The Enemy of my Enemy…

One of the things that I don’t see mentioned too often in an RPG context is the notion that the bad guys don’t always get along with one another. It’s a theme that’s critical to the classic D1-3 “Descent into the Depths of the Earth” modules (as I discussed a few years ago), but it’s not something that gets much talk in my corner of the RPG community.

Having villains that are not only not all on the same team, but who are actively opposed to one another, can add a lot of depth and texture to a campaign. It opens up the possibility of engaging one enemy to oppose another, and can lead to delightfully devious plot twists, as a villain’s actions are finally revealed to be directed not at the PCs, but at some other villain.

As an example, let’s look at Batman: The Animated Series (one of my favorites for this sort of thing):

  • Two Face hates Poison Ivy, because Ivy tried to kill Harvey Dent before he became Two Face
  • The Joker hates the Creeper, because the Creeper tried to steal his act (and Harley Quinn…)
  • The Joker hates Poison Ivy, because she and Harley Quinn were more successful criminals than he was
  • The Joker, Two Face, and the Penguin hate Dr. Hugo Strange, because they believe he tried to cheat them
  • Clayface hates Roland Daggett, whose Renuyu drug disfigured him permanently
  • Cat Woman hates Roland Daggett, who tried to kill her for interfering with his plan to spread a virulent disease throughout Gotham
  • Cat Woman hates Scarface, who set her up to take the fall for a robbery
  • Two-Face hates Rupert Thorne, who was responsible for his disfigurement and transformation from Harvey Dent into Two-Face
  • Rupert Thorne and Arnold Stromwell are gangland rivals
  • Lock-Up hates just about everyone, because he used to be a guard at Arkham and is now an inmate
There are doubtless others that I’m forgetting, but you get the idea. 
Having such relationships, rivalries, and antagonisms between your villains can be the impetus for a lot of action in the campaign. What if that necromancer isn’t raiding the crypts for fresh corpses because of a plot against the town, but rather to attack his great rival the green dragon who lives in the forest? What if the goblins are raiding the village because they heard a rumor that the ogre mage wielding the sword Goblin-Hammer was there? What if the vampire is sending his minions abroad at night not with the intention of terrifying the locals, but in search of the lich who originally killed him years ago? 
Having more complex relationships between your antagonists gives you a way to add layer of richness to your plots. I’m definitely going to explore these sorts of possibilities in my next campaign.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

4 thoughts on “The Enemy of my Enemy…

  1. I'm pretty sure that the Creeper wasn't in the original Batman: The Animated Series. If I recall correctly, he was from the sequel series (The New Adventures of Batman, or something like that).

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