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Keeping Up With the Indiana Joneses

Through gaming, I’ve visited ancient tombs, ruins of great civilizations.  I’ve hacked my way through jungle, slogged through swamp, and nearly died in the desert.  I’ve ridden horses across the plains, and sailed across the oceans.  My characters seem like they’ve done it all, and are still ready for more.

But theres one trick I personally don’t see used enough.  It’s a little late for the current campaign I’m playing in to try it, but it’s something I may keep in mind for the next campaign I run.  Why don’t more adventuring parties have rival parties?  Not necessarily enemies mind you, but straight rivals?  Here’s how I see it shaping up.

First, the party would have to be similar in make up to the PCs.  Otherwise, and advantages the new group would have would be discounted to that difference alone.  That would be bad.  PCs need to understand that these guys are just good.  Nothing more, nothing less.  If there isn’t a PC rogue, then the rivals shouldn’t have one either.

Make them arrogant, loud, obnoxious, whatever you have to do to make sure the players don’t like the rivals.  Friendly rivals is fine, but to really have fun with it, you need someone they hate.  Remember, they don’t have to be evil, just annoying competition.  Once you’ve done that, they’re ready to go.

Now, how you deploy them is really fun.  Let’s say the PCs are dragging their butts getting to the Liches lair.  NPCs keep advising them that they need to hurry, he’s almost done with the ritual, but they’ve been saying it for days (in-game time…but out of game time is possible to with some groups I’ve played with ;)).  No matter what, they still keep dragging their butts.  They know that the DM won’t let the Mondo-Bad-Thing-Monster-Beasty out into their precious homebrew world, so they’re not sweating it one bit.

Then, finally they decide to enter the Liches lair.  They’ve buffed up, readied a plan, and bust through the door…

…only to find their rivals have already dispatched the Lich and are looting the room.  Perhaps they make some quip about the PCs being late to the party, or even thanking them for clearing the way to the Lich, but leaving the fun stuff for them.

Now, in future games, the PCs will have the idea that time really is important because otherwise the rivals will get the XP and loot.  Even the metagamers in the group will start acting with some haste now.  After all, now there’s something they can’t account for, either in game or out of game.

The most important thing a DM must understand is how rarely to use this tool.  Frankly, using it will piss off the players if you use them in the way described above.  That should really be the “nuclear option” as a DM, so keep it in reserve for only the most dire of times.  Either that, or it’s a hook for something else.  Other ways the rivals can be used, and will make sure the rivals are kept in the PCs minds is:

  • PC mistakes are retold as stories in taverns all over the lands, making them look bad.
  • PCs often have to make moral choices.  The rival group can take the path the PCs don’t, then make them look bad by not taking that path.
  • The rivals can convince the local ruler that the PCs are evil adventurers looking to overthrow their rule.

Those are just a few.  The possibilities are endless.  They can provide a foil for the PCs that they can’t just outright kill (unless they want to deal with the results of such an act).  Even creating a situation where the PCs need the help of the rivals can be a blast as well.  Just don’t over use the rivals, or else the players will resent the hell out of them and you.

So, if your group is one that could benefit from this idea, give it a try.  It could be just what the Doctor (Jones) ordered 😉

September 10, 2008 - Posted by | RPG | ,


  1. I actually ran two simultaneous campaigns once wherein the group were their own rivals, but didn’t know it until much later. One group would hear of this amazing archer that took out Big Baddie #42 with a single arrow. Which of course was an embellishment of what the other group was doing (e.g. the ranger critted on the orc tribe’s pet ogre slave, killing it after it had been hit with a fireball first), and vice versa.

    This got the groups in the two campaigns to begin competing against each other, but for some strang reason the other group always seemed to one-up the group in question! How frustrating! Eventually one decided to seek out the other, and shenanigans ensued. It was great fun (for me at least… that look on their faces when they saw their other characters was priceless).

    I did something similar here recently, using a character from a player in a solo campaign as an antagonist for part of another group campaign. Both of these examples are not quite the rival Tom’s talking about, but still are neat tricks for DMs to pull.

    It can be difficult for a DM to keep up with a whole other organic party while worrying about everything else in a campaign. To this end, I highly recommend a strategy I first learned about playing Wraith: The Oblivion(tm): have another player, or a friend not playing in the given campaign, play the badguys secretly. Have your confidant keep track of their choices, leveling, power selection, etc. Have them write up short backstories for each, and talk with them before each session about how the rivals will react to what the DM is bringing to the table.

    Comment by Liambic | September 10, 2008 | Reply

  2. Ah yes, the Wind of Death. I do recall it 😉

    The approach I plan on taking if I use this is to have a “leader” who does most of the talking for the rival group, rather than making distinct personalities for both.

    BTW…love having the PCs play their own rivals. That sounds like fun! I hate it I missed it 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 10, 2008 | Reply

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