The GM Awakens: Nemesis Guide

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This series follows the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of a fairly inexperienced GM who has recently picked up the hobby after a long time away. It aims to assist new GM’s by examining what worked, didn’t work, and what failed miserably as he spins up new campaigns, modules, encounters, and adventures for his friends and family in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny system.

As I try to continue to improve as a GM, I often browse the boards, forums, and groups about the SWRPG and GMing in general.  You know all those moments where you’re waiting and pull out the phone to kill some time?  I do try to notice trends or things that others are discussing.  One thing that I often see discussed, even years after the launch of the system as more and more GMs join the ranks, is the question about how to make NPCs.  Most specifically, Nemesis enemies.  Questions about how hard to make them, what to give them, and how to run them.  So, as a follow up to my NPC Creation Guide, I thought that I’d focus on the Nemesis today and examine how to make a fantastic one.

General

For the basics of a good Nemesis, I have a few rules of thumb.  First, as a general rule, the Nemesis will be more powerful than the PCs to an extent.  Fighting a Nemesis one on one should be a highly risky proposition.  It should feel like it takes several party members to take one Nemesis down.  Wound thresholds should be in the 20s for a Nemesis, and you might even consider bigger.  Why?  Well, in my case, I have a party with around 1000 XP earned under their belt.  There are up to six of them in a game.  This means they can wipe out a Nemesis in one round if they get to go first.  They have amazing guns and abilities and hitting even a tough opponent is not a difficult check for them.  So, don’t think that going higher is out of the question.  Your own party’s abilities will let you know how strong to make them.  Strain thresholds should be near the level of the wound thresholds.

As far as characteristics go, they should rival most of PCs.  By that I mean, if you look at them and see that they resemble what a party member might have, you’re on the right trail.  For a bit more specifics, one of the characteristics for the Nemesis should be a 5, at least a 4.  (Remember for my party, they’re crazy high level and I need to buff them up.)  Then you want 3s for most secondary characteristics, and then 2s for ones the Nemesis won’t really utilize much based on his/her role.  Don’t be afraid to get one to a 5 if you want them really nasty at something.

Skill Ranks

What I usually do here is think of the main things the Nemesis will be doing and make a list of the skills he or she needs.  To determine how many skill ranks to give, you should let your party size and strength determine that.  In other words, how hard to you want the Nemesis to hit?  How often?  How much damage?  As a rule, I would give no less than Rank 2 in key skills, and likely Rank 3 for one or two that I really want the Nemesis to be nasty in.  Be sure to give them a rank in Cool or Vigilance if you want them to be a force when it comes to initiative order.

Give them enough skills and ranks to rival a decent PC.  Two or three ranks in the really important stuff, and one or two ranks in the secondary skills.  You can justify four ranks in a skill if you really want them nasty at something specific, but use that with care.

Talents

Let’s talk the big one first, Adversary.  Adversary is a talent all Nemeses should have.  A lot of questions are out there about how many ranks in Adversary a Nemesis should have so let’s talk about that first.  Nemeses, most of them as a rule, will have Adversary 2.  A weaker one can have Adversary 1, and big ones like an Inquisitor, can have Adversary 3.  Two would be the average.  The way I judge how many to give is to determine how many Despairs or Threat I think checks should generate.  So, Adversary 4 would be something like Darth Vader to me, and 5 the Emperor or something I think.  I will say I have used Adversary 3 with a Nemesis going against my 1,000 XP group for sure.  Sometimes it’s the only way to really challenge them.

As far as the rest go, look through career specifications that are similar to what your NPC Nemesis will do to find Talents they can use.  If the Nemesis is not a Force user, then usually I keep to 3 or 4 talents.  If a combat-based Nemesis that I need to keep on his feet, then Parry and Reflect and the improved versions are almost necessary.  (Assuming the Nemesis has a lightsaber or something that can block things.)  But make sure to give them fun talents that are memorable.  Remember, when you’re playing, you won’t really get to use most of the talents if you get too many.  You just won’t have the opportunity to use many depending on the situation.  So don’t go too overboard, but make them suitable.

Weapons and Equipment

When it comes to Weapons and Equipment, I take into consideration a few things.  For equipment, whatever would round out the character concept makes sense.  But for weapons, I specifically decide how many points of damage I want the Nemesis to do each round and work back from there.  I also consider Autofire and other characteristics of the weapon that I want.  But the damage per hit is the key.  Do I want them one-shotting my PCs?  Do I want a single hit to do a real lot of damage?  Do I want them to seriously threaten the lives of the players?  Look at the Wound Threshold your players have, and backtrack to the weapon of choice.

For armor and soak, I decide how many rounds, if my players hit and hit hard, that I want them to stay alive for.  I also look at how much damage my players do when they hit, and then figure out, calculating in Parry and Reflect if applicable, how much I want to take off those hits from my players, and that’s the soak.  Sometimes it’s a lot, if my players can Autofire and do a ton of damage in one shot.  Sometimes, depending on the group, and if they have a lot of shots, I need to take in and soak a lot of damage as the round goes on.

Also consider if you want the Nemesis to return another day.  If so, you’ll want the bad guy to stay up on his feet and stay alive through the encounter with your party.  All these things are ones to consider when making a Nemesis.

Using a Nemesis

A Nemesis should be memorable.  An enemy that your party always remembers facing.  To do that, a Nemesis should be able to be up on his/her feet long enough to do damage and be threatening, and also memorable.

On page 421 of the Force and Destiny Core Rulebook, there is a sidebar area discussing a 2nd initiative slot for a Nemesis.  The gist is, that you add a slot at the end of the initiative order for the Nemesis to go twice.  The book recommends a party of 4 or more members to utilize this rule, but use your best judgement.  I nearly always use this rule.  I have 5+ in both campaigns and they often can rain blasters down on a Nemesis before he even gets the chance to go, so I need him alive long enough to be memorable.

Another way to keep your Nemesis upright is to use the Squad rules that are spelled out in the Age of Rebellion GM Kit.  In it, there are several squad formations that can help minions around a Nemesis keep him upright.  Also there is a rule that while in a squad, a Nemesis may pass a hit on to a minion around it, like a shield.  The catch is, the minion is automatically killed.  But this will give your Nemesis several hits before taking damage if used correctly and narratively.

Also, be sure to use the Parry and Reflect talents, and improved versions, to keep your Nemesis on his feet.

So there you have it… my rules of thumb when making a Nemesis.  Do you have any other guidelines you’ve used to make a good Nemesis for your games?

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Scott Alden

Scott Alden

Scott is a full-time IT Manager living in Lawrence, KS. (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! Just outside Kansas City for those who don't know.) Scott is a veteran of several role playing, table top miniatures, video, and board games, starting with the Atari 2600 when he was 6, and the classic red box Dungeons and Dragons game when he was 12. After a long hiatus away from the hobby, Scott has recently picked up gaming once again, and is running two different campaigns in Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny lines. He is an avid X-Wing miniatures player, as well as Armada, Imperial Assault, Space Hulk, and Rebellion. (His family is obviously a Star Wars family, right?) Scott is married to his high school sweetheart, and has 2 children in middle school, both Black Belts in Krav Maga martial arts.
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