your rhetoric?

In your examples, you seem to equate BBEG with railroading–you specifically seem to consider “plot armor” as a defining characteristic of BBEG. Is this based on personal experience?

Good news: I am not preparing an enterprise that attempts to change your mind on the matter! But I am surprised to see that someone would be saddened and infuriated by that sort of play, so I am trying to learn why you find it so distressing (as opposed to, say, it being a style of play that is simply not entertaining for you.)

I think it works the other way around:
If one is looking for a recipe which works everytime, he could take BBEG and he has something to build upon. It is a relative easy understandable format. It is like the template for Columbo with Peter Falk: Easy to consume, easy to understand, only little deviation from the principle, worked for 69 episodes. What more do you want?

Of course not everybody is a Columbo fan.

If somebody is new to the hobby or is looking for a last minute idea, why not use the BBEG pattern?

OTOH having more player agency is something which is a bit more demanding on the players as well as on the GM.

Of you are into Columbo True detectives might not be what you are looking for.