When the players side with the BBEG it is generally unexpected. Why would your players decide to side with the very person who they were supposed to destroy?
When players side with the villain they want an interesting game. You can give it to them by flipping the game upside down.
The first time my players sided with the villain was jarring, but I presented the opportunity and had to deal with it. The same likely has happened to you, so let’s dive into what to do when this happens.
Most likely this was unexpected. You did not think that offering for your players to join the BBEG (big bad evil guy) was an offer. It most likely was an extra taunt to add vanity to the villain and give them some extra personality. Your players called you on this though, and you did not plan for them to accept.
Having the players side with the villain enhances your game and gives you options. Do not panic, and here are some options that you can use in your game:
- Make a Palpatine
- Have a new session 0.
- Flip roles and the framework of the game.
- Provide a final option.
- Use the players as pawns.
These 5 options are open to you in order to figure out where you want the game to go. In no instance does it say to kill the characters. Some of these options are not the best and might lead to a bad game or having characters be killed, but we will talk about them as we go over each section.
Under no circumstances should you punish your players for choosing this route!
I have heard many DMs try to punish players for going with the villain and have been on the receiving end of this punishment. It is not fun and does not make the game more interesting.
One final general warning before going into the options is to not let your players engage in PVP (player vs. player) actions. They may be evil now, but even evil people need others to do things. An evil wizard can’t tank a dozen arrows well, but a heavily armored fighter can.
At worst, let each party member value others as tools. We talk about all this in our article on evil players so read that in order to make your turn of fate run smoothly. This also addresses player vs player combat as an evil person if your players try to say ‘we are evil so of course we can kill each other.’
Make a Palpatine
I am referring to the first three movies of Star Wars when I talk about making a Palpatine. In those movies, Palpatine groomed his apprentice and had the apprentice in question ascend to power. Everything was manipulated to make these events come into motion and the apprentice in question was never meant to seriously usurp Palpatine.
You can do this to your players if your villain is a mastermind. It all depends on how you created your BBEG. If your BBEG fits this type of personality then you can manipulate events. Even if they couldn’t manipulate events perfectly, they can lie and make it seem that way.
That time where the players received help, make it seem like the villain was the one to help the players. Create a sense of debt with the players in order to hook them and bring them onto the villain’s side.
Have a good reason to have the villain try to recruit the players. It could be that they are powerful enough to be good servants, but you can come up with other valid reasons as well.
You can make them come to your side with manipulations. Make them think that they have to do something evil or are just in too deep. Have them realize that there is no going back and then join the BBEG as valuable minions. That or make them feel like their best course of action is to follow you.
This is a great way to have the players optionally join the BBEG if it was planned, but what if you did not plan for your players to join the villain?
New session 0
We talked about how to make a session 0 in our session 0 article. If your players have taken such a drastic turn then you might need to have another session 0. Tell them that the campaign as it currently was envisioned has ended and you are basically starting a new campaing.
Is this actually the case?
When the players side with the villain the campaign hasn’t ended. The idea of what you had previously has somewhat ended, but everything can still be used.
Your players were meant to stop the villain from achieving their goals and that didn’t happen. The players joined the villain and the villain’s goals were accomplished. That will affect the world or region, and you should go along with the consequences of those actions.
This session 0 is to buy you some time and plan on how to adjust the previous campaign to fit the new narrative. When the players side with the villain it is an amazing opportunity to explore aspects of the world that you have not considered yet, so apply all the natural consequences of the villain’s victory to the world and think about what to do next.
Flipping the roles
Normally when players play D&D they get a job from the tavern, a mayor, whoever. Now that changes. When the players side with the villain their new quest giver is that villain in question.
Your game can still take the standard approach where the players can be sent to clear monsters, infiltrate, and deal with political intrigue just like in other games, but the context has changed.
Instead of clearing the troll’s lair of said troll for good and civilization to protect people, the players are clearing it to expand the villain’s territory. Infiltration doesn’t have a noble goal with dark deeds, but instead dark deeds that are meant to further the villain’s goals. They might not even be bad goals either.
Flipping the roles lets the players see things from the villain’s side. The players might find out that the villain is actually trying to do the right thing and normal methods won’t work. That will change the framework of how players view situations in future games as well.
Lastly, players minions of the villain. Normally, your players are sent to kill minions and stop the villain. Now your players are the minions, and they were not the only heroes in the world. Your players may have to fight with heroes and other adventuring parties.
This lets your players see how things work from the villains side of things, so make sure there are good reasons. For example, make sure there is a good reason to have all these dungeons in the world.
But does that mean the villain should trust the players or that they should be shackled by their initial decision to never leave the villain’s side?
Provide a final option
When the players side with the villain they will have to do morally questionable things. Sometimes these questionable actions will actually be outright immoral. But these actions will not come right away.
Unless the players have been forced into becoming a villain’s minion they will not be trusted at all. Why would people who are willing to betray their employer be trusted? The answer is that they initially would not.
The villain will most likely send the players on suicide tasks or menial tasks that do not give them a situation where they have power over the villain. For example, transporting documents that if discovered would foil a plan. Most likely the villain will give the players false plans and see if they actually listen to the villain.
If this persists enough the players will be asked to do more of the villain’s work as more trust is gained. As the players do more of the villain’s work the actions they take should become worse and worse. Eventually, it will reach a tipping point.
This is where you provide the final option. There is no going back after the players do this task for the villain, and they should know it. For example, killing a priest who was the only thing keeping the undead villain outside of the town. The players should see the fruit of their actions and watch as everyone horribly dies.
This is the point of no return. The players should know this is coming and realize that there is no going back after what they have done. Worst of all, it was their choice to do so.
There are some things that you should not do to your players if they choose this option.
Use the players as pawns
Using your players as pawns when the players side with the villain is a terrible and okay decision. It depends on how you go about it.
If you make players the pawns to do the villain’s work and allow them to gain more trust in the villain, then that is wonderful! If you instead use them as pawns and allow no agency whatsoever, then this is terrible.
I once sided with a villain and was subjected to the second part of this. I was put in prison, allowed to show my talents, and do pretty much nothing else. It was terrible, boring, and I hated it.
You do not want your players to hate siding with the villain. It is a new experience and it can still be fun! We talked about how to use players as pawns above by making them do small tasks and eventually gearing up to be an asset to the villain. The villain might even trust them a little bit!
Just do not make your players pawns that have no bearing. Players are more than forgettable NPCs so do not treat them as such.
When players side with the villain it can be a grand opportunity to explore the narrative in a different setting. Instead of being heroes explore why villains do what they do.
Why are dungeons a thing?
Is the villain actually justified in their actions?
How do you start from a lowly minion to becoming the villain’s right hand?
These are all interesting aspects to explore and I hope that I have helped you figure out what to do when your players side with the villain.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!