“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” – Ancient Proverb
A party is only as strong as their determination to stay together. Nothing can throw off a campaign faster than having a few players replace their characters because they no longer have any reason to travel with the party.
Having the players come up with an enemy that must be placed in their backstory provides their character with a Motivation, and it also creates a nice plot hook that a Game Master can use to tie a backstory into the main plot of a session. However, one thing that is often overlooked is the idea of a Common Enemy or a bad guy that would be shared between all of the player characters. Not only is this a powerful tool in any Game Master’s arsenal, it’s also a common storytelling technique. In the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, this is a common tool used to push the main cast together. Heck, it’s the entire premise behind The League of Extraordinary Gentleman!
This technique can be especially powerful by being used during character creation. This gives players the agency to create the enemy and build off of each other’s ideas to create a unique enemy that can hold the group together with a common bond.
Effects of a Good Enemy
Common enemies can also provide some things that are hard to produce in the Tabletop RPG’s, the first being a Driving force. This character can be used to progress the storyline, and plot points in many ways. Conversely, it could be a compelling draw away from the main plot as well. If you need to stretch for time (As all GM’s need to do at one point or another) this is an effective way to entertain the players by foiling one of this antagonists plots.
Secondly, a common enemy can create Agency. When a character feels passionate about something, they are likely to drop everything to handle the situation at hand. This can accelerate gameplay and provide a pacing that is sometimes hard to create in Tabletop games.
Lastly, this can create an NPC that the characters hate, and the players Love to Hate. Having an enemy that is reoccurring, that defined them as characters (Sometimes from before the start of the campaign) will be something that your players look forward to. Especially when it will be a big face-off. Sometimes these fights are more rewarding than the Big Bad fight at the end of a campaign.
Although this can be a powerful technique, be wary of combining it with a Noble Villian. This can be done well if the common enemy is not seen much, but mostly alluded to during the campaign, but it’s hard to have a Noble Villian that the players have wanted to defeat since the beginning without having them feel cheated. Usually, the most rewarding part of a reoccurring baddie is the feeling after you finally defeat them.