#RPGaDay2021 – Day 17 – Nemesis

At the very last moment, roughly three seconds ago at time of typing, I was going to make this #RPGaDay2021 entry be a response to the prompt trap. The whole thing was laid out in my mind like the golden path. As I lifted my hands to the keyboard, I heard Admiral Ackbar’s voice warning me off. I suppose he could have just been practicing his diction, but I felt that it would be a crime if I found out later that he was trying to save me and I had failed to heed his words. Hence, I am regrouping as I type and summoning up all the things that I might want to share about the prompt nemesis, sorting through them, and choosing the thing that will form the backbone of this response. It might be a little stressful to suddenly need to make a change like this, but – you deserve it.

It’s a:
A) Trap B) Crime

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As we mentioned a few days ago when we headed into the weekend with the all-caps prompt DOOM, the word nemesis has been enjoying a cool amount of topic drift since its introduction. After hitching up with a high-profile operator on the god-tier of the Olympic elite there really hasn’t been any looking back. It has been all ‘revenge’ and ‘implacable enemy’ ever since.

It wasn’t always like that, but then again, since when do we expect things to stay the same… Nevermind, forget I asked.

Long, long ago, in a galaxy that is as close as we’re going to get, the term nemesis was less about revenge and more along the lines of what doom meant. It was built on a framework of allotment or distribution of the share a person was due. Although not a judgement per se, as doom was, that judgement was required in order to get to the apportioning of one’s just desserts – be they reward, requirement, or retribution.

In games, we have seen the influence of the pulp genre gift us with mechanisms of play which deliver mooks or minions, and have seen those rules further expand to bring us nemeses as well. Whether as GM advice on playing an enemy opposed to the characters’ goals and dedicated to punishing, harming, or outright destroying them, or as actual rules dedicated to making the GM’s job easier in portraying such a character mechanically, the outcome of this development has been worlds which offer greater contrast in character type and capability while also greater ease in providing richer context for the decisions play will bring into being around the players.

With or without such rules, though, the nemesis in its oppositional understanding of revenge and resistance is not solely in the hands of the GM. I don’t mean that the characters must come to actively oppose and seek revenge on the Nemesis as much as the Nemesis seeks it on them. I mean that the nemesis is a character to be taken seriously and with concern. Anything less and we are not talking about a nemesis. In that sense, it is a two-way relationship of reactions.

On the GM’s side, play of the nemesis must feel justified. It cannot come across as petty or as plot-by-the-numbers. One does not have a nemesis because one is expected to have a nemesis. A nemesis must be earned and the actions of that nemesis are the just consequences of one’s own actions. If the GM takes that understanding and takes actions from that footing, the chances of an comrade or rival naturally developing into an enjoyable nemesis increase.

On the players’ side, if the actions of the nemesis are grounded in a relatable and righteous sense of retribution, the response to the nemesis can be allowed to sting in all the right ways of personal justification with just the right hint of guilt. It doesn’t have to be forced or faked, or decided in committee – it can grow from a real and personal place.

What are we due?

We are not owed a nemesis and adding one to a game can feel formulaic and so fall flat. If, however, we give room on the character level for real responses in tune with character and situation, then we might be surprised at the just desserts our play serves us.

In Our Play

As a reflection of the claim put forward here that a nemesis is born, not made, I cannot easily cite a video in our playlists that includes a nemesis. I have, however, included a link to a solo session in our All for One: Regime Diabolique “Lights in Darkness” campaign which offers up a very good example of how one can develop in play. Here, though, I tend to feel that my character, Martin, is growing into the nemesis of his villainous Hungarian cousin, and not the other way around~

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