All About Enemies
Breaking Down the 20
I just added a number of new players to both my D&D games, and was reminded that it’s high time to finish this series. Every D&D character that joins my game needs to answer twenty questions about their background and who they are. Answering the questions isn’t hard, but there are ways to answer them that encourage stories rather than shut things down. So I asked, they answered, and here we go. There are only eight questions left, and they break down into nifty sections.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from comic books, it’s that heroes are defined by their enemies. Batman has the Joker, Superman has Lex Luthor, and the Aquaman has his reputation and orange shirt. So today, villains. Or enemies, at least (after all, villainous characters would have heroes).
12. Who is one person that’s hostile toward you?
The key to this question is that, much like the questions about friends, “Steve Jones, Ranger” is an answer, but it’s not a story. This is a chance to fill in the essential parts of their story that don’t relate to the PC. Maybe they come from a broken home, maybe they’re savage and terrible or misguided heroes. or not villains in the traditional sense at all. A dowager duchess who wants to financially ruin a PCs family is just as dangerous as a champion archer who wants them dead. List their accomplishments, their connections to the setting, and make them fierce. A strong character should have strong enemies.
The best way I’ve found of creating enemies is imagining the final confrontation and working backward from there. Do they have an elaborate plan, or simply attack without warning? How do they fight, and what does how they fight say about their values? What makes them an interesting foe outside of the fight, so the leadup can draw characters into that final confrontation? These are some questions you might consider when designing an enemy.
13. Why are they hostile toward you?
Here’s the question with the real meat. What could have gotten them so angry or so offended that they’ll take actions and even risks to harm your character? This is the story of how they came to hate your character. the first thing I like to do is define the relationship. Is it violent? Villainous? Are they a rival? A jilted prince might not attack the PC outright but find ways to have them sent on missions where they might be injured or killed. A rival might be obsessed with beating them, not fighting them. An enemy isn’t as straightforward as someone who wants you dead, and often the ones that want you dead are the most boring kind. It turns the final confrontation into a zero sum game of kill or be killed, and there’s room for so much more than that. A rival can keep coming back, you might even work together with them once in a while. A subtle enemy might convince your character he’s their friend, perhaps the PC doesn’t know about their animosity.
One reason to avoid is the peril of being awesome. You know the line. “My character is just so good at X that NPC Y can’t help but hate them.” Give this one a wide berth. Make it personal, and in general, use the question to introduce flaws rather than greatness. Consider the fact that this person might have a legitimate problem with your character, and that in their enemy’s narrative the PC is rightly cast as teh villain. For one thing, this creates an opportunity for the character to get introspective and possibly make amends. Also, people hating you for being awesome is a pretty high school thing to do.
As with all the questions, they’re really just prompts to tell interesting stories that will arise in game. The deeper the answers, the easier it is for the GM to get ahold of them. It tells me what players care about, and a good story makes me intrigued about how theirs turns out. If a player spends three paragraphs on their enemy and two lines on their friends, it tells me where the player wants to direct the narrative without them saying a word. Interesting enemies make for some of the most intriguing heroes.