Nem-e-sis (noun): a long standing rival; an arch enemy.
She was just supposed to be a throwaway character. A name and a brief description drawn in broad cliched strokes. Most likely, she’d never be heard from again. But, for whatever reason, the PCs hated her from the first moment, and they set her tavern ablaze.
Once upon a time, I would meticulously plot out my campaigns. I would craft plots and scenarios lovingly, breathing ridiculous amounts of life into them. NPCs would be concepted and then recorded, every statistical detail noted, just in case the PCs came across them. And the boss NPC/monsters… oh glory could I create them, like Michelangelo coaxing his statue of David from the stone!
But the players worked against me. They ignored the carefully laid trail of crumbs leading from plot point to plot point. They slaughtered my lovingly crafted NPCs en mass, often before I wanted them to due to a lucky crit or some use of a spell I hadn’t anticipated. And they always, always focused on some portion of the story that I had somehow overlooked and not fleshed out. How dare they?!
So I stopped doing it. I didn’t enjoy all those hours of preparation, really, and if the players butchered the BBEG before the epic climax, what was the point of all that work? It’s not that I no longer run games, I am “THE GM” for my groups, it’s just that I don’t do an undue amount of preparation before a game session. I let the players decide who and what is important based on their characters’ actions and decisions. This often results in unexpected NPCs becoming important characters, and takes the campaign in interesting directions.
The “she” from that first paragraph is Tuffy, a beat up, broke down, bareknuckle boxing, swill serving dwarf. She was supposed to be just another throwaway character; she was never meant to be plot relevant, but the moment Tuffy made her escape from the burning building that was once her livelihood, it was clear she would return. Before that time came in the game session, we put together her new establishment on paper; more than a few rough ideas, Tuffy’s Good Time Palace became the second release here at Dire Rugrat Publishing. The pickled products and awful ale inspired a collection of colourful NPCs that remain some of our favorites to this day. It’s the right place to be if you are on the wrong side of town.
Back in the game, Tuffy chanced across the one PC that wasn’t masked or otherwise disguised during the arson of her tavern, ambushed him, beat him nearly to death, and stole his keg of ale along with his mule and cart. Then, after buying a property out from under the PCs, causing their eviction, Tuffy eventually went on to face one of the arsonists in a duel (aka: full on fist fight). She handily defeated him, though she still harbours a grudge and the PC is no doubt still nursing a bruised ego. One way or another, they will meet again and resolve their differences. Or not…
Without a doubt Tuffy is a prime example of a throw-in NPC who became so much more than she was intended to be and, as such, has earned a spot as one of 18 fun NPCs set to be released in 5e NPCs: Bullies & Brutes later this month. We think you’ll have fun using her and her colleagues to vex and bedevil your PCs, and, who knows… maybe you’ll throw one of them into your game as a random challenge, and they will turn into that most wonderful of things: an unanticipated nemesis!
Who are some of your favorite recurring NPCs, and were they intentionally meant to play a big part? Have your PCs inadvertently make their own nemeses? Share in the comments below!