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5E NPC party competing with PCs

Coroc

Hero
I want to know if you folks ever ran a competition NPC party for the same goal(s) as the PCs have.
E.g. it I s a race for clues with optionally different paths to go or only the quicker party gets the goal.


Especially if you did that in 5e, how did you build that competition party?
Did you take NPC stats and skills or did u make something up out of the Monster manual?

If you played in such a campaign:
was it fun?
How did your PCs keep up themselves versus your NPC party?
Was there frustration if the NPCs resolved something first?
 

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commandercrud

Adventurer
I use rival NPC parties all the time. Typically, I'll offer two tasks to the players. PCs choose one, NPCs take the other. Then maybe roll to determine if they succeeded or if the task is still open to the PCs. Sometimes when the PCs get sidetracked, I'll have the NPCs complete their task. Once they even stole the credit and reward from the PCs when they didn't get back to town for a long time. Very rarely any direct fighting, so almost never bother to stat them out. Players seem to like it, makes the world feel more real.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
What you can use an NPC party for is pretty open ended. What you should use them for is to facilitate a certain set of fictional outcomes. In other words, have a very specific plan for why you have that party in the narrative and focus on that. If it's competing in a race to the mcguffin then their primary task is to serve as a clock, so if the PCs don't get to X by time Y then Z happens. When the other party is in the lead, they also serve as the source of a secondary set of clue, which is cool. WHy follow the clues when you can just track the other party. Used deftly, this can actually be used in a vaguely deus ex machina kind of way to jumpstart a stalled group of PCs. The nice thing about the pther party is that they have motivations and goals, and they are an easy tool to use to drive narrative.

It doesn't have to be that simple of course. One of the things I like about the competing party trope is that it gives you a chance to add some frenemies to the mix, and to add some social interaction to the game even in the depths of a dungeon or deep wilderness. That can lead to more interesting and nuanced decision making. For example, the PCs have been sparring back and forth with Party X for many sessions in their twin hunts for the Duke's Golden Underpants. Insults have been exchanged and sarcastic little waves given as someone disappears with the loot. Close to the final goal, the PCs find Party X in bloody melee with a Giant Monster. They're in a bad way, with one or more unconscious NPCs and all battered and bloody - they're losing. What do the PCs do? Do you help, do you wait it out, what kind of concessions might you be able to wring from them if you team up? Lots of cool nuance and narrative potential there. Also, done right, the team-up scene allows you to add in a beast that would normally be way to big for just the party by itself, which is also cool.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've done this before as well. Sometimes I stat them out, sometimes they come into conflict other times they don't. I also like to treat them like any other NPC - the PCs can influence their behavior which can sometimes lead to results I didn't expect.

Long story short, I've had the PCs have such an influence on an NPC from a rival party that was supposed to turn into a mid-to-end game BBEG turn into an ally. It was a twist I never expected, but one of the things that made it an interactive, living story not just my campaign.
 

delphonso

Explorer
I made a rival NPC party in a campaign before. In their first interaction, the rivals were trying to accomplish the same goal (hunt a monster for prestige) which became a wild attempt to kill steal each other and was a lot of fun. I would be hesitant with more murderhobo players, though who might just take the competition out.

Later, those rivals less directly competed for things like found clues which then weren't available to the PCs.

The best part was when the players took on the rival characters for a one-shot. Such a deathwish...
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Not only do I use rival NPCs, I use the same rival NPCs in every campaign as a running joke. In particular, I use the iconic characters from D&D 3e - Tordek, Mialee, Jozan, Lidda, and so on. They call themselves "The Iconics" and they are the worst sorts of jerks, the kind of people the players love to hate and foil. I use NPC statistics for them.
 

Coroc

Hero
Not only do I use rival NPCs, I use the same rival NPCs in every campaign as a running joke. In particular, I use the iconic characters from D&D 3e - Tordek, Mialee, Jozan, Lidda, and so on. They call themselves "The Iconics" and they are the worst sorts of jerks, the kind of people the players love to hate and foil. I use NPC statistics for them.
Funny, w/o knowing of the 3e iconic I named my returning nemesis Succubus in my Greyhawk campaign "Lida" :p
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
@Fenris-77 and @Oofta and @delphonso thank you for your replies, but I am still curious, did you use PC like stats or Mob like stats for the rival party?
Yes, I wrote them up as character classes when I wrote them up at all. The one thing you need to be careful of is resource management, if the NPCs can go nova every time they encounter the group they can be quite a bit more powerful. So if there's direct conflict (which I try to avoid) you need to be a bit careful. Generally I try to allowed escape routes for either side or have only a subset of the NPC opponents show up along with less-powerful allies.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
@Fenris-77 and @Oofta and @delphonso thank you for your replies, but I am still curious, did you use PC like stats or Mob like stats for the rival party?
I stat out NPCs to the extent they need to be statted out. For recurring NPCs with class levels that means a little more depth, but I'm still not writing them up like full characters. Stats and a couple of key skills, plus a usual spell list is often enough. I can improv anything else that comes up. I'll usually spend the most time on the leader, something PC parties often don't have but I find very useful in a NPC party, then a little less time on a couple of the more important members, and then just sketch the rest. It depends on how much spotlight time I think the NPCs will get.
 

uzirath

Adventurer
I've run many adventures with groups of NPC rivals. Like @Fenris-77, I stat them up as much as is needed. Typically, I start with just a quick description of their goals, personality, and resources. If I expect a face-to-face encounter, I'll add stats that seem likely to come up. Anything else, I'll wing during the encounter and add to my notes to keep things consistent in the future. If I've got time, and mostly for fun, I'll build them like a full PC, but that level of detail is rarely necessary. Unlike PC parties which are usually a group of equals, I'll typically run NPC groups with a more powerful leader and some lesser minions. The minions might be quite competent and have names and whatnot, but they are less powerful and multifaceted. This helps manage the power level and gives the PCs a single personality to be the focus of their attention.

A great worked example of using rivals effectively is in Mirror of the Fire Demon by Matt Riggsby. It's an adventure written for GURPS DF rather than 5e, but it includes about a dozen potential rivals for the PCs and a variety of minions. One neat element here was that each rival could be played as either a clever or a tough rival. Clever rivals are more open to negotiation but may not be honest about their goals. The tough rivals are more up-front, but also more likely to get into direct conflict with the PCs. The adventure plays differently every time based on which rivals rise to the top and how you play them.
 

delphonso

Explorer
For this rival team, I stated proper full characters (at slightly worse than player stats).

If I were to do it again, I'd try using NPC stats (agent, hunter, etc) as far as that was useful. That's tough past level 4 or so, though.
 

I've used them as rivals to urge the players to stay focused on certain paths. If they dawdled, then the other group might beat them to it. If they ever do the "5 minute work day," they might find the rival group finished the adventure, taking the reward and the credit.
 

aco175

Hero
I do this often, but use monster statblocks. I also give them a cool power rather than several class powers. A 7th level fighter-type may have a second wind or crit on 19-20 power plus a 'attack each opponent in 5ft', or 'shoot each enemy in 15ft cone' power, like 4e encounter powers.

I tend to make the NPC party some sort of frenemy where they may show up to assist the PCs in a fight or need to be assisted as well. I had one party keep trying to take credit for the PC's actions and had shopkeepers telling the PCs about how the other group did such and such when the PCs did it. Made the players very frustrated when they finally caught up with them.
 

Legatus_Legionis

< BLAH HA Ha ha >
Unless the story specifically calls for such, very rarely do I use a rival NPC group.

The one exception is when the players are more interested in doing everything EXCEPT the story.

I begin with the group (or an individual) whom notices their group is being followed or that within a tavern/town, one of the rumours they hear/learn about is that their was others asking the same QUEST related questions.

If they still dilly-dally, I will have the group discover an "encounter" was already taken care of - dead bodies left there or a dungeon/room has already been ram-sacked and any loot gone, USUALLY it is the loss of LOOT that finally gets the group moving.

If they still procrastinate, relatives of the "encounter" look to take revenge on the adventurers who killed their kin. And since they only discover the PC's group, it is the PCs that they will take their revenge on.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I want to know if you folks ever ran a competition NPC party for the same goal(s) as the PCs have.
E.g. it I s a race for clues with optionally different paths to go or only the quicker party gets the goal.


Especially if you did that in 5e, how did you build that competition party?
Did you take NPC stats and skills or did u make something up out of the Monster manual?

If you played in such a campaign:
was it fun?
How did your PCs keep up themselves versus your NPC party?
Was there frustration if the NPCs resolved something first?
I've done this as a DM in 5e, actually two different times...

The first time, the PCs were 5th level in my homebrewed Tomb of Annihilation campaign, were sick of dealing with zombies that kept coming back (i.e. Undead Fortitude), and were following a lead on a mythical magic gem that supposedly had the power to weaken zombies throughout the land. Atop a waterfall, they found a NPC party aligned with druids outside the entrance to the ancient temple said to hold the gem. This NPC party included a druid (and his "familiar" vegepygmy), 4 scouts, and a gladiator (stats from the MM).

The initial meeting was tense for two reasons. First, the gladiator was the brother-in-law of one of the PCs and they had bad blood. Second, the PCs found two scouts from this NPC party who died of ingested poison in the jungle, so they were a bit suspicious; the druid agreed to a zone of truth casting, but the results were inconclusive. With the tensions resolved for the moment, the druid NPC proposed they work together to access the temple and its inner shrine. Neither side fully trusted the other, but players agreed.

The PCs entered the temple with 2 scouts and the gladiator, while the druid and 2 scouts held back along with two companion NPCs who'd been traveling with the players. Within the temple was a puzzle-trap, which if performed incorrectly triggered an eidolon – this was insanely deadly for their level, and I foreshadowed that fact strongly, so players were on edge. Once PCs triggered the eidolon, the gladiator wrests the gem from the paladin PC and runs for the exit. As the eidolon slaughters the two scouts and knocks out (almost killing) one of the PCs, the paladin PC and the gladiator NPC have a running battle, the rest of the party is running for the stone door entrance which is slowly closing.

Everyone finally gets clear, the paladin PC topples through swinging and clutching the gladiator NPC by the throat while wresting the gem away, and it looks like there's going to be a throw down. However, the druid NPC intervenes and begs them to consider a peaceful solution – proposing he and the PC druid would listen to everyone's positions on what to do with the magic gem and together make a "druid's judgment." Begrudgingly, the gladiator NPC and the paladin PC agree.

I think players had a good experience. Several agreed it felt very "Indiana Jones."

The second time, the PCs were 10th level (same campaign) and exploring the ruined Forbidden City, trying to gather puzzle cubes from various shrines which they needed in order to open a door to a tomb. There was a group of Red Wizards who were also working to acquire these puzzle cubes. For the Red Wizard's stats I used slightly modified VGtM spellcasters (e.g. abjurer, diviner, evoker, and a mage "apprentice"); they were supported by a group of thugs and a veteran captain. The PCs had an initial run-in with one of the Red Wizards (the evoker) and a few thugs while leaving one of the shrines with a puzzle cube, and the PCs curb stomped that guy. However there was a twist... The Red Wizards were in contact with one another telepathically and had contingencies which alerted the diviner should any die. The diviner immediately responded by teleporting a delayed blast fireball to the dead evoker's position while the PCs were about to loot the body. That set the tone for the ongoing rivalry with a bang.

Their next encounters with the Red Wizards were by proxy via evidence of Red Wizards torturing vegepygmies for information & cunning "spell traps" the Red Wizards set up on various shrines (some previously explored/looted, others they couldn't solve) just to thwart the PCs. This was quite frustrating for them and definitely raised the players' ire toward the Red Wizards. Some highlights...
  • Wizards replaced a cube with a magnetic decoy which had a false puzzle unleashing a forcecage, also trapping ghasts inside the shrine, and setting up two glyph of wardings to trigger when creatures entered the shrine, casting arcane lock on door & magic mouth to taunt them and offer an end to the "spell traps" if the PCs came to the Red Wizard camp to parlay.
  • Wizards cast mass suggestion on a bunch of grungs who claimed a shrine – to slaughter anyone attempting to access a shrine's inner sanctum (since "clearly" that meant they were greedy and out to deprive the grung of their rightful treasure). This could have been very dangerous, but PCs saw something was amiss and wisely cast detect magic, realizing the grungs were enchanted. Careful roleplay got the grung chief to open the inner sanctum himself, thereby circumventing the mass suggestion. One of the treasures of the grung ("tribute from the Red Wizards") had an engraving taunting PCs to come meet them at their camp to make restitution for killing one of the Wizards or the "spell traps" would continue.
  • Wizards set up a symbol of insanity in a shrine that was guarded by su monsters and traps, trapping a PC who nearly got killed by mind blasting and various traps, but PCs managed to tough it out. A little card offered the PCs tea at the Red Wizards' camp to discuss an alliance.
Finally, the PCs did strike a tenuous alliance with the Red Wizards, finishing the last shrine with their support and then going to the tomb's entrance. Both sides expected betrayal, it was just a question of when. During a massive 4-way battle at the tomb's entrance, the Red Wizard leader - the diviner - told PCs to run toward the tomb entrance (which she realized was the false trapped entrance) and she'd cover them. So far, the Red Wizards were fighting on the PCs side. Two PCs enter the outdoor/indoor rock-cut hallway with the trapped entrance, triggering the trap and poison gas spews into hallway, then Red Wizards launch a delayed blast fireball inside the hallway and cover entrance with a wall of force, trapping the two PCs inside! It looks really bad for the PCs!

However, they manage to escape by deliberately triggering the delayed blast fireball prematurely, and casting mold earth to dig under the wall and escape the poison gas, but they're badly hurt. During the battle, the PCs kill all the thugs and two more Red Wizards until their diviner leader (along with veteran captain) teleports away. They seriously contemplated tracking her down out of sheer spite, but kept their eye on the prize and entered the tomb.

I wouldn't say the players had a "good experience", but they definitely had a newfound hatred for the Red Wizards after all the spiteful "spell traps" and patronizing messages culminating in a crafty betrayal. Maybe it would be fair to say they "loved to hate" the Red Wizards.
 
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Once when the players were sitting around going on side quests as their wizard made magic items. I felt they were losing sight of their mission, so I had their contact meet them and introduce them to a new set of heroes who were willing to finish the job. This got the players off their butts pretty quick.
 

Draegn

Explorer
Not so much as a rival but rather as a group of "heroes" doing the side quests that the players do not. The players choose to investigate sightings of orcs while ignoring farmer Brown's plight with bandits. The bandits are then handled by the other group through narrative. This creates a "news" report that moves the world and makes it seem more alive. Also a pool of hirelings in created that the players can draw upon.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
You should go to great lengths as a DM to avoid "playing with yourself" -- having a combat where you play both sides. Because it is boring for the players.

One thing I'm playing with, NPC rivals-wise, is having a plot where PCs can pick which of many things to go after. And have rivals that will go after the alternatives.

This (a) provides background time pressure (if you rest a night, the rivals might get their objective first, and start on a 2nd objective), (b) provides a way to "fail forward".

PCs are expected to succeed at the objective they aim at (as the story of a bunch of adventurers who go off and fail and never amount to anything isn't what I want to tell), but they can fail in that they pick the wrong objective or they don't do their objectives fast enough and the rivals get ahead of them.

If there are many objectives and many rivals, this can even result in the PCs defeating a rival on their chosen objective (either by outpacing them, or in combat, or otherwise). This helps highlight the "this is a race, adventure faster" part of it.

Another neat part is if there are many such objectives, doing them slowly is suitable at low levels, while blasting through one might be a good higher level encounter; defeating an encampment by taking out scouts and recruiting rival forces then splitting their forces and defeating them in detail could be a T1 strategy that might take multiple adventuring days, while teleport in and blast everything, grabbing the quest item, and teleporting out might be a single T3 encounter.
 

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