Keeping Recurring Villains Alive

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So, I've always been a fan of the DM style of having a BBEG who returns time and again to harass the party. However, in the past I've often had the trouble that the party just manages to get some sort of amazing beatdown on someone I was hoping would espace to pester them another day.

I don't want to just go and give the BBEG an auto-escape power or anything like that in combat - it cheapen's the players victories in my opinion, and fosters too much of a rail-roading atmosphere.

So, I'm wondering if anyone has some nice storytelling tips on how to involve a BBEG repeatedly, without placing him at constant risk of death. I have a few ideas as well, and am curious as to what other people think about them.

Basic Ideas
1. Have a BBEG who tends to work through lieutenants of some kind. Your classic super-villian with henchman model. When a scene starts, he'll be there, but leave and send his top fighters against the party while he makes his retreat, and after repeated defeats at the party's hands, he'll face them himself in a final confrontation.

2. Try and have a BBEG who designs complex lairs - he can flee once he's bloody, leading the PCs on chases through a trap-infested lair. Hopefully one of those traps will slow them down long enough that he can escape.

It seems to me that a BBEG who is supposed to clash with the PCs regularly either needs some reliable means of escaping control, or needs to be more of a behind-the-scenes manipulator who the PCs see and talk to but never really engage. I honestly prefer the one the PCs fight occasionally - Its great to hear my players tell stories to other group members about campaigns where I did that back in my 3.5 days, but doing the same in 4E has been seriously problematic due to the large amounts of control. Any suggestions?
My BBEG in the current campaign is an unliving "puppetmaster", who can animate bodies (of one particular race). The party knows he's around and in the Shadowfell when they fight him, and they have figured out that they need to lure out his "true form" to the material plane or go into the Shadowfell and battle him there. They have pursued him relentlessly (ignoring side-quests) in the hope that one of his rituals will require him to mainfest in the real world, and so be killable.

i've been playing in a game where the DM has done a good job of placing a recurring villain and keeping that villain recurring. It helps that it is a lich, so even the one time that the dice went south on the villain and we trashed it, he can come back when the DM wants to bring him back.

A few of the other tricks has been having the villain leave the battle very ealry on--not waiting until bloodied, giving powers to overcome conditions, and sending lower level leadership after us.
From DMG2 p45:


Exciting adventure stories slowly build up their villains and then introduce them in dramatic fashion. Then the bad guy acts in a way that makes the audience hunger for his comeuppance. The first clash between hero and antagonist usually results in awful defeat for the hero. Finally, after delayed gratification and numerous trials, the hero triumphs against the villain, and all is well againin the universe. In a D&D game, you might find it tough to keep a villain alive past his first appearance in a storyline. But if you kill your villains as soon as you introduce them, they can't acquire the iconic quality of classic villains. The following points summarize my favorite methods of preserving villains for another day.

• Use introductory interaction scenes in which the antagonist's villainy is not apparent.
• Cheat the stats by making the villain impossibly tough during his or her first encounter and weaker later on when you mean to allow the PCs to defeat him or her. Give the villain a good reason to keep the defeated PCs alive during the initial encounter.
• Use interaction scenes in which the PCs can't fight the villain, possibly for legal or political reasons, or in order to ensure the safety of innocents.
• Give the PCs reasons to keep the villain alive if they defeat him.
• Create situations when the heroes and the villain temporarily have to work together.
   -Robin laws
I have always looked at the individual villain for the answers. You have 2 of the methods I employ, and which I use is based on the villains intellect and resources.

If the BBEG is smart he'll run and have his minions fight you.
If the BBEG is really smart he'll never let himself be close in the first place.
If the BBEG is REALLY really smart, you'll not even know who he is untill the end, adding a bit of mystery when you think youve got him, and its someone else.

And if the BBEG has to be involved and is needed to complete his task, he will have decoys and false trails, so he can work while you chase shadows, when you do catch up with him, he fights you head on.

Those are a few Ive used in the past.
In the Nentir Vale, all injured creatures are required to wear a name tag!
Some recurring villains:
1) This villain is far superior to the group but something or someone always interferes before they are capable of killing the party off.
- the villain's plan backfires
- other heroes come to the rescue
- the villain has to leave immediately for some reason
- the villain's powers are incomplete or draining and they decide to leave

2) This villain scales with the party's level. They manage to lose each fight but they have a dozen escape plans. Each time the group faces them again, they've either gained a new power, item, or weapon that they abuse in the fight before being defeated once again.

3) This villain has no reason to waste time with weaklings such as the main party. They'll typically get bored and leave. Why waste time killing these poor saps?

4) This villain can't be stopped but they don't want the group killed. This villain manipulates the players time and time again to further his or her own goals.

5) This villain is recurring simply because he or she is an experiment. The creator doesn't want them killed and either steps in or forces their test subject to retreat.

6) This villain has a very loyal minion or group who always comes to their rescue before the group can deal the final blow.

I hope that helps. Check out my site for all things geek: D&D, MTG, Anime, Video Games, and more.
In previous editions, I have used the Clone spell.
Look at how they do it in movies and shows: the conflict is about more than just killing the bad guys.

What this means is that you have to put in goals and challenges that are more than just the PCs killing and or being killed. Give them some kind of a choice between killing him and accomplishing their quest. Make the quest worth more gold and XP. Innocent townspeople are always good for this. Give the villain a deadman switch that starts a countdown when he says the keyword, or triggers immediately if he's stunned or knocked unconscious. They might very well kill him, but doing so should take out their home village, with only a few bitter surviors to spit in their faces. Frustrating? You bet, but that's what being a recurring villain is all about.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

These are all good suggestions, thanks. And doubly so for the blurb in the DMG2 - not sure how I missed that, ill go back and read that section.
Doombots man.

Seriosly, had a BBEG Warforged once worked like a charm, of course the true BBEG wasnt the Warforged itself but a still functional Sentiant Warforged Factory churning the Little SOB out.  No matter how badly the PC's crushed, incenerated, compacted, banished to another dimension he kept coming back with the "That was not my true form merely one of my replicas." line. 

Good times, Good times. 
I came up with an idea one time for a "death wizard" (caster/divine hybrid that creates a unique ability). His name was Deathless, and unbeknownst to his enemies, he could displace his soul, usually into a death knight. All people knew was that they killed him and he would return a week or so later and no one could figure it out.
Doombots man.

Seriosly, had a BBEG Warforged once worked like a charm, of course the true BBEG wasnt the Warforged itself but a still functional Sentiant Warforged Factory churning the Little SOB out.  No matter how badly the PC's crushed, incenerated, compacted, banished to another dimension he kept coming back with the "That was not my true form merely one of my replicas." line. 

Good times, Good times. 

This is very similar to what I did in my last campaign, where the offscreeen BBEG was a rakshasa.  His lieutenants, a hobgoblin and a shadar-kai, were being turned into rakshasa through ritual magic, and so the first power I gave them was the rakshasa's immortality.

Every time they get killed, they come back from the dead stronger, which even gives me a perfect way to explain why they are always at the party's level + 2.
The difference between madness and genius is determined only by degrees of success.
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