You know what I don’t like about superhero movies? The “big bad” is always getting whacked. I mean, how do you kill Doctor Doom or the Red Skull? The cool thing is that, just like in the comics, they can always come back.
Maybe they were cloned or had their consciousness placed in someone else or in a robotic body. Maybe their bodies went missing but it was because they were rescued before the hero could find them. There are many options.
Do you have a “big bad” who you’d like to have as a recurring villain in an RPG? Easier said than done. Every time you place a character on the map, you can be assured that the players are seeing this as another victim to their righteous justice. It’s hard to keep a “big bad” alive for a few encounters.
Or is it?
How about if you viewed the game like a comic book? The bad guy, when he gets too low or no hit points, doesn’t have to die; he can be the victim of the environment. Just think about how it happens in the comics.
Is the final encounter in a mine or an underground dungeon? Cave-in: you can’t dig through all that rubble to find the body, and a gas from a side tunnel was released that kept the unconscious body of your “big bad” preserved.
Fighting in a sewer? Flooded! Seriously, it happens all the time. Make your character roll a save to hold on to something. If they fail, then they are flushed down the sewers until they hit a wall; take 2d6 damage. The bad guy you want to be a recurring villain, oh, he was washed down one of the side tunnels. He’s adopted by a family of alligators or something and he’ll be back with his new pets after he’s licked his wounds.
Fighting on the side of a cliff? Easy. The ground gives way and he falls. He’ll get better and return with a band of orcs who found him and nursed him back to health.
Anybody can be brought back as long as the environment can provide a cover. I remember in one Fantastic Four comic where Doctor Doom floated off into the void of space. He was found by an alien race who he’d subjugated and learned a new psychic power from.
Even if you’re cornered and they kill the bad guy cold, was it really him? Was it actually someone disguised as him, or a Doppelganger he’d hired? Was it a wizard who had a contingency plan in place so that his consciousness would transfer into the magical sword that the heroes will find in the treasure chest? Now the player who gets the sword is having nightmares about the character and sleepwalking, possibly restoring the “big bad.”
Death doesn’t mean anything if you think like a comic book. Just don’t bring back Uncle Ben … that’s the only rule.
Comic Book University