My first exposure to Dungeons & Dragons was through the Saturday morning cartoon in 1983. I was 9 years old at the time and the show fascinated me. I could relate to the characters because they were around my age. The fantastic elements of D&D – the magic, the monsters, and the adventures – left tremendous feelings of wonder and awe on my young and impressionable mind. When I was invited to actually play D&D in the years to follow, I was immediately on board.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only player who created characters that mimicked the heroes from the show. This was likely due in part to my limited experienced with the game and limited knowledge of the choices available. But it was just as likely because I thought those characters were cool.
The other thing I wanted to do as soon as I started playing D&D was to fight Venger. According to the title sequence of the D&D cartoon, Venger was the force of evil in the world of Dungeon & Dragons. He wasn’t just some bad guy, he was THE bad guy. Forget fighting Bullywugs, Orcs and even Dragons, point me in the direction of Venger! I never got my chance to fight Venger, and after a little while I realized that I didn’t need to fight him to enjoy my D&D experience, but a part of me still wants to take him on. After all he is a great villain.
Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. “V” is for Venger, the force of evil in the realm of Dungeons & Dragons.
According to the cartoon, Venger is a powerful Wizard who seeks to control the realm of Dungeons & Dragons. He’s clearly powerful, but for whatever reason he needs the additional power contained within the six magic items that the Dungeon Master gives to the heroes. In each episode Venger devises some plot by which he hopes to get the weapons and fulfill his plan. Being a kids show, good triumphs over evil and Venger and his cronies are always defeated.
During my considerable years spent gaming I’ve matured as a player and as a DM. Since I was first exposed to D&D I’ve come to realize that not only is Venger a cool villain, in a way he’s the perfect villain.
It’s established from the outset that Dungeon Master is the most powerful character in the show (and in D&D). Yet even Dungeon Master seems to have trouble dealing with Venger on occasions. This hints as a potential within the villain to actually supplant and surpass Dungeon Master some day. Venger’s power is not stagnant; it clearly continues to grow. Venger is a perfect villain because he’s so much more powerful than the heroes. His power will continue to grow as the party’s power grows. The heroes may close the gap between their level and Venger’s, but they’ll never match him.
Throughout the cartoon Venger is ever-present, but he rarely engages the heroes personally – at least not at first. He employs numerous servants and slaves to do his bidding. He bribes or intimidates others to do his bidding. Only when they fail does Venger himself get involved.
This is the best way to handle a reoccurring villain in D&D. See evidence of his work, even catch a glimpse of him occasionally, but limit the chances in which the heroes get to actually confront him directly. Every so often allow them to battle the villain, but give them help. Have the heroes fight along side other powerful forces to improve their chance at victory. Alternatively have them face the villain when he’s in a weakened state. They may defeat him and gain a temporary victory, but it should be clear that he’s not gone forever. In the cartoon whenever Venger is defeated his shadowy form or spiritual essence is seen in the distance. It’s clear that Venger will return in the next episode.
Every villain should have a powerful nemesis. Although that will one day be the heroes themselves, at the outset there should be something keeping the villain in check. The only creature Venger seems to be genuinely afraid of is Tiamat, the fabled five-headed Dragon. Considering that in some editions of D&D Tiamat is elevated to godhood it’s no wonder Venger fears her.
As an aside, I was always curious as to why Tiamat had such animosity towards Venger. I imaged Venger either tried to kill her and failed (not likely) or tried to take something that belonged to her in an attempt to rule the realm (more likely). The show never specified and I liked it better that way. There is even an episode of the cartoon where the kids enlist Tiamat’s help to fight Venger reminding us just how evil Venger really is.
In the cartoon Venger’s power seems limitless. He can do whatever magic the story needs him to do. Likewise in D&D a good villain is not limited to stats on a page. The DM should try to keep the villain’s actions plausible, but he should feel free to bend or break the rules as needed to make the villain more interesting. Since the PCs won’t likely face him directly that often, this shouldn’t be a big deal.
Finally there’s Venger’s appearance – he looks evil. The wings, the fangs, the one horn (what’s with only one horn!), and the fact that he’s often seen flying through the sky on the back of a Nightmare steed provide Venger with the appearance of a villain. Even his colour scheme of black, grey and red are menacing. They’re certainly contradictory to the bright colours the heroes wear and the bright red robes of Dungeon Master himself. In the cartoon even his voice is menacing. (Interesting fact, Peter Cullen, the actor who voiced Venger also voiced Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh and Optimus Prime in the Transformers cartoons and feature films. Talk about varied characters!)
The D&D DVD boxed set comes with all of the episodes of the cartoon as well as the Animated Series Handbook. It’s designed to look like other D&D rule books from 3.5e (which was the current version when the DVD was released). In it are the statistics for the six heroes, Uni, Shadow Demon and Venger himself. The version of Venger has him statted out as a Half-Fiend Human Sorcerer 13 / Archmage 5 (CR 21). I’m not going to get into his actual numbers but I will say that as printed Venger is one tough opponent.
What are your thoughts on Venger? Have you ever used him as a villain in your campaign? Have you ever fought him? Would you ever consider using Venger, or a thinly veiled copy, as a major villain in a long-term campaign?