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by Paul Mitchener
Mar 15,2005


Methods of Campaign and Adventure Design 8

By Paul Mitchener


Personally, I find that I need some major enemy in a campaign I am running in order to give it coherence. Something that has prevented me from coming up with campaign ideas in some genres in the fact that I find it difficult to come up with respectable enemies.

In thinking about his issue, I came to the conclusion that the enemies I tend to use fall into two categories.

Alien Invasion

The most simple and blunt type of enemy consists of some outside destructive force, for example demons, alien invaders, or flesh-eating zombies. In this scenario, the enemies will do what they can to kill or enslave humanity.

It is helpful to think of some reason for the invasion, for example:

  • The demon lord must have one million souls sacrificed to him on a single night so that he can ascend to godhood.
  • The aliens are in fact artificially created beings developed as a weapon in an ancient war. Their programmed purpose is to destroy all other life.

In both of the above examples, the motivations of the enemy forces are simplistic in human terms, and the enemy cannot be reasoned with. Stopping the enemy is almost certainly a priority, and there are few if any moral objections to destroying enemy forces in the most effective possible way.

Thus, when such an absolute enemy is prominent in a campaign, any sort of subtlety has to be introduced through other factors, such as a lack of cooperation between those who should be opposing the enemy, or through trying to find out what is really going on.

Shades of Grey

It is of course possible that an enemy does not want to destroy all life as we know it, but is nonetheless unpleasant enough that most players will want to stop them. Such enemies are probably human. The typical example of such an enemy is an organisation with some nasty plan, for example:

  • A weapons dealer planning to start a massive war in order to sell arms to both sides.
  • A fascist organisation in the process of taking over a fantasy city by exploiting popular prejudice against non-humans.

The main difference between the above types of enemy and those introduced previously is that it is possible to picture how someone might plausibly be sympathetic to the suggested plan without being entirely insane. NPCs associated with the enemy are just as likely to have been misled or not have the whole picture as to be deliberately furthering some evil scheme.

Mixing Enemies

In most of my fantasy campaigns, I tend to mix the two types of enemy. There are two types of such mixture that I want to highlight with examples.

  • An organisation with destructive aims is receiving demonic support. A privileged inner circle has special powers, and possibly the ability to summon demons.
  • Two alien forces both have interest in planet Earth, but would rather fight each-other than invade. Possibly both forces plan to conquer the Earth chiefly because the other force wants to. Possibly both forces are artificial beings, as described above. In any case, one possible plan is to attempt to play the two sides against each-other.

The obvious advantage of such a mixture is to provide some variety in a campaign. Further, in a long-term but finite campaign, there is more than one good stopping point if things go well; defeat of the first enemy, or defeat of the second.

Minor Enemies

Minor enemies may feature in a major capacity in one or two adventures, or in a minor capacity in a number of adventures. Minor enemies may or may not be similar to major enemies, but the scope of such enemies should be toned down. Minor enemies may be just individuals or small groups without any large organisation to support them. Examples include the following.

  • An explorer dedicated to discovering alien artifacts. He is utterly ruthless, armed with various strange technological relics, and will kill rivals without hesitation.
  • A demon summoned by a cabal of sorcerers. The demon is out of control, and killing at random, but is in fact extremely good at hiding and traveling quickly. If returned to magical control, the demon would make a useful spy, thief, or assassin, and could be encountered that way.

Minor enemies need to have enough of a personality for the players to enjoy interactions and repeat appearances.

Adventure Ideas

The point of a major enemy in a campaign is to provide an easy source of adventures, whether generated by the GM or by the players' plans. Typically, the first type of adventure involves a reaction to some plan of the enemy, whereas the second is more proactive, and forces the enemy to react. This is not necessarily the case, however; a GM can easily craft a `proactive' adventure by presenting the player characters with an opportunity to strike at an enemy.

Just as importantly, for the sake of variety, in a longer-running campaign it should still be possible to think of adventure ideas that do not involve the chosen major enemy, at least directly. It is also worth thinking of adventures where the existence of an enemy is first hinted at, and where an enemy is first fully introduced.

Anyway, if I find that an idea for an enemy does not help me generate adventures fairly easily, then it is not really serving its purpose, and my plans need to be reformulated.

Wrapping Up

Well, apologies that this column was a little late. Next month, I intend to be punctual, and will probably look at puzzles and mysteries within a game. Unless I change my mind.

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