Seven Types of AntagonistsMarch 26, 2011
This tool assumes you’re playing a game where a) there’s some form of political factions and b) play is strongly directed by the clash of PC and NPC motivations and goals. You should be using at least 2-3 of these at the same time, though I could easily see many games having 4-5…
As a GM, you can use this to initially create antagonists, but during play, they may change positions or even turn into allies, as things happen.
“You” & “Your” refers to it from the PCs point of view. “Bonus” are possible events to up the ante and bring more drama.
Helps your side, hurts you
This guy is totally on the side of your faction, but thinks you’re useless, or even, dangerous. They’ve got nothing good to say about you, attempt to shut down your ideas left and right. If they’re worse than that, they’re looking to get you demoted, exiled, or imprisoned. Worse than that? They’re lying and trying to frame you.
Maybe they believe something that’s just not true, maybe they saw you screw up once, or maybe they’re just assholes.
This character is great to have as simple opposition to any plan or request for assistance, and is totally on your ass if there’s any mistakes, failures, or worse yet… inconsistencies with the rules or expectations of the group.
Bonus: Show them to be totally useless, which makes it even more infuriating when they get in the PCs’ way. Or, show them to be totally necessary and useful, which makes it even harder to argue against them.
The Crazy Friend
Hurts your side, helps you
So, this character either takes the ideals of the group and pushes it too far, twisting them eventually into fanaticism, or else they don’t care about rules at all, and are willing to let anyone else burn to help you out or complete their goals.
The Crazy Friend starts off helpful, until the costs and collateral damage from their short sighted “solutions” starts piling up. How many folks do they leave in the lurch or how much do they go overboard, leaving wreckage behind?
Bonus: They help the PCs get promoted beyond their capability. They “get the job done” in a way that seems initially great, but has great costs- then they give the credit to the PCs. They ride their way up to authority and power on the coattails of the PCs. When it comes crumbling down, the PCs are blamed or at least implicated. If the PCs try to say anything, either they start lying and keep going further, or they snap and go off about how much the PCs “owe them”.
Your side, right or wrong
The Idealist believes in both the methods and the ideals of the faction. This makes them a pretty stand-up, honest sort. If you’re doing stuff they approve of, they’re right there with you and have your back.
But if you start breaking the rules, or twisting the morals of the group, they’re going to be there to stop you, too – either calling in greater authority, or, at worst, physically stopping you. They don’t do well with people who cut corners and go for expedience over the way things are supposed to be done.
Bonus: The Idealist has your back…until you disappoint them. Maybe The Hater or the Crazy Friend get you blamed for something you didn’t do and the Idealist sides with them. The Idealist suspects you’re working for another group…
Helps their side, helps you
The Tempter sees you’ve got potential – you should be working for them. They fully believe in their side, but they know it’d be a waste to just kill you. They’ll oppose you, but they’re not trying to kill you – they think you’re just misguided or haven’t seen how things work yet.
The spectrum of the Tempter depends on whether they’re trying to bring you over to benefit themselves (“Join the Dark Side!”) or whether they’re actually trying to help you out for you (“Look, you’re already escaping, at least take some food with you.”).
The Tempter is a fun character, especially if they keep showing up. They not only help the PCs and give some kind of nuance to the opposition, they also set up a voice for the ideals of the opposition- and can start bringing up those points that maybe the other side is right…
Bonus: The Tempter is family. The Tempter takes the blame for your mistake or crime. They help protect you against their own side. They help protect you against YOUR own side. Allies see them helping you, and start doubting your loyalty… They’re in love with you.
Hurts their side, helps you
The Turncoat is an antagonist only superficially – they’re actually an ally in disguise, or a potential ally. They are working against their side- perhaps they’ve seen the error of their ways, or maybe they’ve seen how far the faction has fallen from it’s ideals.
Either way, they’re helping you – to help you, or because you cause enough damage to their side that it helps them.
Bonus: They helped invent the superweapon/summon the demon that’s been kicking your butt. They helped kill your family years ago, they need your forgiveness. They want you to stop their friends/family from going too far, but they’ll oppose you if you hurt them too much.
The Antagonist’s Idealist
Their Side, right or wrong
Much like your Idealist, they’re all about their group and it’s methods. They’re dedicated, determined, and competent. And they’re after you. They’ll only give you a break if ordered to, or under exceptional circumstances meeting their ideals.
Bonus: They’ve been ordered to protect you as a prisoner. They hold back other members of their faction from going too far. They’re trying to defuse the situation and keep getting orders contrary. They’d rather die than accept your help.
Hurts their side, hurts you
The Sociopath mirrors The Crazy Friend- they start off efficient and calculating, but they go further and further in the pursuit of their goals caring less and less about the cost along the way.
Eventually, they destroy the faction they work for, and nearly everything else as well. They whip their people into a frenzy and drive their force with megalomaniacal intent – often demanding revenge for petty slights, real or imagined.
The Sociopath is not a particularly interesting NPC to start as opposition- they work much better when you’ve removed some antagonists and left a power vacuum (oops) or pushed one of the NPCs too far (also, oops). You thought you knew evil? Oh no, that was all reasonable compared to this.
Bonus: Unthinkable atrocity. One of the enemies comes asking, begging the PCs for help. The rules crumble and the other folks in the faction who were being held back also go all out. The demoralized become fanatics. Neutral parties ally with them rather than get steamrolled.