It is certainly possible to play Dungeons & Dragons without giving a single thought toward how monsters and villains end up awaiting heroes in elaborate lairs; if the primary point of the game is to defeat the villains in combat, deciding the particulars of how the villain maintains his underground complex isn’t very important. This post contends, however, that even in a game where players don’t care why or how villains came to be in their lairs or ow they spend their resources, a little forethought on the part of the Dungeon Master (DM) about those circumstances can yield useful information for designing those lairs and deploying the villain and his followers into combat.
The RPG Athenaeum has commented before on the related topic of how villains finance their activities. This posting deals with the more immediately noticeable effects of how villains spend their resources, be they financial, material, personnel or time – and how to deploy those resources to best effect against bands of rival villains or invading heroes. While there are countless routes to cost savings, for a DM’s purposes, thinking through these five considerations should be enough for a DM to deploy villainous resources in a way congruent with a villain’s beliefs and goals:
(1) Have clearly established goals for the next 12 months, and use them to guide spending. If the villain is in charge of keeping an evil shrine in the dungeons below an abandoned ruin, it follows that expenses related to operating the shrine itself would be top priority, followed by investing in defense of and/or camouflaging the location of the shrine. That defense would probably begin with traps or defensive positions immediately adjacent to the shrine, which would gradually radiate outward from the central shrine to create a defense-in-depth. Logically, less effort would go toward other priorities, such as maintaining less-traveled areas of the complex or entertainment for residents of the complex. Knowing this, the DM would be able to logically determine the location of traps and patrols, as well as to identify those paths by which the party could approach with a reduced chance of detection or be exposed to structural hazards connected with negligence of the place.
(2) Payroll is the only expense you can control. Whether it’s for a real-world business or villainous role-playing enterprise, the only cost that a leader can completely control is payroll. The cost of everything else – taxes, building materials, provisions, etcetera – is fixed by others (unless the villain steals it, which raises a separate set of concerns that could outweigh the benefits). The followers of many villains, especially at higher levels, will expect some form of compensation for their efforts, forcing the villain into performing a balancing act: on one side, having followers feel that they are fairly reimbursed for their risk and hardship, and the other side being the economic fact than anything not paid out goes straight back into the coffers for other priorities.
This post won’t suggest that the DM determine what the prevailing wage is for a Hobgoblin Warcaster or implement a recognition program through which Grugg can be named the Goblin Cutter of the Month. It will suggest that, if the DM wants to create some interesting internal tension for an adventure, especially high or low payroll (relatively speaking) can affect the willingness of followers to fight for the villain. For example, heroes who learn that the villain’s bugbear mercenaries aren’t pleased with their pay may be able to turn that fact into an exploitable weakness of the villain.
(3) When it is economical to do so, find or make your own necessities. Few published D&D adventures describe the mechanisms behind how villainous lairs are supplied. Practically speaking, it isn’t necessary for them to do so, as players are less concerned about where the orcs get their food than the fact that their characters are fighting orcs. But thinking about how penny-wise villains might hunt or gather staples like food or fresh water not only frees up more resources for the priorities described under item (1), but also gives the DM an indication of villainous traffic around the lair. If the heroes en route to an orc lair cross paths with an orcish hunting party or a group of water-bearers, the lair will take on a more realistic atmosphere, as the heroes get the impression that the orcs are doing more than waiting for heroic invasion.
(4) Manage consumption and reduce waste. While the effects of a villain paying attention to this concern may not be something players notice, it can be an instructive thought process for the DM to see how a villain may use or reuse materials. Doing so may involve practical precautions like rationing food, drink or ammunition. It may include maintaining storage areas for scrap materials that could be re-purposed, like stowing old furniture in case wood is needed for repairs, to board up doors or windows, or even for use as firewood. It could also involve using body wastes as fertilizer, or to add filth (and the chance of contracting a disease) to spiked pit traps, for example. An evil cleric or necromancer could even re-use the dead bodies of friend or foe alike for ritual components or as raw materials for creating golems or undead troops.
(5) Network. Sometimes, it’s easier to trade for goods or services with someone better positioned to obtain or provide them than you are. Doing so, of course, challenges the view held by most players, DMs and game publishers who seem to create all villainous enterprises as islands onto themselves, but it can create some interesting adventuring opportunities. For example, consider a group of duergar who have an accomplished weaponsmith among their ranks. The duergar may do weaponsmithing work for a variety of area humanoid tribes or bands, who would otherwise have to recruit their own weaponsmith or steal weapons from other sources. Heroes investigating caravan raids in a region may encounter kobolds armed with swords that are clearly of duergar manufacture; later, they may find similar weapons in the hands of goblins and orcs, and quick-thinking heroes may decide to go after the source of the weapons to help maintain peace in the region.
Has the manner in which a villain spent his resources played a significant role in one of your games? If it has, please consider sharing your experiences in a comment to this post.