The Gassy Gnoll: Why the Villain?

The Gassy Gnoll went to see The Wolverine recently (fun movie with some great action) and it made him ponder the motivations of some of our villains. Every villain does what they do for a reason. And if the reason is consistent or (heaven forbid) reasonable, your PCs and players will identify that much more strongly with them (or against them) when the rubber hits the road.

Gassy Gnoll

Let’s take a traditional bandit marauder role. Sure, bandits exist along damn near every roadway it seems, but WHY are they there? Who are they? How did they get there? And no, I’m not suggesting that you investigate the motives behind EVERY NPC… That would be insane.
But pick the leaders – those keystones that will help determine how a unit fights or flees together.

So for our bandit leader, let’s look at some reasons WHY he or she may be raiding poor unsuspecting travels of their valuables or seeking higher value targets such as caravans. Maybe she is trying to provide for a group of refugees Robin Hood-style. Or perhaps someone stole something from her or her family who frequently travels the road and she’s trying to find them for revenge. Or maybe she has a fascination with shiny objects and is amassing a hoard of gems and jewelry for her own collection…

By thinking about the WHY, it can provide hints to who they are. Perhaps our bandit leader was once a simple farmer whose life was turned upside down when his farm was burned to the ground by bandits and he’s reluctantly stealing from travelers, vowing never to hurt them unless absolutely necessary. Maybe he was a corrupt city guard and is trying to do right by his kin, finding the thief who stole a priceless family heirloom. Or maybe he’s always been this way and has gone from looting and B&E to robbery and assault as his lust for shiny things has grown.

With that little bit of insight into their character, you can start to develop a strategy for not just combat, but for their typical robbery attempt as well. Someone stealing because they feel they must will plan differently than the guy looking for a particular item or the lady with an unhealthy obsession with shiny things.

And I’m definitely not suggesting that we do a deep dive into each NPC’s psyche. But knowing where a few came from can add a little order to an otherwise chaotic battle.

What sorts of NPC motivations and archetypes can you come up with? Leave some comments!

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