Thursday, December 10, 2015

Cusp versus Rise

SYSTEM: ANY

Because RPGs are hero-centric, I categorize the villains as cusp villains or rise villains in terms of how the heroes view them and how they interface with the heroes.

A cusp is a brief (usually one session) interaction. A villain group might plan its heist for weeks but if the heroes don't know about it until they enter the jewelry store, it's a cusp from the heroic viewpoint. This might be the villain-of-the-week, or the latest installment of being harried by some other villain.

A rise villain has lots of hero face time. This could be because it's a friend of the hero who has succumbed to a sudden-but-inevitable betrayal, or it's a returning villain, or a spider in the middle of a web who is pulling threads.

I thought of this while considering shows like Flash or Supergirl, where the villain of the week is usually forgettable, even if they are terribly powerful, like Weather Wizard on the Flash TV series or Jemm on Supergirl. (It might be just my viewing, but it seems to me that Alex was losing against Jemm despite all the badass weaponry until the intervention of J'onn J'onzz.)

The idea in a roleplaying sense--and I don't know if it's useful--is that villains your players respond to can become rise villains. Rise villains are usually more memorable, possibly just because they have more face time. They recur. Reverse Flash and Zoom and Astra are all rise villains because you have an ongoing sense of them, of dread and anticipation.

In general, we want our campaigns punctuated by rise villains because they're memorable. The next question is figuring out what makes them memorable.