Making a good villain is tough! If you aren’t careful, they can pretty easily die in the first session you introduce them! Sure, you can avoid getting them killed if they only show their face for a few moments before skulking back into the shadows, but if you want your villain to be able to get in the thick of things and properly taunt the PCs there are a few good things to keep in mind:
1. Make Your Villain a Lich: Liches are great! They can relentlessly fight the party over and over again and live to fight another day, even when defeated. Tracking down their phylactery is an exciting adventure unto itself and a delightful prelude to a final encounter.
2. Use a Flying Villain: Dragons, Onis, and humanoids with flying mounts are great. They can stick around in a fight until things start to get rough and then safely escape into the skies! A burrowing villain could do the same thing, but unless your villain is an umber hulk (which would be awesome!) that’s going to be a bit less common.
3. Use a Controller or Artillery: Most controllers and artillery can keep their distance from the fight, which makes it much easier to set up easy escape plans for them. If a Mind Flayer can stay effective while attacking from a balcony that is hard to get to, then it can simply walk away when it tires of the fighting.
4. Make your Villain Super High Level!: If you make your villain, say, 10 levels higher than the PCs, there are pretty good odds it’s going to survive any fight it ends up in. This creates a setup for two situations:
- The PCs find themselves in a losing fight whenever the villain shows up and have to run away.
- OR The villain only sticks around for a couple of rounds, takes some wacks at the PCs, and then leaves their underlings to mop up.
5. Make Your Villain a Member of the Community: If a villain is clearly ominous but hasn’t directly attacked the PCs, this can increase its survivability immensely. For example, a corrupt queen or the leader of a thieves guild might be the one clearly calling the shots, but it can be difficult to kill such a villain without suffering severe consequences, such as banishment!
6. Go for Broke!: There is something to be said for just making every fight with a villain a difficult battle that they may not win! If the fight is, say, an EL +5 at the end of a tough dungeon, then the PCs might be faced with a dilemma: try to kill the villain once and for all or flee for their lives! If a fight like this can be well engineered it can create a really satisfying situation no matter what happens, since it is fun to be fairly beaten (assuming that there isn’t a total party wipe), but it is also so satisfying to finally achieve victory!
7. Make Your Villain a GOD: If your villain is a god, it can send its Avatar down to fight for it! PCs must reach the highest levels to pose a serious threat to a god and even then must travel personally to its domain to slay it. All in all, an epic end to a campaign.