GMs, if you’ve never had an NPC shot in the face mid-monologue, as far as I’m concerned, you’re doing it wrong.
But let us start at the beginning. Every form of media is littered with the infamous Bad Guy Speech, wherein the arrogant cad at the heart of your characters’ boiling enmity has their brief moment in the sun to divulge the true aim behind their dastardly deeds shortly before the Good Guys break free and dismantle his evil fortress from within.
Tabletop gaming is no exception. If anything, it seems to be a particularly virulent trope here. Unfortunately, what isn’t catching in similarly plague-like numbers is how to do a Bad Guy Speech well within the context of your game.
The truth is that a Bad Guy Speech has become such a rote expectation in tabletop games that many have reached the tl;dr stage. Most players either tune them out or actively seek a way to interrupt them; the latter being particularly disruptive to a GM who still has an Epic Climactic Combat planned for a few sessions from now, after he’s had time to draw up the maps with ill-tempered sea bass on them.
At the same time, for many GMs, the Bad Guy Speech is the best and perhaps only chance to provide your players with an understanding of why said Bad Guy set the player’s village on fire at the start of the game, or why she’s conquering all the cities of the Four Nations, or what all that goddamn MacGuffin Dust he’s been collecting all this time is actually intended for.
Without it, the entire campaign can feel like a rote excuse to fight a bad guy and save a town/planet/beloved pet, so doing away with it all together isn’t necessarily the best solution, even if many of your players might say they’d be happier without.
There is, as usual, a compromise that will break up the trope enough to keep your players interested and engaged while simultaneously allowing you to unveil the villain’s intentions and master scheme; to say nothing of the pacing advantage that comes with a smug “I’ve already won” speech right before your PCs kick the villains ever-lovin’ tail.
The first rule of bad-guy monologuing is keep things brief. The second rule of bad-guy monologuing? Keep things brief. Count on your speech (any speech) feeling about five times as long on the other side of the screen. It is, in essence, the bad guy’s chance to rub the heroes’ face in her brilliance. Done right, that should stir up some serious hate-on from your players.
You do not need to milk this. Milking it will only encourage the obvious bleed-over: that this is in fact you, the GM, rubbing your players’ faces in your own brilliance. And few players want to have their faces rubbed in your anything, so make the experience as brief as possible.
Use the tropes to your advantage. Everyone and his brother knows that villains have a monologue. You can clip out most of the fluff and your PCs will be able to backfill the remainder.
“Pompous pompous pompous, so I decided to uproot the system at its heart: the gem trade. Pompous pompous nethecite, pompous magical properties pompous pompous armageddon.” In fact, using the above trick verbatim can be a wonderful way to break up the typical droll monologue and actually encourage your players to sit back and listen to the important bits without interrupting, because dammit, this is funny, and they want to hear it.
Alternatively, if you’re not going for the goofy vote, whittling the monologue down to as curt an address as possible is your next best bet. Aim for a 25-word limit. If you tweet, you’re already well-acquainted with a similar restriction. Boil it down to the essentials, and remove any line that only seems to express the bad guy’s anger or arrogance.
The monologue itself should express arrogance nicely, and you can add hateful anger with tone and word choice more than throw-away content like “I could crush you like a worm,” or “You’ve been a thorn in my side long enough.”
The third rule of monologuing is don’t to make it a passive event. One of the most infuriating things about a long monologue is that the PCs are typically captured in some way and have to simply sit there and listen.
That is a terrible way to game.
Players want to be active, they want to have things to pit their skills against, roll dice angrily at or at least turn about and moon once in a while. Breaking that flow with a foray into what is essentially a lit reading is a great way to ensure player enmity towards you moreso than the NPC.
To avoid that while still providing the healthy content that makes up a long monologue, break the monologue into separate splices with PC action in between each dose.
One of the best mechanics for doing so is the Bad Guy Loudspeaker. The PCs are swarming the bad guy’s HQ, ripping through traps and minions and every other obstacle put in their path. All the while, the bad guy begins monologuing at them from somewhere remote, perhaps high in the same tower or in a well-defended vault at its core.
In a non-tech setting, the Bad Guy Loudspeaker becomes the evil wizard’s telepathy or all the statues they cast Magic Mouth on throughout the mansion. Whatever the method, the result is the same: you have time to get through the monologue without having to paralyze the NPCs in the process, keeping your players engaged all the while with the action bits in between.
Remember to keep each snippet of the longologue to roughly a sentence, as it should help build tension without either boring your players or making them particularly upset with you. You can help stave off frustration further if they’re allowed to blow up a loudspeaker or two along the way or shatter the occasional talking statue.
On that note, be ready for PCs to go shooting out loudspeakers or toppling Magic Mouth’d statues early in the process. The solution? Have more of them. If they find out a way to take them all out before you’re through the monologue, first, congratulate them, and then have the villain get to the key reveal toward the end of the monologue just a they arrive in the room where they’re about to kick her ass. After all, the villain has no idea they haven’t been listening the whole time
Even better is to give your PCs a chance earlier in the game to interrupt the monologue entirely. Let them feel like they can act even in situations where their TV and video game counterparts would be paralyzed by some deus ex machina, and they may be all the more content to be made to listen later, having already gotten one over on you.
Somewhere along the way, conjure up a miniboss, the pinnacle of some side-arc or minor quest en route to the Big Kahuna. Make him strong enough to not be patronizing, but more of an annoyance than a genuine threat.
Then have him start to pontificate out in the open, somewhere even your less tactically-minded players will realize they have an open shot. Have him start to drone in as smug a tone as you can conjure. Haul out all the tropes. “How could you possibly hope to take me down, you arrogant little insects…” and so forth.
Goad your players into action. And then, best of all: let them take the shot.
Let them rip the poor little mook to pieces five words into his little speech, and make it a satisfying win. If there are minions left, let them be terrified and flee, cower, or even swear fealty to the PCs. Let the moment they interrupted the monologue be the defining end to that arc or side quest.
They’ll remember it.
And best of all, if they try it again when it’s the true villain’s turn, you have an idea what tool in their arsenal they’ll think to reach for first, and that can go a long way toward giving your bad guys a chance to get a word in at all.