One of the more enjoyable elements of my past campaigns has been creating an opposing group of NPC’s that compete or thwart the party as their characters grow in experience and power. Seinfeld had his “Newman” and Indiana Jones had his “Belloq”; a fleshed out contra-group can add a personal and competitive feel to the gameplay more than just another nameless villain or mob-boss. Over a long campaign the relationship between the groups can evolve based on their shared experiences and conflicts and eventually lead to a final “reckoning” or confrontation.
This NPC Nemeses (Newman Group) doesn’t necessarily need to be similar in make-up to the PC’s but having similarities allows each PC to have their own specific nemesis as well. So there is a group vs group dynamic concurrent with a more personal and individual PC vs NPC dynamic.
Depending on your setting there are many ways to initiate a “Newman Group”.
- Opposing Gods. The most obvious mechanism for opposing groups is to have each group avatars of a pantheon or god. In Shadow World the conflict between the gods of Charon and Orhan sets that up easily.
- Opposing Employers. At lower levels PC’s are often just trying to survive, accumulate experience and wealth. Giving the PC’s a patron (Priest, Lord, merchant, scribe, mage etc) that assigns them tasks creates a tidy mechanism to start adventures. It’s only natural that such a patron would have an enemy or competitor that would also need their own group of henchman.
- The Unlife. Of course you could forgo subtlety and create an opposing group under the thrall of the Unlife. Perhaps they work for one of the 12 Adherants, the Priest Arnak or similar organization. This sets up a longer term campaign thread into the larger SW plotline.
- Familial or background element. Perhaps one of the PC’s has a brother, sister or family member they are at odds with. Jealousy, inheritance issues, rivalry or racial tensions could all be the spark to start the groups down the path of opposition.
- Friendly competition. Introducing the opposing group early only as a general competitor for a certain goal or treasure can leave the future open-ended. Later as the campaign progresses the groups could form an uneasy alliance to overcome a difficult task or transform into more serious and deadly rivalry.
The NPC group should plan, act and behave as the PC’s would. They will retreat or surrender when beaten; plan carefully when expecting an encounter with the PC’s and have their own goals, aims and desires. The more personal you make the relationship between your PCs and the Newman Group the more depth it will add to the gameplay. Once the rivalry is introduced it came become a great plot device to confound, frustrate and delight your players. Whether intentionally plot driven, random or capricious, the players will be left wondering as to the role of their nemeses when they encounter them!