Let me start right off by stating what this post will not be about:
Evil cults shopping for human sacrifices
Immortals killing for spare parts/energy to extend their lives
I want to go back to basics. Tacking on supernatural elements cheapens the pure, distilled evil of a serial killer. A murderer that uses his victims to extend his life has a reason for killing, albeit a vile one. I want a serial killer who kills purely for his (or her) personal satisfaction.
Personally, I think that a serial killer deserves more than just a stat-block. He needs a complete background, including motivations and habits. That way when the plot evolves based on the PCs choices, the killer stays consistent.
Here is my profile of Krellk, serial killer of the Pirate Isles
- Born to a wealthy and cruel pirate captain and a serving wench
- Absent father (at sea often), beats Krellk when he is around
- Mother is an opium addict and dependent on Krellk for day to day living
- Krellk resents his mother as “low class” and seeks to increase his status
- Becomes an articulate, skilled liar to increase his perceived status when among strangers. Careful to only lie enough to reach his goal. Never greedy, very patient and highly intelligent.
- At age 16, mother intentionally embarrasses him in front of an upper class girl. Girl has a red orchid in her hair
- Krellk poisons mother that night with a flesh-rotting fungus. Leaves a bouquet of red orchids by her bedside.
- Mother’s death is considered natural. Krellk becomes a successful trader and social climber. Considered trustworthy and above reproach.
- A “plague” among low-class women leaves a trail of bodies for 20 years, cause unknown….
This is a general idea of Krellk’s habits and background. Certainly enough to build a plot around him.
When integrating a serial killer in to your game, great care must be taken on their initial entrance. Having a cloaked figure standing on a rooftop shouting at the PCs, “Ha Ha, behold my murder victim. I shall now torment you until such time as the DM deems me expendable” is not a great entrance.
My suggestion is let the PCs find subtle hints about the killer before he is officially “outed” in the campaign. Perhaps in the course of a city adventure, the PCs find a fungus-riddled body with a red orchid on it. It has absolutely nothing to do with the current storyline, but if it happens again, someone in the party might want to investigate. The game is afoot…
It is absolutely imperative to make the villian brilliant. PCs have access to magic that could identify the culprit easily. The villian knows this, so he takes precautions. Countermeasures against “truth-telling” spells are quite simple. Krellk makes certain an ignorant patsy actually plants the poison unknowingly. Krellk can now state honestly that he did not have the victim killed, or pay to have them killed.
Geas is also valuable for this fiend. A few well-worded geas castings on a lowly street thug turn him into Krellk’s proxy. Here are some sample geas instructions:
1. You cannot tell anyone about your task, whether through writing, speech, telepathy or any other known or unknown form of communication.
2. You must kill one woman, per these instructions.
3. If captured, you must confess and then drink this potion (poison.)
If this is too much casting for your campaign, give Krellk a willing apprentice. This also allows the PCs to capture the same killer twice. Be sure to drop a few hints that there are two fiends on the loose, not just one.
Avoid the temptation to have the PCs meet the killer before he is identified! The cliche of meeting the killer (cleverly disguised as an unimportant NPC) in the first act and killing him in the third is boring. Pulling a Keyser Soze is fun in a movie, but really hard to do in a game setting. Keep the killer truly enigmatic until the last moment, when the PCs walk into his house and he announces, “I have been expecting you.”
One last thought, if at all possible, have the villian arrested and thrown in prison rather than killed. Just think of the possibilties this offers for the DM. Prison breaks, courtroom drama and the “Hannibal Lecter ” encounter when you seek him out for his insight into another villian’s mind.
For some further insight into the dark and twisted mind of a serial killer, I highly recommend “Mind Hunter ” by John Douglas. One of the creepiest non-fiction books I ever read. It is excellent inspiration and source material.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer