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

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Yes, I have. I consider the way I write and the way I think to be a flaw (not a character flaw...but an operational flaw). I've tried to repair it many times, but I can't make the repair stick. I've also had this conversation on here with other people who do exactly what you did above. I didn't take offense for challenging my integrity or self-awareness and not also not being kind/considerate enough to PM me directly about it then! And I won't do so with you now! And I'm sure I'll have to do this again with another poster down the road!
Honestly, I just you wish could use some more sesquipedalian words. We have an elitist reputation to maintain here, after all. :)
 

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Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
In my current D&D 5E game, I think I (as DM) have introduced most (if not all) of the antagonism. I make a reaction roll whenever I introduce an encounter with a monster/NPC with an Intelligence higher than 1, and a result of hostile on the roll indicates the creature is antagonistic to the PCs’ goals. An example of this was a powerful tribal chief who wouldn't allow a PC to pass by his village to rejoin the party after he had been out foraging. The PC was looking for information about his missing wife, and the result of a failed Charisma check was that the PC learned some unwelcome truths from the chief about why his wife left him. (edit: Now that I think of it, the unwelcome truths themselves were something that the player had authored into his character's backstory.)

Non-intelligent (INT 1) creatures just act however they're supposed to, which is usually to attack on sight. I've introduced a few encounters like this. The tables I use to generate encounters (from the 1E DMG) seem skewed towards non-intelligent creatures.

Another form of antagonism is when the players decide to attack a creature, I will have it become antagonistic to that effort. This came into play when the players had their PCs take it upon themselves to rid the bog of giant toads. I still see this as me introducing the antagonists because I told the players there were giant toads out in the bog eating people.

One source of antagonism has been some weather I introduced. I established early in the campaign that it was winter, which I had determined randomly. One morning when the PCs were journeying home from the bog, it was extremely cold and windy, and the wind-chill threatened to force the PCs into a state of exhaustion, which they overcame through perseverance.

The only time so far in this campaign that I think is slightly close to the players introducing their own source of antagonism is when they decided to go to the city council to establish a patronage relationship after having been successful at killing some toads out in the bog. The council was something I had mentioned when describing the city, including that it was led by a reeve, so they were elements of the fiction I had introduced, but not to provide opposition -- merely to give the city some depth. I decided to treat their visit as a social encounter, however, and upon their audience with the reeve in the council chamber, I rolled a hostile reaction, making the attempt to secure the council's patronage quite difficult. When the party druid's Charisma check failed to convince the council that the party's services were needed, the reeve proposed that instead of supporting the PCs in continuing to rid the bog of monsters that they instead be sent into a dungeon below the city where they could find treasure with which to support themselves. Strangely, the players had their PCs agree to this.
 
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I generally design the major NPCs and their plots, many of which are villainous, while the players often decide which NPCs are worth opposing.
 

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?
Can you give an example of a game where this authoring of antagonism is expected to be mostly (if not entirely) on the players, but that still has a GM? Most of the games I'm aware of are either "GM authors everything", or a balance between GM and players. Nothing is coming to mind for me as for what a pure "players author everything" game would look like outside of GMless games, so I want to see what that would look like, as a contrast to the more common "GM authors everything".
 

Imaro

Legend
In my game players are free to author antagonists as part of their backstory or goals before the campaign begins, but once play starts I as GM, barring extraordinary circumstances, will author the antagonists... though the players are free to choose antagonists from the fictional elements within the game by the choices they make.
 

pemerton

Legend
@Hriston, thanks for that detailed post - the example of the city council and the interplay between GM backstory, player's foregrounding it, and then the random roll, is an interesting one.

I think things that look broadly like that are very common in RPGing, and managing the "balance of power"/"ownership" issues that it gives rise to is a real GM skill that I don't think I often see discussed. An overly-possessive GM in those contexts can really shut down play and give it a railroad-y feel. I think the random roll is one way to help break out of that over-possessiveness but no doubt not the only way.
 

pemerton

Legend
Can you give an example of a game where this authoring of antagonism is expected to be mostly (if not entirely) on the players, but that still has a GM? Most of the games I'm aware of are either "GM authors everything", or a balance between GM and players. Nothing is coming to mind for me as for what a pure "players author everything" game would look like outside of GMless games, so I want to see what that would look like, as a contrast to the more common "GM authors everything".
I don't know of a game that is pure player authorship of antagonism and that has a GM. Burning Wheel leans towards the players establishing, through backstory or subsequent action declaration, the basic identity and fictional context of their antagonists, but it is on the GM to manage the introduction of that antagonism into any particular fictional situation.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Perhaps as much as you considered your audience when you decided to (a) put this confrontational element that is pretty much a thinly veiled attack on either my integrity or my self-awareness

Dude, a leading question that you might want to consider if you want to phrase things to be more accessible to a broader audience is not "an attack". It is advice. Which you are free to take, or not.

And, having seen that reaction, I guess I have to remind you that accusing folks who ask questions you don't like of "attacking" is not an acceptable rhetorical technique. Slow that roll, please.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Dude, a leading question that you might want to consider if you want to phrase things to be more accessible to a broader audience is not "an attack". It is advice. Which you are free to take, or not.
Nah, it was snippy and unhelpful. Socratic questioning that aims to correct behavior is going to be, at best, close to an attack, because it directly invites comparison to poor behavior. If your intent is to suggest that @Manbearcat could use less dense verbiage, there are plenty of less confrontation ways to do this rather than asking leading questions. I mean, leading questions are generally frowned upon unless you're teaching, and the very fact that it appears that you're trying to "teach" here is insulting.
And, having seen that reaction, I guess I have to remind you that accusing folks who ask questions you don't like of "attacking" is not an acceptable rhetorical technique. Slow that roll, please.
Sorry, but did you just, in large words, turn what @Manbearcat said into an attack because he said something you didn't like? And paired it with a semi-mod warning?
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
@Hriston, thanks for that detailed post - the example of the city council and the interplay between GM backstory, player's foregrounding it, and then the random roll, is an interesting one.

I think things that look broadly like that are very common in RPGing, and managing the "balance of power"/"ownership" issues that it gives rise to is a real GM skill that I don't think I often see discussed. An overly-possessive GM in those contexts can really shut down play and give it a railroad-y feel. I think the random roll is one way to help break out of that over-possessiveness but no doubt not the only way.
I'd say it was the most pivotal encounter of the campaign so far. It came at the end of the game's first "adventuring day" which, because we're using a rest variant, was about three in-game days of actual adventuring. I think it was an attempt by (some of) the players who may have been more comfortable or familiar with a patron-given quest type scenario to parlay the party's successes out in the bog into such a relationship for the party. Their ask was basically for material support for their self-appointed mission, and I wanted them to have a chance of succeeding with this. I think when the reeve wasn't particularly receptive to entering in to this type of relationship and made her counter-proposal to the council, there was a little bit of a turtling effect as if the players felt they had made the "wrong" move by going to the council in the first place, and they didn't press their case resulting in the reeve's proposal being carried. Not wanting to railroad the players, I had made counteroffer contingent upon the party's acceptance because it would have them abandoning, at least temporarily, their goal of ridding the bog of monsters. They accepted, however, which, in hindsight, I think they may have felt some metagame pressure to do because they were still seeing the reeve as an NPC quest giver even though I had no desire to exert that kind of pressure on the game myself.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You forgot to Dissassociate this from the Force Deprotagonization Proviso.

This is Elitist Nerd Talk 101.

YOU LOSE. GOOD DAY SIR.
Wait a minute. There is no such thing as WIN-LOSE in RPGs, right?

Which means, the correct result is YOU FAIL. But - given the premise of fail-forward and the simulationist bent I'm tossing on to this gamist narrative - this is not the end.

Congratulations. You have just been enrolled in Elitist Nerd Talk 099.

Classes begin on Monday.
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
Sometimes it's me, but most of the time it's the players-- I fill a world with people trying to do stuff and, well, the antagonists are the ones the PCs decide to screw with. But, sometimes, int he process of doing stuff, the NPCs designate themselves the antagonists.
 


darkbard

Hero
I'll also tag @Manbearcat here.

What Manbearcat has described reads to me like orthodox PbtA or even BW-style work: the player has established a drive for his/her PC which is stated in somewhat abstract terms but has a lot of thematic "hook" written into it; the GM introduces NPCs and attendant situations which are loosely sketched at the start but are not obviously irrelevant to the player-authored "hook"; the player makes moves that relate to the "hook" in some way or other (eg use detect evil to force the GM to try and force the GM to make a more precise call about the relationship of the GM-introduced element to the "hook"); the GM uses the mechanically-structured and guided consequence narration to fill in those details, some of which involves bouncing off the players via questions and discussion.

Is that fair?

It's certainly an approach that I've used in BW, including the oft-retold story of the PC at the market acquiring a cursed angel feather.

I've been rather busy of late but don't want to leave this unattended, however brief my response.

Yes, you have identified the thrust of it. The player signals thematic interest, the GM presents loose possibilities for exploration, and the outcome of action declaration, question-and-answer process, and thematic flagging by all parties collaborate to move undefined characters into antagonist roles.
 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
So when you say its the players, do you mean they choose from possibilities that you present to them?

It's a matter of perspective. When it comes down to it, if they don't bite down on any of the options on the table, I will keep throwing options on the table until I find one they like. But hey... if it really comes down to it, and I've got a player or two or all of them saying they want to do something about this kind of threat that I hadn't really established as being a threat... well, it is now. Or it can be, at least.

The best part of Dungeons & Dragons is all the little surprises that unfold over the course of a long campaign. As the player putting in the most work, I wouldn't want to deny myself my own share in that experience.
 

MGibster

Legend
I find that sometimes my players turn a minor antagonist into something major. In my last campaign, I created a Dragonborn enemy for Baldur's Gate with delusions of grandeur expecting the PCs to defeat him the first or second time they encountered him. For whatever reason, they didn't fight him. And as his power base grew off the coast of Daggerford (he was living under the sea enslaving mer-people) they ignored him until I ended up making him the big bad evil guy for the campaign.
 


MGibster

Legend
Was this something that was taking place in play, or is this something that you as GM imagined happening "off screen"?
It took place in play. I'm the type of DM who knows exactly what the NPCs are going to do without interference from the PCs. Skorra (named after a shark from a Kids in the Hall sketch) was a lord from Waterdeep who got his hands on an artifact that could control a Kracken. His plan was to conquer the mer-people, enslave them, and use their home as his base of operations to wreak havoc on all sea trade along the Sword Coast with the goal of forcing all ships to pay him tribute to avoid being dragged to the briny depths.

Now this was an Acquisition Inc., game and the PCs were hired by a Beholder, Mr. Thrakozog, to go under the sea to recover the Cheese Wheel of Destiny, an 800 pound wheel of cheddar cheese that was to be presented by Xanathar in Waterdeep to the Drow to seal a deal. (Mr. Thrakozog disguised himself as a human by wearing a hat and a trench coat. Everyone except for the party's Monk saw through the disguise but said nothing because, you know, Beholder.) It was while on this recovery mission that the PCs discovered Skorra was able to control a Kracken and was enslaving the local mer-people population. When they encountered Skorra, while he was chasing down an escaped mermaid no less, they spoke with him and he was rather amiable. Despite the mermaid being visibly terrified of going back with him the PCs figured, "Eh, we were hired to take care of this" and let him go. They recovered the Cheese Wheel of Destiny and Mr. Thrakozog was a happy client.

Anyway, Skorra was a topic of interest in Daggerford for quiet a while. Some of the Lords of Waterdeep and the leadership from Baldur's Gate met in Daggerford to try to figure out what they might do about Skorra but they couldn't quite figure things out. The PCs were at that meeting but didn't make any suggestions themselves. Every once in a while I'd mention Skorra having sunk a ship and finally the merchants capitulated and started paying his tribute. I even had Skorra hire the PCs to recover an Apparatus of Kwalish which they did.

So I decided to make Skorra, who I honestly thought they'd defeat the first time they met, into the big bad evil villain. He ended up trying to summon an outer god and when PCs got wind of that plan they decided to do something about it.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I would say the GM just plays the NPCs/monsters as he has defined them in the setting. Then they become the PCs enemies because the PCs interact with them in some way. The decision to become an enemy though could go either way. The PCs could thwart some plan of an NPC and become that NPC's enemy. The NPC could do something the PCs oppose and become their enemy.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
In your RPGing, who does all this (come up with the antagonists)? And how is it done?

As I discussed in the thread on notes, I’m running a sandbox game. The world is set up as a status quo. The antagonists result from the decisions the PCs make. If they go attack the ghouls, and Lady Ghast retaliates against them, that’s a consequence of their actions. This can get fuzzy when those consequences come from activities over time rather than a specific action (e.g., they build up their base, it annoys one of the factions in nearby Orctown, and conflict ensues), but I think it’s still generally in that same style (just less overt).

I wouldn’t say the players are the ones who make that determination. The NPCs and factions are things I established in the setting, so the authorial voice is mine. Given the conceit of my campaign (expedition sent out to explore an unknown land), there’s not a lot of space for characters to bring in aspects of their past lives. However, if someone in my group really wanted that as part of his concept, we could talk about it. I’d ask questions and probe them for details, but I think the conflict that ensued would still ultimately be based on things I devised.
 
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