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Have you ever wanted to play a baddie in a roleplaying game? Not evil, just an underhanded, backstabbing, scoundrel who lives by their own rules. You want to be an antagonist.
What’s the difference between an antagonist and a villain in an RPG? An antagonist is a player character whose motivations are in conflict with other players, but who can still function on the same side. Think of Loki to Thor, or Cordelia to Buffy. A villain is usually played by the game master and is working in direct opposition to the players, whereas playing as an antagonist tests your party’s boundaries while still considering your character a part of the group.
Playing an antagonist requires you to walk a fine line between creating fun, inter-player conflict and being an asshole who ruins the game for everyone. Here are some tips to make the best out of being bad.
It works best under certain conditions
If you are playing a character who is actively working against one or more players, there are two situations in which playing an antagonist works best. The first is in player versus player (PVP) games. Although a rare situation in tabletop RPGs or LARP, it can happen. You are in a “you vs. them” situation and you’re fighting for your cause.
The second situation is when all the characters are forced to work together. For example, you and your party members are all stranded somewhere, your characters all attend the same school, or you all live on the same space station. There is no getting away from each other. In most traveling adventure parties, playing an antagonist won’t work. If your group hates you (in-character), they might just tell your character to sod off and leave you behind, or worse, for dead.
Know Your Frenemy
To be an effective antagonist, the key is to have your goals in direct conflict with another player’s, and take steps to further your goals while sabotaging theirs. For example, you are working together with your rival to catch a villain. You know that if you catch them alone, you will get all the glory and reward, so you handcuff your partner to a post to keep them from joining you. You and your school rival want to be homecoming queen, so you spread rumors to turn her friends against her. Your rival has an important event the next day, so you get them very drunk the night before so they feel hungover in the morning.
To make the most of your antagonism, you have to know your rival’s motivations. You know what you want, but what do the other players want and how are they going about getting it? Once you figure out what makes them tick, it becomes easy to stay one step ahead of their game.
Be selfish, but don’t stay selfish
Any well-made character knows what they want, but a good antagonist will also do whatever it takes to get it. Don’t be a jerk just for the sake of being a jerk. You need a reason to do what you’re doing. Sometimes being an antagonist isn’t intended. It just happens. The difference between you and your rival is that you aren’t afraid to hurt someone’s feelings to get what you want.
What can be really interesting about playing an antagonist is that your character has the option to change their ways. Maybe something terrible happens to bond you with your party. Perhaps an act of kindness helps you finally see the light. Look for these moments. In longer campaigns, it’s important to eventually find new motivation and connect with your party members so you can function as a team.
As the player, you can offer your teammates opportunities of vulnerability. Help them find your weakness. Let them get the upper hand on you now and then. You don’t always have to “win” every situation. You probably shouldn’t. If you do, it will become increasingly frustrating for other players to have you along when they’re constantly being hounded without any chance for retribution.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure that the players in your group are fully aware that you are playing a character, and that you, the human, want them to have fun. This can be as easy as holding up “heart hands” across the table. Better yet, take the time to talk to your teammates out of game to make sure it’s clear that the conflict between you is strictly in-character. If they aren’t having a good time, something is wrong.
What are your tips to play the as your party’s lovable Leeroy Jenkins? Tell us in the comments below! And be sure to tune into Starter Kit on Alpha, to get tips on roleplaying in a variety of game systems exclusively on Alpha. Don’t have an Alpha subscription? Go to projectalpha.com for a free trial.
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Image Credits: Marvel Entertainment, Warner Bros.