Revenge is sweet when the enemies have memories, so says Shadows of Mordor. I saw some bits of this, but I think what caught my interest the most was highlights of a playthrough done by Tim Buckley of Ctrl+Alt+Del Comic. He encountered an enemy who killed him and thus gained more power by doing it. Later in the game, he ran into him again and again, sometimes he would die and other times he would beat the target. Of course, a great villain doesn’t get beaten once, so this nemesis would come back a few times, scarred or otherwise changed from the experience and recounting things that had happened in the game. This gives the game a great replayability because the stories will be different.
I think this system can be used in RPG games as well, and is to some degree with reoccuring villains, but the whole system just shows one way how to get a epic, dynamic campaign setting with a ever-changing political landscape. The badguys are broken down into multiple levels like a chess game, with the recruits being pawns but as they do enough they can be promoted to captain status (or duel someone to take it if no empty spots remain), and from there they can move up to war chief in the greatest example of pawn becoming queen.
Of course, sometimes the pawns can be yours as you gain the ability to turn the orcs to your team with the basic ones being the easiest to turn and war chiefs the hardest. You can however help get the orcs you turn to your side promoted to the next level of the chain, by aiding them in battles against the captains or war chiefs and so forth as you move your pieces into place.
This sort of system of mooks given the ability to become the most powerful characters, and usually with required help by the PC, is an interesting set of mechanics for any RPG, I feel. First, the evolution system as they level up is a good touch since their powers and abilities change, so that what happened to them is going to have an impact. As for the dealing with NPCs, the game makes the players choose ‘Do I want to kill this guy so he won’t be a problem later or do I want to use him for a bigger purpose?’, as starting off you can interrogate the bad guys to learn more about the powers and weaknesses of the others in the army and later you can convert them to your side. In the fights with Gundza that Tim had in the video above there’s one that starts about 3:55 where, after a few deaths, Tim decides he’s just going to kill the enemy rather than getting more info of his bosses because of getting annoyed with the NPC enough to want revenge.
I’ve played games like The Guild 2 which had a pretty good political system where you had to curry enough favor to get votes to get promoted or keep your office, much to the point that you could lock up the political side with your whole dynasty if you really wanted. I love this sort of thing because it requires you work at figuring out exactly what powers you want and how you want to use them. However, there is a ceiling if someone has more money or power than you to keep their office, as the only way is to wait for someone to die or kill them yourself. In that way it is akin to getting a promotion in the orc army in Shadows of Mordor, challenge someone to a duel and take their position.
With the Nemesis System, it emphasized the idea of villains reoccurring based on your actions. Besides the example seen in the CAD video, you can do all sorts of things like if you kill someone by burning them they can develop fear of fire and thus give you an option to manipulate them. Another great example of the memories and dialogue can bee seen in a comment on Reddit that shows a PC had decided after a few deaths to an enemy, Moshu, he decided to shift the odds in his favor as listed below:
I found a warlord with four bodyguards and took control of all of them. Then, I killed Moshu’s bodyguards and told the other warlord to riot against Moshu. I watched with glee as five extremely powerful orcs just took Moshu to task. When he was down to a sliver, I walked through that herd of orcs.
He looked at me almost knowingly. Said something about how I hadn’t been enough of a man to take him down alone.
He was right. I was a coward.
I showed mercy and dominated him, instead of removing his head. He’s my best assassin now, and whenever I need to kill a captain that’s not under my control, I team up with Moshu.
We’re used to yelling at our games as we fail certain missions due to getting killed or a jump we can’t make or the like, but a boss that we can’t beat who taunts us, who can even be heard talking to their minions about how they took us down… Well, that’s a strike against our honor and we cannot let that stand from a virtual character. I think it is the same when it comes to the tabletop, so many players want to be victorious and losing to someone only has them stewing and figuring a way to take down the target, even sometiems going so far to ignore things that are closer or more important, because they want the revenge.
Revenge can be a great way to draw your players where you want, possibly before they can be fully prepared. I’m not saying that as a GM who wants to TPK for TPK sake, more to have that realistic reaction from players showing they’re invested in the game enough to care about the PCs and world. You can use this to draw them together, challenge them with a big boss who maybe toys with then and then dispatches them easily but doesn’t kill them. For example, arrest them and make them escape, brand them and have people react differently, steal their stuff and watch them come back for it like madmen. Any way to make them want another encounter with this badguy, you’ll see them trying to move heaven and earth to get an advantage.