Character Concepts: The Anti-Party
This One's For The Game Masters
"Somebody want to tell me what just happened?" Isidora snarled, slamming her helm onto the table. The steel cap was dented from where the hulking brute had slammed his morning star into it. The quality of the steel was the only thing that had kept her skull from cracking like an egg.
"We got our asses kicked," Janker said. The usually chipper halfling winced as he sipped his blackroot tea, one arm in a sling. "And it looks like they rolled out the worst of the worst for us."
None of the others moved. Rogen peered at Janker with a befuddled expression. Lemani frowned, as if her ears were still ringing and she hadn't quite heard him right. Garn frowned, his arms folded. One eye was still swollen shut. Janker slowly leaned down, and opened his pack. Taking out a handful of long sheets of parchment, the diminutive bounty hunter spread them out on the tabletop.
"Your erstwhile dance partner was Dreadskull. No known alias. The one in the red riding with him was Shevar Bloodhand, disgraced daughter of Dietrich Vars-"
"Bastard daughter," Rogen said, touching his tongue to his split lip.
"The one in the robes was the sorcerer Hewer Blackheart, and his bodyguard Karana Half-Dead." Janker tapped the last sheet with his index finger, glowering at it. "And the flitting fey was Jor Janche. Doubt it's their real name, but it's what people call it."
"So why were they there?" Isidora asked through clenched teeth. "What do they want with the Mirror of Askelaan?"
"Beats the hell out of me," Janker said, taking another sip of his tea. "Next time we see them, how about we ask?"
The Anti-Party: A Different Kind of Enemy
The Legion of Doom. The Sinister Six. COBRA. Anyone who's ever read a comic book is familiar with the idea of a team of antagonists working together toward a common end. Whether it's pulling off a heist too big for any of them to manage individually, putting the hurt on the heroes so they can remove them from the board, or even for something as simple as a jail break, our fiction is full of dastardly individuals who come together out of mutual interest.
But these groups are rarely used by Game Masters, and they can be a formidable tool in challenging your players. For our purposes they'll be referred to as the Anti-Party.
For our purposes an Anti-Party is just what the name says; a group of individuals come together in common purpose, with a group of skills and abilities that work together to act as a counter to the party's strengths. The party has a knight in shining armor, the Anti-Party has a black knight with glowing red eyes. The party has a servant of the god of light, the Anti-Party has a cleric of the god of pain and agony. The party has a former gang member and burglar who's renounced their old life, the Anti-Party has someone with all their skills, but none of their scruples.
And so on, and so forth.
For Bonus Points, Use Nemeses Characters
I talked about this in Who is in Your Character's Rogues' Gallery?, but it bears repeating in this case. Comb through the PCs' backstories and see if you can find something in them to inspire the Anti-Party. If your players have put together Small Legends, there should be fertile ground there. Does the fighter have an overbearing older brother who went missing? Was the cleric raised in a cult that worshiped a devil, and they fled as soon as they found out? Did your rogue used to be a syndicate assassin, and their mentor is greatly disappointed in them for leaving?
All of these can be ideal hooks for creating members of an Anti-Party.
But how do you get the most out of an Anti-Party? Well, that's going to vary based on your style and group, but a suggestion I have is what I call One Lieutenant Per Arc.
The idea is that every arc of a campaign has one of the members of the Anti-Party as the lieutenant bad guy. Perhaps Dreadskull is the one behind the bandit raids in the first arc, and Nargalli Servant of Pain is the one leading the seditious cult in the second arc. The third arc deals with high-profile assassinations conducted by the Gray Woman, and the fourth arc the theft of potent antiquities by the disgraced mage Charumi the Red. Then in the 5th arc the Anti-Party is brought together under the mastermind Horspex the Tainted for a final stand against the PCs who have come so far in their efforts to stop them.
This builds the drama going forward, creating a tapestry of a deeper conspiracy as it unfolds. And if the bad guys are all coming from some part of the PCs' pasts, then everyone can feel like they get to be center stage for one arc as their stories intertwine, which can bring the party together like very little else truly can.
And for those who are worried that the bad guys are all going to get merc'd at the end of their arc, remember to have an escape plan in place so they can run if things are getting dicey. Incentivize the party to capture them, as well, so you can have them escape from jail at a dramatic moment later on. But even if the PCs do just kill them, death is rarely the end in our fantasy games. Dark resurrections, infernal templates, cyborg experimentation, and undead options are all present, and they can add nasty twists onto the bad guys when the PCs eventually have to match up with them once again.
Looking For Some Additional Reading?
If you're looking for inspiration for your Anti-Party consider the following:
- 100 Random Bandits to Meet: While filled with normal bandits, there are also potent individuals like the Dreadskull and the Maneater in this collection, which can make ideal members of your Anti-Party.
- 100 Pirates to Encounter: Similar to the bandits list, this one has all sorts of antagonists, but pirates like the malfunctioning Captain Ratchet, or the Plague Doctor on their bizarre, bloated sickness ship would make for ideal members of any collection of serious threats.
- 100 Prisoners For a Fantasy Jail: With some of the worst scum of the region, and containing creatures like the Jester, or the possessed assassin Cyrenax, there's inspiration to be found in here as well.
That's all for this installment of Unusual Character Concepts! Hopefully this one gave you something to chew over, whether you're a player, or a game master.
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Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.