September 12, 2013
Iconic Antagonist: Evil Wizards
Second only to dragons, in terms of being labeled the “final boss” of a dungeon, is the evil wizard. These antagonists can be anything from conjurers and summoners, who call forth assistance from other worlds to hinder the players, to necromancers who have power over the dead, to illusionists and enchanters, who can alter a person’s perception of the world around them, to good old-fashioned evokers that will rain down spell-fire and hurl lightning bolts. The wizard is the most varied of enemies, just as it is the most varied of archetypes, because they are limited only by what magic they have to call upon. In many cases, this is hardly even a limit.
Gamemasters enjoy using the Evil Wizard trope because it allows them to have a “human” (or elf, or gnome, or whatever) enemy while still giving that enemy the power to do whatever they might want. This is an enemy that could have very easily been an ally, or even another player character, had things been different. It is far easier to sympathize with an antagonist you can understand than one that was born a powerful, supernatural being of destruction; like a dragon. At the same time, the addition of magic gives Gamemasters the ability to have that enemy perform whatever deeds they need them to in order to further the story. “How did the enemy burn the whole city to ash in a single night?” Magic. “We had him trapped, so how did he escape?” Magic. “How does the enemy keep getting more henchmen to throw at us?” Magic. Sure, in some ways this is a cop-out, but it works and not everything need be given such a simple explanation. Magic can be a Gamemaster’s tool for explaining what they do not have time to think up an explanation for. Do this too often, however, and your players are likely to grow irritated. Use with caution.
The evil wizard is also a great antagonist because, by default, wizards are quite intelligent. Think Sherlock intelligent. This is, in part, due to many games having the Intelligence/Logic attribute being linked to magic in some way. In D&D it determines the highest level spells you are able to cast. In Shadowrun, it determines how well Hermetic mages are able to resist Drain from their spells. In Anima, it determines how many spells you know. In short, wizards tend to be smart, and few things are more dangerous than an intelligent enemy. This allows Gamemasters to have the antagonist be able to reasonably determine what actions players will take and have then have contingencies without it feeling like the Gamemaster is being unfair.
The only real flaw to an evil wizard is that wizards, in most games, tend to be somewhat physically frail. One good hit from a fighter’s sword, and it’s all over. That makes the trick to running an evil wizard be diversion. The wizard cannot allow their enemies to get in close. This often means henchmen or various other sorts of obstructions. In short, they have to plan ahead and fight smart. Evil wizards can be a lot of fun to run, especially considering how much diversity exists within this antagonistic archetype. Their power and intellect is sure to make them a challenge for any group of wayward adventurers or stalwart heroes.
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