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D&D General One of my favorite challenges is party vs party!

Slit518

Adventurer
One of my favorite ways to challenge my players is an NPC party vs their party.

This tends to work no matter what level the party is, because as the DM, you decide when and how to implement the NPC party, and attempt to match the players' power.

You make the characters around the same level, you have the party size be around the same, stat distribution just like how you had your players do it, and equipment optimal for the level, with optional magic items or two.

This tends to pose a good challenge for the players, and they feel really rewarded when they win.

In this, expect at least a player or two to go down, not necessarily die, but go down.

The first time I did it I had a Ranger, Fighter, Barbarian, Sorcerer, and Cleric face off against the players' Bard, Thief, Sorcerer, Cleric, Monk, Barbarian (the two Barbarians had a test or Strength).

The second time I did it I had an Assassin, Necromancer, Oathbreaker Paladin, and Death Cleric face off against the players' Bard, Warlock, Barbarian, Barbarian.

The first game was 2e, the second one was 5e. There are probably other instances of party vs party that I remember, but these ones stuck out the most. That, and I don't want to over use that plot point.
 

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payn

Legend
Agreed, this is always a good tool in the GM kit. Often, I dont put the parties in direct conflict. Sometimes the competitive party takes on jobs the PCs refused. Other times, the parties are in competition for the same job. A race to discover lost treasures and rescue folks in distress. The PCs having rivals, as opposed ot straight enemies, is an often overlooked element of fun at the table.
 

Stalker0

Legend
4e had the philosophy that "it takes a party to beat a party"..... and I completely agree.

There is a reason parties are so strong, a good number of actions combined with coverage on multiple fronts provides flexibility and power all in one package. Having the enemy do it just makes sense.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I enjoy those adventuring-party-v-adventuring-party encounters but man are they a beeyotch to run!

I think all three of the longest (in real time) combats I've ever run were of this type; the longest taking slightly less than three full sessions to play out.
 

aco175

Legend
I do this once in a while, but the best is to have the exact same PCs go after the party. I'll just have the players play a shadow clone of their PC to attack the others. Maybe some of their magic will not clone over, but the players tend to like attacking the other PCs with their clone bad guy. Although, the tactics of the players playing the bad guys is not quite the same as when they play the good guy tactics. This is offset a bit by the fact they burn all their powers in the one fight without holding anything.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
If you like this style, I strongly urge you look up "Deep Carbon Observatory", which is an astounding adventure* featuring a cunning group of rivals.

(adventure in the old style of the world, not these modern "adventures" that are really campaigns)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
In every campaign, I have a rival party of adventurers called the Iconics who are the same characters from D&D 3e - Tordek, Mialee, Jozan, Lidda, and so on. They're always the worst sorts of jerks that the players love to defeat.

In my current campaign, the Iconics have co-opted the local adventuring guild, The Guild of Transient Heroes, and are using it to rob everything that isn't bolted down. After some friction with them, the PCs have finally decided to take them out, but this poses a massive problem: Based on the way training works in this campaign, killing Tordek, Mialee, and Jozan means that the fighter, wizard, and cleric PCs can no longer level up since the Iconics are their trainers! (There are no rogue PCs so taking out Lidda's no big deal currently.) So essentially they'll have to retire their fighter, wizards, and clerics after they take down the Iconics and bring in their back up characters. But given they are moving forward with these plans, I gather they hate them enough where they see this is worth it!
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I really like having an opposite adventuring party as rivals and potentially as adversaries as part of the story, sometimes with a fight at the end, sometimes with the PCs rescuing the other team, etc., but I don't like creating PC-style NPCs and pitting them against players. That smacks way too much of DM vs. Players as a style, which is a way of playing the game that I really don't like. Moreover, 5e, unless you play it with very well defined house rules and on a grid (the second it an option only for 5e and one that we never use, and the first one is not the way the system has been built), the fuzziness of the 5e rules and the need for constant adjudication from the DM does not make it what I would consider a fair challenge. But then, even when I created an opposite party for the players in 4e (which is much more suitable for this than 5e because of the precise rules), I did not use PC-build NPCs, the views at our table is that the DM is there to play with the players, not against them.
 

payn

Legend
I do this once in a while, but the best is to have the exact same PCs go after the party. I'll just have the players play a shadow clone of their PC to attack the others. Maybe some of their magic will not clone over, but the players tend to like attacking the other PCs with their clone bad guy. Although, the tactics of the players playing the bad guys is not quite the same as when they play the good guy tactics. This is offset a bit by the fact they burn all their powers in the one fight without holding anything.
Do the clone PCs have goatees?
 

I remember some tryout with PvP in DnD.
in 4ed it was a kill right in this first round, usually the healer.
My memories are almost one way fight. Even if both well prepared, one team make some slight errors, and bang, like in baseball playoff 14-3!
No dramatic turn over, no smart move, one mistake or wrong preparation and then steamrolling.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I remember some tryout with PvP in DnD.
in 4ed it was a kill right in this first round, usually the healer.
My memories are almost one way fight. Even if both well prepared, one team make some slight errors, and bang, like in baseball playoff 14-3!
No dramatic turn over, no smart move, one mistake or wrong preparation and then steamrolling.
This is a very good point, even with good preparation and a stable game like 4e, it's a very swingy game, based not only on luck (a d20 is very swingy), but also really chaotic in the sense that it depends a lot on initial conditions (terrains, synergies, initiative, etc.).

Moreover, the action economy makes it obvious that as soon as a character goes down on one side, that side it more or less doomed extremely quickly. It's a phenomenon that we saw extremely well in our LARPs (we ran scores of very big LARPs with hundreds of players in teams of about 6 which were more or less equal in size and power, combat was not necessarily at the centre of it, but we also had teams of monsters roaming the woods with organisers in there, very well placed to see hundreds of fights). Some players complained that their adversaries seemed to win very easily, taking few wounds, while they were steamrollered. But from actually observing hundreds of fights, the action economy was absolutely critical, almost as soon as it's N+1 vs. N, it becomes 2 vs 1 and N-1 vs. N-1, the 2 vs.1 is almost instantly deadly and one team hits the ground before the other one can do much. The only mitigating factor in our games was magic, since a caster (or powerful knight/rogue with powers) could take 2 or maybe 3 adversaries and re-establish balance, but magic had limited uses during the game and skill in the end counted a bit, but it had to be when it was mostly on one side and little on the other.

So unless the DM intervenes at some level, I'm not sure that these fights can be really interesting, probably over very quickly if played cleverly.

And another thing which detracts me from them, the metagaming. How does the DM not metagame as he has all the stats of the PCs, and from the PC sides where they don't have it, they certainly can metagame from what they know about the adversaries. This is why I like my NPCs not to be built along PC lines, so that they can have the right abilities considering their role, but everyone is in the dark and in any case the DM is not playing against the players...
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
In my current Ghosts of Saltmarsh+ campaign the PCs are about to return to their homebase town (Saltmarsh) and find a rival party being feted by the locals at the party's favorite inn for successfully completing the mission the PCs passed on to go help an old friend. Not sure how the PCs will react to these new competitors/rivals who are not "bad guys" (in fact, I plan to make them exactly as morally questionable as the PCs to cast a mirror on them).
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In my current Ghosts of Saltmarsh+ campaign the PCs are about to return to their homebase town (Saltmarsh) and find a rival party being feted by the locals at the party's favorite inn for successfully completing the mission the PCs passed on to go help an old friend. Not sure how the PCs will react to these new competitors/rivals who not "bad guys" (in fact, I plan to make them exactly as morally questionable as the PCs to cast a mirror on them).
I'm curious to hear how that turns out. :)

A few times, when I've run party-vs-party scenarios (e.g. there's a big ol' ruin with multiple parties exploring it, each unaware of the presence of any others until they happen to meet) what starts as a combat ends with some participants finding common ground and - after a few bad apples get weeded out - the parties combining or merging.

Yes this can mean I'm suddenly stuck running a bunch of adventuring NPCs in a now-much-bigger party, but if the personalities involved indicate that's what could happen I'll go with it if it does.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
In the last 3E campaign I ran in my old homebrew, one adventure led to the PCs competing against a rival party in the private arena of a high level priest of the god of luck. This was a lot of fun and the addition of competition rules made it very challenging. Fighting was not totally forbidden, but scored less points and there were penalties for using certain kind of magics that were deadlier than others (there was a list) and they all had to sign geas release forms before competing. The reward, of course, was the macguffin that would drive the campaign forward. The winning condition involved moving two out of three objects in the center of the arena into your home area of the field. One was a boulder, and one was a chest that turned out to be a mimic (and had to be convinced to come along - though violence was a less efficient method) and I am forgetting what the third object was.
 

Slit518

Adventurer
The winning condition involved moving two out of three objects in the center of the arena into your home area of the field. One was a boulder, and one was a chest that turned out to be a mimic (and had to be convinced to come along - though violence was a less efficient method) and I am forgetting what the third object was.
Your opponent?
 

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