Lately I've been reading, watching, playing, and writing a lot of super hero stuff. It happens fairly regularly. I'm a big fan of super heroes. Some of the most successful games I've ever run have been super hero games, and well, I like comic books so it all makes sense. However, there is an aspect of many comic book heroes that can be hard to bring into a table top game: namely a rogue's gallery.
What Is A Rogue's Gallery?
For those of you not into super heroes, a rogue's gallery is basically a collection of recurring villains. It goes along with the phrase "the villain defines the hero" and I believe started with Batman. It is the thing that holds the concepts of Poison Ivy, Penguin, Riddler, and - of course - the Joker for him.
Why Would I Want One?
Why would you even want a Rogue's Gallery? Well, for one it gives you a number of villains to use with your players. More to the point though it gives you characters you can pour a little bit extra into, give them some real soul, and bring them back out to play when the situation calls for it.
A rogue's gallery gives you a place to store antagonists. The key thing for these villains though is that they should define your heroes in some way. For Batman you have some clear cut examples: Riddler defines Batman's intelligence, Catwoman his physical prowess and conflict with indulging the beast within, Penguin comes down to the privilege's of wealth of prosperity, Poison Ivy with obsession and focus, and the Joker with Batman's mutual insanity. You can do the same with your PCs, using each villain to highlight aspects of the group, or an individual character. It takes work and discussion with your PCs, but it is definitely possible.
For example, in my L5R game right now one character is playing a person who has a double life. Confronting them with a character who knows about, and wants to poke at, their double life. Another character is playing someone who is very much about the struggle with the beast within, so having someone that prompts those reactions and tests it can work for them.
So What Is The Problem?
Well, there is one key problem with making a rogue's gallery for PCs. Namely, PCs tend to kill their opponents when it comes to fighting. Maybe not in every game. But in some it happens. Some worlds, especially ones like L5R, it is even important for it to happen that way.
So Don't Let Them Die...
That is good advice, but the trick is how. Keeping an antagonist from dying means either keeping them out of combat, or controlling the combat in such a way that the antagonist can get away. Even then you will have problems. Nothing, in my experience, gets a PC more intent on cutting down an enemy than the enemy trying to flee. After all, what's more annoying than having the same enemy constantly cause problems again and again and again because they get away?
Beyond that there is also the problem of the "protected NPC." There are only so many times a villain can escape, vanish in an explosion, or otherwise "die but be unrecoverable" before the players realize that it is a special thing that they're not allowed to harm. Because of that you need to put even more care into your prep work when doing it.
But Is It Worth It?
The few times I've managed to pull it off? Oh, I'd say it is worth it alright. It is always awesome when a PC latches on to an NPC and forms that...special...kind of relationship. It can be hard though. You just have to do it right.