Bigger, Badder, and Better
A Preview of the Game Master Toolkit Nemesis Rules
While we were working on The Gathering Storm adventure campaign for WFRP, the team was reminded of the importance and narrative impact that simply giving a non player character a name can make. This is especially true for villains and bad guys. A corrupt politician or fearsome orc is one thing. But facing Reiner von Steinkampf or Korghael Skullcleaver is another matter entirely.
I think we designed some memorable, varied, and interesting characters in The Gathering Storm. But it’s not just the name that makes the character memorable. We also developed what would become the foundation for our nemesis rules for major non player characters. These rules were expanded and became an integral part of the Game Master's Toolkit.
Some of the characters the adventurers will face over the course of a campaign are every bit as detailed and developed as the PCs are – with their own distinct personality traits, abilities, resources, motives, and goals.
When one of these fully fleshed out and developed NPCs is actively working against the PCs, it can really complicate the heroes’ lives. A major NPC adversary that opposes the player characters is referred to as a nemesis.
I Name Thee Nemesis! In broad terms, a nemesis is a cut above the rank and file villains or “bad guys” the PCs generally face. A nemesis may be the veteran warlord leading a host of enemy warriors in a bloody conflict to overtake a region. Or the cunning, unscrupulous politician manipulating and scheming from the Elector’s council. The crazed doomsayer whipping the masses into a frenzy of anarchy and revolution could also be a nemesis.
Regardless of how nemesis NPCs manifest in a campaign, they provide a number of interesting options to a GM to help customise and craft a story that can challenge both a party’s abilities and beliefs, as well as provide a tangible element – a distinct, evocative personality – to weave into the plot.
Types of Nemesis NPCs There are a lot of different ways to use nemesis NPCs. A nemesis can serve as the key adversary behind complex schemes, the obvious enemy that must be overcome to thwart impending doom, or the unassuming ally that turns on the player character’s when the situation grows most dire. When developing a nemesis, the GM should consider his motives, goals, and how and why he opposes the heroes. Does the nemesis know who the PCs are? Is he working against them personally, or do his purposes simply run counter to the goals of the party?
Here are just a few examples of how a nemesis could be featured in a campaign.
- The Fallen Ally: Perhaps the most dangerous Nemesis is one who was once a friend. The Fallen Ally used to work with the PCs, but due to tragic events, betrayal, or corruption he now opposes them. The Fallen Ally may know the PCs well and use that knowledge against them.
- The Gloryhound: Misguided by a lust for glory, prestige, and fame, the Gloryhound opposes the PCs not directly out of avarice, but out of vanity, pride, and perhaps a little madness and corruption. Pride goeth before a fall, and even a relatively “pure” Gloryhound may soon become an unwitting agent of evil.
- The Mastermind: The Mastermind lurks in the shadows, pulling strings, manipulating politics, and using blackmail and minions to achieve his goals. He’s a smart, clever opponent, always one step ahead, and has contingency plans for everything. Rather than directly influence events, he has his minions do his dirty work for him.
In addition to their individual roles, many nemesis NPCs work within an organisation of some fashion, whether it is a diabolic Chaos Cult, and extreme political faction, or a group of jaded merchants seeking to profit off the misfortune of others.
As the PCs encounter the nemesis NPC, uncover his plans, face off with his minions, or otherwise come into conflict with his organisation, they may slowly start to undermine the nemesis NPC’s support structure. If the PCs foil enough of the nemesis NPCs plans, the organisation’s influence and stability may suffer, until the nemesis NPC can no longer rely on or benefit from the organisation.
Or perhaps the nemesis isn’t a person at all, but the faceless bureaucracy of a corrupt Empire guild, or the mindless savagery of a horde of greenskins.
The Organisation Tracking Sheet The goals, resources, stability, and influence of these nemesis organisations can be easily managed and represented through the use of organisation tracking sheets. Each sheet represents a possible organisation or support structure for a Nemesis NPC. When developing a Nemesis NPC, the GM should consider whether or not the Nemesis NPC should belong to or have access to such an organisation. He may wish to look over the available organisation sheets, or use one as the basis for his own creation.
At first glance, an organisation sheet looks similar to the party sheet the PCs use to help define and manage the type of party dynamic the characters have. The organisation sheet serves a very similar function with regard to the nemesis NPC’s resources and influence – how much he can rely on the organisation to help further his goals, or how well the organisation helps protect or shield his activities from prying eyes.
Download the Unholy Crusade nemesis organisation sheet to see an example.
Undermining Stability Whenever the PCs manage to thwart the nemesis organisation or disrupt its activities, the GM advances a tracking token along the organisation’s stability track. When the tracking token reaches an event space, the corresponding effect listed on the sheet occurs.
Likewise, if in the GM’s opinion the PCs fail to stop or counter the organisation’s plans at a critical time or the organisation’s influence reaches out further, the GM may move the tracking token back a space on the track to reflect an improvement to the organisation’s current stability.
If the tracking token reaches the end of the stability track, the organisation’s cohesion crumbles, and a Nemesis NPC no longer has control over its resources or influence. Depending on the way the storyline unfolds and based on the GM’s discretion, this may trigger a confrontation with the nemesis behind the organisation, or force the nemesis to change his plans in order to repair the damage the PCs have done.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is a roleplaying game that sets unlikely heroes on the road to perilous adventure, in the grim setting of Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy world. Players will venture into the dark corners of the Empire, guided by luck and Fate, and challenge the threats that others cannot or will not face.
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