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Nemeses

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 136
Over the course of their adventuring careers, player characters face many obstacles and enemies. Only a true nemesis, though, continually tests the PCs, seeking to foil them at every turn. Whether it’s a corrupt magistrate thwarting the PCs’ efforts to bring order to a town, or a fellow adventurer sabotaging their attempts to curry favor with the king, a nemesis can be the PCs’ most memorable foe—particularly if he’s an adversary they’ve made through their own choices. This section provides detailed guidelines to help GMs create recurring villains who are memorable and who possess recourses beyond normal foes. A system of escalating nemesis stratagems helps rivalries intensify over multiple engagements. It also presents suggestions for encounter adjustments and increased XP rewards you might provide to make facing a nemesis deadlier, but also more rewarding. Each foiled strategem should provide the PCs with an opportunity to strike back against their foe, potentially launching into new adventures plotted to go along with the PCs’ schemes. These new adventures are also almost certain to deepen the grudge between the characters and their nemesis.

Provoking a Nemesis

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 136
The tale of a character and her nemesis is a back-and-forth exchange in which both always try to gain the upper hand. This leads to the nemesis plotting stratagems of escalating severity until one individual decisively defeats the other—often by killing or otherwise ruining the foe. Likewise, nemeses actively strive to foil, sabotage, and otherwise hinder the PCs by employing stratagems—a representation of the plans they implement and resources they possess.

Each stratagem is an event, an encounter, or an adventure in which the nemesis takes action against the PCs. If there is a social aspect to the situation, consider making the struggle between the PCs and their nemesis a social conflict. After each stratagem plays out, the PCs might exploit an opportunity, allowing them to strike back against their foe. This exchange might occur numerous times over the course of a long-term campaign.

To reflect the intensity of his rivalry with the PCs, every nemesis has a Nemesis Score. This score measures the number of setbacks that the PCs have inflicted upon their nemesis (such as by exploiting an opportunity successfully; see the Opportunities section), and it determines the severity of the nemesis’s stratagems against the PCs. Even if the PCs don’t realize why they’ve earned a nemesis’s initial enmity, a particular nemesis’s score always starts at 1 or higher; if the nemesis has no reason to be upset with the PCs’ actions, he wouldn’t waste resources on stratagems against the PCs. Particularly spectacular setbacks might increase the Nemesis Score by 2. The PCs can have multiple nemeses, but the ongoing back-and-forth struggle between the PCs and each individual nemesis has its own separate score.

As a rivalry matures, the Nemesis Level of the PCs’ foe increases. The nemesis’s opposition of the PCs progresses through three levels, as described below.

Simmering: The PCs have come to the attention of the nemesis, who considers them a threat that’s minor but nonetheless needs to be resolved. The nemesis begins to collect information on the PCs and utilize stratagems, but he isn’t yet deeply invested in the rivalry.

Engaged: The PCs have clashed with the nemesis often enough that he considers them a significant problem. The nemesis knows the PCs’ abilities and goes out of his way to tailor stratagems specifically to hinder them when his plans oppose theirs.

Intense: The PCs and their rival have foiled each other so often that the nemesis knows the PCs’ capabilities in intimate detail. He is now willing to use whatever means necessary to end their meddling, once and for all. This means the PCs’ defeat has become one of the nemesis’s main goals, potentially secondary only to the main goal that the PCs keep foiling.

Nemesis ScoreNemesis Level
4 or lowerSimmering
5-8Engaged
9 or higherIntense

Opportunities

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 136
An opportunity is the PCs’ chance to strike back at their nemesis. Each time you choose a stratagem, decide what sort of opportunity, vulnerability, or clue the PCs might be able to discover as a result of either foiling or enduring the stratagem. The descriptions of the strategems in the following section include the kinds of opportunities each might expose; these optional plot hooks are meant to give the PCs more influence over the sorts of the adventures they undertake, and they can help the PCs feel like they’re guiding the campaign’s story based on their reactions to the nemesis’s schemes. Opportunities lend themselves to player-devised counter-stratagems, which might take the form of single encounters or whole adventures (see Heists and Infiltration). While the Stratagems section has many options for nemeses, the opportunities listed along with each strategem are merely some of the possibilities. You should feel free to guide the PCs toward other opportunities that match your nemesis’s modus operandi and that mesh better with the campaign. Of course, each opportunity the PCs take likely encourages their nemesis to continue his antagonism, continuing— and likely intensifying—the rivalry.

This back and forth between the PCs and their nemesis should culminate in a natural, plot-driven conclusion— such as a dramatic final encounter or the end of a campaign arc. Such interplay works best if there is a reason that the nemesis and PCs haven’t faced one another in combat until this climax. PCs tend to find ways to kill enemies with even the most foolproof-seeming escape plans, and using storytelling tricks to save the nemesis can breed resentment among players. Nonetheless, if a nemesis somehow dies early but still has plenty of resources, the nemesis may be able to manage a resurrection—just like the PCs would if one of their own died in the struggle. Unless special events (or even deliberately laid stratagems) deem otherwise, a nemesis likely continues to antagonize the PCs until either he dies or somehow reconciles with his foes.

Stratagems

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 137
A nemesis typically only employs one stratagem at a time. Only if the PCs continually cause the nemesis major setbacks will he use two stratagems simultaneously. A nemesis typically employs stratagems appropriate for his current Nemesis Level and that tie into the archetype or modus operandi that you’ve chosen for the villain (see Nemesis Personas). Occasionally a lesser strategy might make sense for a nemesis after he’s endured a lesser setback, but he should never employ a stratagem meant for a higher Nemesis Level.

Nemesis Personas

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 141
Because having a nemesis is more personal than just having an adversary, it’s important to consider what makes the nemesis tick. Certain archetypical nemesis personas, such as those in the following suggestions, are common in fiction and help to build a memorable foe.

Embittered Protege: Perhaps the nemesis was once a follower of one of the PCs or a close ally, or shared the same mentor. The protege was dismissed from training, whether for lack of talent, failure to pass a key test, or because of some transgression. The protege blames one or more PCs for his failure, claiming the PCs were shown favoritism after outshining him, or that the PCs somehow sabotaged his education.

Fallen Idol: The nemesis was once a person of great repute, honored for his heroic deeds, or revered as a mentor of the PCs. Whatever his former prominence, the idol has fallen on hard times. This may not be public knowledge, and early encounters with the fallen idol might preserve the facade that things are going well. However, the PCs have unknowingly disrupted the fallen idol’s (possibly illicit) scheme to recover his position, plunging him further into desperation. The nemesis becomes obsessed with regaining his former fame, resorting to ever-more-questionable methods and outrageous schemes in a losing battle to regain respect; in short, he’s become the very thing he once stood against. The PCs might never realize that their old mentor and their new nemesis are one and the same until the final confrontation, after which they must decide whether to redeem or slay the fallen idol.

Herald of the Future: The nemesis is devoted to the cause of progress, seeking to abolish the old ways and usher in a glorious destiny. This new future might come about through science, political upheaval, the rapturous return of a deity, or the advent of alien intelligence. Whatever his creed, the nemesis promises it will change everything. His goals and dogma might be strange, leading the PCs to either oppose his view of the future or simply compete with him for the same resources. For instance, his goal to collect strange artifacts might place him in a race against the PCs for the otherworldly relics. While urbane and sophisticated, the herald dismisses dissent as smallminded ignorance. At first, he might feel more sorrow for his opposition’s shortsightedness than anger, but he still won’t let the PCs stand in the way of progress.

Obstructive Official: The nemesis is a person of political power or prominence, such as an officer of the law, a moralizing judge, an ambitious aristocrat, or an arrogant noble. Whatever his role, or whether he holds his position through birth, wealth, or personal strength, he is dogmatically dedicated to a specific set of rules that the PCs, in the course of their adventuring activities, violate with some frequency. The obstructive official is not interested in the PCs’ motivations or justifications. To the nemesis, they are dangerous vigilantes who bring trouble in their wake. So-called “heroes” are menaces that need to be controlled or, failing that, eliminated. This sort of nemesis uses his connections to make life more difficult for the PCs, but always through legal avenues. Eventually he hopes to have the PCs thrown in jail, exiled, or otherwise removed from the equation, but only after he has built an ironclad case against them.

Trickster: The nemesis is an agent of chaos, a troublemaker who may act with malice or out of pure capriciousness. The trickster respects no laws, authorities, or systems of control. He may be prone to acts of charity when the mood strikes. He may even be a hero to some, but he may just as quickly turn on those who supported him, or abandon them for a new scheme altogether. The trickster’s opposition to the PCs may be a perverse social experiment to undermine their principles or to disrupt the world around them. Or, it may be just a game to him, and the PCs are simply too much fun to ignore.