In your RPGing, who chooses the antagonists/opposition - players or GM?

pemerton

Legend
Most RPGing involves conflict and opposition as a crucial component of the fiction: the player characters are trying to overcome some sort of opposition or antagonism.

Not all RPGing is all antagonism all the time - eg if a group spends an hour settling equipment lists for the PCs that is more likely to involve referring to lists and transcribing information than engaging with antagonism in a shared fiction; or if a group spends an hour in which the players all, in character, speak to one another about their recent deeds and make plans for future deeds, there may not be much confronting of opposition in that episdoe of play.

Still, I think it's fair to say that opposition/antagonism is pretty important to most RPGing, although of course it comes in different forms: opposed people/creatures who want to thwart the PCs' goals; people/creatures who have goals that the PCs are opposed to; places that the PCs wish to enter or pass through but that are not easily navigated (due to geography, or architecture, or fixtures like traps, etc); and no doubt many other forms too.

Because the opposition/antagonism is a component of a fiction, someone has to come up with it. And because it is related to the PCs in a hostile fashion - it is at odds with what they want - someone has to establish that relationship, of PC wants as a component of the fiction to this other, oppositional, component of the fiction.

In your RPGing, who does all this? And how is it done?
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Usually in the games I've been involved in, it's been the PCs deciding on their goals, and the GM putting opposition in front of them. Occasionally a PC's goal has been to take out one or more specific NPCs--usually a goal that arises in play, but occasionally something established at the start.
 

pemerton

Legend
Usually in the games I've been involved in, it's been the PCs deciding on their goals, and the GM putting opposition in front of them. Occasionally a PC's goal has been to take out one or more specific NPCs--usually a goal that arises in play, but occasionally something established at the start.
The NPC who is to be "taken out" - who would normally decide that that NPC is part of the shared fiction?

And the other PC goals - do you mean that the players decides their PCs' goals? And if so, are there any parameters around that - often goals presuppose details of the fiction beyond the evident genre tropes, and so if the players decide their PCs goals does that mean they also get to establish the relevant fictional details?
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
The NPC who is to be "taken out" - who would normally decide that that NPC is part of the shared fiction?
I've seen and run games where the GM introduced the NPC, and where the player/s did.
And the other PC goals - do you mean that the players decides their PCs' goals? And if so, are there any parameters around that - often goals presuppose details of the fiction beyond the evident genre tropes, and so if the players decide their PCs goals does that mean they also get to establish the relevant fictional details?
I meant what I said--the PCs decide their goals--but you would see it as the players deciding (and that's not an argument I think it's worthwhile for us to have). If it's something being established at the start of a campaign, it's probably something the player/s and the GM are negotiating into the world; if it's something arising during a campaign it's almost certainly something established in the fiction they're deciding to go after.
 

payn

Legend
Are you asking if the players can make up the fiction of NPCs that are in opposition? Like the player's character wants to stop local bandits and so then makes up who the local bandit leader is. The GM then runs the bandit leader based on the players descriptions. As opposed to the GM making up all the details of the bandit leader NPC and the player reacts?
 



billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
It's a bit of both - there may be some big movers and shakers pulling levers all over the place as they pursue their plans, but PCs have a way of finding and making antagonists from any NPC they want. After all, I may have wheels in motion that are on my side of the screen, but the PCs are in control over how they react to whomever they meet or seek out. If they want to make them antagonists, they can certainly give it a try.
 

darkbard

Hero
I'm involved in two Dungeon World games at the moment, one as GM, the other as a player (the latter being the game @Manbearcat has mentioned a couple of times).

In the game I'm GMing, wherein my wife is the sole player, her character a Svirfneblin Ranger-Psion, there are two primary antagonists established across four sessions so far and some preplay discussion between us. One is a Tiefling military officer and ambassador who was introduced because my wife expressed a desire to explore the relationship between her character and another PC idea she had for a Tiefling Immolater; the ambassador is served by the latter figure as a personal bodyguard, and my wife's PC has just been purchased as a slave in service to the ambassador. Will she escape? Kill her master? Forge a bond with the Immolator? TBD.

The second antagonist in this game is the lich Ny-Hor, first Pharaoh of the Tiefling empire. When the PC was reduced to 0 HP in an early session and made a 7-9 Last Breath role (indicating the presentation of an opportunity to bargain with Death at its Black Gates), I created the villain and placed a geas on the PC to destroy its phylactery so Death can reclaim the lich.

In the game where I am player, there have been several antagonists. Initially, my Paladin encountered a guide whose reputation was being savaged by an exploitative and unscrupulous employer. In return for use of the guide's raft, my Paladin promised to confront the employer and vouch for the guide's efforts and honor (player chosen antagonist).

My wife initially described her PC as a Wizard who reads the filaments of the magic Tapestry that subtends the world, and her growing knowledge that the Tapestry is being destroyed. We have since come to learn that an extra planar entity known as the Devourer is consuming the world's magic (player chosen).

Further, when watching a marvel of a ten-year-old prodigy construct magical toys in a marketplace, we noticed a bespectacled onlooker sketching the girl. The onlooker then asked to sketch my wife's PC, herself but 17 or 18 and a practitioner of magic. My Paladin sensed evil in this figure, and he has since been revealed to be a powerful necromancer who extends his life by stealing the force from magical youths. (So kinda both GM chosen and player chosen?)

Finally, while seeking to bring news to a widowed rancher of the grisly death of her husband and small children, an exploitative rancher harassing the family came into play for two sessions as an antagonist. If I recall correctly, he was introduced as a complication for a failed roll by the GM.
 

pemerton

Legend
Initially, my Paladin encountered a guide whose reputation was being savaged by an exploitative and unscrupulous employer. In return for use of the guide's raft, my Paladin promised to confront the employer and vouch for the guide's efforts and honor (player chosen antagonist).
Fully player chosen? Who introduced the unscrupulous employer into the fiction? The language of "encountered" suggests that, at the table, the GM was narrating these events and the existence of these NPCs. Is that right?

My wife initially described her PC as a Wizard who reads the filaments of the magic Tapestry that subtends the world, and her growing knowledge that the Tapestry is being destroyed. We have since come to learn that an extra planar entity known as the Devourer is consuming the world's magic (player chosen).
Again, how did the Devourer become part of the shared fiction? Was this posited by your wife? Or you? - I know that "ask questions" is a standard GM technique in DW. Or was this GM narration?
 

pemerton

Legend
Are you asking if the players can make up the fiction of NPCs that are in opposition? Like the player's character wants to stop local bandits and so then makes up who the local bandit leader is. The GM then runs the bandit leader based on the players descriptions. As opposed to the GM making up all the details of the bandit leader NPC and the player reacts?
If you read my post just upthread of this one, responding to @darkbard, you'll hopefully see what I'm asking about, which I hope we can discuss in this thread.

I'll give a couple of examples from the first Rolemaster campaign I GMed, over 30 years ago now.

One of the players created a Mystic character - a type of wizard/psion cross in D&D terms. Influenced a fair bit by The Wizard of Earthsea, the player decided that this character - nicknamed Mouse - came from a village (Five Oaks, in the neighbourhood of the City of Greyhawk) where he had been a goat herd. The player also decided that the character had a master and teacher who was a powerful spell caster and a refugee (from Nyrond, I think) who was in hiding near Five Oaks, and who lived inside a large hollow tree. This mentor figure had powerful enemies from whom he was hiding.

This would be an example of the player establishing, in general terms, antagonists for his PC - his master's enemies - although the details were not fleshed out until I did that some time later as GM. But I didn't do that straight away. In the first session of this game I introduced a NPC into the fiction, a strange magic-user connected to the inn the PCs were staying at. I don't remember much of the detail but this ended up being quite a sympathetic antagonist. That would be an example of the antagonism being established more-or-less entirely by the GM.
 

pemerton

Legend
PCs have a way of finding and making antagonists from any NPC they want.

<snip>

the PCs are in control over how they react to whomever they meet or seek out.
Does that second occurrence of PCs there refer to the players? Ie are you saying it is the players who are in control?

Also, who decides which NPCs are parts of the fiction and hence able to be met or sought out?
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I'll talk about my Planescape game, which is currently on hiatus as we explore other things. In this, there was a mixed of antagonist sources. One of my players had a backstory where they were an escaped thrall of mindflayers, and that they did not recall anything of their life prior to becoming a thrall. So, of course, mindflayers featured in the game as antagonists so that the player could explore their goal of recovering their memories and getting revenge on his captors. A second player had a backstory of their clan being wiped out someone/something. Only a name was provided, no details about the how or what. This name featured in the game, moving into becoming a nemesis for the party and actively working against them on their quest to recover a multi-part artifact, which was a lot of fun because I kept this antagonist as vague as the player did -- a scary name, moving in the shadows, with minions doing the dirty work. All of these are player introduced antagonists. A few others cropped up in play (the Death Cleric ended up possessed by a powerful spirit that acted more as a foil than an antagonist, but this was player prompted).

On the other side, I absolutely introduced antagonists, and had a few ideas waiting in the wings if needed. I set up an aboleth as an antagonist for a number of sessions, originally just as the end bad guy in a fetch quest job the PCs took for money, but they failed the quest, and this ended up as having a run as they tried to complete the job. A few more in this vein, but none in this category were long term antagonists.

Now, in my Blades game, there was a lot more of both -- players can and do establish NPCs quite regularly, as does the GM, depending on the current need, the current action, the current fiction, and how a check resolves.
 

Are you able to say a bit more about the mix here?
Are you able to say a bit more about the mix here?

Yes....I had started my previous post with the intention of elaborating, but then had something come up and wasn’t able to get my thoughts down.

This will perhaps vary from game to game and what the goal of any given game may be, but generally speaking I like to have the players create their PCs with goals and drives in mind that will likely bring them into conflict with some NPC faction or other. This can be loose or very specific, whatever each player prefers.

I take that pool of material and then I kind of build on it a bit. Maybe expand an organization a bit, maybe create a specific NPC as a representative of a faction. Take a PC goal and imagine what type of people might be obstacles to that goal. I look at PC relationships with friendly NPCs and I see if any conflict seems inherent there.

Once I’m at this point, I’ll usually have my own ideas inspired by the character creation process, so I’ll sprinkle them in as well.

What we wind up with is a starting scenario with a variety of NPC antagonists that can range from minor annoyance to bitter enemy. Usually more than enough to get us started.

Then once we’re going, I kind of take a similar approach; I pay attention to what the players focus on, the NPCs that they love to hate, the goals they pick for their characters. I also will ask them questions at times...about their character’s past and who they know and so on.

That’s my general approach, but as I said, I adapt it a bit depending on the game and what we’re looking for.

In my recent Galaxies in Peril campaign (it’s a Forged in the Dark super heroes game), I created the central villain and his organization, who serve as the impetus of the starting situation and premise of the game. The setting is an island nation, an archipelago, that is a haven for scum and villainy in a very classic Marvel or DC style universe. The premise is that this outsider shows up and somehow encloses the entire nation in a dome of pure darkness, cutting them off from the outside world (very tropey, I know....no he’s not Mr Byrnes).

I asked the players to create some factions that may be present in such a place. The players each contributed a few, some just ideas or concepts, some which included members and resources and goals and so on.

Then when we made our PCs, each player needed to select some kind of rival or enemy for their PC; this is standard FitD process and the playbooks even have a list, but we chose our own.

One PC was a former mercenary trying to go straight, and he chose a bloodthirsty merc as his rival, with the idea that this NOC is what made him want to go straight.

Our magician PC picked the Lord of Dreams as his rival, a pure lift of Morpheus from DC’s Sandman. Rival is not the best term, but they had an odd relationship. It was more that Morpheus was mercurial and far removed from human understanding that made the relationship volatile.

The third PC was an alien AI constructed of a crystalline mineral. His enemy was an intergalactic bounty hunter who had tracked him to Earth and the island.

Then the players had to select some factions that weren’t happy with them (again, standard FitD process based on crew upgrades).

By the end of session zero we had something like 30 factions, probably rough sketches of at least that many NPCs, and a handful of more detailed NPCs. Along with the main villain and his whole organization. Plenty to get us going. We just wrapped our first “season”. We’re taking a break to play something else, but the plan is to go back to this game pretty soon.
 

pemerton

Legend
@hawkeyefan, thanks for that post. How did you go about (if at all) establishing connections/dispositions between the 30-odd factions that were collectively created, and the NPC villain that you had created? Is that a GM decision, or do you have to hand the players some "ownership" of your NPC?
 

pemerton

Legend
One of my players had a backstory where they were an escaped thrall of mindflayers, and that they did not recall anything of their life prior to becoming a thrall. So, of course, mindflayers featured in the game as antagonists so that the player could explore their goal of recovering their memories and getting revenge on his captors.
I think this is a nice illustration of how tropes or widely known game elements can serve to bridge player-GM expectations and authorship responsibilities. The player can name mindflayers and then have a pretty good sense of what the game will involve while still leaving the GM with the control over immediate narration of framing and consequence.
 

I'm involved in two Dungeon World games at the moment, one as GM, the other as a player (the latter being the game @Manbearcat has mentioned a couple of times).

1) In the game where I am player, there have been several antagonists. Initially, my Paladin encountered a guide whose reputation was being savaged by an exploitative and unscrupulous employer. In return for use of the guide's raft, my Paladin promised to confront the employer and vouch for the guide's efforts and honor (player chosen antagonist).

2) My wife initially described her PC as a Wizard who reads the filaments of the magic Tapestry that subtends the world, and her growing knowledge that the Tapestry is being destroyed. We have since come to learn that an extra planar entity known as the Devourer is consuming the world's magic (player chosen).

3) Further, when watching a marvel of a ten-year-old prodigy construct magical toys in a marketplace, we noticed a bespectacled onlooker sketching the girl. The onlooker then asked to sketch my wife's PC, herself but 17 or 18 and a practitioner of magic. My Paladin sensed evil in this figure, and he has since been revealed to be a powerful necromancer who extends his life by stealing the force from magical youths. (So kinda both GM chosen and player chosen?)

4) Finally, while seeking to bring news to a widowed rancher of the grisly death of her husband and small children, an exploitative rancher harassing the family came into play for two sessions as an antagonist. If I recall correctly, he was introduced as a complication for a failed roll by the GM.

Fully player chosen? Who introduced the unscrupulous employer into the fiction? The language of "encountered" suggests that, at the table, the GM was narrating these events and the existence of these NPCs. Is that right?


Again, how did the Devourer become part of the shared fiction? Was this posited by your wife? Or you? - I know that "ask questions" is a standard GM technique in DW. Or was this GM narration?

Numbered the above to unpack darkbard's thoughts above from the GM side.

To dove-tail with the other thread, I don't have any "pre-play notes" outside of (a) the setting notes that we created at the outset when we made the map, (b) the setting notes that result from our play (particularly when I ask provocative questions and they give the answers or if they offer it without prodding), (c) important continuity stuff that has happened (I write it down not to reference it later...I write it down as the practice will help to cement it in my brain), (d) the PC's thematic material native to DW (Alignment and Bonds).

1) This was a Parley move 7-9 where I had to give the NPC some dramatic need for Alastor to attend to cement the deal. It was springboarded off of his Alignment statement (bring a criminal or unbeliever to justice) at that point. So an output of action resolution + PC build flag. Personally, I was curious at how Alastor felt about both labor exploitation being "criminal" and about how "below board" exploitation and strong-arming interfaced with his deity (who is about truth and openness).

2) This was an outgrowth of 2 separate complications for moves + Alignment statement. The first was a bad night's sleep on the trail (they changed their sleep schedule from nocturnal to diurnal in order to avoid the evil necromancer's gaze...fiction and gamestate triggered by a move made by the Paladin; "Observe Memna's - his diety - Pieties") manifested as take -1 forward from horrific dreams (show signs of an approaching danger) that portended something vague and hazy but awful. We discussed what this might be (prior fiction and discussion had already asserted that the magical tapestry that both enabled magic and served as the barrier between dimensions) and I used that discussion to inform a major complication of a later Loresight move (a custom Move for a Wizard where she can look at a magical effect, spell, item and uncover relevant information about it similar to Discern Realities) + her Alignment statement (Unravel a magical mystery). That triggered further fiction and then a later conversation with the Archeology headmaster of her Academy/Library triggered the rest.

A lot of snowballing of things triggered by Ask Questions & Use Answers + outputs of action resolution + thematic PC stuff.

3) The story of the Necromancer (and the field-working Simalacram they encountered) is very similar to (2) above. Prior fiction and PC goal that needed some provocative framing + lot of snowballing of things triggered by Ask Questions & Use Answers + outputs of action resolution + thematic PC stuff (in this case for both PCs - the magical mystery * 2 for the Wizard & the evil secret for the Paladin.

On that one, I left the NPC entirely unfixed (in terms of what/who he was and what his motivations were). I situated him as a sufficiently creepy, well-groomed man with an aristocratic bent (entirely out of place for this muddy, frontier port town) who was drawing this little girl who was either a freakish savant at wood and straw craft (she was making toys for a crowd with a dizzying alacrity and deftness) or she was blessed-by-magic. When Alastor Detected Evil, that told me he wanted an antagonist; the snowballing began.

4) The aggressive framing of the scene at the ranch/farm was an outgrowth of prior fiction (why was the rancher/farmer father on a long journey with his two children?...very far from home...taking 3 laborers from their ranch/farm....that reeks of desperation) + a Bond from Alastor related to his deity and providence (detailed in the other thread) + the brand new Alignment statement by the Paladin (endanger yourself to protect someone in need) + my curiosity about how Alastor felt about lendor/debtor relationships (an outgrowth of (1) above where we sorted out how he felt about labor/employer relationships) + a complication on a Journey move.

All of the relevant stuff about the antagonist and the situation is in the other thread so I won't trouble myself with rewriting it here!
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Who chooses the opposition or antagonists? To begin with, the DM. As the campaign goes on the PCs (and thus players) might develop enemies not of the DM's making - sometimes including each other! - and-or will take on as enemies NPCs the DM expected would become allies*. But most of the time it's still the DM.

* - I-as-player am in process of slowly doing this to my DM: he's inserted a lich into the setting who's supposed to be, in general, an ally of all of us. Problem is that one of my PCs, a Cleric, is first and foremost an undead hunter - if it's undead it has to go, no ifs ands or buts about it - and has been since day one; and this lich is on his hit list. Complication: said lich in theory is or was a Cleric to the same deity I am, meaning that the next time I cast a Commune there's going to be a few rather pointed questions thrown up at the skies... :)
 

AnotherGuy

Adventurer
The second antagonist in this game is the lich Ny-Hor, first Pharaoh of the Tiefling empire. When the PC was reduced to 0 HP in an early session and made a 7-9 Last Breath role (indicating the presentation of an opportunity to bargain with Death at its Black Gates), I created the villain and placed a geas on the PC to destroy its phylactery so Death can reclaim the lich.
Does this geas work similar to the D&D geas? I'm asking because I wanted to see how much lee-way the PC has of delaying/ignoring/side-questing this issue.
 

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