Return of the Villains!

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

How great is it when a baddy the players thought they bested walks back into their lives (after surprise screwing them over)? The looks on their faces as they realize their enemy is back and stronger than ever (player characters level up so why can’t my villains?) is one of GMing’s greatest rewards.

In worlds full of magic, like those found in Dungeons & Dragons, villains have plenty of options to live (or unlive) to fight another day. Not every villain should keep showing up like a bad penny, but if you pick one or two over the course of a campaign that always have a contingency plan, your players will love to hate them. This post contains a few ways to keep your villains coming back for more.

Great Escape

D&D is filled with spells and magic items that allow a quick and easy escape (that the players can also attempt to counter once they realize how the villain keeps getting away). Spells like greater invisibility, flyplaneshiftteleport, or even a clever use of feather fall can see your villains saying, “Smell ya later,” to the player characters. Villains who aren’t spellcasters could use magic items that cast spells or create similar effects or they might have a spellcasting henchman nearby, prepared to dimension door them out of any bad situation.

That Was My Double

Magic can create illusions and simulacrums that look like the villain the players are trying to kill. The horror players have when the paladin’s sword turns an evil mage into a pile of snow is two-fold. First, the villain is still alive. Second, the real mage is powerful enough and has the costly resources to cast the simulacrum spell!

Even if your villain doesn’t have access to magic quite so badass, there’s weaker spells that might do the trick (like a minion casting disguise self to look like the boss) and mundane tricks (like disguise kits and twins).

Illusion spells can also be used to fake deaths! Get as creative with those spells as your players.

Back from the Dead

Many fantasy roleplaying games have a way for player characters to return from the dead without so much as a scratch. Spells like revivifyraise dead, and resurrection can and should be used by villains with resources to spare. Most villains likely have a death contingency plan in place involving one of these spells! You can have a gaggle of fun with this and really blow some minds, especially if your villain’s plan involves the reincarnate spell.


There’s nothing like bringing a slaughtered villain back again and again through undeath. To demonstrate this, I’ll tell you the story of Ninaran, an NPC in the fourth edition D&D adventure Keep on the Shadowfell.

As a cultist of Orcus, demon lord of undeath, Ninaran was the perfect person to return from the dead. After slipping away from the player characters several times, they eventually killed her. Then she returned as a vampire! When they burned her body, she returned as a wraith. After they killed her wraith form, her soul inhabited several million worms and she came back as a giant spawn of Kyuss. Every time she showed up, the players cursed, fought like heck, and then celebrated her defeat. To this day if I even utter the name Ninaran, they react with fear.

It makes sense that evil people would have no qualms about coming back into the world as undead. In fact, many villains might be hoping the characters kill them in order to return with more power as a lich, mummy, or vampire.

New Fiendish Look

Know what happens to the souls of evil creatures when they die? They go to the Nine Hells, the Abyss, or a similar negative energy plane. Most start as the lowest beings of that plane and must claw their way up to becoming a greater fiend. Yet when a really powerful evil creature dies its soul is made into a really powerful fiend from the start. Maybe this powerful fiend finds a way out of the lower planes and starts hunting the characters with its new evil powers!

Share with Me

What about you? How have you had villains live to fight another day? Share with me in the comments below!

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