There is something visceral about a conflict with a bad-guy who is actually irredeemably committed to a path of darkness. But it isn’t the only source of conflict a GM can use to produce compelling “villains” for their games. The interjection of Non-Evil antagonists to a story-line can build a tremendous sense of verisimilitude with a broader spectrum of motives present in the “reality” of your game worlds.
Campaign Development: Non-Evil Antagonists
Player characters can face opposition from a lot of places, but those that can’t just be solved with the point of a blade often persist as some of those the players remember most vividly. Here are a few ideas:
- Lawful Good isn’t always Lawful-Nice: Lawful characters provide compelling antagonists for so many reasons. Be it personal Honor, impersonal Laws or necessary Control, the lawful spectrum can set itself against a party of adventurers fair quickly. Misunderstandings in a “guilty until proven innocent” society can result in prison breakouts, alley stand-offs and political intrigues. Forcing the the party into the cross-hairs of the law can be enough “bad guy” for a whole campaign.
- Societal Imbalances: Refugees displaced by the “Dark Lord’s” undead campaign might make a great hook to bring the characters into conflict with said bad guy, but it also presents an early game where refugees flooding the characters home might be victimized by locals for profit, bring there problems with them or even simply overtaxing civil services causing surges in giant rats populations (or worse creatures) with excess wastes the city can’t handle.
- Religious Imbalances: Gods with similar portfolios frequently have tensions that bubble with passive hostility, driven competition and even violence at times. Innocuous seeming deities like those of the Hearth or Community could raise up games to prove the best champions or seek political influence to choke one another out of civic power. Characters could find themselves mired in any number of ways with one or BOTH churches.
- Natural Imbalances: Successful expansion of communities, cities and nations is not without consequences to nature. Fortunately (or not so for the PCs) fantasy RPGs often have natural protectors–druids, elementals, fey–that do not take such expansion “sitting down.” Angered druids can be of nearly any ethical stripe and may resort to means as varied as curses of infertility to plagues of locusts… or just plagues. The primal nature of this antagonist group makes for some awesome energy when brought into the scene.
- Family Issues: Tons of great conflicts can arise in parties where family members are pitted against each other. As simple as a father forbidding a daughter to become and adventurer (and his PC daughter doing it anyway) to issues of succession where the worthy king isn’t first in-line for the throne. Families have real reference to draw on and maintain a lot of emotional resonance regardless of setting.
- Rivals: One of the best conflict groups for a party is another party. Often times the same goals with rival backing makes for some of the most interesting interactions imaginable. The parties can be on friendly terms off the field but when “on assignments” harsh rivals or the conflict can be always on causing a game of constant one-up-manship on the battlefield or off it.
Parting Shots: Non-Evil Antagonists
- Use With Caution: Non-Evil “villains” are a great variance just be careful not to over-utilize them particularly if you have PCs with class features (Paladins, clerics with good magic) that may come to feel you are deliberately blocking their effectiveness.
- Tipping the Edge: Good villains will feel evil at times to the PCs, even when they aren’t and the you may find you are tempted to cross the line and have the antagonist do something reprehensible. While playing out the fall of someone who was not initially evil can be compelling, exercise it too often and you end up with bad guys who are stereotypical or flat and give the impression that bad is always evil no matter what.
Thoughtful execution of Non-Antagonists can bring your games to a whole new level of complexity and fun, don’t be afraid of bad guys on the up and up!
If you want a few mythic options for your not-so bad guys check out Mythic Paths of the Lost Spheres!