View Full Version : DM Help Community Collab - Help me devise a Moriarty inspired BBEG

2016-01-30, 09:23 PM
I'm starting a new campaign and individual polls of my players has informed me they would love to deal with the machinations of a devious but looming criminal mastermind. So far he hired a bunch of gnoll mercenaries to hijack a dwarven mine looking for something (OOC I have no idea what it was but they found it!)

I'd love suggestions, ideas, or even whole machinations that I can blatantly steal er.. borrow for this as I myself am only mildly devious and am not sure I am capable of a full on Moriarty level plan.

2016-02-01, 06:06 AM
Welcome to the beginner's course of devious GMing. Take everything with a grain of arsenic and be prepared for a storm of disapproval (some of these practices are frowned upon). However, if you pull it off, it may be the best BBEG - because it will be the most memorable one.

Further on, I will refer to your "Moriarty" as a "Chessmaster", if you don't mind. My reason is - the first and best BBEG I played this way was an accomplished chessmaster/boss of black-ops division of a corporation/boss of the corporation. The second reason is - if you pull it off, it will look like the players have been played.

First thing that needs to be done - go and read TV tropes, for reference see Magnificent Bastard, The Chessmaster, Xanatos Gambit/Xanatos Roulette/Batman Gambit. These are the basics. If you don't want to/don't have time, read at least the entries in Xanatos Speedchess - that's what you will be doing.

I like running the "Chessmaster" as a BBEG, mainly due to his ability to evade the players - the usual BBEG die during first encounters (players find a way how to kill them...).

So, at first, some assumptions:

he knows everything there is to know about the PCs (he is fully aware of their darkest secrets, usual tactics, strongest characteristics, weaknesses... but is prone to overlook small details)
he knows everything they do (assume he has a wide network of agents and gets reports on daily basis - and immediately assumes they are a threat to his plan and tries to incorporate them into it so to change them to boons to his plan)
he is able, based on this knowledge, to guess or estimate their future actions (this includes their attempts to give him false inputs)
if they come up with a plan, he already knows and has prepared against it
he is prone to failures in planning only based on his EGO, wrong inputs or emotions (he KNOWS he is smarter, he KNOWS everything about them - their only chance to win is to make him so angry he makes mistakes)
he always has a backup plan - and is never surprised
he always has several safe exit routes. And a backup plan with another one...
he is never part of combat until the "last stand" - we will talk about that later
IF the players come up with such a twisted and crazy plan which could possibly surprise the Chessmaster, he is able to quickly adapt his plans and salvage them

So, what is the basis you need to successfully pull a "Chessmaster"?
Give him a background. This is important. The players have to hear rumors about him. Have to hear stories. They must know his MO before they encounter him. They must see the glove on the ground before they take it - and if they take it, you are free to go. If they once say "we will take him down", you have them.

Prepare the first meeting. Be cautious - do it somewhere they cannot kill him. In front of the king? In the middle of a tavern full of his underlings? In the middle of market with lots of archers on the roofs and crowds of innocents? All are fine, but only if you know they will not attack him. Don't let them touch him for the first time. And then - he disappears.

Have a plan in mind. After each session, revise the plan or make a new one. Confront players with a new plan. = never make them static. If the gnolls found the artefact in the mines, ok. If the players were able to kill them and find the artefact, it was part of the plan - the gnolls were working for someone else. Better example - let's assume the players confront the gnolls and try to take the artefact. You didn't plan for it, but HE did. So - his plan was that the artifact will get into hands of some chumps. Or is the artifact they have a fake and the real one is already in his hands? Or was his plan that they take it so they will bring it to the city (the gnolls couldn't get it through the guards, but adventurers might)? Was there actually an artefact?
And what will his next step be?

Be active. The Chessmaster will be active - through his minions. They will not wait for the PCs, they will work on their own tasks.
The worst thing you can do is to make a rigid schedule, or - worst - a dungeon with the chessmaster at the other side. The players will get to him and kill him. However, you can make it work by giving them rumors - which he fabricated - where he will be and what will he be doing. When they get there? He's already gone. Or wasn't there - he was at the other castle, stealing the princess.
However, for this to work, you have to subvert it also. Sometimes the information is correct. He is at the castle. As a guest of the king, protected by his elite guards. The good part? If they sneak into his room and stab the guy in the bed - it was his servant. He is already gone...and they killed an innocent.

Find the cool way how he can do stuff...and then let them guess how he did it.
It's not easy to do this, but if you don't have the explanation, put on your best poker face and ask "How do you think he did it?". It's not your task to explain how he does everything, it's their job to find out. For this to work, have a broad idea, but let them paint the details. Use this sparse - usually to cover his escapes and some...more creative plans. However, you will find out that the players will come with some brilliant ideas.

In my Shadowrun campaign, they knew the Chessmaster was coming to a hotel. One girl who knew him (she used to work for him) waited in hotel bar to "mark him" (give him a bug) for the others. The others were sitting around, waiting for him to come, with a plan to attack him in his room (this being Shadowrun they didn't want to risk a shootout in a lobby).
He came, sat to have a drink, and she came up to him to pat him on the back (and plant a miniature bug) - as soon as his hand touched his suit, his hand was on her hand - he seemed pleased to see her, glad that he finally saw a familiar face in this foreign country, wondered why she took a vacation in a bussiness hotel... when leaving, he patted her on back, said some nice things and left for his room with his 2 bodyguards.
They retired to their room to prepare for the easy task of killing him. They found signal from his bug, pinpointed a room, armed up, marched to his room, kicked in the door, killed the two bodyguards. No sign of Chessmaster. Part of the groupd decided to stay and hide the bodies, part to get to their room, and third part to go look for him. Few minutes later, they were attacked by a group of his own "troubleshooters" - a team of 12 guys in SWAT uniforms. They survived it and went to look for him - saw him in a limo ahead. They tried to catch up with him only to find out three completely identical limos. They lost him.
So, what really happened from GM's perspective?
He came into the lobby. His people were already in the hotel since yesterday - 6 of them sitting in the lobby/bar, some reading newspaper, some playing pool. He was watching the whole situation via their eyes (cyberware), so he knew she was approaching him. When he patted her on the back, he planted a bug on her (she didn't check). Inside elevator, he gave his suit to his underling, asked his staff mage to cover him in the astral and while they went to hotel room, he went directly to underground garage to his car (quite inconspicuous) and left the hotel. At the same point, his guys were already preparing to hit the runners. The three cars were all decoys.
You have to put there lots of hooks. The pats on the back, the "surprised but glad I see you", the veiled threat "I hope to see you on Monday in office, I'm sure we'll have a lot to talk about"... it all made them simultaneously underestimate him and then, after it all came down, it made them want to kill him even more.

Know the characters and players. Us this knowledge to fullest extent.
This is essential. Know what you can afford to do. Will this one kill him immediately when he sees him, even in the middle of a street, with guards looking on? Well, he will never see him. Or, he will notice him in the side alley...only to run to him, and see that it was an illusion.
But the one, who plays fair, never backstabs and is honorable? Use him. I started a nice intra-party quibble with the famous "handshake photo". He ambushed one of the group (the honorable samurai) to propose a ceasefire - when he disagreed, he asked him only for a friendly handshake, to show respect to a good opponent. Of course, the samurai agreed...the underling took a photo and sent it to the group. Grilled samurai smell fine :smallsmile:

Let them see his hand, but not himself. Everytime he acts, let them see him or someone he is known to work with, so they know he does something. Let him notice them, nod, and disappear in a sidestreet, or just walk by, far enough, or when they are distracted (e.g. by a fight), let them see him for a moment, smiling, well-clothed, perfectly happy about situation.

Send them messages. He will want them to know it was him. Send them messages. I used the old chess metaphors, including them finding chess pieces and instructions. Remember, they are the pawns. You can warn them this way - what to expect. If he plays nice, they will find an instruction. If he wants to kill them, they will find a broken pawn...

So, how can you win against the chessmaster?
By sheer persistence. They will survive everything he throws at them and they will live another day. This will annoy him.
By sheer aggravation. They will pester him until he loses his nerve and starts doing things without clear thinking. He will make mistakes.
But never by sheer luck. Or deus ex machina. If they actively seek help of someone else, ok. But they have to be the ones who break his neck.
My players are slowly breaking the toys of my chessmaster, one by one, surviving always by milimeters, and in the long run - they have already gone past the point where he was thinking clearly. He now wants nothing else than to kill them = he will make mistakes. And slowly he loses support, resources, allies... and they will get him. We even had a scene with him shouting at them via a cellphone "Why don't you ........ die?!".
However, this is after surviving several traps laid by him. And my players are quite paranoic after their first meeting.

So, my advice:
- have an overall plan for him, update a plan after each game (or during each game),
- use knowledge freely - he is a genius after all,
- don't target the PCs directly at first, they are to help him, however when he loses nerve, throw everything at them (this way they have time to prepare),
- don't ever let them get close to him if there is even a shadow of a doubt that they will attack...

Enough for now I think - I dunno if it's what you were looking for, but if yes, we can continue.
And one point - the thing they found in the mine... keep it secret. Remember the suitcase from Pulp Fiction? :)

2016-02-03, 03:53 AM
7/5 This is everything I want from my BBEG

At this stage they assaulted the Gnolls in the mine, only to be repelled a short ways in and come up injured and empty handed. This being 3.5 what method would the Gnolls use to update the Chessmaster if he is out of country (attending other business) and would he allow (or even require) a search party to be organized against the PCs while they camp a short distance away and tend their wounded? Perhaps he evacs the mine as his men have acquired what they came for?

I loved your input so far you devious bastard

2016-02-03, 05:00 AM
7/5 This is everything I want from my BBEG

At this stage they assaulted the Gnolls in the mine, only to be repelled a short ways in and come up injured and empty handed. This being 3.5 what method would the Gnolls use to update the Chessmaster if he is out of country (attending other business) and would he allow (or even require) a search party to be organized against the PCs while they camp a short distance away and tend their wounded? Perhaps he evacs the mine as his men have acquired what they came for?

I loved your input so far you devious bastard

Thank you :smallsmile:. I will not provide system-specific answer (I don't remember the 3.5 spells/artefacts), but I will try to provide enough for you to fill in the system-specific stuff.

At first: the method to update the Chessmaster.
Why do you need to be specific about it? If your players try to suggest they want to intercept the message/communication, then allow them to catch something in any way they try, but if not, just assume he knows (scrying? borrowed senses of one of the gnolls? direct agent nearby? - true Chessmaster will have at least 2 of these at any time). Contingency planning is basis of Chessmaster's operation, so assume he knows how it went and knows about the intruders. Of course, gnolls don't have to be quite precise in their descriptions.

To your second question - I don't think he would send a search party, but surely he would send a scout (at least two independent scouts) to check whether this has been a planned attack by competitor, or just a random party. If he finds out it was just a random party of heroes, he will include them in his plans and leave them be for the moment, however if he sees they could interfere, he will organize an ambush. Search party would be a waste of resources at this point.

If you want them to get a whiff of something bigger, weird is the way to go. Are the gnolls usually disorganized? Well, now they evac the mine in very short time, leave little to no traces of their actions, leave all the loot there, and just take the one thing they are supposed to (as opposed to their usual M.O.) and go to meet the agent of Chessmaster to provide him with the Artefact.

One thing I would do is provide them with an opportunity to get the scout...one of them. Give them some veiled threats ("I'm working for someone more powerful you can imagine! Let me go or...!"), then kill him from distance (my Shadowrun Chessmaster would have his personal mage cast a ritual spell to kill him from the other side of a city) and provide them with a clue - they find a piece of parchment with really rough description of the PCs as seen by the gnolls, and single instruction:
"Observe them and report to A. X"

Who is A? (Inspired by: Nero Wolfe) A is a person, who only collects reports for B, not even knowing why. B works for C (and thinks C is the boss), who works in turn for D. C knows that D works directly under X (the Chessmaster) and is able to send him a message. D knows the chessmaster and has direct access to him (=this is the trusted lieutnant).

This gives them direct clue and a name. However, most people will not be willing to talk about him due to being afraid......or will not know about him (they will know Bs, Cs or Ds)...or will work for him, so will not be willing to talk about him

...and remember, he will now start finding out about them. Assume he will know their names within 24 hours, their best-guarded secrets within a week. Their families/friends will have visitors (at the moment pleasant and just inquiring about them)...

By the way, think also about this: at least one of their acquaitances is A, B, C...or even D :biggrin:.

2016-02-03, 12:40 PM
One of the keys for any Chessmaster BBEG is that he always knows what's going on. To that end, I suggest that you give your BBEG access to some really powerful divination magic. Either magic that can predict the future, or else magic that gives him extremely accurate and extensive information in the present.

2016-02-03, 01:34 PM
One of the keys for any Chessmaster BBEG is that he always knows what's going on. To that end, I suggest that you give your BBEG access to some really powerful divination magic. Either magic that can predict the future, or else magic that gives him extremely accurate and extensive information in the present.

I agree with giving him access to powerful magic. Ideally he will keep a powerful mage and cleric on staff, as well as group of assassins and good and completely loyal bodyguard.

However, for the Chessmaster to be "looming" presence, I wouldn't stat him at present. Why? It will limit your arsenal. Use anything you need and assume that he has resources to hire or coerce a high-level mages to do him a favour, as well as to buy or acquire any magic items necessary.

Don't stat him and I guarantee you that he will be more of an opponent for them. If you do, you will sooner or later put him to a test and confront them directly..and they will end him.

For example, my Chessmaster is a mundane person. Charismatic? Yes, think about Picard in Shadowrun. Genius? Yes, with phenomenal memory and IQ as high as possible, enhanced by every kind of cyberware that gives him advantage. Ruthless? Cross him and he gets you killed (any way possible). However, his fighting abilities are nearly nonexistent. And yet, my party fears him - although every one of them could kill him barehanded...the problem is, he knows where they are, he can guess where they will be and he will not be there...and until they drain his resources and kill his allies, he can outthink and outrun them.