You’ve Got To Let Them Fly – GM Advice for Creating Enemies

90-desperadoIf you’re like me then you usually try to make a character for a tabletop game that excels in at least one field, whether it be cryptozoology, fencing or good, old fashioned un-killability. If you’re really like me, then you once crossed an old fortune-teller at a county fair and now can only watch in despair as the dice hitting the table will dance like a coven of witches in the pale glow of the moon as all of your plans crumble down around you. (Then you’ll think to yourself “Why couldn’t I have just gotten the “Thinner” curse? Then my bony ass could at least make a goddamn dodge roll.”)

If you’re not like me, however, you make a character that is good at something and expect a reasonable amount of success in that field. This article is not for you- it’s for the person trying to challenge you. This is advice for the Game Master, and my advice is simple: Let your player-characters be good at what they are good at.

During the construction of any game, it is natural (and I would even highly recommended) to take an active interest in what your players want their so-called “wheelhouse” to be. This gives you an idea of what kind of antagonists to throw at them and also what sort of situations to put them in. An unfortunate pitfall of this train of thought (and one I have been guilty of falling into myself) is to meet each action with an equal and opposite reaction. This is problematic, since it causes your player-character’s skill set to no longer be above-average, but usually just good-enough for whatever comes along.

Here’s a simple example: In the course of making characters, one of your players declares that they would like to play someone extremely skilled in combat. The numbers add up and everything is on the level (i.e. there was no sort of chicanery involved, the character was made by-the-rules). As the person whose job it is is to supply drama and challenge to the players, an understandable reaction would be to increase the lethality and murderousness of every antagonist the players encounter.

As someone who has been both the person dispensing righteous Game Master wrath at one point and the player wondering why everyone with a gun is suddenly Antonio Banderas at another, I humbly posit the following: sometimes you’ve got to let your players own it.

Not every antagonist is going to know what they’re in for. While the dice may tell the final tale in any interaction, the capabilities of those who oppose the player-characters need not always act as their perfect foil. This is not to say your should never give challenges to your players, but advocating for those challenges to mean more when they happen. When your combat-monster Player-Character does meet Mr. Banderas, or your smooth-talker matches wits with the guy who sells ShamWow, the conflict will be built on preceding instances where your players have felt the thrill of being at the top of their game. By limiting their exposure to truly worthy adversaries, you punctuate those scenes with increased drama, suspense and struggle. It shakes your players out of any sort of lazy comfort they feel in their character’s skill set and makes them think creatively. Or (if things don’t go their way) makes them realize they have much more to learn.

So what about you? Have you ever ran a game where you didn’t know how to counteract a player-character’s skillset? Or, have you ever played in a game where you felt like you didn’t get a chance to shine in the way you designed the character to?

More importantly: Extra XP for someone who gives me the stats for the ShamWow guy.

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About the Author
David is a human, standing at average human size with human features. He is not an android, that would be ridiculous. He is fond of horror movies, so-bad-it’s-good movies, stand-up comedy and humor sometimes inappropriate for a given setting but within the accepted parameters of average human interaction. David reads H.P. Lovecraft with human eyes, speaks about Cyberpunk with his human mouth (using vocal chords, not embedded speakers) listens to podcasts with his human ears and typed this from an undisclosed location with his human hands. He was created in New England.

2 comments on “You’ve Got To Let Them Fly – GM Advice for Creating Enemies

  1. Jake says:

    My Rogue Trader game has progressed to the point where unless he’s fighting a Navigator, our Astropath can just increase his personal Armour to 33, and effectively nothing can touch him at this point. Fortunately all of players are really strong into roleplaying, and care a lot about each other, so just because they’re invincible doesn’t mean the people around them are. They can be challenged into defending them rather than committing to offence, buying enough time for the latest nefarious plot to succeed.

  2. fairystail says:

    played a dnd 3.5 game with a guy, alright guy but god could he min-mX. 35 ac at level 8. this meant to even hit him the dm had to do lots of high dex, sneak attack type mobs which meant my guy who had lots of attacks that could be dex-saved against was useless.
    was really looking forward to that character but wasn’t sad to see him go

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