A party that gets sufficiently high level or gathers enough magic items has no fear of any normal encounter, be they city watch, army, goblin raiders or brigands. Any such group will mostly field first- or zero-level combatants, and an advanced party will make mincemeat out of them in a heartbeat, or disperse them with powerful magics that their opponents lack.
But there is one kind of people that are not huge monsters, but still has the players’ respect: Rival Adventurers.
Why they deserve respect
They can have any level and may also bring magic items and weapons. They may have several spellcasters, and they know all the tricks that the party does. They are not bound by laws or orders, just like the players themselves. Set a thief to catch a thief.
How you can make them
Basically, you make them just like you would make PCs, of course. But who has the time? So there are shortcuts. You can just make them up, but that might feel unfair, if a GM deliberately targets the weak spots of the party, or even be limiting, as the GM might pull his punches to avoid just that.
Solution: Rules for Rival Adventurers.
A game system that has rivals built right up front is Into the Odd / Electric Bastionland.
while a good start, these rules still leave the Rival considerably weaker than the party, if the “Conductor” does not meddle with the numbers.
But there are more options:
For one, there are blogposts that help with it, like this list of 100 adventurers for inspiration.
For another, the well known B/X redesign OSE (Old School Essentials) also provides a quick and easy approach for Old School style, freely accessible on the OSE website (necrotic gnome com)
OSE even offers free online tools for just such needs, all randomized, so the rival group can be bigger or smaller, stronger or weaker … it is a matter of chance.
Testing this tool, I got the following result:
And finally, there is an environmentally wild module for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the wintry “Frostbitten & Mutilated”, which has an elegant way to make a Rival Group: Just grab one die of each kind (d4, d6,d8, d10, etc. = a full set) and roll the bunch in one go. Then check some random tables that will give you a pretty realistic party outfit.
I made one Frostbitten Rival Adventuring Party as an example, getting a party of 3 fighters and 2 specialists (thieves). Their average party level is 3, and they are fugitives from the law owning a useful magical item, which may very well be the reason why they are on the run in the wind-swept ice desert that is the backdrop of the Frostbitten & Mutilated setting. No magic users in the group, but still, 3 fighters is a tough encounter in its own right.
(top image: Ricardo Cruz, Unsplash)
How do YOU make Rival Adventurers?