Prepping for a Major Encounter

The current most prominent antagonist in my campaign is a former PC turned paranoid sociopath. Every one of the PCs has a reason to hunt him down, and they have a lead on a place where he is going to be soon. This session they put together a plan to bring him in.

Since the past few sessions have been leading up to this point, I want to be sure that I live up to my part of the bargain and give them an encounter to remember. I’m hesitating a bit because I had hopes that the NPC would stick around as a recurring antagonist, but that’s not the way things went. So I want to be sure the whole thing is tough but fair, and ignore any biases I might be harboring.

Each player brought in help. (Too much help, in the mage’s opinion. He’s afraid of tipping off the target. Also the zealot with three tongues is kind of freaky.) The target is a rogue sorcerer with The Fear, Call of Iron, Persuasion, and magical assistance unknown to the characters and of unknown (to the players) power.

I’ve got a little bit of time to plan for this. Any suggestions? Advice for staging a big Fight in general? Ways to keep it fair?

Don’t forget that he can (try to) run the hell away if it goes badly for him ad start going after the PCs spouses and offspring.

or he was tipped off due to the help… and has already hunted down the characters spouses and offspring and used persuasion to suggest them to act as his body guards. “you should Guard me”

Well… two things worth considering:

  1. Paranoid sociopath
    What level of paranoia? Like, “I have minions and servants and have back-up back-up plans” or “I do everything alone because I’m too paranoid to work with anyone”? These set up different kinds of encounters obviously.

Depending on what kind of trouble he’s expecting, and how long he’s been expecting it, he could have tons of dirty tricks and traps waiting to mess people up - poisoned weapons, safe houses, look-alikes, etc.

Another factor worth considering is if he’s not too paranoid to work with others, what other rogue sorcerers might he be working with, currently or in the past? If no one now, he may have traded spells or favors with several over the time to get tons of enchanted items ready in case trouble pops off.

(“I found you 3 innocent virgins born on the eclipse moon. So the agreement is the demon will protect my life, just once, when I say his name 3 times, correct? It’s good doing business with you!”)

  1. How much does he know the current batch of characters and does he know they’d be coming for him, sooner or later?

Because, you know, nothing like a villain who knows your BITs and has stuff to dangle over your head: “Well, of course you’re going to convince your friends to let me walk out of here unharmed, or word will get to your father about who REALLY killed the Baron.”

Even if the guy doesn’t have a lot of combat threat, remember, if this was a movie, you could always have a fun, scary chase scene before they corner him. (“It’s midnight, he’s hiding in the Emperor’s zoo, and opened all the cages? UM.”)


Paranoid, as in “I’m only meeting my courier at one pre-arranged anonymous location” and “I’m using a courier to fetch books from my last hideout because I don’t want anyone to be able to trace me” and “I think all of the children are watching me”. The players are expecting him to bolt. The initial confrontation is going to be in a public area, which limits the traps he can set. He’s got B4 Enchanting/ B5 Sorcery, so he’ll probably be able to come up with something.

The wild card is that the thing that pushed him over the edge was when he got his hands on an incredibly powerful magical artifact. That’s when he started…seeing things. He has a companion spirit-thing that the characters don’t know about (the mage will probably detect it). It’s broken, but significantly more powerful than anything they’ve ever encountered.

Stepping back on a meta-level; I almost expect them to take him down too easily. They’ve prepared for it, and I don’t want to take their victory away arbitrarily. The trick, I guess, is to challenge them enough and see if they can pull it off…

Do you use tokens for Artha? When your characters have offed the poor fellow. Give the dust time to settle. Then with great cermony bring out a persona token. Place it on the table and declare. “I have the will to live”. Grin evilly and end the session. Don’t do so if it cheapens their planing efforts!

Are your players the classic troupe style adventurers? If so I would try to separate them by introducing NPCs that match or meet them in combat. A typical super hero ploy, but done well this sort of divide and conquer can work. If you get your sorcerer stuck in a one on many fight; he isn’t walking away. If they are meeting in a public place… well… a spell like The Fear can create havoc.


If what you want is a fight where your players win but your paranoid guy puts up an entertaining fight, well, play with the things that make him unique. I’d go for springing surprises until they stop being surprising. Have him toss around the protective magic he’s accumulated like his life depends on it. Make just about every bystander someone on his payroll. Hell, if you want him to get away, have his familiar whisk him away to safety, and let them chew on how to prevent that in the future. Or make it scary enough that they’ll back off until they’re prepared for it.

Do note that one guy, even a guy with sorcery, is no match for many opponents. If you want the fight to be even a little tense, you need more bodies to create a melee. A single sorcerer can be deadly, but not to enough people quickly enough to survive a Fight.

Oh, and the best way to get the guy to live, if you want him to? He’s crazy with paranoia; make him crazy prepared. Your party’s done its research; well, so has he, and he has the right blackmail material, the right threats, and the right bribes for everyone. If they kill him anyway, make sure he makes good. When he said their sons and sisters and cousins and secret lovers would be killed if he wasn’t alive to call off the assassins, he wasn’t kidding.

The initial confrontation is going to be in a public area, which limits the traps he can set.

Oh, easy. He arranges to meet at a parade of a noble and tips off the guards just before the parade that rabble rousers may attempt to attack the noble. If the players act out, the guards do the work and he walks away scot free.

That’s assuming he’s a schemer-type. If not, maybe the spirit he’s got is smart enough to suggest such plans?


You should be biased. You should be rooting for your villain. No one else is going to!

If you want to make him a credible antagonist, you have to get into his boots and see the world through his eyes. What would HE do to protect himself in this situation? Wave your magic GM wand and make it so. Then let the players’ plans intersect his plans and watch the fireworks.

With a B4 Enchanting and B5 Sorcery, he’s not a terribly tough opponent. The Fear, as noted, will be his most powerful tool for escape. He should probably have lots of little items he imbued before this endeavor. He should be getting +1D to just about every test if he’s truly a paranoid enchanter.

But as you noted, you don’t want to cheat your players. It’s possible that they’ve outmatched him. Is this the end of the story? If yes, congratulate them on a game well played. If not, then prep that next twist. Personally, the twist I like in this situation is based on the old Dead Kennedy’s song: We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now. Sure, they take down this guy, but this only puts the players in the spotlight if a bigger, more powerful antagonist.

“Good job, guys! He’s locked up, can’t resist any further. Mr Wizard, make a Perception test, Ob 3. Pass? Great! You were just hit with a spell. Not from this guy. You’re certain of it. In fact, you’re also certain that this came from a ways away. Seems like someone has magically marked you. Want to know more? Aura Reading.”


I do have that spirit-genius to play with. (It’s the broken anthropomorphic-incarnation of the platonic ideal of envy and plenty.) It’s been off-stage so far, so I have yet to burn up any details for it. Any suggestions there, before I dive into the Monster Burner again, would be helpful.

The sorcerer is also the only one who knows where the stolen artifacts are; that’s one reason they plan to bring him in alive. (They actually went to the trouble to track down helper that the guards will be inclined to trust more than their own superiors, due to religious affiliations. Though that’s going to boomerang back on one of the character’s beliefs later…)

At this point, they’ve prepared the ambush well enough that I don’t think he’ll have much chance of spotting it…and if he did, he wouldn’t be there. I don’t want to cheat them out of their confrontation, though this guy’s main strengths are his paranoid avoidance of surveillance.

He’s had several weeks of access to the genius, so it may have acquired a power upgrade from that, though I’m not familiar enough with the magic system yet to know right off the bat what would be effective.

At the moment I’m leaning towards him putting up as credible a resistance as possible, while having the bits that are part of the larger backstory ready to move into action once they win. Though they have occasionally collectively surprised me…

There comes a point at which “can you kill this guy?” ceases to be an interesting question, and “what does it cost?” becomes more pressing. It sounds like you’re pointing at that, with the stolen artifacts. But it’s worth going over your PC’s BITs and, particularly, relationships again. If he used to be one of them, what strings might still be hanging?

Also, for a paranoid sociopath, it’s quite reasonable for him not to want to be taken alive and to have taken steps to prevent it. I’d be thinking less “poison tooth” and more “big red button” here: a threat they can only stop by killing him.

Well I assume they’ve been making rolls and succeeding. The guy should get a chance to spot it, though. Give him a roll vs the players. The players will have lots of helping dice (and linked tests from their planning) but the bad guy may have a call-on from a paranoia trait. If he succeeds, he still meets them but he arrives in a way they didn’t expect and that gives him the advantage - if they put snipers on the rooftops, he shows up on the rooftop right behind a sniper.

And, not to belabour the point since it’s been mentioned several times, but whether he sees the trap or not he should have a trick up his sleeve related to the players’ beliefs. The “If you kill me, you’ll never get your daughter back/find the bomb I have hidden under the academy/some other serious threat to a PC’s belief” trick may be cliche, but there’s a reason it’s used so often in TV shows - it gives the protagonist a chance to show what they really care about. And if what they care about is killing the bad guy, they’ll go home and find their daughter gone and that’s the start of a new adventure!

If I have this down right, the mad NPC has an artefact that is a binding for a powerful spirit. What if in this big confrontation he breaks the binding to free the spirit so he can escape? What is the nature of the spirit and what will it do once it has it’s freedom? Will it protect it’s servant, or simply leave to play it’s own game? From my BW experience, dealing with spirits and other-world entities is never good, but always fun.

He has several artifacts. For the one in question, he’s already broken it and released the spirit, which the players are aware of but the characters aren’t. The spirit has stuck with him in part because he’s the one most likely to listen to it. It’s been giving him…suggestions.

Playing that side of it up is probably a good idea though, since its something major that the players seem to have overlooked in their planning. What will the spirit do when it’s most devoted follower is captured or killed? That could be interesting to find out.