Atypical Enemies

On May 1, 2005, Posted by , In Campaign Workbook, With No Comments

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Heroes fight evil. From slaying cannibalistic giants to thwarting vile priests of unspeakable religions, the iniquity of her foes is what makes a champion of decency shine. Or is it that simple? What really makes a hero is the courage to do the right thing, no matter what the cost. But what does a good guy do when the enemy is not evil? The personal consequences of facing a foe of good alignment or virtuous motivation can be devastating, but resolving moral dilemmas can make for some compelling gaming sessions. Players must think carefully about their characters’ motivations, lest they also end up on the wrong side of good intentions. Next time you want to throw a little confliction at your PCs, pick one or more of the following archetypes, and let your imagination go.

ALIEN

We never meant to harm you. This is simply how we greet others, Not all creatures think in human (or humanoid) terms. Certain forms of behavior may be acceptable to one race but appalling to another. On the other side of this equation, a seemingly innocuous act by a PC may be a terrible offense to a member of an alien culture. A truly alien creature might not see its actions as harmful, even if they involve killing people.

ARROGANT

“My plan will unite the world in peace. The thousands who will die are an acceptable sacrifice.” Also known as the sympathetic madman, the arrogant villain is certain that he knows better than anyone else how things should work. Invariably, he has a plan, grand or small, for a major change in the lives of others. Often, if the scheme works, the change is a gainful one. But does anyone have the right to sacrifice people for a cause, no matter how noble it may be? Even if the villain intends to die himself, what right does he have to make that decision for countless others?

COMPELLED

“If I hadn’t done what he said, we’d all be dead now.” Coercion is a powerful tool, and many bow to intimidation rather than face the other possibilities. An antagonist with this archetype always acts at the behest of someone who can be legitimately called a villain. The actual blackheart gains the compelled characters complicity through some form of duress, whether he is holding а loved one hostage or using simple blackmail, Compelled characters often turn against their compeller, if they can.

CONTENDER

“The Scepter of Arjazba is the only thing that can heal our dying king. Stand aside, for our quest is righteous!” When one group of heroes wants something sought by another similar party, conflict is often inevitable. This is true even if both sides know the altruistic nature of their opposition. Further, building on the misguided and misunderstood archetypes, one group may be tricked into opposing would-be allies. A really unfortunate twist occurs when both sides actually need whatever it is they seck, especially if the ones who come up empty-handed can’t meet their goals any other way. This type of scenario gets worse when the opposing force is made up of loyalists or fanatics.

DESPERATE

“My sister and | needed to eat. | admit | was poaching, but I shot the warden in self-defense!” Extreme anxiety or need can make folks do wicked things. A desperate person, whether starving or penniless, often considers taking actions his alignment might normally prohibit. Survival is king, апа you cant live on ideals. What’s worse, a single desperate act might lead to even more wrongdoing, either to prevent undesired consequences or as an unforeseen result.

ENCHANTED OR CURSED

“I woke up naked, with the taste of blood in my mouth…” A clever enchanter can weave many diverse scapegoats into her web of deception. This tactic works especially well against heroic characters if the enchanted victims are also good. Such situations leave the PCs unsure whom to trust and unable to act decisively. Violence may even be out of the question.

Curses can compel and create desperation. They can make a blameless person crave something abominable. Ending the curse may have horrible effects, as well. But what if what seems to be a curse is merely obfuscation created by an actual villain to throw would-be heroes off the correct trail?

FANATIC

“It is the will of St. Cuthbert!” Blind devotion can be a dangerous thing. The fanatic believes in something so fiercely he can’t be swayed from his course of action no matter what. Furthermore, a fanatic often believes some greater authority sanctions his actions, absolving him of responsibility for anything that might be considered evil by mere mortals. Some die at the hands of legitimate authorities, still believing in their own righteousness.

IGNORANT

“Those creatures are evil monsters! We should burn them out, before anyone else gets hurt!” Good-hearted folks have weaknesses, and some suffer from prejudices or other forms of ignorance. Simple people tend to look for the most likely cause of their problems and act quickly on whatever notion strikes them as true. They do so not out of a desire to hurt others (which would be an evil act), but to protect themselves and those they love. Combined with misguidance or desperation, ignorance can turn deadly.

LOYALIST

“My lord has never failed me or my people!” Like a fanatic, a loyalist is an extremist, but she places her trust in a leader or nation instead of a belief or value. This person does what’s advantageous for her homeland or as she is ordered by her superiors. Upright persons do serve evil empires, believing the propaganda of their government or falling to their own ignorance. The other side of this coin is the rebel who knows those loyal to the oppressive regime aren’t evil, just badly informed. Still, she must fight. Loyalists, like fanatics, sometimes stand for an evil tyrant to the bitter end.

MISGUIDED

“But Erenfel told me the baron did it! Oh gods, what have I done?” A person who takes an action may not bear complete responsibility. Anyone can be deceived. Many well-meaning souls have been duped into performing destructive deeds by unscrupulous manipulators. Still others misinterpret information or evidence they find, and thereby act hastily from false assumptions. Enchantment needn’t be part of the mix. Those with extreme principles are often the easiest targets for exploitation.

MISUNDERSTOOD

“I wanted the key to close the gate, too. I can’t believe we’ve been fighting.” Sometimes, the story isn’t clear to those who play it out. The misunderstood villain is actually trying to do the right thing, but it doesn’t look that way from the outside.

Perhaps she believes the PCs are agents of some opposing force and never takes the time to talk the situation out. It could be that the heroes have misinterpreted her role in preceding events. Maybe there’s just no time to figure out who’s who. Such misconceptions can end badly for everyone involved, the best possible outcome being the discovery of an unexpected ally.

UNFORTUNATE

“We broke in to free the imprisoned animals. How could we have known?” Benevolent people can find themselves in circumstances beyond their control. While doing something righteous, even a hero can unleash unanticipated repercussions thanks to the law of unintended consequences. From the reckless wizard who opens an extraplanar gate he can’t close to the huntsman who shoots and kills a wild-shaped druid, some “villains” are merely victims of good deeds gone awry. Unfortunate villains combine well with desperate ones. Actual evildoers often manipulate such luckless coincidences to their advantage.


BY CHRIS SIMS
BY KYLE HUNTER