image Sometimes you just need to have the bad guy get away. You might need to make them a recurring enemy, you might need to keep them alive for some other plot reason, or maybe you aren’t ready for them to go away yet. For whatever reason you need to do it, here are 5 of the many ways to make it happen.

  1. Teleportation – Any good enemy that needs to make a get away should have some ability to teleport. It is the easiest and safest way to get the enemy away once they need to hit the escape button.
  2. Evac Party – All BBEGs stand on the shoulders of their minions, and often throw them in the way of danger. A tried and true method, having a squad of goons or other creatures to occupy the party while they make their escape can be effective … if the enemy isn’t seen running and the party decides to attack him and him only to prevent the escape.
  3. Doppleganger/Hologram/Robot Double – You fools, you only got their stunt doubles! Stand-ins make it easy to allow for the victory scenario, but preserve the villain for future use.
  4. Secret Passages/Room Of Mirrors – If the enemy has control of the area where they are fighting, they might just have made an escape route for themselves. It should be full of confusing passages, mirrors, traps, etc. to hinder forward progress.
  5. Masks – If the enemy always wears a mask, they can easily substitute in a fall guy or go for the “madrox” play and leave lots of duplicates around. Plus, a mask adds an air of mystery to an enemy. You know their villain persona, but are they one of the NPCs you’ve been talking to. Are they a trusted ally? The vizier? Is it an enemy that operates as a group?

Ok, this is definitely not a full list of ways to facilitate enemy escape. There are many many more out there, and you can always find new ones by watching TV shows, cheesy action movies, etc. So let me throw in some additional info and give you five ways to use this technique without making it seem incredibly cheesy.

  1. Drop Hints About It Beforehand So The Players Don’t Feel Cheated – Program the escape ability in beforehand as a known ability, so it doesn’t feel so forced. If the enemy can teleport make that known up front. Have their first encounter be porting in, or make it known that they have many secret passages in their lair. This lets the players buy into the escape scenario up front. They, of course, might try to stop it, but that doesn’t mean they will be able to.
  2. Don’t Worry About The Players Feeling Cheated – Feeling cheated will make them wrathful and looking for the next encounter. This is a somewhat dangerous tactic, but it can really heighten the feeling at the table. I remember an adventure where someone we where chasing turned into mist and floated away despite everything we tried. The powers were programmed into the enemy, part of a published adventure, and it was 100% legal withotu any GM fudging, but it pissed us off nonetheless.  When we reencountered that enemy and he couldn’t get away, it was a good day and a satisfying beat down.
  3. Have The Superior Save The Inferior – If the enemy is a sub BBEG, and the BBEG is uber (god, techno being, access to great magic, tech, or resources, etc.) then the BBEG, or something he controls, can always swoop in and save the sub BBEG. It will engender the cheated feeling in the players but it will also point out the power of the final enemy that has to be overcome.
  4. Keep It Legal – Sometimes you can’t help but have the players feel cheated by an enemy escaping, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty about pulling a fast one on them. That is, if you keep everything about the enemy legal by the game system. There are often many options provided within a game system, and sometimes the escaping enemies really are that paranoid that they have a couple of backup plans. If you can explain how they got away, or drop a few hints as to what powers or items were used to the players it can turn the anger where it needs to be, on the enemy and not the GM.
  5. Make The Win Scenario Capture, Not Death – There is always possibility for escape later. Superheroes don’t kill bad guys, they just beat them down. Law enforcement might want the BBEG for trail. The BBEG might have the only secret to curing some plague. If the PCS have to capture, not kill, then they will still feel victory even though the BBEG is still there. When handed off later, the BBEG can make his grand escape.

Is an escaping enemy something you use in your games? It seems to me that it is a fairly solid tactic, if done right, to introduce a BBEG and build some real tension between them and the players. What other tactics do you use to do this? What other escape scenarios have you used in your games?

IMG BY iamthebestartist | CC 2.0

5 replies
  1. evil
    evil says:

    I’ve used the escaping villain trick many times. One problem I’ve run up against is not the escaping villain himself, but rather the overuse of the tactic. I’ve found that my players will sometimes hold back and say “okay, he’s going to port out again, so let’s save our big stuff for later.” This was a good list, though.

  2. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    You could also use The Metroid Ploy: in which the team beats the boss monster using up all their spells, then walks into the next room only to discover the REAL boss monster.

    This is different to the “boss gets clean away” scenarios in that it is the *party* that decides to decamp tootsweet.

    Then there’s the Twilight Zone Special: the enemy that has terrified the party turns out to be a giant balloon “convincingly” painted to resemble the boss. Although this could be cited as a Cheesy Gas Spore Ploy, it can be handled with aplomb. Actually I lie. Only use this as a last resort.

    The Bobby Ewing: In which the party slays the Boss only to wake up and find it was all a dream. They still have to kill the boss, and now they are fatigued from 12-hours of nightmares.

    The Matrix Escape: A variant of the above in which the players realize sometime after the fact that they were in a complex illusion all the time they were Gettin’ Stabby With It.

    The Sliders Gambit: In which the party *does* kill the boss, but in escaping the dungeon (defined as whatever structure the boss is in when cornered) they walk through a gate into a parallel universe in which they didn’t (yet).

    The Original Series Nonsense: In which the players stab the boss to death, only to discover that when he teleported in he split into two visually identical people, one (whatever) Good, the other (whatever) Evil. Guess which one they just killed?

    The Legion Maneuver: In which the animating spirit of the boss flees to the nearest available body when the one it’s in dies. The fun in this ploy is in dropping hints before the fact. See the player characters hold a kitten on a pole by every dead thing they kill on the off-chance it was the boss. Watch them become totally paranoid when Kitty escapes unharmed and new information surfaces that suggests the spirit only seeks out human-like bodies. With this ploy you can let them kill the boss but he/she/it will live on in the players’ twisted imaginations almost indefinitely.

    The Joker’s Last Stand: In which the boss monologues the players until they realize that by brutally murdering him they are in danger of becoming just like him, and walk away in self-contemplative disgust.

    This ploy demands much from the players – proper contemplation of their characters backstory, rigorous playing to type and Compartmentalized Roleplaying of a very high standard. It goes without saying that these factors mean it never works in practice.

  3. evil
    evil says:

    @Roxysteve – There’s a whole new article in what you’ve put forth….especially given how often we’ve seen these pop up in tv and movies….even if they do date us as old men.

  4. Crushnaut
    Crushnaut says:

    In my last game (World of Darkness) the players were fighting the BBEG, a vampire, in his offices on the upper stories of a tall tower. The fight eventually found it’s way to the roof. Grappled by a werewolf, at the edge of the rooftop, it looked like my BBEG was done for.

    But, I had a plan. Looking deep into the eyes of the werewolf embracing him my vampire BBEG whispered, “Hold me,” then leaned back and fell off the roof top into the darkness below, werewolf in tow.

    When the rest of PCs made their way down the building, the long slow way, all they found was their comrade hanging from a flag pole 10 stories up, and a disturbingly large blood splatter in the street, but no sign of the BBEG.

    The players decided they defeated him, but did they?

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