Oh my goosebumps! It’s like and Kratos and Hades had a baby! No wait… It’s like Super Saiyan Blue Goku and Ghost Rider  had a baby! Or possibly Hades cheated on Kratos with with Scorpion, who was simultaneously cheating on Goku with casual hookup buddy Blue Rhino. Point is we got fire and chains, and I’m very much here for it.

As much fun as pop culture lovechild roulette can be however, let’s set aside the geeking out for just a moment. We’ve got more important things to talk about today. And it has everything to do with satisfying villainy.

Executing a successful NPC face turn is difficult for the same reason that villains are difficult in general. If you want the party to care, you’ve got to expose them to the bad guy repeatedly. That can be a tall order when the most common interaction between party and villain is “immediate fight to the death.” (I’ll allow my geek comic senpai to illustrate that little difficulty). And even if you do manage to use the villain’s escape kit to good effect, you’ve still got to direct narrative attention to an NPC’s arc. In a world full of unresolved PC backstories and limited limelight, dwelling on an NPC’s dramatic moment carries the faint whiff of GM navel-gazing. That means you’ve got to find a way to snare the players’ interest. Luckily, there’s a simple trick for this one.

My favorite example of the technique comes straight out of Chrono Trigger. After half a dozen fights with the villain Magus, you finally get to choose whether to duel him or let him join the party. It’s a pivotal moment tied to a protagonist’s revenge arc. But even more than the villain’s sympathetic motives and tragic backstory, it’s the element of player choice that lets the moment play out so well. Is this a redemption arc? Choose Yes / No. The game pauses to check in on the player’s moral compass. And it’s in that moment, with the metaphorical Count Dooku head between your lightsabers, when the villain’s redemption can become your own.

So what do the rest of you guys think? Have you ever seen a well-executed heel-face turn out in the wilds? Was the character arc foisted upon you, or did you get to choose whether to accept the character’s change of heart? Tell us all your own ideas for getting these bad-guy to good-guy transformations right down in the comments!


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