Characterization Exercise: Who’s Your Ideal Enemy?

There’s a lot to be said about the peculiar dance between two enemies: a blend of mutual hatred, a peculiar sort of chemistry, and who knows what in the middle. It makes conflicts interesting—but like a good romance, it requires that the two enemies be, in their own way, a good match.

And you can learn so much about a character from figuring out what that good match is.

Consider the source of opposition. Some characters are enemies through incompatible morals. Others, through loyalties to groups that are themselves opposed. There are the ones who don’t even know why they’re enemies, just that That’s How Things Are Around Here; there are the ones who base their enmities on something the enemy did to them or something they value; heck, in some cases, there are even the ones who are enemies because they needed a good enemy and this person looked like a decent option. The kinds of things that one half of the equation can’t stand about the other are vital.

On the other hand, there’s got to be something that keeps the enmity going, rather than one just destroying the other and being done with it. As a result, the perfect enemy will have something that the character respects, as well as something she abhors. Sometimes more than one something, for added confusion. Competence, style and power are popular; for the particularly honorable character, a code of ethics might be a way to separate the perfect antagonist from the okay ones. Several of the characters I’ve run for, and most of the ones I play, tend to give extra points for wit. Others look at what the enemy has to offer, particularly if it’s an enemy with a recruiting pitch.

Ideally, what sort of form would their conflict dynamic take? For some people, the key is getting into a prolonged fight every Tuesday. Some are in constant verbal contact, trying to win each other onto their sides. There are those who engage in duels of manipulation, each trying to trick the other into helping her advance her goals. And that’s just a sampler. While I find that matched forms of conflict make for a better dynamic, every now and then you get a pair where one’s playing manipulator to the other who is trying to find the first and beat the tar out of him, and that’s what works for both sides. As long as it’s the kind of conflict that works for the characters….

For every relationship, there’s something that would cause one or more parties to just break it off. While it’s not quite the same thing, a good nemesis dynamic also has those sorts of triggers. Would changing the conflict dynamic change the character’s opinion of her enemy? Is there something that the enemy could do that would turn the character’s view of him from “too interesting to destroy” to “you will die now”? Is there a quality the enemy has the absence of which would be a deal-breaker?

Plot-neutral character seeks long-term nemesis. What’s that personal ad going to look like for this character?


  1. UZ says:

    Luke: OK, hi everyone.

    Everyone: Hi Luke.

    Luke: So let’s go over our enemies again and we’ll see if anyone’s had any good ideas since last time we got together.

    Ahab: The whale that took my leg. I totally hate that whale.

    Luke: Good, and?

    Randolph: The malaise brought on by forcing my worldview into narrow, modern materialism.

    Luke: Now Randolph, we talked about this. Couldn’t you have an enemy that’s more, you know, immediate? Like a shoggoth or something. Don’t shoggoths make you really upset?

    Randolph: This is exactly what I’m talking about.

    Luke: OK,

    Erekose: The cyclical nature of time.

    Luke: Yeah, OK. Look, when I was having some problems with my dad, he didn’t throw a whole lot of metaphysical nonsense around. Crates and boxes, definitely, but he was straightforward. He was just like, “Luke, be evil or I’m gonna cut your head off,” and then he’d throw a crate or someting, and I think that was really considerate of him, you know, as an enemy. It gave me something I could really, you know, get a grip on.

    Ahab: I want to stab that whale with a harpoon.

    Luke: That’s really good, that’s good, That’s a realistic goal.

    Randolph: I want to cast off the tyranny of the four-dimensional material world.

    Luke: Now that’s going to be more difficult and I think that-

    Randolph: The very notion of goals is time-bound nonsense in the context of the greater n-dimensional universe.

    Luke: Erekose?

    Erekose (dismissively): I’ve already attended this meeting an infinite number of times.

    Luke: Now, I know it can seem hopeless when -

    Luke and Erekose (together): – you have an enemy that’s a concept rather than a material so maybe -

    Luke: Now stop that!

    Randolph: See? That’s what four dimensions will get you.

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