There are few ways to make players less interested in an NPC villain than saying “You hate this guy.”
The best kind of hate has to be earned, and it burns with the heat of a thousand suns. Here are four ways to earn that hate.
But first, a word of caution: These techniques are very easy to abuse, even if you’re not trying to abuse them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of them, just do it in moderation. When in doubt, back off just a bit from whatever nefarious deeds you have planned.
Steal Their Stuff: Nothing riles up some players like losing gear, especially not if they lose it fair and square. And it can be a great motivator for Going After the Bad Guy. Conversely, nothing ticks players off quite as much as having an undetectable thief sneak into their house at night and take their best gear because it furthers the plot. Give them a chance to stave off the theft, and even if they succeed they’ll likely wind up hating the thief anyway…
Humiliate the Party: Sometimes, the NPCs don’t have to do a single point of damage. They just need to shame the PCs in front of someone they care about. As with theft, this works best if it’s legit. If you let the dice fall where they may, the humiliation might not happen — and that’s just fine. There’s always next time!
Background Hooks are There for a Reason: NPCs from the PCs’ backgrounds are there to be fucked with. Abduct them. Marry them off to the party’s worst enemies. Put them in harm’s way. Just be sure to include ways for the PCs to satisfyingly take them out of harm’s way again, or no one will want to include NPCs in their backgrounds next time.
Incite a Rivalry: Next time the party returns to base to find out their next mission, have them find out that they’ve been given a couple of extra days of leave. Why? Oh, that other team did such a good job that time that we gave the mission to them. Go, enjoy your vacation. Voila — instant rivalry.
These four approaches as the tip of the iceberg. How do you get your players to really loathe the NPCs that they love to hate?
(TT is in GenCon mode from August 9th-13th. I won’t be able to respond to comments or email, but there will be a new post every day, just like always.)
In the days before Shadowrun, my players were much more trusting of their employers. I had a D&D campaign in which the villain, simply known as the Warlock, hired the PCs to find the Hand & Eye of Vecna (along with some other items), under the pretense that he knew how to destroy them.
Once they actually -had- the artifacts, of course, the Warlock’s intentions were made clear, and he killed one of their favorite NPCs in his escape with the Hand and Eye. I don’t recall his method, but she was beyond bringing back.
Then he destroyed the party’s super-awesome castle that they’d been building for half the campaign.
As the kids say these days, it was “on.”
Good advice– any of those four ways is a good way to get the players, not just the characters, interested in the rivalry.
Another one that can work well in a more episodic style campaign – if an NPC (especially a leader type) does get away from the PCs, plan on re-using him.
My campaigns tend not to feature these recurring NPCs, and I can’t think if I’ve ever really used this idea, but it was something that struck me. One advantage to not “planning” which NPCs will be recurring is that it removes any temptation to railroad or fudge to keep the NPC going.
Darth: I think that would have done it for any group I’ve ever gamed with… 😉
Scott: You’re right — these really do boil down to hooking the players as much as (or more than) their characters.
Frank: Yep, recurring villains are a good one. I particularly like your suggestion of not planning which ones will recur — that’s a great idea.