Raise your game’s stakes with a rival party

One question worth asking at the start of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign involves whether or not the player character (PC)  heroes are the only heroes in the campaign milieu. In many campaigns, the PC party is the only group of adventurers in the story – a logical enough consequence of the PCs being the central characters – but a range of new plot and dramatic options become available if the Dungeon Master (DM) introduces a rival adventuring party to the story.

Before continuing, is important to distinguish between rivals and enemies. Enemies and villains represent evil forces that the heroes must overcome to succeed at their adventures, while rivals are usually affiliated with the forces of good. The campaign purpose of introducing a rivalry is to foster players’ emotional investment in the story, as their successes and failures are compared with those of their rivals in the eyes of the players, the rivals and the NPC population alike.

Creating a Rival Party

It’s a good idea to create the rival party at the same experience level as the heroes, unless the group is using the fourth edition (4e) of the Dungeons & Dragons rules; a 4e DM might consider creating the party a couple of levels higher, since 4e non-player characters (NPCs) have fewer powers than their PC counterparts. It is also helpful for the rival party’s composition be comparable to the PC party, both in number and in class distribution, as doing so helps ensure that each PC can have his own personal rival in the rival party.

After assembling the rival party, assign group goals and motivations; the rivals need a reason to work together, just as the heroes do. It’s also important to give the rivals at least one general goal that is identical to one the heroes have chosen, so that there will be at least one point of contention between the two parties. Continue reading