Reverb Gamers: Foes

Question #16: Who was the most memorable foe you've ever come up against in a game? How did you beat him/her/it? Or did you?

All these questions are aimed at players, you know. In my experience, GMs are much more likely to be blogging about their games... so I'm turning this one around again, looking at enemies I've used. Or, rather, why they're enemies, and what they do.

At least one of my regular players has a terrible habit of getting under the skin of enemies, and making them offers they can't refuse - turning them, eventually, into allies. She takes a certain justified pride in this.

Irichallanak (detailed in Shades of Grey) started out as at least a potential enemy, before he became an ally. Avaldan, a character with a history long enough to feature in three eras, was very definitely an enemy when he first appeared. And of course, the enemies that didn't become allies tend to become dead instead.

In my campaigns, I don't like to designate "enemy" NPCs. I find it leads to those NPCs eventually basing actions on "because I'm the bad guy", and whatever about anyone's cognisance of being evil or otherwise, few people think of themselves as the "bad guy". So instead, enemies are a more fluid category of characters whose intentions are opposed to those of the PCs. Sometimes they want to rule the world. Sometimes they want to rule some small part of the world. Sometimes, there's someone they want to kill, for whatever reason. Or there's something the player characters have that they want. Or they're conservatives, when the party is trying to change things, or radicals of one stripe or another when the PCs like the status quo.

I prefer rational characters, so generally, my NPCs will go for subtle routes to achieve their objectives first, negotiation second, and only go for violence if it's a last resort. But there are some who are not rational - which I've some difficulty playing, I'll admit - and there are some who have gone through the rational process and concluded that direct violence is the only workable answer. Those two kinds will find ways to attack, straight off the bat, and generally, anyone who attacks gets classed as an enemy straight away.

Something that's never really apparent to the players - and deliberately so - are the interactions between these NPCs. Even as the PCs can make allies of someone by negotiating to a mutually satisfactory position, so too can people whose aims they oppose. So at any given time, there are alliances being formed and broken all over the campaign world, some of which are aimed directly at the player characters, and some of which will be much more incidental.

And sometimes, too, those alliances go wrong. Several times, there've been situations where it was clear to me that two current enemies could no longer cooperate, and one of them had to take out the other. I do struggle a bit, sometimes, with how to work that into player knowledge. "In a place far away, one chap you've never heard of has murdered another chap you'd only met once, and who you didn't even know didn't like you. Well done!" - it lacks a certain something. Mostly, they find the remnants of conflict, bodies or just abandoned strongholds, and have to try to work out what happened. Often, a mystery like that can hang around for a while, which isn't a bad thing.

I've little enough interest in the "betrayal" trope so common in fantasy. But sometimes allies, or apparent allies, have their interests diverge. This happened, certainly, with a fiend called Tamergrin, in the Kingfisher's Way campaign, and he definitely turned out to be an enemy. I'm not terribly sure, though, that anyone was particularly satisfied with that outcome.

I think at heart, many of us are happier with honourable enemies becoming strong allies, and dishonourable enemies becoming dust.

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 30, 2012 1:19 PM

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