Welcome back, last time we’ve concluded our combat example, and we’ve seen Gandrell and Athelstane triumphing against a powerful servant of the Darkmaster. Today we will talk about the different types of opponents your heroes will face in combat, and see their different approaches when it comes to confront the PCs, and how the Injuries they suffer can change their tactics and give the GM opportunities to give the adventure a new twist.
Types of Opponents
For simplicity’s sake, we have divided the opponents encountered by the heroes in their adventures in three types or categories: Common, Elite, and Antagonists.
Common Opponents form the largest part of the Darkmaster’s hosts, and will be those heroes will end up facing more frequently. They’re generally weaker and have worse Stats than a PC of their same level, and usually will have few or no special abilities at all. Instead, they come in groups, often very large – or at least larger than the average number of PCs in a party.
Look in the Bestiary for some basic Orc, Redcap or Bandit and you’ll have a good figure of what a Common Opponents should be for a 1st or 2nd level party.
Elite Opponents are more rare, and often found leading small groups or warbands of Common Opponents. They pose a greater threat to the PCs, fight more viciously than their lesser brethren, and may have different surprising abilities. They can be encountered alone, in small groups, or leading a larger group of Common Opponents.
Look up the Bestiary for Forest Trolls, Dark Orc Chieftain or Dire Bear for a quick benchmark of Elite Opponents for a 3rd or 4th level party.
Finally, Antagonists are the most dangerous and rare of opponents. This opponents are generally the “bosses” of the campaign, or at least of a significant story arc – if not the Big Bad Guys themselves. The GM may want to fully flesh out this kind of NPCs or creatures, giving them special abilities on par with those of PCs of the same level, Vocation and Background, or eventually mix-matching the skills and abilities of different Vocations.
Find in the Bestiary the Mountain Giant, Fire Drake or Kraken and you’ll have an idea of what an Antagonist could be for a 7th or 8th level party.
Note that these categories are merely tools for the GM, allowing to quickly gauge the danger posed to the group by an enemy or to help deciding its disposition and behaviour in combat. They should never be seen as prescriptive, or limit an NPC role in the adventure. Moreover, these categories can be rather fluid, and enemies can see their type changed by events and situations happening in game.
For example, a lowly redcap who manages to badly wound a hero and then escapes with his life, could come back later in the adventure to torment the PCs. The GM could even decide to turn him into an Elite opponent, giving a couple of levels, a little boost to his Stats, and putting him in charge of a band of redcap wolfriders!
Opponents in Combat
Wild animals and most intelligent creatures will usually try to avoid fighting to the death, unless cornered or while hunting for food. Furthermore, unless they have a very valid reason to stay in combat and risk death or permanent injury, most opponents will flee if they’re injured or confronting an opposition far more powerful then they are.
Of course, wild beasts and intelligent creatures will have wildly different approaches to combat, and the GM should consider the various in-game elements influencing the opponents’ behaviour. For example, a group of lesser Orcs will continue fighting even to death if they fear their general, a cruel Dark Mage, could become their persecutor should they leave the fight – better do die fighting than screaming in torture!
Common Opponents may be considered defeated if the penalties they’re suffering from are equal or greater than half their CMB or -50 (equivalent to a Serious Injury), whichever is higher, or if they’re Bruised (wounded for more than half their HPs) or suffering from Severe Bleeding.
Furthermore, if a group of Common Opponents are facing the PCs, the GM may decide they’ll try to flee, surrender or whatever other mean of avoiding combat when half their original number is disabled – killed or defeated without significant losses for the opposing party.
Elite Opponents can be considered defeated if their accrued penalties equal half their CMB or -75, whichever is higher. Elite Opponents are generally more trained and confident in their abilities. They will keep on fighting even if outnumbered, Bruised or Bleeding, if they think they still have a reasonable chance (say 50/50) of winning the fight.
Antagonists that have valid reasons can fight even to death without giving up. Really here the GM should dive into the motivation of the NPC and their behavior. An ancient dragon, for example, should not fight to the death unless really angered if it has any other choice – because it feels its life is more precious and important than pride, most of the times. On the other hand a Wight or another Undead creature will carry on until its own annihilation… why fear Death when you’ve returned from it once already?
Opponents and Drive
Should Opponents benefit from any Drive Points? Well it really depends on the type of Opponents and their motivations.
As a rule of the thumb, we suggest Common and Elite Opponents should never have any Drive Points to spend, since they’re meant to be a minor obstacle on the heroes path – worth a fight or two. Of course this could change if any of them will be the main threat of the story arc, or if the GM would like to flesh them out with a personality, giving them Passions to fight for. If that’s the case, consider giving them a Drive Point or two at max.
Some Antagonists, on the other hand, could be given some Drive Points to spend, since we can assume they have strong motivations and a rich background. Still, there are some conditions to be met: an Antagonist should have Drive Points only if it’s intelligent and this is functional and reasonable with the story and fiction at hand. A Mountain Giant defending a pass should probably not have any good reasons to have any Drive against the PCs; a Dragon defending its hoard, definitely has.
In any case, the suggestion is to give Antagonists only a few Drive Points to spend: 1 to 3 will suffice in most cases. Furthermore, these Drive Points will be spent more often to prevent accidental death than else, and the Antagonist’s pool of Drive Points should not replenish so often – maybe only if a significant story arc has closed and the heroes face the Antagonist again after a while.
We will come back to opponents and their role in Against the Darkmaster in the future. We hope you enjoyed reading this short series of articles, and as usual, if you have comments or questions, don’t hesitate to reach us on our boards or on our Discord channel!